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>On Tuesday, January 8, 2002, at 10:52 , Grant Callaghan wrote:
>>Most people now agree that American culture and English culture
>>are two different cultures.
>Indeed, separated by a common language....
>It may be useless to talk of the evolution or speciation of
>cultures, and to attempt, however fitfully, to discern the
>instances of distribution of fads and the like, as distinct
We still haven't quite worked out the ways in which the Lamarkian evolution
of memetics resembles the Darwinian evolution of plants and animals. A lot
of the metaphors we toss about are not approapriate to the divisions we use
to divide up the elements of culture. What we do know is that there is a
process that causes change in culture that in some ways resembles the
changes species. It would be a mistake to call them the same thing exactly.
>I would tend to dismiss as unfounded claims that english and
>usanian cultures are unique species, or even 'different'.
>And all I have to do to come to this conclusion is say, Harry Potter.
>Who is now very popular in Japan, as I understand....
>What's going on there?
>Any memetic guesses?
Having spent a great deal of time in the Far East teaching English as a
second language, I can tell you from experience that What they pick up from
the movie is no doubt much different from what we do. And then there's the
translation problem. I remember watching a movie in which a man walks up to
a farm house in rural England and asks how far it is to the next town.
"Nigh on to a mile," replied the farmer.
"Nine miles" read the Chinese translantion at the bottom of the screen.
I used to help some teachers who moonlighted as translaters for English and
American movies. Although their English skills were at university level,
they were totally in the dark about the meaning of English and American
slang. "I'm going to take a butcher's." had something to do with meat
processing as far as they were concerned.
And most of our profanity was totally meaningless to them. The worst thing
you could call someone in Taiwan when I was there was a turtle egg (Wang ba
dan) but I found myself totally unfazed by it. But if you said it to
someone on the street, you'd better be ready to fight.
So the Japanese and Chinese may enjoy Harry Potter but the memes they pick
up from it will not be the same ones we thought we were sending over there
with the movie. If you sit in the theater with them, you'll no doubt find
them laughing in all the wrong places. Magic in the Far East is based on
entirely different beliefs and principles than those in the West. Most
magic over there is Taoist in nature with a tinge of Buddhist tradition
backing it up. The magic in Harry Potter has pseudo-Celtic antecedents and
comes from European traditions. I don't think it will translate all that
When I first went over there, it took at least a year in each country before
I really began to understand what was going on in the culture around me.
Most of what I saw and heard I interpreted in terms of my own culture and
experience. Even today my Chinese wife and I have a large number of
misunderstandings based on language and cultural differences. Our belief
systems don't mesh at all. Although we share the same house, we live in
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