As a Nikon owner and Leica wishful-owner, I read Ken Rockwell’s blog to stay up on the world of cameras through Ken’s eyes. Mostly, it is just entertaining; his humor is an odd blend of self-conscious awkwardness and sometimes sardonic charm.
Beyond the technical reviews it is hard to take Ken too seriously. His blog is really one big chuckle. The man who rants against photographers’ preoccupation with “gear” is himself hopelessly seduced by the five-figure Leica M9 kit. Good for him, I say.
My issue with Ken, however, is not this predilection for hyperbolic sarcasm that he confuses for humor. My (little) beef is that he is sometimes careless with history and language.
In particular, he is fond of the word “Oriental,” http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/oriental.htm.
Now, this isn’t generally considered offensive by everyone in this world and I wouldn’t take umbrage with his usage except that he uses it in exactly the way that suggests a fundamental and deep ignorance of what he is saying. He writes:
“The Orient includes countries and regions like Japan, China, Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan.”
Um, actually, The Orient, as it has traditionally been used, is a conflation of everything non-European. It isn’t just countries or regions “like” Japan, China, and Korea as if it would be justified if we could surgically limit the definition to those places to begin with. And what do you mean regions LIKE these? Is Thailand LIKE Japan or China? Is Malaysia like Korea?
“Since much Oriental photo gear now comes from several Oriental countries, it’s far more precise to say Oriental rather than trying to delineate Japanese or Chinese.”
So, there is nothing precise at all about this; but this is a straw man argument anyway. It may be far more convenient for Ken but it is definitely much less precise. We don’t need to invent words to say things like “The Nikon D40 is made in Thailand.”
It is one thing if you use “Oriental” in the same way we use the term “Western”, sloppy as it may be. We can just chalk that up to ignorance which is forgivable. But it is another thing to claim real understanding and be wrong about it. Categorically redefining the Oriental to mean “East Asian” (a very nice unloaded term) is a neat trick to get around the criticisms, but why not just use “East Asian.”
To be clear, my issue with him about the word “Oriental” lies LESS with the use of the term itself than with the explanation he provides which strikes me as utterly illogical.