Friday, January 20, 2023

Cultural appropriation

I ignored the complaints when Disney got griped at about Moana. I figured it wasn't my circus, but if Disney was being careless with the Maori gods they should expect some push-back from the Maori.

The gripes about a university "mis-appropriating Chinese cuisine" or fielding complaints that anglos were wearing sombreros I just laughed at. Spoiler: I still do.

I'm a big fan of splitting the big fuzzy ideas into small bits. Three subcategories come to mind here.

Invidious mockery: picking some feature of a group that puts them in a bad light, and making that central to your project. Sometimes this is richly deserved, and the group members will often refer to this themselves when telling jokes. Examples: jokes about corruption in Chicago, or the uselessness of British Anglican clergy. You can usually tell when it's meanly meant, but sometimes even good intentions trip over stereotypes into unintended mockery. Dr Dolittle was a fun character, but the Jolliginki were not. It isn't exactly "cultural appropriation", but it turns up in the discussions often enough that it needs to be separated out.

"Cult"-ural appropriation: if you take aspects of someone's religion and reimplement them in another form--ignorant blasphemy--expect that you will get some angry pushback. This isn't the same as deliberately denying or insulting the religion: there's a time and place for that. And this isn't the same as persistently portraying a religion in terms of its nastiest characters, as most TV and movie producers do. It is ignorant blasphemy.

Adapting or copying aspects of a different culture that aren't the kinds of things you center your life around (if you're sane): cuisine, games, costumes, technologies. This sort of complaint is simply unhinged. Adapting a dish is an improvement from the point of view of the new culture, and a degradation from the point of view of the old country cooks--and I refuse to give that difference the respect a religious war requires. I say that iced tea with sugar is fulfilled, my wife says it is polluted. To the Karen Taylor complained about in the link: don't be snotty, it's just an adaptation; to the Jean Paik who wrote it: grow up.

Do I support suppressing invidious mockery? No. It can be useful, definitions are hopelessly subjective, and the purported harm is also subjective. Do I think Disney did the right thing in eliding some characters from Fantasia? Yes. Do I want to edit Huckleberry Finn? No. I'd wish the reasons were obvious to all, but they don't seem to be. "Go not to the elves for counsel"

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