Author: holyshitmoments

Connecting with Cultures Through Food – Pakistan

I Just Woke Up Like This

When we met in a cafe on campus, Shayan, a Pakistani international student, told me about his love of food. He revealed his secret dreams, which he called his ‘realistic goal and the unrealistic one’ – to become a food reviewer on YouTube, and to open an excellent steakhouse back in Pakistan. Good steak is rare in Pakistan, he tells me, despite meat being a big part of their food culture, particularly for the Muslim community of which he is part.

Shayan says, “Muslims and Hindus used to live together in India, and Hindus won’t generally eat meat, so historically speaking, Muslims will make sure we eat meat to… it’s all about bragging right.” Not only is meat important to their cultural identity, but to their religious traditions as well. The Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha, meaning the Feast of Sacrifice, is one of the holiest on the calendar. Shayan…

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Self-analysis – meta autoethnography

Self-analysis is never particularly easy. Being asked to analyse my own writing, my own autoethnographic account of Sita Sings the Blues in my last post, leaves me confused an very aware of myself in this endeavour. I am both my own greatest critic and blind to my flaws – I lack a fresh set of eyes with which to give constructive criticism, but the right set to compare myself to my imagined desired self.

Ellis et al. describes doing autoethnography as reflecting on past experiences, using instruments such as a field journal to accompany hindsight. In my autoethnographic process, specifically in experiencing Sita, Twitter acted as my field journal. Live tweeting my reaction to the film allowed me to retroactively track my feelings, thoughts, and reactions chronologically, recall which reactions were to which scenes, and importantly, interact with other students during the process. Embedding my tweets in my blog also allows me to directly address my feelings and examine them in-depth, and follow up on research questions that I asked during the viewing.

Ellis et al. says “When researchers do autoethnography, they retrospectively and selectively write about epiphanies that stem from, or are made possible by, being part of a culture and/or by possessing a particular cultural identity.” While watching and while writing about Sita, my background as a strongly-minded feminist really framed some of my questions, particularly about the value of women across cultures. It led to the epiphany that the construct of women’s value being based on their virginity or modesty is not really rooted in religion – it’s not unique to Abrahamic religions if it’s found in Hindusim too, is it? My still-standing question of the origin/basis of the universality of this value system is still at large, and is indeed too large for this particular research task.

In writing my blog I was able to reflect on my feelings and questions, and attempt to find some guidance. I also did further research into the film-maker’s motivations, feelings, and processes while authoring the text. Her view, as expressed on the film’s website, that an honest and respectful approach to other cultures was important when considering your own feelings towards cultural texts really affected my own feelings and concerns about my writing and questions.

Autoethnography: An overview consistently refers to autoethnographic writing as evocative, as powerful storytelling, of blending research and personal experience. I don’t know if my own writing can meet that very high benchmark. I believe my account of Sita is self-reflective, but evocative, powerful? Possibly with more practice. However, I would heap all of those adjectives and praise on Paley and her text. As I attempt to analyse my own autoethnography, I’m realising that’s exactly what Sita Sings the Blues is – an autoethnographic work that blends cultural research with personal experience. Hopefully this epiphany will guide me in my own autoethnographic project.

In my project I plan to conduct interviews with international students from different parts of Asia to learn about foods that are important to their culture and that are culturally important to them.

I lived in southeast Asia when I was in primary school, some 12 years ago now. Some memories are growing fuzzier as I grow older, and eating the foods from my time there is so important to me to reconnect with those roots of mine. Similarly, I left South Africa, the country where I was born, very young. I don’t speak Afrikaans, and only visit every few years. The uniquely South African foods that fed my childhood (and motivate my trips to my mom’s house now) are my strongest connection to a South African identity.

Through my research I hope to collect some of the stories and personal experiences of food as culture. Then I’ll attempt to recreate those recipes for a YouTube series in a bid to experience some part of that culture. Through this multi-faceted project I hope to blend Ellis et al.’s decription of interactive interviews and personal narrative to provide a meaningful autoethnographic account and build upon what I’ve learned and developed so far.

References

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview‘, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1. Available at: http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095

Sita Sings to my heart

Sita Sings the Blues is a musical, animated interpretation of the Ramayana interspersed with autobiographical scenes from the creator’s own life. Nina Paley, the film’s creator, blends bright, colourful and cartoon-ish animations styles with Anne Hershaw’s old-time music to create a piece of work that’s almost overwhelming to the senses – it’s totally immersive. Paley explores the story of Sita in the Ramayana and draws parallels to her own life, specifically, the breakdown of her marriage. This emotional roller coaster had me totally captured.

The film selects stories from the Ramayana to tell the story of Sita through three narrators, depicted as shadow puppets, who discuss their versions and understandings of the Ramayana, really highlighting its status as folk tale and fable rather than a strict body of work.

Argue tweet

The back-and-forth narrative style reminded me so strongly of listening to my ex-boyfriend’s Italian grandparents trying to tell a story about things from decades past – building on each other, correcting each other, sharing the same event or interaction from their different perspectives. I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that this was totally organic! Paley recounts how each of her three narrators met each other for the first time that day, and their conversation was totally unscripted.

In the film, Sita is a powerful goddess, daughter of the Earth, and Paley tells the story of this strong woman being governed by the desires and decisions of other men. Paley explains on the film’s website that this felt reflective of her own decision to follow her husband to try save their marriage. For me as a feminist, my reading of this part of the story line was of a literal goddess whose faith and love for her husband was both empowering and constraining.

Destroy you tweet

Sita’s commitment to following the way of Rama, her husband, and her faith in him rescuing her keeps her from lashing out at her kidnapper

 

In fact, this film perked my feminist antenna a few times. When Sita is captured and held prisoner, her captor doesn’t touch her. When Rama rescues her, this is of the utmost importance to him, that her purity and virtue be unspoiled. In many Western cultures, these same values ring true – a woman’s worth is perceived to be decided by her virginity and modesty. From my understanding, this has strong roots in Christianity. This led me to wonder what the roots are in Indian and Hindu cultures.

Virginal purity

 

Moreover, what led to these ideas of women’s value and the emphasis on sexual modesty being so universal, so wide-spread? A question that large is most definitely for another time and another body of research, but a small investigation shows that Hindu culture places a strong emphasis on women’s purity and virginity before marriage, and the idea of ‘purdah’, which “reveals itself in civil behaviour, modest dressing and appropriate behaviour towards men” (Rashid & Michaud 2000, p 56).

feminist lens

This question is something that occurs to me and bothers me frequently – am I guilty of moral imperialism? Of cultural appropriation at times? Of judging cultures based on my cultural learnings? Well, firstly, it’s important to admit that it’d be basically impossible not to factor in my beliefs and values when I view something. I can’t switch it off – I’m not a robot, and autoethnography doesn’t require me to be. I’d like to believe my consciousness of these biases and impacts of such counts for something. But to respond to my own questions and worries, I find some comfort in Paley’s description of “the wondrous complexities of racial relations”, with which she dismisses those who view everything as inherently racist.

Rama’s perception of Sita’s virtue and faithfulness would be the downfall of both of them, with Rama casting out his loving wife and unborn children, despite all her attempts to prove herself.

dog the boys

No matter how hard she tried, he kept treating her like dirt. Sound familiar, ladies?

fuckboy

Paley saw the failure of her own marriage in Sita, and the universality of failed relationships in Sita’s struggle. I was reminded of my own past relationships, and felt such strong reactions to both Paley’s and Sita’s heartbreak in the film.

love you

Paley uses ancient stories, old music, and modern animation to tell a timeless and universal story of love and heartbreak- “really show(s) how the story of heartbreak in the Ramayana transcends time and culture.” Despite my being unfamiliar with the Ramayana or Hinduism in any meaningful sense, I was transported by this film. I loved the bright colours and large choreographed scenes, reminiscent of Bollywood, and I felt a strong emotional connection to the two main women. Sita Sings is such an excellent example of communication and sharing across cultures.

Watch Sita Sings the Blues here.

 

References:

Rashid, S & Michaud, S 2000, Female Adolescents and Their Sexuality: Notions of Honour, Shame, Purity and Pollution during the Floods, Disasters, vol 29, no. 1, pp 54-70

Autoethnography in social justice

Research through storytelling – personal experiences, histories, and stories combine with thoughtful collection and research methodology in autoethnography.

Autoethnography is an approach to researching cultures that focuses on personal experience to explore, illustrate, and research cultural phenomena or artifacts. It engages the personal experiences of the researcher and the personal thoughts and experiences of cultural member to provide a human and intimate view of culture, according to Ellis et al (2011).

Autoethnography: An Overview (Ellis et al 2011) is an introduction to help us understand what autoethnography is, why it’s used, and how to do it usefully and respectfully. Frankly, I’m still a little confused – part art, part research, part social science, and wholly difficult for me to visualise at the start of this venture.

As a feminist and self-described liberal, for me, this text brought to mind the writings of prominent social justice activists, particularly as they attempt to discuss issues like disability, race relations, or gender inequality.

When the authors of Autoethnography: An Overview talk about how authors use “personal and interpersonal experience” and stories to discern patterns in cultures and “help facilitate understanding of a culture for insiders and outsiders,” my mind goes to the fantastic writings that have helped me understand the social issues I care about through the eyes of those experiencing them. Similarly, when trying to discuss feminism with my small-country-town, blue-collar-tradie boyfriend, I’ve learned the best way to get him to understand the reality of the problems facing women is to tell him what I’ve been through.

Autoethnography, as I understand it right now (and this may change as I go along) seeks to make research accessible and help readers empathize by humanising the culture, experience, or issue it’s discussing.

Ellis et al also talk about acknowledging your own bias and experience as a researcher, and recognising how it colours your research, rather than pretending to be totally impartial, cold, and scientific. For example, as a feminist, I will constantly ask “where are the women?” My personality and my history affect the questions I ask and the things that excite me when I do research – Autoethnography says that this is not just OK, but it can be useful.

While I anticipate many more questions and redefinitions of this style of research, Autoethnography has helped me draw a parallel between an academic field and a style of writing that has sparked outrage over so many social issues and causes and motivated me personally.

 

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview‘, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1. Available at: http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095

eSports on the world stage

This month Valve hosted its annual Dota 2 International, hosting qualifiers and then the main event over 2 weekends, with a total prize pool of over $24 million. I know all of this because my boyfriend went missing in the middle of the night for 2 weekends in a row (but more than made up for his absence later). I already knew that professional gaming or ‘eSports’ was a big industry, with a whole world of spin-off industries like streaming or ‘casting’. What I didn’t know was that it’s an industry worth almost $900 million annually (and growing), or how seriously the gamers at the top take their careers.

State of Play follows the life and career of Starcraft megastar Lee ‘Jaedong’ Jae Dong, shining a light into the intensity of life as a professional gamer in South Korea. The documentary catches the drama and emotion of the players in a way that makes them accessible and human, despite their elite status and unorthodox careers. As we watched, I was blown away by the dedication these guys (even today, eSports is male-dominated) put in – leaving home young to move into corporate-sponsored team houses, training 12 hours a day.

only 12

intense training

But these players know that’s what it takes to get to the top – Jaedong was widely considered one of the best players in Starcraft before his retirement in 2016.

I grew up in south-east Asia, so the intensity and commitment shown by the players in this doco, as well as the blow to their pride and loss of face from failure, is something I understand. This documentary got me wondering why esports is perceived as a uniquely Asian phenomenon? Who are the top players? Who are the most avid viewers? Who are the biggest fans? State of Play shone a spotlight on the fangirls who flocked to gaming superstars – their love, their gift-giving, and their loyalty really tugged on my heartstrings.

Ji Sun

 

Well, 190 million people tune in to follow their favourite eSports every year, most often to watch League of Legends or DOTA 2. Those viewers come from all around the world (and wake up across all time zones to tune in). In LoL, Asian teams still dominate, but 3 of the top 10 teams come from the USA or Europe. In DOTA 2, which has larger prize pools, 6 of the top 10 teams come from Europe or the USA. In both games, commentators, or casters, come from all over the world to accommodate a global viewership in multiple languages.

While the popularity of gaming as eSports spawned in Asia, technology and passion have converged to make it a massive worldwide industry.