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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Wednesday, March 15, 2017


On this BEAT post, I corrected Heidi for referencing "whitewashing" on the Netflix IRON FIST series, which I have not yet seen. Then I added a slight amendment of my position:

I will note that I've seen the IRON FIST show accused of "whitewashing Asian themes" to get around the fact that the central character was always white, and maybe that's what Heidi referenced. Still, it's dubious as to how much the trope of the "lost Asian land where people learn great secrets" is an actual creation of Asians.  I assume the trope existed in Asian culture, whether it was rooted in fiction or in legend, but was James Hilton referencing any of these when he wrote LOST HORIZON in 1933? Or was he just making up his lost land out of whole cloth, and grafting it onto Tibet because Tibet was conveniently out of the way?

Since this thread may get closed any moment as did the one I referenced here, I don't expect to discuss cultural appropriation there, so I'll give it a stab here.

It's been some time since I attacked the inadequacies of Roland Barthes, but the linked essay ought to outline my general problems with his oversimplification, particularly the idea of appropriation, which he touted in paragraphs like this one:

Every object in the world can pass from a closed, silent existence to an oral state, open to appropriation by society, for there is no law, whether natural or not, which forbids talking about things. A tree is a tree. Yes, of course. But a tree as expressed by Minou Drouet is no longer quite a tree, it is a tree which is decorated, adapted to a certain type of consumption, laden with literary self- indulgence, revolt, images, in short with a type of social usage which is added to pure matter.
I critiqued Barthes' narrow notion of "consumption" as an attempt "to reflect a doctrinaire Marxist imperative," one depending upon a supposed pure experience and one that has been tainted by "consumption." Elsewhere in MYTHOLOGIES, though, Barthes contradicts his words above by treating the products of a given culture-- specifically, the architecture favored by the Basque people-- as if they were "pure" in their original state but were "tainted" by the evil of modern Parisian appropriation.

Of course, as I've mentioned elsewhere, one can't assume that the Basque architectural style was conceived by Basques and Basques alone: they may have borrowed some or all of their design-motifs from other contiguous peoples. But I don't for a moment believe that Barthes cared about real-world influence: only about castigating French bourgeoisie for the sin of appropriation. This is essentially the argument advanced by the proponents of the "White Privilege" theory: it doesn't matter if Asian creators borrow motifs from so-called "western culture," like the well-documented fact that Bruce Lee "appropriated" western boxing-styles for his martial art-- it's only a bad thing when White People do it, even if the general idea of "mysterious Asian lands" was probably primarily the creation of White Creators, at least as we have them in Euro-American culture.

In addition to my Hilton remark above, the pulp Shadow probably started the "heroes' Asian journeys" during the 1930s. Here's the 1939 Bill Everett character who inspired the Thomas-Kane "Iron Fist:" Amazing-Man.

Here's a much less celebrated Tibetan "white crusader," Thundohr:

And, just to show that the same hustle can be applied in other circumstances, here's a page from Jaime Hernandez's LOCAS, in which the artist has a character lecture the audience about the inappropriateness of modern white people affecting Native American hair-styles.

ADDENDUM from the BEAT thread:

Since no one's going to speak to the question of "Who If Anyone Owns the Tropes," I'll confine my remarks to saying, contra Seth, that I don't think I'm worried about whites being underrepresented.

I worry more about creators being told what they have to do by the Diversity Police.


I'd heard of the K'un Lun legend, and I assume that Thomas and Kane knew it as well. But that doesn't get to the heart of the matter about whether these tropes belong to just one culture or not.

Same thing with the system of kung fu. If it's inauthentic for Caucasians to be martial arts masters, why isn't it inauthentic for every non-East Asian to be one? Is this a rule that applies only to Caucasians as payback for imperialism and related sins? Well, OK, if an artist feels that way, it's his right to reflect that in his work.

But if an artist doesn't feel that way-- what then?

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