The universe is your box of legos

Yesterday, I spent the bulk of my time traveling from one part of the world (which is very, very far away from the United States) to another part of the world (which is also very, very far away from the United States.) I did it on a four-engined turboprop airplane design, dating from the Korean war — painted gray, and with black lettering on the fuselage that any Roman citizen of the first century could have understood. Oh, not the words UNITED STATES AIR FORCE per se, but the alphabet would have been familiar.

The language actually originates from a relatively tiny kingdom that grew to dominate a relatively tiny island off the west coast of continental Eurasia. That little kingdom, having endured assault-by-sea from the North Men, did itself eventually deploy the greatest sailing fleet the world had ever seen. That fleet spread the kingdom to every place on the globe. Thus a Commonwealth was born. And even though the United States split away from that Commonwealth almost 250 years ago, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

Through two world wars, the United States came to the aid of that Commonwealth — speaking the same language, and sharing cultural roots — eventually picking up where the Commonwealth left off. So that by the end of the 20th century, English had become the dominant business language of the world, and American business interests were in almost every country.

So that by the close of the sixteenth year of the 21st century, I, a servicemember of the United States, could drive through the poorer neighborhoods of the Hashemite Kingdom, and see familiar signs for McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and the Safeway grocery store chain. Again, all written in an alphabet any first-century Roman could recognize. The Romans — whose two-thousand year old stone columns still rise above a hill top not far from the regional airport where my C-130 lifted off, to fly me south and east.

Why am I telling you this?

Because when I returned to my main place of duty, I saw a message from a friend pointing out yet another science fiction panel at another science fiction convention, dedicated to hand-wringing over an invented literary sin: cultural appropriation.

Nevermind that I had just spent Wednesday night eating delicious Brazilian barbecue at a restaurant in a tony Hashemite Kingdom suburb, staffed by people from Southeast Asia. Where astoundingly delicious slices of beef were served hot and juicy, right off the spit. In the style of the gaucho feasts of South America.

Oh, did I mention that the first turboprop engine design, was developed by a Hungarian mechanical engineer named György Jendrassik? Did I also mention that some of the first theoretical airscrew concepts originated on the drawing board of an Italian genius, named Leonardo da Vinci? Or that the present ruler of the Hashemite Kingdom once had a cameo appearance on a Star Trek spinoff? And that the present ruler of the Hashemite Kingdom is also partaking in a multi-national alliance to defeat a barbaric theocracy presently trying to dominate lands that once belonged to the Akkadians, then the Amorites, then the Hittites, and the Babylonians, Arameans, the Persians . . . well, you get the idea. In a thousand years, I expect the region will be controlled by somebody else. Perhaps some new empire spawned from some as yet unthinkable piece of the world. It’s happened before. It will happen again.

Which is to say, cultural appropriation isn’t a sin. Cultural appropriation is civilization itself.

To suggest that kitbashing or borrowing from real-world cultures, when creating fictional cultures, is problematic, is to suggest that the 21st century in its entirety is problematic. Nothing — absolutely nothing — we listen to, or watch, or eat, or use with our hands, or wear on our bodies, is the result of a monoculture. For ten thousand years (and more) human beings have hunted and traveled and talked, telling stories, over and over again. Passing on information and tradition, as well as ideas, which have been blending and birthing still newer, sometimes better traditions and ideas, down through the generations.

Did you eat spaghetti or General Tso’s this week? How about sushi? Spicy Thai? Have you eaten at a Luau? Ever tried to surf on a surfboard? Do you like jazz music? Hip-hop? Bluegrass? Rockabilly? Do you like Japanese animation? Does your favorite pro basketball team have a Serb or a Frenchman playing — basketball, the sport created by a Canadian, now played in every country?

You see, life is cultural appropriation.

Oh, I know, the stated complaint (from the inventors of literary sin) is that it’s shitty for any writer to play into a stereotype or a trope, especially if it’s derogatory or demeaning — for all definitions of derogatory and demeaning that include, “Makes traditionally Designated Victim people look bad.” Note, it’s perfectly okay to do ham-fisted and derogatory representations of people who aren’t Designated Victims; especially if we’re talking a traditionally Judeo-Christian culture. You will seldom read or hear complaints (from the inventors of literary sin) about artists who make Israelis or American Southern Baptists look bad. In fact, Evangelicals especially are a favorite villain — for many SF/F authors.

So we know that cries of, “Cultural appropriation!” are selective at best, and deliberately, obtusely blind at worst.

But, leaving aside this new, tedious debate — when are we allowed to portray cultures and peoples, and why? — it’s helpful to remember that for SF/F we’re talking about extrapolated futures and alternative realities. Tolkien drew heavily on the folklore of Western Europe, when he created the world of Middle Earth. But none of the peoples nor cultures of Middle Earth are one-for-one analogous to, say, the Swedish, or the Scots. Tolkien borrowed what seemed good to him, and invented the rest. Analogs can be guessed at, or inferred, but this is an eye-of-the-beholder operation. You’re putting Tolkien on the couch when you do that.

And as much as I know it’s trendy for 21st century literary wannabe-psychologists to put us all on the couch, sometimes it’s useful for us to stand up off that couch, rhetorically punch those lit psych people in the mouth, and walk out saying, “I made it up, and the readers liked it — so sue me, assholes.”

Again, I look to history. To the millions of ways in which cultures and peoples have been crossing over with, and borrowing from one another, in countless ways. This is how our world came to be. This is what life is about.

To those who enjoy wagging their fingers and shouting, “You’re doing it wrong,” I say: go to your music shelf, and throw it all out. Now, go to your kitchen cupboard and your refrigerator, and throw all of that out too. Go to your closet, and throw all of that out as well. Your books and movies? Throw ’em out. Throw out your furniture. Throw out your rugs and your framed art on the walls. Throw out the cat, the dog, and the aquarium. Leave it all on the curb for the garbage truck to collect.

Then sit in your cold, barren home, and be proud of your purity.

Otherwise, I am going to gently suggest that it is impossible to “do it wrong” where SF/F especially is concerned.

If you’re writing a historical thriller or mystery that relies heavily on getting the facts right, sure. Do your research. And take your lumps.

But if you’re doing SF/F, you’re basically taking a dozen (or more) different lego kits, emptying all of them together into a single, large bin, stirring vigorously, then pulling out the pieces one at a time to create . . . whatever the hell you want! And like anyone who grew up with legos knows, you cannot do it wrong. That was the beauty of legos in the first place: infinite diversity in infinite combinations. Castles, spaceships, dragons, moon bases, jet airplanes, you name it. Or variations thereof, to the very limit of your imagination. No rules. Just you, and whatever the hell you want. Your lego world can be anything, constructed from anything. Just like Minecraft — which my daughter plays endlessly, and which seems to me the modern, virtual-world equivalent of legos.

Again, research is not a bad idea. I’m presently doing advanced research for a project that is both epic fantasy and alternate history. I feel like I owe it to my readers to try to get as many of the basics right, as I can. But I am not going to let fear — of the hand-wringers — stop me from creating where inspiration demands I create. Because this is a fantasy too, and all fantasy involves a degree of sacred license; to make what must be made, even if from whole cloth. Tolkien did it. Donaldson did it. Eddings did it. Jordan did it. Rowling did it. Sanderson does it. Name a popular fantasy writer who sells well, and you will find it’s a combo effort: research and studious world-building, combined with inventive manufacturing of details, languages, settings, and events; that may or may not have any root in the real.

With science fiction, we’re usually talking (potentially) far-future human civilizations, and alien cultures featuring alien beings which may not think or feel like human beings at all. Or, perhaps, the aliens are even more human than anyone might suspect? It’s up to you. I am quite sure if someone had approached Caesar Augustus on his throne and said, “Within five hundred years, your Empire will be dust, but its echoes will carry on through half a dozen new nations; including one republic which will ultimately launch rockets putting men on the moon,” Augustus might have assumed insanity on the part of the speaker. But that’s precisely how things played out.

When the American Experiment is a memory — five hundred, or a thousand, or ten-thousand years from now — what echoes of the United States will still be felt in that time, and in those places? Will the inhabitants of far-flung worlds read ancient records about men named Washington, or Lincoln, or Roosevelt, or Reagan, and ponder the lessons such leaders have for the (then) present time? Will the alphabet of the Romans adorn the hulls of starships? Or will it be Chinese hanzi? Russian cyrillic? Modern Standard Arabic? A new form of written communication we can’t even begin to guess at?

You, the author, get to decide.

And if you’re satisfied you’ve done your due diligence, for your world, and your audience . . . to hell with the complainers.

113 Comments

Filed under BRAD R. TORGERSEN, SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY, WRITING: ART, WRITING: LIFE

113 responses to “The universe is your box of legos

  1. FrancisT

    I find you can tell that Cultural Appropriation is bull by looking at the food eaten by the people who shout and protest it.

    Most of them hail genetically from the northern parts of Europe so any time they have anything other than bread, cabbage and meat they are culturally appropriating something. Potatoes, Tomatoes, Chilies, Corn all came from the Americas and so consumption of any of these things is cultural appropriation. Pasta and pizza are Italian and anyway pasta (and rice and a bunchaton of other food items) hail from Asia.

    And so on. One could make a similar argument for almost every food commonly consumed anywhere on earth. In fact of course foodies swoon after “fusion” restarants where chefs deliberately blend elements from different cuisines and produce wonderful results

    • Yup. Food and music are the two timeless gifts of “cultural appropriation” and every instance of complaining (by those who seem to do little else) makes me want to point at their refrigerators, cupboards, and iPods, and shout, “Lose it all, or shut the fuck up!”

    • Bread, cabbage, root vegetables, meat, fish, honey, seasonal fruit and greens, and that is about it, indeed. Limited herbs, salt – no pepper. You want non-culturally-appropriated food, welcome to it. I’ll be over here, gastronomically appropriating right and left.

    • B. Durbin

      It goes the other way, too. If I want to base a world on the Western Hemisphere countries, having a coherent set of plants and animals—chances are, I wouldn’t be able to get a pre-European ecosphere together, because there are so many invasive species (that have, in many cases, found a new equilibrium—see starlings or escargot snails. Or honeybees, for that matter.)

      Back when I was a summer camp counselor, I taught a merit badge called “Indian Lore.” (It annoys me a lot less than it did, since it hadn’t been updated since the early 60s when I started teaching it, and I happen to know registered tribal members…) There were a number of options available to choose from, and these eleven-year-old kids always wanted to pick the one about things we’d adopted from various native tribes. They thought it would be easy, but I was very good at pointing out where they were dead wrong. (We’ve never “adopted” the tipi, for example.) What have we adopted? Food, mostly, though we’ve also gotten canoes, kayaks, and sleeping bags* from various North American tribes. (I usually got them to admit defeat and pointed them towards a preferred option. I was never fond of letting them off easy.)

      *The idea is debatable, since it’s one of those things that was likely come up with in multiple places, but it was widely implemented by various Arctic tribes because that just makes sense up there.

    • Rui Jorge

      The amusing thing is that almost any restaurant is a fusion restaurant, since all cuisines combine elements from all over the world. If you’re cooking authentic Portuguese, Japanese or any other cuisine you’re doing fusion cooking. We humans are quick to adopt anything that looks tasty. :0)

      Regards,
      Rui Jorge

  2. How many of those who scream about culture appropriation have actually been in a culture different than their own?

    • That’s a good question, Kevin. A quick scan around the SF/F biz shows the usual caucasian American progressives virtue-signalling to each other, combined with a handful of self-appointed spokespersons from Designated Victim groups, whose outlook and ideology exactly mimics the caucasian virtue-signallers, and vice-versa. How many of them have traveled abroad and lived in other cultures, it’s hard to say. For the American caucasian virtue-signallers, traveling and living abroad is an ideological badge of honor. Of course, many of those same people are just good old-fashioned oikophobes. Something Sarah Hoyt has noted many times before.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        One aspect of the would-be-elites and their travels abroad is that their travels are normally to the high-class tourist places and they rarely (if ever) see areas of the country not geared for elite travelers.

        IE they only see a small part of the host culture.

        • Paul, that’s a very good point. I think this is especially true of progressives who travel to China and Cuba.

          • I doubt that few of them have lived and worked and supported a family in another culture. And, no, I haven’t either. I just don’t selectively filter incoming information for compliance with my worldview.

            • Joe in PNG

              It takes a good bit of time in another culture to really grok the place.
              Most expats go through a ‘honeymoon’ period when they first arrive (if the place isn’t an utter craphole). At first, everything is new and exotic and different. After a while, the cool factor wears off, and one can start seeing the reality.
              Thus, the person who has only been there a few weeks or months may never get past the honeymoon phase- they know, but they don’t really “know”.

      • Scot

        One can also argue that given various different subcultures in the US, it’s possible to be *in* a culture other than one’s own. Although it seems more likely that one ‘wing’ of American culture has experienced the other.

        • Well, I was born and raised in California, and moved to Texas when I was 24. Culture shock, for sure, but no language difficulties, similar basic laws, rights, driving patterns, methods of home ownership, expectations and manners of the single guys around . . . No. Not a foreign culture.

  3. “I made it up, and the readers liked it — so sue me, assholes.”

    This. Yes.

  4. They have some chutzpah, whining about cultural appropriation in an alphabet derived from what was invented by my ancestors, or their Phoenician cousins.

    BTW, did you notice the currency of that Hashemite kingdom? It is still called dinar, after the denarii of Rome.

  5. Hank Shelton

    Excellent piece!

  6. The accusation of “cultural appropriation” is a load of crap, and should be met with derisive laughter and possibly vindictive counterattack, as an unprovoked social aggression. And I’m surprised that ANYONE expects it to be taken seriously.

    • Alas, our betters in the field have decided that cultural appropriation is Very Serious Business, that must be treated and handled Very Seriously. To which I can only say, “SNUGGLEBUNNIES!”

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      A lot of these things only get the traction that they do because people aren’t willing to stand up against them. The SJWs have gotten so used to getting their own way all the time it’s like a bucket of cold water in the face when someone has the guts to tell them “no”.

  7. Uncle Lar

    “Then sit in your cold, barren home, and be proud of your purity.”
    I think you’re being much too generous. For true purity they must be sitting naked in the dirt, or out of kindness allow them a rock or log to sit upon.

    • Draven

      Naah, sitting on a log is cultural appropriation, that was invented by the Og people of UhgOg. Unless they can prove their descent from Og….

  8. Christopher M. Chupik

    Hear, hear, Brad. This is one of those things that drives me up the wall with frustration. The Usual Suspects wag their fingers and scold us if we’re not diverse enough, and when we are diverse, they wag their fingers and accuse of BS like “cultural appropriation”. And of course, when authors get scared away from dealing with other cultures by the scolds, they can be accused of not being diverse enough . . .

  9. sanfordbegley

    I’m an American. My answer to cries of cultural appropriation is simple. “As an American cultural appropriation is my culture”

    • Griz

      Absolutely! And English has more words than any other language because appropriating words from other languages is a primary feature. We glory in cultural appropriation.

      • Laura M

        Yes, what is they say? “English doesn’t borrow from other languages. It lies in wait in dark alleys and takes what it wants.”

        (I would footnote the source, but it’s something that just lies around the internet looking clever and doesn’t seem to have a source.)

        • snowcrash

          The full quote is

          The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and riffle their pockets for new vocabulary

          It’s by (the fairly prolific) sci-fi reviewer James Davis Nicoll

          • Laura M

            Good to know. Thanks.

          • Christopher M. Chupik

            It is? He’s quite the Puppy-kicker (and vowed not to review any Baen books after Toni was nominated in SP3). But he has made at least positive contribution to the culture, so there is that.

          • ftumch

            “It’s by (the fairly prolific) sci-fi reviewer James Davis Nicoll ”

            Hmmm. He’s a cvnt. A Fvcking cvnt. As is Snowcrash.. Why don’t you arseholes fvck off back to 770, where you can p1ss and whine about how white folks oppress you and all.

            “We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and riffle their pockets for new vocabulary”

            This just reinforces the fvcked up notion that the English are somehow badass mother fvckers who will kill anyone to make a claim. Bullsh1t.

            As an Englishman, I find that view to be offensive. Kindly Fvck off. You w@nkers.

          • Robin Munn

            Was he really the originator? Because 1990 seems very late for that phrase to have been invented. Surely someone said it earlier than that; it’s been true for hundreds of years, after all.

  10. Reblogged this on The Arts Mechanical and commented:
    Cultural appropriation is civilization itself. The strongest civilizations have always been those that strove to find new ideas and integrate them into their culture.

  11. freddie_mac

    Cultural appropriation is also known as cultural preservation. Take the Greco-Roman wing in any large museum: a large portion of statues will have markers indicating that a Roman statue is a copy of a Greek original, which didn’t survive. How much of what we now know about Greek or other cultures has survived because the Romans (or other cultures) admired them?

  12. My first story at Liberty Island magazine was inspired by reading an online rant about cultural appropriation.

    That said, I do think that we need to proceed mindfully when we’re drawing upon certain aspects of other cultures in creating sf/f/h. L. Jagi Lamplighter has an interesting guest post on religion and fantasy which includes a discussion of a Japanese video game,Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor: Overclocked, which is from a Christian perspective is not just riddled with theological errors and logical contradictions, but actively blasphemous.

    And as I’m reading that paragraph, I’m sitting there and nodding, because I’ve seen that problem a lot in anime/manga/games. Their Japanese creators aren’t Christians (most likely, they’re culturally Shinto/Buddhist but with little actual belief), so they don’t realize that the way they’re playing with elements of Christian symbolism in their imagined world could be offensive to actual believers in this world.

    But even so, being mindful of what your borrowings mean to the donor culture is not the same as being told you shouldn’t borrow anything from anybody, ever. It just means doing the homework you’d want someone else to do when borrowing from aspects of your culture that are near and dear to you, whether they be your faith traditions, your military traditions, your service organization traditions, or whatever.

    • Laura M

      That was a fun story. Nice job.

    • Randy P.

      It might be why I so often enjoy when the Japanese try harder with Christian themes which is why Trigun and Blood Blockade Battlefront get so much better with them. Most of the time their idea of God is so completely foreign to any actual world religion’s depiction that it sort of takes me out of the story.

      Same thing with their views of good and evil which don’t even tend to mirror actual Buddhism most of the time. So when they get their own religion closer to it like with Ushio & Tora it relates better to me even though I’m not a Buddhist.

      Blasphemy just makes for boring stories, IMO.

      • It also gets repetitive over time. Surely there is a better way to shock (if that is desired) by now.

        • The Other Sean

          I don’t think that in the case of the Japanese they are so much out to shock as they are just borrowing a few words/concepts/phrases from Christianity (or other not-common-in-Japan religions) as an attempt to be exotic or at least different when doing their world building without being totally alien. The result for viewers who are familiar with the religions can be disconcerting, however. But it isn’t only religion they do this with. They freely “culturally appropriate” whatever they care to when being creative.

          • Civilis

            I don’t think that in the case of the Japanese they are so much out to shock as they are just borrowing a few words/concepts/phrases from Christianity (or other not-common-in-Japan religions) as an attempt to be exotic or at least different when doing their world building without being totally alien.

            Given how often, and how liberally, we borrow from Greek and Norse mythology, it’s kind of both disconcerting and flattering in a way to see it done to us. Disconcerting in that the way we have presented the Christian faith has led them to take away primarily the external symbols mapped onto what they are familiar with (for example, portraying nuns as being essentially western versions of Shinto shrine maidens). Flattering in that they have chosen Christian symbols and references as being recognizable enough that the audience will get what is being alluded to.

            Personally, I find the appropriation of Christian symbols by someone using them for worldbuilding in fiction to be less worrisome than someone using them a la Jack Chick.

            • My father once related seeing a pornographic book in Korean, which was in the possession of one of the KATUSA troops assigned to his unit. (A forward mobile radar dish, with a company of US troops and a handful of KATUSA … that is Korean Assigned To US Army) which was all in Korean save for the reeeeeeaaaalllly feeeeelthy words. Which were in English. Kind of in the spirit of really suggestive words in similar volumes in English being in French or Latin. Dad said it was kind of amusingly jolting to flip through pages and pages of Korean … and then see ***** or ***** or even ***** … in English.

      • Mary

        Yeah. The problem with doing a religion or philosophy foreign to all the world’s known ones is that, well, it’s very unlikely you’ve come up with a better one than all the greatest minds in history.

    • Part of the problem is that there is a translation issue. The Japanese words for God and Devil (Kami and Oni) can also be used as translations for Spirit and Monster and are implicitly capable of being plurals. Hell too for that matter.

      If you aren’t really careful you can end up using the word Kami for both God (and Jesus) and the angels and all the other residents of heaven. If, as it likely with game designers, you have a shaky idea of Christianity that is mostly wedding chapels and Father Christmas, you’re pretty much bound to get it wrong.

      Mind you the concept also goes wrong in the reverse too for the exact same translation issues.

      This shows up in all sorts of ways not just related to Christianity e.g. most of the controversy over the Yasukuni Jinja

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      Yes, anime does have some pretty odd notions about the West. One example I noticed was in Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, where they show Halloween being celebrated with big parades and giant balloons.

      • greyratt

        I remembered that, and thought to myself, we should celebrate Halloween with parades and balloons (in the daytime). and at night use our time to scare the crap out of little kiddies.

        • scottsaxbury

          Or giant badly-illuminated balloons at night, homing in on RFID tags in randomly chosen costumes to scare the crap out of the kiddies.

      • Joe in PNG

        Then again, they were on Mars following a catastrophe that pretty much rendered the Earth hard to live on.

  13. morrigan508

    Brilliant.

  14. Joe in PNG

    Cultural Appropriation is just another way of phrasing the Hipster’s classic lament of “It’s Popular Now It Sucks”
    It’s not Cultural Appropriation until the Lumpenproles start doing it.

  15. I once visited an on-line friend whose mother was of Korean ancestry (not sure if she emigrated, or her family did before here marriage). The two of us (me, friend) went to a Korean restaurant one of them has suggested and I had a good, if slightly unusual to me, meal. Upon returning to their house, I was asked what I’d ordered (I forget now, it’s been a while) and was told, “They should not have let you order that. it’s not for Westerners.” And that just made me all the more glad I had ordered it and been served it. Am I huge on “authentic” cuisine? No. But why limit myself, either?

    And as for ‘cultural appropriation’ the ultimate expression of forbidding such a thing would be non-expiring patents. “You CAN’T build that.” Pfui!

    • Robin Munn

      Hmmm. Was that “not for Westerners” as in, “Our culture says this is for cultural insiders only, and not to be shared with outsiders”? Or was it “not for Westerners” as in, “Most Westerners who’ve tried this find it weird and don’t like it, so we normally don’t offer it to them”? You make it sounds like it was the former — but in my experience, people have been happy to share their culture’s “unusual” (unusual from my culture’s point of view, not theirs) foods with me, if I demonstrated that I liked them.

      For instance, there was one time when my Thai language teacher was eating a box of fried ants when I arrived for my lesson. She offered me one to be polite, and I accepted to be polite — but she looked quite surprised (and pleased) when I asked for a second one because I’d genuinely liked the first one. (Her son, also Thai, later told me that he didn’t like fried ants, and that he found it to be a “weird” dish and he didn’t know how his mother could like eating them. No person is 100% defined by their culture of birth.)

      • It was decidedly the second case. I suspect it was something that had I been staying in the area she’d have been happy that I had worked up to it. I think it was more she feared that it put me off the entire cuisine.

        • Robin Munn

          Speaking of Korean cuisine that puts many people off, the first time someone described kimchi to me, I thought it sounded kind of gross. (I was also about eleven at the time.) But when I first had an opportunity to try it, I did… and it really did taste pretty bad. But I thought, “Wait, it that really how this is supposed to taste? Or is it that this Japanese restaurant just doesn’t know how to make kimchi properly?” So the next time I was in a Korean restaurant, I tried the side dish of kimchi that came with the meal… and it was really good. I did, and still do, like it — I just won’t eat it again at that one Japanese place.

          On the other hand, I’ve tried locusts twice and disliked them both times, so I’m not really game to try them a third time.

  16. B. Durbin

    You don’t even have to get deep into fantasy for things to be reflected through a lens. I’ve heard that the creators of Downton Abbey toned down the class-difference relationships quite a bit, because modern audiences would get thrown out of the story if it were accurate to the time. Even “knowing” better.

  17. Reality Observer

    I feel a need to correct you, sir.

    They have to burn the house down, too – the idea of drying some mud and straw out in the sun and then piling them up to make a cave of your own – that was appropriated from the native people of the very area you are currently wandering around in. (Along with the notion of sticking seeds in the ground and then waiting around for the eats…)

  18. John R. Ellis

    I recall LORD OF LIGHT, one of -the- great works of Roger Zelazny, was dismissed by a popular columnist Jo Walton on Tor_dot_com as “Cultural Appropriation”.

    That -alone- was my first indication that the whole thing was one big scam job.

    (I note that Walton also complains when authors -don’t- write about cultures that are not their originating one. Inconsistent much?)

    • Joe in PNG

      How much you want to bet that darling Jo knows the location of all the “really AUTHENTIC” ethnic restaurants in her home area.

    • Mary

      inconsistent rules are an excellent way to ensure that you always have a grievance to monger.

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      Like I said above, damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Me, I’d sooner be damned for actually doing something.

    • drloss

      Inconsistent? Not at all. She’s saying, don’t write at all–nothing you write can possibly be acceptable to me.

      • John R. Ellis

        That’s my suspicion. She herself has written some urban fantasies, that despite the overblown, ecstatic blurbs and quotes on the covers are…average. Forgettable. Nothing special. Certainly nothing that’ll still be remembered, read, and well-loved decades after it was first published. I can’t help but think that’s why she and others take such a dim view on the classics.

  19. Bob

    To give the devil his due, I always thought there were a few good points made in the whole cultural appropriation argument. One example: I think it’s interesting and adds some depth of appreciation when you actually know the meaning and origin behind, say, a tattoo, or style or article of clothing beyond the aesthetics.

    And a can imagine someone from a culture in question who might be ticked off to see people wearing something or sporting a look that (in the original culture) signifies some sort of commitment or belief, or that the wearer has earned the right to wear by undergoing some sort of trial. (I recall one volume of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time where an Aiel sees a wetlander sporting tattoos of an emblem that’s only allowed to be worn by Clan chief. The Aiel kills the wetlander as a matter of course, and then the Aiel is ordered hung)

    I’m not saying don’t do it, only that I understand how someone might be ticked off. And yeah, every culture has at some point done so to every other culture. I’m mainly ticked off at the SJWs making a farce out of what could have been an interesting discussion,

    • Joe in PNG

      It has been my experience that people from other cultures tend to have more of a positive reaction if one is familiar with elements of their culture.

    • It’s very important to know the meaning behind symbols before one uses them in a tattoo:

      (According to the Internet, the bearer of the tattoo believed he had the Hebrew word for strength inscribed on his arm. What he actually has is the word “matzo”. 🤣)

      • The Other Sean

        It takes balls to do that. 🙂

      • Griz

        T-shirts with Japanese writing on them were a fad once. A Japanese friend on mine literally fell out of his chair laughing one day. He translated the T-shirt as “Stupid Gaijan”.

        • 😃

          A college friend had gone to a fairly rough high-school and told me about a classmate who’d come back from juvie with tattoos in Chinese—“love”, or “mother”, or some such. At least, that’s what he’d asked for. What he actually got was “catamite”.

        • I like that. It’s one I might even consider knowingly wearing. Now, if someone was mean, ‘Tamakeri practice target’ would be on the evil side of things.

        • And the same works 100% in reverse. Lots of Eastern Asians walk around with the most ridiculous Engrish on their shirts

          • B. Durbin

            “I feel Coke” was a popular one when we were hosting exchange students.

            • One of the funniest examples of Engrish that I ever saw in Japan was a little ceramic pin, in a local novelty shop; it was in the shape of a lemon slice, with yellow rind, white pith and yellow segments, and a little word in green superimposed on the slice that said “Remon.”

              Wish I had bought it, then.

              • drloss

                I bought my Colombian wife a T-shirt that had a picture of a soy milk carton on it with the caption: “Translation: I am milk.”

        • I’m here in Japan.. you should see the stuff they print in English on their clothes. Cuss words used out of context etc. I think the Tokyo times had the Fbomb in giant bold letters completely out of context the other week. It goes both ways.

          • Robin Munn

            In Thailand, I once saw a young lady wearing a shirt with the word “FCUK”, EXACTLY as I just spelled it. And I know that there are some women in Thailand who, shall we say, might wear that kind of shirt deliberately. But this young lady was not giving off any of those vibes; she looked like a studious, respectable student who had no idea what her shirt said.

    • Griz

      A common good luck symbol in India is a mirror image of a swastika. A naive Indian college student can get onto lost of trouble putting a good luck charm on his door.

      • Kipling used that symbol in many places in his books. I read somewhere an article by some uneducated moron used that as a basis for claiming that Kipling was a secret Nazi. It’s amazing how a book published in the 1900s can show secret sympathy for a political party that didn’t exist until 25 or so years later

        There’s been a recent related controversy in Japan where the cartographic authorities have proposed changing the symbol used for Buddhist temples from that reverse swastika (the Manji) to something else

        https://www.change.org/p/japan-national-tourism-organization-jnto-don-t-change-japanese-temple-symbols-but-educate-tourists-instead

        • Ok, in Japan now. The reason behind that is not due to the swastika but due to the way the have maps set up in preparation for the Olympics. The symbol for Shrines is a Tori(Gate) and the swastika is for Buddhist Temples. Their signage is really different than most countries so they want to make it easier on tourist maps for all the incoming Olympic tourists. Another thing discussed is changing their Stops signs. They are truly horrible and hard to see because they are a little upside down triangle with some kanji on it. I almost run stop signs all the time because it’s different than most of the world.

          • Where are you in Japan? I’m in Izumo

            I do kind of get the STOP thing, although that being the only RED sign seems pretty obvious.
            (https://twitter.com/GaijinPot/status/692493410335330304 shows the difference for those not in Japan).

            But the map one is silly. There’s no reason to change the maps and things, just tell the tourists. It took me all of about 10 seconds to figure out that 卐 was something Buddhist when I first encountered it. The fact that it’s so common is a clue.

            • Yeah I agree with you, I just wanted to point out that it wasn’t for a PC reason. As for the stop signs, the fire hydrant ones look just like us stop signs, I almost stopped at one this morning.

    • freddie_mac

      “One example: I think it’s interesting and adds some depth of appreciation when you actually know the meaning and origin behind, say, a tattoo …”

      One of the running jokes on Big Bang Theory is Kelly’s tattoo. The Chinese character that she thought meant “courage” actually means “soup”. So, how many Westerners are walking around with similar tats?

      • A goodly number, according to Sib. A college buddy of Sib’s read Japanese and made a little extra cash double-checking Japanese characters before guys got tattooed.

      • greyratt

        Penny… not Kelly
        and it was noted that it takes a great deal of courage to have soup tattooed on you butt.

    • Mary

      There’s a whole depth to Spirited Away even though I don’t know the gods and legends involved, because of their accuracy.

      • Reality Observer

        Yup. Which reminds me, I need to schedule a day at the local huge used bookstore. I have at least a half dozen cultures to get the gist of…

      • Spirited Away has incredible depth. Not just Japanese myths/legends but all sorts of other parts of Japanese culture. The fact that people who know next to nothing about Japan could appreciate the story shows how well told it was because there are layers and layers underneath that enrich the experience depending on your knowledge of Japan, Japanese culture and Japanese mythology

  20. BobtheRegisterredFool

    When they discuss eliminating cultural imperialism, and you point out that genocide and strong man rule are among the few universally authentic customs, you all too often realize that they are supporters of strong man rule, and wish to be his cronies. :blech:

  21. What a fantastic post Brad. I am a US Navy Corpsman and after many years with the Marines in Cali I ended up in Japan. I walked around and smiled and marveled at how the Japanese take things from American and European culture like Christmas and completely adapt it to their own unique culture. KFC is a traditional Xmas meal here. I happened to arrive in December right as my feeds were filled with Americans complaining that eating bad Sushi was cultural appropriation. As I ate bad Japanese Mexican food and celebrated Happy Xmas at KFC. I wrote a blog post, it’s almost exactly the same sentiment but not as well written as yours and focusing on Japan. http://barbarianbookclub.com/2015/12/26/the-idiocy-of-cultural-appropriation-and-christmas-in-japan/

  22. Draven

    So legos are a source of vulcan philosophy?

    Also, SPACESHIP!!!!

  23. Christopher M. Chupik

    Vile 770 didn’t link? Disappointing. 😉