The calm at the center of a pearl

February 16, 2008

A night in the Orient – tasteless or racist?

Filed under: Uncategorized — kyraninse @ 2:19 am

Just got back from angry asian man’s post about Revelle College’s dance theme.

Apparently, people were all up in arms because it was set as “Eastern Elegance: A Night in the Orient”.

I’m not sure how I feel about it, and I’m still trying to sort out my feelings about the uproar over Brandon Dicamillo’s Chinese Freestyle youtube clip.

Call me perverse, but when people get all excited over something, some part of me tends to want to downplay it. Maybe if I had encountered those two things on my own, I would also have been offended, but right now I’m more bemused than anything else.

Orient, according to Wikipedia ( which we all know is the go-to for all knowledge), the word is derived from the Latin word that means east, oriens.

I can see how people can be upset at how the word indiscriminately lumps together all the different cultures that it was ever associated with — Chinese, Japanese, Middle Eastern, etc. I can also see how it can be considered culturally insensitive — wow, there’s a post-PC phrase for ya, for them to call it a Night in the Orient and yet only have the most superficial concepts thrown in — cherry blossoms, chopsticks, etc.

But I really do, in the end, see it as a game of semantics. I don’t dislike the word Orient, I actually think the way the word is structured is pleasing aurally. In fact, I’d probably be more likely to use it in writing simply because I think it sounds prettier than Asian — which is most likely also derived from an ancient Greek word. Wiki can’t seem to agree on what the exact etymology is, but it’s likely to come from a number of words in ancient languages.

Granted, I’m really only looking at this from the viewpoint of semantics. *shrug* According to the article on it, there were worse atrocities than the simple (hah!) use of the word “Orient”. “Ghetto geisha”? Lolcats indeed. But I arrived on scene too late to catch the facebook furor.

I especially loved how multiple responses to this article involved people comparing the theme to potential African-American  themes.

 If a Black person made a dance called “Nigga’s Night Out” with a gangsta theme, glock shaped chocolate fountain (dark, of course) and maybe even cotton picking, I’m sure other black people would be offended. Well, maybe not, cause black people are really really cool.  – anon

What would happen if someone had “Plantation Night”? – anon

I don’t think the two are on the same level at all. After all, it’s only in some circles that the word is considered offensive. And (from what I know) it isn’t as if there were going to be “geishas” running around being servers or some such. Not that I consider people in the service business offensive — which culture doesn’t have them?

In the end, I agree with certain posters that it was probably something that should be brought up, since it IS offensive to some, but that the uproar isn’t really entirely warranted.



  1. Well said but here’s a different quandery? We have our National Conference this year in Thailand and have announced that the theme for this years conference is “A Night in the Orient”. Fancy dress and traditionally a huge night of celebration for our company but how do you “dress up” and not affend the culture in which we are visiting? Two MInute Noodle, Cross dressing and Ping Pong Showgirls are going to easily affend, I would of thought? Appreciate your and anybodies elses comments on this difficult outing. Cheers Pj

    Comment by PeteJof — July 13, 2011 @ 4:18 am

  2. Without knowing more details of what is planned, I honestly can’t tell you. Sorry! The problem is that the line between campy/funny and offensive is not always clear. I’d say that traditional Thai dress worn by non-Thai shouldn’t be offensive unless you’re moving into using religious wear or so such. Good luck and have fun!

    Comment by kyraninse — July 13, 2011 @ 12:47 pm

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