Is it PC to be a fan of another culture?
March 29, 2006 2:41 PM   Subscribe

When someone is an extreme fan of a particular group or culture, is it "politically correct" to be so, and how do the people being so admired feel about their admirer?

Just for one random example, let's say Jane is a typical WASP, but then develops a fascination with, say, the Cherokee people. She learns all about them, visits them, donates and campaigns for their causes, collects their art and artifacts, and so forth. Just as some people go nuts for collecting star Trek trivia and items and information, so she does for the Cherokee. She may date or marry a Cherokee, or adopt a Cherokee child, simply because they are Cherokee.

This shouldn't be the specific example; other cases could be a Japanese man fascinated with Scottish/Celtic culture, or a hearing person who becomes immersed in deaf culture, or an American who becomes obsessed with the Chinese culture, or a straight girl who is a 'fan' of gay male culture... anywhere that the culture is distinct and strong and the 'fan' is not a real member of that culture.

Is this nice, or is this creepy? Is this somehow 'racist'? What do people tend to think of people who are 'fans' of their people or culture, yet do not belong to it?

And, finally, if this is too "open-ended and chatty", then could someone reccomend somewhere else I could ask this? Thank you!
posted by Rubber Soul to Society & Culture (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
you forgot the worst example of them all middle class white suburban kids who imitate hip hop / rap culture
posted by BSummers at 2:46 PM on March 29, 2006

Here's one thread, that ended up talking about that kinda thing (American/Indian)
posted by selton at 2:55 PM on March 29, 2006

What do people tend to think of people who are 'fans' of their people or culture, yet do not belong to it?

Not a definitive answer: There are derogatory terms for these sorts of people: Wigger, Winjun, etc. Most people are lumped as 'Wanna-bes'.

The problem with the analogy to Star Trek is that enjoyment of all things Trekian is not seen as a denial of self or group status. Being a trekkie doesn't make it seem like you don't ilke being white/black/brown. Emulating other cultures is generally seen by peers as a personal one. The idea that you enjoy this 'other' better is seen as an insult.
posted by unixrat at 2:58 PM on March 29, 2006

...Emulating other cultures is generally seen as a personal rejection.

When will Opera be supported? When?!
posted by unixrat at 3:00 PM on March 29, 2006

it's human nature to aspire to be a member of various groups; it seems like we all do it to various degrees. on a practical level it seems too much to ask the human subconscious to only identify with certain groups based on some obscure idea of political correctness, so it seems to me that whether someone is infatuated with their football team, or with inuits, is going to be largely a matter of chance/context.

chance or not, whether or not it's acceptable, creepy, or whatever for a particular situation is going to depend on a whole pile of things, including the person making the call. so it's difficult for me to see how this question can be anything other than a straw poll. for what it's worth, i think it can be a bit creepy, but i don't think it's terribly offensive - it's difficult to criticise someone having positive feelings for another culture.

i think the problems start when the ideal becomes too separated from reality, because reality has an inconvenient habit of asserting itself. someone i know told me he was "disappointed" with chileans because after "fighting off a right wing dictator" they all ended up "wearing suits and wanting to own cars". i found that stunning - a well educated western liberal rediscovering the idea of the "noble savage" - and it said a lot about just how divorced from reality that particular person was.
posted by andrew cooke at 3:07 PM on March 29, 2006

I think Westerners who become enamored of Eastern religions sometimes enter the realm of the creepy.
posted by jayder at 3:22 PM on March 29, 2006

Best answer: I don't know about whether or not it's politically correct.. that's a nebulous term I don't really understand in this context. I can say that I find fetishizing or idolizing an ethnic group very creepy, and in my own personal taxonomy I put it in the same family as racism, since it involves judging a group of people based on their ethnic background. The fact that it's a positive judgment is not particularly important.

If it was just that she liked the particular esthetic properties of Cherokee art, or was fascinated by Cherokee history or culture, there's nothing wrong with that, but it seems to me she's crossed a line if the race itself is what she's interested in. And if she adopts or marries based on race, she's in a weird place where she's not seeing people as people anymore.

If by "politically correct" you're asking whether or not people are going to be made uncomfortable by your friend's behavior, I'd say the answer is probably yes.
posted by Hildago at 3:25 PM on March 29, 2006

Another example: 'yellow fever'. Most of my Asian friends consider it creepy and demeaning. Much like how it's creepy and demeaning when construction workers whistle for a woman, except more so. Whether or not it's true, many people will interpret a preference for Asian women/men to actually mean "all Asians look alike to me". On the other hand, I've met plenty of Asians who are ok with it or don't notice it (though some guys are extremely forward with their preference, believing it to be a positive).

An African-American friend of mine complained about white hippies who do drum circles and greet each other with "jambo!" He believed that they were such pathetic poseurs that they discredited the culture they were trying to imitate. I guess there's always the risk of cartoonizing whatever it is that you're trying to 'become'.

I wouldn't consider it 'racist' if someone was obsessed enough with Star Trek to try to become a Cardassian or whatever, but it sure is creepy. Witness the the tiger man, that adult baby guy, or the reception of the Star Wars house here. People hate 'the other'.

On preview: I agree with andrew cooke's last paragraph.
posted by breath at 3:25 PM on March 29, 2006

Best answer: This is culturally dependent, with at least three cultures to consider:
1) The culture in which this is done; the surrounding culture; the milieu or era
2) The originating culture of the emulator or fan.
3) The culture they are a fan of.

In general, the emulated culture is flattered to some degree but the emulator is always seen as an outsider - this can be an outsider in the mildly threatening sense, a sense of the absurd, or in a paternalistic sense (he is aspiring to be one of us.)

In the case of say someone like Toshio Hirano, I know the feeling is a mixture of amusement and respect. Country fans cant help but admire his devotion even as he remains an outsider. I think the distinguishing thing may be as to whether the culture feels it is being respected and admired or it is being parodied.

When you walk in on a Hirano performance for example, it may all seem like a joke and you might be tempted to be offended. Then when you listen to him play and speak and realize how much he sincerely adores Jimmy Rodgers, you are left with nothing but awe.
posted by vacapinta at 3:32 PM on March 29, 2006

It's a little weird. We had a group of about two dozen exchange students in high school who were very very into American culture. They somehow seemed more American™ than any actual Americans I had ever met. So it was weird.

It wasn't exactly creepy, but that may have had more to do with the fact that they were sort of embracing the dominant culture in the area. I think if they'd been overcompensating to fit in with something that was more of a minority culture it would have felt creepier. It seems like if your culture isn't dominant, it's probably more a part of your identity and would be weirder for someone from the dominant culture to come along and co-opt it?

I think breath's comment really nails it:
He believed that they were such pathetic poseurs that they discredited the culture they were trying to imitate. I guess there's always the risk of cartoonizing whatever it is that you're trying to 'become'.
posted by clarahamster at 3:33 PM on March 29, 2006

It's one thing to take an interest in a culture, it's another thing to pretend you are part of it.

The OP wasn't asking about the wigger syndrom. He's asking about taking an extreme interest in something that's not part of your culture.

You can be a fan of black hip-hop but you cross a line when you try and act like you belong to that culture. Majoring in Japanese history when you're a Euro mutt like me is fine. Dating only Asian women is not.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 4:09 PM on March 29, 2006

1) this happens like everyday, and is complex

2) bomb the suburbs has a lot to say about being a white person into hip-hop, which is probably the most common way this phenomenon occurs in the USA.
posted by eustatic at 5:16 PM on March 29, 2006

...or a straight girl who is a 'fan' of gay male culture...

... often referred to within the gay community as a fag hag. And although that Wikipedia article claims this is not a derogatory term, I certainly wouldn't call a woman that to her face. I think the label speaks volumes.
posted by Acetylene at 5:27 PM on March 29, 2006

Best answer: The appropriation of other cultures is not wrong or creepy per se, but the context within which the act of taking occurs can render it so. In a country built on the deaths of native people, a white person's appropriation of Cherokee culture is totally weird and problematic. You can't divorce a culture from the power structures that shape it, and it is largely these structures that determine meaning.

Coco Fusco's "Who's Doing the Twist: Notes Toward a Politics of Appropriation" (from this book) and Richard Fung's "Working Through Cultural Appropriation" (available here) are two great articles that helped me sort out my thoughts on this stuff.
posted by drewbeck at 5:48 PM on March 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

Well, I know a lot of young folks who have developed an obsession with Japanese culture through anime (and, to a an extent, video games) and who start from that and take Japanese language courses, maybe learn a bit about sushi, read up on Japanese culture, literature, and art, etc.

I think in some ways this is good stuff. It's pragmatically useful in a global marketplace and it can be broadening, personally, to know about another culture in this sort of depth.

I think the real problem is not interest in a foreign culture, however obsessive. The real problem is forming a stereotype that is not based on fact.

A person who is interested in Cherokee culture is most likely interested in the ideal of the "noble savage" or at the very least in a culture as it (may have) existed in the past, not in the culture as it exists now. That's the appealing part of Cherokee culture, to a white American. To be a person who lived a simple and uncomplicated life connected to the land where we now live.
posted by dagnyscott at 6:12 PM on March 29, 2006

YMMV, but it's generally creepy and racist, and usually patronizing and uncomfortable.
posted by signal at 6:16 PM on March 29, 2006

An African-American friend of mine complained about white hippies who do drum circles and greet each other with "jambo!"

You've shouted out the greeting to your patchouli-drenched friends, now play the card game!

Is this game racist?
posted by craniac at 6:27 PM on March 29, 2006

Keep posting those wacky Japanese links, internet nerds!
posted by dydecker at 7:57 PM on March 29, 2006

I think where it gets weird is when the admirer begins to adopt traits and blur his or her identity. I spend a few years studying in the Czech Republic. Frequently people would accuse me of "pretending to be American" or pretending to be foreign.

It took me a few months to meet the kind of person they were confusing me for: Czechs who sounded so American I felt mocked; people in American business cults who talked about stupid backwards Czechs, and who immitated us in every single way possible. A couple of times these people were so sure they knew what being American was all about, they made me feel "un-American" and were let down that I wasn't so exotic, that I didn't match their image of us. (For the record, I was actually raised in the States, and nobody in the States seems to find me particularly foriegn seeming, even after 10 years in Canada and five in Central Europe).

FYI, George Bush has killed that naive obsession with Americans.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:57 PM on March 29, 2006

You can be a fan of black hip-hop but you cross a line when you try and act like you belong to that culture.

I don't think hip-hop has ever been exclusively black.
posted by fshgrl at 8:18 PM on March 29, 2006

Hmmm... blurring definitions of somewhat random boundaries...
posted by rleamon at 9:32 PM on March 29, 2006

An anecdote:

I have a friend from L.A. who became deeply interested in Japanese culture in his teens, through the usual avenues of Anime and Manga. After college he went to teach English in Japan, eventually married a wonderful Japanese woman, and now lives in Osaka with two kids.

I don't think he's creepy or racist. I do think he's found a culture that complements him well, both in what it provides him (Japanese family life suits him) and what it denies him (his once notorious temper is now well under control, as it was far too big a liability).

He'll never be an insider there, but Japanese culture -- like many others -- has an acknowledged place for outsiders to slot into.
posted by tkolar at 10:47 PM on March 29, 2006

I think Westerners who become enamored of Eastern religions sometimes enter the realm of the creepy.

You're weird.
posted by delmoi at 11:04 PM on March 29, 2006

I think it's an interesting question as the example of the outsider adopting habits points out something ridiculous about cultures in general.

Is it any more pretentious for a white person to adopt over the top 'black' mannerisms than it is for a black person? And if a white person grows up with black friends then normal 'black' speech maybe as natural to them as anyone else.
posted by lunkfish at 4:50 AM on March 30, 2006

Best answer: If you're into philosophy (Greek, Chinese, German, etc.) or religion (Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, etc.) that originated in another culture, it isn't worse than following the predominant local varieties of philosophy and religion. In fact, it shows a little independence of mind.

If you're into it for the trappings, though, you're a silly wanker. Convert to Buddhism, but don't dress up like a Tibetan monk. Study and admire Schopenhauer's thought, but don't become a misanthropic poodle-owning old crank. Listen to hip-hop, but don't just pull up your hood and hope no one notices you aren't a poor urban black American teenager.

However, every culture needs local experts in other cultures. For example, we can learn much about the mysterious ways of the Canadian by intercepting their broadcasts, training powerful telescopes on their border settlements, and interrogating lost Canadians, but we will always need homegrown experts in Canadian culture who can interpret such data for the rest of us. And if, of a weekend, such experts drown their sorrows in one or two local approximations of "Molson" beer, who are we to say they haven't earned it?
posted by pracowity at 5:09 AM on March 30, 2006

Anglophiles. Francophiles. Paddywhackery. It's also an intra-whitey deviance.
posted by meehawl at 5:11 AM on March 30, 2006

it's generally creepy and racist, and usually patronizing and uncomfortable.
posted by signal at 9:16 PM EST on March 29 [!]

Completely. To me, any case in which someone declares, "OMG, I love $foo culture!," they're romanticizing. To imply some sort of heirarchy of cool cultures is reductionist, condescending, racist, creepy, and insulting.
posted by youarenothere at 8:00 AM on March 30, 2006

There's a line that you draw that determines when someone has crossed from an interest or respect into a creepy fetishization. To me, it's when someone still believes there is an aspect of an unquantifiable, transcendent "other" that exists within another culture.

To use your example, if the woman in question carried out her actions "simply because they are Cherokee" then she's transcended a boundary. If she had one interest that led to a romantic relationship, or if she was involved with a philanthropic group that introduced her to the idea of adopting a child, it'd sound normal. But picking and choosing pieces of someone else's cultural to fulfill your own interests is like a bizarre fandom.
posted by mikeh at 10:27 AM on March 30, 2006

Being a Japanophile myself, I wonder if I'm really wapanese. Is it a bad thing? Not to me, certainly, it's just what I'm into. But I do know certain Japanese people don't understand the fascination, and find it annoying, perplexing, or creepy. As do certain of my Anglo bretheren, who just can't relate.

The obsession part is what bothers some, and I think that 's where we get into something very interesting -- I remember Harry Shearer doing a phone poll once, on "What is a Nerd?" The best answer was "being into anything too much, except sports." Note that it was only guys doing the talking.

What bugs me is once people find out you're into Things Oriental you start hearing all this Asian Fetish/Yellow Fever/China Doll stuff. I think if you're motivated to a nerdish degree to explore a foreign culture, you're an individual MOST likely to know these are just stereotypes (unlike the provincial folk snickering about your Asian Fetish).
posted by Rash at 10:57 AM on March 30, 2006

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