The Other

The “Other” (note the capitalization) is an anthropological term used to denote people who do not fit into the dominant (hegemonic) culture. While the Other may feel alienated or exhilarated by his or her condition, the dominant culture is always bent on getting the Other to change and fit into it.

If you think of the hegemonic culture as a big circle, the Other exists as a square outside that circle – and the hegemonic culture does whatever it can to get the Other to smooth its sharp edges and enter the “charmed” circle. Of course, entering the circle means stripping away the elements that give the Other its, well, otherness. It also reinforces the hegemony by adding another person who, as a newly minted member of the dominant culture, will now assert this dominance over other Others (yes, I realize how silly that sounds, that’s part of the fun of writing it). As an example, consider how hard ex-smokers are on non-smokers.

Yet by stripping all individual identity (or any cultural identity that isn’t accepted by the hegemony), life in the dominant culture can get a bit boring. So much so that a nineteen year old check-out clerk at A&P might be driven to quit his job (tip o’ the hat to John Updike).

Or the dominant culture may feel threatened by the Other and hurt, kill or drive him or her away. We see this in Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “Gimpel the Fool” as the town heckles and derides a holy man because they feel threatened by his devotion – and ashamed by their lack of it.

Or the dominant culture can latch onto basic primitive desires and try to MacDonaldize the world in its own consumerist, capitalistic image. Oops, got carried away on that last one and let out the ugly truth about a certain country that shall go unnamed.

Remember that a culture can be any group, large or small, that develops an exclusionary bond or kinship.  It could be as small as the culture of a particular family, or as broad as the culture of a nation.