Comics as Proxy Cultural Educators

By | Wednesday, April 14, 2021 Leave a Comment
I would make a terrible sociologist. I do okay when it comes to armchair psychology if I know the person, but sociology is just like a big black hole for me. I just don't get people in a broad sense. I'm actually rubbish at armchair psychology, but compared to my skills in sociology, I'm amazing there.

I'm speaking from a practical sense here, by the way. I took psychology and sociology classes in both high school and college, and did pretty well in them. But that was all the rote memorization stuff. Who was Sigmund Freud, what was David Berlo’s model of communication, etc. In terms of practical application? Let's just say I can be very socially challenged.

But, I know this about myself, and continue working to improve where I can there. One of the ways I do that is by trying to learn about other cultures and societies that I don't really know very well, in order to understand them and how they do or don't relate to the culture(s) I'm an active part of, which are often difficult to analyze precisely because I'm an active participant.

This I why I'm always on the lookout for new comics that come froma different perspective. I mean, yeah, Jeff Smith turns out some fantastic work and I really enjoy studying what he does, but he's still a cishetero white guy from suburban Ohio and not all that much older than me. He's going to come to the table with a pretty similar perspective as me. Which is fine in and of itself because, as I said, he does some fantastic work, but it's not going to provide any great insights into other cultures.

Manga, of course, is a good source of insights into another culture. Reading through Barefoot Gen or Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san teaches you something about Japan. And we're fortunate that manga is relatively popular in the U.S. right now. Popular enough in fact that we get some manhua and manhwa out the bargain too!

There's also some European work here in the States, but not nearly enough for my tastes. Some British work, and a few French and Belgian pieces but not a whole lot else. Russia and Australia are woefully under-represented, as are pretty much all of South America and Africa.

Black Panther Party
So I'm generally pleased when I can find something that speaks to a mindset very different from my own. I'm even more please when someone writes a comic specifically to address the cultural differences. I've seen a lot of biographic pieces -- both extended works and short mini-comics -- that speak to individuals' experiences that I might otherwise know nothing about. Whether that's being a Japanese woman living in England or how depression might lead to suicide or simply the history of the Black Panther Party.

It's human nature to surround ourselves with similar individuals. It's more comfortable to be around people who come at life with the same basic perspective as us. But it doesn't help our understanding of people in general; it's just a reflection of our own perceptions.

Maybe because I've never really felt like I belonged to a culture like that, I'm more open to seeing how other people approach the world. But given all the hatred that's been stoked the past few years and continues to be acted upon in a horrible, daily manner, maybe we could all try to pick up a little more understanding of cultures outside our usual comfort zone.
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