Powerful Otaku, Terrible Scholar

In Episode 23 of HappinessCharge Precure!, the character Cure Fortune reveals a new attack: Precure Oriental Dream. Cure Fortune appears in a Middle Eastern-influenced outfit and performs a dance that causes the enemy minions to fall over. Upon seeing this, I made the following tweet.

I was making a reference to a seminal book in post-colonial studies, Edward Said’s Orientalism from 1977. In it, he famously argues that the “Orient” is not a neutral description of an area of the world, but a conglomeration of various cultural, philosophical, academic, and imperialist modes of thought and action that position the “East” in such a way so as to define the “West” as superior.

That said, this is not me trying to demonstrate my knowledge. Instead, what I would like to point out is the fact that, as important as I’ve known this book is, I’d still never read it, and it was only after making the joking tweet that I decided to actually seriously sit down and look at Orientalism. Seriously, it wasn’t the fact that I should be aware of how my growing up in the United States while being Asian might have influenced my perception of Asia, nor was it being in the company of intelligent people who have used this book as the background for their own investigations into cultural perceptions that prompted me to open it up. It was a dumb joke I made on Twitter while watching a magical girl anime.

I’m not sure if I’m an awesome or a horrible human being.

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7 thoughts on “Powerful Otaku, Terrible Scholar

  1. Orientalism was adopted by the Japanese long ago as they considered themselves a part of the West, having been penetrated in the Meji era
    by Western ideas from Europe and the USA.

    So it is no wonder that they continue to do so to this day when they are
    once again building a military establishment that caused considerable hard
    feelings among other Asian nations in the middle of the Showa era.

    The Japanese of those past eras still influence modern culture, and one
    of their ideas is that Japanese are superior humans quite different from
    the cultures that fell before the West in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

    bliss

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  2. Interesting book. Definitely a candidate for study in confirmation bias. Nevertheless, Said’s perspective has value in that it does critically examine the history of Western study of the Middle East. Said’s thesis is a bit more complex than “makes the West look superior,” but goes into (then) current postmodern/critical theory methods in order to demonstrate how Western scholars also, through knowledge and study, exercise oppression upon Middle Eastern cultures through intellectual and literary appropriation. I don’t entirely agree with him.

    Although I’m very critical of Said’s work, I definitely see it as a valuable contribution. Unfortunately, much like Foucault’s work, no one has applied Said’s methods and perspective to the Far Eastern culture–in this case, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese study and appropriation of Western culture. Having lived overseas in South Korea and Japan, I can see a lot of what Said observed regarding the West’s approach to the Middle East at work in the Far East’s approach to the West.

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  3. I read Said a couple decades ago and have completely forgotten all but what you already knew before reading it… but I do remember the effect the book had on anthropology. Whether or not you agree with his specific arguments, his book made a significant contribution to causing Western academics, especially in anthropology, to feel uncomfortable with making sweeping generalizations about non-Western cultures. That needed to happen, because Western complacency with colonial feelings of superiority was a huge blind spot.
    So what if you didn’t have all the details? You had a big picture concept that was a lot more than those who’ve never even heard of Said, and you put it out there so folks (and you) could end up playing with it. And since it wasn’t a peer-moderated paper for a professional journal, you’re golden. :-)

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