Cultural Identity's role in handling Covid Lockdown: Hunter X Hunter & English vs Arabic Pop Culture

Updated: Jan 29

I’m 22 right now, so I was a kid in the early 2000’s-2010s. I turned 18 in December of 2016. Before officially moving to Toronto in 2010, after coming here every summer, I lived in Kuwait. The thing about living in Kuwait, which is also the same as living in Toronto, is that it's basically living in the United States of America. All of pop culture is American pop culture, I went to an American school, a lot of my classmates were children of American diplomats and military personnel, I mainly spoke English, we ate McDonald's, KFC, Chilis', Papa Johns and Pizza Hut, we'd get Nachos and popcorn and watch movies in the movie theatre that were made in Hollywood with Arabic subtitles, most of the references we made were to WWE, Disney, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon shows.


The only apparent difference in pop culture is that some scenes and storylines in movies and shows were cut out in the Middle East. So sex scenes and things that were explicit in nature weren’t allowed on television. But after a certain point we were all on the internet anyway, so we watched whatever, whenever. Yet still, that rigid constraint over content plagues me to this day. For years I didn’t understand the “Draw me like a French girl” meme from Titanic, despite having seen the movie upwards of a dozen times....because I have sisters by the way, I’m not just randomly watching Titanic in my free time... It’s the biggest movie in the world, okay? Fine, I love the movie. Anyway, the broadcasters would cut those promiscuous scenes in editing, and if the content was completely dubbed into Arabic, then the entire storyline changes to reflect the ideals of a Muslim society. Muslim media is very open about operating under Islamic guidelines and wanting to uphold these ideals and their Islamic cultural identity.


When I started watching Detective Conan in English dub as opposed to in Arabic, I found out that Rachel was his girlfriend, not his fiancé. I found out the reason Richard had his cheeks flushed red, and his tie around his head was because he was drunk, not because he ate a lot. Obviously alcohol is haram, so the show refrained from mentioning it, and really convinced me that eating a lot made you get woozy, so I had a bunch of awkward buffet family trips where I was acting a fool because I thought that getting drunk happens when you eat a lot of food. 7 year old me has literally put his tie around his head at multiple weddings, because he ate a lot of rice.


The reason the media outlets did that is because they truly believed the content we consume affects how we operate in a society. So every year, Detective Conan Edogawa, and a host of other anime characters, would wish us a happy Ramadan and Eid, and many of the show’s represented the ideals of the society, its the equivalent of Christmas specials over here. Most of the shows on SpaceToon (the Arab Disney Channel) when I was growing up, were Japanese Anime's about Samurai ethics and morals (like Thunder Jet aka Hazeem Al Ra3d). The theme songs would have profound lyrics that speak of courage, bravery, patience and Islamic morals. They would cherry pick the content to dub, and then rewrite the script to fit the ideals and narratives of that cultural identity, which is something I’ve noticed in the West as well. Except that here the ideals usually upheld by the society are freedom, optimism, exploration, destiny and ambition.


The perfect example of the differences in cultural ideals lies in the lyrics to the Hunter X Hunter theme song, in Arabic and English. These theme songs couldn’t be more different, for the exact same show. Starting from the opening video. The Arabic opening shows the protagonists of the show in nature, practicing the craft of hunting, the song is a slow, poetic ballad, with a slow motion video that shows the characters being patient, wiping away tears, being calm and somber. The English opening is set in a big city, and it begins with the rising sun over skyscrapers, and the main character Gon walking upstairs, through bright doors, smiling, the song is upbeat and speaks of an ambitious future.


English lyrics:

Waking up, we tread this wondrous land

Walking on this earth we take a stand

With a smile we open up our eyes

It’s departure time!

When you’re all alone

Never think you’re on your own

You’ll go and find your destiny

Just give it time. Continue to breathe

Filled with tenderness

Thank you, Earth, for my life’s quest

Now that it’s time to leave, wish for the best

You can smile again

Basking in the sunlight

You can fly away

Time to rise up. Shine your light. Show the world you can make the climb!

Waking up, we tread this wondrous land

With a smile, we’re running hand in hand

No matter if we fall, we’ll try again!

Knowing we can win! (you can smile)

Now the journey starts, I won’t give up, I won’t throw in the towel!

Though it’s time to go, I won’t be alone!

Arabic lyrics:

His eyes shone with determination, and his right rose up

In the silence of the night

Who is steadfast adventurous in the face of the torrent

Away from his eyes comfort

Challenges an opponent in the arena

It goes on and hits the goals, always striving to achieve fairness

And the imagination of his father in dreams

In the sensitive heart awakens the love of goodness for all people

Whatever the price, the difficulties

He will still be the sniper hero

With all patience and sincerity

Works hard and on standby

It goes on and hits the targets

Always seeking fairness

Now these are vastly different openings for the exact same show, the difference is also apparent in how the characters are treated in the show, how the dialogue is written. The Arabic versions are trying to instill steadfastness, bravery, honour and Islamic morals to the kids, and the message is more confrontational. The morals aren’t as ambiguous over there, where a majority of people are Muslim, and many governments operate under Islamic laws, so its easier to enforce certain belief systems to the masses. Here the message is usually freedom, optimism and ambition, the lyrics are mainly focused on leaving, exploring, and achieving something, it's focused on manifesting a destiny. That made me look at the Japanese version of the song. The show is originally Japanese, what's their take on this? My findings were peculiar, to say the least.


Japanese lyrics:

You're awakening as you tread the earth.

Lead us out with an angelic smile!

Even when you're alone, you're not on your own.

Your birth definitely has significance.

Thank you, Earth,

Brimming with gentleness.

YOU CAN SMILE AGAIN

YOU CAN FLY AWAY

You can smile again.

Bask in the sun.

You can fly away.

The world is waiting for you to shine.

You're awakening as you tread the earth.

Lead us out with an angelic smile! (You can smile!)

It's never too late to start.

Get up again and again!

We won't give up till the very end.

Continuing on definitely has significance.

YOU JUST TRY AGAIN

YOU JUST GO AWAY

You just try again.

Escape the darkness.

You just go away.

The future is always waiting for us.

(YOU CAN TRY!)

Dash through the heavens and cross the oceans.

Catch the angel's air kiss! (You can try!)

Tomorrow, let's fly out to a world

That nobody has seen yet.

You're awakening as you tread the earth.

Lead us out with an angelic smile.

Let's set out on a never-ending adventure.

As long as we want, wherever we want.

You're turning the tears running down your cheeks into courage.

Spread your angelic wings and soar! (You can fly!)

Wrap up your sadness and pain,

And get stronger tomorrow.

You're awakening as you tread the earth.

Lead us out with an angelic smile! (You can smile!)

It's never too late to start.

Now this is vastly different from the English and Arabic versions. It has some similarities with both, the Japanese one is optimistic and focused on perseverance, but it's different in that the main focus is some sort of resurrection, after a death. The lyrics talk about escaping the darkness, transforming tears into courage, and how it’s never too late to try again, which is different from the English message of getting back up when you get knocked down. It's constantly referring to death with allusions to angels, heavens, skies, wings and eternity. The theme depicts a perseverance through meaninglessness, the themes are way more nihilistic than the other two. This might have something to do with Japan's cultural narrative since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It's no wonder why certain movies like Akira are literally about nuclear explosions that can wipe out cities. Kind of like how a lot of Hollywood movies after 9/11 are about threats coming from the sky and destroying cities, all the avengers movies, all those pacific rim, battleship type movies. Our cultural fears and threats often place themselves in our content, because most content is about enforcing a narrative in the minds of the masses. The content we consume creates, promotes and cements a cultural identity.


I just read 3 different lyrics for the exact same show that promote a completely different way of being to the person consuming the message. All of these songs are just one example of how media shapes our cultural identity. The American cultural identity focuses on freedom, ambition, venturing out and finding a worthy pursuit, which is in line with western capitalism's entrepreneurial spirit.


The Arabic one is adversarial, darker, the lyrics take place in the fall of night, unlike the other two which take place in the sun. It talks about ambition, but focuses on fairness, justice and determination, a love for people, a strong heritage, and character. The ambition in the Arabic one is different from the other two, it's not about going and exploring Earth, it’s more about defeating an opponent in a competition, while displaying good character and ethics. The other two pay no mind to the actual premise of the show, they talk about perseverance in life, this one hones in on the craft the series is based on, it talks about achieving goals and hitting targets, while being fair and sincere. The messages are Islamic ideals depicting their cultural identity.


Out here the message is in line with America's entrepreneurial spirit. American culture tells everyone that they can one day become the President. The culture focuses on freedom, individualism, ambition, and optimism, to fulfill the American Dream, which is achieving life circumstances, better than the one you were born into, and pursuing happiness. The English theme song focuses on freedom, exploration, ambition and perseverance.


None of these are inherently good or bad, they all just show what each culture's narrative and identity is. It's bigger than just pushing a narrative though, it's maintaining a status quo. The main difference is that in the Middle East, God enforces the identity, in the United States and Canada, corporations enforce morality, ideals and in turn our cultural identity.


I honestly, for the life of me, cannot understand censorship in the United States, which is the main source of content we consume in Canada, and around the World. Freedom of expression, but corporations decide what is appropriate to say. When I was a kid over here, I couldn’t buy a ticket to the newest Quentin Tarantino movie, unless I was with an adult. So someone decides that when you turn 18, you’re suddenly allowed access to promiscuity, violence and drug use. Censorship and access is based on age ratings for the most part, so someone decides who's old enough to drink, have sex, go to the club or watch an extremely violent, sexual movie.


In my experience in Kuwait, everything was across the board in terms of access determined by age. I’m not allowed to drink, but neither is my dad, if he can watch a movie, I could watch the movie. Anywhere he could go, I could go. Everywhere was all ages, all the time, for the most part.


Shops close when it's prayer time, places open and close earlier during Ramadan, you hear the prayer call 5 times a day. You were never forced to pray or anything like that, but there’s no confusion about who is allowed to do what. If you were caught with drugs or alcohol, you would face punishment.


Here everything is a milestone. Everyone knows the drinking and smoking ages, and nobody could wait. Its drivers license, then drinking age. It's a long tease for years, everyone's excited for their 19th or 21st birthdays, or whatever, so we could get into clubs, buy our own drinks, or even watch rated R movies. You don’t understand how frustrating getting ID’d at a movie theatre is until you spent the first half of your childhood watching whatever you wanted, including what would be deemed “adult content.” I watched ‘Halloween’ at 4 years old, nobody thought it was a big deal, I didn’t turn into a serial killer. But any sexually promiscuous scene was cut out. Over here, I wouldn’t have been allowed because there would be a viewer's discretion before the movie starts, that would tell my mother to get me out of the room before the movie started. But she would be allowed to watch it, in all its gore and sexuality, while drinking a glass of wine and holding a Glock nine. But once I am the appropriate age, I have unlocked a level in life. I am deemed responsible enough to consume harmful substances and arm myself.


Alcohol brands are allowed to operate, and advertise, quite literally everywhere, but we want it to be kept away from our children. We put ratings on movies, but everyone in ads is naked. Who in a secular society decides what is morally righteous, and for what reason? Whether or not you agree with Muslim societies, their law is believed to be directly from God, there is no confusion about their morality. This is not to say Muslim countries own the moral high-ground, but the cultural identity of the society is Islamic and its backed by guidelines from God, something that is impossible in a secular society.


Living in a free and secular society makes the lines of morality blurry. Drugs can only be sold by corporations, Weed was immoral, but now its profitable, but there's still millions of people in jail for non violent weed crimes. Tech corporations are allowed to censor The President of The United States, because they deemed him morally corrupt, but the same tech companies are under review by the law for tampering with the election of that same President. As well as using various software to spy on people without their knowledge.


This isn't a "moral degradation of the west" essay, I love the west, there's nowhere else I would rather live, especially pre pandemic, I'm just noticing that its virtually impossible to hold a moral high-ground when our cultural identity is a flimsy system of pseudo or false morality. That is why Governments like my own here in Toronto, and across America, are unable to coordinate and handle this pandemic efficiently, and make sure everyone stays inside and follows orders. There is a protest every single day in downtown Toronto filled with thousands of people in the anti lockdown movements. Everyday I see footage of people in various states that live as though Covid does not exist. I have seen multiple Instagram stories of people in New York turning up in the crowded basement of a Brooklyn barbershop.


We may call those people idiots, but I can completely understand their perspective. The government is suddenly allowed to shut down your small business, but corporations are allowed to run. The government can suddenly tell you what to do, how to do it, what to wear and where you can be. This entire lockdown tugs at our cultural identity. Freedom is the cultural identity and a government mandated lockdown is a literal imposition on freedom, you can be fined for being outside, what is more un-American than that? Only thing more un-American would be killing a bald eagle or something.


Obviously rational and well minded people understand that it’s okay to stay inside in order to keep people safe, it's okay to put on a mask to keep yourself and others safe, and WhatsApp is not a reliable source of covid-19 news, but I definitely understand where they’re coming from. Multiple politicians in Ontario have been caught breaking the lockdown rules, so renowned liars are mandating lockdowns then fining poor people, for doing the exact same thing they’re doing? I haven’t left the house in a minute, not because I’m scared of some fine though, but because I’ve actually seen the effects of this virus and it is not a game. So I stay inside to protect myself and those I love, but all this mandated lockdown stuff is tough.


If people want to be outside, and risk their own lives, this has always been a place where they could. You could drink, smoke, buy multiple guns from Walmart, become a daredevil, and all of the sudden you can’t go outside because of a flu? I understand them. The way China dealt with this virus was vastly different. China is a nation that is clear in its mission. They forcefully barricaded people inside their homes, sprayed the streets for weeks with some ominous gas, built multiple hospitals and had it under control in a few months, they’ve controlled it so much that there are now concerts and pool parties in Wuhan. That is not a free society, and everyone there knows it.


Times like this remind us that freedom is a burden, that is why we are given the illusion of choice. We get to choose between Pepsi and Coke, Democrat and Republican, Liberal and Conservative. For years we practiced our freedom more like a multiple choice test than true democracy. Our options have to come pre-picked, and our information intake is mostly sensationalized marketing, so you’ll have polarizing debate segments for hours on Fox and CNN, where the goal is to say a hot take and get clicks online. The politicians are breaking their own laws, how can we expect the masses to follow? Who gets to decide what is the morally righteous choice to undertake? If we start being honest about our cultural identity, then we can really start the dialogue about what we can do. True freedom requires an informed population, years of sensationalized garbage has built a strong suspicion towards our sources of information, obviously people have gone to the other extreme and are now not believing even the most prominent scientists. Even the slightest impositions on freedom would have felt draconian based on our cultural identity, let alone an entire government mandated lockdown.


I do believe there is a middle ground of healthy skepticism, and learning from actual experts, not just Facebook links. I don't have the answers to how these lockdowns should be handled. I'm just 22 and have been indoors for months, and as a person who has lived under a religious monarchy and western democracy, I'm able to spot some of the nuances in cultural identity and how they play a part in how the society I live in feels towards the circumstances associated with a pandemic. Stay safe and maintain social distancing. Also watch Case Closed and Hunter x Hunter if you haven't already.

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