Civilized Thinking (Post blog week 9)

The overall concept from this week was “civilized thinking.” Civilized thinking is the idea that a “civilized” or “advanced” population goes on the mission of bringing a “native” or “savage” people into the current modern age. This concept was essential for the justification of colonial imperialism in the of the 18th to 20th centuries. Along with the conversion to Christianity there were major cultural transformations that various European groups attempted to impose on the native peoples. One of these largest impositions was on the dress of the indigenous people. They expected the natives to adopt the Western suit and dress. This was expected regardless of the climate, which was especially illogical in the sweltering heat of India. The heavy woolen dress of British was well adapted to the cold wet weather of Northern Europe but was a great imposition in the hot Indian sun. There was a great debate among Indians as to which dress was appropriate, traditional or Western. Mohandas Gandhi sought to rebel against these sartorial burdens by emphasizing a reversion to traditional Indian dress, specifically the hand-woven cloth or khadi over the machine made materials imported from Britain. His decisions greatly changed his appearance from that of the British educated lawyer that he was, to the humble, impoverished Indian that he wanted to represent. His transformation has greatly shaped his legacy to the present day. It brings up the concept of what appearance makes one “civilized?”

One example of how expensive clothing and jewelry can give the façade of civility while the truth is far from it is the Bravo television show The Real Housewives of New Jersey. These women appear to be clean-cut, wholesome ladies, whose main concern is the keeping of the home and hearth. But in reality they are greatly concerned about gossip and trash talking one another.

If these two images were presented to a group of people who did not know the identity of either, many would chose the women as the more civilized and educated group. This brings to mind the immediate judgments we all make when we meet a new person completely based on their appearance. We pass someone on the street wearing a suit and we assume they are educated with a well paying job, overall very civilized. If we pass instead someone with an ill-fitting, unmatched outfit, we assume his or her life is not very well put together and he or she is not as civilized as the suit-wearing individual from before.

This feeling of “civilized thinking” is still relevant in today’s society. We feel polite civilized women should be dressed and have the same possibility of lifestyle as the housewives of New Jersey. This is apparent in the speech given by Laura Bush in November 2001 on the perceived oppression of women in Afghanistan. She proclaimed, “Civilized people throughout the world are speaking out in horror – not only because our hearts break for the women and children in Afghanistan, but also because in Afghanistan, we see the world the terrorists would like to impose on the rest of us.” Again civilized thinking was used as justification for one country invading another to “improve” the lives of the native through introducing them to the more “civilized” practices and beliefs of the dominating country. In this case the civilized thinking led us to believe it was the American destiny to intercede and give the women and children of Afghanistan the same freedoms that Americans have. In both instances, either British colonist or the American freedom fighter, the larger world power believes that their own way of life is superior and that all others should transition to a similar lifestyle thus civilizing them. This brings to a the concluding questions of what appearance is necessary for one to be “civilized” and what does this say about the evolution of society as a whole?

by Jess Ray


5 thoughts on “Civilized Thinking (Post blog week 9)

  1. It is clear from the research you have presented that to present ones appearance in a ‘civilised’ manner has much to do with the societal norms and context of the situation as to whether it is received successfully. Transferral of this success between cultures, age groups, religions, nationalities, income and traditions however, is clearly the defining factor as to how and what individuals perceive as ‘civilised’ dress. Modern day societies differ not only geographically but have also shown evidence of a huge transformation as time has progressed.

    Political and economic change are often heavily responsible for influencing key fashion movements throughout the decades. Although trends repeat themselves, they do not often carry the same meaning and in the context of an item or look being deemed ‘civilised’ this couldn’t be more true. As the Spring/Summer 2011 shows pointed out, one key trend which set to come around again this season – punk rock.

    Punk rock hit its height in the 1980s and with key pieces such as studded and quilted leather jackets, leather trousers and band t-shirts becoming a defining uniform for anyone associated with the trend, a stigma was soon developed around the wearers of punk clothing. They became associated with having shaved heads, holding violent political protests and having a wholly anarchist attitude to law and order, thus deeming them ‘un-civilised’.

    Nevertheless, this season Burberry have been responsible for revolutionising a negatively branded scene into a beautiful line of quilted leather trench coats and motorcycle jackets. This transformation and reinvention of punk rock into biker chic is evidence of the movement and evolution of ‘civilised’ dress and the need to ‘civilise’ past trends for a new market.

  2. I think that Hannah made some great points in regards to how fashion often reuses past trends and changes it in a way that makes it fit into the context of society and the cultural and social norms that are popular today. This blog post got me thinking about whether or not there is a distinction or difference between what is fashionable and what is civilized. What I mean by this is, even though something is deemed as fashionable does it mean that it is something that is accepted and worn by the majority? An example of this would be this ripped stocking trend that I see around. This is something that is seen as fashionable to a certain group of people but would wearing ripped stockings to an interview or to a wedding be civilized and acceptable? I would guess, no. I think that this goes well with Hannah’s point on saying that what is civilized is dependent on the context in which it is received and whether or not it was successful or not.

  3. It’s interesting that you brought up the war in regards to the extent of what we will view as civilized and uncivilized. When I was reading your post, it made me think of the hijab that many Muslim women wear. Since the hijab covers the women’s face, many Western people view this as oppressive towards women. However, when given the choice, most Muslim women choose to done the hijab for personal reasons; they do not see the veil as a sign of oppression.
    It all comes down to perspective, which I think you have made clear in your fitting example with the Real Housewives and Gandhi. Clothing does not signify how civilized a person is culturally. These examples make us it necessary to rethink what our idea of how we defined ‘civilized.’ This is a topic that comes up quite often in my Anthropology courses, as Western people sometimes make the mistake of viewing other cultures as less civilized. Actually, as I think your post accurately displays, these people are just civilized in different ways.

  4. I agree with you about how what we wear defines who we are and people judge us on the clothing that we wear. I do think it’s true that if someone was walking on the street with a suit we automatically think they have a job, they have money and that they are educated. However, if we see someone who has ripped jeans and doesn’t match their clothing then we think of them as uneducated or having financial trouble. The appearance that is necessary for someone to look “civilized” is anything that is up to date with the fashion industry. For guys, suits are a big thing and make them look professional and educated. For women dress or suits make us look educated as well. What this says about our society as a whole is that we are looking at what people wear and judging them based off of that. Someone could not have a suit and still be educated and well off, but we as a society take that and look at that as a bad thing. So I feel like our society is definitely changing and making people want to keep up with fashion and clothing. People may also start to care about what others have to say or whether they are viewed as “civilized.” I feel that depending on culture and our own beliefs could change how people view us. For example, The Muslim community wear veils and people may view that as different or strange, but that is their culture and what they personally want to do. The Real Housewives is a show that makes people want to live like them and be able to be as wealthy as they are. They are seen to be educated and civilized just based on their status, when actually most of them might not even have an actual job. So it just goes to show that people are judged on what they have and what they wear.

  5. For people and the clothing they wear to be considered civilized depends on the cultural norms of the dominating group. There has always been conflicting views when it comes to certain lifestyles and fashion choices. At times, fashion choices like the veil can be misinterpreted and given negative underlying meanings. What our society fails to see is that certain “uncivilized “clothing choices are more logical to wear in countries different from our own. It wasn’t logical for Europeans to try and change the attire worn by these people because they did it for a specific reason. Their weather is hot and unbearable but the traditional flowing garments kept these people cool. This is why the fashion choices made by Europeans did not mesh well with the climate of these countries. Our automatic judgments cloud our rational thinking. The housewives of New Jersey are a perfect example of civilized thinking. Appearances from the outside can only tell so much from a person but not a complete story. Since our society is so consumed with being the image of perfection, we tend to ignore that other cultures may already be civilized. It is rather difficult to give a concrete definition of civility because every country has different beliefs.

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