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Interesting that you assume expats are the one to bestow the title noble savage when in many countries we are the ones to receive it–or ignoble as the case may be.
As far as the “ignoble savage” goes, I have the feeling I know which group you’re referring to! We are moving on to this topic shortly — stay tuned!
But it’s also when a citizen of the country turns to a foreigner and says, “Oh I forgot you were foreign.” Or “You could be Thai/Chinese/Laotian etc…” or “You don’t act like an American/Englishman/etc.”
Yes, you have a point, though I guess we need another term, since “Noble Savage” connotes non-Western. Maybe something like: “The Noble Foreigner.”
For that matter, I think that foreign women are also occasionally the object of non-Western males’ fantasies — so we may need a term for us as well. “Exotic foreign ladies” or some such?
I wish I could subscribe to your assertion that the noble savage trope has died out, but I fear I cannot. From where I sit, watching global travelers coming and going, it seems to be alive and well. “Noble savage” is after all a trope that implies “love-hate” — and in my experience this kind of paradoxical thinking towards other cultures abounds.
A few examples:
1) The Eat, Pray, Love phenomenon — or, more specifically, the Western obsession with India and spirituality, implying that you can’t nourish your spirit unless you visit India. Meanwhile, of course, most Indians live in rather miserable conditions, and Westerners at some level look down on them for this.
2) Sting’s Rainforest Foundation — Sting and his wife, Trudie, have founded a charity to preserve rainforests and the indigenous people who live in them. But the couple’s ties are all with the Kayapos — who are secure in their region and under no threat. They favor the Kayapos because they live in an undeveloped virgin forest (the Stings’ cause du jour). Meanwhile, another indigenous tribe, the Yanomamis, are being murdered by miners because of living in an ore-laden enclave. Do Sting and Trudie care about them? No…
3) Continuing appropriation by whites of Native American spirituality, animal wisdom and so on — while not particularly caring about how the Natives have been marginalized by white culture. A great example of this is the Cherohonkee phenomenon. A combination of “Cherokee” and “Honky”), Cherohonkee refers to “a special breed of New Age Baby Boomers who have a unique affinity for turquoise jewelry, wolves, and Native American culture.” But although they share the Native American’s respect for Mother Earth, they tend to be distrusted by Native Americans, who don’t think they really get it. Indeed, not much has changed since Pocahontas’s time!
“Oh so simple, so kind, so deeply spiritual, the right things matter to them even if they don’t have inside plumbing or clean water to drink.”
Janet, did you take that quote from somewhere or make it up? Impressive!
Gee thanks, ML, mine all mine.
Re number 3, ML – compare the Crocodile Dundee happy portrayal of indigenous Australians compared to the reality of their treatment by the Australian state and federal governments. Aboriginal children – The Stolen Generations – were still being removed from their families by governmental agencies as late as the 1970s.
Hilarious link, ML! But it makes you think…
But you’re twisting what I wrote by writing “I wish I could subscribe to your assertion that the noble savage trope has died out,” when I, in fact, wrote that it has absolutely no relevance to a modern expat.
Oh nonsense! “My maid is such a treasure–honest, worked for us for years–and so bright–she understands everything I say. So different from most of the workers in this country.”
I’ve noticed that most male EFL teachers in China have a peculiarly racist view of Chinese women. But “yellow fever” and “jungle fever” been discussed to death on Racialicious.
I invite you to “come in” to today’s post, on a Western man’s pursuit of utopia in Thailand.
A very one-sided argument, however. I think you could have come up with some similarities if you had given it a tad more thought.