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February 2010
 
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Mon, Mar. 30th, 2009 06:41 am
What's on the menu?

I'm in Oslo, readying myself for an intensive three days of teaching, lecturing and critiquing the work of art students at KHiO.

First impressions (I was here in 1993, but didn't see much of the city): the landscape is still under snow here, bright sun illuminates an expensive, efficient infrastructure. I'm immediately impressed by the lack of ugliness. The modern buildings are crisp, the vernacular ones tend to be pleasing red boxes with nicely-placed windows. The train trip from the airport to the city centre lifts the spirit -- the kind of ugliness you'd see in Britain or Belgium (grim corporate HQs, prim suburban houses, industrial plant) has been avoided here. I can see why my hosts Alejandra and Aeron -- who came here from Barcelona, itself a pretty spirit-lifting place -- think they'll probably stay in Norway for good.

Over dinner in a Vietnamese restaurant which offers, on its menu, my favourite condensed milk and egg soda, we discuss what'll be on the teaching menu over the next few days. Basically, this involves reconciling what I offer on my menus (Click Opera topics, a discography of indie records, a small bibliography of books, a short CV of art shows, some magazine articles) with what the Fine Art department at KHiO offers on its menu (facilities for students to make art in, feedback and guidance, education, cultural stimulation).



The city itself is also a menu -- in the mini-tour A&A give me I see a museum offering an exhibition called Gay Kids. I'll have to investigate what this show is about, but the funky rainbow lettering (in typeface VAG Bold) makes it clear that there's no misunderstanding of the implications of the word "gay". I'll see the show and report back tomorrow. (Update: the museum is closed on Mondays, but the show is out on the street. It's "an attempt to educate children about homosexual love".)



If the city is putting Scandinavian liberalism on its cultural menu, the hotel TV fills most of its 25 channels with recycled American dross. It's one reason, in fact, that everybody in Norway speaks such excellent English; unlike culturally-protectionist France and Germany, Norway subtitles foreign shows rather than dubbing (which also means that when there's a documentary about China, you hear the Chinese).

Because I don't watch much TV, I get a bit of culture shock dipping into it. BBC World is reporting, in somewhat Cold War style, on how Chinese government spies have infected the Dalai Lama's computers with malware. The Discovery Channel offers endless, overly-impactful shows in which a couple of wisecracking American guys learn how to kill with a samurai sword or cross-pollinate flowers. It's not the topics on offer in the TV's menu that alienate -- they seem universal enough -- so much as the macho presentation and the underlying social Darwinism. And that's slightly odd here, because in oil-rich Norway, with its super-low unemployment and super-liberal attitudes, you really don't get the impression that life is a struggle and only the strong survive.



I'm struck by how the menu offered by the hotel TV just doesn't overlap at all with the menu offered by the art school or the menu offered by Click Opera. In the terms of Inglehart's Values Map, the TV's menu is dominated by Survival Values. Click Opera and the art college fill their menu with Expressive Values -- the idea that ability is the true human capital.

Possibly one of us is out of touch, carried away by gentleness or brutality. Possibly one of us is privileged -- as privileged as Norway. And possibly these two very different menus or agendas are symbiotically related, as North is related to South, East to West.

27CommentReply


(Anonymous)
Mon, Mar. 30th, 2009 05:53 am (UTC)

I don't know about super-liberal. The right-wing populist and racist Progress Party is currently one of the largest political parties in the country.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Mar. 30th, 2009 07:57 am (UTC)

Well, cultural liberalism and anti-immigration policies aren't completely contradictory. As in Holland, where right wing gay politician Pim Fortuyn made muslim intolerance of gay rights a cornerstone of his politics, it's possible that liberal exhibitions like Gay Kids -- inaugurated by the former Norwegian finance minister, who, like the new prime minister of Iceland, is openly gay -- become part of the "Norwegian Way", something immigrants "could not tolerate", and therefore a reason not to tolerate them.

But Norway has a demographic profile rather like Japan's -- rapidly aging -- and will need immigrants in substantial numbers just to keep going. It'll also presumably need a few heterosexuals, too.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Mar. 30th, 2009 08:26 am (UTC)

The Progress Party is not the first party to pop into my mind when gay rights pop up, and most of the far left (and very gay friendly) parties here enjoy great popularity among non-western immigrants.


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Mar. 30th, 2009 08:49 am (UTC)

It's interesting that the y-axis on the Inglehart values map is Traditional v. Secular rather than, say, Intolerant v. Tolerant. He avoids the conundrum of whether you tolerate intolerance that way, but he does rather imply that you can't be modern and religious, or traditional and non-religious.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)

(Anonymous)
Mon, Mar. 30th, 2009 12:50 pm (UTC)

Atheists in the west may not go to church on sundays, but (at least here in Norway - staying on topic!) they often get married in churches, baptise their children and sing christmas songs.

Even Militant Atheist™ Dawkins enjoys singing christmas carols!


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)

(Anonymous)
Mon, Mar. 30th, 2009 02:44 pm (UTC)
Re: Western Individualist vs. Japanese Collectivist

Atheists getting married in church might be less common in the UK than in Norway. In my experience it's relatively common here. In any case, I agree with your overall point, there's definitely a big difference between how rituals (and probably not only religious ones) are understood in Japan vs the west.


ReplyThread Parent
mcgazz
mcgazz
McGazz
Tue, Mar. 31st, 2009 07:24 am (UTC)

Dawkins is quite open about being a Christian who doesn't believe in God. But when he says he wants to keep the UK's "Christian heritage", does he just mean the ceremonial aspect, or the laws/morality as well?


ReplyThread Parent
lazy_leoboiko
lazy_leoboiko
Mon, Mar. 30th, 2009 01:42 pm (UTC)

I'm atheist and a tea ceremony guy, and that is what I love about ceremony —it's ritual without religion.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)

(Anonymous)
Mon, Mar. 30th, 2009 02:33 pm (UTC)

I agree, Halloween in its current form may be a new occasion for friends to get together but it does nothing for communities.

How about Midsummer? Still alive in Britain? Some of the Midsummer traditions are still alive in Norway, but I think the communal aspects are disappearing and it's turning into more of a family celebration...


ReplyThread Parent
butterflyrobert
RND
Mon, Mar. 30th, 2009 05:43 pm (UTC)

Christmas and Easter both started as pagan holidays and most of what is embraced by the secular masses are leftovers from the old pagan incarnations (a shaman in red, flying reindeer, a tree, trickster bunny, baby bird, egg hunts, etc). I don't think that has progressed in a line, but in a circle.

On a related note, a lot of what's happening in psychology is starting to resemble and/or reinforce forms of paganism. I've never been one of those neo-pagan types, but I am starting to wonder if that's where we're heading in the west as the psychological need for ritual and collective value reinforcement is approaching crisis levels. In any case, exposure to the east has certainly been a pleasant influence.


ReplyThread Parent
farblust
farblust
Mon, Mar. 30th, 2009 04:49 pm (UTC)

I guess because Shinto is conceptually very different from Abrahamic religions: you don't have to oblige to the Ten Commandments and you don't have paranoia that maybe Jesus is coming back the second time 3 minutes later. So when a usual Japanese pray, they pray for money, romantic love, health or sth like that. They don't pray and say "I am a sinner.."

Matsuri is pretty opportunistic, because if there is not Kami, it's no harm and so much fun to dress in yukata and watch firework with friends and family. If there is kami, then it's even better...
this kind of visiting temple as an entertainment has a long tradition in China. Those girls in the old days could not go out, so visiting temples are excuses for them to meet other people. The most famous festival should be this one
There is a famous poem by a Chinese poet in 12th century about himself walking around the market outside the Temple to find someone important.

30
first full moon festival

Spring wind brings the fireworks
stars fall like rain

carved coaches pass drawn by noble steeds
a trail of perfume, flute music behind

dragons and fish all night at their dance
a crystal lantern hangs on the breeze

and more – jade moths, silver willows, gold threads
the talk and the laughter, the fair folk in crowds

the crowds passing, one face among them I must find
and there – in midnight’s fading lantern

there she is – and I’m found

SO, it is not religious afterall, just a time for people to pause from their humdrum life.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

mcgazz
mcgazz
McGazz
Mon, Mar. 30th, 2009 08:03 am (UTC)

That's a real shame. The Progress Party sound like UKIP or what UKIP would become if they got their wish and pulled the UK out of the EU). Maybe it's all the shitty American TV that's turning Norwegians towards nasty tax-cut populism and bigotry?


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Mar. 30th, 2009 08:23 am (UTC)

Before we tar all Norwegians with the same brush, it's worth saying that over 75% of Norwegians did not vote for the Progress Party at the last election.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Mar. 30th, 2009 09:05 am (UTC)

True. It's definitely not all bad up here!

Do you remember the name of the Vietnamese place you were at, by the way?


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Mar. 30th, 2009 09:20 pm (UTC)

You know, I asked and now I've forgotten the name again. It's something like Gai.


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Mon, Mar. 30th, 2009 09:49 am (UTC)

A slight skewing of the figures. Right on the ascent, left on the decline is a more accurate picture. Welcome to Norway, folks!

March 18, 2009

Norway Post

The right wing Progress Party now has the support of 30.9 per cent of the electorate, and is again the nation's largest political party, according to the latest poll carried out by Opinion. The decline for Labour continues.

Opinion's results for March:

Progress Party 30.9 (+6.4)

Labour Party 28.4 (-2.1)

Conservatives 13.2 (-3.5)

Agrarians 6.8 (+1.6)

Socialist Left 6.4 (-0.4)

Liberal Left 6.1 (-1.2)

Chr. Democrats 5.6 (-0.4)

Red 1.8 (+0.1)

The poll was made for the ANB news agency.


ReplyThread Parent
st_ranger
st_ranger
Palimpsests of a Secret Whistler
Mon, Mar. 30th, 2009 07:04 pm (UTC)

*tries to imagine Norwegians living under Sharia law and gets chills*


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Mar. 31st, 2009 02:57 am (UTC)

Yes, Married with Children reruns have been cited for spreading supply-side economics throughout the globe. Very well-thought-out comment.


ReplyThread Parent
mcgazz
mcgazz
McGazz
Tue, Mar. 31st, 2009 07:17 am (UTC)


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Mar. 30th, 2009 07:17 am (UTC)

There's a "Boycott Israel" demonstration outside the Israeli embassy at 18:00 tonight. You should show up if you get the chance - I doubt it will get too crazy so there probably won't be any tear gas.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Mar. 30th, 2009 08:06 am (UTC)

Oslo - liberal, privileged, and tasteful. And probably the dullest place on earth.


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rhodri
rhodri
Rhodri Marsden
Mon, Mar. 30th, 2009 08:28 am (UTC)

I was feeling thirsty until you mentioned a condensed milk and egg soda, and now I just feel confused and upset.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Mar. 30th, 2009 11:35 am (UTC)
condensed milk

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_maebF9skg
is there some where in berlin thats i can get hold of this wonderfully exotic sounding beverage?


ReplyThread Parent
butterflyrobert
RND
Mon, Mar. 30th, 2009 05:45 pm (UTC)

I have long pondered relocating to Norway. My only trepidation is the endless battle with the cold. That said, I somehow ended up in NYC...


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thomascott
thomascott
Thomas Scott
Mon, Mar. 30th, 2009 11:17 pm (UTC)

Hmm, I seem to have become more a Click Opera reader/lurker than a Click Opera commenter.
The anon comment above introduces an interesting perspective; I like Oslo, but there is a sterility to that manifest liberalism.


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cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Tue, Mar. 31st, 2009 09:03 am (UTC)

I'd like to see some examples of that British and Belgian ugliness from their cities since I don't really know what you are refering to in this case.


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