David Carradine and Thai Culture

Upon returning home from the dacha and logging into my WordPress account, I saw this:

David Carradine's Death Photo

I finally clicked on the link and read the short story.  But what I found most interesting were the numerous comments that delved into Thai culture and why such a photo was published in the newspaper.  These comments, and my thoughts about them, raised a lot of questions.

Some people claimed that the Thai media was insensitive to post such a photo.  But I couldn’t help but wonder if it was just our perception.  Perhaps we’re looking at them through our own cultural lens, as we would view our media.  Then, one comment mentioned that the Thais have a different attitude toward death, such photos of death, dying, blood and gore are more commonplace than in America.  I don’t know much about Thai culture, but if this is true, it certainly is a valid point.
Another poster mentioned that “it’s not about cultural imperialism… it’s about human dignity.”  But doesn’t human dignity mean different things to different people and cultures?  One may thing that this is a universal idea, but it’s entirely possible that it’s not.  Yes, we’re all human beings, but our ideas can be vastly different.

Yet another poster mentioned ethics and said that it is “the mindset and attitude of the editors who decide whether to run such photographs” that needs to change.  But can we change such ethics that easily if they are built into us culturally?  I personally find the topic of ethics and culture fascinating because they can present a lot of challenges and can be difficult to understand.
One of the most interesting comments was one that said, “I see both sides, but a newspaper from a particular culture isn’t necessarily going to conform to another culture’s standards.  Yes, it is insensitive in the Western world but it could just be news to another part of the world.  Human dignity is different according to different people…”  Then, “Normality varies.  Greatly.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself, cultures don’t necessarily know about and understand other cultures.  It would be impossible to adapt to suit every culture possible and not offend anyone.  But that leads me to wonder when it is indeed necessary to adapt to another culture.

The original article mentioned Thai tourism and how they should be aware of how they are representing themselves to the world.  I don’t know how much of the Thai economy relies on tourism, but it makes sense to take into account your international reputation if you want to encourage tourism.

On another note, someone posted that the “few red light districts are an aberration that exist because the foreign cultures of the world have grown to expect certain displays…”  This makes me wonder about the perpetuation of stereotypes.  Perhaps Thailand is looking to benefit their economy and one way to do this is to play into stereotypes and cater to such things in order to boost tourism.  If so, then it’s somewhat of a vicious cycle and makes it hard to truly understand another culture.

Lastly, one comment mentioned, “There is a common courtesy to the grieving that transcends cultures.”  But I’m tempted to argue that very few things transcend cultures.  All cultures are different and even though we think something is blindingly obvious, it may seem so foreign to someone else.

In sum, I found the arrange of opinions incredibly fascinating and thought it was an excellent example of different ideas on culture and intercultural understanding.  The commenters raised a lot of interesting and often valid points that really got me thinking.  But at the same time some of the comments were a bit hateful and I think that just shows how important intercultural understanding is and how it can benefit everyone involved.  What do you think?


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