Principle of Charity
Is it OK for Storytellers to Appropriate Stories and Characters from Other Cultures?
Up until not that long ago, storytellers were encouraged to flex their creative muscles, to look outside themselves, and armed with their imagination as well as a lot of research, to bring to life characters, stories and worlds that they didn’t inhabit themselves, often worlds vastly different to the culture they’ve grown up in.
But relatively recently, storytellers have received a huge challenge from the progressive left, a challenge that has now permeated the creative arts. It suggests that entering other cultures, particularly marginalised ones, and telling stories of their people, drawing from the well of their cultural reservoir, is akin to an act of theft.
The critique goes further than theft though. It includes other challenges: if you’re from a dominant culture, and you’re telling stories of people that your culture has historically colonised or oppressed, then you are effectively compounding the oppression, as you are once again taking their voices and imposing your narrative on theirs.
There’s a question of authenticity as well: because you, the writer, are not from their culture, do not have their lived experience, then you can never truly represent them except in an inauthentic and often demeaning way. No matter how much research you do, you’ll at best create a pale imitation of an authentically voiced story, and at worst you’ll create two dimensional, dangerously cliched, even racist caricatures.
This is highly complex ground, with issues of creativity, aesthetic merit, theft, caricatures, of power and colonisation, all competing to control the narrative of who has the right to tell stories.
Our two guests, Daniel Browning and James O Young, share a great sensitivity to culture, to forms of oppression, and to the power of storytelling. But they’ve come to very different views on cultural appropriation in storytelling.
Daniel Browning is an Aboriginal Australian journalist, radio broadcaster, sound artist and writer. He presents The Art Show on Radio National and is the ABC’s Editor of Indigenous Radio. A visual arts graduate, Daniel is also a widely published freelance writer on the arts and culture. Daniel is a descendant of the Bundjalung and Kullilli peoples of far northern New South Wales and south-western Queensland.
James O. Young is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Victoria in Canada. He specialises in philosophical issues related to the arts and has written several books including Cultural Appropriation of the Arts (2008). He was elected to the Royal Society of Canada in 2015.
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Your hosts are Lloyd Vogelman and Emile Sherman.
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Find Emile @EmileSherman on Linked In and Twitter.
This Podcast is Produced by Jonah Primo and Bronwen Reid
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