Cultural romantization is a societal practice that has probably been ongoing ever since countries were created. Humans often react to the mere existence of foreign countries with rejection or admiration, most of the time driven by false impressions caused by third parties, and those false impressions lead to either demonization or romantization. One of the most influential third parties to bolster these stereotypes is the media, and even though most of the time they are harmful and should be firmly fought against, some amusing situations might develop when exchanging cultures.
We, the writers of this article, happen to come from two very different backgrounds in our respective countries, and we could only come to the conclusion that so much has been wrongly taught to us about India and Spain respectively. But, how are countries romanticised and how do people react to those stereotypes when they find out about them?
The rise of Digital Creators & Romanticising Cultures
Some of the most popular forms of media are social media and digital content creation websites in the modern day. And while the romanticising of foreign lands is commonplace among a lot of celebrities, it is more so in the digital content sphere. While they might not come from an intention to pander to the audience, a few quick clicks here and there and positive reinforcement can make one easily lose sight of reality. When it comes to India, the bottleneck of a fantasy faraway land is a common stereotype for most of the westerners that perceive India with a lot of mythos and folklore etched right into its DNA. While that might not be entirely wrong, to categorise a diverse culture into a fantasy fairyland is in a way, trying to turn a blind eye to the raw struggle that goes on in actuality. It is also essential to understand that whilst these digital creators might want to depict the gritty reality, they might not be able to do so due to their self-awareness of the lack of a correct platform.
So even though it might feel like the romanticisation of cultures is a big cash-grab, there is a slight possibility that it might be more often than not due to necessity rather than choice. One must realise that the audience of such a vast diversity and that too, on a fleeting digital platform is harder to get behind, when fairness comes into the picture.
Keeping up with an Unreliable Audience
While the most accurate depiction of the reality of one’s culture might be the preference of one niche, it might be extremely offensive to another. So as tempting as it might be to hold all digital content creators responsible for the fantasising of a culture and call them panderers that do nothing but create more of themselves, it must be understood that they are a cog of the very machinery that we as an unreliable audience create ourselves. Fantasization of cultures has been present in the media for ages, and while its direct ramifications in short form digital content spheres might be vastly different, they stem from the same origin. Everyone wants to show the sides of cultures that get the most eyes on them at the end of the day.
Fantasization and Cultural Appropriation
Now comes one of the most important aspects of why this is a problem in the first place. This is where one needs to step back, re-analyse and understand how much they’re willing to put up with. At what point does this harmless fantasization of a culture start to extrude its boundaries and reach out into the sides of Cultural Appropriation? Because inside friend circles, one can romanticise the concepts of hot yoga and its existence as a prominent weight-loss regime all day, but when it comes to public forums, the overbearing burden of avoiding misrepresentation pops up. If you go for a by-the-books definition of cultural appropriation, the power dynamic and the other factors like where the supposed ‘appropriator’ is located might make it a bit harder to classify this directly as that extreme term. But one must not forget that people with influence are also well, ‘influencing’ their audience to perceive an entire culture in a particular way. This can be of great offense to a culture’s history, especially one that has been engaged in a struggle for its truthful identity. There are a lot of factors at play that might make the fantasization of cultures either just a humble mistake or turn it into a problematic situation as a whole. And while it cannot be called cultural appropriation because most of the time it certainly is not, one must take into consideration the morally dicey side in the greater picture of things.
There is an extreme to this overexaggerated societal praising and it is cultural fetishization. Some internet celebrities have overromanticized certain cultures to the point of absurd stereotyping and the target societies have responded with a decent amount of backlash. Not only has this gross misinterpretation offended people, who as expected, came out to defend a correct interpretation of their corresponding cultures, but has also been a source of memes that obviously GenZ had to come up with.
Needless to explain why stereotyping a civilization to the absurd is bad, some of these influencers are also trying to look like part of these cultures with plastic surgery. This is especially problematic with targeted minorities who suffer from racism and other sorts of discrimination due to their racial features, mainly because they may rightfully feel made fun of.
Media & Stereotypes
While thinking about the funny stereotypes and nuances that occur in the cultural perception of the Indians by the Spanish and vice-versa, we came across a lot of ironic instances and the subtle reality behind the fantasization of cultures in general opinion. Apparently, contrary to what Bollywood might make us think, the La Tomatina festival isn’t a universal thing celebrated throughout all of Spain! And it’s not booze and Spanish flamenco on the roads for the most part, but a culture that has been strongly influenced by many other cultures and dates back thousands of years. Similarly, India is more than spiritual awakenings and flashy wedding parties despite what Bollywood might delude the western world into believing.
Even though for most part the perception one might have about someone else’s country is fueled by the media and while it might not be based on hate but pure ignorance, it is also true that one might want to avoid jumping to conclusions about an entire culture based solely on the basis of the media alone. One must neither demonise nor fantasise a particular culture based on the content that comes from it, but instead hold onto a realistic viewpoint with an actual desire to explore the nuances and the intricacies that a culture holds. The fallibility of the media and the people creating it must be taken into consideration with a big grain of salt and it must be taken for what it is- fiction.