Ganakagok, Cultural Appropriation, and the New World

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Comments

  • Posted By: RafaelAlso, I want to be sure that I understand this correctly: Matthew Sullivan-Barrett'sMonsters of Glam, which is about Glam rockers trashing hotel rooms and getting laid, is tantamount to genocide (or, at the very least, land displacement) because it appropriates Coyote the Trickster God. Am I getting this right?
    Soooo, feels weird to be addressing this, but since Monsters of Glam was mentioned in what I think was a hyperbolic example of appropriation:
    I don't know if it productively relates to the largely fruitful discussion in this thread so far, but it is definitely true that there was regrettable carelessness in including Coyote in MoG. Again, I don't know it is worth discussing further, but if anyone feels otherwise I am happy to participate. And to apologize if the lazy use is problematic to anyone.

    Past that, I want to express deep appreciation for the parties that have been so active in raising awareness of these issues. Speaking for myself, I have found the ongoing discussions very valuable, and appreciate the considerable efforts to address these difficult subjects with so much patience and empathy. I know I have learned much, have much to think on, and have much more to learn. I am hopeful this community will grow more thoughtful as well.
  • To clarify my points:

    1. Saying that you don't need to do your diligence because a culture has passed it's "ownership window" like this is an IP discussion is problematic.
    a. Because it casts the individual saying that the culture is passed its window without being a part of it is part of that colonial mentality
    b. If you aren't going to be the one who defines it, who does? The people in question? What if they say no? Do you as the outsider get to over-rule them? If so, see point 1a.

    2. The Art defence, where a person who hasn't done their due diligence cries, "But it's art" is a lazy, privileged position.
    a. Calling something art doesn't deflect it from being problematic and harmful
    b. Just because it's art doesn't mean it's good art (yes that's a subjective term, and problematic but if you're just portraying stereotypes then you really aren't saying anything other than the fact that you know cultural stereotypes).

    3. You don't have to do anything here. No one is going to stand over your shoulder glowering at you disapprovingly while you make something that relies on a culture and turns trips over all the intellectual potholes that you missed for not doing your due dilligence.
    a. Expecting people to applaud you for it is naive.
    b. Expecting people not to criticise for you it is doubly naive.

    I would like to add to the series of people who have come in here and said, "Wow, this is information and I'm going to take this and digest it." Thank you, that's really all that I know I could ask for.
  • edited May 2012
    Posted By: Matthew SBAgain, I don't know it is worth discussing further, but if anyone feels otherwise I am happy to participate. And to apologize if the lazy use is problematic to anyone.
    I totally should have thought twice before posting that. It would have been better to ask you before citing M.O.G.

    Personally, I thought your game was awesome and fun, but couldn't figure out how the use of Coyote was anything other than more fun on the fun cake. Which is why I asked that question -- which, to be honest, didn't seem all that hyperbolic, because I've gone back and reread the points bringing up comparisons to land-grabs and such, and it still feels like bringing all of that up is perhaps overdoing it. I mean, it just feels like using words like 'genocide' when talking about RPGs is a bit of a stretch. Then again, I'm coming at this from a different perspective. But I just wanted to make sure I understand why those terms were being used -- were people actually trying to compare the publication of an RPG to land grabs and cultural genocide?

    Still, I had no right to drag you into this. I'm sorry! It was wrong.
  • edited May 2012
    Posted By: RafaelBut I just wanted to make sure I understand why those terms were being used -- were people actually trying to compare the publication of an RPG to land grabs and cultural genocide?
    The "1,000,000 papercuts" analogy holds here. Objectively, zero people play or read non-D&D RPGs, within some tiny margin of error. Whatever harm RPGs may or may not do is minimal at best. In the days of the silent Western, Hollywood cranked out dozens on dozens of more or less interchangeable films. The harm that any single one of them did by its portrayal of natives is relatively minimal. Collectively, and over time, and in context, and with the audience it had, though? It's not any single harm that's the issue.

    To put it another way: we should at least try to weed our own garden. (This analogy also is good because a lot of times the weeds come from outside the garden - and what we put into RPGs comes from our outside society too.)
  • Posted By: JohnstoneMaybe I'm just taking it for granted because I already understand what Lee's saying, so if it seems like I'm impatient with those who don't, sorry. No, you're not getting that right. Nobody has said those acts are equivalent. What made you think that?
    Nah, I didn't feel like you were being impatient. I took it at face value, you meant what you said -- you wanted to know where I'm coming from. Which is totally cool by me. I mean, we may see things differently, but just talking, hashing it out, that's how people learn. And I'm interested in this topic, it's a bit of an eye-opener. So your input's cool with me.

    As for the question. Well, Nameless said, "This is almost exactly what was said to justify the land grab, the forced relocation, the residential schools, etc... 'You have had possession of this land since God put you there. What have you done with it? The world will be a better place if someone else did something creative/productive with it. You may be upset, but I don't have to respect that. What is being created is progress in the name of God, and that is more important than how upset you might become.' Appropriation is appropriation, even if it can be rationalized."

    And I'm looking that, and I'm thinking, well, hang on. Are we really saying that putting something in an RPG, and then going, well, it's art -- is the same as someone taking land away? The former strikes me as a good think -- making art -- and the latter strikes me as something awful, something that my kid will learn about, even if it gets glossed over in school (which is what happened to me -- I mean, my primary-school teachers and textbooks left out all the atrocities and I didn't really learn about the genocide of the indigenous peoples of North America until much later). I'll see that he learns the truth, because it's worth learning about. And I'll see that he learns to respect the cultures of others. Because that matters.

    But to be honest, I thought it was a bit of a stretch to say that 'appropriation is appropriation,' because there's a huge difference between cultural appropriation and the appropriation of territory. I'm not saying that one is acceptable -- it's not my place to say that cultural appropriation is okay -- but I'm just saying, I think we're talking about apples and orifices. Or something like that.
  • Posted By: JDCorleyThe "1,000,000 papercuts" analogy holds here. Objectively, zero people play or read non-D&D RPGs, within some tiny margin of error. Whatever harm RPGs may or may not do is minimal at best. In the days of the silent Western, Hollywood cranked out dozens on dozens of more or less interchangeable films. The harm that any single one of them did by its portrayal of natives is relatively minimal. It's not any one thing that happens.

    To put it another way: we should at least try to weed our own garden.
    I can dig this. But I will tell you that from this point forward, I will think very carefully about putting anything that actually happened to a historical human on Earth ever into one of my games, because holy mackerel, I don't want to get on the gardener's bad side. After today, nothing but elves and robots. And I'll be peering very closely at the illustrations, just to be safe. Because there's weeding, and then there's the fury of a thousand suns. I mean, this whole debate's been pretty intense, right? And as you just pointed out, it's not like we're reaching an audience of millions, yeah?
  • Actually, Rafael, didn't you already make a game that made angels worse than demons? I mean, isn't that also appropriating a religion and changing the stories to suit your game?

    Granted, they aren't the same thing, since Christianity undeniably holds a great deal of privilege (in the US at least). But at least we aren't talking apples and orifices anymore.
  • edited May 2012
    Wow. I actually hadn't made that connection.

    Well, let's mull that one over, because that would be pretty interesting. So, I take religion, mess around with it, produce something. You could call it art, but that would be a bit of a stretch, yeah? More like, just a game. Demons and shotguns and such. Appropriate the religion, produce something new. But other than the concept itself (which, yeah, I guess is blasphemous), I don't see the harm. I mean, I can see someone religious looking at it and saying, this is offensive. And though I would not wish to hurt anyone, I can imagine it being obnoxious to people if they didn't care for the appropriation of their culture. (Or if they just don't like the idea of angels with tentacles eating people.) But as you note, Christianity is pretty dominant, or privileged or what-have-you, so it's maybe not the same as cultural appropriation of a people that have been displaced or attacked. But I could be wrong about that. So --

    If I were to make a third game in the series, would I really be better off getting input from a religious person? Would that help my game? I mean, I kind of think that's where this is going, right? That's the idea -- that a person who actually believes in a holy war between angels and demons would be a stakeholder. So before I take their culture and use it to make a game, I should get some kind of connection going with someone like that. But what would happen? Would I actually change the way I treat angels in my game? And what about research? I mean, I flipped through the Bible. Before my next game is designed, should I actually learn something about religion? It's not really a rhetorical question -- I'm definitely curious about what people think about that.

    Is this something that should be applied to a group of creators larger than this tiny sub-slice of a small hobby? I mean, what about Slayer -- should they communicate with a Christian stakeholder before recording another album about religion? What about Iron Maiden's "Run to the Hills"? What about the next novel by Clive Barker? He's got religious stuff in his books (hoo boy, does he ever). Dunno, just kind of thinking out loud on this one.
  • So, I can't speak for Lee, but having read all his posts, what I see him doing is explaining why cultural appropriation is so insulting. It's not because it's equivalent to all that other stuff, it's all the other stuff that puts weight behind the insult and makes it hurt more than those of us with privilege would think it would.

    This is a crass analogy I'm going to use here, and I'm 'a use some bad words, but fuck it, here goes:

    If you call someone a "nigger," who do you think is going to be more offended: the black guy who's had a couple crosses burned on his front yard, or the white dude with a house in the Hamptons?

    If you call someone a "whore," who do you think is going to be more offended: the girl who has been repeatedely slut-shamed because she was gang-raped, or the white dude with a lamborghini and a house in the Hamptons?

    If you call someone a "faggot," who do you think is going to be more offended: the guy who's boyfriend was beaten to death by bigots because he was out of the closet, or the white dude with a wife and a mistress and a lamborghini and a house in the Hamptons?

    That white dude, he's like the honey badger. Honey badger don't care, honey badger don't give a fuck.

    Everybody else? Pissed.

    Now, sure, those are insults. They're meant to be insulting. But you see the different between the subjects of those insults, right? Some things are more insulting because of the deeds and the history behind them. They have weight. To the privileged, it's just a word, it means nothing. To the marginalized and the oppressed, it's a word that means all that other shit, too.

    So maybe you use a little coyote here, a little thunderbird there, and maybe you think nothing of it. And maybe First Nations people think nothing of it. Or, maybe they see you taking their cultural referents and using them with no understanding of their culture or the context of those referents, and they think:

    "So it's not enough for them to take our land, and our livelihood, and our language. And it's not enough for them to abuse us in residential schools, or restrict us to reservations where our people have never lived before. And it's not enough for them to dig up the bones of our grandparents so they can put them on display and charge admission. It's not enough that they have to do all this, now they have to take our stories and the things we believe in and turn them into stupid jokes, too."

    So if you say that you should be able to take coyote and thunderbird and do whatever you want with them without having to consult anybody, it's insulting NOT because misrepresenting those figures is going to deprive anyone of life, land, language, rights, or culture, because it won't. It's insulting because you're saying the exact same thing all those other white men who actually did do those things said, when they said "I want this land, why should I have to consult the Indians?"

    That's why it's so insulting. And that's why it's insulting even if you don't mean for it to be insulting. Some people have the privilege of being immune to insults. Other people don't.

    But, y'know, just because it's hard to be respectful of a culture that isn't yours doesn't mean it's impossible! There's already a lot of good advice in this thread for how to treat subject material without being offensive, and I don't see it being that hard to get more. I mean, of all the hard work you're going to do on a game anyway, I don't know if learning about another culture and how to be respectful towards it is the most likely to make your game better, but I'm pretty damn sure it's the least likely to make it worse.
  • Posted By: RafaelI mean, what about Slayer -- should they communicate with a Christian stakeholder before recording another album about religion?
    Haha! Fun fact: Tom Araya (bass and vocals) is a devout Catholic.


    But yeah, with regards to using Christian stuff in games, privilege is a big issue, along with evangelism (the active promotion or imposition of culture on others), and the permeation of Christianity throughout Western culture (how much of an outsider are you, really?).
  • Posted By: RafaelStill, I had no right to drag you into this. I'm sorry! It was wrong.
    Naw, naw. No prob: MoG is out there and anyone can critique it with impunity!(And I would welcome the feedback) I just am not used to having much to speak for.
    Also didn't want to get caught up on my little thing to the detriment of the fruitful discourse.
  • Posted By: RafaelBut as you note, Christianity is pretty dominant, or privileged or what-have-you, so it's maybe not the same as cultural appropriation of a people that have been displaced or attacked. But I could be wrong about that.
    Nope, you're not wrong, it's EXTREMELY important. That's why context matters so much.
  • edited May 2012
    Oops. :-) Gotta revisit this later. Good stuff.
  • Posted By: JDCorleyPosted By: RafaelBut as you note, Christianity is pretty dominant, or privileged or what-have-you, so it's maybe not the same as cultural appropriation of a people that have been displaced or attacked. But I could be wrong about that.
    Nope, you're not wrong, it's EXTREMELY important. That's why context matters so much.

    I don't buy that at all. 0%.

    If you're going pound the table about respecting culture, you've gotta respect all cultures. If you then go "except that one...its ok to shit on them" then you've reduced everything you've said about respecting culture to hypocrisy...an argument that sounds good but which is really just being used to justify a particular agenda.

    "We don't have to care about them because they're a dominant culture" is exactly the same thing in reverse as "We don't have to care about them because they're ignorant savages.


    Further I think that the whole Dominant vs. Marginalized thing is a huge red herring. Very few cultures spend their entire developmental history as one or the other...making it impossible to say its ok to appropriate from a dominant culture and not from a marginalized one, because most cultures have had a spin at both.

    So if we're writing a game about Saxons is it ok to appropriate from them when they were the dominant English culture, but its not ok to do a game about them after they'd been marginalized by the Normans...or before that the Danes?

    And when we come to North America...the Aztecs, the Maya, the Haudenosaunee (better known by the name their enemies called them, the Iroquois)...these cultures WERE the dominant culture of their respective time and geography. Each of them brutalized, marginalized, and disenfranchised their neighbors with as much willful aggression as the Europeans eventually did to them. Each one of them were grand amazing cultures...as well as being Right Bastards.

    Are we to then give them special victim status because a bigger nastier enemy, with the technology to be far more efficient in their destructiveness, came and kicked the kings off the mountain? Is it thus not ok to appropriate from them post European encounter, but ok to appropriate from them pre European encounter when they were dominant? Does that even make sense?

    No...the dominant vs. marginalized distinction is IMO untenable and unnecessary. It is IMO an attempt to obfuscate the actual issue (who is entitled to decide how a culture gets portrayed by others) by obfuscating it with a lot of other issues...issues that are vital issues to discuss in their own right, but are totally tangential and a distraction from this one.
  • Posted By: ValamirSo if we're writing a game about Saxons is it ok to appropriate from them when they were the dominant English culture, but its not ok to do a game about them after they'd been marginalized by the Normans...or before that the Danes?
    Yes, absolutely. This is not hypocritical at all.
    Posted By: ValamirAnd when we come to North America...the Aztecs, the Maya, the Haudenosaunee (better known by the name their enemies called them, the Iroquois)...these cultures WERE the dominant culture of their respective time and geography. Each of them brutalized, marginalized, and disenfranchised their neighbors with as much willful aggression as the Europeans eventually did to them. Each one of them were grand amazing cultures...as well as being Right Bastards.
    It would have been wrong for Aztec artists to appropriate cultural material from the tribes they enslaved, stereotype them, misrepresent them, absolutely.

    Picking on the underdog is different from picking on the champion. That's not hypocrisy, that's reality. Otherwise you reach the conclusion that failing to have a White History Month is racial discrimination.
  • ...isn't it? I mean, it isn't negative discrimination, but it's entirely necessary to discriminate one race from another in order to decide that this one should have a special month dedicated to it, right? It doesn't bother me that it's naturally discriminatory (and it necessarily is), but that's because of white privilege. And isn't that the whole point?
  • Posted By: JDCorley
    Picking on the underdog is different from picking on the champion. That's not hypocrisy, that's reality. Otherwise you reach the conclusion that failing to have a White History Month is racial discrimination.
    Not any reality I want to have anything to do with.

    Its ok to shit on this person but not that person...is 100% identical to its ok to shit on that person but not this person.
    Yes its hypocrisy, and yes I'm not a fan of reverse discrimination either.
  • Posted By: ValamirIf you're going pound the table about respecting culture, you've gotta respect all cultures. If you then go "except that one...its ok to shit on them" then you've reduced everything you've said about respecting culture to hypocrisy...an argument that sounds good but which is really just being used to justify a particular agenda.
    You overlook the fact that Christianity is all about inviting/forcing others to adopt their culture. You cannot say "Don't take our stuff" if you have been violently forcing it on us for generations. When you put yourself out there like that, you invite criticism of what you are offering.

    I think that it also comes down to the fact that:
    Posted By: Jonathan3. You don't have to do anything here. No one is going to stand over your shoulder glowering at you disapprovingly while you make something that relies on a culture and turns trips over all the intellectual potholes that you missed for not doing your due dilligence.
    a. Expecting people to applaud you for it is naive.
    b. Expecting people not to criticise for you it is doubly naive.
    Some people just don't care what others will think. It is up to you to decide how you would like to be perceived. Any portrayal of Native people without showing you know what you are talking about will just make me think that you are uninformed. I will try to help you through that, and if you don't accept my help, whatever. Your loss. But I will not necessarily retain any respect for you or the integrity of your art. And I will talk about it. Some will listen. Others won't. That is how it goes.
  • I think this Economist article makes some good points on the subject:

    The Race to Take Umbrage

    Here's the line that really struck me as relevants (but read the whole article! It's like 500 words!):
    Bullying is the strong picking on the weak, not the other way around (the other way around is satire).
    The difference between these two is at the heart of this discussion. It's not the same to grab elements of the dominant culture and remix them as it is to appropriate the culture of a people who are in a weaker position.

    But even if it was... do the research anyway. There's no way the research hurts you, or makes the game you're designing worse. There's no way that you will lose something if you take the time to figure out what the ideas are actually about.
  • Your article kind of contradicts you there, fella.
    The latter: people quick to condemn ought not to be so quick to take offence. The problem with the latter point is that however true it is in the abstract, it was not necessarily true in the particular. No evidence exists that the students who walked out ever condemned or bullied anyone. However poorly Mr Savage may have been treated in high school, it was not by the students in the audience, and they deserved more from a famous and accomplished journalist than derision. Mr Savage acknowledged as much when he apologised, both for the regrettable and infantile slur "pansy-assed" and for using what the great J. Anthony Lukas called "a barnyard epithet" to refer to the Bible.
  • Okay, now I'm confused. Are Christians dominant or marginalized? I mean, here in the US, they seem pretty dominant, but in Egypt, not so much. So do different rules apply to Egyptian RPG designers? And here in the US, are Mormons dominant or marginalized?
  • Just throwing this out there by the way, Savage is nothing if not entertaining. Love it.
  • @Userclone - Why does it contradict me? The article says that Mr. Savage behaved poorly for a public figure; the students who came to see him deserved a better argument from him than simple name calling. I don't think that contradicts my point that when the powerful are mocked by the less powerful, it's called satire.

    @Rafael - I think those are good questions. My gut tells me that we should look at who is appropriating the culture, but I'd be interested to hear what others say.
  • The whole point of the bit I quoted is that in this particular situation, Dan was the one with the power. Those were high school kids who are expected to sit and listen to an adult basically bash their whole way of life because other people who nominally share it bash his? Not appropriate for the age bracket. Not okay. I really like Dan, I really really do, but audience matters.
  • edited May 2012
    Posted By: RafaelAre Christians dominant or marginalized? I mean, here in the US, they seem pretty dominant, but in Egypt, not so much. So do different rules apply to Egyptian RPG designers? And here in the US, are Mormons dominant or marginalized?
    It's not an on-or-off thing, but to the degree a group is marginalized, to that degree you must be mindful of appropriating their culture.

    It doesn't seem weird to me that an Egyptian game designer, playwright, filmmaker or author might have a different responsibility when presenting something about Christianity (for example) than an American one, remember what I said about audience mattering? I don't really want to go into this because I have really very little knowledge of the current state of Egyptian religious culture, but I don't see anything weird or hypocritical about saying that responsibilities could differ depending on the situation.

    Ralph was using extreme examples, so I responded in kind. If you pick extreme examples like White History Month (I guess sign Ralph up for that? IDK), you'll get extreme answers. It's not hypocrisy to say that examples that fall in the middle should receive a proportionate response.

    Mormonism is a great example for me for this discussion, thanks for bringing it up. It's very successful in limited geographical areas, less so in others, and completely marginalized in others. And I have two examples involving Mormon culture close to hand. Dogs in the Vineyard is highly critical but also very respectful of Mormonism when it fictionalizes it. A really hilarious Broadway show about Mormons, "The Book of Mormon", works because of the thorough knowledge that the creators have of the culture of Mormonism. It needles the culture (viciously), but it also displays love and respect. These are two very successful works that look at a largely non-dominant religious culture.

    Could a Mormon be pissed at "The Book of Mormon" or Dogs in the Vineyard? Absolutely. Some have been. Could the creators of those works learn from those people's experiences? Yes. Could they both be "done better"? Naturally, nothing on this fallen Earth is perfect. Are both works respectful of a minority religious culture? I believe they are, though the Broadway show also pokes fun and Dogs also contains a critique. Are they damaging? I do not believe so. Is any of this contradictory? No. Hypocritical? Hardly.
  • edited May 2012
    I'm pretty sure that if you asked your average Mormon whether or not they'd like a show called The Book of Mormon to be written and produced by the South Park guys, more often than not you'd get a "No thanks, I'll pass." I think it's pretty reasonable as a Latter-Day Saint (Mormon is a weird term, it's akin to calling a Jew a Moses, or calling Judaism Mosesism) to be righteously fucking pissed about that show's existence. Parker and Stone are not known for their respectful treatment of religion (see Isaac Hayes quitting the show after their Scientology episode). As for DitV, well you'd be hard-pressed to find a practicing LDS willing to shoot someone over anything.

    P.S. Who gives a fuck whether you believe that those works are respectful of the culture they seek to critique? Isn't the metric of respectfulness determined by the stakeholders, and not the person of privilege? I thought that was the whole point.
  • Excellent point about my opinion not counting for much, you're quite right.

    "The South Park guys" have talked a LOT about their process in creating the show, very publically, and their personal history with the church. It's very interesting. I suggest checking it out.
  • That personal history is important—when the author is a direct stakeholder it suggests that the work, whether critical or not, is rooted in understanding and personal experience rather than stereotypes and assumed knowledge which may not be accurate.

    Perhaps to go back the the christianity example—because it's simpler than LDS—pretty much everyone living in the english-speaking world is a stakeholder of christian culture, since it informs so much of our society (worldview, ethics, literature, legal system, etiquette, etc). It's either the culture of our ancestors or the culture that was inflicted on our ancestors. Either way it is in some form ours by virtue of our life experiences.

    In other parts of the world that is not always true.

  • edited May 2012
    Posted By: ValamirIf you're going pound the table about respecting culture, you've gotta respect all cultures. If you then go "except that one...its ok to shit on them" then you've reduced everything you've said about respecting culture to hypocrisy...an argument that sounds good but which is really just being used to justify a particular agenda.
    It's interesting to note that at least one model of ethical decision-making (the Potter Box) explicitly includes loyalties as a factor. You choose whose side you're on. Of course, that can be mitigated to some extent by the moral principles you embrace: Kant's categorical imperative ("Only do that which you are willing that everyone should do") or Rawls' veil of ignorance ("Decide as if you might end up on the short end of the stick") or even the Golden Rule ("Do unto others...")

    In other words, one can decide that one's obligations to or loyalties to a particular group militate toward a particular decision. Notice that this means that there's no "view from nowhere"--every ethical decision is made by a particular decision-maker, not a generic one.

    In any event, I think the notion that this is about "respect" for culture is a misnomer, implying as it does that unwillingness to give offense should be the driving force behind one's decisions. I am less afraid of offending people than I am of getting things wrong, either in the factual or the moral-aesthetic sense.
    Posted By: ValamirSo if we're writing a game about Saxons is it ok to appropriate from them when they were the dominant English culture, but its not ok to do a game about them after they'd been marginalized by the Normans...or before that the Danes?
    This goes haring off in the wrong direction, asking exactly the wrong questions. The real question is, what do you in particular owe the Saxons, or the Danes? (Of course, once you pay him the Danegeld, you never get rid of the Dane). Arguably, what any of us minimally owe any historical time period is not to misrepresent it.
    Posted By: ValamirNo...the dominant vs. marginalized distinction is IMO untenable and unnecessary. It is IMO an attempt to obfuscate the actual issue (who is entitled to decide how a culture gets portrayed by others) by obfuscating it with a lot of other issues...issues that are vital issues to discuss in their own right, but are totally tangential and a distraction from this one.
    But that's not the actual issue! The actual issue is what are you personally obligated to do when you undertake to represent or incorporate elements from another culture in your work? No one else gets to decide for you--you have to decide for yourself. In this case "obeying the [copyright] law" is a minimal obligation.

    I will grant you that there are those who will make it seem like the issue is that others have been trespassing on their cultural turf (As Chris Chinn says, "Who gets to tell your story? Right?"), but this is not quite right. It can't be, because that goes down the road of identity politics, which is pernicious.

    So the issue of dominant versus marginalized is directly relevant to any given designer's decision-making, because you owe different things to the strong than to the weak (i.e., most moral codes to which people subscribe suggest that it's right to protect the powerless, unless you're Ayn Rand or something).
  • edited May 2012
    Posted By: UserCloneI'm pretty sure that if you asked your average Mormon whether or not they'd like a show called The Book of Mormon to be written and produced by the South Park guys, more often than not you'd get a "No thanks, I'll pass." I think it's pretty reasonable as a Latter-Day Saint . . . to be righteously fucking pissed about that show's existence. Parker and Stone are not known for their respectful treatment of religion (see Isaac Hayes quitting the show after their Scientology episode). As for DitV, well you'd be hard-pressed to find a practicing LDS willing to shoot someone over anything.
    According to the USA Today, "Mormons find 'The Book of Mormon' surprisingly sweet" albeit, a Washington Post op-ed adds, ultimately irrelevant.

    Re Dogs in the Vineyard, there's this.
  • That's not just any old op-ed, because it's written by the Church's Head of Public Affairs. Which arguably makes this an official LDS response. And he doesn't just find it irrelevant:

    "A few members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who have seen this musical and blogged about it seem to have gone out of their way to show how they can take it. That’s their choice... Of course, parody isn’t reality, and it’s the very distortion that makes it appealing and often funny. The danger is not when people laugh but when they take it seriously – if they leave a theater believing that Mormons really do live in some kind of a surreal world of self-deception and illusion."
  • edited May 2012
    Posted By: RafaelThat's not just any old op-ed, because it's written by the Church's Head of Public Affairs. Which arguably makes this an official LDS response. And he doesn't just find it irrelevant:

    "A few members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who have seen this musical and blogged about it seem to have gone out of their way to show how they can take it. That’s their choice... Of course, parody isn’t reality, and it’s the very distortion that makes it appealing and often funny. The danger is not when people laugh but when they take it seriously – if they leave a theater believing that Mormons really do live in some kind of a surreal world of self-deception and illusion."
    I don't know. You skip over a lot with your ellipsis. He starts off by framing The Book of Mormon as a caricature of all religion, not just Mormonism, and the bulk of the piece is an explanation of why, while members of other religions might be outraged over the musical (even a New York Jew! Imagine!), most Mormons are not.

    Sure, he's pretty upfront with the idea that he's turning the other cheek, partly because it's a Christian imperative and partly to avoid seeming thin-skinned, but ultimately, "those thousands of remarkable and selfless Mormon missionaries [who served in Africa during the seven years Parker and Stone were working on their musical] . . . have returned home, bringing with them a connection with the African people that will last a lifetime. Many will keep up their Swahili language or their Igbo dialect. They will keep in their bedrooms the flags of the nations where they served. They will look up every time they hear Africa mentioned on the evening news. Their associations with the people whose lives they touched will become lifetime friendships. And in a hundred ways they will become unofficial ambassadors for the nations they served."

    In fact, he comes right out and says, "what Broadway does with 'The Book of Mormon' musical is irrelevant to most of us"--us meaning Mormons in this case.
  • Okay...but that's him saying that he is perfectly willing to ignore it because he sees it as popular culture and thus temporary. Because he is rising above its mockery of his people, not because he doesn't care...that's what I'm getting out of that. He sees it as more important for his church to be seen as doing the Christ-like response of turning the other cheek than to be seen lowering themselves to debating the merits of their own religion with satirists, thus giving the satirists more money, power, and free advertising.
  • For my money, I think Bill's post above (#130) comes closest to providing A Guide to What You Should Do (TM) if you find yourself in the position of feeling interested or inspired by folklore or history from a culture other than your own, wanting to include it in your game, and not sure whether or not that's cool.
  • edited May 2012
    Posted By: Bill_White
    In any event, I think the notion that this is about "respect" for culture is a misnomer, implying as it does that unwillingness to give offense should be the driving force behind one's decisions. I am less afraid of offending people than I am of getting things wrong, either in the factual or the moral-aesthetic sense.
    This is an idea that I can get behind. I'm much more interested in works that make an effort towards historical accuracy and authentic portrayal of things than I am in works that are sloppy in that regard. I once chastised AEG vociferously for including Caravels in 7th Sea by pointing out that Caravels were designed specifically to deal with the wind patterns of the Horn of Africa and were the first ships capable of navigating past it...as there's no Africa in 7th Sea, there should be no Caravels either. Pretty far into who-gives-a-fuck-territory for most people, but that's how I roll.

    But to me that's an obligation that we have to our audience...getting it right for them...its not an obligation we have to the original caravel designers or the Portuguese.
    Posted By: Bill_White
    This goes haring off in the wrong direction, asking exactly the wrong questions. The real question is, what doyou in particularowe the Saxons, or the Danes? (Of course, once you pay him the Danegeld, you never get rid of the Dane). Arguably, what any of us minimally owe any historical time period is not to misrepresent it.
    I think that's exactly the right question, however, because it demonstrates how terms like Dominant and Marginalized are totally variable, changing, and meaningful only from the perspective of a particular agenda. Your question is also a good one, and exactly the one that I think requires an objective way to approach answering it, which is what my window idea is attempting to do.

    What do I in particular owe a culture? Inside the window the answer is IMO "alot". Outside the window the answer is IMO "nothing whatsoever" with the caveat that your answer of "not to misrepresent it" is not IMO an obligation to the culture itself (which no longer exists at that point) but then general obligation of accuracy and authenticity which is owed to the audience you're presenting to.
    Posted By: Bill_Whiter
    I will grant you that there are those who will make itseemlike the issue is that others have been trespassing on their cultural turf (As Chris Chinn says,"Who gets to tell your story? Right?"), but this is not quite right. It can't be, because that goes down the road of identity politics, which is pernicious.
    And that's exactly why I've been trying to develop an objective standard. Because there is no way to avoid identity politics dominating the discussion when the cultures are recent / fresh / and attract avid defenders I think its important to have a window within with those politics are handled respectfully. But outside that window...outside that window we can be free to simply disregard and ignore the identity politics...because there's a standard that says...beyond this point we don't have to go down that road anymore.
    So the issue of dominant versus marginalized is directly relevant to any given designer's decision-making, because you owe different things to the strong than to the weak (i.e., most moral codes to which people subscribe suggest that it's right to protect the powerless, unless you're Ayn Rand or something).
    In terms of respect, accurate portrayal, and not misrepresenting I think we owe exactly the same consideration to the strong as to the weak. It is just as important for the weak to not demonize the strong with misrepresentation as it is for the strong to not demonize the weak. The use of dominant vs. marginalized language blurs that truth as it has done here.
  • Posted By: ValamirAnd that's exactly why I've been trying to develop an objective standard. Because there is no way to avoid identity politics dominating the discussion when the cultures are recent / fresh / and attract avid defenders I think its important to have a window within with those politics are handled respectfully. But outside that window...outside that window we can be free to simply disregard and ignore the identity politics...because there's a standard that says...beyond this point we don't have to go down that road anymore.
    I think your project of objectivity via a historical window is probably doomed to failure, because it falls apart in the face of those "avid defenders." The battle of Kosovo in 1389, which resulted in the Ottoman domination of Serbia, is part of the historical memory that drove the conflict among Bosnian Serbs and Muslims in the 1990s. As someone once said: The past isn't dead--it isn't even past. Once somebody says, "You're talking about my history, Ralph!" what can you say to them? "It's not yours any more, pal"?
  • edited May 2012
    Ralph, real talk: this concept of a window doesn't work. Respect is not an obligation and should not run to a timetable, especially one imposed from without.

    How could this stndard even work in practice? In actual fact, when you create some art which appropriates another culture, however historical, people will either be offended, or not. If no-one is offended, because it was "sufficiently" historical that no-one is identifying with or feeling ownership over the culture being appropriated, then fine; but if someone IS offended, are you really going to turn to them and say "sorry, but the expiration date for your offence to be reasonable has passed?"

    There is no shortcut or objective standard that will allow you to route around your responsibility to simply listen to people and to try not to hurt them, and to apologise and try to fix it in the (inevitable) event that you do make mistakes.

    Really, the calculus as to whether a particular instance of culture is still relevant to a person in terms of their ownership and identity is always going to be a lot more complex than age. Culture does not carbon date easily - it is constantly renewed in our minds, constructed and remixed into narrative and passed on to our children.
  • Posted By: ValamirThis is an idea that I can get behind. I'm much more interested in works that make an effort towards historical accuracy and authentic portrayal of things than I am in works that are sloppy in that regard. I once chastised AEG vociferously for including Caravels in 7th Sea by pointing out that Caravels were designed specifically to deal with the wind patterns of the Horn of Africa and were the first ships capable of navigating past it...as there's no Africa in 7th Sea, there should be no Caravels either. Pretty far into who-gives-a-fuck-territory for most people, but that's how I roll.
    I'm similar regarding caravels. In fact, I've been generally uninterested in 7th Sea because of issues with its continuity and history. However, I don't think that everything has to conform to historical accuracy. For example, I have run games inspired by The Princess Bride - set in similar fictional kingdoms of Europe in an unspecified time. I included such things as stereotyped pirates who have nothing to do with the historical reality of piracy.
    Posted By: ValamirIn terms of respect, accurate portrayal, and not misrepresenting I think we owe exactly the same consideration to the strong as to the weak. It is just as important for the weak to not demonize the strong with misrepresentation as it is for the strong to not demonize the weak. The use of dominant vs. marginalized language blurs that truth as it has done here.
    I take "demonize" to mean actively try to portray the real-world group of people as evil - and I would totally agree here. However, that's not the sticky point of disagreement. The topic as I saw it was about works like Ganakogok, where the people aren't at all demonized. However, they are associated with the Inuit without being an accurate portrayal of the Inuit.

    My approach is this: I am OK with inaccurately portraying people as long as my target audience knows that the portrayal is inaccurate; and furthermore at least one of these: (1) my target audience has exposure to accurate portrayals of the people, or (2) the portrayal doesn't correspond to real-world stereotypes - and preferably both choices.

    So, for example, I don't have any problem with a stereotypical overbearing English aristocrat as a comedic character given that my players were familiar with English people and culture. However, I might avoid having a pothead Rastafarian from Jamaica as a comedic character if my players weren't familiar with Caribbean culture - though I would be fine with an overbearing Jamaican aristocrat, since that isn't a real-world stereotype of Jamaicans.
  • edited May 2012
    I think your project of objectivity via a historical window is probably doomed to failure, because it falls apart in the face of those "avid defenders." The battle of Kosovo in 1389, which resulted in the Ottoman domination of Serbia, is part of the historical memory that drove the conflict among Bosnian Serbs and Muslims in the 1990s. As someone once said: The past isn't dead--it isn't even past. Once somebody says, "You're talking about my history, Ralph!" what can you say to them? "It's not yours any more, pal"?
    How could this stndard even work in practice? In actual fact, when you create some art which appropriates another culture, however historical, people will either be offended, or not. If no-one is offended, because it was "sufficiently" historical that no-one is identifying with or feeling ownership over the culture being appropriated, then fine; but if someone IS offended, are you really going to turn to them and say "sorry, but the expiration date for your offence to be reasonable has passed?"

    Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. Establish an objective standard such that within the boundaries of that standard the offended people have justified recourse, and outside of that boundary "its not yours any more, pal" and "sorry the expiration date for that has passed" is EXACTLY the appropriate response.

    At some point it has to be acceptable to say "fuck off, this is art" and when the offended people raise a fuss have the audience for that art say "that is way to far in the past for us to give a shit about any more". And yes, I'm well aware that there are still people carrying around grudges from 1000 years ago...fuck that. I can't stop them from carrying such a grudge, but I don't think its reasonable for them to expect others to care about it.
  • edited May 2012
    Posted By: ValamirAt some point it has to be acceptable to say "fuck off, this is art" and when the offended people raise a fuss have the audience for that art say "that is way to far in the past for us to give a shit about any more". And yes, I'm well aware that there are still people carrying around grudges from 1000 years ago...fuck that. I can't stop them from carrying such a grudge, but I don't think its reasonable for them to expect others to care about it.
    But why do you get to decide what's reasonable?

    ETA: Also, the people carrying around grudges from 1000 years ago (actually, more like 2500) include us.
  • Posted By: ValamirAt some point it has to be acceptable to say "fuck off, this is art" and when the offended people raise a fuss have the audience for that art say "that is way to far in the past for us to give a shit about any more".
    So what's your plan for finding / creating / cultivating this particular audience, who will do this?
  • edited May 2012
    Posted By: JohnstonePosted By: ValamirAt some point it has to be acceptable to say "fuck off, this is art" and when the offended people raise a fuss have the audience for that art say "that is way to far in the past for us to give a shit about any more".
    So what's your plan for finding / creating / cultivating this particular audience, who will do this?

    An excellent question...but I suspect the actual question needs to be asked in reverse.

    I think the default position for the vast majority of people in the audience is to not give a fuck in the first place. I think that most of the arguments I've heard made over the past week or so, here and especially on like a dozen G+ threads, are primarily "preaching to the choir" type arguments that aren't likely to move very many people...judging from the hostile reaction of several taking a contrary position to the way these arguments get presented...I feel pretty confident that the reaction of those people is far more indicative of the response of the general population than the majority of folks on this thread.

    Point being, I think the question is less about how to get people on this thread (like Lee or Thomas) to agree that there is a time when its appropriate to be able to say..."sorry, that material is now public domain" then it is about how to get the masses to simply not have "fuck off" as their default position.

    That's where I see alot more utility in this sort of rigorous approach. It cuts through the emotion, the politics, the social justice agenda, and just turns the issue into a very simple binary that ordinary people can use...just like how IP laws (are supposed to) work.

    "Is this work old enough to be public domain?" "No, then I better not use it in my work without getting permission"
    "Is this culture old enough to be public domain?" "No, then I better really take some time to make sure I know what I'm talking about before I try to use it."

    Nice, simple, has the advantage of mirroring the way people are already trained to think about stuff. And the win is that it encourages people to actually pay attention, at least to those cultures recent enough to still have a sizable number of partisan defenders. And its practical. Solutions that aren't are just wishful thinking.
  • Posted By: ValamirI think the default position for the vast majority of people in the audience is to not give a fuck in the first place. I think that most of the arguments I've heard made over the past week or so, here and especially on like a dozen G+ threads, are primarily "preaching to the choir" type arguments that aren't likely to move very many people...judging from the hostile reaction of several taking a contrary position to the way these arguments get presented...I feel pretty confident that the reaction of those people is far more indicative of the response of the general population than the majority of folks on this thread.
    I see where you're coming from, Ralph, but I'm surprised, because your position seems both arbitrary (what's the right "objective" time limit: 100 years? 500 years? 1000? And when does the clock start ticking?) and authoritarian (who decides? On what basis?). I won't say it's unprincipled, exactly, but it's an ethics of convenience.
    Posted By: Valamir"Is this work old enough to be public domain?" "No, then I better not use it in my work without getting permission"
    "Is this culture old enough to be public domain?" "No, then I better really take some time to make sure I know what I'm talking about before I try to use it."
    But then you get here, and I realize that your position is actually parasitic on the discourse that has taken place here, since knowing "what I'm talking about before I try to use it" is exactly the point of this conversation, so your attempts to dismiss it have the ironic (or possibly perverse) effect of reinforcing it. How do you make sure you know what you're talking about? You do your homework, you listen to stakeholders and try to understand their perspective--all of the things that this thread has raised.
  • Posted By: Bill_WhiteI see where you're coming from, Ralph, but I'm surprised, because your position seems both arbitrary (what's the right "objective" time limit: 100 years? 500 years? 1000? And when does the clock start ticking?) and authoritarian (who decides? On what basis?). I won't say it's unprincipled, exactly, but it's an ethics of convenience.
    This.

    On top of this, I would point out Ralph, you stated early on that Native culture was nearing your arbitrarily decided 180 year time limit since the death of it's culture. This misses the obvious problem that Native culture is nowhere near dead, but also assumes that it is homogenous. We are many, and we are also very alive. We are a minority, and we rarely rise to the threshold of the consciousness of the masses, but we are definitely alive, and maintain our unique culture in the myriad ways that culture is defined.

    To me this fact points out the most problematic aspect of your model Ralph. Even with your binary model of "fair game" vs. "protected property", the decision is not so simple, and still requires some engagement with the culture. Only by truly knowing the culture can you discern whether it is alive.
  • I'm not sure I follow you Bill. If you're using the word parasitic in some academic sense, its one I'm not familiar with.

    I'm 100% in agreement with all the stuff that's been said in this thread about how to your homework and listen to stakeholders and such...I thought I was clear about that, but if not, let me be so now.

    Yes all of that...just not forever. I'm not dismissing any of it...just suggesting that there should be a time limit on it after which...there are no stakeholders to consult. And I tried to avoid simply being arbitrary in the time limit, I actually outlined above exactly how I arrived at that limit...when no one is left alive who was actually born into the culture while it was being practiced, and no one is left alive who knew such a person. That's pretty hard to track directly, but 180-200 years should be long enough to cover even the outlier cases.

    But as I said, I think its more important to have a window than that specific one, so if there's a calculation that makes more sense, I'm open to it.
  • Okay, I think I get it, Ralph. But I think I still have the same basic disagreement with it, because the IP analogy just doesn't jive with my experience.

    If I were to translate my basic advice into an IP analogy, it would be: find out who will sue you for using their IP and then try to get permission from them so they don't sue you.

    Because in my experience and my observations (which are not the same as anybody else's, of course), people don't actually care about IP law. A minority of people care about "being respectful," and the majority of people care about whether or not they will get sued. The law itself doesn't mean anything to people except for the possibility of getting sued.

    With cultural appropriation, the only consequence is that people get mad and offended and express it (aside from personal guilt, which you're unlikely to feel without anybody being upset and expressing it). So, I see people being offended is the equivalent of being sued, and since I think people are way more concerned with being sued than following the letter of the law, that's why I say you should identify stakeholders and address yourself to them.

    That's also why I don't see a cut-off date being of any use. Nobody can enforce this, and every cultural expression is going to engender a different sense of ownership in people. All the different groups of people who will "sue" you have their own ideas about when something no longer belongs to people.

    Then again, your analogy also looks (to me, anyway) kinda like it's mostly an aid to deciding whether something is ethical or moral or not, and admittedly, I have no interest in that question. So I dunno.
  • Or, hmm, maybe this is a dumb analogy, but I feel like you are saying that if we all agree that there shouldn't be any bear attacks in the Western part of the forest, then when people go into the forest they can check: Am I going into the Western part or the Eastern part? And if they are going into the Eastern part, they can take precautions against a bear attack.

    And I feel like that doesn't help me if I get attacked by a bear in the Western part of the forest. So I'd rather figure out a set of precautions that will help me avoid a bear attack no matter where I am.
  • Johnstone, I think you got it just about right. The one omission in this discussion at this point is that, even having a rule laid out like this is a threat to and is offensive to "victims" of cultural appropriation. For those who have had their culture used and abused in disrespectful ways, especially by people who are ignorant of the issues surrounding their history and current difficulties, it seems to invite further appropriation. How are we to trust people to be respectful when they believe that they are under the protection of this rule's umbrella, especially when the rule seems to absolve them of any responsibility to engage with stakeholders because all you have to do is run an easy set of numbers? For those who have been the victim of many rules misuses throughout history, how does this rule protect them from significant disrespect and indignity in a way that just talking to them about how they feel would not do better? To make this rule work, you need to do your due diligence, which should include engaging with the culture and those who share it. I feel like this is a rule that will piss people off without gaining you anything meaningful. What is the point?
  • Posted By: JohnstoneIf I were to translate my basic advice into an IP analogy, it would be: find out who will sue you for using their IP and then try to get permission from them so they don't sue you.
    I have to say that this pragmatic argument fails to move me, speaking as a potential cultural appropriator. I generally try to do what is right, not what some pressure group tries to get me to do by threats. This heuristic for figuring out what is appropriate seems like it does not care about doing right, only about obfuscating yourself so Internet pundits don't raise a fuzz about what you do. These last few posts between Ralph, Johnstone and Lee seem to advocate the idea that everything's OK as long as you can somehow dodge being attacked by some activists. Sort of like appropriating native American culture was OK until they organized and raised awareness enough to start complaining about it.

    I could phrase this objection by saying that I don't "care about offending people", but as we've already discussed, that's not quite correct. However, there is a difference between endeavouring to do right and being afraid of complaints. I'll say that as regards the latter, I hope that I'll never be so weak as to sway from my course merely because some pressure group gets offended by my work.

    This is probably another big preconception that makes this topic difficult to address: the kind of attitude I have makes it obvious that merely having somebody be offended about some work is nothing to me - the offense needs to be examined, turned into a moral argument and a conclusion drawn regarding the duties of the artist before I see a pressing need for the artist to care. The world is full of people who want to tell you what to do, and many of them have frivolous, misguided or evil goals; in this kind of world I can't in good conscience take something like "will Internet get angry?" as my guide to right action. In the meantime, it has been often said in this discussion that you cannot be the judge of your own action, you need to use certified minority voices to discover what is the moral course. I can see how this latter idea seems very close to "everything's OK as long as no native will complain", but I don't myself accept the equivalency: the reason for listening to a native voice, insofar as there is one, needs to be my own moral need to do right, not my own social need to avoid bad press. The latter is an empty principle.
  • It is not about us, Eero.

    We are fortunate to mostly live in places with some form of speech protection—so that no matter whether or not the internet is angry we have the ability to say what we wish, to make that art that we wish. So ultimately we are only answerable to ourselves.

    But if we hope to follow any code of ethics that asks us not to harm others, we must ask them whether we are harming them. Because we cannot know unless they tell us, especially when years of abuse have taught them to hide their hurt—indigenous people in North America in particular have in many cases have to do just that, since until recently it was actually illegal for them to display their traditions or their cultural identity.

    Valamir seems to hope to come up with a rule that we can all agree on—and I am suspicious when he talks about the "general population" because I can't help but read it as referring to his peer group, which leads me to speculate that it really means "the general population of privileged white people and their allies", but of course I can't know whether that is true. But it is not about us. This conversation is about the people who we are writing about, the ones who we may be harming. When they complain, that is when we must ask ourselves if we have been fair or not. It may be hard for us to accept the answer—the central proposition of this thread is only that we listen to those who complain because they may be being honest, and decide for ourselves where the pain they express fits into our ethics. No laws are being written—the only repercussions we are likely to feel, short of violent revolution, is that some people won't like us if we make a choice they disagree with, and may say so.

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