Monday, April 09, 2012

Culture and its Uses

I thought I had a brilliant insight into cultural appropriation yesterday after Minicon. But Patrick says it is not brilliant and not an insight. Ah well.

The idea seems mighty fuzzy this morning. The political point about cultural appropriation -- made on many con panels -- is a good one. One should not go in like a band of Vikings and misappropriate other people's cultures; though I have to say it worked well for my Viking ancestors and for later generations of Icelanders who borrowed their writing and grammar from the Anglo-Saxons and their medieval and modern cultures (in good part) from mainland Europe. But sorting out cultural appropriation from cultural assimilation, cultural diffusion and cultural borrowing can be difficult.

And there is also the question of what is a culture? I had a moment of blazing insight yesterday in which culture -- at least my cultural identity -- seemed to be a construct. That I made up who I am out of bits and pieces of different cultures available to me when I was young. I don't know how common this experience is. Fairly common in fandom, I suspect. In so far as the US is still an immigrant culture, it must be common. In so far as the world is full of rapid change and the fluid exchange of cultural information, it must be common for many people. When you are given a choice among cultures, then who you are begins to be a matter of decision, not inheritance. All of this is pretty obvious. But I think it's important to not think about cultures as separate and unchanging. In reality, they are all happily exchanging information like microbes exchanging genes.

This thinking may be useful, because I'm currently writing about a young hwarhath man who is trying to become his own person in a very rigid society. There may be good arguments for building your own cultural identity. The culture around me when I was a kid was the white bread Midwest of the 1950s, the era of the Cold War and Joe McCarthy. I did not want to assimilate into that. I remember the horror I felt at the options available for women. I didn't want to be a wife and mother. I wanted to be a writer and maybe a space cadet.


Blogger Foxessa said...

The Caribbean and South America (and New Orleans in this country) view the issues of appropriation with some bewilderment. The creolization of everything began already in the slave barracoons on the West African coast, continued during the Middle Passage, and after sale, continued. Then among the religious syncretizations and the music orientation of both religions and cultures, which are still very much alive-O -- the process in these parts of the world continues apace.

It's a very interesting an illuminating cultural contrast to attend a conference organized around cultural identity and patrimony preservation in the Caribbean, and then a panal on cultural appropriation at an sf/f con in the U.S. There are hardly any intersections between the two. if any at all!

Love, C.

12:21 PM  

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