Sunday, January 14, 2018

Cultural Appropriation: What is it exactly?

Recently, and by that I mean in the last 10 years or so, there has been this trend toward social consciousness, a progressive reformation fueled by the internet's ability to bring people closer together and give voices to the previously ignored. One of the great things about social media platforms and the media that reflects that social media back at us as newsworthy, is the ability for the minority to be heard. While I think this is great, giving a voice to the voiceless, sometimes I am surprised by our ability as human beings to take everything a little too far.

Cultural Appropriation is the idea, best put, that dominant cultures, because they are the strong, majority culture, are able to take aspects of minority, oppressed cultures, and use them for nefarious means, often without the consent of the minority culture, and also often without adequate compensation. In short, Cultural Appropriation is an offshoot of Colonialist bully tactics and is inherently evil and should be called out and condemned.

I found this explanation somewhere too... "taking something from a culture that you do not belong to, and use it outside of that cultural context – usually without understanding its cultural significance, and often times changing its original meaning”
I wanted to give credit to the cartoonist. but no one seems to know
Already, with this definition, I have questions, and problems. For example, what are these nefarious means? In many online articles from sites like The Huffington Post, Salon, Gawker (if it still existed), and other "liberal media" publications, the nefarious means are explained as using the cherry picked minority culture for monetary gain. Obvious examples of this include white musicians learning "black" music and then becoming rich off producing those styles, or fashion designers ripping off minority fashion and turning it into expensive high fashion products. Or the alternate medicine industry that often mines non-Western cultures for homeopathic remedies.

Less obvious, however, would be the underhanded scheme of borrowing minority culture and turning it into a fad which then serializes and undermines the appropriated culture turning it into no more than a caricature. The entire crux of the Anti-Indian Sports Mascot movement is built on this premise. My second definition above is important in this context. A dismissal of original context in favor of brand recognition, or profiteering is totally an appropriation as opposed to appreciation.

Typically, however, the Left, even with the best intentions of supporting the struggles of the less fortunate, and the oppressed minority, took this idea of Cultural Appropriation and over policed it to the point of madness. At times, it seems, the goal for some people is to completely shut out everyone who is of a different culture and revert back to a cultural isolationism. This cultural possessiveness doesn't appear to be a very progressive goal.

this is probably anti-Left propaganda. 
The United States of America is in a very unique place as far as culture is concerned. Everyone is welcome here, despite what fervent anti-immigration 'Mericans may say. And, because of that, the US, unlike every other country with stricter immigrations policies (or no immigration policies), is a very interesting place culturally. This country has pockets of cultural influence that mirror every place on the globe. And in those pockets reside customs, cuisine, religious practice, fashion from everywhere. I think that is pretty remarkable, that one nation houses all of the diversity of the rest of the world. There are cultures here in the US that otherwise may never meet, and probably never meet under good terms.

Music, I think, gets a particularly bad rep for Cultural Appropriation. Music, the USA's greatest export, is steeped in cultural mixing and matching. All the great pop genres are rhythms and cords borrowed from "minority" cultures in America. Gospel, Blue Grass, and the Blues helped form Country, Rock n Roll, Reggae, Funk, Soul, and Hip Hop. It is almost impossible, however, to look at the history of modern music and not realize that, in every genre, there is a disproportionate number of minority innovators who died penniless while Eurocentric musicians often found exorbitant amounts of wealth and fame by playing "minority" music. At this point, however, I think the power structure in the music industry has shifted enough that all creators and innovators receive their due regardless of cultural identity. I could be wrong about this, but I'm pretty sure contemporary Black and Latino artists are no longer largely ignored in favor of White copycats. And, on top of that, at this point, I think we, as a society, are informed enough to look back and recognize the primary contributions and importance of minority musicians and artists. I know, personally, I'd rather hear Fats Domino and BB King, and Big Mama Thornton than Elvis.

Speaking of receiving their due... anti cultural appropriation groups don't seem to take into consideration the market for cultural appreciation, especially when lead by that particular culture. Basically, I'm pointing out the viability for minority cultures to sell themselves. Tourism is one of the biggest, sometimes the only, industry in developing nations. Caribbean nations are good examples. Hawaii and Puerto Rico are also good examples of American cultures outsourcing themselves to the rest of American culture.

Any ethnic specific cuisine is basically a business opportunity to sell a cultural experience. As a non-member of any of these cultures, am I supposed to not give my business? Should my mother return all those amazingly crafted ponchos and wraps? My point is this discussion could get off the rails real fast depending on how far down the hole you want to go.

Is it worth highlighting a fashion company's obvious appropriation of Native art to sell jewelry to college kids? Yes. Especially since their is a Federal law prohibiting the sale of falsely marketed Native American products. But is it worth shaming that 8 year old who went on a Caribbean trip with her family and got her hair braided and wrapped? Probably not, now you're just an asshole.

And I think that is where the line of Cultural Appropriation and Cultural Appreciation lies... are you being an asshole? Is there really any harm in college aged idiots drinking tequila and wearing hats on May 5? Is there harm in a Mexican restaurant chain selling tequila and hats every day of the year? I think this really comes down to personal judgement all around. With some common sense woven in. This whole thing comes down to judgement: People judging others' lifestyle choices, other people making judgements about what is and isn't respectful and responsible. Is there really harm being done? What is the goal here?

So... no Karen, that white chick with the dreads is not trying to trivialize the struggles of the Rasta. And no, Chad, it's not ok to wear that headdress to Coachella. And yes, Linda, I can make sticky rice in my house and eat with chopsticks whenever I want.

There is this myth in America that has been prevalent since my grandparents' day that cultural diversity should be celebrated. But instead of trying to live this myth, we use it as a way to further divide and spread hostility. Please, share the cultures, be open, be understanding, teach, learn, experience, be respectful, don't be an asshole.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Silence! I Kill You!

There are an awful lot of lame comicbook villains out there, especially from the Comics Code era. Once the Code was deemed unnecessary and ridiculous, plots in comics became, like any fictional medium, relatable again. This meant villains could be villains again worthy of super heroics to stop them, and not a bunch of schoolyard pranksters and petty thieves best left to rookie cops and mall security. If the criminals in your neighborhood are tougher than the villains in your fiction, there is something wrong. But still, stupid villain concepts popped up now and then.

For a long while different writers for comics, movies, and games have been trying, mostly successfully, to reboot Batman villains in ways that make them less of a joke and more like realistic horror shows. I was never ever sold on The Ventriloquist. A puppet with a machine gun never scared me.

Created in 1988 by Wagner, Grant, and Breyfogle for Detective Comics #583, the original Ventriloquist was a study in dissociative personality disorder. Arnold Wesker, a son of a mob boss, witnesses the assassination of his mother. After the trauma of watching the mob hit, instead of devoting his life to fighting crime, he develops dissociative disorder to cope, his psyche fractures, and he transfers his personality over to a puppet, a ventriloquist dummy. While Wesker retains his scared, shy, milquetoast personality, Scarface, the dummy, exhibits his aggressive, and violent criminal traits.

Somehow, a kid who looks like an accountant, with a dummy dressed as a 1920s gangster builds a criminal empire and has to fight the Batman. At no point in this story does another gangster with a gun laugh at this pair and then shoot the accountant looking motherfucker in the head? Or, the police don't arrest the crazy person and send him to therapy? Arnold Wesker doesn't need the Batman, he needs a clinician.

In order to try and make this character work, there have been writers who have tried to imbue the dummy with mystical powers, or ghostly possession, or something. But even then, actual stories of actual dolls who may be possessed (like Annabelle, or Robert) still manage to be contained by normal everyday people, no superheroes or law enforcement required.

There have been two other attempts to portray this creepy ventriloquist/real dummy idea as something actually scary. In 2007 Paul Dini and Don Kramer resurrect Scarface and pair him with Peyton Riley, daughter of an Irish Mob boss and former girlfriend of Tommy Elliot (Hush). She sure is more attractive that Arnold Wesker, but still, just a person with a puppet.

Again in 2013, the character is rebooted, this time with a third ventriloquist. Gail Simone and Fernando Pasarine created Shauna Belzer for Batgirl #20. This character is no longer just a criminal with a dissociative disorder. Belzer has telekinetic powers and her dummy resembles Jigsaw from the Saw franchise. This third character, while sharing the name, seems to share nothing with the older characters and finally appears to be an interesting, scary villain. I am skeptical that Simone's creation is in fact a rebooted Ventriloquist, and not an entirely new character, but if she is, then it is telling that the character needed an entirely new premise, direction, and origin in order to be taken seriously.

Monday, November 20, 2017

New Ideas for an Old Franchise: Indiana Jones Edition

There have been many who have realized the corporate culture of movie making has ruined film. The tendency for capitalism to double down on a great success in order to continue to make profits has led the movie industry to continue to produce terrible sequels and reboots (followed by more sequels) of existing series and franchises instead of creating anything new.

This has been well documented by Ethan Anderton from First Showing, and by Andrew Allen from Shortoftheweek who both use the same infographic from Box Office Mojo. The guys at Cracked have also weighed in, like they often do, with 5 reasons. If you type in phrases like "Hollywood unoriginal", or "no new ideas from Hollywood" into google, there is a wealth of similar articles, tweets, blogposts, and commentary about this problem. We've also known about it for quite some time, most of these articles are 5 or more years old.

However, There are some franchises that I think we can all agree should never stop. James Bond is a great example, no matter who plays the characters, or what evil villain Bond is stopping, those movies are super fun, and never a bad time. If Disney were to remake those awful Star Wars prequels (pleeeease, pretty pretty please, make them not suck), I'd be the first in line to buy a ticket.

Also, on this list, is Indiana Jones. Now, I know Harrison Ford is super old, but so is Sean Connery, and that didn't stop the Broccoli's from making 24 films with 6 different actors. Like James Bond, Indiana Jones could potentially be played by anyone. Knowing this, I propose an idea for Disney and LucasFilm.

The mystical and cryptoarchaeological (is that a word?) themes of Indiana Jones is what makes the franchise, I think, so attractive. Aside from Harrison Ford's portrayal of the hero, the quests for macguffins based on legendary artifacts turn the plots of these movies into high stakes scavenger hunts full of far-away, secretive places, borderline illegal hijinx, and sinister competition and doublecross.

I would like to see Indiana Jones tackle the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft. 

Think about this: In my opinion, the most successful Indiana Jones films are Raiders and Last Crusade, both dealing with biblical artifacts. The mythology of apocryphal Abrahamic religions, the power imbued into seemingly worthless artifacts, surrounded in archaic mystery, unlocking ancient powers, but without relying on extraterrestrial origins made these movies special. Why not the Cthulhu mythos?

To my knowledge there hasn't been a successful adaptation of anything Lovecraftian. There sure have been plenty of science fiction/horror stories that are heavily influenced by the Cthulhu mythos, like Hellboy and Batman, Scooby Doo, Supernatural, X-Files, South Park, Rick and Morty, The Ghostbusters, True Detective, Evil Dead, and many others. But not yet have we seen a major motion picture explore the horror suspense created by Lovecraft, culminating in a situation where "top men" had to bury the evidence.

Just put it in a box, between the ark of the covenant and Jimmy Hoffa
Imagine Indiana Jones, searching for some kind of artifact... the Necromonicon perhaps, or eltdown shards, or g'harne fragments. Along the way he visits Arkham, Commoriom, The Nameless City, runs into the Black Brotherhood, the King in Yellow, The Great Race of Yith perhaps, and ultimately stops the awakening of Cthulhu.

I think there is great potential for this mashup. And, well, if Indiana Jones doesn't work out, I'm sure the Tombraider camp would take a crack at it.

Someone with Photoshop has the same idea

Friday, October 27, 2017

Purple Hairy Elephants!

Awhile ago, I wrote about Amherst College, and their recently solved dilemma regarding their problematic namesake, Lord Jeffery Amherst. The college had publicly severed ties with the unofficial mascot, and adopted their first official mascot, the mammoth.

On October 20, 2017, they announced their official mascot design/logo. It's pretty cool. I posted it below. This is a follow up to this blog post right here.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Once Upon a Planet Burning

Hardwired... To Self Destruct
Blackened, 2016
produced by Greg Fidelman

James Hetfield - rhythm guitars, vocals
Kirk Hammet - lead guitars
Robert Trujillo - bass
Lars Ulrich - drums

I have had a love/hate relationship with Metallica for a very long time. When I was a kid, my friends and I listened to '80s era Metallica, the "Cliff Burton is alive-Hetfield sounds like a girl-they had long hair-thrash" Metallica. And I thought it was awesome, mostly because it was miles different than the classic rock blues and jazz based bands my dad favored. But, soon after the release and tours for the 1991 Black Album, they all cut that crazy metal hair, and started writing unthrashlike pop-metal songs.

They released two albums back to back like a pair of terrible movie sequels. This new direction seemed dull, lazy, eager to capture quick pop success, the songs seemed like throwaway one-timers. It took them 30 years, but they finally produced a record worthy of comparisons to ...And Justice for All, and dare I say it, Master of Puppets

Hardwired to Self Destruct has built on the successful resurgence of the old school Metallica found on Death Magnetic, and just about completely redeemed them from the abortion that was St. Anger, and the sell out disappointments of the Load and ReLoad era. They refine their signature brand of metal on this record. Metallica finally comes to terms with their thrash metal past while at the same time remaining fresh and new, something that I think they struggled with in the '90s. 

My friend, a known prog-rock, metal enthusiast, posted this new album was the first time in a long time that he could publicly endorse a new Metallica record as being worth the buy. I agree, and would go further to say that, since all of the records made before 1991 were all old news when I started listening, this is the only new Metallica record I've ever been able to fully endorse as worth buying.