Towards Internationalism

A challenge for the mobile Escapologist is dealing with bureaucratic systems that that weren’t built to cater for ‘foreigners’.

I’ve mentioned before how I don’t like parochialism. We all occupy the same brilliant world, and the sooner we start to treat the planet’s population as a whole; and ‘their’ problems as ‘our’ problems, the better. Ian Hamilton Finlay once described a country as “an imaginary place recognised only by bumpkins and bureaucrats”. Parochialism stands in the way of the longer-term human endeavor.

That’s probably the most hippie/yippie thing I’ve ever said, but I back the remark with a passion. I’m not suggesting we work towards a single homogenised world culture and language: that would be weird (and impossible). But I think we need to remember, especially in the age of the Internet, that everything we do is part of an interconnected, globe-spanning human project.

I spent most of yesterday morning writing a page for Kickstarter.com in an attempt to raise funding for an exciting creative project. Kickstarter – a peer-to-peer funding site – is a brilliant concept and so I spent a couple of days going through the proverbial ‘abandoned ideas’ file, looking to resurrect projects of merit.

Alas, I am of British origin and the website serves American creatives only. I didn’t realise this until I’d completed a dynamic proposal complete with an artistic .JPG and a video clip, and finally came to courting the payments system. There’s nothing on the Kickstarter homepage that suggests American exclusivity. There are even spotlighted projects on the homepage based in South America and Europe and Japan. But those seemingly international projects, I now learn, are kickstarts for Americans abroad.

To annoy me further, I’d already waited two days to get the go-ahead from Kickstarter HQ, who (to their credit) vet each proposal that comes their way. Why did they accept my proposal if they knew I was non-American? My profile describes me as “A British writer and performer”. My location was set to “Glasgow, Scotland”.

Thankfully I’ve found a similar service called IndieGoGo, which seems to have a more international outlook. Hopefully, most of yesterday’s work can be migrated to this website instead. I’ll let you know if anything comes of it.

When I emailed Kickstarter to ask why I wasn’t able to enter my British or Canadian bank details, they replied with a perfectly civil explanation starting with “We are thankful for the international interest! But for the time being… etc etc”. The exclamation mark speaks volumes. International interest! The very thought! Hohoho. I’ve come up against this before. I once proposed an academic article about ancient Chinese libraries to a UK-based library journal. “I think that’s a bit beyond our remit!” was the chuckled response. Why? Because China is far away from where you’re currently sitting? This journal is circulated internationally via the web, and there is nothing about the its remit, as far as I can see, specifying an exclusive interest in British library history but the suggestion of anything otherwise was a bizarre non-sequitur.

I was prompted to write this post because I was irritated by Kickstarter’s exclusive policy and the time I’d wasted in discovering it. But I do whole-heartedly believe that anything online should address the entire planet (or at least make it clear from the get-go when addressing a specific group of the global population).

We’re slowly getting there, I think. Wikipedia moderators, for instance, come down quite hard on non-universalized articles. We do our best here at New Escapologist too: for a long time now, the contributor guidelines to have begged for an international outlook wherever possible.

I think there’s going to be some kind of massive fallout soon, regarding parochial television programming. Recent international complaints about the ignorant twats at Top Gear; and the unfortunate confusion at QI are case studies in what will soon surely be a larger issue. A TV production company may intend to make a product primarily for a native audience (in the BBC’s case, that of Great Britain) but it mustn’t forget that this material will eventually be broadcast the world over. A kind of internationalisation (or at least decent sensitivity toward other cultures) is required. It goes back to the comedian’s litmus test against offensiveness: would you tell your Irish joke in the presence of an Irish person? If you wouldn’t, then you should probably scrap it. We can only imagine what those future extra-terrestrials will think when they finally intercept our TV signals from the ’60s.

As I say though, I think we are slowly getting there. The latest Doctor Who episodes, produced in a British-Canadian collaboration, have a delightfully British quality but don’t cause mass offense overseas either. This is partly because of the collaborative way it is funded; partly because it is designed to be a lucrative export; and partly because the producers of speculative fiction are, by definition, a forward-looking bunch.

At dinner with a Canadian friend in Scotland last week, we discussed how our language had changed since we’d been working in each other’s countries of origin. She had acquired lots of English and Scottish expressions and I had picked up some North Americanisms. Initially we confessed to trying to ‘check’ those turns of phrase for want of seeming pretentious at home; but we eventually agreed “Fuck it, we’re International people, right?”

Parochial language is not a crime. I just think it’s an indicator of a certain kind of geographical solipsism that is better suited to another century. Old morals, old work ethics and old turns of phrase are slowing us down as a species.

About

Robert Wringham is a humorist and the editor-in-chief of New Escapologist.

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