Sunday, October 9, 2016

Cultural Appropriation

I recently ran across a few articles about a writers conference in Brisbane, and some apparently controversial remarks made by Lionel Shriver.  Shriver is most famous for the novel We Need To Talk About Kevin, a book about a disturbed young teenager who commits a shooting spree at school.  The novel has received critical acclaim and was even made into a movie.

At the conference, several writers criticized Shriver and her remarks about cultural appropriation.  They said that only a person from a particular background can write about characters of that background.  Many complained that their own works were being outsold by others not from their ethnicity and that Shriver, and others, should stick to their own ethnic groups when creating characters.

Pardon me while I say...what the fuck?!?!

Okay, maybe I'm violating one of my own rules by wading into the cultural/political arena, but this one concerns one of the very essences of writing, making stuff up, and happens to be absolute bullshit.  Writing about others is the soul of writing.  Does anyone seriously believe that you should only write about people that look and talk just like you?  Do any of these namby-pamby-offended-all-the-time social justice vigilantes know what such stupidity and separation would've done to literature over history?  Would we have ever gotten Carrie, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Madame Bovary, or even any of the Harry Potter books(after all, JK Rowling isn't a teenage boy)?  We're writers; we make stuff up.  We borrow histories and people from other cultures all the time - that's what we do.  To limit yourself to only those you look like would constrict writing and make the world both dull and separate.

I wonder if those who were upset that Shriver outsold them ever considered that maybe she's just a better writer.  The market decides these things - if people like your book, they'll buy it.  If they don't, then they won't.  It's that easy.  Unfortunately, we seem to live in a world where everyone is looking to get all butt hurt because people don't do exactly what we say or adhere to our ideology and have the temerity to be public about it.

"Cultural appropriation" is a complete farce, and it's a form of separatism and prejudice.  It's a way to gather unto yourself all that is yours and can only be yours, and others better not try to play in your sandbox.  It's infantile and reminds me of a toddler screaming "MINE!  MINE!  MINE!"  If writing about something with which you're unfamiliar crosses the line, then the market will let you know, but these holier-than-thou PC freaks need to let this stuff go.  Part of cultural diversity and inclusion is allowing others into your circle.  It brings us together when we look to other cultures and try to form bonds between them.  Writers have to look outside their own experiences in order to write stuff that appeals to more than a few people.

In other words, to those who got mad at Shriver(and others like her), take the fence pole out of your ass.


  1. Strong words! Let's see, how do I feel about this? Well, of my published novels one main protagonist is a California woman (I'm from Indiana), the second is an Hispanic woman, and the third is a fifteen year old girl ... and I'm a middle-aged man. Yeah, I'm inclined to agree with you.

    Come to think of it, my first big fandom was the Oz books, in which the two main characters were preteen girls in a magical fantasy land, as written by a middle aged Midwestern male. Was he appropriating the culture of scarecrows, tin men, Wizards, and talking lions? And what would people have thought of the second Oz book, in which an all-female army invades the Emerald City?

    The whole thing's ridiculous. As writers we're *supposed* to put ourselves into the skins of others.

    1. Exactly! Literature would be awfully limited if we only wrote about folks who looked and thought like us.