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Bridging the pop cultural divide... and then some

Illustration by Mike Padilla
By Keren G. Raz
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, August 9, 2004
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BEIJING - Good idea: A fun night out on the town with some locals in China. Bad idea: A night on the town that involves watching Chinese girls in hula skirts and Chinese guys in sparkle green suits dancing to Livin' La Vida Loca.

Yet that's what I saw here in Asia.

I almost choked on the Coca Cola I was sipping when everyone took the stage for the Ricky-Martin-goes-to-Hawaii opening act.

I looked around, wondering if anyone else thought the sight strange.

But no, every single Chinese person around me was clapping along as if they were hearing the song for the first time.

"Am I missing something?" I wondered.

Then I realized that, no, Ricky Martin is still passť.

And no, I was not out of the pop culture loop.

I was caught in the middle of the pop culture divide.

When traveling to Asia, you don't just learn about ancient Eastern culture, you get to learn about Asian pop culture as well.

It provides a good lesson in just how different the Western and Eastern cultures are.

It also provides a good lesson in how to respect the differences.

Keren G. Raz

Sure, we can't stand the squeals produced by the electric violin or the idea of a whiny Chinese pop band "enhanced" by a synthesizer.

But who are we to judge?

We are, after all, firm participants in the culture that made "Titanic" and Jackass and even Ricky Martin (think: "She Bangs") successes.

Can you imagine what people would think if they tried to understand our culture by analyzing what makes Adam Sandler so popular?

If you can't, I'll give you an idea.

On my flight from Korea, a magazine provided some insight into American pop culture, by analyzing what can safely be called one of the worst movies to come out of America:

Adam Sandler's "Little Nicky."

Here is how Asians come to understand us by watching the movies we condone the making of:

"It must have been frustrating for American moviegoers to see their hero, who used to have that innocent soul and fight for their Utopian values, to be degraded as Satan's youngest son. How disappointing it was to see him acting like those little kids in South Park! For them, his comic, somewhat slow character is similar to that of a petit bourgeois who believes in Utopian values ... This is where we can understand why Adam Sandler's films are especially loved in the States."

Since when do the words bourgeois and Adam Sandler, the author of the Hanukah song, go together?

Despite the global dissemination of American movies, music and television shows, we're clearly not the pop culture experts.

People here wonder what China will do in recreating a culture, destroyed by the cultural revolution.

Since that's up to our Chinese peers, we might as well pay some attention.

So rather than judge, the best we can do is bridge the pop cultural divide.

I'll leave you with this final note:

A poor boy from the countryside in China committed suicide because an $80 debt prevented him from taking the college entrance examinations college.

Abandoned by his parents because they already had one child and raised by his elderly grandparents and mentally handicapped aunt and uncle, the boy had little hope for a future without a college education.

For that reason, his grandfather set aside almost every paycheck for the school bill.

But when the rainy season floods swept the fields, the grandfather had no paycheck, the boy had no money for school, and he lost all hope.

He stood in front of an oncoming train and was killed instantly.

Higher education is something many take for granted in America, partying it away rather than taking it seriously.

As summer session ends and the fall semester begins, realize that no matter how expensive tuition seems, at least you're in college with finances available in case you falter.

Keren G. Raz is a political science and English senior. She can be reached at

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