So I'm reading the conversations arising from this journal
, and the last two caught my attention.!Saprowan
and I have been discussing race issues a lot since this summer. I've dealt with my fair share of immature approaches to critiques and know how to break them down. Though, I think this is the first time he's come across a clear understanding of exactly what these rude people are pointing at, what the flaws mean, and how they are no better than the cause of the problem.
Let's take a moment to break this all down, since the debate turned into a pretty immature argument.
I'm going to lay my main point out. Regardless of your pov, this company is doing a travel series. This is a company from the U.S. that mostly has "American" dolls. So, even through variation of clothing, there's no indication of pin-pointing cultural references so that we can identify these dolls as American. The point of the doll is just another line from Mattel (after Barbie) to show-figure fashion. Because white is a norm. White is the default, and here, "American" is too. There are some things to be said about the idealized body, and these things lead to body politics, which we will get to in a moment. The matter of this case is: this IS a TRAVEL SERIES. So this is the American interpretation of various cultures seen as "other" outside the U.S.
Therefore, we cannot ignore that ANYTHING you create for profit and public view will have influential tendencies. You cannot be naive enough as to say even a child's toy doesn't go through the process of representation choices and the ability to culturally appropriate. It's also naive to believe a child's toy has no influence in society. Dolls are models that children subconsciously relate to, and these points tie back to how later on the ideally view themselves. Being an active part of the media (in the state of childhood development and understanding of multiculture), the people who design the dolls have a responsibility. They are responsible for every visual choice to make of a culture outside themselves, and they are responsible for researching and appropriating these toys. Similarly, they are therefore responsible for the aftereffects of their choices, and the way the public interacts and interprets the doll.
So there is nothing wrong with seeing a person embody your culture into a representative concept, and finding flaws and errors. There is nothing wrong with pointing them out, stating that these errors influence child growth which can later on lead to more radical racial hate crimes, and expand on the overall problems of inter-sectional identity politics.
Due to all this, a travel series is a representative statement in the form of a doll. It's an artistic figure that focuses specifically on embodiment and race. There's NO WAY AROUND THAT. Therefore, stating that race isn't the issue here, or that we should be focusing on other aspects ... statements like that say nothing and have no place in this discussion. You aren't saying anything. And while I'll admit that in the second debate, Saprowan does lash out immaturely, I have to give them some backing with being enraged. Especially when activists are constantly told to not make big deals about something so small. I shall be staying objective and neutral for this, though.
Starting with the first debate, the person states: states that race shouldn't be the only thing we should focus on when it comes to a critical and visual representative issues. Indeed, they compare the issues of race with the inaccurate portrayals of fictional beings. The problem with this is that racism is real. To think we live in a post-racist society is sadly untrue. It's a thing that exists. Multiple races exist, and while it was extreme of Saprowan to point out personally having witnessed hate crimes, that doesn't berate his points all that much. It might have not been the best tactic. But speaking with him, these horrible crimes one witnesses from a young age do go unspoken of, and are subconsciously teaching PoC that they cannot speak openly about events such as these without risking their own lives. It's an extreme example, but it does tie back to the idea of reverse-racism. It's BS, mind my language.
Stating that someone mentioning the oppressive qualities of a doll will only empower the oppression is almost like victim-blaming. Activists get this a lot. That's asking us to stop making big deals about things that affect us on a daily basis here in America. These dolls are affecting people here, their main market, so the stereotypes are focused here. Saprowan is pointing out that the doll is being stereotyped as this fetishized exotic Asian girl. As someone who comes from that East Asian background, it's true. Because he understands his own culture, and understands the white-washed version of how people here still view the Asian community. Don't believe me? Watch and read Madame Butterfly & M. Butterfly. Look at pornography depicting Asian women. The mentality (in terms of power issues) is all still there.
Pointing out that these stereotypes still exist as a CONCEPT/MENTALITY is not stating that stereotypes exist because they are true. He's stating that the stereotype ideal is implanted and taught TO THIS DAY (in small doses such as these), and that the stereotypes themselves are harmful and enforce an unhealthy and therefore dangerous mentality towards the targeted marketing audience. And people REALLY WILL believe what they buy. It's not uncommon.
This isn't the same as misinterpreting traditional views on fictional characters. These stereotypes are around today, and SAYING that point them out is bad will get you nowhere.
I'm specifically going to say this for young naive activists too. Just because we criticize the things we enjoy doesn't make us hypocritical. We don't enjoy the misrepresentation, and daily we are told to hush on these things that "shouldn't be a big deal," especially if marketed towards children. See above if you didn't catch what I said as to why this isn't the case. We are making a point to recognize that misrepresentation can lead to even capital violence, if not physical violence. Being insulted, being called a slur, being fetishized... those are all capital violence acts. However, we are also mediating with everything. We aren't going to go around hating every single thing in the world that misrepresents. It's true, people make mistakes. Mind you, it was stated in this person's comment (perhaps unintentionally) that the company should be forgiven the same way an individual should for making a mistake. Wrong, a company values audience and money, and therefore is completely responsible for their actions. If we went around hating everything, we'd probably turn into Nihilists. And quite honestly, we realize that the flaw doesn't mean the product doesn't have its good points. But since this series deals with race, we're focusing on this aspect through a critical pov. And we can still love things, while having the ability to think critically about both the good and bad points of any media. Therefore, it's inaccurate to call this action of critical analysis hypocrisy.
Also your wording, I don't think you realize the words you're using. Or perhaps you're just throwing around fancy-sounding words, but they mean very little, or come off as vague. Fashion, for one, is not an "intellectual culture"... heck, intellectualism isn't a culture. It's a mentality based of knowledge levels. And fashion is an art medium that deals with body politics, representation, the abstract form of embodiment and the ideal, while balancing the "form follows function" utilitarian use of clothing from the early ages. Fashion challenges that. So I don't know what you mean by the doll being only used for the "intellectual culture of fashion."
You don't have an understanding of what "colorblindness" means when speaking about racial issues. We don't mean it literally. We mean people who say "I'm colorblind" in the sense of how they don't think race is an issue, and if you point out in certain places that it still IS, you're only enforcing it come more. So they choose to literally be blind to race. As if stating that we live in a post-racial society and acting like race isn't an issue will somehow set them apart from the problem. It's been proven once and again, pretending that it's not happening is just as bad, and doing nothing is sometimes even worse than being the cause. Racism is still real; and if you think this is untrue, Incarceration, poverty, capitalism, stereotypes, school graduate levels, police brutality victims, etc will tell you otherwise.
So when you off the tangent of "should we then make the show political climate?"... you're just going off on an irrelevant tangent, and you show no clear understanding of what we mean by culture appropriation. We're not talking about propaganda or patriotism.
Lastly, you say something quite offensive, by stating that "should the doll's feet just be bound" because in the past, feet binding were used in a specific era as a means of gendered oppression and idealization. It's violence towards women having to do with body politics, and your argument just crumbles when you're actively suggesting we create a doll to embody that violence. I just...no. And I do believe you should apologize for that statement.
Lastly, it seems you've committed the same research flaw that the doll makers have. Saprowan didn't make a constructive criticism? Have you seen his last piece? It SPECIFICALLY deals with appropriate alternatives to Asian representation (especially when it comes to fashion.) He's also been exploring body variation and such, so I believe you should look a little closer before making assumptions. I'm pretty sure he knows his own culture more so than a white person. Just saying.
Now here, Saprowan specifically focused on discussing the figure which he knows mostly about with his background. So he has historical knowledge, and is literally being represented. He has all the right to speak his mind, and he openly mentioned lacking in enough historical contexts as for the Mexican doll. So he asked me.
My take on the doll is similar. While I understand the mentality of the designer, I don't agree that it was the best artistic decision to make. These past few years (this is really recent), Day of the Dead has been turned into the extension of Halloween by rich and white folks alike. The figure has to do with the sugar skull. I must say the name isn't too creative for my taste either. The painting of the face is very much like the people who dress up on that day. As someone who grew up in the culture, dressing up is a big deal. It's usually the performance position of the event. You are embodying that figure. Let me point this out. This "holiday" is NOT to celebrate "the dead" or "death." It is a day to celebrate the memories of relatives, family, friends, and anyone who's inspired you and has passed away into another life. It is a memento bringing attention to their most admirable aspects. It's a very internal and personal event that is turned beautiful when a large community of individuals actually UNDERSTAND this intimate connection we have with the afterlife, and those we'd lost. It is a chance to celebrate those memories, and give them a physical form. Again, even as a costume, it's not a statement of fashion or this tangent from Halloween. People take the "skull" and "death" aspect, and add spiders, gothic clothing
.I've seen more and more connections to Halloween than I can stomach. It's been white-washed into an excuse to dress up and party, and feel like you're participating in this culture you know nothing about, but aren't willing to research. (At least not enough to actually dress and represent the event appropriately.)
With both dolls, this company has decided to find the connection and assumptions that Americans make with different cultures. They've chosen the less obvious ones, or the seemingly less problematic ones that come off as festive; Of course, without realizing that that's already two dolls who are embodying the white-washed exoticized versions of non-white cultures. You can't ignore that both these races and cultures have certain stereotypes about them that we can thank the rest of the world for. Those ideas still exist. So to be a responsible designer, and I say this as both a critique AND an artist, doing research is a big deal. As artists working with a company that HAS money, they can afford to read up and actively AVOID those stereotypes. Perhaps introduce America to the other wonders of our cultures that will get their heads thinking? They could have chosen other aspects people would never consider. There are other festivities, other costumes, other tribes and communities. There are myths and fascinating superstitions. Imagine if they made a "La Llorona" based doll? Now THAT would impress me, depending on how they approached it. Especially because that tale is far more interactive and far-reaching.
In terms of what they did right, I love the skirt that resembles the paper crafts, and the craftsmanship of the doll itself is lovely (of course, since it's a professional company.) The sugar skull design itself is nice, but one cannot say they "didn't just focus on the skulls" because just look at her bag thing. I also can't ignore the body politics of a thin doll and making her a literal skeleton. Especially when fat shaming is still a huge deal, and many women I've talked to have always had issues that tie back to the idealized dolls they were given as gendered things they were expected to appreciate.
As for the second person who was not just immature but arrogant: "Excuse me I don't mean to be rude but take that stick out of your ass people." Let's be honest here. Yes you did. You meant to be rude and you WERE rude and became defensive at every angle where Saprowan tackled your points and why the focus should stay on the doll, not the odd tangents you kept bringing up.
As I admitted earlier, I do find that his reply was just as immature, but having received such an ignorant-heavy message, and being a new activist, it's hard to learn to pick your battles. It's hard to not be enraged and want to let that person know.
Activists are here to enjoy the world just as openly as anyone else, with the difference of being educated enough (and always learning more) to critically approach things. However, we as INDIVIDUALS obviously cannot tackle everything. So don't make that irrelevant point of "why not just hate everything/give a critique on ALL dolls? There are OTHERS with issues too, stop being a special snowflake!"
One, you're making a fool of yourself, please step away for the computer and calm down. I already covered this; Saprowan approached the doll from his angle as the one that is creating conversations around his own culture. And where he didn't know, he actively asked. You start bringing in North Korea and the murders and hate crimes of other Asian countries, completely missing the point as to WHY he brought up hate crimes. It was in relation to the levels of ignorance one is taught, and how one, as a PoC, witnesses the more terrifying extremes of when these ignorant things get out of hand and out of our control. So when we try to prevent the mentality of just accepting things as they are, and encourage people to become aware of what is happening around them directly, don't go off on a tangent.
Is it really self-pity to see your whole culture get white-washed, with a history being constantly erased? To have once witnessed a hate crime that specifically dealt with racial tensions? And to try and approach and tackle the smaller issues through one's own creative practice?
Sadly, the idea of the social justice warrior has stained the actual work of most activists. But look at the blogs that even make fun of them. Look at the Social Justice Sally Meme on tumblr. Look at the blog. At some point, the co-founders had to confront people and tell them this: YELLING ABOUT OPPRESSION IS NOT THE SAME AS ACTUALLY ACTIVISM. Whoa, radical idea, right? (deep tedious sigh)
And when you know this, people also have to acknowledge that some of our points are opinions, others actual FACTS. Racism is real, it's a FACT. Hate crimes are a FACT. Saprowan's past experiences make everything more real, not an opinion. However, we as individuals do not speak for the minority as a whole. And we acknowledge this. We don't want to be the poster-children, but if no one else says anything, things won't get better.
You either want us to hate everything in one extreme, or be quiet about everything. Rather than our approach, taking a small action and bringing it into the bigger picture of ideas and the problems rooted. So next time you bring up such immature debate material and just turn this into an argument, use your head please. Thank you.