In discussions of culture, why do so many people favor extreme, polarized claims over reality?
It's a common happening, though here I write after coming across a very minor example. I happened across a report on a designer's stunning blend of traditional kimono and African fabrics – the Wafrica kimono. The results are beautiful, and I can appreciate the creator's thought (unless I'm misreading) that the end result is its own object, not a subcategory of arbitrarily-labeled cultures:
"I do not want the end result to belong to Africa, nor should it belong to Japan. It is not a 'fusion,' " says Mouangue, who was born in Cameroon and grew up in Paris. "I want it to be something else. It should transcend the boundaries of both cultures. It is a third aesthetic."
Interesting stuff. My only objection is this observation by the creator:
And then there are the differences. In Japan there is no improvisation. Here, improvisation can mean trouble, shame, difficulties.
No improvisation? Bollocks. All art contains improvisation. Even hide-bound "traditional" arts were at some point new, and new art is born of improvisation. In Japan or anywhere, improvisation can mean great things: new frontiers of art, recognition, awards.
Haiku poets don't improvise? Comedians? Young musicians fusing shamisen with rock and jazz? I'd like to assure the world that Japan is chock-full of cutting-edge innovators and improvisors in music, clothing, graphic arts, product design, engineering, you name it. (Anyone want to tell the country's good-sized jazz musician community that it's utterly ignorant of improvisation?)
I'm just curious: why are polarized comments so common in "culture" discussions? Instead of "no improvisation", how about something reasonable like "My impression is that artists seem less likely to improvise in Japan than in my home land"? Whether a listener holds the same impression or not, a speaker's statement of impression isn't factually wrong.
The improvisation comment is a trivial one, and I don't want to overblow it. (In fact, we should always note that what a reporter writes is not necessarily what the quoted person said!) Actually, this post is partly just an excuse to point at the lovely kimonos, which you can see more of at the Wafrica website. Fantastic!