Avril Lavigne crossed the White Line (and must be punished)

Everyone take a huff off of your helium tank, here comes Avril Lavigne with “Hello Kitty”:

So, of course, she was accused of racism. This caught my attention while watching “TMZ Live,” the greatest news program on cable television. At first I heard that she had faked a Japanese accent, which struck me as perhaps racist caricaturing. But upon watching the video, I realized that the Japanese accent was applied only to the Japanese lyrics. So she is merely guilty of being a crappy Japanese speaker, which is definitely not racist.

The second charge of racism is that the Lavigne is using caricatured Asian background dancers as mindless props. Apparently those making the charges are almost completely unaware other pop music videos, whose background dancers are generally dressed in absurd costumes (one might say “caricatures,”) are sometimes expressionless or masked, and act as mindless props to glorify the singing star (like the triangle of dancing zombies behind Michael Jackson in “Thriller.”) This charge of racism is weak, although I cannot definitively disprove that Avril Lavigne might harbor subconscious fantasies of being flanked by Asian sidekicks.

Thirdly, Lavigne is accused of co-opting or appropriating Japanese culture. Lavigne-detrator Amanda Duberman refers to a Lauren Duca piece for an explanation of cultural appropriation: “Cultural appropriation refers to picking and choosing elements of a culture by a member of another culture without permission. This includes traditional knowledge, religious symbols, artifacts or any other unauthorized use of cultural practice or ideation.” Lest we  not understand that cultural appropriation is a sin, Duca asks “Is it always racist?” and answers herself “Of course, racism varies in extremity… Borrowing from another culture is most problematic when it plucks from a minority group (especially one that has been exploited or otherwise oppressed). Using aspects of another culture from a position of privilege is a means of additional exploitation in that it disregards the shared experiences that led to the development of the culture in question and uses ideas and traditions for their benefit.”

I can appreciate wanting to avoid cultural appropriation as far as ripping off the specifically sacred, like religious symbols. Don’t use other folks’ sacred stuff without enough knowledge to be sure you are doing so in a respectful way — otherwise you might offend somebody. Also, don’t promote racist caricatures, like Cleveland Indians paraphernalia. Sometimes minority artists have not gotten their share of the accolades and/or money. There are some legitimate concerns around this idea of cultural appropriation.

However: Because some whites have enjoyed privilege over some people of just about every other race on this planet for some time over the last 500 years, cultural appropriation as Duca has defined it draws a line around white people, who are effectively banned from using any cultural elements from beyond the line. If we use memes from beyond the line, we are automatically using racist privilege to exploit the Other, unless we have somehow obtained authorization from the minority group in question (perhaps by requesting permission from each and every member of the group).

This rule calls for whites or other privileged groups to maintain ethnic purity in their culture. A white is singing the blues? Cultural appropriation, stealing music from the Blacks with no respect for your shared history (even though black and white musicians have been trading licks since before slavery ended). A white is doing Indian cooking at home? Who gave you permission to pick and choose amongst India’s many cuisines? That’s racist, to some degree. Better stick to classical music and homestyle cooking. Remain within the white line.

Avril Lavigne was self-consciously putting together an homage to Japanese pop culture and her Japanese fans. According to Duberman and Duca, this was a doomed mission, as any use of ideas circulating in Japanese pop culture would be an exertion of racist privilege. I am curious as to how the Huffpost authors perceive the culpability of the video’s Japanese choreographer and director. Are they merely pimping their culture to the more powerful (because white) Lavigne? Apparently their authorization was not sufficient to permit Lavigne’s use of Japanese memes.

If white people sometimes act in non-white ways, that would seem to aid the survival of memes that did not originate in a white culture. A rule that automatically labels whites acting in non-white ways as racists is decidedly contrary to such a purpose. Let’s not throw Avril Lavigne in the stocks just for crossing the white line; I don’t believe that that is aiding the development of the world’s cultural mix or doing anything for Japanese people, either. I don’t see a demand for ethnic conformity as a real challenge to white privilege, for that matter.

You may still be thinking that Avril Lavigne is being racist by making Japanese pop culture out to be something cartoonish and ridiculous. This is an innocent mistake, and further exposure to the culture in question will reveal to you that it can be cartoonish and ridiculous all on its own (also note the dehumanized background dancer):


Are You Going to a 4/20 Party?

Will you smoke pot in your hotel room?

Click the above link to download a podcast: two libertarians debate the ethics of smoking pot in your hotel room.
Thaddeus Russel says that smoking pot in the open is the only thing that will get it legalized; Brett Veinotte is shocked at the disrespect that Alt-Expo libertarians showed to the hotel’s property rights.

Progressives judge woman on make-up, clothes

Through the magic of Youtube’s allegedly-related video links, I stumbled upon the story of Anastasiya Shpagina, “the real-life anime girl.”

My favorite part of this is where Cenk Uygur implies that Anastasiya is a whore, Ana Kasparian gives sort of a violent cough, and he backpedals on a dime. Oops, my puritanism is showing! These “progressives” can’t quite appreciate a freak for her creativity without shaming her as a slut or criticizing the decadent wastefulness of her make-up routine, although they quickly come around to the idea that it is, after all, an issue of freedom.

The general public leaving Youtube comments is much nastier than The Young Turks: “This is disgusting… She is nasty.”; “I’m going to have nightmares.”; “I just think it’s horrifying that they would permanently alter their body to fit a certain ART STYLE. It is some seriously scary stuff what people will do to their bodies, from eye tattoos to giant gaping piercings on their noses to even this kind of stuff. It’s just… scary.”; “All you Japanese people want, is to look prettier and want some more attention! You even want boy’s attention!”; “smash it!”

I couldn’t honestly say that Anastasiya’s appearance isn’t startling or I don’t wonder what’s going on in her head. But, if creative expression isn’t challenging the viewer, why bother?

Could people be feeling jealous because Anastasiya has found a way of living out her fantasies?

Anastasiya is part of the Russian-speaking minority in Odessa, Ukraine. She recently rescued a baby bat off the street, which she feeds on maggots and milk. She offers makeover tutorials for transforming into anime characters and celebrities on her Youtube channel.

Welcome to Michilimackinac

The following text has been altered where it was unbearably condescending, sexist, etc. (the original is available here.)

“Let us go back four hundred years and enter the thick woods of Canada and New York. Let us look once again upon the broad, majestic rivers, the clear streams, the boiling rapids, the foaming cataracts, the crystal lakes, all before the colonizers had defiled them with their blighting touch. Let us gaze upon the forests, broad, dense, gloomy. We shall hear the winter stream roaring through the branches of the great trees and see the North Wind rend and break them in his wrath. We shall see the thick blanket of snow spread down over the world by Winter. And when spring comes we shall see this scene change within a month. The snows melt, the ice disappears, the North Wind returns to his lair. Leaves spring from every bough; ducks, geese, swans, gulls, pelicans and other water-fowl swim, soar, wade and scream. The silver side of the trout flashes as he leaps above the waters now released from their icy fetters. The wolf prowls, and the panther screams to his fellows. The heavy bear lumbers clumsily through the woods and startles the light and graceful deer. Insects hum and whiz and drone. Spring melts into the full and fruitful summer. The oak, the hickory, the hazel, the beech, the walnut, the wild vine, weight their branches with fruit to be ripened by the mellow rays of the hazy sun of the voluptuous autumn.

And what of people? We are here. See that village by the sparkling lake where the blue hills descend gently to the pebbly beach. And another, and still another beyond. They have an expressive and strong language, pagan religious beliefs and complex social systems and political institutions (clans, tribes, rules of order). They cultivate the corn plant, and have domesticated a species of dog. They have become proficient in the cultivation and curing of tobacco, and in the barter of it to surrounding tribes that have come to depend upon them for this luxury and blessing. They long since began to take note of things about them. They have sought to account for all the phenomena of the heavens and the earth.”

This is the world of the Great Lakes basin before settlers illegally occupied it, mainly following the defeat of the British and Indians in the War of 1812. (Truthfully, I’m not sure how far West of the sea those pelicans ranged. The author is really writing about New York and Ontario, not Michigan.) The Wyandot villagers there were no Noble Savages, being known to kidnap women and children into their clans and torture captured warriors to death.

Nonetheless, their world was dramatically more beautiful than the Grid of roads, lawns, square buildings and parking lots which most Michiganders live upon now. Their society was easier to live with than the British-derived settler culture, as related by observer Benjamin Franklin: “When an Indian child has been brought up among us, taught our language and habituated to our customs, yet if he goes to see his relations and makes one Indian Ramble with them, there is no perswading him ever to return. And that this is not natural [only to Indians], but as men, is plain from this, that when white persons of either sex have been taken prisoners young by the Indians, and lived awhile among them, tho’ ransomed by their Friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English, yet within a Short time they become disgusted with our manner of Life, and the care and pains that are necessary to support it, and take the first good Opportunity of escaping again into the Woods…” (more Franklin here.)

Today, we live in a society that claims “no parent should ever have to bury a child,” and we live with higher rates of depression and anxiety than the Third World poor. In other words, we live with more fear and hopelessness than people who can expect to lose about half of their children. Many commentators believe this is because our communities are so weak or superficial — far debased from what they were in Franklin’s day. In place of conversation we have schooling, television, and, uh, social media.

In what sense has society progressed?

Do you really identify with English culture, or are you ready to run off into the woods?

Non-Aggression Principle, Golden Rule, Wiccan Rede

The Non-Aggression Principle states that initiating force or coercion against others is inherently wrong. Everyone understands this on an intuitive level: it is wrong to hit other people (initiating force) or threaten them with a beating in order to take their lunch money (coercion); however, it is okay to hit someone if they are trying to hurt you or a loved one, since you did not initiate the use of force (self-defense). In politics, the Non-Aggression Principle is espoused by libertarians, who claim that the principle applies to governments and their agents as much as it does to everyone else in all situations.

The Non-Aggression Principle is related to the Golden Rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Would you have others beat you up or threaten you into doing what you hate? You would not, so you generally follow the NAP. Unfortunately, the Golden Rule calls for treating everyone alike, when we are all different. When a Black person in the neighborhood calls me a “nigga,” I feel glad to be seen a human being rather than an alien “cracker”… however, if I were to call them the same thing back, they might well think I was verbally aggressing against them.

Some people feel that they are doing a productive civic duty by paying taxes, while I resent my money being used to prop up exploiters like Wal-Mart, to lock up victimless offenders and to murder people in other parts of the world. When you go out and vote for your representatives, please don’t pick people who want to do unto me as you enjoy having it done unto you.

Better than even the much-lauded Golden Rule is the short, short version of the Wiccan Rede. The Rede is a poem of counsel, which modern witches heed. The long version outlines the Wiccan holidays and other aspects of worship. The short version is basically the NAP voiced in Renaissance Fair language:

Bide the Wiccan Law ye must,
In Perfect Love and Perfect Trust,
Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill
An’ harm ye none, Do what ye will.

I think that the Rede is sufficient, and more precise than the Golden Rule. It is much more applicable than about five of the Ten Commandments (go ahead and engrave images if you want!). The Rede does not explicitly allow for self-defense. However, if we take self-defense as a given, the Rede provides the same foundation for moral reasoning as the NAP. Like libertarians, Wiccans may not use harm, such as coercion and violence. Not to prescribe certain acceptable medicines and sex acts, nor to rear and educate children, nor to enforce their own aesthetic standards on other people’s front lawns (if my lawn offends your eyes, wait until you see how I dress!).

When I was a teenager investigating the Wiccan religion, I was suspicious because the basic Rede does not prescribe any positive actions such as giving to charity or acting modestly. It looked like a statement of selfishness. I now think that positive action has to come from one’s intrinsic goodwill, one’s internal motivations — “do what ye will.” To combine the best of the NAP and Rede, allow me to offer the following:

An’ initiate force or coercion against none, do what ye will

If we can all agree on the rather minimal moral code of the NAP/Rede, and perhaps avoid fetishizing selfishness and greed, we’ll allow cooperation and creativity to flourish naturally. I don’t see any advantage in bullying yourself or others into being “better” people.