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2011年5月8日 星期日

In Search for Home Culture: Muzak in Chiense New Year Celebration

前言:

在大型高級購物商場裡播放的背景音樂,究竟有甚麼作用呢? 以下文章就是我以前做的一個 field work 研究,探討商場的背景音樂對購物者和遊人有甚麼影響。我的研究是在特定的節日期間做的,所有資料是在農曆新年期間搜集而心成。所以,結論是與農曆新年有關的。


In Search for Home Culture: Muzak in Chinese New Year Celebration


Introduction


The notion of cultural identity has in recent years become increasingly problematic. When we think of ourselves as belonging to a particular culture, we tend to forget that we are living in an affluent, globally connected world where the crisscrossing of cultures has become the norm. We can have European raisin bran for breakfast, Indian curry for lunch, and Japanese sashimi for dinner; we can enjoy Western operas, traditional Chinese music, Western classics, jazz, rock, Canto-pop, Japanese song, or even African juju; we can be a Christian, an theist, a Buddhist, or a Sufi. We can choose – or believe we can – different aspects of our lives from what has come to be called the “global cultural supermarket.”[1]  And cultural identity as such is simply a matter of consumer’s choice.

Yet multiculturalism can be deceptive. For while we no longer have a single dominant culture, our ancestral cultures have not forever vanished. The latter, which regularly confound us by their resilience, their survival in spite of everything, may well remain in potent shape.  But if freedom of choice does not necessarily imply the loss of identity, where do we see the possibility of a home culture in a world that seems to encourage too much diversity?  How are we supposed to locate our identity amid a cultural anarchy? One possible line of inquiry towards answering these questions is offered by looking at the way in which a specific social activity – shopping and buying during the Spring Festival period – under the New Year festive atmosphere, which is mostly enhanced by a particular type of community-based music, namely, muzak accompanying Chinese New Year celebration, is used in the department store or shopping mall in Hong Kong.

This paper attempts to show that while the notion of cultural identity is never without ambiguity in present day societies, neither will it be easily undermined by a laisser-faire orthodoxy that simply encourages one to pick and choose. The moral demands and collective identities of a culture may be brought into focus under such specific activities and festive circumstances when the entire members of a community find themselves awakening to their cultural self-understanding.

Participation-Observation Method


The methodology I employed in this paper is the participation-observation method.  This ethnographic method entails a kind of double role or stance.  One the one hand, the “participant part” means that the researcher immerses him/herself in a real world, the “field-based” setting.  This suggests that the researcher is committing his/her whole self to that setting.  By experiencing that setting through feelings, thoughts, emotions and so on, the researcher can obtain a more self-understanding of that music culture or some aspects of it from an insider’s perspective.  However, on the other hand, the “observer part” can bring about a “scientific” approach to creating knowledge and understanding by collecting data, interviewing and observations from that particular setting.  In this paper, my main focus is the socio-cultural activity of shopping-buying “new things” by Hong Kong people during the Spring Festival (The Chinese New Year Festival) under the New Year festive milieu, which is prepared and enhanced by the specific kind of muzak played in the department stores. 

My fieldwork will be carried out in one of the large, representative shopping malls, the Sogo Department Store, at Causeway Bay in the Lunar New Year public holiday.   I will observe and participate in people’s festive activities and examine how the background soundscape can open up a wider sensuous dimension of visitors to conform to the traditional customs.  I will also interview several visitors about their feelings and reactions under such socio-cultural environments.  Be it a functioning anarchy or a faded mosaic, multiculturalism can be a testing ground for traditional cultures to reemerge in a new guise.

Chinese New Year Custom


To Chinese people, “having everything new” for the coming new year is as important as having a Christmas tree or receiving a present at Christmas to westerners.  Without any exception, Hong Kong people are aware of buying new “presents” for themselves, as well as for the others in this festival.   The Chinese describe Spring Festival without having everything new not only as being like a dish without seasoning, but also as symbolizing a bad, unhappy and unfortunate year coming.   Although this year-by-year festive activity is embedded with abundant traditional cultural meanings, it also function as an essential medium for the survival of such Chinese traditional culture.   But how this tradition can be continued in a place where the tradition has often been undermined?
It is widely known that under the British colonial sovereignty, the Chinese traditional cultures in Hong Kong were often undermined.   But traditions can always manifest themselves in new guises and continue to be extant.  As Paul Connerton argued in How Society Remember, “the cultural images of the past are conveyed and sustained by social practices and ritual (more or less ritual) performances.”[2]   We, indeed, experience our present world in a context which is causally connected with past events and objects.  Some of our ancestral cultures can also manifest themselves year-by-year in form of a particular social practice.   Buying and shopping in Chinese New Year time, thus, should be regarded as one of such practices.   But how can music relate to this socio-cultural activity to enhance a metaphor for the “Chinese identity” formation?

Music’s Social Power


Despite its alleged autonomous statue, music is also well known for its social power to influence people’s daily life.   It is implicated in every dimension of social agency.  Just as Tia DeNora argued, “music may influence how people compose their bodies, how they conduct themselves, how they experience the passage of time, how they feel – in terms of energy and emotion – about themselves, about others and about situations,”[3] music, in this respect, can provide a framework for the organization of social agency, and a framework for how people perceive, whether consciously or subconsciously, potential avenues of conduct.   Unsurprisingly, therefore, exploiting music’s social effects are familiar to marketers and social planners.    Many in-store experiments suggest that background music, such as muzak in shopping malls, can be used to structure a range of consumer behaviors and choices, such as, the time it takes to eat and drink, the average length of stay in a shop, the choice of one brand or style over another and the amount of money spent.[4]  Creating a happy and relaxed environment through the imaginative use of music is a vital element in securing maximum turnover and ensuring that the business has optimum appeal.  When the muzak is used correctly, it can influence customers’ buying behavior by creating or enhancing the image, mood and style that the business strategy wishes to achieve. 

During the period of the Hong Kong Lunar New Year, the muzak played in many large shopping malls and supermarkets is the traditional Chinese instrumental music.  This practice may be one of the usual marketing strategies.  However, I believe that this muzak for Chinese New Year celebration does not merely function to fulfill the commercial objective.  It also helps to enhance, or even to confirm every local’s intellectual and sensuous self as a “Chinese,” both in a cognitive and aesthetical dimension.   As viewed, the background music can serve as a medium to modulate and structure listeners’ parameters of aesthetic agency, such as feeling, motivation, desire, action style and memory.   Reliving experience through the Chinese traditional instrumental music assists to constitute memory of a “self-culture.”   Within this human-music interaction, when locals are participating in the family-based activities of shopping, eating, drinking and celebrating in such a festive milieu, whether they are self-aware or not, their practices are interwoven with their acts of memory, reshaping and cementing the so-called the cultural identity. I now begin the description of my observation in the Sogo Department Store.

第一部份:

Part I -- To be continued.

David Leung (theorydavid)
2011-05-08 (published)


[1] It is a term used by Gordon Mathews to describe the present problem of cultural identity of a particular nation or a society.  See Gordon Matthews, Global Culture/Individual Identity: Searching for Home in the Cultural Supermarket (New York: Routledge, 2000), 1-2.
[2] Paul Connerton, How Societies Remember (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 2-3.
[3] Tia DeNora, Music in Everyday Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 17.
[4] For the discussion of these in-store experiments by many other scholars, refer to DeNora’s exploration in Music in Everyday Life, 18.
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