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Changing Perspective

Those who scream loud, offended screams at anything that might possibly hint of things like “cultural appropriation” do actually have a point. It’s just that they’ve grasped the pineapple by the wrong end, and buried it under an avalanche of fetid excrement. In short, they’ve got it so bass-ackwards it doesn’t even deserve to be called wrong. It’s more in the line of saying 1 + 1 = pineapple.

The actual point is that every culture has its own immutable truths and unchallengeable assumptions. In the English speaking world of today, the truths and assumptions are mostly compatible. Cultures where other languages are the first language – as Sarah will no doubt agree – may still be compatible but the structure of the language can cause issues. English is a language that’s primarily evolved itself as a trade language (or as the inelegant saying goes, the way Norman soldiers convinced the Saxon barmaids to spend the night with them) and as such gleefully vacuums up new vocabulary while hanging onto the old and repurposing it as needed (If you doubt, find an old dictionary and look up ‘terrific’). Other languages work differently: I’ve heard speakers of Irish Gaelic comment that the language approaches things in circles. The Francophone nations actually have regular meetings to decide what words they’re going to allow to be official.

And of course, someone who goes to write about a culture not their own is not necessarily going to understand that culture. Certainly they won’t understand it at first. This is where the sorority of the perpetually offended get it messed up. They think that because other cultures have different ways of thinking, we poor iggerant westerners (never mind that there are a gazillion western cultures or subcultures) can’t possibly understand something so deep and, well, effnik so we’ve got to be stealing it from the poor downtrodden effniks.

Yeah, right. All things being equal, they’re going to take whatever works for them and use it their way, just as much as we’ll take what works for us and use it our way. Willing exchange and being prepared to learn what’s really going on does a heck of a lot more to encourage different cultures to work together than demanding everyone silo themselves so that only lesbian amputees from Outer Krapistan can write about lesbian amputees from Outer Krapistan (this comment was brought to you by the fine art of stringing random micro-offense bingo keywords together into something resembling a sentence).

The simple truth is that people are people no matter what their culture is. If you can work out through research and observation what the main truths and assumptions of a culture or subculture happen to be, you can write characters from that culture or subculture who are realistic enough to work (Of course it helps if you can have a friend or acquaintance who’s more familiar with said culture to vet for accuracy). No matter what the culture is, there will be misfits. There will be heroes, villains, ordinary folks just trying to get by, the whole spectrum.

The key thing to remember is that the way they express the human universals like ambition, love, and so on is going to be governed by their culture. And you, the author, are translating said culture to us Western folks (this goes at least double if the culture is one you created rather than ripping off the immense wealth of historical and modern cultures and filing off the serial numbers). It’s actually why the best person to write about being a lesbian amputee from Outer Krapistan may not necessary be the lesbian amputee from Outer Krapistan. The Outer Krapistani culture may be just too alien to us Westerners. Of course, she might be the best person to write that story – but that’s not a valid reason to say nobody else can write it. Just give the culture the respect of getting the facts right instead of going for the media/movie/popular fiction caricature of it, and it will work (Let’s face it, how many Americans here cringe at the way Brits depict us? And how many Brits cringe at the way Americans depict them? It’s because too often it’s not an honest depiction it’s a caricature based on the latest Grauniad or New York Treason drivel).

So yeah. Be respectful enough to use the facts. Get them right. Treat your characters as actual people making decisions according to the beliefs and assumptions of their cultures. And if anyone screams about cultural appropriation, smile, and tell them the only cultures that don’t appropriate and get appropriated are already dead.

46 Comments
  1. thephantom182 #

    “demanding everyone silo themselves”

    Yeah, herein lies the nettle of “Diversity!” that we must grasp. This is all much less about letting the Underprivileged come to play on the White Kids swings, and much more about a certain class of people telling everybody else what to do.

    The claim that a straight white male can’t write convincingly about a female or whatever is laughable. They can. It has been done. I would even argue that the claim of cultural minorities having “unique voices” is bogus. Each writer brings their thing to their work, whatever that thing may be. Everybody knows that.

    But there is no point debating the issue in an honest way with the shrieking snowflakes, their programing is set. “The science is settled,” as they say. Because this is about them having the power to tell other people what to do, and make it stick.

    I am disinclined to allow them that power, on general principle and also because they are a pack of perverts.

    Our role in this fantasy is to be the rebellious space cowboys, and write whatever the hell we want. So far I have written self-aware robots, aliens, demons, demi-gods, men, women, a lesbian couple, and a werewolf. Anyone who thinks they’re empowered to tell me I’m not allowed to write any of that is welcome to have a go.

    January 24, 2019
    • I would say that the cause of diversity has, in some quarters, been hijacked by griefers. These are people who don’t really care about minorities at all; they’re just looking for opportunities to hurt other people. I don’t think they’re really attached to any particular party or ideology; diversity just happens to be a particularly fertile area for them at the moment.

      January 24, 2019
      • thephantom182 #

        They -started- as griefers, Greg. People with legitimate objections don’t act like that. They try to resolve their grievances.

        “Diversity!” is tailor made to be unresolvable. When is there enough diversity? Never! It is a demand that can’t be satisfied. There’s always another outre group who can claim exclusion. It was never anything other than a bat to beat people up.

        “These are people who don’t really care about minorities at all; they’re just looking for opportunities to hurt other people.”

        In this we agree. Probably a dangerous thing for you, Greg, having me on your side. ~:D

        January 24, 2019
        • Maybe. Like everything else, the whole “cultural appropriation” thing started with good intentions, with the idea being that you should actually do the research and not rip stuff out of context or turn your nonwhite characters into props for your white ones.
          However, this quickly went crazycakes when people realized they could make bank by establishing themselves as arbiters of the concept, and that ginning up outrage was the best way to do it.

          January 24, 2019
          • thephantom182 #

            “…with the idea being that you should actually do the research and not rip stuff out of context or turn your nonwhite characters into props for your white ones.”

            I hear Lefties complaining about this all the time, but I do not recall ever seeing an example of this in the wild, as it were. Crappy writing is crappy writing, there isn’t a big racist conspiracy behind it.

            January 24, 2019
            • Kate Paulk #

              I actually have seen this in the wild, but not in anything written after around the 1940s. It was fairly common in 1920s and 1930s, along with “stock” Germanic villains.

              January 28, 2019
          • I don’t know how the notion of cultural appropriation might arise from good intentions. It reflects an utter ignorance of history as well as a fundamental failure to understand human nature, which really has no history, per se — it is what it is and always has been. Race is incidental.

            To my mind, invoking the notion is an attempt to pathologize ordinary human activity as aggression, in particular against fringe constituencies by core constituencies.

            Your remark about not turning non-white characters into “props” for white characters demonstrates your own embrace of a notion that is designed to gin up outrage.

            January 28, 2019
            • Kate Paulk #

              The whole agenda is designed to seep into the cracks in someone’s mental defenses. One thing the bloody Soviets did well was their propaganda. That and whole-heartedly embracing the “big lie”.

              January 28, 2019
      • Kate Paulk #

        Greg, they make trolls look good. They may have started as griefers but now they’re a truly noxious subculture all their own. One that could use flamethrower-sterilization techniques.

        January 24, 2019
    • Kate Paulk #

      Those who wish to tell me what I may or may not write are most welcome to sit on a running chainsaw. It would solve all their problems very quickly.

      January 24, 2019
  2. *shrug* I find it very simple; the people who scream “cultural appropriation” are a bunch or racist, sexist spoiled brats who are screaming from the top of the playground dirt pile, “I won! You can’t play anymore, ’cause I won, so you can’t beat me!”

    The fact that they do so while wearing jeans, drinking lattes, usually dying their hair interesting non-standard colours, flaunting tattoos, from their air conditioned rooms on the internet, in English, while completely and totally ignorant of the actual cultural and tribal makeup of the broad “races” they assign to everyone else… only drives the point home.

    They’re not interested in whatever standard or action they’re accusing you of doing, not doing, or failing to meet, any more than they actually believe that you’re racis/sexis/homophobic/nazi. They just are flailing around for anything they can beat you with, and if it gets what they want, they’ll beat you with it thrice as hard.

    January 24, 2019
    • Kate Paulk #

      Sadly they do not “suffer” delusions of adequacy. They enjoy them far too much.

      January 24, 2019
  3. Re. Languages. German translates the word, then incorporates it. So where English uses “nave” as an architectural term straight from Latin, German says “side ship” {Seitenschiffe}. Which is literally nave, navis – ship, plus where in the church building it is located.

    January 24, 2019
    • TonyT #

      IIRC, in Chinese they do it by either matching the sound with the closest characters or by trying to translate the meaning. Matching the sound is what we English speakers used to do with Chinese (Wade-Giles) or did with American Indian names.

      I don’t know if the Chinese have any way to create new characters….will try to remember to ask.

      January 24, 2019
      • I’ve never heard about creating new kanji, but I know Japanese has an entire set of kana that is only used for loan words. Also that a lot of newer technology has kanji assigned descriptively. So, telephone= densha=”electric talk” (the one that sticks with me)

        January 24, 2019
    • Kate Paulk #

      I remember looking into the German for paratrooper (Fallschirmjäger – literally “fall umbrella hunter” – the hunters who fall from the sky with umbrellas).

      January 24, 2019
  4. Blake Smith #

    I only took basic Irish, so I’m nowhere near fluent, but the teacher told me something interesting and I have no reason to believe he was pulling my leg: Irish has no way to directly say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Instead, you’re supposed to use the positive or negative form of whatever verb is appropriate. Might explain the stereotype of the belligerent Irishman; in any given complex sentence, there might be a couple of appropriate verbs to respond to, and trying to quickly figure out which is the most important one would get on anybody’s nerves.

    January 24, 2019
    • Margaret Ball #

      “Oh, it’s hard to say…
      “Oly-ma-kitty-luca-chi-chi-chi”
      But in Tonga, that means… “No”!

      If I ever have the money,
      ‘Tis to Tonga I shall go.
      For each lovely Tongan maiden there,
      Will gladly make a date.

      And by the time she’s said:
      “Oly-ma-kitty-luca-chi-chi-chi”,
      It is usually too late!”

      January 24, 2019
      • The SJWs would attack in multiple waves…if you were a man and wrote that.

        January 24, 2019
        • Margaret Ball #

          It was a man who wrote that. But he was writing in the 1950s. I hope posting this doesn’t inspire the SJWs to have an auto-da-fe of Flanders and Swan records.

          January 24, 2019
          • Kate Paulk #

            They’d better not…

            January 24, 2019
    • Portuguese does that. While you can say “yes” or “no” it’s not used much. Most of the time “Wanna come?” is answered by “I want” or “I don’t want.” etc. Perhaps a Celtic substructure, since the North of Portugal was a Celtic center?

      January 24, 2019
  5. People are people. They aren’t artifacts.

    I recall someone getting after an author for having written a certain psychological condition “wrong” and she responded that she’d written what she did from her direct observation *of that character*.

    In other words, the fact that his screwed up psyche didn’t perfectly map to the usual and general way that people experience whatever her critic decided this was, didn’t matter as much as the fact that her character was who he was and reacted and responded to stress the way that he reacted and responded.

    The same goes with cultures, really. Doesn’t it? Anyone who’s lived in another country “on the economy” (which is what we called it in the Air Force anyhow) has to be pretty blinkered not to figure out very quickly that people are just people. You may make cultural mistakes but the people themselves are PEOPLE. They are generous or rude or sneaky or dishonest or giving or criminal or heroic, hardworking or lazy or short-tempered or forgiving, spiteful…

    I recall an early “blog of war” post about a team going through Afghan fields at night and they found a guy digging… they thought he might be burying weapons or something and they get to him and find out… he was an old man feuding with his brother, out there, passive aggressively diverting a small irrigation ditch in the middle of the night. And it really illustrated to me how universal the human experience really is.

    So very much of the “diversity” baloney is a direct refuting of the very idea of a universal human experience. That old Afghan wasn’t a mirror image of the human nature of the old Norwegian farmers I grew up around. No… he’s *ethnic* and special and *different* and….

    And no, he’s NOT.

    January 24, 2019
    • As always, I leave out the connection I was trying to make… characters are individuals, not icons of either a psychological condition or a culture or a sex.

      January 24, 2019
      • This made me laugh. My mom and her SIL (my dad’s brother’s wife)had a shared backyard with an ornamental wall the husbands insisted on because otherwise the wives would start arguing about who kept the hoses where, and why your dog is on my side, and…
        Years later, after a tif, the wall was built up by my aunt to a real wall, about six feet tall, which my mom called The Berlin Wall.
        After a further tiff in which mom really aunt could still see over the wall and was in fact monitoring everything we said and did, mom built an addition on that side of the wall, which became her workshop.
        I think now it’s a kitchen, and the houses, though duplexes, really aren’t that visible to each other.

        So.

        FAMILY. Same the world over.

        January 24, 2019
    • Kate Paulk #

      Yup! People are people. People do people things like sneaking out in the night to get one over a relative they’re feuding with. Duh.

      Of course, the “diversity” set is looking to check numbers off boxes and preen themselves on how well they’re doing. They don’t see any of their little diversity groups as containing actual people.

      January 24, 2019
  6. Zsuzsa #

    There’s an “urban legend” about a Muslim woman whose husband wanted to take another wife, she was ordered to get the bride ready for the wedding, and she killed her rival by giving her a scorpion as a hair ornament. I watched a show reviewing this legend, and the first thing they talked about was whether the motive was realistic. There was a lot of talk about how, well, maybe a Western woman would be jealous in this situation, but would a Muslim woman who had grown up in a culture that accepted the idea of multiple wives?

    My answer to this was, “Of course,” because the legend was not about all Muslim women or the majority of women or even a significant minority of women. It was about one particular woman who was jealous. The idea that “culture” would make it so all women were a monolithic hive mind perfectly fine with the situation struck me as the stupidest thing I’d heard in a long time.

    January 24, 2019
    • I’m guessing that rivalries of that sort are common, truthfully. Though not to the point of murder.

      But it is sort of weird, no? If there was a movie about a businessman or woman who decided to murder a business rival or a new coworker who seemed to have a lot of favor with the boss and might cause a loss of status or promotion or even a career loss… would we ask if that was “realistic” because most people have no real problems with rivalries in the workplace?

      January 24, 2019
      • Zsuzsa #

        Right. The show did eventually come to the conclusion that such rivalries and jealousies were relatively common and thus they could accept the motive and move on to the next part of the legend. But it never seemed to occur to them that this woman would be anything other than a typical representative of her culture or that her actions should be considered as an individual.

        It’s a rather racist attitude when you think about it: “we” are all individuals with different opinions and beliefs. “They” are just representatives of their exotic culture.

        January 24, 2019
        • I always love the expectation that raising children in “villages” would be wonderful, as they would be loved by many people.
          Bullshit.
          The people doing the raising would favor their own, and – if female – would be bitchy, sabotaging the kids who were smarter or more favored, and generally breaking into alliances that would be constantly shifting, as females used each other to get their own kid to the top.
          God, it would be horrible.

          January 24, 2019
          • My understanding of “it takes a village” is that the parents of my friends held the same authority as my own, and that I was expected to conduct myself accordingly. Their parents had the same expectation of them. More an acknowledgment of their adult stature relative to mine than a collectivist approach to child-rearing. In a community, people look out for each other. Of course, that can only work in a high trust society.

            January 28, 2019
            • Kate Paulk #

              High trust and fairly small. Everyone needs to know everyone else well enough for that kind of thing to work.

              January 28, 2019
              • Yes and no. Certainly a small municipality creates a more intimate sense of community, but the shared values of a high trust society generally prompt people to show consideration toward strangers, no matter what the scale.

                January 31, 2019
    • Mary #

      Was reading a book — The World of the Shining Prince — about a Japanese classic and the world it was set in, and the author observed that while it was universally agreed that men had concubines and affairs and women were foolish to object — the women were still furiously jealous.

      January 24, 2019
  7. look at all the loan words in the various pacific rim cultures, it gives a good idea of who was trading with whom

    January 24, 2019
    • Kate Paulk #

      Yep. Place names can give you a history of who invaded who, too. Wikipedia has a decent list of them, albeit missing one where I lived for a few years (Townsville – although it falls into the subcategory of “named after a person who shares a name with the feature”)

      January 24, 2019
  8. I have said before that I couldn’t write Portuguese Characters in PORTUGAL for American readers until I’d acculturated. Because fiction is a form of communication, and I had no idea what people’s idea of Portuguese was. (Weird, it turns out.) I couldn’t refute what I didn’t get. Worse, I didn’t get American hangups, and once got accused of xenophobia (and never having been out of the US. LOL) for describing Portuguese being slapdash about refrigeration. (That has changed to some extent, but fridges were very new when I was little. And the climate is such that ice boxes never caught on.)
    Weirder was to have everyone very puzzled about a scene where someone has died and her granddaughter is burning all letters, personal papers, and things that no one wants, even furniture. In the US this was perceived as bizarre and though by that time I WAS acculturated, it took me a while to decode backwards. In Portugal there is no culture of thrift stores or charity clothes, and frankly, being a small and much more populated than the US country, space is at a premium. If they didn’t burn papers and “antiques” of little value, they wouldn’t be able to move by now. BUT I then went back and put in some context. To Americans, the scene caused them to try to figure out if the character was crazy/hiding something, etc. Nope. Just normal and sad duty.
    Now I don’t write Portuguese much because the only ones I could write is historical (I haven’t lived there for over 34 years. Things have changed A LOT) and Portuguese history isn’t that well known.
    I could write it as imaginary kingdoms with roots in incidents I know of Portuguese history, and I might/have. But Portugal? I just don’t know enough. And most people reading in English don’t know enough about Portuguese history. It takes too much explaining. Might as well be imaginary.
    So…. Eh. I write what I want to and has a chance of selling. Don’t care otherwise.

    January 24, 2019
  9. 23 skidoo

    January 24, 2019
  10. If by any chance you haven’t encountered Pikotaro’s pen-pineapple-apple-pen, go ahead and enjoy it… https://youtu.be/Ct6BUPvE2sM

    January 24, 2019
  11. Mary #

    Mix-and-match is a real problem. I was reading two works that featured the Good Folk, and in one you had a kitsune who was vulnerable, like any of the Good Folk, to iron, and another you had a djinni who was treated as the same kind of creature as the Good Folk, even though he was a pious Muslim who could pray, and the Good Folk were allergic to holy names. . . .

    Both jarred.

    If you try to steal SOME elements, you have a trick to pull it off.

    January 24, 2019
    • Kate #

      Oy. If you’re going to do that, you might as well just go full Dungeons and Dragons and novelize your campaigns.

      January 25, 2019
  12. John C. #

    The thing that “diversity” pushers keep harping on is the differences between people; differences make people more interesting (just think of how dull and boring things would be if everyone were exactly alike, though it would make things easier for clothing manufacturers), but similarities let them get along with and work together. I have given out many copies of collections of Takahashi Rumiko’s soap opera “Maison Ikkoku”, which was written by a Japanese woman for a Japanese audience in a Japanese setting that would be unfamiliar to an American audience (the apaato where they live would be considered substandard housing in the U.S. because there are no baths in it; the bath house is a couple of blocks away…), and yet you can immediately recognize the PEOPLE in the cast: the lovesick student, the sad and withdrawn widow, the inveterate matchmaker wanting to run everyone’s lives… all of us can recognize these these people. Heck, most of us have BEEN one or more of these people at some stage of our lives. We are more alike than many people give credit.

    January 25, 2019
    • Kate #

      Precisely. The things that make us alike are much stronger than the things that make us different. Which is probably why, a la Pterry, we tend to focus so much on the things that make us different. Like the revolutionary groups who are bitter enemies because of one paragraph that differs in their revolutionary charters.

      That doesn’t mean that the cultures who want to annihilate Western cultures are any less dangerous. It just makes the mess that’s going to happen eventually even more tragic.

      January 25, 2019
    • Mary #

      Selected differences between people. You’d better conform in every other respect.

      January 25, 2019

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