Cultural Reimportation

Today, while re-re-re-re-watching one of my many BBC shows, I noticed that a real Scotsman was shown wearing a real Utilikilt.

Before we continue, a Utilikilt is an American bastardization of the concept of a kilt… sort of like a cargo-kilt. And although I don’t hate utilikilt’s per se, I stick by my use of the term ‘bastardization’. It’s part of that sort of American trend that purports to take a slice of another culture but has in fact invented something entirely new and slapped a culture on it. For the record, the short kilts most of us recognize are already a bastardization, which became a trend when English clothing manufacturers in the 1830s tried to cash in on the local kilt craze by A) making up a new kind of kilt using less material for which they could charge more, and B) inventing the whole ‘clan tartan’ shit so they could sell the plaid patterns that nobody was otherwise buying. Actual Scottish kilts of the time were more like wearing a bedspread and there was no such thing as clan colors. Totally beside the point.

Now, the reason I bring my original paragraph up is that this has seriously fucked up my worldview. Here we have a clear cut case of a cultural tradition exported to America, totally revamped into a complete and utter bastardization of the original for American consumers, and re-exported to be assimilated at least in part by that original culture. And I am blown away.

I mean what next? Ireland suddenly begins demanding that all beer be saturated with green food coloring? China has a rampant surge in demand for the exclusively-American General Tso’s Chicken (which is awesome, mind you, but has never been a “Chinese” dish)? Scotland goes nuts for Jack Daniels?

I’m not saying I expect cultures to remain perfectly isolated and eternal: it’s a great thing that so much culture has spread internationally. But it’s an awkward reverse that’s happened here. America’s culture of assimilating and totally changing other cultures has now been exported. And I’m having trouble wrapping my head around that. I can’t tell if that’s good (that culture spreads in any direction at all and that we all gain a little insight into disparate cultural customs) or bad (that all these honorable cultures are being distorted all to hell and back).

Either way, the result is just confusion.