Posted by: Mm | January 27, 2008

“Oriental is for rugs” – Orientalism on Facebook

The academic term “Orientalism” has been around for decades. Yet, while academia mostly tries its best to find the way out of the complex puzzle of political corectness, in the everyday non-reflected usage not much has changed. Or so it seems.

One could expect that Facebook, the new boom in the world of Internet social networking facilities, would show the same symptoms of common everyday orientalist discourse. After all, it is nothing more than a sum total of the views and practices of a great number (over 60 mio) of individuals, although the younger population surely prevails.

A simple search in the main categories (categories are, as usually, indicative) shows that the idea of “Orient” is still very much present. The three categories of “pages”, “groups” and “applications” portray various views of the imaginary Orient, its peoples and things. Apart from the usual amount of fascination with oriental food and oriental girls, there is a series of commercial sites for Oriental restaurants, clubs/parties and wellness centres. But that could surely be expected.

Much more fascinating, however, is the amount of topics (especially in the “groups” section) which deal directly with the concept of Orient and the perception of Asia in Europe and US. The debates range from obvious jokes on the topic of the Asian immigrants (two contrasting versions of these jokes, Asian and anti-Asian are interesting to compare) to serious debates on the topic of Asianism in the contemporary world. Focusing on the correct use of terms (“Oriental is for the rugs“) or displaying a sense of irony (“half-Asian countries“) these debates reach far beyond the usual orientalist imagery that invaded Internet with downloadable Yijing oracles and good-fortune tattoos. They seem to address the issues of the Asianist and Orientalist practices in the everyday world of the Facebook users and open some questions on the future of these issues in the globalized social networks like this one.

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