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Cultural Cringe, in cultural studies and social anthropology, is an internalized inferiority complex which causes people in a country to dismiss their own culture as inferior to the cultures of other countries. It is closely related, although not identical, to the concept of colonial mentality, and is often linked with the display of anti-intellectual attitudes towards thinkers, scientists and artists who originate from a colonial or post-colonial nation. It can also be manifested in individuals in the form of 'Cultural alienation'. In many cases, "cultural cringe", or an equivalent term, is an accusation made by a fellow-national, who decries the inferiority complex and asserts the merits of the national culture.

OriginEdit

The term Cultural Cringe was coined after the Second World War by the Melbourne critic and social commentator A. A. Phillips, and defined in an influential and highly controversial 1950 essay of the same name.[1] It explored ingrained feelings of inferiority that local intellectuals struggled against, and which were most clearly pronounced in the Australian theatre, music, art and letters. The implications of these insights potentially applied to all former colonial nations, and the essay is now recognised as a cornerstone in the development of Post colonial theory in Australia.

In essence, Phillips pointed out that the public widely assumed that anything produced by local dramatists, actors, musicians, artists and writers was necessarily deficient when compared against the works of the British and European counterparts. In the words of the poet Chris Wallace-Crabbe (quoted by Peter Conrad[2]), Australia was being made to rhyme with failure. The only ways local arts professionals could build themselves up in public esteem was either to follow overseas fashions, or, more often, to spend a period of time working in Britain.

In some professions this ingrained attitude heavily affected employment opportunities. British- or European-born applicants would be given preferential treatment when applying for jobs, with only those Australians who had worked in London being treated as worthy of appointment or promotion. In this way the Cultural Cringe caused, during the early to mid 20th century, the exodus to Britain of so many young talented Australians across a broad range of fields, from the Arts to even the Sciences.[3][4] They had to spend time working there to advance in their own fields back home. The Cultural Cringe also was responsible for many former Britons holding senior positions in Australia's public sector.

Much of this could be readily applied to many former colonial nations. Dealing specifically with Australia, Phillips pointed out that sport has been the only field in which ordinary people accepted that their nation was able to perform and excell internationally. Indeed, while they prided themselves on the qualities of locally produced athletes and sportsmen, whom they invariably considered first rate, Australians behaved as if in more intellectual pursuits the nation generated only second-rate talent. The Cultural Cringe might therefore be seen as contributing to a strong strand of anti-intellectualism that has underpinned public life in Australia.[5]

Cultural alienationEdit

The Cultural Cringe is tightly connected with 'Cultural alienation', that is, the process of devaluing or abandoning one's own culture or cultural background. A person who is culturally alienated places little value on their own or host culture, and instead hungers for that of a - sometimes imposed - colonising nation.[6] [7] The post-colonial theorists Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin link alienation with a sense of dislocation or displacement some peoples (especially those from immigrant cultures) will feel when they look to a distant nation for their values.[6] [8] Culturally alienated societies often exhibit a weak sense of cultural self-identity and place little worth on themselves. The most common manifestation of this alienation among peoples from post-colonial nations at present is an appetite for all things American, from television and music, to clothing, slang, even names. Culturally alienated individuals will also exhibit little knowledge or interest in the history of their host society, placing no real value on such matters.[6]

The issue of Cultural alienation has lead the Australian sociologists Brian Head and James Walter to interpret the Cultural Cringe as the belief that one's own country occupies a "subordinate cultural place on the periphery", and that "intellectual standards are set and innovations occur elsewhere".[9] As a consequence, a person who holds this belief is inclined to devalue their own country's cultural, academic and artistic life, and to venerate the "superior" culture of another (colonising) country.

A more sophisticated approach to the issues raised by the Cultural Cringe, as felt by artistic practitioners in former colonies around the world, was developed and advanced by the Australian art historian Terry Smith in his essay 'The Provincialism Problem'[10].

In AustraliaEdit

Some commentators claim the Cultural Cringe particularly affects local television programming in Australia[11], which is heavily influenced by imported shows, mainly of American origin. The Federal government has legislated to keep a quota of Australian content (Australian Content Standard and Television Program Standard 23).

The term Cultural Cringe is most commonly used in Australia, where it is believed by some to be a fact of Australian cultural life.[12] In Another Look at the Cultural Cringe[9], the Australian academic Leonard John Hume examined the idea of cultural cringe as an oversimplification of the complexities of Australian history and culture. His controversial essay argues that "The cultural cringe ... did not exist, but it was needed, and so it was invented." This need is demonstrated by its frequent use to deflect criticism of almost anything, on the grounds that the critic is suffering from the cringe.

Many prominent Australians, such as Germaine Greer and Barry Humphries despite their obvious love for the country, have confessed to living overseas due to the effects of cultural cringe.[13] When Cultural cringe is applied to prominent Australian personalities, it is often mistaken as another Australian cultural phenomenon known as Tall poppy syndrome.[14][15]

Some argue that a form of cultural cringe resulted in anti-heritage attitudes resulting in the demolition of many world class pre-war buildings in Melbourne and Sydney, despite Australian cities having some of the world's best examples of Victorian architecture.[16] Modernism was promoted to many Australians as casting off imperial Europe to rebuild a new independent identity and the existing pre-war architecture, which were a feature of Australian cities, was somewhat insignificant.[17] This resulted in many calls to demolish the Royal Exhibition Building, labelled the derogatory term White Elephant. Ironically, it was not until Queen Elizabeth II granted the building Royal status that Australians began to recognise its value. The building became the first in Australia to be given World Heritage status[18]. The reverse can also be said, that local architects are shunned for introduced styles.[19]

It has also been claimed that cultural cringe has led to federal government information technology contracts going to large foreign multinationals rather than domestic IT companies.[20]

Significantly, elements in the Australian media have in recent decades twisted the meaning of the Cultural Cringe, trying to apply it to feelings of embarrassment about the supposed gaucheness of Australian culture and society. It will often be referred to in this way within media discussions of Australian suburban ideals and the Australian Dream.

In IrelandEdit

Ireland's historical relationship with Britain has produced tensions between the (forced or voluntary) adoption of many British cultural practices during the long period of English and British polical hegemony, and the desire of Irish nationalism to assert Irishness as being distinct from any British identity. One symptom is the epithet "West Brit" applied by one Irish person to another who is felt to adopt excessively the mannerisms of the British (specifically, the English).[21] Many of the distinctive features of Hiberno-English are discouraged as nonstandard. Conversely, those who continually assert the execellence of Irish culture may be derided by others as blinded to its faults by chauvinism.

Ireland's emigrant communties may also have developed different relationships with Irish culture from those living within Ireland. The Irish tourist industry often emphasises aspects of Irish culture which some within Ireland consider stereotypical and either obsolete or fabricated; such as Irish dancing, leprechauns, Aran sweaters, Irish pubs, or thatched cottages. Visiting emigrants, typically Irish Americans, who take pride in such symbols may be labelled "plastic Paddies" by those within Ireland, and seen as not truly Irish, but rather engaged in cultural appropriation.

In CanadaEdit

Many cultural commentators in Canada[22] have also suggested that a similar process operates in that country as well. The specific phrase "cultural cringe" is not widely used to label the phenomenon in Canada, although it has been used in isolated instances; more typically, Canadian cultural commentators speak of a "Canadian inferiority complex" [23], or label specific instances of the phenomenon with satirical terms such as beaver hour.

Prior to the 1970s, Canadian radio stations gave almost no airtime to Canadian music, and apart from CBC Television, Canadian television stations spent very little money on Canadian-produced programming. The CRTC adopted Canadian content regulations to resolve this, although even today such regulation is still criticized by some Canadians as representing inappropriate government interference in the right of Canadians to choose "superior" American entertainment.

Similarly, English Canadian film has an extremely difficult time garnering an audience in Canada.

In addition, it has also been claimed that some segments of Quebec society experience cultural cringe in relation both to the rest of Canada and to France. Some have proposed that Quebec sovereignty is a necessary step toward resolving this. (See section in Colonial mentality.)

In other countriesEdit

Other examples include the claimed cringes of New Zealand [24], Scotland (see Scottish cringe) [25] and the Jewish people (see Self-hating Jew).

South African novelist Deon Meyer explores this theme as it applies to Afrikaners in South Africa in his novel "[1]" Dead Before Daybreak. A case might also be made for applying the concept to Germany, especially to German society north of Bavaria.

Greece can also be said to suffer from cultural cringe, as there are some Greeks who believe that anything related to Greece (or the Mediterranean countries as a whole) is inferior to the culture of Western Europe or North America.

See alsoEdit

BibliographyEdit

  • A.A. Phillips, The Australian Tradition : Studies in Colonial Culture, Melbourne, Cheshire, 1958

ReferencesEdit

  1. Phillips, Arthur Angel (January 2006). A. A. Phillips on The Cultural Cringe, Melbourne University Publishing.
  2. includeonly>"Expatriate games", The Age, 2005-03-25. Retrieved on 2007-01-17.
  3. Alomes, Stephen (1999). When London Calls: The Expatriation of Australian Creative Artists to Britain, Melbourne: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521620317.
  4. Britain, Ian (1997). Once an Australian: Journeys with Barry Humphries, Clive James, Germaine Greer and Robert Hughes, Melbourne: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195537424.
  5. includeonly>"anti-intellectualism in Australia", Radio National, 2000-10-05. Retrieved on 2007-01-17.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Ashcroft, Bill; Gareth Griffiths & Helen Tiffin (1989). The Empire Writes Back: Theory & Practice in Post-Colonial Studies, pp.9-10, 61, 104-5, 144, London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-01209-0.
  7. Bhabha, Homi (1994). The Location of Culture, London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-33639-2.
  8. Place and displacement. The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures. Routledge. URL accessed on 2007-01-18.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Hume, Leonard John (1993). Another Look at the Cultural Cringe, Sydney, New South Wales: The Centre for Independent Studies. ISBN 0-949769-89-4.
  10. Smith, Terry (September 1974). The Provincialism Problem. Artforum: 54-59.
  11. Cultural cringe keeps our history out of the picture article from the Sydney Morning Herald
  12. National Review, 31 December 1995 by Kenneth Minogue"Cultural cringe - cultural inferiority complex and republicanism in Australia", URL accessed on 5 September 2006.
  13. "Cultural Cringe turned suburban", smh.com.au. URL accessed on 5 September 2006.
  14. "Flogging the tall poppy syndrome", Convict Creations. URL accessed on 5 September 2006.
  15. "On the Edge: Australia's Cultural Cringe", Music Industry Online. URL accessed on 5 September 2006.
  16. Construction sights Article from The Age
  17. Blow S - The Marketing of modernism in Melbourne, 1950-1970
  18. "Who will save Melbourne from the wrecker's ball?" theage.com.au March 15 2004. URL accessed on 5 September 2006.
  19. Kicking against the bricks Article from the Age
  20. An unlevel playing field
  21. "language and identity in twentieth-century Ireland", 2003. URL accessed on 5 September 2006.
  22. "An ‘Un-American’ Cinema", The Knoll. URL accessed on 5 September 2006.
  23. "[http://www.empireclubfoundation.com/details.asp?SpeechID=2782 Merrill Dennison, Empire Club address That Inferiority Complex
  24. "Switching on Kiwi Comedy", NZ on Air. URL accessed on 5 September 2006.
  25. "'I want to end the Scottish cringe'", BBC News, 28 February 2004. URL accessed on 10 June 2006.
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