Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. Link the Writer
    Offline

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2009
    Messages:
    11,210
    Likes Received:
    4,220
    Location:
    Alabama, USA

    When is it cultural appropriation?

    Discussion in 'Debate Room' started by Link the Writer, Dec 11, 2014.

    I've heard this multiple times before (and just read about it today on a site I traverse on) and I don't really understand it. From my basic, slim, bare-bone understanding, it's when you take something from another culture and make it your own, or saying you can relate to someone/something from another culture. Some say it's good, some say it's bad. Let me offer some scenarios that I've read around the web.

    Liking black rap music is bad if you're a white person.
    The gist I read here is that if you have no idea what it's like to be through the singer's life, you shouldn't take the singer's lyrics and apply it to your own. But what if I, say, liked Biz Markie's music. Is that cultural appropriation, or is it just me liking Markie's music?

    Weebo. That's basically a term for people who get all excited about Japanese culture and try to act Japanese. This I can kind of get why it can be offensive because to Japanese people, non-Japanese folks are basically pretending to be their preconceived understanding of what Japanese is. But what if someone were just fascinated with Japanese culture and wanted to study it, the language, the music, etc. Is that cultural appropriation?

    Then I read about shoe stores putting images from different cultures on their shoes as if they were a market. This I think I can understand for sure how it would be cultural appropriation and offensive. It's basically trivializing what is considered deeply important for an entire group of people and marketing it to those who have little to no understanding of what the image means.

    It was just something mulling around in my head today and wanted to discuss it with you all. Am I wholly ignorant and naïve about the whole thing? Yes, but I trust you fine people will helpfully correct me on this. :D
     
  2. 123456789
    Offline

    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2012
    Messages:
    6,336
    Likes Received:
    3,084
    Can I ask a counter question, and for the record, I believe you that some people call these things offensive.

    Why are so many people so sensitive today?
     
  3. BayView
    Offline

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2014
    Messages:
    5,598
    Likes Received:
    5,081
    I think cultural appropriation is tricky, for sure. A lot of the problem, as I understand it, comes from the dominant culture either taking things that are sacred/significant to other cultures and using them disrespectfully, or from the dominant culture taking something from a minority culture, adapting it slightly, and then selling their version of the artifact to other members of the dominant culture instead of letting the minority culture share it on their terms.

    Was that a bit too vague?

    I think an example of the first kind would be, like, a Native American headdress, something that was (I think) traditionally a symbol of bravery and leadership, being worn by a white person as a silly prop. The white person has kind of cheapened the artifact by wearing it without earning it.

    An example of the second kind would probably be white musicians 'borrowing' black music. Remember all the resentment of Eminem? Did he succeed because he was actually any better than all the black rappers, or just because his skin colour made him more palatable to the white market?

    I think there's a fine line between appreciation and appropriation. Maybe there's an element of respect involved in the 'appreciation' aspect? Like, you're a Weebo if you just want to wear weird fashion and talk about Manga, but if you actually learn about the deeper history, the socioeconomic issues of the country, etc., then you're someone who's interested in Japan?
     
  4. Link the Writer
    Offline

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2009
    Messages:
    11,210
    Likes Received:
    4,220
    Location:
    Alabama, USA
    That's what I've always concluded when I thought about cultural appropriation. Where someone takes an artifact belonging to a different culture and cheapening it, or, in the case of Weebos, devaluing Japanese culture to nothing more than Manga and videogames. Of course, as you pointed out, wanting to seriously get into the culture, learn about it and understand it on a more deeper level isn't cultural appropriation.
     
  5. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,951
    Likes Received:
    5,481
    Well, I might say that people who object to desecration of the flag, and the Bible, and crosses, and so on, are oversensitive. But I can see how they'd be offended. So I can see how people who put a high importance on different cultural elements are similarly offended when those things are disrespected.
     
  6. Shadowfax
    Offline

    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2014
    Messages:
    2,504
    Likes Received:
    1,337
    As Village People did.

    Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac, when retiring, said something along the lines of "White men shouldn't play the blues."

    My daughter has been a Japanophile for some years...spent a year working in Japan (Fukushima), taught herself to speak Japanese and understand (some) Kanji...and is pretty intolerant of Weebos (first time I'd heard that term)
     
  7. 123456789
    Offline

    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2012
    Messages:
    6,336
    Likes Received:
    3,084
    This doesn't answer my question.
     
  8. BayView
    Offline

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2014
    Messages:
    5,598
    Likes Received:
    5,081
    What's your evidence to suggest that so many people ARE sensitive today?

    I can think of times in the past when white people would move out of neighbourhood when a black family moved in. That seems pretty 'sensitive' to me, if you're using the word, as I suspect you are, to mean 'thin skinned'. People in the past would fight duels to avenge slights to their honour, and beat their wives for the suspicion of disrespect.

    I don't think people today are any more sensitive than they've ever been. But because there IS more equality today, there's more of a chance for EVERYONE to be sensitive, not just white males. Maybe that's what you're picking up on?
     
    Wreybies, ChickenFreak and Shadowfax like this.
  9. T.Trian
    Offline

    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 12, 2013
    Messages:
    2,246
    Likes Received:
    1,449
    Location:
    Mushroom Land
    I'll address the question from the POV of music because that's the most familiar arena for me:

    I've always been about taking something someone else has made, merging it with my style, and making it my own, kinda like a writer taking the basic premise of a folktale from another culture and doing something original with it, like implementing it into your own style and merging it with your own cultural background, for instance.

    A good example of a white guy making his own version of rap sound different and NOT like a white guy trying to be black is e.g. this:

    And this too:


    Both are pretty far from what I consider "traditional" rap and the whole hip hop culture even though the influence can be clearly heard in the way the vocals have been arranged.

    I see this kind of borrowing and implementation as a good thing because without it, we wouldn't get new genres, new sounds, new styles, we wouldn't have innovative music when everyone would be forced to only play a very limited number of genres.

    Likewise, saying white guys shouldn't rap is like saying black guys shouldn't play metal. I know they usually don't, even (seriously, go to any metal festival, and seeing black people onstage or even in the crowd is very rare), but I have absolutely no problem with it when they do; I don't think any racial or cultural group should hold the monopoly on a music genre (e.g. Japan has a pretty strong black metal scene going on with bands like Gallhammer; they took the traditional, Norwegian black metal sound and did their own thing with it, same thing with Astarte from Greece), but I do think when you borrow from some genre that has strong cultural and racial roots, you might want to make it your own. Otherwise you'll risk looking kinda silly (I still wouldn't prohibit it though), like a Norwegian white boy from a rich family doing gangsta rap, or an African-American from "the hood" doing "Norwegian" black metal á la Mayhem, Abruptum, Carpathian Forest etc. Btw, I didn't mention examples of gangsta rap because I have no idea which bands or artists are "true" representatives of the genre. RZA? Wu-Tang?

    Anyway, sure, some might be able to pull it off technically speaking, i.e. the quality of the musical performance can be great, but unless they are heavily in touch with the culture and the ideologies from which the music originates, it can easily feel phony. Then again, that's okay too, I don't want to limit people from doing stuff like that either, but it's just not my thing.

    Just my 0,02€.
     
  10. BayView
    Offline

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2014
    Messages:
    5,598
    Likes Received:
    5,081
    I disagree with this; it's a false equivalency. All cultures aren't starting from a level playing field, power-wise, so it's significantly different for a white person to adapt aspects of a minority culture than for a black person to use something from the dominant culture.
     
  11. Lemex
    Offline

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2007
    Messages:
    10,507
    Likes Received:
    3,151
    Location:
    Northeast England
    How would that be cultural appropriation? I don't get it.

    I like rap music, I can call myself a fan of Lupe Fiasco. I'm not appropriating the things Lupe is talking about, I don't even really want to either. There are few things in Lupe Fiasco's music that I can claim to even understand, never mind identify with. I'm a white, middle class, British guy who knows a thing or two about classical civilizations - the hell do I know about what it's like in gangs in Los Angeles?

    What I like about it is clever Lupe is, how talented he is as a wordsmith. And also, I like the fact it IS a voice from another culture. I like the fact that it isn't mine, it's something new.

    This maybe more appropriation. With things like Weebos, though, I draw the line at what people are interested in when they talk about 'Japanese Culture', because if I was to talk about Japanese Culture I sure wouldn't think Anime and Henti. Well, I would but I wouldn't say it. I've read Akutagawa's short stories, I've had an interest in Noh plays - those things I find fascinating because they are non-European literature. Japanese high culture is rather interesting. I find value in them as expressions of art, and they often have aspirations beyond just mere entertainment. I obviously don't hold people's opinions very highly when all they think 'Japanese Culture' is is silly children's cartoons. It would be like people thinking British culture is all Harry Potter.

    I suppose cultural appropriation is when you try to express your interest in a culture, either not understanding it's value to that culture, or when you use something to the point that what you think is that other culture would be unrecognizable to a person whose culture it comes from.
     
  12. 123456789
    Offline

    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2012
    Messages:
    6,336
    Likes Received:
    3,084
    When I think of British Culture I think subjugation... :whistle:
     
  13. Lemex
    Offline

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2007
    Messages:
    10,507
    Likes Received:
    3,151
    Location:
    Northeast England
    You better! :p
     
  14. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,059
    Likes Received:
    5,263
    Location:
    California, US
    I don't think cultural appropriation is something a writer should concern themselves with. There are a wide variety of stories that authors can tell, ranging across all cultures and ethnicities, whether those stories are set in other than the real world and simply bear influences from real-world cultures, or whether they're meant to be set in the real world. The amount of research necessary depends on the story, but no subject matter (including cultural subject matter) should be off limits. If I want to write a story about an American girl, or a black American girl, or a Bosnian girl, or a Japanese girl, or a Maori girl, etc., there is no reason I should not do so. The same is true of any other author. You have to know your subject, to the degree necessary for a given work, but that's the only stipulation I can think of. Writers can and should draw on the whole of the human experience, and should not be dissuaded from stories they want to tell just because they're set in other than their own culture.
     
    matwoolf, Wyr and Link the Writer like this.
  15. Link the Writer
    Offline

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2009
    Messages:
    11,210
    Likes Received:
    4,220
    Location:
    Alabama, USA
    [QUOTE 123456789, post: 1290899, member: 35652"]When I think of British Culture I think subjugation... :whistle:[/QUOTE]
    I support Lemex as our eternal God-Emperor. :D Pay tribute to him! Now! :p
     
    Lemex likes this.
  16. Lemex
    Offline

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2007
    Messages:
    10,507
    Likes Received:
    3,151
    Location:
    Northeast England
    I support Lemex as our eternal God-Emperor. :D Pay tribute to him! Now! :p[/QUOTE]

    I support and funny endorse this post. :p
     
    Link the Writer likes this.
  17. BayView
    Offline

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2014
    Messages:
    5,598
    Likes Received:
    5,081
    I don't think it would be cultural appropriation just to tell a story involving a character from a different culture.

    But I think it could be cultural appropriation to misrepresent another culture (like if someone wrote a book about a First Nations group where everyone was portrayed as a 'noble savage'), or if spiritually significant items from that culture were used for cheap decorations in the story (like if a Potlatch was equated with a picnic). I mean, these are problems for a variety of reasons, but cultural appropriation would be one of the problems.
     
  18. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,059
    Likes Received:
    5,263
    Location:
    California, US
    Suppose you depicted a First Nations group as noble savages in a work that wasn't intended to be seen a historical representation, but instead was a story that was making some statement on the concept or had some other thematic reason for doing so? Or if you wrote a story taking place in a fantasy world where you wanted to include a culture that was indeed comprised of individuals fitting the "noble savage" trope that is inaccurate in the real world, and you used flavor from a real world culture to flesh out your fictional one?
     
  19. BayView
    Offline

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2014
    Messages:
    5,598
    Likes Received:
    5,081
    I think there'd be a potential problem with it. I haven't seen the sf movie with the blue people... Avatar, maybe? But my impression is that it lifted a LOT of cultural features from First Nations communities and then had a white hero come and rescue them? (Like I said, I haven't seen it. But if that's what it was... yeah, I think that's a problem.)

    ETA: Oh, or Last of the Mohicans! (movie - I haven't read the book). The great white man who is adopted by the native culture and then gets even BETTER at all their stuff than they are. The natives are caricatures - either noble but tragic savages or truly bloodthirsty savages. The eradication of a native culture is the backdrop, but the REAL story is the great white man and his romantic interest.
     
  20. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,059
    Likes Received:
    5,263
    Location:
    California, US
    What about something like Dune? Same idea - Paul, a rich, wealthy white noble leaves his life behind to join the Fremen who live in the desert and ends up becoming their savior.
     
  21. BayView
    Offline

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2014
    Messages:
    5,598
    Likes Received:
    5,081
    It's been too long since I read Dune. Is there a clear parallel with an oppressed Earth culture?

    (I'm having trouble thinking of one, based on my hazy memories - the Spice, the stillsuits - those are what I recall, and obviously they're pretty original. Were there other connections to an Earth culture, other than just living in the desert?)
     
  22. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,951
    Likes Received:
    5,481
    I think that another element of cultural appropriation is the idea that, aww, isn't that artistic/creative/philosophical work of someone who isn't in the white powerful mainstream interesting, and we'll do them the honor of taking their work...and changing it...and publishing it...and charging for it...without so much as asking the creators' permission. The mainstream not infrequently seems to feel that those out of the mainstream should feel grateful and honored when their work is stolen.
     
  23. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,059
    Likes Received:
    5,263
    Location:
    California, US
    There's a pretty heavy Arabic/Islamic influence.
     
  24. BayView
    Offline

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2014
    Messages:
    5,598
    Likes Received:
    5,081
    Well, then, yeah, maybe it's problematic. I don't know enough about the book to really discuss it in detail, though - sorry!
     
  25. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,059
    Likes Received:
    5,263
    Location:
    California, US
    Personally, I don't find any of these problematic in isolation. In other words, the mere existence of such a story doesn't bother me. The problem comes in when a significant number of the stories all rely on these same tropes (and yes, there are a lot of them).
     
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.

Share This Page