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Ethnocentrism

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Autor:  jessica85  07 April 2010
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Are we limited in knowledge, in imagination, and in understanding by the culture we grow up in? In other words, are we ethnocentric, and if so is it a bad thing? To answer that, one must understand what ethnocentrism is. According to Macionis (2004), ethnocentrism is “the practice of judging another culture by the standards of one’s own culture”.
We are not born with culture; culture is a socially learned behavior, or set of values that a given groups holds as a norm and are considered to be true and right. It is these cultural norms that connect the individuals of the group, which make up a society. No society can exist without culture and no culture can exist without a society (Giddens, Duneier, & Applebaum, 2002). The two are intrinsically intertwined. It is hard to see past one’s own culture and reach into another for understanding; we find it hard to comprehend the fact that our truths and values, that are so innate to us, do not represent universal truth. So what is universal truth; who is right and who is wrong culturally? Here in lays the importance of understanding ‘cultural relativism’, or “the practice of evaluating a culture by its own standards” (Macionis, 2004), making the previous question irrelevant since culture itself is present in every society, it is therefore, universal; having no right or wrong.
Like culture, ethnocentrism is unavoidable and like culture, ethnocentrism is universal to all cultures to some degree. To claim no ethnocentricity would be to separate oneself from one’s own culture. It is only human nature to be grounded in and reflective of the culture that you have been immersed in since birth, as it is your connection to your heritage. In this sense, ethnocentrism is not all bad, and can be beneficial in promoting cultural diversity (Rosaldo, 2000). It becomes bad when we do not acknowledge other cultures or we expect others to adopt our cultural norms because we believe their cultural norms are wrong. This behavior stems mainly from the troublesome nature of not understanding the basis for their beliefs and values, and from intimidation due to the mere existence of a different view of norms within a culture, leading to a threatening atmosphere when our cultural validity is challenged.
Crossing the lines between cultures has become more common with technological advances. What was once a world where cultures rarely crossed due to geographic locations has turned into a global meshing of cultures where an increased awareness of ethnocentrism is paramount. What is important to know and remember about ethnocentrism is through understanding and coming to terms with another’s culture does not mean you have to agree with it, act upon it, or embrace it. One must only respect the differing value and acknowledge its existence. This includes all values, ethical and unethical. For example, understanding some cultures embrace bull fighting which your culture may find as a cruel way to end the bull’s life. Accepting this value as a valid part of their culture does not preclude or dismiss your belief that it is unethical (Rosaldo, 2000). Allowing and understanding that these two values can and in fact do exist side-by-side in both cultural norms is the ability to get past ethnocentrism through cultural relativism.
There are three levels of ethnocentrism: a positive perspective, a negative perspective, and an extremely negative perspective. This is important to note in terms of the degree that ethnocentrism can be tolerable. The positive perspective views one culture as being preferential to others while maintaining respect for other cultures. The negative perspective views one culture as the standard from which to compare and evaluate all other cultures. And the extreme negative perspective imposes their cultural values and beliefs on others, insisting they adapt and conform, leaving their cultural norms behind where they will cease to exist (Manon, 1999).
In comparing a show such as the Iron Chef within the realm of ethnocentrism, the most noticeable differences would be the type of competition displayed. The Iron Chef has been referred to as “A mix between Godzilla, wrestling, and Julia Child” (Iron Chef, n.d.). The cooking shows that we are culturally accustomed to viewing are nothing like the Iron Chef, and in fact, pales in comparison. The Iron Chef is a symbol for what the Japanese culture revered as the bushido; or the way of the warrior, hence the fierce competition between the chefs. This samurai tradition was once deeply engrained in Japanese tradition; however remains only as nostalgia today, yet the spirit came alive within the show, the Iron Chef (Shotokai, n.d.).
Unlike our cooking shows, the Iron Chef does not teach cooking techniques, although the audience will inevitably contain students and chefs alike. US television show audiences are usually made up of people purchasing tickets or standing in line to watch the taping of the show, and are allowed free admittance. The competition was to create an outstanding and creative looking food that tastes as good as it looks within a time limit of 45 minutes. This could be construed as pride in one’s occupation as each chef is meticulous in the preparation of the food, working feverously to complete the dishes on time, each other consisting of a certain theme ingredient. The chefs are more likened to that of “culinary superheroes”, something the US culture is not accustomed to. Another cultural difference was this one certain ingredient that was used as a theme. It was always something bizarre and out of the ordinary such as natto, ostrich, and black pig; dishes that are not consider a norm in our culture and one would probably not see these ingredients prepared by a US chef. The panel of judges is made up of ordinary people and one ‘babe’. She is added for beauty and spice, something shows in the US rarely do. As in baseball in the US, the Iron Chef has a commentary as well as a sideline announcer who gives a blow by blow commentary on the dishes being prepared (Iron Chef, n.d.). The show is presented in a high drama, exciting action style, very different from US low key, and almost mundane in comparison cooking shows.
The social differences occur in the end, when the winner of each cooking battle is hailed throughout the land; the loser is mocked rudely (Iron Chef, n.d.). This type of behavior towards the contestants would not be tolerated on a US based competitive show. Additionally, US television show hosts tend to dress conservatively and act within socially acceptable guidelines, much the opposite of the MC for Iron Chef, who is very flamboyant and dresses in ways that would make Liberace jealous.
An interesting twist occurred when a Canadian based multinational corporation tried to copy the success of the Iron Chef and failed miserably. With William Shatner as the host, the show “focused little on cooking--a major part of the Japanese program. The show had a small audience section in bleachers. The audience yelled relentlessly during the show (sounding much like a sports audience), Shatner walked around the kitchen sampling the more expensive items, the chefs refused to say what they were doing, and the cameras rarely showed the food preparation” (Wikipedia, 2004). There is little to wonder why the show did not succeed, in addition to the difference in the cultures and the fact that US culture very rarely focuses on such fierce competition.
I believe in comparing and contrasting this television cooking show relative to the cultural values present in the show itself and in the chefs, it is very apparent that these differences are what defines a culture and makes one so very different than the other. Learning to accept these differences and appreciating them for the ways they are engrained in society can lead to an appreciation for that culture.



Works Cited
Giddens, A., Duneier, M., & Appelbaum, R.P. (n.d.) Welcome to Sociology. Chapter 3: Culture & Society. http://www.wwnorton.com/giddens4/chapters/chapter3/welcome.htm
Iron Chef. (n.d.) The World News. http://www.sbs.com.au/ironchef/
Macionis, J. J. (2004). Sociology, Tenth Edition. Pearson Education, Inc. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey 07458.
Manon, Louis R. III (1999, November). Multiculturalism: Walking the Walk. http://astro.ocis.temple.edu/~wgreason/sampaadana8.html
Rosaldo, R. (2000, Winter). Issues in Ethics. Of headhunters and Soldiers: Separating Cultural and Ethical Relativism. http://www.scu.edu/ethics/publications/iie/v11n1/relativism.html
Shotokai. (n.d.) http://www.shotokai.cl/filosofia/06_ee_.html
Wikipedia. (2004, March). Iron Chef. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_Chef

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