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Two things about living here really increase my personal footprint. Both relate to transport costs. Although we don't own a car and don't even ride in them with any regularity, our food does. The other major transport cost is getting ourselves home to see family who are on the other side of the globe.

On my mind

I’ve been thinking about representation, objectification, selling and selling out.

Objectification is viewing a person as an object and not a subject, and that, we understand, is a bad thing because we ourselves want to be seen as people, individual subjects and not sexual or cultural objects. However, it is clear to me (from the way they dress and from comments they make) that some people don’t mind being viewed as objects, at least some of the time. (You might say that that itself stems from internalized oppression, but that’s a discussion we won’t have right now.)

What is “selling out”? Usually it means doing something “just for the money” rather than for some purer, nobler purpose. It is often applied to those in creative pursuits like an avant-garde painter who becomes a “commercial artist” or a literary writer who writes a Hollywood hit, but it is not exclusive to the creative arts. A person who worked at the food co-op and quit to work for the corporate natural foods supermarket could be accused of “selling out” too. (Countercultural types who find themselves living mild bourgeois lives still bristle at the suggestion that they’ve “sold out”; it’s an implication that one isn’t being true to one’s values.)

Isn’t all economic activity a selling of ourselves, our talents and abilities? Why is it seedy and demeaning if a woman sells views of her body (in a magazine or as a stripper), but not if she sells her wit and charm (as a lawyer, for example)? What about selling her physical labor and subservience (waitressing, nursing, childcare, housekeeping, gardening)?

I’m interested in how this question relates to the issue of cultural sales. I remember feeling embarrassed, vaguely ashamed, upon seeing “traditional” dances performed at fancy hotels in the Solomons and Vanuatu (while also feeling a bit like, "Well good on 'em. They might as well make some money off the rich bastards coming to their islands.") However, when our students, neighbors and friends performed basically the same pan-pipe music and dances in the village where we lived, I loved it and never felt any twinges of discomfort. Was it simply because they weren’t doing it for money? What’s wrong with doing something for money?

Cultural tourism seems like an all-around winning combination. Indigenous people can retain and maintain traditions while sharing them with interested outsiders. Tourists can gain some knowledge of and appreciation for other ways of life, while feeling good that their money isn’t lining the pockets of people basically just like themselves only richer. Indigenous peoples in colonized lands who are engaged in cultural tourism or cultural artifact manufacture do not have to give up traditions to benefit from some of the fine things that the industrialized world has on offer to those with money (unfortunately, much of the not-so-fine things are often the most appealing, but that’s another track I won’t go down right now).

So why do I cringe at the sight of a didgeridoo-player at the markets in Darwin? Why did I cringe as dozens of flashbulbs went off when the Red Flag Dancers struck a pose? Why do I hesitate to go to a corroborree specially designed for tourists?

Performance is much more likely to trigger a gut-twinge in me than is artifact-making. Make stuff and sell it to the tourists and I feel no qualms. I may even buy some myself. Objects are already objects. There’s no shame in objectifying them. Performance, though, is about objectifying people and that, I think, is what makes me uncomfortable.

What about performance within my own cultural context? Clearly movie actors are willingly putting themselves in front of us to be objectified. All performance is about representation; performers in a performance are not individuals, but representations of ideas, feelings, experiences. Why does some performance make me feel queasy? I think of pole-dancing, acting in TV commercials, and kids playing the violin at farmers markets and I cringe a little.

What underlying values are at work here? Do others share my uneasiness? I’ll stop here and let you join the conversation. Someone who's read Foucault and Derida recently will surely have something to add. (If you’ve read this far, you might as well comment!)


Yep. I'm a slacker blogger. Sorry. I've got things to say, but since I sit in front of a computer most of my work day, I'm loathe to open the computer at home. Another funny consequence of spending time on a computer at work is that our home dial-up connection now seems unreasonably slow, whereas it used to seem perfectly fine.

When my sister was here we had a great time, and I've hardly shared any of it at all. I think I may have to give up on any notion of "catching up" the blog. If you too have a box of second-half-blank journals in a closet somewhere, you're been here before. My notion of this blog was something more akin to a series of form letters than to a personal diary, but my momentum has definitely waned. Writing about every outing, every barbecue, every midnight swim in the optimistically-named Hot Springs, every single bloody beautiful day has become a bit tiresome, and I'm sure reading about them has lost its shine.

Never fear, I won't abandon you to a box in the closet; I'll just need to figure out what to write about now. Thanks for reading!