Wednesday, February 20, 2019

"Jonathan Pie" on cultural appropriation

Jonathan Pie is, from what I gather, the nom de plume of a BBC-based comedian named Tom Walker who engages in lampoon/rant comedy. Pie/Walker has roasted Donald Trump's tweets before, but he also takes time to castigate the idiocy of the left, as you'll see in the following video, which is part of a show in which he takes on certain leftist sacred cows—issues the left likes to virtue-signal about as a way of demonstrating its "woke"ness. In this video, the issue at hand is good ol' cultural appropriation.

Full disclosure: I've written about Jonathan Pie before, but that was before I was aware he was actually Tom Walker. I was perceptive enough to realize, at the time, that he was in character, but I didn't realize that "Jonathan Pie" was the actor's nom de plume.


Charles said...

I have very complicated thoughts on "cultural appropriation." A lot of what he says makes sense, but I disagree with his definition of CA, namely: "Cultural appropriation is this idea that if you are inspired by or borrow from another's culture, that is in effect an act of stealing and therefore an offensive act." I disagree with this definition, although I hesitate to call it a straw man argument, because there are indeed people who believe that any sort of cultural borrowing constitutes CA. I guess part of the problem is that there is no concrete definition of the concept, and thus its application has become so broad as to often be absurd. But I do think there is some merit in wrestling with the issues and ideas at its core.

A blog comment is probably not the right place to get into all that, though. Maybe a future journal post (it's actually on my list of things I want to eventually cover).

Kevin Kim said...

"A lot of what he says makes sense, but I disagree with his definition of CA..."

I think Walker would also disagree that that's what CA is. I suspect that, implicit in his presentation (I need to watch it again to make sure I'm on the right track) is the idea that cultural appropriation, however it's ultimately defined, shouldn't mean that borrowing/imitation = theft. As we both know, given the root word, "appropriate" means "make one's own." But in the case of a fungible resource like culture, nothing's really being stolen, unless one views the matter in the same way we look at digital piracy.

Charles said...

Right, I get his point there. And I do understand that it is impossible to do the subject justice in a four-minute comedy rant, however entertaining it might be. What I was trying to say is that while, yes, there are certainly people who go overboard (he gives us examples of these), there are genuine issues at stake. You know, don't discount the idea entirely because some people are going crazy with it.

I personally think that classifying CA as "theft" is a mistake, and a rather lazy one at that. But that doesn't mean that there are not sometimes problems with the way that culture is borrowed. The core issue might not be theft, per se, but there can be negative effects for the group being borrowed from. But there are many pitfalls and problems that we need to look out for (like, as JP points out, the problem of essentialization when claiming that an entire people group is offended by something) while trying to find our way through all of this mess.

Without diving too deep down this rabbit hole, I would say that I fall more into JP's camp in that I believe cultural inspiration and borrowing are on the whole an improvement to human culture. Unfortunately, human endeavors are never black and white, but always fall along a spectrum where distinctions are fine--if they exist at all--so it's hard to come up with a one-size-fits-all definition for CA or rules about what should or should not be done. I think one of the major reasons why things have gotten so out of hand is that people want that sort of hard-and-fast definition and ruleset, and the only way you can get that is by tending toward extremes, where this is no room for fine distinctions. I do not think this is ideal.

Man, that is one vague and hand-wavy comment right there.

Kevin Kim said...

I think you're on to something, though. Polarization is undeniable, and I'd agree that a desire for absolute clarity accompanies it.