Saturday, March 10, 2018

Cultural Appropriation

I have laughed at people complaining about Cultural Appropriation, as have many others. Maybe I get it after all.  Fantasy fiction, especially Christian fantasy fiction, is not just something I like. It's an important part of my culture.  I had heard that the Disney version of "A Wrinkle In Time" had deemphasised the Christianity of the book. That's hardly surprising these days, yet it might have been merely irritating. Collins's review over at The Ringer suggests it is something far worse than that. The Christianity is not merely deemphasised, it has been replaced by another religion, the more modern empowerment gospel.  I expected them to lean hard on Meg being a Spunky Gal, because that's what Disney has been doing for decades - and Meg actually is something of a spunky gal, though I don't think any serious reader of L'Engle would say it quite that way.

This is like putting communion elements out as part of the buffet at the PTA potluck.

The review above links over to another by Kate Knibbs from the day before, which is perhaps a savable example of everything that is wrong with the current approach to understanding literature - that a book is important because of what the reader thinks it means and helps them turn into whatever they damn well please, even if that is at odds with the actual meaning. The belief that a book has an actual meaning is under assault.  It only has the reader's meaning. As a side note, Knibbs claims it is Seventh Day Adventists who don't believe in giving their children medical treatment, which is the sort of not-even-bothering-to-spend-30-seconds-on-a-search-engine that is probably standard for a woman who thinks that a book and its movie are really about her and her life experience.

We are somewhat used to the Christianity which was part of an historical culture being removed from stories told about it now, sometimes even if they were an important part. One would never know that Downton Abbey takes place in a culture that is C of E, nor that American presidents regularly talked of religious matters in both their formal addresses and everyday conversation. But the Christianity is not just part of the scenery in L'Engle's books, they are central.

Reviews will discuss whether the movie was done well or not. People who like movies qua movies will find some of that interesting.  How were the effects? Is the acting believable? I have no interest. If you replace the lyrics to Handel's "Messiah" with Rod McKuen, I don't much care about how the violinists were doing.

9 comments:

james said...

Or even that Abbey had a religious meaning. History evaporates... "He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past"

james said...

I just read the review, and this part reminded me very strongly of Uncle Screwtape: "That prominence has been afforded DuVernay for a task just as Herculean but decidedly less showy: being a commercially prominent, respected woman of color in the industry. Cameron and Nolan, whose appeal to the industry is taken as a given, likely take their status for granted. That is precisely why it matters."

Don't believe this because it is true, or admire it because it is good--but for some other reason.

Sam L. said...

Just another reason to despise Hollywood. Not that we need another.

Kevin Moquin said...

Lately, I've been wondering whether the fantasy genre is particularly susceptible to the problem you've addressed in your post. For example, I think of Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Though they are works imbued with the Christian ethic, in the 1960s they seemed to have been adopted by the youth culture (and its commercial exploiters) in the typically narcissistic way of a culture formed and directed by youth. More and more, as a culture we seem to be moving toward a culture of fantasy where identities are fluid and self-created, as is the truth. It's unfortunate because I have always loved the fantasy genre but now I'm wondering if it just feeds the delusions of a delusional age. And I must say that it has, in the past, fed many of my own delusions. Of course, the fault does not lie with fantasy itself, but with how it is appropriated (pun somewhat intended!).

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Kevin, I think you will like Dale Kuehne's work about the iWorld, in which people can increasingly self-define rather than do this in conjunction with those around them, and the consequences. You probably met him at some point.

https://signpostings.wordpress.com/about/

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ James - I think it is not only confusing two types of goodness - quality versus significance - but persisting in that confusion in an attempt to claim both. Jackie Robinson was significant because he broke the color barrier in baseball in the modern era. That did not make him a good baseball player. He is considered a good baseball player because he was in fact talented. We can elect him to the Hall of Fame for either reason or for both together. Yet that does not make quality and significance the same thing.

It is significant that this movie is a "first" because of DuVernay's categories. But that does not make it a good movie. It can only be a good movie by being a good movie. Yet this is not satisfactory for people now. It must also be declared a good movie even if it's not any good, because it is significant. As if Jackie Robinson had to be considered a great player, even if he hadn't been.

Ultimately, such things cheapen the adulation and take deserved praise from others.

james said...

Good distinction. Give things their proper names.

Korora said...

I saw a squib online to the effect that this is just the movie we need. Maybe they're right for the wrong reasons; think of all the clean, renewable energy we could get by hooking a drive belt to Madeline L'Engle in her grave.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Korora - this is my last minute at the computer before going to bed early and going away for a week. thank you for the laugh you gave my wife and me.