Thursday, June 22, 2017

"Why the Theory of Cultural Appropriation is Pro-Capitalist"—a guest post by Jonas Kyratzes

Jonas made a comment on My opening remarks at Fourth Street Fantasy Convention that deserves more attention, so I've made it a guest post. -WS

Why the Theory of Cultural Appropriation is Pro-Capitalist

by Jonas Kyratzes

Of course the concept of appropriation is pro-capitalist: it treats culture, inherently diffuse, messy, mixed up and impure, as an ownable good available in limited amounts. It’s an even more extreme version of the logic applied to software piracy. It’s turning everything into a product.

Even the excuse that the point supposedly is to protect people from that culture (and not to police cultural borders) comes purely in capitalist terms – the function is to protect those artists who make a living by selling a purist fantasy. And usually, to be clear, these are Americans who have some ancestral connection to that culture, not people from another country. Because people from those countries are rarely threatened by “outsiders” taking on elements of their culture; in fact, they celebrate it. In Greece, when some element of Greek culture becomes popular worldwide, it tends to make the news. As a good thing. As in hey, we’re poor and miserable and everything is shit, but at least we’re still relevant in the world. People like our stuff! If you all start loving the bouzouki, we’re not suddenly going to run out of music over here.

And the irony is, of course, that this demand for cultural purity actually *diminishes* opportunities for artists from these countries. If certain elements of their culture become part of the global mainstream, that’s actually a chance to have an impact! It makes you more easily understood, makes what you have to offer more accessible. It builds bridges. But the anti-appropriation argument actually just has the effect of limiting “cultural authority” to the tiny minority of English or American middle-class artists who take on the role of “authentic” representative/consultant and perpetuate these rigid Maoist-style ideologies to safeguard their position.

The people outside the US most likely to be against appropriation, i.e. against the mixing of cultures, are fascists. The people most likely to make a big deal about “their” culture are extreme conservatives. That’s what you’re supporting on a global scale when you fight against appopriation – the very worst parts of society, the equivalent of your very own white supremacists. The rest of us are deeply opposed to nationalism, to cultural chauvinism. We’re not insecure about “our” culture. We’re fighting against borders, against segregation, for unity and understanding between cultures. Cultures which, incidentally, simply cannot be ranked in some convenient hierarchy – our histories are way too messy for that.

Why American leftists insist on supporting the extreme right, the worst enemies of the very oppressed you claim to want to help, will never make sense. We could really use your solidarity, but that would require an internationalist, transcultural perspective.