The endless sunsets of tropicalism
December 10, 2006, 10:25 am
Filed under: 80's, identity, intercultural, orientalism, style, tropical

In late 80’s a completely new genre of orientalism (or better: otherism) was starting to take shape. Inspired by various factors, economic growth, better living standard and a shift towards the trend-setting role of the newly established MTV, pop culture began to turn towards the west and seek for the new exoticism somewhere in the undefined tropical paradise.

Mostly, “tropical” meant “Caribbean”. Miami Vice TV series presented two flawless cops in sleek suits and T-shirts. The biggest star of the series, however, was the tropical aesthetics it advertised: “Each week’s episode began with a catalogue of Miami iconography: sun-baked beach houses, Cuban-American festivals, women in bikinis, and postmodern, pastel-colored cityscapes.” (J. Butler on Miami Vice) The worldwide TV audience was invited to fantasize about the endless sunsets on the tropical beaches.

miami vice

The tropicalism of the late eighties had a widespread influence. While the women of the time were busy putting on SPF 2 sunscreen, their husbands were dressed in Hawaiian shirts and their kids dreamed about getting their first real kisses in pastel sunsets.

sunset kiss

All kinds of exotic fruit, coconuts, mangoes and papayas, flooded the markets. The names of bars were refashioned to evoke the feelings of the tropical paradise (the general favorite being “Cocoloco”) and the drinks they drank were designed in the same manner.


The motivation that was pulling strings behind the pastel setting of the 80’s tropicalism was not very much different from the ideological structure of any other orientalism or otherism that came before. This was perhaps best summarised by the Beach Boys 1988 song Kokomo:

Aruba, Jamaica, ooh I wanna take you to
Bermuda, Bahama, come on pretty mama
Key Largo Montego, baby why don’t we go
Ooh I wanna take you down to
Kokomo, we’ll get there fast and then we’ll take it slow
That’s where we wanna go, way down in Kokomo.

Martinique, that Monserrat mystique…

We’ll put out to sea and we’ll perfect our chemistry
By and by we’ll defy a little bit of gravity
Afternoon delight, cocktails and moonlit nights
That dreamy look in your eye, give me a tropical contact high
Way down in Kokomo

Although the names of the places referred to some cartographic reality, the vaguely defined Caribbean paradise was not a real place, but a projection of a certain desire. It offered endless holidays and an escape from the hard-working business environment of the late 80’s, a retribution for the life spent in earning money, something you could afford and enjoy to get away from the life of everyday. But this setting was also a metaphor for the unspoilt sensual paradise. While the discovery of HIV virus began to lay restraints on the sexual freedom, the uninhibited sensuality and indulgence were still possible in these faraway lands of sandy beaches, neon lights and palm trees. Paradise was a holiday resort and the “tropical contact” was uncontaminated.

After all, the title wasn’t Miami Virtue.



“With the determination of pidgin of modernized Blong”
November 30, 2006, 5:52 am
Filed under: babel, identity, intercultural, language, pidgin

Recently I discovered an on-line tool that is very helpful when you want to pidginize even the deepest and wildest thoughts. It is conveniently called Lost in translation and the pidginization it produced when being fed the title of my blog, was:

“With the determination of pidgin of modernized Blong”


Orientation and orientalism
November 22, 2006, 8:44 am
Filed under: identity, intercultural, orientalism, philosophy

Although the compass needle determinedly points north (or south in some interpretations) – there is a relic in many languages that still reveals a more primordial strategy of finding our way and determining our place in the universe: the word orientation.

“To orient” literally means “to find east” – and was first used in the design of buildings, which in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome, often faced east, the direction of the rising sun (interestingly enough, there is a completely different rule in operation in traditional Chinese architecture, where buildings were supposed to open to the south).

From these beginnings on finding one’s way and determining one’s place in the world has been closely correlated to the aspiration of finding one’s Orient. To find the Orient means to be able “to orient” oneself. But there is an inevitable twist in these very human aspirations. In order for “us” to be able to orient ourselves, the Orient should remain fixed and unmoving, unchanged in time as much as in space. It should also remain completely different from “us”, and by all these it serves as an “orientation” point in temporal, spatial and, most importantly, in cultural terms.

This fixation of Orient as the Non-Occident, the temporally and spatially unmoving and unchanging Other, serves as a per negationem definition of the likewise constructed Occident. When sets of these presumptions are linked to a system of unequal power relations, the result usually is the creation of a certain ideological discourse that Edward Said calls Orientalism.

Said’s Orientalism, however, is a phenomenon limited in both time and space. His analysis focuses mostly on the colonialism of the 19th century onwards as it was representing the Western Asia and North Africa, i.e. the “Middle-East” countries.

The scope of the orientalizing ideology is, contrary to the strict interpretation of Said’s theory, much wider. Orientation – or better orientalization – is the process through which identities are constructed, a process that defines the entity by defining its Other. In general terms, this process of ascribing to Other the qualities and characteristics that reflect those of one’s own, and firmly instisting on the safety of the Other’s unchangeability, could be called “Otherization”. Orient is therefore just one particular case of the Other, and Orientalism just one of the historical versions of “Otherism.

Is it just the dress code?
November 19, 2006, 11:20 am
Filed under: identity, intercultural, orientalism, pidgin, style

Language isn’t the only medium we use in the pidginization of identity. Centuries ago, when Europeans set foot on the Chinese territory, they first used clothing to show their willingness for what will later be called “cultural exchange”. After the initial not-so-very felicitous faux-pas, when Jesuit missionaries tried to win recognition from their Confucian counterparts by dressing like Buddhist monks, they finally started to dress like Confucian scholars, as it is obvious on this picture of Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci and a Chinese convert:


(Ricci is the one on the left …)

All kinds of ethno-styles in contemporary fashion can also be understood as some kind of identity seeking process, although it is not directly intended to communicate with the cultural Other. Supposedly “Ethnic”, “Oriental”, “Tribal” or “Tropic” styles don’t refer to a particular cultural area, but mostly to some set of one’s own wishful (or fearful) imageries. This is a pidginization of sorts, but a slightly different one.

Anyhow, there still are some relics of the historical version of style-pidginization, when two cultures (or economies) meet:


No pidgin please
November 18, 2006, 8:29 am
Filed under: identity, intercultural, pidgin

There always are some who struggle to protect the (hypothetical) purity of something. In this case English:

no pidgin please no chinglish please no slinglish please

There are, however, many more that don’t agree. Especially for the speakers of English, the pidginization seems almost inevitable. Here’s a list of some of these hybrids (secretly including my personal favorite ..):

Chinglish, Franglais, Czenglish (surely J. Cimrman used it occasionally, too), BBC English, Hinglish, Spanglish, Engrish, Poglish, Taglish, Globish (an interesting, though bizzare attempt), Goleta English, Namlish, Konglish, Tarzan English, Denglisch, Caló, Dog Latin

The process of “blonging”
November 17, 2006, 2:27 pm
Filed under: identity, intercultural, philosophy, pidgin

There is no such thing as a pure identity, isolated and self-originating, no identity-in-itself. Identities – past and present – are a result of a process of mutual pidginization: transforming one’s own to be understood by the other, mirroring the other to express oneself, understanding by recognizing transformed pieces of one’s own in the other.

All identities are essentially pidginized, because the purpose of an identity is never identity itself but identification, the process of becoming an entity that belongs.

There is one word among the many hybrids in pidgin languages that expresses perfectly the basic idea of pidginization: TO BLONG. In Shanghai Chinese pidgin it meant both “to be” and ” to belong”, conveying the closeness of these two terms. Identity is a pidginized entity, to be is to belong.