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Diversity 5 – Improv/Jam
by Malcolm Evans| Brighton, UK
Sunday, 11 May 2014
tags: culture, europe, fuzzy sets, making sense, network
This fifth section was planned as a mosaic of takes on diversity, converging, from a number of different cultural start points, on a Semiofest session dedicated to diversity to take place in Shanghai on 25th May 2014. This is a spontaneous mashup (please send contributions to email@example.com) along the lines of a similar set of posts, a couple of years ago, on global perceptions of Brazilianness. The questions we invite responses to are 1) & 2) below. With a summarising glimpse, if possible, into what’s distinctive at the meta level about the cultural configuration of diversity in the national context you are writing about.
1) What one thing comes to mind for you first and most profoundly in relation to your personal history and the theme of diversity?
First hearing calypso music on the radio after moving to the Bahamas at the age of 6. Having grown up with the sublime melancholy of Welsh hymn singing (in the chapel and at home, where we had a harmonium in the living room), I still feel the seismic shift in my body and soul with that shift in rhythm, tone and texture – as strong as the shift from green hills, rain and grey sky to dazzling sunlight, blue sea, palms, white sand, lightning and purple thunder clouds. Or from white monoculture to the positive clash and combination of races and idioms. This all added another dimension to a bilingualism and cultural code-shifting between Welsh and English identities which was there for me from the beginning. Many people who are drawn to semiotic and cultural analysis grew up with this kind of bi(or tri-)culturalism and its inescapable vista on intriguing contrast or relativism. Among the clients I have learned most from, for example, are a Mexican-Canadian (Marina Anderson) and a Sicilian-German (Katja Maggio Muller – a combination to conjure with!)
2) Give me (what feels intuitively like) an emergent example of diversity now where you are
There are two. The first, which has actually moved into the Dominant, is the diverse multiracial reality of Britain which, at the precise moment of the London Olympics (and significantly a Paralympics at least as impactful as the hitherto main event) eclipsed the old monocultural inbred and inward looking Britain of the Royals and Daily Mail-style paranoia about immigrants, refugees and the European Union. Still emergent in some ways, perhaps, because the battle is never won. Look at our fastest growing political party UKIP and its regular-guy engaging (I’m afraid so, especially compared with the competition) leader Nigel Farage. The distinctive British take on diversity is, perhaps, a sharp co-presence of insularity and openness. This interplay is implicit in the internal diversity of (hegemonic) Britishness – and in the cultural history and aftermath of Empire.
The second example is the normalising of transgender – the movement from natural & normal versus deviant (Residual) to sexual preference & gay marriage (Dominant) to gender as personal choice (Emergent). In this we are, of course, one with liberal Europe and North America. (With thanks to Brian McIntyre, Barneys New York and 2014 Eurovision Song Context winner Conchita Wurst. (As a lover of single entendre I have to end with three cheers for someone whose name sounds like Esperanto for ‘c-word sausage’).
© Malcolm Evans 2014