Nationalism vs. cultural appropriation

Ian Buruma has a new book out about his experience in Japan during the 1970s—a sort of bildungsroman.  He begins with a quote from the great Simon Leys:

Cultural initiation entails metamorphosis, and we cannot learn any foreign values if we do not accept the risk of being transformed by what we learn.

Imagine for a moment a couple of Americans who spend a year in Korea, but in very different ways.  One is in the military, and spends almost all his time on the base.  He can’t stand the smell of kimchi, and is rather contemptuous of Korean culture in general.  He talks too loud.  The other spends a year at a Korean university.  She becomes a big fan of Korean culture.  She starts cooking Korean food, dressing in Korean fashion, and adopting Korean hair styles.  She learns the language, and learns how to write in Korean.  Let’s say she’s a Chinese-American, so she can blend in a bit more easily once she becomes fluent in the Korean language and culture.

When I was young the first guy was viewed by people on the left as “the ugly American.”  The woman was viewed much more favorably.

Today?  I really don’t know what’s going on in the world.  Is the woman engaged in cultural appropriation?  Is the view that we Americans should stick to good old American culture a Trumpian right wing idea, or is it the new left?

Is the view that Asian-Americans have the wrong personality a Steve Bannon idea, or is it a Harvard idea?

Is the view that people in Hollywood should be blacklisted for holding abhorrent political views a right wing idea from the 1950s, or a left-wing idea from the 2010s.

Is the view that flashy pimps accused of multiple rapes make great elected officials a theme of gangster rap, or the view of today’s Christian fundamentalist voters?

I’m confused.  Can someone help me out here?


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14 Responses to “Nationalism vs. cultural appropriation”

  1. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    28. June 2018 at 22:04

    Times change.
    “Is the view that Asian-Americans have the wrong personality a Steve Bannon idea, or is it a Harvard idea?”
    It’s a correct idea. Harvard is systemically inflating its personality scores for Blacks and Hispanics. There’s just no strong evidence it’s doing that with Asians. Perhaps the people at Harvard claim Asians have the wrong personality because they do.
    “Is the view that people in Hollywood should be blacklisted for holding abhorrent political views a right wing idea from the 1950s, or a left-wing idea from the 2010s.”
    What are you referring to? It’s the right that’s mostly for blacklisting Hollywood people for holding abhorrent political views these days.
    “Is the view that flashy pimps accused of multiple rapes make great elected officials a theme of gangster rap, or the view of today’s Christian fundamentalist voters?”
    Both! Nice.
    “Is the view that we Americans should stick to good old American culture a Trumpian right wing idea, or is it the new left?”
    The left never wanted Americans to stick to good old American culture. However, some aspects of it are hostile to adopting indigenous cultures of other areas. The left wants to replace good old American culture with the culture of modern Sweden and Iceland.

  2. Gravatar of Josh Josh
    28. June 2018 at 23:30

    I generally think that cultural appropriation is “a thing”, in certain limited circumstances (the blonde Californian girl wearing the Native American headdresss, for example). In many ways, though, it’s a way for the left to express its latent, repressed xenophobia.

    “Is the view that people in Hollywood should be blacklisted for holding abhorrent political views a right wing idea from the 1950s, or a left-wing idea from the 2010s.”

    I think that the problem with Hollywood people is all the rapes, not the political views.

  3. Gravatar of Philipp Philipp
    28. June 2018 at 23:54

    In my opinion, Cultural appropriation is combative term., that includes too many different aspects too describe any specific situation.

    Learning a foreign language or become invested in a foreign culture implies the view that those “goods” are neither rivalrous nor excludable.

    However, sometimes the history of a group of people founds a specific and current political claim. Then taking part in it undermines the political strive of that group. Take for example the situation of descendants of African people in the US: Occasionally, efforts from outside-people to identify with that culture is received in an hostile way because it undermines the integrity of the group and its unity in the socio-political sphere (as it kind of relativizes their situation). It might be comparable to religious rituals or military honors. Here trying to take part in that “culture” hurts the integrity of the group and its goals.

    When talking about cultural appropriation one should differentiate between taking part in a non-rivalrous and non-excludable good on the one hand and hurting the sociological, religious or political efforts and claims of a specific group on the other hand.

    I understand Trumpian thought to be utilizing the whole of an (yet to be defined?) American culture as an instrument to political ends – it becomes a rivalrous good. Of course, in that perspective the culture of non-Americans must be perceived in that same way – namely being instruments to political goals that are rivalling with one’s own.

  4. Gravatar of Hoosier Hoosier
    29. June 2018 at 06:31

    It is very confusing. Donald Richie, one of the Buruma’s mentors who plays a big part in his memoir, said he could never become Japanese, and liked it that way. That view would now be deemed by many as possibly racist and at the very least short sighted. The belief is that nationalism is just a construction (of the enlightenment possibly?), and in fact we can all equally become members of any one country because we are all human beings sharing the same goals and desires.

    BUT, this contradicts the idea that we shouldn’t appropriate other people’s cultures. Perhaps some would say that Richie’s view is actually the correct one- ie. leave Japanese culture to the Japanese. But if that’s the case, then why shouldn’t the same thing apply to the USA and Americans? Are they saying that Japan may have a unique culture, but that the USA doesn’t?

    What I think most would say is that what we consider traditional Japanese culture should be left to the actual Japanese, but what foreigners can bring to Japan going forward is something new and that should be celebrated.

    I personally don’t like that view point because it’s what is old and traditional that interests me in Japan and every other country I’ve lived in. But it would explain a lot of how your interaction with a foreign culture is being judged by people today.

  5. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    29. June 2018 at 06:32

    ‘Is the view that flashy pimps accused of multiple rapes make great elected officials a theme of gangster rap, or the view of today’s Christian fundamentalist voters?’

    I think the Christian fundamentalists are promoting a ballot initiative that would shut down Nevada’s legal brothels right now. But as far as blacklisting Commies, that was done by movie studios who, probably correctly, thought that the customers wouldn’t want to buy tickets to movies promoting the interests of Joe Stalin–as even George Clooney has recently admitted (in ‘Hail, Caesar’) admitted WAS happening.

  6. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    29. June 2018 at 08:41

    Hoosier, You said:

    “But if that’s the case, then why shouldn’t the same thing apply to the USA and Americans? Are they saying that Japan may have a unique culture, but that the USA doesn’t?”

    Maybe they are saying that because it’s the most obviously true fact in all of sociology.

    Or would you describe the culture of Detroit, Utah, El Paso, Silicon Valley, Indian reservations, Manhattan, Louisiana, Iowa, Dallas, West Virginia and Miami as a single culture?

  7. Gravatar of John John
    29. June 2018 at 09:16

    E. Harding: “Harvard is systemically inflating its personality scores for Blacks and Hispanics. There’s just no strong evidence it’s doing that with Asians.”

    In other words, “I’m not discriminating against Asians. I’m just discriminating FOR non-Asians at the expense of Asians.”

  8. Gravatar of jj jj
    29. June 2018 at 10:39

    Scott, so you’re saying that in Japan, Okinawa, Kyoto, Tokyo, and Sapporo all do have the same culture?

    I have no idea, myself. Certainly some nations are more culturally diverse than others; China, or an Amazonian country for example.

  9. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    29. June 2018 at 13:03

    I can’t help you Scott. I’m with you on the ugly American vs the student. I don’t understand other outlooks.

  10. Gravatar of Hoosier Hoosier
    29. June 2018 at 15:04

    So Scott, do you agree with the idea that the USA is unique and exceptional in this regard? Do you believe in American exceptionalism in general?

    I guess you’re saying there is no such thing as “American culture” just Latino culture in Miami, Cajun culture in Louisiana, Midwest culture in Iowa, etc.? Does this not apply to Spain (Galicia, Pais Vasco, Andalucía) , india, Italy… the list goes on and on. I don’t see how this gets us anywhere.

  11. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    29. June 2018 at 20:03

    jj, You said:

    “Scott, so you’re saying that in Japan, Okinawa, Kyoto, Tokyo, and Sapporo all do have the same culture?”

    Basically yes, except Okinawa, which is only a trivial part of Japan. About 99% of the permanent residents of Japan are Japanese.

    Hoosier, You asked:

    So Scott, do you agree with the idea that the USA is unique and exceptional in this regard? Do you believe in American exceptionalism in general?”

    No, not in the sense that others use the term. (Obviously no two nations are completely identical.) Canada and Australia are also nations of immigrants.

    As far as culture, I was responding to a commenter who complained that lots of immigration to Japan would reduce the influence of the Japanese within Japan. That’s true. But lots of immigration to the US does not reduce the proportion of people in the US who are Americans. I’m saying that blacks and Hispanics and Asians and Native Americans are just as “American” as whites. So Japan is a bad analogy. We are a mongrel nation. Immigration isn’t changing that fact.

    Orange County (where I live) is less than 50% white non-Hispanic. Yet it seems about as American as anywhere else. It might be the best place to live in the entire world.

  12. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    30. June 2018 at 01:20

    Josh,

    “In many ways, though, it’s a way for the left to express its latent, repressed xenophobia.”

    Thank you for that great insight – there is a lot of truth in there, I never saw it expressed so clearly.

  13. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    30. June 2018 at 10:33

    Josh, I’d say it’s “a thing” when it’s used to mock another culture. Your example may be one of those cases.

  14. Gravatar of Massimo Heitor Massimo Heitor
    2. July 2018 at 12:57

    @sumner,

    “lots of immigration to Japan would reduce the influence of the Japanese within Japan. That’s true. But lots of immigration to the US does not reduce the proportion of people in the US who are Americans. I’m saying that blacks and Hispanics and Asians and Native Americans are just as “American” as whites. So Japan is a bad analogy. We are a mongrel nation.”

    You are implying that black Japanese or Hispanic/Mestizo Japanese are not as “Japanese” as those of Yamato or Wajin or Ainu ethnicity. I can’t imagine you endorsing such a claim directly but this is a clear corollary to your comments. Arguably anyone with citizenship in the nation of Japan is “Japanese” regardless of race or ethnic background. Would you disagree?

    You are also saying that Japan is not a mongrel nation. How so? All ethnic groups are mixed from antecedent groups. The Yamato/Wajin “ethnic Japanese” are mostly mixed from Han Chinese and Ainu, I believe. Next, you recently cited Noah Smith claiming that 2018 Japan is a very ethnically and linguistically diverse place. So which is it? Is Japan highly ethnically/linguistically diverse and mongrelized or is it not?

    I believe I’m making reasonable non-trollish points.

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