Cultural Appropriation Is Not Cool

From Fanlore
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Title: Cultural Appropriation Is Not Cool
Creator: Merlin Missy
Date(s): December 3, 2008
Fandom: multifandom
External Links: Cultural Appropriation Is Not Cool
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Cultural Appropriation Is Not Cool is a 2008 essay by Merlin Missy.


This essay is part of a series called Dr. Merlin's Soapbox.

Some Topics Discussed

From the Essay

While the crux of the complaints was the insensitivity on the part of the RPGers to a horrific event that is still very present in the minds of many fans, last week's debacle leads us today to a discussion of appropriating things (terms, ideas, etc.) from other cultures for fun and profit.

...the entire world would be a better place if only people would research properly. As the past week has demonstrated, research of terms with cultural significance cannot simply be conducted by a dry study of history textbooks and a reliance on one's (perhaps faulty) memories from school. History is a living, breathing thing which has shaped and is shaping the world around us. In the case of the Krystallnacht RPG, those involved erroneously assumed they were taking the name of a "dead" piece of history, rather than invoking an event that sparked years of attempted genocide that is still carried by those who lived through it.

Research is our friend. Lots of research. Metric assloads of research, if necessary. When we are creating fanworks, be they literary, artistic or "just a game," we need to be familiar enough with our topic to give it proper coverage and due, not just gloss over with a quick stereotype. Saying something is just being done for fun does not stop it from upsetting people anymore than when you were teased in middle school and the bullies said they were just having fun when someone called them on it. Feel free to insert your own tale of woe here. (You almost certainly have one; Snacky's Law exists for a reason.) However, also keep in mind that your own tale of woe does not make you an expert on anyone else's tale, it simply means that you should have some basis for understanding when someone else tells you that you've upset them and that you know how you hoped people would act when it was your turn. Shorter: don't be a jerk.

How can you not be a jerk? More, how can you not be a jerk when you're honestly intending not to be a jerk? Well, to start with, it's not solved by pretending that people who aren't you don't exist. Every six months or so, fandom returns to the subject of racism in the canon, in the fandom, in the fanfic and in the society that formed them all. It's a good conversation, though one that invariably leads more than one person to comment they avoid writing characters of color because they're afraid of doing it wrong. (This also leads to comments about writing characters one is interested in, thus following one's squee, and that since the juiciest character parts seem to be handed out disproportionately to the white male characters on a series, those are the "most interesting" characters. Sometimes it even leads to exploring the cultural assumptions on the part of the writing staff about who should get the most screentime and best plots in order to maximize the audience, and audience focus on those characters reinforces their choice. Sometimes Dr. Merlin drinks heavily when she reads Metafandom.)

Don't take "UR DOIN IT WRONG" as a value judgment on your worth as a human being. Humans screw up. Humans posting on the Internet flush with happiness at a new toy or in the heat of a discussion screw up even faster.

It's not cool to take something you don't fully understand and use it in an attempt to make yourself look deep. It doesn't work with using poetry you've never read for story titles, it doesn't work with writing emo or mature subjects (and I'm not just talking pR0n, but whatever the Big Kid toy is this week in the never ending "we're more avant-garde than you" quest), and it doesn't work calling yourself something you don't know the full context of. Do your homework, put out the very best product you can, and people will come, accolades will be given, lights will flash, bells will ring, and so on. Plus, when arguments come up online, you'll be able to tell less-informed people that, no, actually this is what happened and who doesn't love being the person on the Internet who's right?

Fan Comments

[Rachel]: I adore you. I was about to start pulling out quotes I particularly liked and realized that I would just end up citing the entire article. And I really hope that everyone follows your link to "The Missing Women of Block 24."

[ruby nye]: I want to write paragraphs of agreement, but they'd basically come down to "YES YES YES". And also "YES". So, to sum up: YES. And also, thank you.

[Jacob]:I agree with you wholeheartedly. I have some things that I really want to write but would be lifeless, dead, and completely ignorant if I don't actually take the time to research them properly. I'm glad you wrote this!