In class, we have been discussing how object’s meanings are not intrinsic and do not reside in the objects themselves. It is through the act of consumption that people attach meanings to objects. Because consumption practices vary among different individuals, groups, societies, and cultures, similar or different meanings can be attached to the same objects, which reveals the fluid nature of their meanings. Drawing off of the García Canclini readings, we examined how consumers can assimilate to or appropriate an object’s meaning in a society where “Identity. . . is polyglot, multiethnic, migrant, [and] made from elements that cut across various cultures” (91). Because the “. . . the circulation of people, capital, and messages brings us into daily contact with many cultures. . .”, identities and national cultures and consequently object’s meanings are reshaped and hybridized (91). In assimilation, the consumers adapt to the existing meaning of the object (which is made by its producers, a community, culture, etc.), whereas in appropriation, they have the power to add their own meaning. In class, I asked whether these two events were mutually exclusive and came to the understanding that consumption always involves the mix of both in varying degrees. That is, the consumption of an object involves assimilating to its established meaning but at the same time appropriating that meaning.

An example that fits very well with this notion of an appropriation/assimilation duality is the celebration of Valentine’s Day in the U.S. versus its celebration in South Korea. From the late fifties into the seventies, this Western holiday was made popular in Japan through its tactical marketing of chocolate, and later carried over into South Korea. By adopting Valentine’s Day, South Korea assimilated to the values and meaning surrounding Valentine’s Day in the U.S. In both countries, Valentine’s Day is celebrated on the fourteenth of February as a day of expressing love and romance through the presentation of gifts including but not limited to flowers, sweets, cards, nice dinners, and jewelry. This is also a portrayal of what García Canclini refers to as transcultural citation, which is the referencing of objects from other countries. In South Korea, chocolates are the thing to gift on Valentine’s Day, which is a reference to or practice taken from the U.S.’s custom of giving sweet chocolates to the sweet. On February 14, nicely packaged chocolate becomes ubiquitous in South Korean bakeries, supermarkets, and convenience and department stores.

It may seem that Valentine’s Day is celebrated exactly the same in both the U.S. and South Korea (albeit chocolates have become the main and essential gift in South Korea), but there is one great difference that speaks to South Korea’s appropriation of the holiday: only women gift and show their affection to men, which is opposite from the custom  where the men gift the women in the U.S. To make things more interesting, Valentine’s Day in South Korea has been appropriated into a series of three holidays. Valentine’s Day on February 14 is followed by White Day on March 14, where the men return the affection and gifts given to them by the women; then comes Black Day on April 14, which is a day where singles get together and mope over a bowl of jajangmyeon (a Korean-Chinese black bean noodle dish). Thus, South Korea has not only assimilated to the U.S. values and meaning surrounding Valentine’s Day but also appropriated the holiday by extending it into three parts, and changing the rules so that it is the women who gift their significant others on February 14. Viewed another way, it can be said that the U.S. Valentine’s Day was deterritorialized (when an object is taken out of a country/territory) and reterritorialized (when an object is placed in a new country/territory and gains a new or modified meaning) in South Korea. With the rise of global markets and transnationalism, not only are cultural artifacts and rituals such as holidays assimilated to/appropriated and deterritorialized/reterritorialized in different countries, but objects such as food also join this process. One food item that has become very popular in the U.S. over the last few years due to these circumstances is sushi (check out sef333’s post on more examples of the cultural modification of food).

Advertisements