Thoughts On The Line Between Cultural Exchange and Cultural Appropriation

It’s time for white, middle-America’s favorite game – IS! IT! RACIST!
Source: Bored Panda

So, a certain story has floated past my news feed multiple times for a while now. It made me ask some powerful questions and I want to share those questions with you.

I’ll save you the time spent reading and sum up the source for you; a mom in Utah gave her little girl a traditional Japanese tea party complete with traditional garb and makeup, photos found their way to Tumblr, people cried racism (because that’s pretty much all Tumblr lives for anymore), and one user from Japan named ‘cheshireinthemiddle’ finally shut the whole argument by basically saying there was nothing wrong with what the girl did and the only racists there were the ones that were denying what they saw as healthy cultural exchange.

So this got me to thinking – Where do we draw the line? When does legitimate cultural exchange and appreciation descend into racist caricature? Is there even such a thing as cultural appropriation?

Well, this wouldn’t be a hot topic of debate if it weren’t loaded with unclear details that everyone interprets differently. That said, I CAN offer my own take on the matter and provide a different way of looking at the issue.

To me, the things that separate cultural exchange and flat-out racism are intent and context. Checked in the dictionary, racism is defined as “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” By that definition, a racist act is any act that insists on the superiority of one race over another by highlighting a segment of another’s heritage or culture as a negative.

Now, let’s go back to our primary story that sparked this discussion. Did the girl make or intend to make any sort of negative statement of Japan as a racial group? No, what she did was demonstrate an interest in another person’s culture and a desire to learn more about it through first-hand experience. It’s literally no different than when white guys were wearing do-rags and gold chains out of an affection for black rap culture.

I feel the issue, in this case, has to do with a cultural barrier that prevents context from flowing freely and clearly between the two parties. A similar issue occurred between Japan and America in the opposite direction back in my day because we mistook the Ganguro fashion scene for racist depictions of black people (not helped by the fact that ‘ganguro’ translated to ‘black face’ in English) instead of a powerful message that challenged and contradicted the feminine beauty standard that Japan held for years. And it’s still an issue today; This is why in Pokèmon, Jinx is recolored for western audiences from black to purple (it didn’t stop them from having Jesse and James dress up as Ganguro Girls in the anime, though).

Honestly, I love learning about other cultures. I’ve often felt cut off from the rest of the world my entire life and sharing in the traditions and habits of other people gives me a chance to expand my understanding of the world. It fact, allow me to give you a first-hand example from a primary source.

When I was in college, I worked closely with a campus’ LGBTQ rights group who, in-turn, cooperated with the campus’ diversity office. As such, I ended up working with a varied spectrum of people with a plethora of different views and insights that I cherish to this very day.

But the most fun I had with them was the semester’s end soul food dinner that we all shared. Almost every culture can relate to bonding over a family meal, after all. I also got to experience culturally influenced dance performances from the students that were legitimately tear-jerking. As for the food itself, it often consisted of things like oxtails, pork jowls, and chitterlings – what foodies like to refer to as offal or  ‘variety meats’ that were often used as a means to ensure that nothing from a meat animal was wasted. As someone with a Scotish-Irish background whose heritage produced haggis (the pluck of a sheep broiled in its own stomach) and black pudding (seasoned pork blood sausage), I can relate.

And that’s why I feel cultural exchange and showing interest in other people heritage is so important. It’s a chance to expand our understanding of the world and the people in it as well as learn that we aren’t as dissimilar as we like to think; We may have different ways of doing things, but we’re all basically after the same thing – a happy, comfortable life where we can celebrate who we are.

So, the next time you find yourself confronted with a cultural sensitivity issue, remember this rule of thumb: if you’re doing it because you’ve experienced or want to experience the culture and share how amazing it is with others, it’s cultural exchange; if you’re doing it because you’re chasing a fashion trend at best or you just want to poke fun at how silly it looks to you at worst, you’re probably just racist.

Why Is Steven Universe‘s Garnet Sexy? (And Does She Have To Be?)

There's nothing I could say about this article that this sly, knowing wink doesn't already say. Source: Steven Univerce Wiki

There’s nothing I could say about this article that this sly, knowing wink doesn’t already say.
Source: Steven Universe Wiki

I’m often the master of jumping on bandwagons late. Most of that is over-cautiousness; I don’t want to be the guy that got all hyped up for something only to find out that it was lackluster or worse, detrimental.

To that end, I have my reasons for not getting into Steven Universe until now. But, rest assured, it’s a fun show with a lot of well built and complex characters (everyone has their merits and hang-ups) that dares to challenge a younger audience with tougher, progressive ideas.

But one question about the show has been bouncing in my head lately that I’d like to present to you…

Why is Garnet so FREAKING hot?!

Now, when I say ‘why’, I’m not asking what makes Garnet the sultry amazon of The Crystal Gems; that much is obvious. She has a strong personality, a cool demeanor, is highly intelligent and wise, is capable of taking care of herself, and has very loving nature. Even on a visual design level, few people can resist the allure of her mysterious gaze from behind those hater-blocker shades that hide her bright, inviting, and captivating eyes. And that’s not to mention her plush, full lips and exaggerated figure courtesy of that staple of animated ladies – the Hartman Hips.

No, I mean to ask why she was made to be so easily sexualized. Does her ‘sexy and I know it’ schtick have any deeper meaning?

And, you know what? I think there is.

To bring the rest of us up to speed, Garnet is an outlier from her fellow gems in that she is Gem Fusion – the result of two other gems combining into a single gestalt form. This new gem has a personality and abilities that blend those of the constituent parts to make something greater than the sum of their parts.

… And Garnet takes all of this VERY seriously.

She is the only gem we’ve seen so far that has made the conscious decision to stay fused. And there’s a good reason for that – her two halves, Ruby and Sapphire, are crazy in love with each other and that makes Garnet the physical embodiment of that love by extension. Think of her as the world’s curviest, ass-kicking wedding ring.

Once you accept that Fusion in the Steven Universe… universe… is a metaphor for love and unity, then you’ll start to apply that logic to all of the aspects of romance. And yes, that leads into sexuality as well.

Basically, Garnet needs to be sexy – to evoke the feelings of love and attraction on sight alone – because she’s the one that has to carry the message of love and it’s burden throughout the series. Whether it’s helping a young couple understand this new phase of their lives together, putting down a mean girl that wants to break up a healthy relationship, or coming face to face with a terrifyingly PC rape metaphor, it’s her job to show that real love always wins.

If Steven Universe is a modern Greek myth, Garnet is our Aphrodite – coming down from Olympus to preach the gospel of the heart.

P.S.: To all of you who found this by accident while looking for dirty Garnet fanart, I hope you learned something and you are welcome. :)

Three Great Comic Book Romances We Should All Be So Lucky To Have

So, I don’t often follow up on articles so soon. But, since the thought of last week’s think-piece on Harley Quinn is still buzzing in my head and in light of how AMAZINGLY well received it was (seriously, it’s the second most shared post I’ve ever made. Thank you all), I felt the need to follow it up.

Honestly, if I made any error last week that I wish to take back, it’s this; what good is it to tell you how crappy a relationship is if I don’t give you some GOOD ones to compare it to?

So today, I’m going to delve through my backlog of comic book knowledge to share with you some of the most touching stories of love ever told through sequential art.

Alicia Masters and The Thing

Heh heh, “The Thing-ker.” As an expert in puns – ten out of ten, Alicia.
Source: Marvel Database

There are few feelings I can think of worse that feeling like there’s no place for you in the world; that you’re just too different for anyone to love you. This was the way Ben Grimm – The Ever-Lovin’, Blue-Eyed Thing – felt after becoming a living man of stone.

But all was not lost. Even Ben found love in someone just as out of place as him; a blind sculptor named Alicia Masters.

She found beauty in his strength and the kindness that lies just under the rough, rocky surface; a beauty that she would often turn to for inspiration in her art. The two are nearly inseparable and will happily stand for the other at any cost.

Wolverine and Hercules

MOST. METAL. FIRST DATE. EVER.
Source: Comic Vine

It wouldn’t be me if I didn’t name at least one LGBT positive couple in an article about true love.

Now, technically this isn’t OUR Wolvie and Herc but rather the ones from Earth-12025 (damn, Marvel has a metric S***-ton of Earths). That said, it doesn’t diminish how awesome these two are together. Especially when you consider that these two hooked up in spite of anti-LGBT laws (Canada doesn’t recognize gay couples? MAN, this Earth is weird) and Zeus forbids any god other than him from cavorting with mortals (… hypocritical cock-rocket).

Now, as if having a boyfriend who is LITERALLY the God of Strength wasn’t awesome enough, this Wolvie – still using his birth name of James Howlett – is the Governor-General of Canada, is even tougher than our Wolverine (his skeleton is coated in Adamantine – the mythical metal Adamantium was named for – by Hercules as a gift), and the two are the greatest heroes on Earth in spite of the bigotry they face.

I have seriously never seen anything so awesomely metal and charmingly gay since my Man-O-War ‘Anthology’ album.

Green Arrow and Black Canary

This is the couple I always think of first when talking about love stories in comics.

I think what’s so great about Arrow and Canary is the dynamic they share. Canary is never portrayed as a damsel in distress (she’s actually a savant in hand-to-hand combat), but Arrow isn’t forced into the dopey man role to compensate (he’s a billionaire industrialist and quite a brilliant inventor). They’re just a cute couple that has plenty of attitude between them that complement each other perfectly combined with a deep mutual love and respect.

Also, they totally open a flower shop together and call it “Sherwood Florist.” God, I love these two.

The Horrors of Romanticizing Abuse and The Psychology of Harley Quinn

So… This is your idea romance, eh?
Source: BJA007 on Imgur

I’m going to try hammer this one out quickly on the grounds that, while it clearly needs to be said, it’s not something I enjoy talking about.

So, with the release (and subsequent lukewarm reception) of Suicide Squad, it seems that DC Fans have started clamoring about a topic that never fails to infuriate me whenever people start talking about it; the relationship between well-known Batman villains Harley Quinn and The Joker.

Nearly everyone I know has, at one point, said that they want a romance like these two. But here’s the rub – they often say this without realizing or even in spite of the fact that The Joker is an abusive and manipulative sociopath and Harley is most likely suffering from deep mental scars that extend far beyond even the damage he’s done.

For those not familiar with her backstory, Harley – real name; Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel (yes, the bubble-headed, bleach blonde, jester girl has a PhD) – was a graduate of Gotham State University where she excelled in Gymnastics and Psychology. After finally getting a job at Arkham Asylum and eager to start analyzing their most notorious super-criminals, she found herself locked in a battle of wits and egos with The Joker that ended with him seducing her to aid his escape on multiple occasions and eventually to join up as his most frequent collaborator.

But here’s the thing, The Joker is largely incapable of returning that love. If he has any love in his heart, it’s for the pain and chaos he causes. The closest he can be said to have come to loving a human being is his obsession with Batman. And that love for inflicting pain and disregard for human life is shown in the way he routinely scolds and beats Harley. For god’s sake, he threw her out of a 3-story window!

What’s more, Harley’s behavior is supported by psychology. There are the obvious implications of Stockholm Syndrome, but even her slowly growing to believe she could identify with Joker is supported by science. While working in Arkham, she clearly spent enough time with him for Emotional Contagion – the tendency for humans to subconsciously imitate the emotions of others – to set in. With enough time under her skin, it was only a matter of time before Shared Psychotic Disorder (also known as Folie à deux or ‘madness of two’) took hold and she started emulating his Anti-Social Personality Disorder under the delusion of romance.

So, are we clear here? Harley and Joker are not romantic; they are sick. Harley needs counseling to deal with her years of abuse and Joker needs to be placed in solitary confinement. When you say you want a love like theirs, you aren’t being Bonnie with Clyde (which would be bad enough) – you’re being one of those weirdos that send love letters to serial killers.

Seriously, the best thing that Injustice: Gods Among Us ever did was give us the moment that the comics took forever to do; having Harley figuratively nail Chuckles the Ass-Clown to the F***ING wall.

Crucial Advice in Matters of Love (and Why The Agent Is Asexual)

The J. Geils Band was not entirely right; Love only stinks if you don’t talk about it.
Source: ottmag.com

Lately, it seems that multiple key figures in my life have been having difficulties in their romantic lives (no names given to protect the innocent) and this troubles me. Not so much because their problems involve me directly, but because I care about them all and don’t want to see them hurt. I have a very ‘big brother’ instinct to want to punch anything that makes people cry.

However, after these problems blew over (or at the very least stabilized themselves), I noticed that they all have the same common problem; they were non-traditional relationships where all parties involved failed to communicate to each other.

Now, I’m not going to say that these so-called alternative relationships are bad or destructive. I’ve seen plenty healthy relationships work out with multiple partners and partners of the same sex. Hell, often they have whole families of their own that are more stable than the average traditional family.

I think the problem here is that the times have changed. Alternative lifestyles are more accepted than ever before. As a result, new people are indulging their curiosities. And that’s perfectly fine, but they’re often so eager to dive in that they disregard forming that mutual understanding with their partner/partners.

I cannot stress enough how important talking to each other is. Don’t wait until it becomes an issue to discuss it either; nip any potential problems in the bud now. Talk about each other’s needs, other partners if you’re interested, and even the small stuff like music and mood lighting.

And don’t give me the diatribe of, “but a relationship is supposed to an adventure. You need to figure things out for yourself.” F*** that noise. That’s why I broke up with my first ex-girlfriend.

Incidentally, that’s also why I make it clearly and openly known that I’m asexual. I owe it to anyone that may have an interest in me that there are just some things I have no desire to get involved in up front.

As for why that is, It’s not that I don’t feel romantic inclinations towards others; far from it. In fact, it’s not uncommon for my heart to be caught several times a day. I simply have no room for the sexual aspects of traditional relationships in my life.

For one, I’m far too busy to concern myself with sex. I have a day job to pay bills, a passion project that I’m trying to make into a business, multiple hobbies to maintain my mental health, and the full list of chores to do around the house. Even if I did care about it, I doubt I could adequately dedicate myself to it to my partner’s satisfaction.

Then there’s the aftermath of sex; parenthood and STD’s. Contraception isn’t infallible, after all. “What if something happens? Can I be a father? What if they get diagnosed with something after?” Given my mind’s tendency to race with uncontrolled thought, it’s a miracle that these thoughts haven’t led to castration yet.

That said, I recognise that sex is a need that others need to fill. So I don’t judge and I communicate MY needs to any one that’s interested until I find the right person (or persons – who knows what may happen?) with the needs to match. And really, that’s all any of us can do.

The Agent’s Wrath (or How I Learned To Appreciate Small Moments Of Happiness When I Find Them)

To all of you comic book fans out there, you know why I don’t want to become this.
Source: Injustice: Gods Among Us Wiki

I have a nagging fear that hangs in the back of my mind. It’s a fear that many people have assured me is unfounded and all evidence is to the contrary, but it still bothers me.

I’m afraid of my own anger.

In a previous article, I’ve mentioned how anger can be used as a force for change when it is controlled, justified, and directed towards the cause of the problem proper rather than misguided towards innocents or the mere symptoms. The goal of that exercise was to illustrate how our emotions have no positive or negative force until we give it a purpose.

That said, one of the worst things you can do with anger is allow it to linger and become toxic. The longer anger lingers, the more likely it is – in my experience – to morph into bitter hatred.

This is a problem no matter how you look at it. While anger can and has proven its worth as a motivator, there has never been an instance in which hate has been justified.

As I define it, the difference between anger and hate is a matter of control. Anger can make you want to change a problem and can be quelled; hate will make want to destroy things that may not be the problem and can’t be easily halted.

Even as a child, growing up in a less than ideal environment where my teachers failed to look after us and the streets were hardly safe, I found a had built up a great deal of anger towards those that did me harm. And by do me harm, I mean I was sent to hospitals with broken bones and head injuries that were somehow deemed my fault despite witnesses to the contrary.

I admit to you all what I feel is my greatest weakness, I hate.

I hate dealing with co-workers that refuse to do their jobs and leave everything me.

I hate listening to people blame me for their inconvenience when the situation is clearly out of my control.

I still hate the people that hurt and tortured my friends and myself daily and made me afraid to go to school as a child.

But worst of all, I hate myself for not being better; for lacking the ability to rise above my hate and leave the toxic environment that helped to spawn it.

There is, however, one good thing that has come from my lingering anger. It has taught me to appreciate happiness.

Comedian Dennis Leary once said that, “Happiness comes in small doses.” In my experience, he could not have been more right. It is because true joy is so rare in a world of anger and frustration that we need to cherish them as much as possible.

It’s rare that I find happiness in things, but when I do, those are the greatest moments of my life and I try to share them with the people that I love.

What’s more, it’s the hope of knowing that another small happy moment will eventually come that gives me the strength to fight my hate for one more day.

I long for that day when I can play a game of cards with my friends or watch a live performance with family or even just get a complement from a total stranger. Because those are the moments that remind me that my life is worth living and that this world and its people are worth living for.

What I’m trying to say here is that hate and uncontrollable anger win out when we stop recognizing the joy, happiness, and love that exist in the world. In the words of Buddha, “Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.”