04 July 2010

Cultural Appropriation

Hal Duncan's latest "Notes from New Sodom" column had me shouting, "Yes!  Yes!" at the morning air as I read it -- one of those wonderful moments when somebody puts into words ideas that I've felt in my own brain only as pre-verbal tadpoles swimming through mud.

The topic of the column is the phrase "cultural appropriation" as applied to works of fiction, and Hal uses the TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender and the recent movie derived from it to launch into a learned, thoughtful, and vulgarity-filled argument against the phrase.

I've never been comfortable with the idea of "cultural appropriation" applied to fiction, or anything, really, because of the way those words turn culture into property and force any discussion of representation into a discussion of ownership.  Instead, it should be a discussion of power.  Power not only of one group over another, but also the power that stories wield.  Words and narratives matter, they do things in the world.

For efficiency's sake, it's probably best to have the majority of the conversation over in the comments section to Hal's column, and I hope the conversation will be as lively and thoughtful as the column itself is.

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