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What Do You Think Cultural Appropriation Is?

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On 11/25/2018 at 4:59 PM, butterbumps! said:

I'm not sure what I think about whether a culture should be "owned."  Obviously it wouldn't be in some legal sense, like copyrighting or the trademarking you bring up.  I read something a while back that puts the issue into more personal terms.  It was something to the effect of how the much-celebrated idea of cultural exchange being like having a bunch of people show up to your house, telling you that you can share what they've brought, but then taking with them with your family's heirlooms without asking, or even doing so anyway despite your protests.   This feels pretty monstrous on a personal level; is it ok on a larger societal scale?

If something has literally been taken away, the story is somewhat different and must be considered on a case by case basis. For example, the Red Army confiscated a substantial number of artistic works (here's an old New York Times article with some examples) from the Germans after WWII. Should these be returned? It's not obvious: one can argue that the Russians paid for them in blood a thousand times over. On the other hand, the artifacts obtained during the colonial era (more examples) with dubious provenance should arguably be returned.

However, this is not the context in which people usually use the term "cultural appropriation" -- it is much more common for it to be used when the originating culture has not been deprived of anything; the "appropriating" culture merely adopts aspects of the originating one and adapts them to suit their new home. It's not a matter of taking anything, but rather copying with modifications in the process of transcription.

On 11/25/2018 at 4:59 PM, butterbumps! said:

Even when it comes to something like legal ownership, it's not like you can't use copyrighted property; you have to get permission and appropriately compensate the owner.   I think that the view of those exhibiting outrage over instances of CA are mainly doing so when the person doing the appropriating seems, ignorant, disrespectful, clueless, and like a cultural tourist.   I don't think most reasonable people say that X person cannot do/ enjoy/ make money off of/ or wear parts of another culture.  The key issue is that respect is paid.  Whether that takes the form of acknowledgement, activism, some kind of sponsorship, whatever the case may be.   There's endless ways to do this.

You are right in that there are endless ways to do this... and therein lies the problem. Copyright in particular and other intellectual property in general  are morally dubious concepts, but at least they have some definitions of who owns what and which uses require which permissions. A culture is, by definition, something shared by an entire society so who gets to say which form the demonstration of respect should take and which aspects of which cultures may be "appropriated" without any fuss (as the vast majority are)?

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1 hour ago, Altherion said:

You are right in that there are endless ways to do this... and therein lies the problem. Copyright in particular and other intellectual property in general  are morally dubious concepts, but at least they have some definitions of who owns what and which uses require which permissions. A culture is, by definition, something shared by an entire society so who gets to say which form the demonstration of respect should take and which aspects of which cultures may be "appropriated" without any fuss (as the vast majority are)?

Yes the difficulty is trying to define who fits into which cultural category and also who has the right to speak for that culture and define what is and isn't acceptable. Without being able to do that its very hard to 'give back' or 'pay respect'. Cultures don't have spokespeople, unlike say a religion which might have a pope or a church to be its figurehead. If black culture is being appropriated, who is the person that is deciding that?

And deciding who gets to be part of a cultural collective is incredibly problematic as well. If you want to say someone is part of 'black culture', how do you define it. Well it can't simply be because they are black because Africa itself is one of the most diverse places on the planet, with an incredibly rich and diverse history. West Africa is not like East Africa, and it certainly is not like North Africa. 
For instance I see a lot of people claiming symbols of ancient Egypt as their cultural heritage.. yet Egypt itself has an incredibly varied history, being ruled by a swathe of different people from Numidians to Greeks. If a black person claims Ancient Egyptian symbols as their culture are they appropriating it, in the same way that a Greek person might do?

And simply put, if you want to go down the road of claiming things are cultural theft or appropriation, then you have to work extra hard to define people according to your own arbitrary standards based on external appearance, something which has already proven to be deeply damaging to society and only perpetuates racial tension. The whole idea is so murky and badly thought out, which is why I'm so against it.
 

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22 hours ago, Heartofice said:


@butterbumps!

......

Getting to the heart of this, culture cannot be owned, it isn't the same thing as property, and therefore you cannot 'steal' it. Your analogy of someone coming into a house and taking their stuff doesn't fit because nothing is being taken, you would still own the elements you suggest are being taken. A better analogy would be someone coming in , seeing all the things you own and then going and making their own versions. 

So the idea of profit is a complicated one. It suggests that nobody should profit from something they do not own, or that by profiting from something, the original 'owner' cannot profit. But mostly that simply isn't the case, this isn't a zero sum game. A famous artist creating something using traditional aboriginal styles might create a demand for more authentic art, they would not really be preventing anyone from making or selling anything and may in fact increase demand. You could consider whether Elvis prevented black artists from selling records or did his popularity help to increase interest in traditionally black music. It was a bit of both and its complex and not linear. I mean did Eminem prevent Jay Z making money?

Well it depends. What is the deeper meaning and who is the gatekeeper of that meaning. If I start wearing a crucifix as a fashion symbol I may well be offending a lot of Cristians because it is missing the true meaning of the symbol. I definitely  concede that people should be made aware of the meaning of some symbols to cultures if they are going to adorn themselves with them. Then they can decide if they still want to carry on. And sometimes we have to offend people in our art and creativity, being offended is not violence. 

...........

I think we agree on the overall goal, and I am saying that we are moving further and further away from that goal with each new and daily incident of CA in the news. We are moving more towards a state of essentialism and that is a problem, we are getting to a point where cultural exchange is becoming very difficult, where everyone is acting like gatekeepers and preventing genuine creativity. That is the nature of the internet I guess which is constantly reacting to everything. 

I don't understand-- what is actually preventing you from taking from other cultures (or actually fencing culture in more generally)?   It isn't like this stuff is copyrighted, or that you'd be given an injunction or arrested, or that you're legally (or even physically I assume) prevented from doing so in some way.  The issue seems simply that you don't want people telling you that maybe you should consider what taking those elements are like for people from different backgrounds than you who might feel pain and be otherwise upset at seeing culturally meaningful elements treated like accessories by you.    You don't want backlash from people on Twitter or the internet or whatever because it makes you feel shitty to be told you're doing something people think is wrong, ignorant, insensitive or dickish.   So your discomfort outweighs the discomfort of the communities who have expressed concern over cultural takings, and you're just advocating what you seem to believe is your right to act with impunity.   That seems pretty unreasonable.  Appropriate culture all you like, but I don't see why people who are hurt or uncomfortable by it shouldn't express that discomfort.

Though, if you think people should made aware of cultural meanings (what I bolded), then what are you even fighting this for?   

Edited by butterbumps!

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3 hours ago, Altherion said:

If something has literally been taken away, the story is somewhat different and must be considered on a case by case basis. For example, the Red Army confiscated a substantial number of artistic works (here's an old New York Times article with some examples) from the Germans after WWII. Should these be returned? It's not obvious: one can argue that the Russians paid for them in blood a thousand times over. On the other hand, the artifacts obtained during the colonial era (more examples) with dubious provenance should arguably be returned.

However, this is not the context in which people usually use the term "cultural appropriation" -- it is much more common for it to be used when the originating culture has not been deprived of anything; the "appropriating" culture merely adopts aspects of the originating one and adapts them to suit their new home. It's not a matter of taking anything, but rather copying with modifications in the process of transcription.

There's definitely been cases of actually property taken, but the house example was from an account I'd read a while back describing how what many of us think of as "cultural exchange" feels different to marginalized communities.  

Though I think you're mistaken on this second part.     The originating culture has been deprived of things, though not necessarily through (or only through) another culture's adopting/ taking of cultural elements (the deterioration of meaning in an object or practice would be an example of CA depriving the originating culture).   The framework that makes discussion of CA salient in the first place is historic and continued marginalization and abuse of certain cultures.  

Quote

You are right in that there are endless ways to do this... and therein lies the problem. Copyright in particular and other intellectual property in general  are morally dubious concepts, but at least they have some definitions of who owns what and which uses require which permissions. A culture is, by definition, something shared by an entire society so who gets to say which form the demonstration of respect should take and which aspects of which cultures may be "appropriated" without any fuss (as the vast majority are)?

But again, I point out that there's nothing to actually prevent anyone from taking from a culture.   I don't think anyone  serious is actually calling for legal or state intervention to keep cultures contained.  People from outside a culture are free to take, but people are also free to express discomfort and pain about it.

But the second part kind of hits on a major problem.  Some of these cultures being "borrowed" from haven't actually been accepted as part of the entire society.   That's what I was trying to get at earlier when I brought up the US' particular anti-black bias and treatment of Native populations.  Certain cultures have been kept at arm's length within their own wider societies, societies which have also sometimes sought to erase elements meaningful and unique to those same cultures.  I'm not sure that it can be a true "cultural exchange" without extending acceptance and welcome to everyone, and until then, treating it as though everything should be freely "exchanged" seems a bit shitty for those not yet accepted and treated like equal members of society.

Edited by butterbumps!

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9 hours ago, butterbumps! said:

I don't understand-- what is actually preventing you from taking from other cultures (or actually fencing culture in more generally)?   

Nothing is preventing me or anyone for doing it, but the penalties for being called out for it are quite harsh even now and potentially could be worse in the future.

You saying its just about being uncomfortable is true isn’t the extent of it, it’s  much more than that. People are being prevented from working or creating due to a series of very loud voices who are very militant in their opinions. There are numerous cases of this already happening.

The penalites for being called out for CA are incredibly severe right now, and everyone knows it. An artist being called out for it will be forced in a hugely humbling apology and made to grovel, for fear of being labelled a racist and never working again. See Katy Perry. Was there any possibility of this bringing up a discussion of the validity of the criticism against her? No, the only answer against such attacks is to back down and stay quiet. But as this discussion has highlighted, the issue is actually very complex, but there is no room for anyone to have that conversation in the public eye.

There might currently be no law preventing someone taking from another culture, but who is to say that won't change if the louder voices on the topic are not challenged. You can already see how conversations about these topics go just from looking at the behaviour of people on this thread. I can imagine the possibilty of a law coming in that prevents people from 'borrowing' from other cultures that are not entitled to. 

That might seem fanciful and unrealistic, but in the UK people are going to jail for telling jokes on twitter.. sometimes things do go that far.

Edited by Heartofice

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2 hours ago, butterbumps! said:

  Certain cultures have been kept at arm's length within their own wider societies, societies which have also sometimes sought to erase elements meaningful and unique to those same cultures.  

Do you have examples of this from the past 10 or so years, just so I understand exactly what you are referring to.

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(Full disclosure - not a Dan of her music) Katy Perry actually engages and acknowledged her own ignorance displayed by a number of choices (geisha outfit, cornrows, etc.) and has rather thoughtfully responded. She currently is, and has been, among the top ten grossing female artists over the last several years. So, what the fuck are you talking about? 

It's no surprise that you're unable to see that your tone-policing is more damaging than even the potential overreaction to cultural appropriation. I do believe that the "gotcha" pit-piling shaming culture is a problem - however, it is NOT limited to cultural appropriation. It is used by all, howver the impact is far worse depending on the constituency of the attackers and the attacked (victimization isn't solely owned by those who have been perceived to have violated a norm of the attackers - power dynamics between dominant and minority).

The alt-reich consistently spins up the outrage machine on benignities seeking to silence legitimate speech or behavior. The typical outrage over CA is a legitimate gripe seeking to silence illegitimate speech or behavior.

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2 minutes ago, Week said:

(Full disclosure - not a Dan of her music) Katy Perry actually engages and acknowledged her own ignorance displayed by a number of choices (geisha outfit, cornrows, etc.) and has rather thoughtfully responded. She currently is, and has been, among the top ten grossing female artists over the last several years. So, what the fuck are you talking about? 

 

https://www.buzzfeed.com/elliewoodward/katy-perry-addressed-cultural-appropriation-and-people-have

She apologised. She had to apologise to save her career
. She didn't sit down and say 'oh well hang on, lets have a thoughtful conversation about the whys and wherefores of this criticism around CA', she wouldn't be able to do that without her critics doubling down on her. 

At least you are acknowledging that there are over reactions to CA. That is a start. I'm also acknowledging that there are parts of the right that like to jump on these incident and use them as ammo to paint the left as crazy. But they get given a lot of ammo to do it with. 

 

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On 11/27/2018 at 12:04 PM, Heartofice said:

...

Getting to the heart of this, culture cannot be owned, it isn't the same thing as property, and therefore you cannot 'steal' it. Your analogy of someone coming into a house and taking their stuff doesn't fit because nothing is being taken, you would still own the elements you suggest are being taken. A better analogy would be someone coming in , seeing all the things you own and then going and making their own versions. 
...

Slight caveat, traditional culture cannot be owned as property. Modern culture definitely is ownable, even if it is a reworking of existing culture. Which is one of the damaging aspects of cultural appropriation, people are reusing traditional stories, designs, etc. They not only earn money from them but now own that re-worked product without having to pay anything to the people who kept it alive and use it all the time. 

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5 minutes ago, Seli said:

Slight caveat, traditional culture cannot be owned as property. Modern culture definitely is ownable, even if it is a reworking of existing culture. Which is one of the damaging aspects of cultural appropriation, people are reusing traditional stories, designs, etc. They not only earn money from them but now own that re-worked product without having to pay anything to the people who kept it alive and use it all the time. 

Ok yes, that is true. I guess  if you can prove that you are the creator and owner of some intellectual property then you can copyright it. The difference with traditional culture is that nobody can claim to be the owner with any great certainty and so cannot claim ownership.

Edited by Heartofice

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10 hours ago, Heartofice said:

Nothing is preventing me or anyone for doing it, but the penalties for being called out for it are quite harsh even now and potentially could be worse in the future.

You saying its just about being uncomfortable is true isn’t the extent of it, it’s  much more than that. People are being prevented from working or creating due to a series of very loud voices who are very militant in their opinions. There are numerous cases of this already happening.

The penalites for being called out for CA are incredibly severe right now, and everyone knows it. An artist being called out for it will be forced in a hugely humbling apology and made to grovel, for fear of being labelled a racist and never working again. See Katy Perry. Was there any possibility of this bringing up a discussion of the validity of the criticism against her? No, the only answer against such attacks is to back down and stay quiet. But as this discussion has highlighted, the issue is actually very complex, but there is no room for anyone to have that conversation in the public eye.

There might currently be no law preventing someone taking from another culture, but who is to say that won't change if the louder voices on the topic are not challenged. You can already see how conversations about these topics go just from looking at the behaviour of people on this thread. I can imagine the possibilty of a law coming in that prevents people from 'borrowing' from other cultures that are not entitled to. 

That might seem fanciful and unrealistic, but in the UK people are going to jail for telling jokes on twitter.. sometimes things do go that far.

This is bullshit and overheated concern-trolling. Name someone in the last ten years whose career has "ended" because they've been accused of cultural appropriation. Miley Cyrus was credibly and forcefully accused, she seems to be doing fine. Iggy Azalea's entire career is based on cultural appropriation, she's still got a career. Justin Timberlake? Eminem? How about the Kardashians, who are pretty openly cultural vampires, including open theft from black designers, but they seem to be doing okay. So no, you don't get to claim that being accused of cultural appropriation is supposed to be some career death knell, just like being an open fucking racist isn't the career-ender many fragile white people wail and moan about it being.

You need to support these ridiculous statements.

Also, please tell us how many people in the UK are going to jail for jokes on Twitter, and what the suffering fuck that has to do with cultural appropriation.

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1 hour ago, DanteGabriel said:

This is bullshit and overheated concern-trolling. Name someone in the last ten years whose career has "ended" because they've been accused of cultural appropriation. Miley Cyrus was credibly and forcefully accused, she seems to be doing fine. Iggy Azalea's entire career is based on cultural appropriation, she's still got a career. Justin Timberlake? Eminem? How about the Kardashians, who are pretty openly cultural vampires, including open theft from black designers, but they seem to be doing okay. So no, you don't get to claim that being accused of cultural appropriation is supposed to be some career death knell, just like being an open fucking racist isn't the career-ender many fragile white people wail and moan about it being.

You need to support these ridiculous statements.

Also, please tell us how many people in the UK are going to jail for jokes on Twitter, and what the suffering fuck that has to do with cultural appropriation.

i agree with you, but putting eminem with justin timberlake and miley cyrus is wrong (imo), he has always been part of hip hop culture as far as i know. 

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46 minutes ago, Conflicting Thought said:

i agree with you, but putting eminem with justin timberlake and miley cyrus is wrong (imo), he has always been part of hip hop culture as far as i know. 

Fair enough on Eminem. I should have found another example.

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4 hours ago, DanteGabriel said:

Name someone in the last ten years whose career has "ended" because they've been accused of cultural appropriation.

Ah, the victims of cultural appropriation.  I always feel guilty when I see their faces during that commercial with the Sarah McLachlan song.

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10 hours ago, DanteGabriel said:

This is bullshit and overheated concern-trolling. Name someone in the last ten years whose career has "ended" because they've been accused of cultural appropriation. Miley Cyrus was credibly and forcefully accused, she seems to be doing fine. Iggy Azalea's entire career is based on cultural appropriation, she's still got a career. Justin Timberlake? Eminem? How about the Kardashians, who are pretty openly cultural vampires, including open theft from black designers, but they seem to be doing okay. So no, you don't get to claim that being accused of cultural appropriation is supposed to be some career death knell, just like being an open fucking racist isn't the career-ender many fragile white people wail and moan about it being.

Ok fair, I overstated the case, as you are right, there are lots of celebs who have simply backed down or explained their actions. Possibly the reason is that most people see these cases as pretty frivolous and don't agree with those loud critical voices claiming CA. 

Being called a racist can stick however, and if it does stick then your career can be over. Rosanne Barr's career is done for a tweet which may or may not have been racist ( she denies it but who knows). I'm sure every celebrity is rightfully fearful of being tarred with that brush. 
 

Quote

Also, please tell us how many people in the UK are going to jail for jokes on Twitter, and what the suffering fuck that has to do with cultural appropriation.

The case of Count Dankula who was arrested and fined for posting up a video of a dog doing a nazi salute as a joke ( ok I thought he was put in jail, but seems it was a fine, but the point still stands) is not the first person to be arrested for jokes on Twitter in the UK and the danger that this goes further. My point being that 'outrage culture' can spill into real life and have real consequences for people if we aren't watching. 

Edited by Heartofice

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2 hours ago, Heartofice said:

The case of Count Dankula who was arrested and fined for posting up a video of a dog doing a nazi salute as a joke ( ok I thought he was put in jail, but seems it was a fine, but the point still stands) is not the first person to be arrested for jokes on Twitter in the UK and the danger that this goes further. My point being that 'outrage culture' can spill into real life and have real consequences for people if we aren't watching. 

 

Quote

Meechan fundraised almost £186,000 for legal costs and has received public support from far-right figures including Tommy Robinson, who attended the sentencing hearing alongside dozens of supporters.

Oh yes, that poor far-right supporting racist piece of garbage. He's so oppressed at the fallout from his "joke." Such "real consequences" in the form of getting a 1/3 of a million dollars from far-right bigots who clearly are just concerned about free speech and not hoping to normalize hateful rhetoric.

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7 minutes ago, TrueMetis said:

 

Oh yes, that poor far-right supporting racist piece of garbage. He's so oppressed at the fallout from his "joke." Such "real consequences" in the form of getting a 1/3 of a million dollars from far-right bigots who clearly are just concerned about free speech and not hoping to normalize hateful rhetoric.

So you are ok with someone being arrested for a twitter joke?

You don't have to like someone or agree with them to understand that this sets a very dangerous precedent. 

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1 minute ago, Heartofice said:

So you are ok with someone being arrested for a twitter joke?

You don't have to like someone or agree with them to understand that this sets a very dangerous precedent. 

You mean a "joke" and depending on what it is, yeah. In this case I don't have a particular problem with it.

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2 minutes ago, TrueMetis said:

You mean a "joke" and depending on what it is, yeah. In this case I don't have a particular problem with it.

You don't have a problem with him being arrested or with his joke?

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