Recently on a complete whim I created this poll. [link]
It brought up completely unexpected issues that fascinate me! I'd like this journal to encourage debate, discussion, and most of all I would like it to teach me more about humanity. (If you're curious, the most accurate answer on that entire poll I believe is "a gamma cross", as it addresses only the form, not the function.)
The issue at stake is of certain cultures' ownership over symbols and to a lesser extent, the effect of time on symbols. Also the restriction of using symbols as a statement or a language that not all will immediately understand. Yay or nay?
I'm pretty sure this is a modern world concern, Europeans living at the time of the silk road had no qualms about seeing Chinese art and experimenting with copying its style. But now in the age of the internet in which we are aware of every other culture also on the internet ... the world has shrank. The world exists in boundaries. Everything is identified. Once identified, we can establish certain parts as being ours or not ours.
For the sake of argument, I would like to put out that the swastika, for instance, is a human symbol, and all humans have a right to it along with ALL of its meanings across cultures, lands, and times. Even humans who have seemingly no blood relation to any culture touched by any incarnation of the swastika. It is a SYMBOL. It's point is to make a statement. It is a word and a picture and a history wrapped into a few scant lines. If for instance an Inuit (the only group of people I can currently think of who don't have their own cultural meaning for the swastika unless you count that they're distantly related to asia by benefit of the once was land bridge) created a work which included a swastika, I would find it valid. I could interpret the work with every meaning I know the symbol to have and try to find meaning the work.
A comment that prompted me to write this journal brought up the example of "nigga/nigger" to illustrate how the word is owned by a certain race, and its theirs to redefine however they like.
If a symbol is a sort of word, then a word can be a symbol.
So if I'm right, "nigga/nigger" should be accessible to all humans.
Yet, I am a white American. As soon as I say that word, I have a label as a racist and white supremest.
Is this right?
So back to the swastika.
In the western world, is it strictly the right of Jews to redefine this symbol?
Or for that matter, what if a German wanted to redefine it? What if they wanted to depict it as the Buddhist version of "live long and prosper"? This is a spur of the moment essay, I haven't researched where the Nazi party originally took the symbol from, but I'm imagining it may not have been taken from local mythology. The point being I'm not sure the Nazi party was related in blood or culture to the symbol before they adopted it. EDIT: the symbol definitely has northern European roots, but did those roots take seed from human contact with asia? That still doesn't define to whom it belongs ... the point being it belongs to everyone. (woooo this journal and the poll are at 60+ comments. haha, do you know how many places people have suggested the symbol originated?)
Many people in the poll stated that culture defines symbols. Yes this is true, except that art transcends culture, it speaks to us broadly as humans.
A symbol is a word of power, sometimes with varying definitions. "Hello" is the same word no matter what original culture or language or blood the speaker might have.
As for the effect of time on symbols, that point is made relatively simple by now. The word "cool" once strictly meant "cold", but now it also means "awesome to the point of possibly being badass" ... but that doesn't make its previous definitions obsolete, obviously. So in my opinion all definitions of a symbol are valid.
Thank you as well for all the cautions of using dangerous symbols in my work in the comments on that poll, but where on earth is the fun in art if the underlieing concept isn't riling? There were British cartoonists on Nazi hit lists during the war - that's the power of art and story. (I haven't yet decided to actually use this symbol yet, though.)
So in conclusion, I think this argument applies to all symbols, not just the swastika or nigger.
I hope you enjoyed this wall of text. I'm interested in hearing any and all opinions on it. I never post things like this ... usually because I edit myself by saying "Well, I haven't researched or cited" and so I don't want to write anything intelligent. I'm legitimately interested in being made to appear wrong or stupid in this case though. Have at it! I just want to investigate the issue further.
Interestingly, I'm somewhat certain my viewpoint is very "American". I don't say that proudly or dejectedly - just factually. I have come to life in a culture that swallows all things. It isn't MY history, it is HUMAN history. But is that because I have only 300 years of history to look back on and so I wish to assimilate all things as mine? That might obviously investigate further topics beyond the scope of this journal. I WOULD like to hypothesize though that as humans we are evolving to have a global identity rather than hundreds of more self centered nationalities and patriotisms. In order to overcome our current problems, this global identity will have to overpower our selfish nationalities and so we reach the ultimate human paradox.
Like HELL are we ever all going to get along with each other.