Sunday, January 27, 2013

As an aside: New Orientalism.

One of the hallmarks of American media coverage of East Asia over the past decade has been a new sort of Orientalism, a patronizing look at its development that preserves audiences' sense of superiority by marveling at its rapid progress, questioning implicitly how those people could do it, and comforting readers that "we" are still ahead. It's hard to watch anything about Asia on the Discovery Channel, National Geographic, or even Animal Planet without repeatedly hearing how "exotic" the cultures are, while the contrast is deliberately underscored through a shamisen, erhu, or other traditional stringed-instrument in the background. It's also apparently an unwritten rule to frequently return to that theme of contrast throughout the article or video report: old versus new, tradition versus Western influence, and the stories of those left behind in the countries whose economic developments have been unparalleled this century.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette gives us two examples today from editor Tom Waseleski, fresh off a two-week junket through China. In "The old China is vanishing fast, but the new one is still being born" and "The Next Page: China, a land of contrasts", Waseleski works these themes of contrast, most specifically that between the materially-wealthy urbanites and the poor laborers on the geographic and social fringes. One wonders if the Post-Gazette will also supplement articles about "Pittsburgh, the most livable city" with stories of the Pennsylvanians who lack access to health care, public transportation, internet, education, or employment.