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Geek U, Radio/Television/Film, Sociology

The Other: An Introduction

One of the goals I had when I started Geek and Gamer Grad was to show the mainstream and academic worlds that our (Geeks and Gamers) culture is something that merits study, that matters, and can influence society. This article series is a step in that direction because we cannot truly step forward unless we understand where we have been, are going, and want to go. I hope that it will invite conversation both on this site and within your personal groups. I will make sure that we don’t go too heavy on the academic stuff so it still can be fun.

The concept of the Other, something or someone that is outside of popular acceptance or thought, is one that presents itself in all areas of cultures and media. It is especially present in Geek and Gamer culture as we will discover over the next year. Each Month we will cover one aspect of the Other by how it presents itself in our media and what it means for our culture as a whole. By doing this I hope that it will make us more mindful of how we interact with not only our chosen media (comics, films, television, games, and books) but also with each other and those outside our culture. This month we will have a brief introduction to the concept of the Other. So, let’s get started….

The Other

Media influences culture. Since the advent of mass communications, the symbiotic relationship between culture and media production holds this truth strong. In some cases, media production reacts to underlying feelings within the culture. Media influences how we as a culture perceive events such as the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11. On the same note, culture influences what emphasis media places on those events.

In times of fear and uncertainty, the public turns to the media for answers, for information, for guidance, and sometimes for escape. Entertainment media often provides this escape in the form of fantastic stories of far-away lands with talking animals and amazing heroes. Other times it presents an alternate world to help understand real events and show society how to handle a crisis.

Popular entertainment possesses the potential to promote antisocial behaviors in times of crisis. The portrayal of the unknown in popular media presents such an opportunity.  The philosophical concept of the Other, a person or group outside of the common group, exists to explain behaviors within cultures to unify against a common enemy.

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Nazi Propaganda against Jews

One such example exists in Germany’s history of the Third Reich where Hitler uses this concept to justify the purging of an entire race. Nazi propaganda depicted Jews as inhuman, often likening them to vermin or pests. While often perceived solely as racial division, the labeling groups’ ideology socially constructs the concept of otherness. Therefore, it extends beyond racial boundaries.1 Sociology uses Otherness to explain situations ranging from racial discrimination to high school bullying.

Otherness underlies any form of bigotry or discrimination without singling out a specific method. It operates in multiple ways for example, creating fear and being fueled by fear, serving as a divide-and-conquer strategy, creating an “us versus them” mind-set, and associating the Other with savagery and lack of civilization.2

This concept presents itself throughout history in situations of one group dominating or attacking another whether the dominant group bases those actions on fear or superiority. Currently Otherness presents itself throughout Geek and Gamer related media. It shows up in productions ranging from popular media such as Big Bang Theory and the immensely popular Lost to sub culture media such as the Zombie genre in film and television and online games like World of Warcraft.

Does this reliance on the concept of the Other in popular media promote the growth of antisocial behaviors in society? Is the use of the Other concept ethically wrong? Does its use have any merit or benefit for society? With this article series, we intend to find those answers. We are going to evaluate 11 different aspects of the Other; The Unknown, the Foreigner, the Monster, Zombies as the Monstrous Other, the Superhuman, the Inhuman, Evil, Factions, Noobs and “Posers,” the Mainstream, and finally ourselves, Geeks and Gamers. In reviewing these aspects within our culture, we will illustrate the consequences of using the concept of the Other. Before can do that we need to learn more about the origins of this concept and how it became what it is today.

Cultural History

Women of Algiers by Eugene Delacroix

The Other or otherness in philosophy draws origins from human history.  During the 19th century, European artists and writers idealized eastern culture. Artists objectified eastern cultures through the male gaze when they painted images of harems and docile women. The exotic nature of these other cultures created the desire to “own” the elements without the context. Academics often refer to this as Cultural Poaching, because the offenders will utilize an element without paying reverence to the culture it comes from.3 One example would be in Role-playing where you may have your character wear a kimono or even be from Japan without actually learning about the culture beyond superficial assumptions.

Orientalism initially described the artistic style of appropriating elements of other eastern cultures. It later put name to Europeans wanting to own pieces of this unknown culture. Orientalism stepped into acceptance as early scholarship utilized this same method to evaluate the foreign and exotic cultures.4

This scholarly study gave way to the aspect of simultaneously idealizing and disparaging the other race.5 This concept grew into the imperialist ideology that fueled actions such as the slave trade and manifest destiny.

Dominant cultures establish dominance in labeling lesser groups as the Other. Designating a group in this manner identifies them as inferior.6 The idea of the ‘noble savage’ implied the individual was uncivilized and therefore lesser, but not to any fault of moral character.7

In 1978, Edward Said criticizes this ideology and its influence on later cultures stating Orientalism, at its core, exists to create the line between the superiority of the west over the east. It stood as “political doctrine willed over the Orient,” because the West believed itself superior.8 Said questions the value of distinct cultures when, as the Other, they encourage aggression.9

The ideology Said criticizes extends beyond eastern cultures and into any situation where one cultural group extends power over another. Philosopher Simone De Beauvoir uses the Other in describing the growth of feminine identity. In her book, The Second Sex, De Beauvoir likens the effect of forced otherness to inhibiting development of women’s identities. De Beauvoir describes this
otherness affecting a young girls perception of being lesser than man and ultimately
causing her to grow into little more than a possession of her husband.10 These
theories lead into questions questioning the role of the Other.

Does the Other exists as something to dominate or something to fear? Is it both? We will see how Geek and Gamer media handles this concept and how this depiction can affect the culture as a whole.

Next week we will review how Geek and Gamer media presents the concept of the Unknown as the Other and the implications the representation brings.

Notes

  1. Karen  Gaffney, “Ideology and Otherness in Lost,” The Ultimare Lost and Philosophy: Think Together, Die Alone, Ed. William Irwin and Sharon Kaye.New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons, 2011, 193, Print.
  2. Karen  Gaffney, “Ideology and Otherness in Lost,” 193.
  3. John Storey, Cultural Studies and the Study of Popular Culture, Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2003, 143, Print.
  4. Edward Said, Orientalism, New York: Vintage Books, 1979, 2, Print.
  5. Jessica Langer, “The Familiar and the Foreign: Playing (Post)Colonialism in World of Warcraft,” Digital Culture, Play, and Identity: A World of Warcraft Reader, Ed. Hilde G. Corneliussen and Jill Walker Rettburg, Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2008, 93, Print.
  6. Karen  Gaffney, “Ideology and Otherness in Lost,” 193.
  7. Jessica Langer, “The Familiar and the Foreign: Playing (Post)Colonialism in World of Warcraft,”93.
  8. Edward Said, Orientalism, New York: Vintage Books, 1979, 204, Print.
  9. Edward Said, Orientalism, New York: Vintage Books, 1979, 325, Print.
  10. Simone  De Beauvoir, The Second Sex, New York: Vintage Books, 1980, 48-49 Print.
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