Reading and studying about Negrophilia keep reminding me about the idea of Orientalism and that to what extent Parisian’s Negrophilia bears similarities to Orientalism, another aesthetic wave of appreciating the Other happened some decades ago before 1920s. An idea established by Edward Said, Orientalism indicates a historical cultural obsession of the West to the Orient, the East. Cultures from the East, a geographical conception of Middle East, South Asia, East Asia — everything combined that is geographically eastern from the European Continent, are generalized, symbolized and fantasized by the Europeans as they delve into the Middle Eastern costumes, the Japanese decoration, the Chinese music scales and the Indian instruments. The Europeans, attracted by the freshness and strangeness of other cultures, yet show patronizing attitude when embracing and adopting ideas from Oriental culture. These cultures are viewed as static and without development. While some cultures share little commonness, they, the Other, the non-western, are put into the same category to understand. They are also discussed only in the western language, which means that the Europeans viewers, the outsiders of these cultures, get the word to evaluate and examine paintings, music, and lifestyles from the East. As some scholars may argue, there is no Orient. The Europeans create the image of Orient and convinced themselves that this is what it is.
Decades later after Europeans going crazy about the Orient, African arts was welcomed and popularized in some similar manners. Things from African Continent, the U.S. and Latin America, everything that appear to be black, are put into category again labeled African arts. The civilized and developed West sees Jazz as original, primitive and animal-like, an identical cultural patronization. In the Levinson reading, the author considers that black dances developed to be more “complex” after absorbing European influence, an argument that conveys premise that the Black arts itself is static and unable to evolve.
Economic environment of France in the 1920s marks a difference between how the French public appreciated the Orient decades ago and how it perceived Jazz and Black arts. From the Jordan reading, we understand that Black artists like Josephine Baker were introduced and advertised to the French by professional team before they actually arrived Paris and started the show. This sounds to me like a strategic product selling process. The producer targets its costumers and sells the product in the exact way costumers want the product to be. In this case, what was being sold is not material but arts from the Other. The capitalistic advertising strategy might have worked extremely well in 1920s France. As the economy goes down, economically frustrated and worried public tends to be more willing to spend on little products that might lighten their life and provide a little bit enjoyment (lipstick effect). These little products include lipsticks, movie tickets, and in our case, tickets to see Black shows or Jazz performances, as the costumers after seeing reviews could have really believed that they are buying themselves some fashionable enjoyment.
So, speaking cynically and materialistically, Parisians probably did really love African American artists as the French were willing to pay for their performances and consume their culture. This culture of consuming Otherness never ends and perpetuates itself along with nowadays global market economy. Yet, how much cultural respect do we, as consumers, still have to what we are buying, as we dehumanize human cultural achievement into a piece of good just like lipstick? And if such process of “dehumanizing” is natural, could we possibly justify it?