So “Cultural Appropriation” for writers has been in the news again lately.
First there was this dim bulb having a freak out because the keynote speaker at a writing conference dared talk about how silly the concept of Cultural Appropriation is. This is an incredibly boring and long winded freak out. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/sep/10/as-lionel-shriver-made-light-of-identity-i-had-no-choice-but-to-walk-out-on-her
(the best part is how she got up and walked away from this dangerous offensive badthink talk AND ALL EYES WERE UPON HER JUDGING HER BY THEIR CULTURAL NORMS! When in reality most folks probably just thought she needed to use the toilet or something)
And here is the actual keynote speech which caused all that outrage: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/sep/13/lionel-shrivers-full-speech-i-hope-the-concept-of-cultural-appropriation-is-a-passing-fad
You should read this. She makes some excellent points. This is coming from the Literati side of the writing world, but it is just as bad over in the exploding space ships and magic elves section of the book store.
I’ve talked about Cultural Appropriation before, and why it is one of the most appallingly stupid ideas every foisted on the gullible in general, and even worse when used as a bludgeon against fiction authors.
First off, what is “Cultural Appropriation”? From the linked talk:
The author of Who Owns Culture? Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law, Susan Scafidi, a law professor at Fordham University who for the record is white, defines cultural appropriation as “taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorised use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc.”
The part that got left out of that definition is that engaging in Cultural Appropriation is a grievous mortal sin that self-righteous busy bodies can then use to shame anyone they don’t like.
Look at that definition. Basically anything you use that comes from another culture is stealing. That is so patently absurd right out the gate that it is laughable. Anybody who has two working brain cells to rub together, who hasn’t been fully indoctrinated in the cult of social justice immediately realizes that sounds like utter bullshit.
If you know anything about the history of the world, you would know that it has been one long session of borrowing and stealing ideas from other people, going back to the dawn of civilization. Man, that cuneiform thing is pretty sweet. I’m going to steal writing. NOT OKAY! CULTURAL APPROPRIATION!
Everything was invented by somebody, and if it was awesome, it got used by somebody else. At some point in time thousands of years ago some sharp dude got sick of girding up his loins and invented pants. We’re all stealing from that guy. Damn you racists and your slacks.
This is especially silly when white guilt liberals try to enforce it on Americans, the ultimate crossroads of the world, melting pot country where hundreds of cultures have been smooshed together for a couple hundred years, using each other’s cool stuff and making it better.
This weekend I painted miniatures for a war game from Spain, played a video game from Belarus, listened to rap music from a white guy from Detroit, watched a cop show from Britain, had Thai food for lunch, and snacked on tikki masala potato chips, while one daughter streamed K dramas, another read manga, and my sons played with Legos invented in Denmark.
A life without Cultural Appropriation would be so incredibly boring.
And most of you missed the really insidious part of that that academic, all-consuming definition. Without Permission… Think about that. So how does that work exactly? Who do you ask? Sure, these new Lays Tikki Masala chips are delicious, but are they problematic? Who is the head Indian I’m supposed to get permission from? Did you guys like appoint somebody, or is it an elected position, or what? Or should I just assume that Lays talked to that guy already for me? Or can any regular person from India be offended on behalf of a billon people?
This is all very confusing.
But hang on… India owes me. That’s right. Because vindaloo is a popular Indian dish, but wait! It was actually Culturally Appropriated from the Portuguese hundreds of years ago. I’m Portuguese! I didn’t give them permission to steal the food of my people!
So we will call it even on these chips.
And don’t get me started on Thai food, because the Portuguese introduced the chili pepper to Thailand. YOU ARE WELCOME, WORLD!
Some angry SJW recently assaulted a white kid with dreadlocks for Cultural Appropriation. Sure, he looks like a hippy doofus, but dozens of cultures, including a bunch from Europe have worn dreads. There are only so many ways you can grow hair. So half the time the when the Cultural Appropriation police freak out about something, they’re just being ignorant anyway.
SJWs got up in arms about white people wearing kimonos. That’s racist! But apparently they didn’t check to see if the Chief Japanese Guy had given permission first, because all of the Japanese kimono makers were like “Whoa, hold on there! These are just clothes. We like selling them to people. That’s how we live.” They tried the same thing with tacos, because eating tacos was racist. Which came as shock to all the Mexicans who sell tacos for a living (because tacos are proof God loves us and wants us to be happy) but shut up, actual people with skin in the game, SJWs are speaking for you now!
I think those misunderstandings illustrate the importance of a culture appointing one particular person for us to ask permission from, because otherwise you could have a culture with millions of people in it, and anything is bound to offend somebody… Tread carefully, or I’ll demand vindaloo back.
But how does this relate to writing fiction?
Basically there are a group self-appointed thought police who are just looking for a reason to bitch at authors, and scaring people into falling in line makes them feel important. They use Cultural Appropriation like a hammer to bash authors. In reality these people are basically useless, and can be ignored (or better, mocked) but many authors don’t realize that or they don’t like confrontation. So they self-censor and stifle their creativity to avoid giving offense.
Except you can’t avoid offending the perpetually offended.
Check out that first link if you want to get a good look into the culture warriors’ mindset. They’ve got this weird belief that if you tell a story about Person X, then you are robbing a real life Person X of their ability to tell that story. Like if a white guy tells a story about a teenage Nigerian girl, then a teenage Nigerian girl can no longer tell her story. Okay… Is there like a secret checklist at publishing houses I don’t know about? Sorry, Abegunde, this story is awesome, but we’ve already reached our quota on Nigerian YA for the year.
(Luckily for her, Abegunde can just go indy now!)
In the world of fiction, the SJW is constantly perched, like a falcon, ready to swoop in and shriek Cultural Appropriation at any author who dares transgress. So if you write about another culture you don’t belong to, and they don’t like you for some reason, they’re going to flip out. They’ll probably write mean reviews, form an angry twitter mob of rainbow haired Trigglypuffs, and call you names.
Ignore them. Or better, if you have the mindset and a career capable of withstanding their slander, mock them for their bullying stupidity. Bullies hate being laughed at.
If writers were limited to writing about people just like themselves, fiction would be incredibly boring. We are professional liars. Our job is to make up entertaining stuff. If we were that limited fiction would get really lame, really fast, because most authors are actually pretty dull. Sure, we write about heroic people in interesting situations, but most of us spend our days sitting in a chair in front of a keyboard, eating chips, and that’s boring as shit to read about.
Now, if you’re going to write about another culture, then you need to do your homework and try to make that as real and interesting as possible. But screwing that up doesn’t make you racist. It just makes you a bad writer. Get good, scrub. This doesn’t just apply to writing real cultures either. It is a question of basic world building. If you build an interesting culture that makes sense to the reader and feels real, score. You did your job.
Characters are the same. Liven your characters up. Give them likes and dislikes, give them traits, give them opinions, beliefs, hobbies, whatever. Make them people. Make them interesting. That’s what really matters.
This whole bullshit about how an author has to “respect” a character if they’re a different culture… Bullshit. That character works for me. That character is going to fill whatever roll in the story I created that character to fill. Every culture has heroes, villains, victims, geniuses, morons, saints, and clowns.
If you’re not part of the cool kids crowd, and you write about a member of a “marginalized group” then they expect you to treat that character like an absolute saint, because otherwise the SJWs will swoop in to screech at you. This is why if you write a female character who is flawed somehow, somebody is going to accuse you of misogyny. Get used to it. The other option is perfect characters, and perfect characters are boring.
The key is writing good characters, period. Getting hung up on an artificial checklist is just bullshit. Make your characters interesting and give them an interesting story, entertain your readers, then laugh at the inevitable haters who are too hung up on minutia and agonizing over rules to create any art themselves.
Notice that this Cultural Appropriation thing only ever goes one way. Take for example a prog author who has never touched a gun, but apparently it is okay for them to write the gun culture. Usually as illiterate redneck Bubbas out murdering school children. Totally legit. Or take a goodthink peacenik author who has never served a day in the military, and they can write their blood thirsty, ticking time bombs of PTSD addled murder rage, and that’s perfectly cool. Christians? All up in your literature, as long as they are bad guys.
We don’t hate characters like that because they are appropriating our culture. We hate them because they are lame, boring stereotypes written out of obvious lazy ignorance. Quit sucking and you’ll sell more books.
Look, if you’re an aspiring author and this Cultural Appropriation nonsense has scared you away from writing what you want to write, you’ve bought into their con. Screw that. Write what you want to write. Because here is the ugly secret, no matter what you do, if they don’t like you or they get a bug up their ass about you, they’re going to attack you somehow anyway.
So you don’t write about any other cultures other than the one you come from because you are scared you’ll be committing Cultural Appropriation? Okay. But then they can attack you for your lack of “diversity”. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
See? It’s a con game. The only way to win is to not play at all. Write what you want. Write what you think is awesome. Don’t let bullies scare you.
The sad truth is that what you actually put in the book is for the most part irrelevant to these people, because they’re just going to make up bullshit about it anyway. They don’t actually read much. See the talk above where the Fat Advocates were yelling at the skinny author and refusing to read her books, even though she was on their side. It came as a surprise to me and my readers when we were informed all my books were Manly White Men Having Manly White Adventure.
These critics don’t actually give a shit about anyone they claim to speak for. They’re not defending any underdogs. It is just a perpetual game of gotcha. They’re looking for reasons to be offended, because their culture equates being offended with being good. It’s all virtue signaling and posturing. And half the time they’re so damned ignorant they’re not even fluffing their feathers in the right direction.
For example, I wrote Son of the Black Sword. It is set in a fantasy world where the culture is based in large part on India and southeast Asia. I got one review from a culture warrior (on GoodReads obviously) where I was attacked because of my horrific stereotypes of Asians, and how I was so lazy that I didn’t even bother to do any research at all about different Asian cultures, because at the beginning I had some of the characters eating rice balls! And rice balls aren’t even Indian food!
Disregarding that rather delicious looking Google image search, and the fact that in real life everybody who can grow rice figured out some way to squish it into a convenient clump, who is to say that the people of Lok didn’t culturally appropriate rice balls from somebody else before the rain of demons? It is after all, an imaginary place.
If I listened to these mopes, I never would have been able to write about Iron Guard Toru wearing samurai power armor bashing ninjas with a tetsubo, and that would make the world a much sadder place.
Cultural Appropriation is stupid when applied to the real world, and it becomes even dumber when they try to apply it to made-up worlds. If SJWs had their way we wouldn’t be able to write about somebody who looks slightly different than we do, how the hell do they expect us to write from the perspective of space aliens?
Cultural Appropriation is the stupidest argument ever.