By Tome Loulin 娄桦林（笔名）, also known as Hsienhua Lou, he lives in Hubei’s Qianjiang city and is currently a graduate student of translation studies.
Cultural radicalness is itself a romantic idealization of what should we ourselves be known as. We invented the notion that a harmonious in-group experience exists only when the imagined support from an ideal ‘us’ for our cultural idealization of the ways of life is with us. Living, it turns out, is itself a way of stylizing our behaviors to get us accepted by that imagined ‘cultural home’ to which we think we belong. Then, the survival of a cultural identity is dependent on the values we hold. This imagined oneness—an inclusive ‘we’—is usually narrowly defined, and exclusive, helping its in-group members distinguish between outsiders and insiders. That the narratives told by those self-proclaimed cultural supremacists idealize moral righteousness demonstrates why certain talks about modern culture and social imagination have been largely dominated by those intolerant of cultural equality and diversity. Our spiritual existence is, you may agree, constantly under threat from political-motivated hatreds against different groups of people because of their very preferences for certain ways of life or, in certain cases, of their biological features.
The time I started noticing certain reports posted on servral internationally influential media is a time of realization of how far this ongoing cultural alienization could go. Rarely would there be a writer whose creative power wasn’t influenced in certain ways by the anxieties posed by the geopolitical tensions occurring at the time. Taking Orwell’s writing as an example, I should realize early how remote it feels to me to concretize his geopolitical phantasm of the names of the countries in his novel such as Oceania. What does the term exactly mean? Human imaginations of all kinds are indeed an expected universality whose meanings we should, as expected, have no difficulty of comprehending. But why—given this century’s rapid advancement of information technology and our expanding knowledge about a swath of cultural terrains previously unknown to us—are the misunderstandings about people from different countries gotten deepened?
Public opinions are prone to manipulations. Being immersed in phenomenal and fleeting waves of cultural misunderstanding, ‘people’ as a concept widely used in journalistic and cultural talks to get certain manipulators’ agenda done is a cliché whose power to make us feel home would hardly subside for this imaged cultural home is so much in need at a time characterized by social indifference that impacts the way we live now.
There have been so many opinion pieces warning us about the danger of certain countries as it turns out. Also, there are war talkers whose ‘analyses’ or ‘opinions’ published or deliberated on mainstream media impact the way the readers make sense about the perceived ‘enemies’. Theirs was a way of ceaselessly warning about the threat from an ‘enemy’ usually out of the reason that its political system is different or not rule-based. It’s since when that the notion of protecting the values become synonymous with boundless hatred and violence inciting? Warmongers often believe in order to have peace kept, wars are inevitable or, in some extent, worth waging as long as it is good at achieving their agandas. Those who voice their concerns about wars, any war, are often attacked and labeled as apologists.
War of any kind is a selfish act as its impact on the displaced, wounded, homeless, affected could only be the worst thing ever thinkable, something not only hard to behold but to experience. Yet, on certain newspapers, there are opinion sections full of pieces telling, or warning if you will, readers how dangerous is a perceived geopolitical competitor or the threat from it. It will, some may argue, disrupt the way of life as we know it if we don’t take critical actions against those perceived enemies.
“Sooner or later, an explosion will occur. Yet substituting confrontation for engagement is reckless and futile if the west is not prepared to put its money, political muscle and ultimately its armed forces where its mouth is.” the opinionator, Simon Tisdall, lamented in his piece published on the Guardian in July, warning that there will be ‘an explosion’ occurring between the two countries he mentioned. What kind of an explosion? How damaging is it?
“Confrontations, political muscle, armed forces, explosion, and futile” these words, it turns out, have the power to get the least political-sensitive person shocked if it didn’t seem crucial for the reader to see the evidences required to prove the urgency of taking measures against the described and perceived ‘threat’ before reaching out to a conclusion. Since it is always the cautious ‘analyses’ about other countries that come first to readers before facts, it is no surprise that seeing other culture or society in a more favorable light is so hard. War-wagers are praised, in many instances, as guards, fighters whose precautious talks about war are to be widely disseminated from one era to another, compulsorily learned by all members of the society’s young. Often forgotten are the horrors experienced by so many who were displaced, resettled, homeless and died during various wars.
There is a photography by Carl Mydans—first published on LIFE magazine—captioned: ruins of village near Penghu in Chinese civil war. Framed in the black and white picture is a woman, her head turbaned with traditional Chinese headwear, simple-dressed, in despair, helplessly and heart-brokenly kneeing in front of what appeared to be her hut that was ruined in the war, perhaps, by fire. The ruined hut that was almost unrecognizable with only some brunt pillars remaining standing. With Mydans’ photography, this framed painfulness becomes eternal. One even without prior knowledge about photojournalism would know how hard and heart-rendering it is to experience war, indeed, any kind of war, whether firsthand or second.
Yet photography, overall, is not an original experience; instead, it creates various visual spaces in our minds, leading us through the scenes captured in the frames. It’s a secondhand, alternative reality whose psychological effects bring us to a limited area of subjective imagining. But after seeing Mydas’ pictures, one could only get more uncertain about the war than about the sufferings immortalized inside the frames: where had the woman affected by the war gone? And how was she?
There were no answers.
It seems confusing perhaps for—if the horrors of war suffered by those silenced, wounded, killed in wars remain disregarded—such photographs, indeed, will be innumerous.