IN NEW JERSEY……
World Exhibitions have always been a platform to showcase culture. During the 1931 World Exhibition held in France, Europeans were examining the cultures of the countries that they were attaining through colonialization.
At this exhibition it is fascinating to see how these cultures were perceived as by the Europeans. It is almost like the 1931 World Exhibition was more of a spectacle, than a platform to inform and educate people. This spectacle was a space where the imaginations of the people could go wild, and where people could leave the ordinariness of their lives and just simply marvel. By learning about an exotic new culture, within this spectacle the construction of the people being colonized was created.
The beginning of the 20th century welcomed the knowledge of new societies into the mindsets of Europeans. World Exhibitions became an area for classifying different cultures. It was a place where the native savage could be observed and studied by the civilized masses of European society.
Exhibitions were places of mobility, where one could travel the world, without having to leave the country. There the ordinary could become extraordinary, and the average European could be confronted with the exoticism of cultures so vastly different than their owns, that their sensibilities were stunned and stimulated.
By visiting these exhibitions people were taking a “leap from being that nice blob” living a life of complete normalcy. Marveling, and learning of another people was their opportunity to escape from just seeing themselves as just ordinary. In discovering the other, one sees a unique and special version of them. By learning of the other, one can experience narcissism for oneself, and appreciate the good within the banality of their existence.
I believe that within the innermost layer of the modern experience is the ability to traverse between cultures. The Europeans, because of their traveling, were able to construct the identities of others. This gave them power to define others by their relation to themselves. Therefore the exhibitions are not a space of educating others but of defining oneself to ones difference from another.
In “A Small Place” Jamaica Kincaid is describing the interactions between the poles of the developed and the underdeveloped world. The industrial north to the backwards south, in their construction of one another, the north is taking advantage of the other in their pursuit of pleasure and exploitation.
This fascination with the “other” is the reality of the modern experience. With the improvements of technology and the increased mobilization of people, which has allowed diverse ethnographies, the perception and the interaction of differing groups is the reality of the modern experience.
During the Colonial Exhibitions, Europeans could marvel but yet feel grateful of their “superior” knowledge of technology and culture. But now with post-colonialization, Kincaid is illustrating the dynamics of an appreciation of the native southerner.
The modern experience in essence a diluted view of a foreigner.
The Club Med advertisements during the 1990s caters to the desires of people wanting to break free from their habitual sacs of what Jamaica Kincaid refers to as the “modern experience.”
In the short clip, the viewer is shown peoples vacations where they all frolic in nature. Away from the structured robotic, and mechanical world of modern society, and into a paradise where one can play, swim, dance, and sail within nature and far apart from the reality of their everyday lives
There is inspiration within all the clips of each person’s club med vacation, a secret promise given within the advertisement where one can find renewed meaning within life by taking a break from the normalcy of their existence.
It is the allure of the other that Club Med is catering to within the advertisement of “lying on some faraway beach”, taking a sail on a faraway sea, or golfing on a distant golf course.
Despite the colonial discourse of improving the native savage, Club Med finds value in a return to the primal to nature.
Perhaps within the amniotic sac of modern existence people are just striving to feel, and experience a life different from their own. In order to reach enlightenment or grasp a piece of their own reality they must step out of their life in order to gain a different perspective.
Within the Club Med advertisement, its tagline is “where civilization ends” inviting the viewer to “Imagine, for a moment, nothing”. Within this nothingness the banality of one’s existence can be escaped for a couple days of even a week. During the intrepid adventure of a Club Med vacation the allure of everything or nothing can be found.
Where civilization ends is where, within the modern, post-colonial world people believe a higher strand of reality can be attained. This is ironic because during colonial times the goal was always to enlighten the native to the benefits of civilization. This is apparent through the World Exhibitions that occurred during the first half of the 20th century.
Kincaid is just illustrating how within the modern world, the goal is to forget all the norms created during colonialization, and that marveling at the native and his connection to nature, one can easily escape the ordinariness of their lives.
The term “everything” within the advert and TV commercial, refers to what Kincaid says as “something first forgotten then remembered” perhaps this just remembered memory is a life separate from the robotic, continually homogenized and techno centered world. In the nothingness one is able to let go of the machines, and responsibilities that make one just like the rest of the mass.
Within the modern world of existence, the only true way that people can discover reality is to break free from their own lives. The liberty of modern existence is found within the mobility of being able to move between two polarizing places of existence: the developed and underdeveloped world.
Babel. Alejandro González Iñárritu 2006 masterpiece depicts the consequences of a post-colonial, post-modern world. The film effectively illustrates how distance, language and culture separate people from each other’s realities. In the clip that I chose, from the film, Susan Jones played by Cate Blanchett wistfully looks out the window from the tour bus that she is on at the vast and desolate desert of Morocco fragmented by women in burkas who decorate the landscape. This moment of gazing at this other reality of existence relates to Jamaica Kincaid’s “amniotic sac of the modern experience”. The bus serves as the protective sac for Susan Jones as she stares out at the other world protected in her cocoon of modernity from “the other” or “the savage”.
This journey on the bus in Morocco that Susan is taking with her husband Richard Jones, played by Brad Pitt is their “leap” from just being ordinary, monotonous drones within the developed world to being inspired by visiting the “heaps of death and ruin” of the other. It is no wonder that Morocco of all places is the place that Richard chooses to reconcile their martial problems. What is amazing is that in that moment of staring out the window at this other place of existence Susan is able to reach out to her husband, to feel alive. By looking at the other Susan can feel alive, to break through the cocoon of her modern existence and bring life to her marriage.
With the image below the clip, it also shows Susan continually looking outwards at the harmony of the Moroccans, seeing them as people instead of the backward country that they are depicted as in the news.
Kincaid in “A Small Place” discusses the mobility of people and how with mobility comes the ability to experience life from different angles. With traveling to another reality, as Susan and Richard do in Babel they are able to escape their amniotic experience and within the world of Morocco they are not just the normal middle-aged couple going through a routine martial crisis, but individuals who are given the status of “tourist”. It is almost as if this new space of Morocco gives them validation for resolving their problems, from escaping their lives of mediocrity in order to become unique individuals.
By gazing at the women walking along the roadside, Susan instead of taking the colonial perspective of the other and lamenting at their lives, is able to marvel at how distinctive their experience is. By traveling to Morocco, by looking at the other, Susan is shedding the layers of her modern experience.
She is no longer just a wife and mother, but a stranger within a foreign land. Taking a step out of her comfort zone in order to feel the realities of the other.
The moment when Susan is shot demonstrates the penetration of the developed amniotic sac by the under developed world. This is the moment when two realities of experience coincide. She is no longer just an observer of the lives of the Moroccans, but an active participant, at the mercy of the people whom she has just discovered.