Monday, September 26, 2011

Whatever the Market Will Bear

It's true, I'm a hateful, bitter, cynical negative old man. What would I be without brand recognition? (Speaking of which, I was accused of cynicism and negativity in alicublog's comments again the other day. Which, as I pointed out, is like being chided for incivility by Ann Coulter fans.)

Another one of my Facebook friends posted a link to a Lakota-dubbed version of The Berenstain Bears. I've never seen the series myself, but fine with me. I'm all in favor of preserving the pre-Columbian languages of this hemisphere.

My friend, however, made this remark about the link:
Self-reliance is more fun than being consumers. Living languages are more satisfying than assimilation.
Oh, my. Oh, dear. I posted this comment:
Wait a minute -- isn't English a living language? And who am I assimilated to?
It could be that I've misunderstood my friend's comment, because it doesn't really make much sense. It could be that she objected to dubbing a bland commercial product into Lakota, hiding niche marketing behind cultural preservation and diversity. The Berenstain Bears are very much a consumer product despite (or because of) the show's PBS provenance: "As of 1983, the Berenstain Bears had been licensed to approximately 40 companies for more than 150 types of products, with projected annual sales of $50 million", extending to "clothing, Happy Meals, cereal, chocolate, crackers, greeting cards, puzzles, embroidery kits, and notepads." But that has nothing to do with "living languages." No matter how socially concerned the owners of the franchise may be, they're not likely to dub the Bears into Latin. (Maybe they should: The Berenstein Bears Go to the Gladiatorial Games ! Grandpa Berenstain Bear and the Slave Boy! There are real possibilities there.)

Assimilation, of course, is relational, not absolute. Children who don't assimilate to one culture (call it Tele-American) assimilate to another (Lakota). Learning your "native" language is a major part of assimilation to your "own" culture.

And where does "self-reliance" come in? Traditional cultures are not self-reliant, they're built on interdependence. My friend's first sentence seems to staple Ayn Rand to Ralph Nader. (Admittedly, the thought of a cage match between the two is intriguing.) The second appears to embrace an essentializing nativism. The comment is no more incoherent than those of my RWA1, but that's exactly the problem: it's setting the bar too low.