The Fitful Flog

January 29, 2009

I’m Afraid of Hegemony

[audio:DB.mp3|titles=I’m Afraid of Americans|artists=David Bowie]

So, I was on the bus the other day, cheerfully folding away and rocking out to an old Bowie/Eno song and got to thinking about culture. The song was ostensibly about culture, you see — Bowie says:

It’s not as truly hostile about Americans as say “Born in the U.S.A.”: it’s merely sardonic. I was traveling in Java when the first McDonald’s went up: it was like, “for fuck’s sake.” The invasion by any homogenized culture is so depressing, the erection of another Disney World in, say, Umbria, Italy, more so. It strangles the indigenous culture and narrows expression of life.

Really? This seems a rather incongruous expression of outrage for a rock-and-roll musician. Rock-and-roll is not exactly a culturally pure idiom — certainly not the kind Bowie has pursued all these years — nor is it a genre particularly averse to propagation.

One can imagine oneself, sitting in the McD’s in Jakarta, pushing a PaNas Special around the plate with a plastic fork, watching the local students though the glass, protesting something strikingly nongermane, and hearing this song on the radio. Rock-and-roll gets around — that’s what it does. Rock-and-roll is a little, you know, American that way. Perhaps David was dabbling more in the ironic here than the sardonic.

A lot of culture entities have spent too much time in the blender, were you asking me. Musical theater. Ballet. Haute cuisine. Don’t get me started on free verse. But you know, it’s not all that difficult to avoid cultural forces you don’t approve of. Say, someone offers you tickets to the ballet. You reply, sir, ballet is a decadent art form, deleterious to the common good, fostering inhuman ideals in its followers and deforming the feet of its practitioners. Yeah, you will still have to take the tickets and sit there for three hours, but you will definitely be off the list for the cast party. Count it as a victory and move on.

And what has this to do with origami? Well, origami comes with all sorts of cultural baggage: the foreign name, the missionary zeal of its adherents, the Sadako mythology, the seemingly endless number of penguin models…and there’s the internal culture, as well. Modern origami has developed all sorts of cultural norms and squirrelly values in the past few decades, things you don’t find out about until after you’ve been converted by the zealous missionaries: the square thing, the no-cuts/no glue thing, the cult of the creative genius, the antiquarian reverence for diagrams, and most of all, the hegemony of the power of 2. Think about how many models involve dividing by 2 and then by 4 and again by 8…and your angles, there? How many are 90° and 45° and then to 22½° and 11¼°? Why? Sure, it’s simple, but it’s clearly not the only way to go. You can make simple and intermediate models from other numbers, but none or few ever do. Listen up, all you protest kids, 1/2n is the white bread of paperfolding. You can live on white bread, but why not challenge your palate a bit? Here, try a nice tasty seven.

1. Mark at the Half
First, mark the halves on the top and bottom edges.

2. Mark Upper Left, Lower Right Quarters
Then mark the quarters on the upper left and lower right.

3. Crease from Quarter Marks to Corners
Fold from the quarter marks to the corners.

4. Fold Diagonal, Note Crossings
Now, make a diagonal crease and note where it crosses the creases you just made.

5. Fold Horizontals and Verticals through Crossings
Fold horizontals and verticals through those crossings. You’ve found the 3/7 and 4/7 on this square. (This is all from Kazuo Haga, by the way. Did you read his new book, yet?)

Fraught with possibilities, I hear you say? Go for it. It’ll give you something to do with the program at the ballet. Or you can fold up the tray liner at the Jakarta McD’s, while you’re waiting for the students to move on.

Being a boxy kind of guy, I made a box out of it, and yes, I used nothing but 1/2n angles here. Have a crease pattern.
Movie Reel Box

I’m pretty sure that the Javan and Umbrian cultures are sufficiently vital to put up with a little competition, especially if it’s from something as bland as hamburgers and Mickey Mouse. Me, I’d like to hear this song done by a gamelan, wouldn’t you?

6 Responses to “I’m Afraid of Hegemony”

  1. 1
    Eric Gjerde Says:

    Philip, I always love your posts! You totally crack me up, every time 🙂

    I agree about people with the power of 2 – and I’m just as guilty of that myself! It is all about what’s easy but at some point it becomes a rut. Thanks much for the gentle nudge to get out of the dirt and see what else is out there.

    (and Disney in Umbria? I find that pretty bizarre…)

  2. 2
    oschene Says:

    @ Eric: The Umbria thing confused me, too. Euro Disney is somewhere near Paris, isn’t it? Maybe Bowie was thinking of Euro Itchy and Scratchy Land. Who are you to resist it, huh?

    I have friends who think Disney parks are just all right — you couldn’t get me in one of those places with a court order and a cattle prod.

    @ Tom: Marduk made the fingers of your left hand to hold sixes and those who hold that we use base ten because we have ten fingers are afflicted with a poverty of imagination. Babylonians could count to sixty without taking off their sandals and do division without recourse to decimals, always leaving aside the tricky seven. When I was in Italy, I went to the supermarket and counted the eggs — they really do sell them in tens which is, you know, simply cruelty to chickens.

  3. 3
    Tom Hull Says:

    Jeez. You’ve been living in origami-land for so long that you think powers of two are natural and the way God intended, or something. You forget your roots! How many fingers on each hand do you have there? We’re base 10 creatures, matey.

    Do you know how much trouble I have to go to to get my students to think outside the base 10 box? Those kiddos dreaming of CS careers need to get their feet planted firmly in the land of base two. Maybe I should lock them in a room full of origami books for a month or two. It could have the desired effect.

  4. 4
    Hideo Says:

    Maravilhoso o seu trabalho.

  5. 5
    Joel Cooper Says:

    Dividing the square into sevenths is all well and good, but you still have to start with a standard square. What about irregular polygons with irrational divisions? How about a scalene triangle divided by phi?

  6. 6
    waylan Says:

    i got itttttttt..

    but.. how did you do it without all the center creases.. did you use a bone/scorer tool, placing it on the mountain creases only? that would make sense..

    glorious! i think i can get the waterbomb and onion now..

    and only two years later.

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