Thursday, May 23, 2019

mini-rant about culture

Watch this preview for "The Farewell" starring a startlingly un-made-up Awkwafina* (ethnically Chinese and Korean):

I've lived this. I had a great aunt in Korea who was dying of stomach cancer back in the mid-1980s, but none of her damn relatives told her what was wrong with her. This brought up all sorts of questions to my mind, such as why the hell didn't the docs speak directly to the patient about her condition? How is it Hippocratically ethical to leave a patient in the dark, bypassing the patient to speak to the family? And when the focus shifted to the family situation, the question that arose in my mind was why the hell did the family think it was fine to leave their dying relative in the dark, scared and confused about what was happening to her? The last time I saw my great aunt, she was sobbing as we left her home.

My contention, often voiced on this blog, has been that East Asians love to blah-blah-blah when they get the chance to do so... except when it comes to the most important things in life. I have a friend in the Philippines whose Korean wife left him with no explanation aside from a vague statement about general unhappiness. No attempt to work things out, nothing. This struck me as lazy, cruel, and borderline evil. But it's just Asians acting Asian, ja? My great aunt died without knowing what was wrong with her, although I imagine she intuited something long before the end. Women aren't stupid. The above movie preview depicts a dying grandmother who's been kept in the dark about her own illness. She's to attend a wedding, where she'll have the chance to see a large section of her family one last time. Awkwafina plays the Americanized Asian granddaughter who, like me, can't understand this bizarre omertà that shields the grandmother from the reality of her own condition. Feels before facts, ja? Maybe it all comes down to Ernest Becker's notion of the "denial of death," a haunting fact that guides most human endeavors.

Western society has plenty that's wrong with it, but I think Asian society could be a lot less stressful if people here got into a correct relationship with the truth. My sociological theory is that the religions that flourish in a given area of the world do so because they respond to the local needs of the people. If the West is full of liars, thieves, and the selfish, then Christianity responds by preaching honesty, non-coveting, and altruism. If Asia is full of agitated, jabbering people who lie and constantly fail to listen to each other, then Buddhism preaches quietude, humility, attentiveness, and pragmatic adherence to truth by seeing reality's true nature. Religions are responses to our assholery... although they do become infected by and infested with that same assholery, which is why there are predatory priests, money-bilking preachers, and monks who get drunk and sleep with women in the laity. It's a shame when religion gets corrupted that way; uncorrupted, it provides avenues for the practicing of better thoughts and behaviors.

Feels before facts is definitely an operant principle in East Asian society, which is more about shame (which is public) than guilt (which is private), and more about talking than listening, all in avoidance of the truth. I've probably been guilty of following that principle myself on more than one occasion, but that doesn't make me hate the principle any less.

*There's something unsettling about her expression in the video's thumbnail. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it creeps me out. From any other angle, and with any other facial expression, Awkwafina looks perfectly normal. She's old enough to have developed a nice, ripe ajumma face, so aside from this thumbnail, there's nothing creepy about her.

No comments: