I have been watching The Raid 2, a startlingly violent Indonesian gangster movie. My son and I often settle down to this kind of thing. He seems quite well balanced. It, and the first film, The Raid, were directed by a Welshman in Jakarata. There’s international for you.
The Raid 2 might as well be a product of Hollywood. It is a typical crime movie, policeman goes undercover into the gang to avenge his brother.
What struck me is that the villains all wear western dress, suits with or without ties. The Indonesian SWAT team look like a US SWAT team, or the kind of police we increasingly see on our streets.
When the leaders of Japan and China, both cultures with thousands of years of tradition behind them, met recently for an uncomfortable picture opportunity, both were wearing western style suits. The Japanese tie was grey, the Chinese yellow.
Western style dress has become the default mode for international statesmen and businessmen. Western culture is paramount. When South Korea had an unaccustomed novelty hit in the music charts a while back, something which occasioned great celebration in another country with millennia of indigenous culture to draw from, it was a mock-up of a western disco hit that could have been recorded in New York, Paris or London.
Western culture, dress and style has taken over. Even in countries like Russiam, or China post the Mao suit, which were never formally part of anyone’s empire, the two piece with tie is the norm among the well off and powerful.
This was a legacy of the Victorian era when it took over from more foppish Regency styling and became the costume of the middle classes, whether monied or less so. It said, I can afford clothing that wastes material and includes an entirely unnecessary neck accessory. I am not part of the proletariat.
One assumes its adoption, by Russian biznez or Indian technocrats, is saying much the same. We are not part of our own lumpen culture. We have transcended it. It is as if when the colonial tide abated, it left its cultural norms and accoutrements behind, which supplanted their indigenous equivalent. Then as western film and music became dominant, the local producers were required to mimic it.
There are exceptions. Bollywood is a bastardised form, despised by many Indian intellectuals, but it retains a degree of authenticity, at least in terms of the music, and is wildly popular in its target audience in or outside the subcontinent. Chinese traditional opera is still popular, as is Sufi devotional music in much of the Muslim world. Some developing world leaders, in Africa especially, cling to their traditional costumes.
There is none of the crossover you see in Gangnam Style, though. The traffic is in one direction. They take from us; we take nothing from them.
Most forms of art that came from non-western cultures were incomprehensible to the west, and were ignored. East Asian gamelan, Sung Dynasty painting, south Indian Carnatic music. Barely known except by experts.
This western cultural juggernaut is picking up pace, because of the domination of English as the lingua franca of the Internet. It is no coincidence that the game changers came from the English speaking world, Microsoft, Google, Oracle, the rest. China, South Korea and India may be good at the hardware, and the services behind it. They will never catch up with the west in true innovation, while we have that inbuilt advantage.
One of the great debates in history has to do with western exceptionalism. A culture that a thousand years ago was merely a collection of warlords on the fringes of civilisation, lagging well behind the Islamic world and China, within 500 years was the technological leader and within three or four more centuries was in charge most of the globe. It is a process that seems to be happening again on the cultural front. And on the Internet, where it matters rather more.