Are shallow nods to certain countries or cultures actually a bad thing?

Originally I was going to post this as a reply to the LGTB-Overwatch topic. However, the whole thing got so personal I decided to make a topic of it's own instead. Hope you don't mind.

If I understood the general consensus of the Overwatch discussion correctly, the underlying idea was that if you make nod to a different culture without "going all the way" then you are being [something]ist. Because any simplification of a country or culture (no matter what it's conveying or trying to convey) is an automatic act of racism or disdain.

From personal experience, I have to strongly disagree with this. While it would kind of an stretch to call Argentina an "oppressed" country, it's pretty obvious we are at a huge disadvantage compared to "the first world". I personally make 10 cents for every dollar my American counterpart earns for the exact same job. (I work for an international company, so we literally do the exact same job) And I am one of the lucky ones because my line of work allows me to work online for international companies.  My friends actually do much worse, earning much less than an American McDonalds employee for highly qualified jobs like Doctors, Teachers, Lawyers and Scientific researcher.

But perhaps what's more relevant to this topic, Argentina is one of those countries that has been completely neglected by "mainstream" culture. When movies/video-games/comibooks/etc. talk about South America, they 
ALWAYS focus on Brazil. On rare occasions they also include Peru due to their rich Inca history. And they may (may) refer to Colombia if (and only if) they are talking about Pablo Escobar. But that's about it. Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay or Uruguay do not exist in mainstream culture. They are non-countries.

As such, it's fairly easy for us (Argentinian Nerds) to keep tracks of the few times our country has been featured in "mainstream" media. And let me tell you, my friends and I love it. Even if that representation happens to be a shallow or goofy caricature, we love it. Things like Mortal Kombat's kung lao Gaucho skin or DC's Super Malon are a treat for us. Even when they get thousands of things wrong, they at least tried and we appreciate that. As a matter of facts, there is a lot of charm in the things they get wrong. 

The few times we actually felt offended is when the details where so utterly wrong that the author clearly did not do a 3 minutes google research. When Argentina is used as a stand-in of "exotic place" but completely lacks anything remotely interesting about the country. For example, there is an scene in X-men First Generation where Magneto goes to Villa Gessel to catch Nazis. That's all nice and dandy, after all there are a lot of theories about Nazis moving to Villa Gessel after the second war.The problem is that the scenery they used looks nothing like Villa Gessel. Villa Gessel is a Caribbean-looking place, more similar to Miami than it is to Swiss Alps. What's even worse, the bartender uses the expression "Quieto,Cabron". Nobody in Latin American uses the word "Cabron" as an insult, that's a lingo exclusive to Mexico. You only needed to ask anyone who spoke Spanish, because even Mexicans are aware that other places don't use the word "Cabron" as an insult. Taking into consideration there are just 4 or 5 lines in Spanish, it's grotesquely out of place.

What I am trying to get here is that these representation don't need to be perfect. They don't need to go all the way or be incredibly deep. Resources are limited, and I don't expect the writing team to spend a week researching the Argentinian bar they are going to use for 5 minutes. We can enjoy the things they get right and laugh at the things they get wrong. The only requirement is that you can see some level of care, some level of appreciation.

As such, I really find the idea that "cultural representations need to be pure" to be completely counter-productive. In a way because it reduces the chances of most obscure places of actually receiving any attention. But mostly because there is a lot of charm in the cultural re-interpretation of your culture as long as these re-interpretations are done with love. They may be caricatures, but if they are done to appreciate your country or culture, could that be called harmful?

P.S. To provide a few examples some of you may share with me, think of JapAnse re-interpretations of Western culture. Certain Animes like Cowboy Beebop or video games like Metal Gear, and you will notice most of their charm arises from this "foreign perspective of our culture". 
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  • RobrechtRobrecht Posts: 292Member
    Right, NAC, but the problem with the Overwatch representations mentioned in that thread, and for that matter representation of those cultures in most media, is that they fall in the 'insultingly wrong' category, rather than the 'amusingly wrong' category.

    That needed to be said. I'm a bit pressed for time at the moment, but I have more thoughts (read: a building rant) on this topic, so I will get back to the thread later.
  • UntaxableUntaxable Posts: 244Member
    Seems to me the measure of offence people take to the character of their representation is correlated to the measure and way that representation was used to legitimize their treatment.
    Post will probably be edited by Untaxable soon
  • galdon Posts: 259Member
    Something also to consider, is that not every culture responds the same way to the same things. Like, your culture might appreciate even slight nods in media and not mind most inaccuracies , while there may be some cultures where they see any inaccuracies as a sign of disrespect.

    When deciding if something is offensive, it should probably be considered if the people who are a part of the culture being depicted find it offensive or not. If they aren't offended, then people being offended on their behalf probably need to take a chill pill (Take a chill strip. Peel it off, stick it on your tongue, chill.) If they are offended though, then there is a problem with the depiction that needs to be fixed. 
  • RobrechtRobrecht Posts: 292Member
    edited February 15
    @Untaxable ;;
    With a slight amendment, I'd say that's about right.

    The amendment being:
    The measure of offence people take to the character of their misrepresentation is correlated to the measure and way misrepresentation in general was used to legitimize their treatment.

    I.e. if Britain, during the Falklands war, had flooded international media with misrepresenting propaganda of Argentinians as a bunch of baby-raping savages and that became a stereotypical view of Argentinians for decades to come, NAC and his friends would be a lot more sensitive about even relatively 'innocent' misrepresentations of Argentinian culture.
    Post edited by Robrecht on
  • ChazChaz Posts: 385Administrator
    edited February 15
    As a super-mega-ultra-SJW I feel like I should say something, but honestly NAC's OP has pretty much nailed it. Especially this:
    The only requirement is that you can see some level of care, some level of appreciation.

    To use Overwatch as an example, Ana has a wadjet tattoo, speaks arabic, and her name is even spelled in the appropriate way for an Egyptian (when Romanised of course). There's clearly been a decent level of care and appreciation.

    Roadhog is Australian, has a New Zealand Maori name, is white as a sheet, and has a Pacific Islander skin that's more Hawaiian then NZ Native. The level of care is insultingly little.

    There's also a lot that could be said about cultural appropriation, but I don't feel I know enough about it to properly explain.

    Post edited by Chaz on
  • UntaxableUntaxable Posts: 244Member
    @Robrecht ;
    I thought about adding a "in their eyes" type comment but came to the conclusion that the truth value of the miss/representation just just wasn't all that relevant.

    I accept the correction about generality, if I understand your meaning? I think you mean "in general" as in the miss/representation is of the group as a whole, the offence is personal?
    Post will probably be edited by Untaxable soon
  • RobrechtRobrecht Posts: 292Member
    I actually meant misrepresentations in general as in that if a misrepresentation of the group has been used to mistreat them in the past, any misrepresentation, not just that specific one, will feel offensive to them.
  • UntaxableUntaxable Posts: 244Member
    Hmm yes :)
    I don't have much to add.
    Post will probably be edited by Untaxable soon
  • NotPlatoNotPlato Posts: 397Member
    Another response, being a New Zealander, I get the fist-pump at getting any mention whatsoever, even [or especially depending on the context] where the situation has comedic value. However, consider why you feel that way. It sounds as though you cheer any depiction due to the scarcity of any depiction whatsoever, rather than out of any actual benefit done by it [other than a name-drop, which is appreciable in its own way]. Laughing at the inaccuracies is all well and good, but isn't that also simply a way of coping? Issue being, where something is very wrong, and not just off in the way that a foreigner who's done research but doesn't have lived experience would be off, what value does that actually have? Something claiming to represent a place/thing, that then fails to do so within a certain degree of accuracy, might as well not be representing the thing at all. Perhaps were the volume of references to Argentina and Argentinian culture higher, you'd be more critical of the depictions. 
    It's the difference between being wanting your country to actually appear on the 'world map' and wanting people to stop calling you Australian.

    Also, for the record, the biggest issue with Roadhog is how obviously american his voice is. If they re-recorded all of his voice lines to at least be in line with Australian-raised voices, I'd be fairly satisfied. The pig motif being preserved in the islander/toa skins is tasteless, but overall the skins aren't *particularly* offensive (to me, a pakeha) in that the Tatua (clothing) is actually quite reasonable enough (in response to Chaz w/ the Hawaiian thing, but also they weren't about to render a couple hundred bits of straw, the shoulder sash is like, weirdly out of place when there's a perfectly reasonable shoulder sash they could've done that'd be more fitting with the skin overall?) but that mask and greaves definitely fits the description in that regard.
    But also, NAC, like, this IS stuff I laugh at, but explaining WHY it's funny is a necessary task. Laugh at the misuse of "Cabron", but letting the world know why it's wrong is the only way, otherwise they will see that and take it to be true (given no further information).

    With the Pharah skins, there's a very well-thought-out post by a native american on the subject in favour of it, explaining how it's true to their art style, however, a culture is more than its art style, and preserving that is important too, and where things are preserved, it's reasonable to expect that they be preserved well. Otherwise the thing itself is not preserved, only whatever the appropriators create from their own imaginations with the thing as a seed.
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  • lightlight Posts: 290Member
    I hope I am not overly reaching for a way to relate here, but there is a (very good) play written about mathematicians (math is my undergraduate track) called Proof, that represents its subject matter very well up until the characters discuss the math itself. The segment is so amusing I kinda wanna quote it, I'll put it in spoiler tags.
    I've got Eberhart's Conjecture setting up this section. Qn as the nth prime, all that stuff, b's a positive not divisible by p ... You know it. Pretty basic number theory. It just seems wrong to be using it to get to the Gauss. I'd like to go around, but when you eliminate it you get contradictions, or everything goes to zero. Unless ... 

    This bit is off to the point of being funny in a number of ways, but it definitely sounds like something a mathematician might say. In the end I don't expect a play that is topical to mathematics, even one that goes on to win a Pulitzer prize, to ascetically master the details of the subculture it treats. The line above is flat out wrong in several places, but there's no compelling reason to clarify any of its misconceptions, especially when the audience won't even remember them.

    I've been studying Japanese off and on for almost half my life, probably going to be learning it my entire life and I see no end to the awkward articulations, the pragmatics missteps, and in general not understanding the full connotations of things. That seems to me like an inherent part of transversing cultural boundaries. The reason for mistakes does matter: lack of time? laziness? inexperience? And I realize that some of my mistakes are genuinely funny, like the other day when I didn't know how to say my nose is running, so I told my Japanese teacher it was overflowing. (Apparently you just have to say water is coming out of your nose.)

    I guess my point is, I can see how inter-cultural mistakes can be amusing, charming even, but also they are unavoidable, and they don't always need to be immediately set straight. 
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  • CSJCSJ Posts: 22Member
    edited February 20
    The OP has done a reasonable job of answering their own question; 'it depends'. Pro and anti-SJW types tend to disregard or avoid any suggestion of moral subjectivity, though I personally consider the former more palatable than the latter. However, I suppose it should be further highlighted that assumptions about the offensiveness of content are dangerous when undertaken without consulting representative (ie; not the one person in the office that vaguely fits group x) members of the groups being portrayed.

    @NotPlato I agree; the pig motifs really clash with everything else going on with that character. For a more authentic kiwi design, it should be sheep. He'd drink sav blanc and spout totally incomprehensible lines about 'fush n chups' and leaving scooters at the dairy.

    I suspect there's something buried in the lore though about being invaded, since there's references to a 'Greater Australia'. No hard feelings! :3
    Post edited by CSJ on
  • vlademir1vlademir1 Posts: 428Member
    @light Was that some Wesley and Data save the day techno-babble about math?

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  • lightlight Posts: 290Member
    @vlademir1 Yeah that's one way to put it. But I also get the impression that the playwright was genuinely trying to make it true to form. Like I think I know what unsolved problem the character is supposed to be proving, and then the content above is ballpark relevant, it's just... what is said ends up being nonsense on even a basic level. So yeah Star Trek technobabble.
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  • nujumkeynujumkey Posts: 296Member
    Considering my culture tends to be cartoonified as pedos and terrorists, im just happy to be included in a non negative way.

    As a general rule, im with the OP that any representation is nice, but i can understand the desire to not offend and stereotype certain groups. Its a good idea to just show a friend when touching other cultures you aren't yourself immersed in, or a google search would be nice.
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  • NotPlatoNotPlato Posts: 397Member
    @CSJ ;
    For a more authentic kiwi design, it should be sheep. He'd drink sav blanc and spout totally incomprehensible lines about 'fush n chups' and leaving scooters at the dairy.

    [but get with the program, it's cows rather than sheep now.]
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  • Andy_GAndy_G Posts: 287Member
    What is one of the best episodes of the Simpsons, if not the most factually incorrect?
    Either getting it so wrong it's a joke (though it runs the same problem as satire if not obvious) or showing some clear understanding/effort are some good ways of giving a nod or representing something. Paraphrasing my thoughts on the Overwatch thread: for Roadhog & Farah Native Canadian skin it's just not clear enough and that's where a lot of the problems come from.
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  • taps1992taps1992 Posts: 161Member
    edited May 17
    tl;dr - subtle nods > "in-depth" but inaccurate depiction of country/culture

    Sometime back there was a big hooha over a TV show that misrepresented Singapore in such a way that our mainstream newspaper even covered it. The anger is quite justified imo - the crap saccharine image about a low crime city with a government-owned slum in Geylang was intended to play up the drama, and they've conveyed these "facts" as if it was a documentary. I don't watch Criminal Minds myself, but from the clips shared around I felt the patronising tone in the delivery of the scenes. 

    I guess, in the past when Singapore was virtually in the unknown like Argentina is now, people would be happy with any slight mention of Singapore (and Singapore being a separate island-state further south from China is a HUGE bonus) in any mainstream Western media at all. But as the Internet grows ever more accessible and the Singaporean ego swells, there's going to be more pressure to get the research done right if there is going to be any in-depth coverage on a certain culture. 

    In that sense, Overwatch's sins aren't even as bad as a badly researched episode with the intention of using the country as a backdrop for drama's sake. 
    Post edited by taps1992 on
  • vlademir1vlademir1 Posts: 428Member
    @taps1992 Funny enough I happened to see part of that episode when my dad was watching it a while back.  I facepalmed so hard so many times in ten minutes I just had to get up and leave.
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    Truth is never lying right there on the surface for everyone to quickly find, it requires dedication, the right tools and time.
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