Ignoring Similarities Insults My Intelligence

Once upon a time I visited the University of Antwerp.  Here’s a picture from while I was on the move:

It looks just like an American college.

The ivy is dead.  Too bad…

If I hadn’t told you the school’s location, you might not have identified its location.  Actually, it looks like a lot of American campuses, except they obviously don’t spend exorbitant sums on landscaping.

When you’re traveling, don’t just pass through the things that look like the same old boring thing from home.  You can learn a lot by noticing the similarities in different countries.

By the same token, you can also learn from the differences in things that look the same.  For example, McDonald’s sells beer in Germany.

Prost!

Coed Naked Immaturity Insults My Intelligence

Cultures have layers that can be peeled off like clothes.

My regular readers may remember that I’ve written several posts about my time in Switzerland.  (Here’s the first, second, third, and fourth.)  Today, I will strip the culture even more bare by showing the naked landscape without its coat of snow.  So here’s the pic:

Relaxing for tourists, up to a point...

Relaxing for tourists, up to a point…

This photo comes to you from the resort village of Interlaken.  The mountains form the culture’s outermost layer, the one that gave the world Heidi and all those sports and scenic views people flock to the country for.  Then, if you look closely at the building’s perimeter, you’ll find the diving boards for a public pool as well as some tourists who the pool’s intended for.  But then on the inside, behind those large windows in the center of the building, you’ll find a cultural layer where few dare to tread.

I’ll give you a hint: there’s a reason I didn’t get closer to the windows to take this photograph.

Those windows shield the “wellness” facility.  It has saunas, a hot tub, a cold bucket of water (read: shower) and a torture device called a kneipp; you put your aching feet under the kneipp’s faucet and it alternates between boiling and frigid water.

You’ll be gravely disappointed if you clicked on this post hoping for adult content.  Men and women use these facilities together and there’s not much clothing to be seen.  You may wear a towel in the saunas (not a swimsuit) although some people lie naked on their towels.  The changing area is shielded from the windows but not from everyone’s view… although there is a restroom.  The facility prohibits underwear because that carries sexual connotations.

Few know about this layer of Switzerland and, among those who do, even fewer want to see it.  I had been in Europe long enough to not be uncomfortable with seeing the nudity, though I wasn’t quite willing to go inside.  After long and active days, I couldn’t let my squeamishness keep me from the accompanying relaxation.  The Swiss are used to it and it isn’t sexual for them, so I’m presumably not going to Hell for seeing all those body parts.

And the strangest thing happens if you visit often enough.  You learn to get annoyed when immature loudmouths come through or get uncomfortable with the tourist couple that cuddles suggestively in the hot tub.  The nudity becomes invisible and the interruptions become notable.

I eventually left this innermost layer of Switzerland and returned to the United States.  Somewhat surprisingly, I found myself having to learn how to respect my home culture’s norms.  It’s the “oh, wait… I ought to be looking away” reflex that evaporated during my foreign travels.  And of course, a lot of the old humor wasn’t still funny.  I went shopping with an old friend and she tried to get me riled up by showing me topless photos a store was selling.  I yawned and she hasn’t introduced me to any single women since then.

Life is funny sometimes.

Historical Illiteracy Insults My Intelligence

This image was selected as a picture of the we...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Language evolves.  For instance, the word “conversation” used to have a sexual connotation while “intercourse” meant something more like conversation.  Let’s be glad the censors aren’t industrious enough to try banning older books with “intercourse” in them.

Unfortunately, the public doesn’t understand how language changes.  Meanings sometimes shift over time; occasionally, such developments happen suddenly.

Soon after September 11, 2001, Americans came to associate the term “ground zero” with the World Trade Center site.  If you say ground zero to almost any American, that’s all that will come to their mind.  The earlier definition was erased: the spot where an atomic or nuclear weapon hits the earth.

But the greatest travesty emerges when the public, in effect, censors old works because they use the term “ground zero” in an “inappropriate” way.  Entire works of art and other cultural products become nothing more than incomprehensible anachronisms as a couple of historical chapters are forgotten.  I’m sure quite a few Japanese (should) take issue with this revision of history and public memory, as should anyone who ever had to “duck and cover.”

But I’m not here to write about Hiroshima and Nagasaki…

I bring you a song from 1986 that was commonly played at Christmastime until “ground zero” took on its new meaning.  Now we don’t hear the song as much.  You’d think that people could tell from the context that the song isn’t about the 9-11 attack site.

On the other hand, I once knew a guy who thought the song “Jesus He Knows Me” by Genesis was a great religious tune because it featured the word “Jesus.”  So one probably can’t realistically expect people to pay attention to anything more than a keyword or two.

Anyway, the video is below.  Since stores will be putting up their Christmas decorations in a few weeks, let’s have some Cold War holiday fun.

The American Music Industry Insults My Intelligence

Das letzte Einhorn, In Extremo

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’d like to introduce one of my favorite European bands: In Extremo.  They originate from Germany but they’ve toured in Mexico and probably some other places.  As far as I know, they have never made it to the United States.  Their exclusion from our market reveals much about consumer preferences in this country while enlightening us on what risks the music industry will take.  Let’s have a closer look.

1-  In Extremo has recorded songs in German, Spanish, French, Hebrew, Icelandic, and a host of dead languages… but not in English.  And unlike some other performers, they don’t offer translated versions of their hit songs.  Unless they decide to cover the Macarena or Du Hast, they have no chance here until they jump on the English bandwagon.

2- They released a CD called “Unbridled Sinners” (Suender ohne Zuegel) and that’s totally unacceptable to Americans’ religious sensibilities.  That must be why those devoutly Catholic Mexicans welcomed the band into their country.  Oh, wait, that album title came from the lyrics to a song and those lyrics were “I was searching for people like myself but all I found were unbridled sinners.”  So they’re implicitly criticizing less savory types who love metal (yes, this is a metal band) while still marketing the product to this demographic.

3- On the subject of darker types, metal in Germany is sometimes associated with certain extremist tendencies… which isn’t fair in most cases.  And then In Extremo has the medieval and occult-ish aesthetics that the Nazis also liked, plus the overly masculinized musicians.   That’s why In Extremo has to be kept out of the U.S.  That’s also why Rammstein could create a music video using clips from an old Nazi movie and still be imported into the U.S. market.

4- Americans don’t mind overly masculinized musicians, but the musicians have to play the part.  In Extremo’s lead singer goes by “The Last Unicorn” and that name isn’t particularly manly.  The original German name isn’t much better because “Einhorn” already exists in the American cultural vocabulary.  (In case you’re too young to remember, the first Jim Carrey “Ace Ventura” movie featured a crossdressing villain named Einhorn.)  Oh, and a few band members sometimes wear kilts… and that obviously makes them look like a bunch of neo-Nazis.  And then one guy plays the harp in a few songs.

5- The band’s traditional symbol is too violent for American tastes.  They use a gallows, kind of like the one you drew as a kid while playing Hangman.  I suppose crucifixes are also kind of violent, though.

6- In Extremo signed with one of the major American music labels and rebranded themselves by dropping all of their old costumes and symbols; the resulting CD also lacked flavor and didn’t earn great reviews.  A bonus CD included some of their older music performed in their new style and it disappointed.  And they adopted aviator jackets… which somehow reminded me of the giant bandages the lead singer needed after being injured by the pyrotechnics during their previous tour.  The nostalgic looking biplane on the CD cover didn’t help their image either.  Very medieval.  I suppose making it big can ruin a band.

7- I’ve told you that this metal band sometimes uses a harp.  So as you can probably guess, In Extremo’s choice of instruments lands them well outside of the U.S. mainstream.  Americans expect guitar riffs and more guitar riffs.  And three chords maximum.  I can’t list all of the instruments these guys play, but they do have one signature instrument that constantly appears in their music.  It will convince you that these guys are a bunch of neo-Nazis.

So, without further ado, I present a video clip from an In Extremo concert.  They will be performing a song from “Unbridled Sinners” called “Omnia Sol Temperat.”  It’s a cover of the Carl Orff composition that’s based on the thirteenth century poem from the Carmina Burana.

Classical music was meant to be played with an electric guitar and in the original Latin.