Globalization and Discomfort

‘Because the dominant value of globalization is pleasure, global economic strategies focus on indulgence and bodily welfare. Globalization tends to restrict imminent and transcendental values that cannot have meaning in the producer-consumer relation. Secular morality is for the service of personal pleasure. Globalization has introduced values that compete with love for one another, family, respect, and so on. Religion, on the other hand, attempts to uphold such values. For example, media of globalization convey values of sex and violence. Religions can help establish a structure of values designed to resist the threat of Western fashion, which is central to globalization’ (Ayatollahy 2008:41)’

This morning in class we were left with these words from Ayatollahy to reflect on. Interestingly issues to do with nation state identity, ideology, values and politics came up in our discussion in another class in the afternoon.

Ayatollahy’s first claim is that the ‘dominant value of globalization is pleasure.’ If globalisation can be seen as an extension of consumerism, then the ultimate goal is to ensure markets stay active and profit continues to increase. Put simply, to support consumerism and by extension globalisation, people must keep buying products. The psychology of retailing is complex, yet a central approach can be identified – encourage a sense of lack in the lives of consumers, and offer a product which fills this imagined space.

Commodities such as new technologies (computers, smart phones, portable smart devices) are often sold with promises that they offer convenience, greater integration potential, portability and so on. The general message is that they will keep you connected in the fastest, easiest, and most up to date, possibly even most stylish way available. At the heart of this picture of product ‘value’ lies a deeper message. All of the features this product has to offer assist consumers to avoid discomfort. Discomfort for each person is experienced differently, some may feel frustration at a slow download speed, some may feel worry that their children cannot contact them reliably, the list is almost infinite. Easing discomfort could very well be seen, as Ayatollahy has suggested, as pleasure.

Viewed from this perspective, it seems reasonable to suggest that globalisation does not promote values that cannot be attached directly to a marketable product. More importantly, as Ayatollahy has suggested, values that would in and of themselves provide a sense of ease for discomfort, such as family, respect and love, would certainly not fall within the realm of globalisation promotion and media.

Ayatollahy argues that ‘Religions can help establish a structure of values designed to resist the threat of Western fashion, which is central to globalization.’ Religion generally speaking has a tendency toward promoting values to do with family, community, charity and theological concerns in addition to material ones. However all religions are different and maintain differing values, often in conflict with those of other religions and with secular values. Some religions could be seen as offering the alleviation of discomfort via practices or doctrine which may also be commodified. Therefore, religions may also compete in the marketplace for the resources provided by consumers.

References

Ayatollahy H. 2008. The Role of Media in the Threats and Opportunities of Globalization for Religion. Journal of Media and Religion 7(1): 34-44. Mahway, N.J. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

Shinto Spirit

200px-Spirited_Away_KaonashiThis week as I read Boyd and Nishimura’s essay Shinto Perspectives in Miyazaki’s Anime Film “Spirited Away”, I felt transported into the fantastic realm created by the film, while at the same time gained a wonderful insight into folk and Shrine Shinto ideas and imagery. Discussions in our course over the past few weeks have focussed on representation, religion and media, and I have wondered what benefits could be gained by stepping outside of our western perspective entirely. This essay provides an insight into a popular Japanese film which appears to have been constructed around characteristic Japanese cultural and religious concerns, for Japanese people. Western audiences may certainly enjoy the fantastic realm of spirit beings (kami) created by Miyazaki, however according to Boyd and Nishimura the deeper Shinto themes are more clearly stated in the Japanese language version of the film (Boyd and Nishimura 2004 [12]). Here we find an implication that the themes which arise within the film are culturally and religiously specific and more readily understood by Japanese people.

One theme which Boyd and Nishimura discuss in some detail is the moral ambivalence revealed in the character Yubāba and her twin Zenība. Rather than presenting a clear good and evil style characterisation common in western film, Yubāba and Zenība ‘represent a mixture of both bad and good encounters experienced by Chihiro (the main protagonist)—encounters that at times diminish and at other times promote Chihiro’s confidence (2004 [20])’. We are encouraged to understand, through these characters, that all situations either inhibit or cloud our ability to experience and participate in the vital energy which flows through all of life, a distinctly Shinto idea (Boyd and Nishimura 2004 [21]). This kind of ambivalence differs considerably from the Judeo-Christian flavour we find in western film, that of clearly defined evil which must be resisted or overcome in order to stay with the light or good.

In their conclusion Boyd and Nishimura suggest that Miyazaki’s film ‘asserts that there are some basic Japanese cultural values that need to be re-cognized as valuable insights in life’s journey’ (2004 [25]). In addition it could be said that western people may also benefit from encountering and reflecting on Shinto ideals, which teach that all of life as sacred and imbued with vital energy; that all we need do to interact with it is clear away the impurities; then we can become more genuine, authentic and open hearted.

References

Boyd, J and Nishimura, T. 2004. Shinto Perspectives in Miyazaki’s Anime Film “Spirited Away” in The journal of religion and film : JR&F, v.8 no.2. Omaha, Neb: University of Nebraska

Image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirited_Away

Ten Canoes & Cross-cultural collaboration

MV5BMTkzOTQ1NTA0OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzk3MTg0MQ@@._V1_SY317_CR2,0,214,317_Our class reading this week Remembering our ancestors: cross-cultural collaboration and the mediation of Aboriginal culture and history in Ten Canoes by Therese Davis gives a fascinating insight into the potential and pitfalls of artistic cross-cultural collaboration. I had seen the film in question Ten Canoes years ago and recall finding it entertaining and unlike any other film I’d seen featuring Aboriginal culture, however I was unaware of the extent to which the Yolngu people were involved in the films creation.

Davis essay reveals a complex picture of differing, and in many ways conflicting requirements in on screen representation. The conventions of modern western film making are revealed as having very different concerns than the desire for culturally accurate portrayal by Aboriginal peoples (Davis 2007, 7). The Ten Canoes director Rolf de Heer describes this challenge: ‘… they wanted to make something that was authentic to them, and mostly from their point of view… but I understood also that it had to work in a Western storytelling tradition (Davis 2007, 7).’

One area of discussion that stood out to me was the issue of casting. Davis tells us that the Yolngu people working on the film insisted that those cast in each role should have ‘proper kin relations in real life (Davis 2007, 10).’ The regular western film making practice would be to select actors based on appearance and talent, with the final decision being left to the director. In this film de Heer defers to the Yolngu tradition in allowing this process. In particular he casts an unlikely new actor Richard Birrinbirrin. However Birrinbirrin’s role, due mainly to his appearance, is a special comedic part (Davis 2007, 10), almost reminiscent of a type of joker. The approach to casting in Ten Canoes illustrates the application of two conflicting value systems to storytelling. That of the western recognition of appearance and talent, versus the Yolngu practice of connecting stories with their kin relations.

Richard Birrinbirrin’s role in the film reveals a semblance of collaboration and deference to Yolngu culture, however at a deeper level, de Heer, and the western film approach he represents, retains the ultimate authority. This one example leads me to question the extent to which cross-cultural collaboration can achieve true equality, while retaining coherence in form.

References

Davis, T. 2007.  Remembering our ancestors: cross-cultural collaboration and the mediation of Aboriginal culture and history in Ten Canoes (Rolf de Heer, 2006) in Studies in Australasian Cinema, v1 no.1, pp.5-14.

Image Source: IMDb

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0466399

Are the journalists all Christian?

This week’s reading was Doug Underwood’s chapter “I Will Show You My Faith by What I do”: A Survey of the Religious Beliefs of Journalists’ Faith Put into Action, in From Yahweh to Yahoo (2002, 130). This survey provides some solid evidence that journalists are sympathetic towards religious values (Underwood 2002, 147); however, it seemed to me that the framing of the questions within the survey maintained a very heavy bias towards Christian religion. The only overtly religious terminology used in the survey questions provided in the chapter included worlds like ‘Jesus’, ‘God’, ‘Church’, ‘Christ’ and ‘Lord’.

Although the idea that some journalists may not identify with the Jewish or Christian traditions is introduced and supposedly investigated (Underwood 2002, 137), I saw very little evidence of this in the examples of survey questions given.

One claim by the authors is as follows: ‘One might go so far as to say that journalists share the same belief in the social justice values of the bible and the importance of putting belief into practice, regardless of their own personal religiosity (Underwood 2002, 147).’ Evidence for this claim is strong in the survey results, yet the types of language used in the questions seem to predict a Judeo-Christian flavour to values which result in journalistic practices. Values and moral codes found within other religions, which might lead to similar actions (for example a Buddhist expression of compassion) are not mentioned.

This survey does achieve what it sets out to do and gives some very interesting data for journalist’s religious beliefs. Yet it approaches the idea of religion from a very heavy Judeo-Christian bias, resulting in what I would regard as a limited context. In a climate of growing international migration and multiculturalism, surely it’s time multiple concepts of religious values should be included in surveys such as this.

References

Underwood, D. 2002. “I Will Show You My Faith by What I do”: A Survey of the Religious Beliefs of Journalists’ Faith Put into Action, in From Yahweh to Yahoo, 130-147. USA: University of Illinois

Shaw, S. 2013. In class lecture

Paul Abad on Transformational Festival Culture and Earth Frequency

Paul Abad

 

 

 

 

 

From humble beginnings the Earth Frequency festival has earned a reputation among music festival goers as one of Australia’s premier music parties. Recently featured in the international festival guide Festival Fire, Earth Frequency represents a worldwide movement towards music concerts which push the boundaries of traditional entertainment. This shift in focus is exemplified by the adoption by festival attendees and organisers, of the term transformational festivals. In order to explore this diverse culture, I spoke with Paul Abad, the guiding force behind Earth Frequency Festival. Paul described a space where music, ecology, ritual, ecstatic dance, community, art and spirituality intersect in a complex yet loosely structured world set apart from the every day.

Paul Abad, the 34 year old key promoter of Earth Frequency, balances festival promotion with lecturing in web development at Central Queensland University as well as his own web development business. In his spare time he produces music, djs and creates sacred geometry inspired digital art. I asked Paul what inspires him: ‘For me art’s completely a process… it’s about getting internal visions to the outside world and I think it can be a vessel of change because as soon as we have some sort of idea or vision and can manifest that as a physical form…we can look back on it, we can reflect on it and then the process goes on again, it’s a bit of a cycle… it’s a journey’. For Paul, creative expression is process oriented and forms a journey toward change.

One of the strongest driving forces in the development of the Earth Frequency festival, from its humble beginnings as a tree planting celebration party back in 2005, is the coming together of like-minded individuals. From its earliest manifestation, Earth Frequency attendees have been comprised of individuals interested in connecting as an alternative community, one dedicated to ecological concerns and celebration of life via music and dance.  Till acknowledges the popular cult of Electronic Dance Music Culture (EDMC), which I suggest music festival culture could be viewed as part of, or related to, as allowing individuals to ‘feel reinserted into a community’ (2010, 163). Till reflects on the importance of having an alternative community in an environment of post-modern individualism, with less community orientation, without ‘celebratory traditions, rituals and religions’ (2010, 163). Durkheim too relates the setting apart of sacred practices to community (1912, 47). Paul tells me:

‘When you think about connection to nature and spiritual connection to plants, and a strong focus on local community, all of that kind of stuff, I think people feel quite disconnected from [those things] because they’re saturated by mass media and fairly highly structured kinds of belief and ethical systems and I think it’s refreshing to think that some of that stuff is available to us in a more free and experiential way.’

When Paul describes some of the factors which draw people to Earth Frequency, it’s evident that he’s lucidly aware of the growing transformational ideology arising within transformational festivals. While it’s clear that festivals like Earth Frequency are concerned with ecology and the experience of music and dance, what I most wanted to discover is whether they might be seen as having a spiritual or religious dimension. Bailey’s term implicit religion or ‘those aspects of everyday life…[that]… might have, within them, some sort of inherent religiosity of their own (2010, 271),’ could be related to transformational festival culture, in that, there are spiritual aspects which arise organically, rather than being consciously constructed as religious. I asked Paul if he sees a spiritual dimension to Earth Frequency:

‘I’d say definitely yes, but I think, my definition of spirituality is pretty broad. I think it’s about people just finding a deeper meaning to everyday events… it’s definitely not a spiritual dimension in the sense of anything dogmatic or a fixed set of beliefs, but it’s the aspect of people gathering as a community, coming together, the joyful experience of gathering in a less confined environment and joyful experience of dance and music and art, and I think all these things are intrinsically spiritual… I’ve heard some people say that those kinds of spaces are their church, because that’s where they celebrate life.’

Paul completes his definition as seeing the festival space as inspiring attendees to bring out their best, to be good to one another and to be filled with happiness. Paul relates these values and attitudes to those found in religion and spirituality. He was very clear however, that while Earth Frequency has a spiritual dimension, the quality of it is not dictated by the organisers. Spirituality within the festival is open to individual interpretation and actively avoids dogma. This reluctance to formally identify with structured religion, to preference the term spirituality, and in some ways deliberately taking a position of distance from religion, is identified by Till as common within EDMC (2010 145). Paul’s comments do seem to indicate that transformational festival culture postures itself as an alternative to structures like mainstream religion.

As a long term participant in EDMC, I was interested in exploring the aspects of ritual and ecstatic dance found within festivals like Earth Frequency. Both Sylvan and Till relate some aspects of a dance party or festival to ritual practice (2010, 148 & 2002, 137). Turner’s theory of liminality during ritual practice could certainly be applied to festivals which require a pilgrimage style journey to get to the site; a period of liminality where one is ‘betwixt and between’ the ordinary world within the festival space; and a journey home, often involving a processes of reintegration (Mahdi 1987, 3). Sylvan additionally links ecstatic dance, a key focus of transformational festivals, with an experience of trance (2002, 128). I asked Paul for his thoughts on dance as a trance experience:

‘[Dancing is an] awesome opportunity to experience bliss. The point of release is where you lose yourself… ego, thinking mind, the voice of analysis and constant critical thought can disappear for a while and you can connect with the people around you and connect with the music, you can go deep within yourself.’

Paul’s description of bliss, connection, going beyond the self or deeper within the self is reminiscent of Bouma’s theory of transcendence as a social process (1992, 68). When viewed from this perspective the festival space is sacralised, it creates a boundary where the ordinary world ends, and a space where transcendence takes place is created through the shared values of the community.

Technology has always been an intrinsic part of EDMC. The axis mundi for dance music parties is music produced using cutting edge technology. Many people involved in this culture are very comfortable using contemporary media. All of Paul’s festival, creative and web development work involves media and technology. His web development business focuses on work for festivals like Earth Frequency.  Paul sees media like the internet, Facebook and Twitter as the best tools currently available to use as mediums to build connections and community within the transformational festival scene. He notes that they are certainly an improvement on the older email lists and flyers which were the mainstays of EDMC communications prior to web based forums and Facebook.

Finally, I asked Paul to reflect on how he sees festivals like Earth Frequency portrayed in mainstream media. He related that while there are the occasional negative portraits which have always plagued EDMC (Till 2010, 165), generally these festivals are seen in a positive light. The shift in terminology to transformational festival seems to reflect a changing view of the culture. Paul sees this term as describing a space for individuals ‘embracing art, culture, community, spirituality and [we] want to get together and build a different way of living and celebrate whatever potential in our lives that we can.’

References

Durkheim, E. 1912.  The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. London : Allen and Unwin

Bouma, G. D. 1992. Religion: meaning, transcendence and community in Australia. Melbourne: Longman Cheshire

Bailey, E. 2010. Implicit Religion in Religion, Vol 40 (4), p271. UK: Taylor and Francis

Till, R. 2010. God is a DJ: Possession Trance Cults of Electronic Dance Music in Pop Cult: Religion and Popular Music, 131-166. London: Continuum International Publishing

Sylvan, R. 2002. The Dance Music Continuum: house, rave, and electronic dance music in Traces of the Spirit, 117 – 151. New York: NYU Press

Mahdi, L, Foster, S and Little, M. 1987. Betwixt and between: patterns of masculine and feminine initiation. USA: Open Court Publishing

Festival Fire About. Festival Fire. 2013

http://festivalfire.com/about/

Earth Frequency Festival About. Earth Frequency Festival. 2013

www.earthfrequency.com.au/about_earth_frequency

Image Sourced with permission from: https://www.facebook.com/paul.d.abad/photos

Yoga & Consumption

SRP Mat BagsThis week my reflections on religion and consumption have again led me back to the industry I’m most immersed in – yoga. Yoga in the west has grown from being something a little bit ‘out there’ that few people did in the early to mid decades of the 20th century, to being one of the fastest growing recreational activities today. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2006 the number of persons participating in yoga was 274,000 (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2013).

Yoga has become such an accepted member of the western wellness landscape that it is is classified by Vincett & Woodhead as a ‘Mind, Body, Spirit’ form of modern ‘Spirituality’ (2010). A gradual appropriation and commodification of ancient yogic practice and ideology in the west is evident. One can attend the annual Body, Mind, Spirit exhibition in Australian and encounter a myriad of yoga classes, yoga mats, sandals, towels, socks, books, clothing and other more metaphysical paraphernalia.

From humble beginnings on cotton mats clad in dance leotards, the modern yoga practitioner (yogi) rolls out her absorbent mat, wearing gear no bigger than a bikini, coconut water never far from reach for that post practice hydration kick. The modern yogi doesn’t just practice, they can collect a whole cache of gear to define themselves as a yogi. Whether or not they participate in any spiritual aspect of yoga seems beside the point, prayer (mala) beads make a lovely addition to your latest season stretchy pants.

The issue of consumption within yoga can run deeper than retail products for professionals working in this fast growing industry. The essence of yoga teachings, found in Indian texts like Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, promotes practices which lead to a world view that seems in opposition to the consumer driven culture of the contemporary west. Yoga teachers and studio owners often find themselves asking questions like ‘how can you run a yogic business?’ or ‘does the business and the yoga have to be separated to survive in this competitive climate?’.

Even in medieval times the earliest Indian yogic progenitors engaged in a wide variety of wealth accumulation activities to support their ascetic lifestyles (White 2012). Historically it seems that yoga has always featured an aspect of commodififation, that the goals of the teachings can not practically be separated from the economic reality’s of life. From this perspective then, running a yoga business is a matter of holding in balance the competing demands of what is essential an ascetic practice with the constraints of the western consumer marketplace. Finding the balance is up to each individual and certainly no two teachers or studios will meet this challenge in the same way.

References

Vincett, G. and Woodhead, L. Spirituality. In Religions In The Modern World. 2nd ed. eds. Woodhouse, L., Kawanami, H., and Partridge, C., 319-337. Oxon: Routledge.

White, D.G. 2012. Introduction in Yoga in Practice, ed. David Gordon White, 1- 22. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

4156.0.55.001 – Perspectives on Sport, May 2009, Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2013
http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4156.0.55.001Feature+Article2May%202009

Shit Yogis Say by lululemon athletica. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMC1_RH_b3k

Yoga Mat Bags Image from http://www.scissorsrockpaper.com. permission from Jess White