Using real life cultures/locations is appropriation?

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rainbowcascade
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Using real life cultures/locations is appropriation?

#1 Post by rainbowcascade » Mon Jun 09, 2014 6:13 pm

How does an artist use the ideas/costumes/culture of another country and be respectful while avoiding cultural appropriation?

I think Avatar the Last Airbender is the best example of respectful use of other cultures since the characters are POC and the world was intricate and well established.

Here's the original link to tumblr on this discussion: http://peacefulfellatiocracy.tumblr.com ... ropriation

I ask this because I myself have a dilemma;
I want to set my story in Hong Kong but the problem is I have no knowledge of Cantonese or the general way of life/philosophies/infrastructure/architecture that the people take in and practice in Hong Kong. The best way to understand HK is to live there for a few years but I can't afford to travel. So I'm thinking of making my story set in a fictional place with its own fictional language but undeniably Hong Kong in feel.

I keep going back and forth on whether or not I should stick with real life HK or fictional fantasy HK.

When you succeed at using a RL setting
- Can be true to that place with structured rules that can guide the story.
- People who are a fan of that location or natives can really appreciate a story that follows true to the location.

When you fail at using a RL setting:
- if fiction does not match up with the real world, the results are going to be jarring, laughable, and disrespectful of real world cultures

Benefits of made up world:
- Can make up whatever based on rules/structure, more freedom to play with things

Cons of made up world:
- More work, have to make up shit tons of rules, have to recreate languages, have to make up cultures... hard work
Last edited by rainbowcascade on Mon Jun 09, 2014 6:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Using real life cultures/locations is appropriation?

#2 Post by Asceai » Mon Jun 09, 2014 6:20 pm

Can you get away with just never naming the location at all? You definitely can't do this if your protagonist is a tourist or something, but if it's just a regular story that happens to be set in HK I don't see why not.

Another possibility is to write your HK story set in HK, but find someone who either lives in HK, is from HK or knows a lot about HK and is willing to playtest and edit your story specifically with a view to getting this right, providing you didn't get things too horribly wrong.

I would argue both of the benefits you listed are counteracted entirely if you get it wrong, but I also don't think it matters too much. The most popular EVN setting is probably 'Japan by people who have never been to Japan'. Remember how a good portion of minori's 'ef' was set in Australia, written by people who had clearly never been to Australia? I didn't mind that and I thought it was pretty funny =P

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Re: Using real life cultures/locations is appropriation?

#3 Post by SundownKid » Mon Jun 09, 2014 6:22 pm

I think the article answers what you should do pretty well:
So if you want to use inspiration from other cultures in your art, you need to create that “dialogue.” What that really means is learning about the culture extensively, being open to negative feedback about how you use that inspiration, having conversations with people who know better than you about that culture (preferably people living in that culture). Without forcing yourself on people to try to get them to endorse your plundering of their culture for art ideas.
Basically if you want to appropriate ideas, be respectful or just use fictional ones.

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Re: Using real life cultures/locations is appropriation?

#4 Post by rainbowcascade » Mon Jun 09, 2014 6:38 pm

SundownKid wrote: Basically if you want to appropriate ideas, be respectful or just use fictional ones.
The problem with using fictional ideas is that they are inevitably going to be based on real life ideas. So for example, a writer plans a story that takes place in a fantastical 18th century Europe-like location but with fictional ideas that are noticeably influenced by modern day USA culture.

It could be a witty story that would make the current generation understand better of the previous era in western history OR if written badly, could come off as some writer's period piece fluff story with little to no research done, making historians cry.

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Re: Using real life cultures/locations is appropriation?

#5 Post by rainbowcascade » Mon Jun 09, 2014 6:46 pm

Asceai wrote:Can you get away with just never naming the location at all? You definitely can't do this if your protagonist is a tourist or something, but if it's just a regular story that happens to be set in HK I don't see why not.
No, my protagonist is a native. My opinion is, setting is incredibly important to a story. Setting itself is its own character. You can't have a Silent Hill game without the fucked up little town that is Silent Hill.
Asceai wrote:Another possibility is to write your HK story set in HK, but find someone who either lives in HK, is from HK or knows a lot about HK and is willing to playtest and edit your story specifically with a view to getting this right, providing you didn't get things too horribly wrong.
Good idea except I have no idea or any connections to anyone from HK. That and I feel weirded out if I bothered them to read my little story. I'm not sure where I could go online to find a HK community open minded enough to read some random internet person's visual novel.
Asceai wrote:I would argue both of the benefits you listed are counteracted entirely if you get it wrong, but I also don't think it matters too much. The most popular EVN setting is probably 'Japan by people who have never been to Japan'. Remember how a good portion of minori's 'ef' was set in Australia, written by people who had clearly never been to Australia? I didn't mind that and I thought it was pretty funny =P
I'll edit it. It's not so much pros and cons as it is, here's what happens if you succeed and here's what happens if you're a bad writer.

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Re: Using real life cultures/locations is appropriation?

#6 Post by Asceai » Mon Jun 09, 2014 7:01 pm

rainbowcascade wrote:No, my protagonist is a native. My opinion is, setting is incredibly important to a story. Setting itself is its own character. You can't have a Silent Hill game without the fucked up little town that is Silent Hill.
You just made my point for me =P

Silent Hill itself is just a fictional town made up for the story - it doesn't matter that the game wasn't set in Centralia, Pennsylvania. This was a case where, rather than using a real-life location, the designers just made something up. And it worked, didn't it?

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Re: Using real life cultures/locations is appropriation?

#7 Post by rainbowcascade » Mon Jun 09, 2014 7:06 pm

Asceai wrote:
rainbowcascade wrote:No, my protagonist is a native. My opinion is, setting is incredibly important to a story. Setting itself is its own character. You can't have a Silent Hill game without the fucked up little town that is Silent Hill.
You just made my point for me =P

Silent Hill itself is just a fictional town made up for the story - it doesn't matter that the game wasn't set in Centralia, Pennsylvania. This was a case where, rather than using a real-life location, the designers just made something up. And it worked, didn't it?

Haha, you have a point. I may be thinking way too hard about this.

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Re: Using real life cultures/locations is appropriation?

#8 Post by OokamiKasumi » Mon Jun 09, 2014 8:28 pm

rainbowcascade wrote:The problem with using fictional ideas is that they are inevitably going to be based on real life ideas. So for example, a writer plans a story that takes place in a fantastical 18th century Europe-like location but with fictional ideas that are noticeably influenced by modern day USA culture.
Or noticeably influenced by modern day Japanese culture, such as the anime series "Kurositsuji", "Black Butler."
-- The author clearly didn't know much about how an English manor house was actually run, what Victorian garb actually looked like or how it was worn, or how the British government actually functioned during the Victorian era. As someone who Does know these things (I lived in England for a few years, and studied the Victorian era pretty extensively,) the show made me wince -- a lot. However, that didn't stop me from watching Kurositsuji, (to the main ending,) or stop the show from being wildly popular.

Research is the answer to this dilemma.
-- Libraries where you can find historic diaries, and the Internet where you can find excerpts from an amazing array of books and websites on any subject, plus modern day blogs written by people actually living in those locations, are some of the easiest ways to gather information on foreign places and their cultures. Also, Stories: local myths, cultural legends and fairy tales, children's books, popular fiction written by those who live(d) there, and even popular TV shows actually from those places will give you the mindset of the people who created them and what they value: what they hold important, but most importantly WHY they hold those values important. (However, beware of localized propaganda.)

Also, the only time you need to use a foreign language in your stories is when you have something that simply has no translation in your own language. As an example, a police officer by any other name still arrests people who break laws.
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Re: Using real life cultures/locations is appropriation?

#9 Post by rainbowcascade » Mon Jun 09, 2014 9:28 pm

OokamiKasumi wrote: Also, the only time you need to use a foreign language in your stories is when you have something that simply has no translation in your own language. As an example, a police officer by any other name still arrests people who break laws.
For a book or novel, yes. But I'm referring to visual novels where characters look at restaurant menus, store signs decorate buildings, and other illustrated objects that have calligraphy on them. My story is a Asian influenced setting with a main cast comprising mostly of Asian people and other POC, english being the written language of the world would strike me as very odd. Although the cast talks in english because this IS an EVN so yeah.... I'm not sure how to feel about that.

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Re: Using real life cultures/locations is appropriation?

#10 Post by OokamiKasumi » Mon Jun 09, 2014 9:48 pm

rainbowcascade wrote:
OokamiKasumi wrote: Also, the only time you need to use a foreign language in your stories is when you have something that simply has no translation in your own language. As an example, a police officer by any other name still arrests people who break laws.
For a book or novel, yes. But I'm referring to visual novels where characters look at restaurant menus, store signs decorate(d) buildings, and other illustrated objects that have calligraphy on them. My story is a Asian influenced setting with a main cast comprising mostly of Asian people and other POC, english being the written language of the world would strike me as very odd. Although the cast talks in english because this IS an EVN so yeah.... I'm not sure how to feel about that.
Have you considered using oriental styled Fonts to give the names flavor without confusing (and possibly frustrating) your players?
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Re: Using real life cultures/locations is appropriation?

#11 Post by rainbowcascade » Mon Jun 09, 2014 10:01 pm

OokamiKasumi wrote:
Have you considered using oriental styled Fonts to give the names flavor without confusing (and possibly frustrating) your players?
I have, but I really like the feel of constructed languages. They make a fictional world very unique and real. Take for example, Final Fantasy 10. In that game, there are 3 conlangs in it, each with it's own unique (yet incredibly simple to decode) alphabet. Or Lord of the Rings with it's own popular and legit conlang that's a tad more complicated than FF10's. I don't think conlangs would frustrate the players as long as you have the characters speaking english and not forcing the player to study your conlang to solve puzzles.

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Re: Using real life cultures/locations is appropriation?

#12 Post by OokamiKasumi » Mon Jun 09, 2014 10:21 pm

rainbowcascade wrote:
OokamiKasumi wrote:Have you considered using oriental styled Fonts ...?
I have, but I really like the feel of constructed languages.
I understand. I made one myself for my sci-fi book series. (It's not all that difficult, especially if you base it on an existing language.) If that's what you want to do, then by all means -- go for it. :)
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Re: Using real life cultures/locations is appropriation?

#13 Post by Asceai » Mon Jun 09, 2014 10:33 pm

As an example, a police officer by any other name still arrests people who break laws.
Although it adds flavour to your Edo period drama to call them 'the Shinsengumi', rather than 'the cops' =P

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Re: Using real life cultures/locations is appropriation?

#14 Post by OokamiKasumi » Mon Jun 09, 2014 10:47 pm

Asceai wrote:
As an example, a police officer by any other name still arrests people who break laws.
Although it adds flavour to your Edo period drama to call them 'the Shinsengumi', rather than 'the cops' =P
Very true.
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Re: Using real life cultures/locations is appropriation?

#15 Post by qirien » Tue Jun 10, 2014 12:01 am

You could also make it Hong Kong of the future. That would allow you to use lots of flavor (I would spend a lot of time in Google Maps Street View to get ideas for BGs, architecture, signs, etc), but also have an explanation for not being completely true to modern Hong Kong.

But, if the exact location is not that important, it sounds like you would have fun making up your own world and language and culture. As long as it's not based completely off stereotypes and it makes sense with what exists in your world, you should be fine. (Pet peeve: worlds where magic exists and people use it to fight monsters, but they don't use it for practical everyday things, like traveling, farming, or crafting!)
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