Ignorant Bullies Censor Art Exhibition


Christopher Carr

Christopher Carr does stuff and writes about stuff.

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371 Responses

  1. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    And the outrage culture turns ever on…Report

  2. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    Really? Sigh….

    Is this ever going to end?Report

  3. Avatar Kazzy says:

    That’s not what censor means…

    And these seem less like ignorant bullies and more like malicious manipulators. Not sure if that is better or worse.Report

    • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

      From the American Heritage Dictionary:

      censor (v.) 1. To examine or remove objectionable or improper material from a publication; 2. to keep from being published or transmitted.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        But the museum itself opted to remove the pieces. Arguably under pressure, yes, but the protestors (who seem pretty demonstrably wrong in this case) did not remove anything or keep anything from being published. I get that calling this censorship makes it juicy but it isn’t.Report

        • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

          Censorship doesn’t need to be compelled. The reason the word itself is juicy is precisely because it’s such a terrible and insidious thing.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            But the “bullies” didn’t do the censoring. The MFA did. Why not title this “Cowardly Art Wusses Censor Exhibit”?Report

            • Avatar Glyph says:

              Brother Kazzy has a point here IMO.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                Brother Kazzy is appropriating my pedantic nitpicker culture.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:


                Does it matter who changed the exhibit? That doesn’t feel like nitpicking. The MFA really couldn’t muster up a counter to these protestors?Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                “A handful of people with a Tumblr page and a heaping helping of bitterness are complaining, so we’re taking this down” does seem odd, and entirely the fault of the museum.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                The extent to which there may be fault beyond the MFA is if they say, “We see how small shit has blown up on other folks before. Let’s not let that happen here.” In which case the scorched earth approach taken by some has collateral damage. But hard to know how to blame given the lack of any sort of organization tl the various shit storms.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                You would think the curators of an art museum could develop & deploy a strong explanation as to why the exhibit was not racist, or a good counterargument (if a coherent position could be pulled from that gibberish).

                Cowardly or just lazy?Report

      • FWIW, you’re both partly right, I think. Technically, it’s the museum that is engaging in censorship, although I’m not entirely sure this quite rises to the level of actual censorship in terms of what they’ve done so far.

        However, that doesn’t let the protesters off the hook from anything related to the word “censor.” The proper word for them is “censorious.” The dictionary definition for “censorious” is just “harshly critical,” but the connotation in my understanding has always been more akin to “harshly critical to the point of desiring to censor.”Report

  4. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    Of course they have a Tumblr.Report

  5. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    One of the group members, Pampi Daz, also made this absurdly offensive statement (see Globe article), comparing non-Japanese people wearing kimonos to the forced chattel slavery of Africans

    Is there a name for the fallacy where you identify some way in which two things are superficially similar, and then go on to assert that that means they’re the same in some other way?

    Because I see that a lot.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      Ah. Argument by analogy.Report

      • Avatar Road Scholar says:

        Except it’s a really bad analogy. Usually even fallacious use of analogy uses something closer to being on point than this. Maybe something like one of those painted tableaux with the cut-outs for your face so someone can take your picture as a hillbilly or something?

        I don’t understand how the kimono thing is supposed to be mocking anyone, assuming that’s even their point. I’m confused.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          There was a website that had me knitting my brow a while back:

          Your Fave Is Problematic.

          They cover stuff like celebrities engaging in cultural appropriation and how that’s bad. Well, maybe not how as much as that.

          Anyway, one of the issues that got me the most confounded was the posting of a couple of pictures of a celebrity at a wedding in India who was appropriating the whole application of vermillion to the forehead thing followed by the printing of a handful of letters explaining that, no, in that particular corner of India, the wedding guests all get some vermillion applied as part of the ceremony/celebration so the fact that this western celebrity had that too wasn’t appropriation.

          And I couldn’t help but notice that the person, whomever it was, was engaged in defending a culture they didn’t understand.

          I’m sure that whomever did that, though, is exceptionally good natured and has the best of intentions.Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      “Apples in orangeface”?Report

  6. Avatar gregiank says:

    What a bunch of maroons. Ridiculous hyperbole, jargon, comparisons to slavery, tumblr, it’s got everything.Report

  7. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    If you challenge the protestors on the point that actual Japanese people or Japanese-Americans do not seem to care, they would respond that it doesn’t matter because they are speaking for all people of color or something. If you point out that this is in itself a form of appropriation, they wouldn’t bling an eye.Report

  8. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    On the second thought, it might not matter that none of the protestors were Japanese or Japanese people weren’t offended. The movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s is extraordinary popular in Japan. Most of the Japanese people I’ve talked to about the movie do not seem to take offense at Micky Rooney’s very stereotypical performance of the Japanese landlord. Asian-Americans and other Americans of color, whom aren’t Japanese in origin, find Mickey Rooney’s role extraordinarily racist. If you argue that the role isn’t racist because actual Japanese people do not mind than your kind of missing the point. The Asian-American and Americans of color criticism of Mickey Rooney’s role was that it perpetuated racist Asian stereotypes and continues a long process where people of color, especially any person of color who wasn’t African-American, was played by a white actor in makeup for the most part.

    The protestors could make a legitimate argument, if they were more articulate and did better prep work, that the Boston Museum’s event was still racist even though Japanese people do not mind because of the long history of Western appropriation of other cultures. As recent events shown us, cultural appropriation is not a victimless crime. In this case, the victim aren’t Japanese people but Asian-Americans or to an extent any non-white person because an aspect of a non-White culture is being used as an object of fun for mainly white people.Report

    • Avatar Road Scholar says:

      Oh, good. Eventually we have to outlaw Halloween so we don’t offend the monster-american community.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        I think the protestors are vastly overstating their case but they do have a little point.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        I remember reading a wiccan complain about towns in the Northeast that moved Halloween because of Hurrican Sandy. Her argument was “How dare you move my holiday….”Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          The daycare I once worked at had a parent (prior to my employment) who practiced Wicca and asked that the center avoid the green faced, warty nosed witch caricature during Halloween. She didn’t object to all depictions of witches — even those inconsistent with how most Wiccans presented themselves — just the ones that made them seem inhuman. She didn’t want her daughter to think their faith made them monsters. I was 19 when I hears this told and even in my infancy of understanding this stuff, jt didn’t seem unreasonable. It is probably easier to be empathetic when you can look at the person (especially a kid) possibly impacted and the near zero effort required to comply with the request as opposed to reading about things from afar.Report

    • Avatar Damon says:

      “The protestors could make a legitimate argument ”

      Yeah, the COULD but it’s easier to go all “godwin” on and shout inanely and inarticulately.

      It’s far easier to just tune out tools like this. If you can’t actually articulate a complain and instead just spout jargon and spittle, you should be ignored.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I think you’re right. One of the dysfunctions of outrage culture is that it often obscures legitimate points in its vitriol (and, in this case, in its attempt to co-opt… appropriate?.. an academic language that they clearly don’t fully grasp).

        That said, if they were to speak in their own voice, and make an argument about why they weren’t happy about this exhibit, I’d be willing to listen without retaliatory hysterics and equally charged language (like, say, the title of the OP).Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      I actually think that if the people from that country (and their American relations) don’t mind, then it can’t be all that much of a problem. Maybe that’s just me, but I have seen anti-Semitic portrayals on TV, and until someone — anyone — starts complaining, I’m going to be laughing just as much as the next person.

      I mean, really, what gives a Person of Color (Varietal: Dark Brown) the special privilege to complain about the treatment of a Person of Color (Varietal: Blue)? Do rednecks in general get special privilege to complain about the treatment of blue people?Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      As recent events shown us, cultural appropriation is not a victimless crime.

      Which recent events, and who were the victims, and how were they harmed? I am generally pretty skeptical of these sorts of claims – appropriation *itself* is IMO usually not the problem, it is instead wider power dynamics (or malice and disrespect) that is.Report

      • Avatar Murali says:

        The problem is not malice, nor even a deliberate disrespect. It is more to do with an unintentional disrespect. For instance, one instance of cultural appropriation that gets on my nerves is the way in which some western media (by and large the offending material will tend to be found in urban fantasy*) portray some of the more fearsome Hindu deities as evil (by featuring them as villains of the story)

        The existence of new agers who appropriate Hindu concepts irritates me to varying degrees too. Part of it has to do with the un-seriousness with which the appropriation occurs. It seems that new-age-ism is something that upper middle class white people flirt with while they “find themselves”. It is an expression of rebellion against their parent’s cultural symbols. For the rest of us practicing Hindus, while it is sometimes flattering that you (i.e. young rebellious white people) find our symbols worth appropriating, the frivolousness of the reasons for doing so is also insulting. For us, our symbols and concepts are accompanied by onerous and involved rituals and restrictions which we feel (somewhat) obligated to abide by while New-agers guiltlessly avoid those restrictions. Many Hindus may also avoid those same rituals and restrictions, but we expect to be held to account for doing so by our more orthodox compatriots.

        *This is not to say that most urban fantasy offends this way, only that most offenders are urban fantasy novelsReport

        • Avatar LeeEsq says:

          This really gets to the heart of it and is a very good analysis of cultural appropriation and it’s problems, @murali. It isn’t that the appropriators are going out of their way to diminish another culture most of the time, they usually have at least some love or respect for what they are appropriating. The crime comes from getting things wrong deliberately or mistakingly for any reason and causing feelings of hurt in the party from the culture.Report

          • Avatar Glyph says:

            @leeesq @murali – but you guys are all over the place, in terms of the seriousness of this. Lee keeps using the term “crime”, and implying victims are “harmed”. Murali instead talks about things that “get on his nerves” and “irritate” him.

            Needless to say, I suspect Murali’s closer to the truth here, so…is all irritation “offensive”? I agree we generally shouldn’t go out of the way to deliberately irritate people (though it’s not always a principle I abide by), but the guy who drives under the speed limit in the passing lane doesn’t necessarily need protestors and shouted slogans on his front lawn.Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq says:

              It is really difficult to describe the level of harm done by cultural appropriation. Sometimes it results in nothing more than a person being mildly to very offended that Kali became a villain in India Jones and the Temple of Doom, which is a very fun movie but does have some problems with cultural insensitivity. They even got it wrong by portraying Shiva as opposing Kali. Kali is an incarnation of Shiva’s wife in Hinduism. They should have least had Vishnu be the opposite of Kali.

              However, sometimes cultural appropriation can cause more harm than annoyance like the recent Rachel Dolezal affair or to use a different example all those groups claiming that they are the real Jews/Israelites and that actual Jews are just imposters like the Anglo-Israelites of the 19th century or the Black Hebrew Israelites of the 20th century. With India Jones and Kali, Spielberg wasn’t claiming to be an authentic hero. He was just using some Hindu themes to create a fun movie. It was offensive but not full appropriation. With the latter, it is full on theft of identity with some attempt to claim more authenticity than the actual members of that group.



              • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

                With India Jones and Kali, Spielberg wasn’t claiming to be an authentic hero. He was just using some Hindu themes to create a fun movie.

                You’d think India Jones would have known better.Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                They should have least had Vishnu be the opposite of Kali.

                Even that would be getting things wrong. Durga/Kali worshippers regard Her as the same Person as Lakshmi (Vishnu’s consort) and Saraswathi (Brahma’s better half). They are all supposed to be different aspects of the same Mother Goddess figure in various roles of punisher of the wicked, granter of wealth and of learning respectively. Thus Kali fighting Vishnu would also pit husband against wife. (Although, since stories do pit Shiva against Vishnu and Shaivites regard Vishnu as but one aspect of the Supreme Being, Shiva, and Vaishnavites regard Shiva as but one aspect of the Supreme Being Vishnu, there is a lot of fighting oneself that does go on)Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                Taking non-Western religious pantheons and turning them into “teams” with good-guys-versus-bad-guys is actually a pretty good example of cultural appropriation.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      I would question the degree to which non-provincial art can survive if “appropriation” is out-of-bounds. There are clearly cases where symbols can be appropriated* to mock and denigrate or clearly disrespect, but the problem is the mocking and denigration and not the appropriation itself. Short of that, the concept seems culturally stultifying.

      * – Apologies to @chris is I am using “appropriate” contrary to its academic use.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        I think the questions of “who”, “how”, and “why” matter. Though when those are sufficiently answered, we may no longer call it appropriating. In which case appropriation is wrong but there are other forms of exploring cultural elements outside your own.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          It’s just the inability to explore cultural elements outside one’s own. It’s the ability to absorb them. There has to be something above and beyond the use of symbols and aesthetics to make it wrong. That’s why I mention mocking or denigration. Such mocking isn’t always intentional, but some sort of case needs to be made above and beyond “Used imagery that is identified with another (less powerful) culture for your own purposes,” which in-context is what “appropriation” seems to mean.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:


            That is why I think context matters. Urban Outfitters selling faux Navajo items? Problematic. White kids listening to hip hop? Not problematic.Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              My favorite recent example was Khloe Kardashian posting a photo of herself in Middle Eastern garb, including a niqab, and people freaked out, screaming “appropriation!” Then it was revealed she was actually in Dubai, and wearing it out of cultural sensitivity (and because some level of covering is required), and people were like, “Well, yeah, but… er… still.” It was rather embarrassing to watch.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Ha! How many of them referred to her as white?Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Oh man, this is when we need R. here, because she has much to say about the Kardashians and race.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Where does she stand? I know they have expressed… complicated… views on race. But I also know many Armenians* don’t identify as white and are often not perceived as white regardless of how they identify. My college roommate — who is a short Armenian man — was one called a “Taliban Smurf” by a drunk guy.

                * Are they full or half? I don’t know Kris’s background.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Her opinion has more to do with how people, and in particularly how white people, see the Kardashians, racially, and how some factors (e.g., whom Kim dates) influence this.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                As in… they start to bring out the racialized language when it is convenient to criticize her?Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Something like that.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Huh…it never occurred to me to think of Kim K. as anything but “white”.

                Maybe because I still associate her with Paris Hilton, and you just don’t get any whiter than that?Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Well, me either, but then I haven’t given it much thought. I’m not going to go into it, because it’s R.’s opinion, and I’d rather let her speak for herself.

                She’s not gonna do that here, of course, but if you come to Austin and buy her a drink, I bet she’ll tell you all about it.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                I think of them as white, but in a non-Anglo/Northern European way. If pushed to describe, I’d say “ethnic white” though that’s not the most comfortable phrasing.

                (I might say something like “Armenian” in particular, but only if I had a degree of confidence that was correct.)Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                @chris I don’t know how much this relates or not. And I apologize for the non-conventional family trees involved. But… my non-biological brother’s mother (NBBM) had a neighbor that was a white family with three white sons and a dark-ish Hispanic daughter (DHD).

                The daughter, at some point, started dating a black kid. NBBM, who cared a great deal for the girl and indeed the entire family, was very disturbed by this. She expressed her reservations by saying that the kid she was dating was nice but DHD needed to take care not to date black guys because then white boys wouldn’t date her.

                The concept that someone’s race could be determined by such things just about knocked me sideways. I mean, I wasn’t color-blind and I knew she was dark-skinned. I also figured that anyone who had a problem with people that have dark skin would dismiss her out of hand, white family or not. And the rest, mostly… wouldn’t care.

                But it’s an exchange that I recall all these years later. I think she was, in the particulars, off-base. Indeed, I think there was a good chance she favored dating other non-whites because they shared a sense of differentness regardless of her white family, though that’s speculation. But it was said so matter-of-factly that for some people it has to be true. Certainly of her generation, and probably passed down to mine among some people.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                That’s essentially what R. means, I believe, but I don’t want to put words in her mouth.Report

              • Avatar j r says:

                Donald Glover has a bit about how he likes to date the “black girls” of every race, so he dates Armenians, “the black girls of white girls” and Philipinas, “the black girls of Asian girls.”

                Perhaps the Khardashians agree with this sentiment. There is something very interesting about the fact that these women are among the biggest of American celebrities and that they owe their status, in large measure, to the fact that their father helped get OJ off, making a sex tape with Brandy’s little brother, and dating lots of famous black men.

                If there is a race god, he is most certainly trolling us.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Somebody should write a post just about how Donald Glover is pretty much the most talented artist/entertainer on the planet.Report

              • Avatar j r says:

                Maybe we can get Donald Glover to write it. He does everything else so well.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                Most of the Armenians and Georgians I know either identify as white or as Armenian and Georgian but not necessarily as a part of a larger Asian race or of color. Similar to the Arabs and Iranians.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                It’s always funny when Armenians pretend that they aren’t Caucasians.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:


                Pretending, are they? Wow.

                Geographically speaking, Armenia is east of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Jordan. It borders Iran. Most Armenians are not phenotypically “white” though many could probably pass as being just dark Mediterranean folk.

                Then again, you thought Qatar was in Africa so your knowledge of the region and its people is suspect at best.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                They’re actually from the southern Caucuses.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                The appropriation of “Caucasian” by European people is problematic.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                Kazzy, Jaybird actually made a very funny joke.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                But Kazzy made it even funnier.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Given @jaybird ‘s tendency to talk in riddles instead of, ya know, actually state an explicit opinion and commit to it, it is hard to ever know what his actual point is (assuming a point exists).Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                Actually, dude, this is the part where you say “ha ha, ya really got me there, guess I don’t know geography as well as I oughta”. It’s not the part where you try to turn this around on Jaybird, because what he said was exactly as cryptic as, say, suggesting that the Highlander could use Scotch tape to stick his head back on.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                The conversatipn was about Armenians being white. Jay made a comment about Armenians being caucasian. Caucasian is often used as a synonym for white. But Jay wasn’t trying to actually participate in the conversation that was happening. He was making a joke. I mistakenly assumed he was being genuine instead of pedantic. Which was indeed stupid given the source.Report

              • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

                I’ll shut down this thread if anyone mentions the Kardashians again.Report

              • Avatar J_A says:

                I hear you cannot say “Kardashian” here. Is that true?Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko says:

                No, you can use the word, but it is mandatory that the usage must be disparaging. Praise of any Kardashian or Kardashian-related personnel (except, in limited usage, of Caitlyn Jenner) will result in prompt reprisals.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                I fail to see why there was even one exception to the rule…Report

              • Avatar Notme says:


                She is dear to liberals for obvious reasons and is going to be awarded an espy award for some reason.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                Sorry…I must respond with “burn the witch”.

                You may substitute “witch” with “anything related to the Kardashians.”Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        There are clearly cases where symbols can be appropriated* to mock and denigrate or clearly disrespect, but the problem is the mocking and denigration and not the appropriation itself.


        Short of that, the concept seems culturally stultifying

        Worse than simply ‘stultifying’; pursued to its logical end, it implies the desirability of a sort of cultural “purity” that has its own…unpleasant historical connotations.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        No need to apologize to me. For one, it’s not really an academic term, and what’s more, the people abusing it most these days are the ones complaining about instances of “appropriation,” by which they (almost exclusively young folk) mean any instance of cultural influence between a less dominant and more dominant culture. So vaguely Asian fashion in a white woman’s dress in L.A.? Appropriation!Report

        • Avatar Roland Dodds says:

          @chris This point you are making between appropriation and influence is important, and clearly needs to be discussed further with the folks who are protesting this exhibit.

          As they are defining “appropriation” is insidious. Are people of other cultures not allowed to take part in activities, cuisine, and practices that are not connected to their own specific ethnicity or identity? Can East Asians play classic European music? Is it not appropriation because it isn’t a European taking part in someone else’s culture?

          All I know is I would hate to live in a world where wearing a kimono is cultural insensitivity.

          This quote from Circe Rowan seems dead on to me:

          “This is not like objecting to war bonnets. You don’t earn kimono or inherit the right to wear them, you go to a department store and fucking buy them. You can even buy ‘cheater’ obi where the bow is on a wire frame that just stuffs down the back of the sash. They’re for festivals and formal occasions. If you stay at a traditional Japanese inn, they give you a yukata to wear around the place. Getting angry at this is like going to Japan and getting pissed at an exhibit that lets Japanese people try on prom dresses, because high school proms are an American thing.”Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            “Happy Jesus Day” everyone, and fear the Santa Claus.
            (these are obvious references to exactly how wrong Japan gets American holidays…
            I haven’t even bothered mentioning first-graders summoning Jesus in a pentagram)Report

      • Don’t appropriate “appropriate”. That would be inappropriate.Report

    • That’s a good comment, @leeesq .Report

  9. Avatar Roland Dodds says:

    The SJW urge to ban things is really fascinating. Are people in need of a mission and a purpose so badly that they are now flailing about, striking at anything that could be even nominally construed as culturally insensitive?Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      I think we should at least consider the possibility that there’s some selection bias going on – we may only hear about the most ridiculous cases, because in some cases the people most immediately-involved look at things and go “yeah, you know what, you have a point” and quietly change direction.

      That said, I don’t know which way it cuts that the ones I can think of that I most readily dismiss, are Asian-related ones. The Colbert/Suey Park thing (which was explicitly satire about racist caricature), the band “Viet Cong” vs. Oberlin College, the “kung-fu master” episode of How I Met Your Mother.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      NOT SJW, I’m pretty sure. This feels far more like Conflict Kitchen’s latest dustup with the local Jews. Aka folks got a grudge, and are pursuing it in the cultural sphere, regardless of merit.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      You know, Bush said “You’re either with us or with the terrorists” so you don’t have a leg to stand on when you criticize people who just want to make the world safer.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      SJW believe that they are creating a better world. They have a revolutionary mindset and that is burn everything down and start again. These types always existed but the difference is that the Internet gives them amplified strength for better or worse. A protest like this could exist before the Internet but it would be a few easily dismissed people regardless of how righteous or correct they were. With the Internet they can call on similarly minded people from a wider geographic area and get more support.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Just wanted to note that the free speech assholes also have a far broader platform and support.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Because it’s the INTERNET that’s made it a CRIME to speak ill about the Natives?
        Ha fucking ha. (Here’s a hint: it’s not. it’s been a crime for a while. not stateside)

        It’s times like this that I wonder how much Americans know about the world around them. They’re remarkably oblivious a lot of the time.Report

      • In some ways I agree with this – it’s certainly true that organizing is easier now and that voices can be amplified in a way that was not formerly the case. But I don’t view this as the problem, to be honest. In many ways, this is probably a good thing – levels of passion on an issue now matter as much or more than raw polling data, meaning that those with the most at stake on an issue now have an influential voice in the process even if they don’t have the cash that would otherwise be required to have such a voice.

        I think the real problem is that social media has disincentivized placing things in context or obtaining context before making a judgment. This is especially true in the realm of art, both popular, and in this case, fine. There are, I think, a couple reasons this has happened, which I don’t have time to get into right now.

        But the issue is that once an initial judgment is made, confirmation bias sets in and any context that would have prevented the initial judgment if provided up front gets disregarded – if it ever crosses the individual’s Twitter feed at all, and even if the context becomes clear just a few minutes after the initial judgment is made.Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq says:

          I agree. The problem with social media and the Internet isn’t that it amplifies but that it encourages quick reaction rather than reflection before action. A person can write an article and get be denounced by thousands with an hour.Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

          In many ways, this is probably a good thing – levels of passion on an issue now matter as much or more than raw polling data, meaning that those with the most at stake on an issue now have an influential voice in the process even if they don’t have the cash that would otherwise be required to have such a voice.

          Well, that could be a good thing. But n this case we seem to be running up against the “Second Coming” problem.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          “social media has disincentivized placing things in context or obtaining context before making a judgment.”

          The assumption among SJWs is that nothing anyone does is by accident. You *always* were being racist, either overtly but in a sneaky way (dogwhistles) or secretly (racism without racists) or even unconsciously (epistemic closure). And if you honestly, truly, no-kidding didn’t know, well, it’s still your fault because you’re ignorant and it’s not their job to educate you. So when someone tries to talk about context, they’re really just trying to cover up what they did and pretend it wasn’t racism.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


      I think Glyph and Lee are right. I don’t doubt their sincerity that they think they are creating a better world and they do have a point but their zeal sometimes gets the best of them.

      There are lots of angry people out there and they are rightfully furious about many things. The SJW movement is also largely very young (like under 25 young) and young people often have trouble differentiating between a tape measure and a sledge hammer in their rhetoric. There were a lot of years when minorities just were forced to put up with the worst stereotypes and offensive remarks in the media and popular culture.

      So people are mad and they are not going to take it anymore. Now I don’t always understand what they are going against and sometimes I think that anything they perceive as coming from white-culture is treated way too suspect. There was a controversy with Serial because a Jewish-American reporter of European origin was casting doubt on the conviction of a Pakistani-American who killed is Korean-American girlfriend. A lot of Asians seemed to view it through the lens of immigrant and Asian stereotype and combine this with a tragic murder story and you get a situation. The criticism of Serial really wanted Sayed to be guilty for some reason. At least that is what I got out of them.

      Lee is also right about all these people interact on social media and this creates an amplification factor that might not have existed in the past.Report

      • Avatar Roland Dodds says:

        @saul-degraw Oh, I know they think they are doing good in the world, I just think they do damage to our culture and their cause than good. Sure, they got together and had a fine time protesting, but most will see this protest as another attempt by people on “the left” of overplaying their hand in the aim of censorship and cultural degradation.

        When college leftists took on culture as their battleground, they lost sight of our movement’s real aims.Report

        • Avatar morat20 says:

          The thing is — it’s their culture too. They get to shape it as well.

          Our “culture” has our (as older adults) stamp on it. Some of us got to put a much bigger stamp on it, shaped it a lot more, than others.

          I can shake my fist at kids these days, and believe they’re over the top, shooting themselves in the foot, and causing all sorts of damage in their attempt to be helpful. But in the end — it’s just as much their right to break and reshape our culture as it was and is OUR right.Report

          • Avatar Roland Dodds says:

            Then my transformation into a conservative is complete: I don’t want to live in the world being built by those that have followed me (at least in this case).Report

            • Avatar morat20 says:

              Of course you don’t. You shaped the world you live in now. It’s more or less comfortable. You’ve changed what you could, accepted what you couldn’t.

              “Kids these days!” — it’s still that same issue.

              They want to shake things up, change it, put their mold on it, get rid of things they don’t like and bring in things they do!

              It’s disruptive and has happened for all of civilized society. It’s just our generations’ term to sneer “SJW!” and pretend it’s some unique thing. They called my parents hippies and me a slacker.

              All the same thing.

              And really — it’s their culture too.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                This is a most excellent comment.Report

              • Avatar Roland Dodds says:

                Thus, are “the old” inherently reactionary? I argue no; I surely don’t want to enshrine an idealized past. I do however wish to combat forces of nonsense as they regenerate in the political arena.

                Implicit in your comment is the idea that you have to just go along with the cultural ride directed by this specific type of activist. Some of the best voices speaking out against this trend in post-modernism is other college aged activists that have been spoon-feed a healthy dose of this throughout their lives.Report

              • Avatar morat20 says:

                Goodness no. The “old” merely have actually gotten to shape culture already. They’ve got an investment in it that the young really don’t. The young were raised in our culture, but haven’t gotten to impact it.

                So they’re often passionate, eager, uncompromising.

                But if you’re older, odds are — you’ve seen successes and failures. Seen things change, sometimes the way you wanted, sometimes not. You’ve got a stake in it, you’ve made your mark as it were — you’re less likely to want to burn the whole thing down and start anew.

                That’s all generalities, of course. But I think it’s true enough.

                Lots of older voters were all for changing America to allow gay marriage. That’s the opposite of reactionary. 🙂Report

              • Avatar Dave says:

                Goodness no. The “old” merely have actually gotten to shape culture already. They’ve got an investment in it that the young really don’t. The young were raised in our culture, but haven’t gotten to impact it.

                Somewhat relevant to the point…

                Last week, I spent a few days in TN. I flew in and out of Knoxville and stayed in the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area. My view – while the removal of the flag from the SC statehouse was a nice symbolic victory that got quite a bit of coverage, you couldn’t go more than five feet before seeing a Rebel Flag. Also, maybe this had to do with what happened in SC but on at least two occasions, I saw groups of pick up trucks (20 to 30) flying the flag along the main strip and congregating in a parking lot. Perhaps they were rallies of some sort, but I wasn’t interested enough to go over and ask.

                This reminds me of the flag conversation in a now deleted open post put up by Mike Dwyer after the church shooting. If I recall, there were some commenters of the belief that taking down a symbol of something bad could lead to less of that something bad.

                Granted, I was in TN and the flag removal was in SC, and as I much as I don’t object to the removal of such a symbol, I don’t think it’s going to have that impact.

                In all fairness, being the skeptic that I am, I liken symbolic victories to masturbation. Both get people off but neither one represents the kind of accomplishment worth bragging about.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

                “SJW” isn’t your generation’s term. Know Your Meme attributes it to Will Shetterly, who was a boomer, but it was popularized by millennials, and to the best of my knowledge that’s where it still sees the most use.

                Your generational narrative just doesn’t fit the facts here.Report

              • Avatar morat20 says:

                The people I see most using the term “SJW” as a pejorative are members of my generation or older.

                So yeah, it fits the facts. The people calling my parents generations “hippies” weren’t just their parents — it was their parents and everyone older. The ones calling mine slackers? Same thing.

                The people using SJW as a slur? Seem to be my age (Gen X) and older. In short, it’s a sneer at “kids these days”. Dismissive of them, their ideas, their goals, and their concerns.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                I don’t think “hippie” became a slur, or took on elements of one, until it was judged that the “counterculture”‘s moment had passed. When the kids were still thinking about putting flowers in their hair and going to San Francisco, it was just the name for members of a movement, like “beatnik” and “mod” before them, and “punk” a bit later – punk having been to some extent as much a reaction to “hippie” as Reagan Republican. In 1968, being a hippie was groovy. By 1978, being groovy was long past being groovy, and I don’t think anyone has ever found it unambiguously groovy since.

                I’m not an expert, but I don’t believe that “Social Justice Warrior” was ever anything but derisive. The “Warrior” part especially seems obviously sarcastic. For someone like Chris, who I think desperately wants to believe that social justice warfare of the familiar type can be something other than pseudo-activity, usage of the term identifies the writer as a Reaction Warrior, or soldier in the opposing troll army, someone to be defeated but not listened to.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                I’m starting to think “Social Justice Seagull” is more appropriate.

                Warrior suggests someone who actually puts their ass on the line.Report

              • Will Shetterly, who was a boomer,

                Not sure if you mean to imply otherwise, but Shetterly is still alive and well. And annoying the crap out of people 🙂Report

        • Avatar Kolohe says:

          Roland Dodds:

          When college leftists took on culture as their battleground, they lost sight of our movement’s real aims.

          Marxists were big on culture from the very beginning. Maoists doubled down on that tendency quite famously (infamously). Going back to the orgins of ‘the left’ the anti monarchists in France were all about uprooting centuries old cultural traditions that they felt kept elements of the ancien regime in power even when formally deposed. The defining characteristic of ‘the left’ since the 18th century has been the rejection on some level of existing culture – that’s what distinguishes the left from conservatives.Report

    • Avatar j r says:

      The SJW urge to ban things is really fascinating.

      I may be projecting, but in my mind I cannot separate this phenomenon from the style of helicopter parenting that this generation grew up under. It feels like an extension of trying to childproof the larger world. It was not uncommon in other generations for adults to try and censor what their kids were exposed to. To my knowledge, this is the first generation in which you find instances of young people acting to censor themselves.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Elders have always tried to censor their children, even as they grow up. You’ve seen Fiddler on the Roof, haven’t you? There are certain groups that are… naturally drawn… towards censorship.

        We might find the young people being the censors a bit more troubling, I’ll grant.

        “Safe Spaces Inevitably devolve into No Arguing Spaces”

        Seen neopets lately? remarkably nsfw. [best new pet: CopyKurtCobainKids]Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      Roland Dodds: The SJW urge to ban things is really fascinating. Are people in need of a mission and a purpose so badly that they are now flailing about, striking at anything that could be even nominally construed as culturally insensitive?

      I don’t think this is a new thing.

      For those of a certain political mindset and age, there’s a great deal of romanticism tied up with the earlier eras of the civil rights movement, especially the late-50s to early 70s era. When I was in college, we all went out of our way to find things to protest about, and in truth very few of these things were issues that many (any?) of us really cared about. Our motivation drew for more from who we wanted to see our selves as than it did what we wanted the world to look like.

      Much of the SJW stuff I see today seems similar. The two differences are that the intertubes allow them to be visible to a far greater number of people, and that quite often the intertubes allow them to hook up with actual meaningful causes and do far more good than we were ever able to accomplish. (I credit SJWs for the way transgendered issues seem to thankfully be successfully riding the SSM train, which I would not have predicted even 18 months ago.)Report

      • Avatar Roland Dodds says:

        It is different in its goals. The post-modern left has abandoned the goal of taking and then remaking the state. They now fit comfortably into liberal consumer society, spending their days lost in discussions on culture and media. But the socialist project is as dead as can be to activists of this nature.Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq says:

          I actually think this tendency existed long before the socialist project was forgotten. It really traces back to the anti-colonialism and third world movements of the 1960s. Opposing American and European imperialism is a good thing but some leftist intellectuals and their followers like Edward Said took it to ridiculous extremes and held that any Western interest in or influence on non-Western cultures is by nature colonialist. Certain aspects of the Social Justice movement seem to be direct descendants of this but in a more cartoonish form.Report

    • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

      Roland Dodds: Are people in need of a mission and a purpose so badly that they are now flailing about, striking at anything that could be even nominally construed as culturally insensitive?

      Perhaps appropriately, perhaps inappropriately and therefore all the more appropriately in a different way, Alexander Kojeve referred to this phenomenon fifty-some years ago as a movement toward the Japanese in political culture after the “end of history.” He had formerly thought that American and Soviet culture presented the most developed examples of “post-historical” “human” life, the only truly essential difference between the two cultures being that the Americans were so much wealthier, but a trip to Japan had made him view Japan as more representative.

      To make a long critique short, the theory goes that since we don’t have anything truly meaningful to fight about anymore – or, to say the same thing, no longer find what we fight about truly meaningful and do not even truly fight about it – politics reduces to fashion, or high snobbery without political-historical content, “forms without values.” Since accomplishing anything important is out of the question, one expresses oneself with the aim of being seen to possess the proper or superior attitude, saying the proper or superior things, looking the proper or superior way, treating the intrinsically unimportant as important until the moment that it becomes unimportantly important to cease to do so.

      I imagine that these particular SJWs are quite delighted with themselves and their appropriation of BMFA’s exhibition for their own purposes. They may even honestly believe that it all authentically has advanced some cause beyond their own political-cultural careers.Report

    • Avatar Notme says:

      Of course they are. Liberals are constantly outraged at blah blah blah.Report

    • Avatar Notme says:

      Of course they are. Liberals are constantly outraged at blah blah blah. How are you going to change the world if you arent outraged?Report

  10. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Honestly, I preferred the art museum when the hicks who weren’t taking selfies there chose instead to go to the truck pull museum or wherever else they go.

    Little silly stunts like “get your picture taken” means that the wrong people are enjoying Monet.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      I don’t see how one is supposed to experience the fabric arts without trying them on. At least when something is designed to be worn… wear it!Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        You know, this is not only something I wonder about specifically in an “experience the fabric arts” sense, but in a more general ’empathy’ sense.

        The problem with things like blackface wasn’t the makeup itself – makeup is used all the time in stage performance so that actors can pretend to be something they are not, and around half the population wears makeup on a daily basis.

        The issue was that blackface was being used to help consistently portray black people as a whole as inherently lazy, greedy, ignorant, etc. It was being used to further push people apart, literal Othering.

        But supposedly, you can’t understand a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins; we should be leery of condemning *all* efforts by people to dress up in the “drag” of other cultures not their own, in an attempt to understand or experience them just a little bit.

        I can’t help but think that someone who knew nothing at all about Japanese culture before the exhibit, but walks away at least thinking “man, those Japanese people sure can work silk”, having felt firsthand on their body the workmanship of Japanese hands, and maybe taken a step or two in those clothes, is better off than they were before; and over time, you’d expect an accumulation of such small moments, to maybe make the world a better place.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      @jaybird has a bee in his Monet.

      (See what I did there? Cuz it rhymes!)Report

  11. Avatar Chris says:

    I’ve developed this weird tic in which I stop reading someone the moment I see the letters s, j, and w in succession, and in that order. Dunno how that came about.Report

  12. We cannot allow this kind of ignorant protest. The next time people start to act this stupid, we need to lock them all up before they cause any more damage.Report

  13. Avatar Kazzy says:

    “At one point, Nagaoka and the group opposing the event, along with other visitors, gathered in a doorway of the gallery, and the conversation became slightly heated. “You don’t understand anything about art,” one man said as he passed through. To which someone responded, “Check your privilege.””

    Worst. Conversation. Ever!!!


    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      I can kind of understand why devout people might feel that a more traditional attitude towards graven images would make for a less controversial society in general.Report

    • Avatar Notme says:

      Maybe best ever as it shows what liberal political correctness has degenerated into. This is what happens when you let the wookies win, whether its about fine art or Muhammad cartoons.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        I’d respond to this, but I don’t think the mods would like it.
        Suffice it to say, you’re pushing it a bit, but I do believe quite strongly in freedom of speech.Report

        • Avatar Notme says:


          Please dont self censor on my account.Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            On your account? by no means.
            I’m self-censoring because the mods would have a fit. Again.
            [the particular catchphrase I have in mind I’m lifting shamelessly from 4chan… which might give you some concept as to why the mods would find it rather inappropriate for this venue.]Report

        • Avatar Dave says:


          The powers that be took a vote – we amended our slogan just for you:

          Ordinary Times, Safe Place for Rational™ White Dudes + Kim

          Fire away all you’d like, but don’t violate our updated commenting policy, which we took word-for-word from Shakesville…

          …or do it and take your chances with the other mods…I remember why I like to avoid certain conversations.Report

  14. It’s crazy for Asian people to be offended by symbols of Japan. It;s not like this was a Confederate flag.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      Hey, unlike Confederate apologists, the Japanese have at least acknowledged their atrocities… er, wait, nevermind.Report

    • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

      Valid points. I hinted in my post that that may really be what this is all about, but I didn’t want to dismiss the protesters at face value. Certainly, that this protest is really about anti-Japanese sentiment from other Asians disguised as pan-Asian offence is the leading theory among the Japanese. And there has not been a shortage of Japan versus other Asian cultures news stories lately. And, as I mentioned, it takes a particular lack of diplomatic skill to maintain tense relation with nearly all of your neighboring states when you’ve officially removed war as an option for the last seventy years.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      This might make some sense as a defense of the protesters if they had mentioned Japanese war crimes at all, if they were not explicitly objecting to this on the grounds that it’s an offense against Japanese culture and people, and if they were protesting something that had anything at all to do with Japanese militarism.Report

  15. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I’m old enough to remember when right wingers were the ones who wanted offensive art removed from museums.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      I’m old enough to remember when the libertarian solution was to privatize all public museums and end all government aid to the arts.

      Of course, it was last week.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        The wacky thing is that the suggested “libertarian” solution here would have (ostensibly) resolved the Serrano/Mapplethorpe issue but it would not have resolved this one.Report

  16. Avatar North says:

    How massively depressing.Report

  17. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    Once, on a trans-friendly website (not on Tumblr, though), I described a conversation I had with a 12-year old that knows our family, telling him about my daughter’s transition. I said that, among other things, this is a thing that has been happening for centuries to all kinds of people, including Native Americans, who called trans people “two spirit people”.

    I was accused of cultural appropriation. How dare I? This struck me as extraordinarily odd. It’s bad to portray someone’s situation as something that happens in many different cultures, at many different times?

    I was irritated as crap at this, but I’ve calmed down now. And I wonder, where is this energy, this sense of shame, coming from.

    I grew up with the idea that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. When two people are in a relationship, they influence each other. They adopt each others speech patterns and mannerisms. Can’t that be true of two nations?

    If you visit Japan, you will notice lots of Western things there. Japan has its nativist element, it’s true, but it is very subdued. One of the things I noticed was that there were plenty of billboard ads for lingerie, but they all featured models that were blonde and blue-eyed. So what was the meaning of that? Was this meant to protect the innocence of the pure Japanese women. Western women can be sexy in public, but no Asian ones?

    I’ve been able to identify some instances of appropriation where the offense taken makes some sense. When western women belly-dance, they often do it as a way of making themselves more exotic and sexually enticing. This is highly offensive to women from the Middle Eastern cultures who think of themselves as highly respectable and who place their belly-dancing in a tradition where they learn it with their sisters from their mothers and aunts and friends. There’s nothing exotic about it to them.

    The best criticism of that horrifying twerking that Miley Cyrus did with Robin Thicke at the VMA was a piece by a black woman saying, basically, when Miley gets up tomorrow morning, she’ll be white, and it’s not fair to just pick up a piece of black culture to portray oneself in a certain light, and then walk away from it. My impression is that it was bad, and that Miley in fact did not commit herself to it, constantly mugging for the camera as she did.

    With power comes responsibility, and as a very powerful nation, or as white people, we have to take a bit more care. At the same time, being insular, and uninterested in, and uninfluenced by, other cultures, is also a problem.

    Long story short, I think the Boston MFA should have used this opportunity to explore issues of cultural appropriation. But that means facing down shame, and that’s always hard.Report

    • Avatar morat20 says:

      Appropriation versus imitation versus cultural theft is pretty context driven.

      Which means that the young are often going to miss the context (that takes experience to stop and assess) and the more foreign the source, the more likely you are to screw it up (because you truly don’t understand what you’re looking at on the far side).

      And the thing is, there’s a long history of…really bad appropriation, you know? Of using it to trash the weird and the different. I can understand a push-back, and I can understand an overreaction because historically it’s often been…pretty darn bad.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      In the future, I hope that the Boston MFA is more sensitive and starts only showing art from European artists.Report

      • I feel bad about all the Marx Brothers jokes I quote, because they were German Jews and my people come from much further east.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC says:

        Yeah, I’m with the point Jaybird is actually making: This was an *Japanese* exhibit. Created by a Japanese broadcasting company.

        Those innovative Japanese folks, appropriating their own culture.

        If the Boston MFA can’t show it, then it can’t show anything from any ‘other’ culture at all, at least not anything vaguely participatory.

        As the article mentions, this really does look to be non-Japanese people protesting against Japanese culture.Report

        • Avatar trizzlor says:

          If we’re being fair, the protestors attempt to address this point by saying that the cultural experience of Japanese in Japan is different from the cultural experience of Asian-Americans. So the same work can be inoffensive in one environment and yet hit on racial stereotypes in another. That said, this is such a nuanced view of offense that it deserves more of an explanation than just a jumble of buzzwords on a tumblr.Report

  18. Avatar LWA says:

    This seems for me to be yet another case where we as a culture haven’t found our footing, between our desire for untrammeled freedom of expression, and moral norms of respect for each other.

    On one hand we celebrate the freedom to opt out, at will, of any moral norms we choose. I’m thinking of all the ways we celebrate and valorize the iconoclast, the rebel, the romantic renegade who thumbs his nose at convention.
    Yet we also want to enjoy the fruits of mutual respect and dignity, and the safety that comes with a clear structure of norms which demarcate things which are taboo.

    So we have this weird uneven terrain where the rules of social propriety are invisible tripwires which themselves are laid out in a random pattern.

    Which makes me want to call for a new form of etiquette, new taboos and structures guiding us. But even when the rules are clear, when they aren’t enforced in goodwill, they become even worse.

    I think of Edith Wharton’s story “House of Mirth” which dealt with Victorian etiquette, and how a clear set of rules of social propriety could be gamed and cynically manipulated to create a horrific injustice.

    I can’t help but wonder if part of the art museum’s panic was its own blindness. Did it have enough people with enough knowledge of Japanese culture, who could speak with authority, to confront the protestors on their own terms?
    Or were they like characters from a Tom Wolfe novel, pious liberals who just took any statement from a “minority” at face value?

    What’s really missing I guess is an actual dialogue where people can speak honestly and endure the pain of things they don’t want to hear.

    Its like how we talk about moving beyond “food and festival” multiculturalism, to a place where we can see and openly acknowledge our cultural differences, without judgment or criticism.Report

  19. Avatar CK MacLeod says:

    The post is beautiful, but the comment thread should be censored and quarantined for infectious bad “whom”-ing.

    (By the way, a trick I ran across years ago for when you’re unsure, and can’t parse out the grammar immediately, is to take the remainder of the phrase or clause in question and imagine it as a full sentence using he/she/they vs him/her/them:

    So, you might, in a state of censurable and censorable laxity, write the following:

    I’m sure that whomever did that…

    But, unless you were writing in or imitating some Pidgin or Rastafarian English, you’d probly never say:

    Him did that.

    Or, because you not so secretly hate me and like to cause my ears to bleed, you might write the following:

    …whom aren’t Japanese in origin

    But, no matter how evil you are, you probably wouldn’t write the following sentence:

    Them aren’t Japanese in origin.

    These are simple examples, but you’ll find that the trick works in a larger number of more complicated contexts. )Report

  20. Avatar trizzlor says:

    I’ll admit that the Tumblr was incredibly off-putting, essentially restating the argument as fact over and over with increasing verbiage. But here’s a nuanced article that actually tries to articulate why the exhibit is negative appropriation : http://bigredandshiny.org/18982/demonstrators-protest-cultural-appropriation-in-mfa-galleries/

    This whole debate reminds me a lot of people wondering why blackface is offensive to african-americans but drag shouldn’t be offensive to women, and I think it’s a worthwhile exercise to actually try to articulate the differences between these types of appropriation.Report

    • Avatar morat20 says:

      Drag is..complicated. I really don’t know how I feel about that one (not that I really have a dog in that race, being neither a drag performer, a woman, or otherwise involved). It’s at a weird intersection of performance, gender relations and norms, transgender issues, crossdressing (which is not transgender but a whole ‘nother thing), and it’s not exactly a new phenomenon to boot which means it’s roots may have one meaning and it’s current style another.

      It’s a big muddle.Report

    • Avatar CK MacLeod says:


      The piece you link may be less combative, or more sophisticated, than the activists’ writings (I confess I haven’t gone through the latter in detail), but it still operates according to a set of ideological presumptions about art and history (and art in history) that together fuel a backlash that may be felt less within the art world, where those same presumptions reign, than in popular culture and politics, and indirectly.

      morat20 says, “it’s [the young protestors’] culture too,” and that’s true. Though the long histories of cultural offense-giving and -taking are well-known, I don’t see much problem with anyone reminding us of them, but I also think that demands and conduct here, and the reaction of bureaucrats, donors, volunteers… whomever – finally of the community as a whole such as it is – are part of the same phenomenon – or so-called “culture war,” including the victories currently being celebrated, for instance, on the Confederate battle flag or even on the fetishized word “marriage” in the SSM debate, or running their course in every other day’s latest social media kerfuffle.

      These volunteer censors or appropriation vigilantes have themselves appropriated – effectively confiscated – the self-expression of Bostonian dilettantes, putting themselves in the starring roles – or, in other words, they’ve “made it about them.” Their use of the museum’s outreach gimmick is in that sense another version of what they are pretending to attack, meant to be differentiated and justified in accordance with borrowed (or appropriated) claims of victimization. The logical yet absurd consequence of their implicit theory of inappropriate appropriation would be the end of all art exhibitions and all discussion entirely, since it is impossible to discuss any topic at all, or address anyone else’s point of view at all, without reducing it in some way, and in a manner that will tend to represent one’s own over anyone else’s arguably more authentic position or “origins.” The same process is visible when BR & S insists that a proper introduction to the topic would have been with Japanese woman artist’s treatment of kimonos depicting women of different classes: In other words, let art instruct the the People (or the middle class, perhaps) about class, race, and gender as we require them to be understood.

      Many here like the outcomes in other cases, but dislike the one regarding the pretty lady, the pretty kimono, and a touch of un-serious irony. I’m not denying the possibility of rationale for preferring one outcome over another, but the same set of shared presumptions, about the basis for a decisive argument, are operating throughout, and the political-cultural right has been and likely will remain able to exploit that fact.Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        What’s a “culture war” but the battle between Americans over what America should be and stand for?

        It’s never going to end. The battlegrounds might change, but the war will never end as long as this country stands and new generations are born.

        We can agree, disagree, quibble, argue, and make our own stands — but culture is the combined creation of all of us. It’s who and what we are, in aggregate. And that debate will never, ever, ever end.

        Because we’re 300,000,000 people, born over a hundred year timespan of widely differing backgrounds. It’d be strange if it wasn’t a fight.

        Personally, I think the youth provide energy and necessary change. I also think they’re prone to using sledgehammers because they haven’t learned about scalpels. But I also think some of it might be they haven’t learned the proper etiquette, another aspect of our culture.

        How to fight it the way we (as older, more established) Americans like it. After all, we frown on open racists. But smile upon dog whistles. Same appeal to culture, different words. Sounds like etiquette to me. You want the salad? Just use the salad fork, otherwise you’re banished….Report

        • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

          Agree about it being realistic to expect problems, but “woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!”

          A problem for them – the young activists – may arise when it turns out that their activism is also born of old ideas or a prior generation’s ideals that have already reached their cultural peak, and are already on the other side of it, and that another group desperate to make its “unique impact” is also around, and possesses its own sledgehammers, possibly as weighty or weightier… and more of them.Report

      • Avatar trizzlor says:

        Without getting too much into the weeds, I see the article and the tumblr as coming from completely different schools of thought. If anything, the article is a text-book case for how this kind of argument can be made respectfully (I’ll note that the article concedes that this is an outreach gimmick, while the tumblr argues this is racism comparable to slavery). Here are the main points, which were a direct response to the public statement issued by the MFA (quotes in italics, interpretations mine):

        1. “The painting in question, a work from 1876, is a singular example of Orientalism, a tradition in Western art that broadly caricatures regions as disparate as North Africa and East Asia with the aim of cultivating a Romantic visual language around Western cultural imperialism.

        2. The museum states that the painting cannot be racist because it is ironic, but stereotypes and appropriation are not acceptable simply because they come with a dose of irony. Nor does the piece, as presented, critically address the irony. “At best it is an uncritical way of engaging viewers with the work, and in the case of this particular painting, it does more harm than good.

        3. The museum also states that the purpose of the dress-up is to familiarize people with the craftsmanship of kimonos, but if that’s the purpose there are many works of Japanese art on display that could serve the same purpose without also engaging stereotyping and appropriation.

        4. “The MFA should absolutely be pointing visitors to La Japonaise, but they should be asking why the image appeals to popular sensibilities, rather than simply celebrating it. They should be asking what this fascination says about our past as well as our current cultural condition.

        To be honest, I’m not seeing a culture war but rather a sensible critique of a curatorial decision by the museum.

        I kept trying to come up with an analogy to understand why people would be offended that wasn’t too self-serving and I’m pretty sure I’ve failed, but here goes: The museum is running an advertising show which features a vintage print of the famous Aunt Jemima packaging which stereotypes black face and dress at the time (“Happyfyin’ Aunt Jemima Pancakes / Sho’ Sets Folks Singin'”). The exhibit allows visitors to dress up in similar clothing and pose for photos in front of the ad. When criticized, the museum responds by saying (a) The ad is not racist because it’s celebrating the tradition of African soul food and cooking; (b) anyway, the purpose of the exhibit is to familiarize people with African American dress and culture of the time; (c) the exhibit was originally set in an African American history museum in Harlem and did not draw offense. Would you see this response as satisfactory? Would you consider continued criticism of this curatorial decision as an act of culture war?Report

        • Avatar CK MacLeod says:


          I have to agree that your analogy fails, even before we get to arguably vast differences in the subjects (Japanese culture viewed through a European artistic lens, with the former as dubious proxy for “victims of Western imperialism,” vs African Americans in crude stereotype), since we can distinguish between Monet’s work, which shows mature self-consciousness and also offers an immersion in beauty, and “advertising” of the type you describe, which does neither.

          I won’t pretend to assess the adequacy of your hypothetical museum’s response, but criticism (or protest) of such a curatorial decision as racist would be virtually by definition “culture war,” and the protestors’ victory in the particular battle you imagine would likely be an easy one (one reason it wouldn’t likely be attempted in the first place). It wouldn’t, for instance, likely inspire a counterstrike at OT, gathering majority support in the comments.

          Otherwise, as I said before, I consider the presumptions underlying arguments 1 through 4, in regard to history as well as in regard to the purpose of art and proper engagement with it, debatable. BR & S, in this way no different from the protestors, treats those presumptions as settled conclusions that we are obligated to adopt as truths. The problem for most museum administrators is that they probably agree..Report

          • Avatar trizzlor says:

            >>BR & S, in this way no different from the protestors, treats those presumptions as settled conclusions that we are obligated to adopt as truths.

            What I see BR&S doing is making a logical argument flowing from certain presumptions, in contrast to the protestors making an emotional claim. The BR&S assumption is what Japonisme was about, which seems fairly uncontested; the subsequent assertions are that irony does not absolve stereotyping and that other works of art better express the stated curatorial goal. The article never claims that the decision was racist. And to the extent that there are settled conclusions here, they are there in any criticism that states “if you want to achieve X, you would do better by doing Y”. In fact, I don’t see any way within your framework that one could make a critical statement without it being equivalent to the protestors screaming baseless racism on tumblr.Report

        • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

          I think a more appropriate analogy would be if Russians or Turks or Iranians living in Japan protested Tokyo Disneyland having a Japanese woman play Snow White, because this is offensive to all white people, while Disney itself and all Americans living in Tokyo continue to insist that they have no problem with Disney in Tokyo and indeed even strongly support it as a celebration of their own culture.Report

          • Avatar trizzlor says:

            You’re focusing a lot on the ethnicity of the protestors being different from the victims, but I think that having a representative of the victim amongst the protestors is a *sufficient* condition but not a *necessary* one to conclude that an offense has occurred. While having offended Japanese would certainly make the case for offense easier, it’s entirely possible to conclude that the exhibit is offensive without such victims coming forward (in fact, I would argue that it’s impossible to conclude that no such victims exist). Victimized people often do not know that they are being oppressed or mocked; but that alone does not absolve the perpetrator.

            Your analogy also ignores the fact that Orientalism really was about stereotyping and romanticizing imperialism (i.e Snow White would need to have come from a Japanese story genre exploiting whites) and the museum response which both rejects this fact (stating flatly that the painting is not racist) and attempts to sweep it under the rug (stating that the painting was chosen only because it features a kimono and kimonos are cool, even though there are many other works in the museum featuring kimonos without any Orientalist overtones). I don’t think you can seriously assess harm while ignoring these points.Report

            • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

              I think I can in fact seriously assess harm in this situation by looking at whether or not the ethnicity that is supposedly being offended is actually offended. In fact, I think that this is how harm should be assessed. Presuming that Japanese people should be offended by a white person wearing a kimono because imperialism and such is actually projecting our (outrage) culture’s norms onto their culture in an offensively parentalist way.

              And I think when we’re concerned that appreciating fine works of craftsmanship from other countries or cultures may be offensive or causing harm, we’re getting into serious Hamlet territory. The logical conclusion from such an approach is that I must never eat anything that originated in another culture (goodbye curry), never wear another culture’s clothing (no more pants), listen to another culture’s music (adios flamenco), use another culture’s technology (my Samsung phone in the trash), etc. It’s reductio ad absurdum and incompatible with life.Report

            • Avatar trizzlor says:

              The argument that you can’t find anyone of the target ethnicity that’s offended by the work, therefore it cannot be offensive is both subjective and weak. The racism/racialism is inherent to the work, not the viewer itself: the Aunt Jemima ad would be offensive even if it was only ever seen by white people. Trying to formalize your argument only leads us into crazier territory: If I find 1 Japanese person who takes offense, does the work now become offensive? Or do I need to find 10? Or some % of the Japanese population? What about American-born viewers of Japanese decent, how much do they count? Obviously this isn’t the only way we assess whether something is offensive.

              Moreover, you continue to ignore the fact that this painting comes from a movement that really was motivated by ethnic stereotypes and a romantic view of colonialism. As far as I’m aware curry, pants, and flamenco did not arise out of such a movement. This is like arguing that if we find the Aunt Jemima ad offensive, we must conclude that any ad with a minority spokesperson is offensive; or if we’re offended by the Confederate flag, we must also be offended by the flag of any losing army.Report

              • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

                Offense is by its very nature subjective. (I would go farther and argue that everything is, but that’s neither here nor there.) Nor is it “weak” to attempt to inquire whether or not members of a particular group are offended by something. In this case: (1) no, they are not offended; (2) Why? Because they designed the exhibition; (3) they consider the exhibition a positive reflection on their culture; and (4) they strongly desire it to stay. Seems like an open and shut case. Notably, I’m not trying to formalize anything, since I’m taking a common sense, practical perspective, but you’re right that it would be silly to have some minimal percentage that must be offended by something in order to conclude that we should censor an art exhibition. So let us burn your straw man together then. Nor are we discussing the painting as if it’s your Aunt Jemima scenario above, since that is built on top of a different sort of cultural scaffolding than this, however, even if that exhibition were put forward in a way that the only offended people were white leftist college students, I would be inclined to let the exhibition continue and remove them from the museum in that case as well.

                Regarding the painting itself, I’m not an art historian, but colonialism doesn’t apply in this particular case, since Japan was never colonized. The fascination in the West of Japan at the time was procured through voluntary exchange. On the contrary, curry came to Great Britain through conquest of the Indian subcontinent, pants were adopted from the Celts, who were violently subjugated by first the Romans, then the Germanic tribes – but of course, even my attributing pants to the Celts is chauvinistic and Euro-centric, since pants arose in many different cultures. My appreciation for flamenco music of course comes in the context of my chosen nation’s subjugation of Latin American peoples via the Monroe doctrine for nearly two-hundred years at this point, along with the continued marginalization of undocumented immigrants, many of whom are natives of those nations. Arguably, for me to enjoy any of these cultural artifacts is an order of magnitude more offensive than wanting to take a selfie in a kimono, given the contexts I have described. Except that my curry is served to me with love by my friend from Delhi, whom I joke with as I eat it and fairly compensate before going out the door, people would probably be more offended if I were not to wear pants, and the native speakers of English who might speak for marginalized Latin Americans are too busy trying to censor works of art to raise much of a stink about things that matter.

                While I find much of orientalism theory quite silly, I do agree with Edward Said that behind a lot of it was Western patronism. I see none of that here. In fact the only thing that’s quite clearly patronizing is trying to tell a member of another culture that he should be offended by something that he is not offended by.Report

              • Avatar trizzlor says:

                >> Nor are we discussing the painting as if it’s your Aunt Jemima scenario above, since that is built on top of a different sort of cultural scaffolding than this.

                In what substantial way does the cultural scaffolding differ? I’m no art historian either, so I’ll take the article at it’s word that Orientalism was a movement based on stereotyping and romanticizing colonialism. The difference between an Orientalist painting and curry is that one was specifically intended to stereotype and the other was not. It’s the difference between a white person putting on a minstrel show and a white person break-dancing.

                Given that your conclusion was drawn using the highly scientific method of looking at the last names of the protestors, we’ll have to agree to disagree on whether the right kind of people were sufficiently offended. “I don’t know anyone who was offended” is second only to “I have minority friends” in terms of excuses. The fact that the exhibit was inoffensive in Japan also doesn’t say very much. This is a Western painting of a white woman ironically wearing a kimono. An exhibit where a primarily Japanese audience poses in front of the painting in kimonos is inherently different from an exhibit where a primarily Western audience does the same. The intended audience and their perspective on the work matter. That some people get to use the N-word inoffensively doesn’t mean that all people do.Report

              • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

                As long as you’re not going to read what I write and continue to attack a straw man, I would kindly request that you not address your response to me.Report

              • @christopher-carr

                I think some of your criticisms of @trizzlor are focused too much on the faultiness of his analogy* when his analogy wasn’t the entirety of his point. As I read him, he’s introducing a critique different from your critique. In this comment, he even seems to agree with you, stating that the tumblr and the article he cites come from very different perspectives.

                And to my mind, the article he cites (at least as he outlines it….I haven’t read the article itself) seems to make a point that’s worth considering, especially if we’re focused on a critique of the exhibit and not, as the tumblr’ers seem to want, on forcing the museum to take down the exhibit.

                Unfortunately, the sub-thread discussion has seemed to focus too much on the analogy and on the question of whether and how many “Japanese” as opposed to merely “Asian Americans” have been offended and how to measure offense. The article he cites, though (again, at least as Trizzlor summarizes) seems to have a point.

                Finally, as for whether Japan or Japanese people can truly feel “marginalized” or “orientalized” despite the fact that they were never colonized is itself an interesting question. I speculate that any answer would have to account for some facts that don’t yeild a clear answer. On the one hand, at least since the late 1800s, Japan was a major world power. On the other hand, it and its people were sometimes treated as a second rate power or inferior (think back to Japanese exclusion movements in the early 1900s and the “gentleman’s agreement” of 1907. On the third hand at least since the 1960s, I think you can argue that an “Asian American” awareness has obtained among at least some people of Asian ancestry. None of these facts proves the article’s argument as correct (and the first fact contradicts one of the bases for the argument), but to my mind they seem to support Trizzlor’s point more than he’s being given credit for.

                *And although he’s somewhat doubled down on that analogy in this sub-thread, when made the analogy, he acknowledged how hard it is to come up with an appropriate one.Report

              • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

                I don’t have a problem with @trizzlor’s point or even his analogy. I acknowledge that he has acknowledged that his analogy has little bearing on this specific question.

                I even agree with some of the points of the article he linked and, in fact, do not say that the protesters in this case have no right to be offended. My problem is that he is attacking a straw man. In particular with this passage:

                “Given that your conclusion was drawn using the highly scientific method of looking at the last names of the protestors, we’ll have to agree to disagree on whether the right kind of people were sufficiently offended. “I don’t know anyone who was offended” is second only to “I have minority friends” in terms of excuses.”

                I’m merely advocating a pragmatic approach to “outrage”. In this incident, there really is little that should cause reasonable people to accommodate outrage to the point of censoring an art exhibition.

                In particular, I strongly disagree with this claim:

                “The fact that the exhibit was inoffensive in Japan also doesn’t say very much.”

                I think this says everything, especially in conjunction with the fact that Japanese specifically planned this exhibition with the intention that Americans of all races pose in front of the painting while wearing kimono. Case fishing closed!Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                Christopher Carr: Case fishing closed!

                Well, it would close the case, except, from the perspectives of the protestors, of more sophisticated critics making the same point more gently, and of well-meaning individuals like Trizzlor, the fact that hardly anyone is offended is or would be itself offensive to the offense-takers. In their view we all should be offended on behalf of the victims of colonialism/imperialism/racism/appropriation etc., and it is a major if not the primary purpose of art institutions and possibly of art altogether to instruct us properly on such matters, and especially on this world-historically all-important one. It doesn’t matter that the painting is gorgeous, that the painter was apparently something of a critic of the movement within which his work is being placed historically, that the painting wittily elucidates that criticism, that the organizers have what would seem to be proper ethno-national credentials, and that, contrary to Trizzlor’s assertion, the particular views on the political-cultural movement in question might be considered quite contestable. What matters is that we are all properly instructed as to the deemed correct view and are never encouraged to adopt the incorrect one, intentionally or not. From the point of view of critics, given the importance of a general and unchallenged adoption of the correct views in this case, even if Monet and his present-day curators are innocent of the specific charges, since they’re attached to the objective class enemy, we might as well make examples of them anyway as the white racist colonialist imperialists, fellow travelers, and running dog lackeys that they are.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I do find it interesting to see which views on the proper direction of society and its institutions you’ll defend extensively and which you’ll mock mercilessly.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                Someone needs to put a geisha in a jar of urine.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Pretty sure that a Google search of those terms would provide ample evidence this has already occurred many times over.Report

              • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

                Actually doing that search unearthed some Glenn Beck potpourri as well, so trigger warning.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                Glad you find my activities interesting, though that doesn’t mean I agree with your description.

                I don’t really think, for instance, that I’m actually given to mockery as a rule. Show me the evidence and I’ll seek to mend my ways. I don’t usually deploy the Marxismleninismspeak, but it seemed appropriate here, and a useful shortcut to making a point clearly that didn’t seem to be getting through. As I noted in my initial comment (after the “whom” comment, which I wrote before this post had been promoted), this case is an unusual one. The controversy (#kimonogate, for some) was placed by Christopher and initial commenters on the other side of the more typical reflexes regarding any issue in which the white/male/Western vs other/victim complex comes up.

                Could just be a matter of luck and timing, but it could be the weakness of the case, including the absence of qualified representative victims. The last meant that outragers needed to fit other othereds into a mode of dress that rightfully belongs to a group who, except in occasional reference to wartime internment policy or the A-bombs, are not familiar for us in the role. So it’s a version of the usual controversy with some typical elements suppressed, letting others show forth more clearly.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I do think you’re interesting, and even in this case I mean it as a good thing.

                I don’t know how weak the case is, though, because I’ve only heard this immature, unreflective version. It is not a case at all.Report

              • Thanks for clarifying, and I don’t have much of a bone in the discussion between you and Trizzlor as it evolved in the sub-thread. So if you say he’s strawmanning, that’s between you and him.

                I will sound a note of caution about this statement from your comment:

                especially in conjunction with the fact that Japanese specifically planned this exhibition with the intention that Americans of all races pose in front of the painting while wearing kimono.

                I know you know more about Japan and Japanese culture than I (you’ve lived there and learned the language, correct?…I’ve done neither), but I do imagine it’s better to say that some Japanese persons designed and planned this exhibit and had whatever intentions they had for its use. Do you, with your knowledge of Japanese culture, know of any social class stratifications or sub-cultures that might be offended by this type of art exhibit? Or if offended is too strong a word, then any groups of Japanese people who are not particularly invested in this type of artistic representation? Even if your answer to either of these questions is yes, that’s not fatal to any of the points you’re making. It just strikes me as kind of a broad generalization. And again, I realize you know much more about Japan than I ever will.Report

              • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

                These are facts:

                The exhibition made the rounds of various art museums in Japan and was very well received.

                NHK (think Japanese BBC or NPR) was involved in its implementation.

                It was part of the plan of the exhibition that when the piece was returned to the United States, American MFA visitors would have the same opportunity as Japanese did to experience wearing the custom-made replica of Camille Monet’s kimono.

                As much as this story has attracted the attention of the media in Japan or the Japanese expatriate community, the offense that has been taken is outrage that non-Japanese Asians managed to shut down a celebration of Japanese culture.

                The only complaints that I’ve heard, witnessed, or read have been along the lines of: why do the Americans force their politically-correct culture on us?

                That being said, I’m not ruling out the possibility that the exhibition could be construed as offensive or that some Japanese person somewhere is offended. Nor am I invalidating real offense that other Asian groups may be feeling.Report

              • Avatar trizzlor says:

                Thanks for this update Chris. I had no idea that the exhibit was designed with the intent of eventually traveling outside of Japan, nor that the Japanese response has so far been backlash to the protest. I agree that this makes a big difference and makes my take on it an overreaction. It was one of those weird things that started as a contrarian point and ended with me QUITE upset that someone on the internet wasn’t thinking of the children. Given that Japanese people are not bothered by the exhibit as it is in the US, I’m not going to turn them into victims against their own will. What remains is the offense taken by the “Stop Yellowface” group, which has not been articulated in any way that I can actually understand.Report

  21. Avatar Stillwater says:

    I don’t know about all this racism business, but this isn’t an issue if BMFA doesn’t cancel the exhibition. Without that, there’s nothing to talk about except how certain folks (protestors!) are exercising their speech rights in ways that some of us may find odious. Or not. That’s just par for the course in an Open Society, no? I mean, even tho I may not agree with them I defend to the death their right to yadda-daba-doo and so on, yeah? So the big question, to me, is why did BMFA decide to cancel the show, and one thing that comes to mind is that the institutional Art community is so confused about what the hell Art is anymore that it can’t decide whether or not the protestors are actually right and because of that decided to play it safe.

    So I’m wondering why anyone would blame the protestors in this situation and what the focus of the blame actually is. Are they supposed to not express their speech rights when the outcome of such expression is self-censorship by others? How the heck is that consistent with speech rights?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      So we shouldn’t call them ignorant, censorious bullies who ought to behave differently?

      What is the proper response to speech we don’t like?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        For starters, to not blame them for a choice made by the BMFA.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          Is there a relationship between their actions and the choices made by the BMFA, though?

          Or is there no way for us to know what would have happened in a counterfactual and we’re making a connection where there’s only a correlation?Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            So… Who should we blame? I say sugar cereal…Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              Maybe we could turn this around. Did Bush cultivate a culture where being a ignorant, censorious bully was rewarded?

              If the ignorant, censorious Republicans didn’t want to have a culture like this one, maybe they should have pushed for someone like Al Gore as president?

              So, technically, this is the country they wanted to live in.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        It strikes me as an abuse of the language akin to the one these kids used in their jumbled statement, to call kids with a tumblr who are yelling at a fairly established institution. It’s sort of like calling Sam a bully because he says nasty things about the Catholic Church.

        That the institution caved to their “bullying” does not make the abuse of language any less severe.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          And, as always, I go back to the discussions I used to have (with people who aren’t here and, interestingly, don’t seem to be anywhere in this discussion… like, even on other websites or in other media) about the Mapplethorpe exhibit or, yes, Immersion (Piss Christ).

          I’m sure that you remember those discussions as well.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:


            If you think that an “injustice” has occurred here – a violation of Free Speech And Expression! – then focus on the primary actor: the BMFA, who voluntarily (via self-censorship) decided to cancel the exhibition. It seems to me that your whole argument relies on the presumption that a “wrong” has been committed. But the BMFA chose to engage in what you view as a wrong, and if not for their closing down the show this entire discussion reduces to a judgment of the conditions under which people (the protestors!) ought to be allowed to express their speech rights.

            I find it ironic that you’re effectively trying to shut down their speech on the premise that they shut down someone elses. Which just isn’t the case. BMFA chose to shut itself down.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              Oh, I haven’t used the word “injustice”.

              If I were to compare it to anything, I’d compare it to Reddit’s treatment of Ellen Pao.

              While it’s certainly true that Reddit is responsible for throwing her unceremoniously to the curb, I can’t help but think that the user revolt has a lot to do with it.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            I don’t. Can you refresh my memory?Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              Well, I’ll give you some of the accounts from a lot more recently than now and let you see how it looked closer to back then. (I’m trying to make everything more or less contemporary but web archiving wasn’t as good in 1987 so I’ll just try to make sure that everything is prior to 9/11.)

              Here’s the NYT:

              A couple of paragraphs from the middle (but, of course, you should read the whole thing):

              Leaders in the arts, as well, have stood firmly on the side of the arts center’s decision. ”Twenty-five years ago, I left my native country, Hungary, to seek artistic freedom,” said Ivan Nagy, director of the Cincinnati Ballet Company, at a recent news conference. ”Twenty-five years later, as the Iron Curtain is falling, it’s shocking that we have to stand here and fight this battle.”

              But museum officials say that the opposition to Mr. Mapplethorpe’s work has gone beyond merely speaking up. ”There has been a systematic, well organized campaign of letter-writing and anonymous phone calls to board members and their places of employment,” said Dennis Barrie, director of the Contemporary Arts Center. ”It’s an organized minority trying to enforce their world view.”

              Here’s the Village Voice:


              And here’s a paragraph from the middle:

              But this increasingly was the issue: the art world cocoon had been penetrated by people on the right whose rigid worldview was being challenged. They quickly became adept at targeting transgressive symbols impossible to explain in a sound bite. And sometimes even the art world seemed embarrassed by this art.

              As for Immersion (Piss Christ), here’s the close from an editorial from the NYT:


              The N.E.A. will get the message. The likely result, as Jesse Helms intended, will be greater caution in the awarding of N.E.A. grants, with safer, non-controversial works being favored over the daring and the possibly offensive. Since taxpayers’ money is involved, there may be some political validity to that approach; it’s hard to justify disbursement of Federal funds for works that offend or baffle most of those who provide the money.

              Political prudence is one thing, however; stifling artistic expression and creativity is quite another. The N.E.A., warned by Senator Know-Nothing, no doubt will try to strike a proper balance. But if public and Congressional pieties ultimately limit Federal support for the arts to the most conventional works, then foundation and other private funds will have a greater responsibility for underwriting new ways of seeing, original means of expression, however controversial.

              (And please read each of these yourself, to make sure that I’m not taking anything out of context.)

              I used the NYT and Village Voice in the hopes of giving a reasonable center-left point of view from the time.

              Do these help give an idea of the arguments being given by the reasonable center-left around the time of the Mapplethorpe/Serrano debates?Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                I’m still not sure I follow.

                What do you think the position of the “reasonable center-left” was with regards to the Mapplethorpe/Serrano debates?

                What do you think the position of the “reasonable center-left” is with regards to the MFA/Kimono debates?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                It seems to me that the position of the reasonable center-left back then was that these complaining groups were stifling artistic expression and trying to impose their world view on the art world.

                It seems to me that the position of the reasonable center-left today is that focusing on the complaining groups is to miss the point because they have the free speech right to make their voices heard and if the museum decides of its own volition to act in accordance with these views, that’s on the museum and not on the people complaining.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            I don’t know what you mean. That the anti-Piss Christ folks were bullies? As some we’re not only members of powerful groups, but speaking on behalf of those groups, the word might be less of a stretch. But these kids? Seriously? They could easily have been ignored without a bloody lip resulting, which cannot be said of anyone who can even remotely accurately be described as a bully.

            As I hinted earlier, the only people who look as silly as these kids are the grown-ass people who are this hysterical about them.

            And that includes both the museum and far too many of you here.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              Well, the cancelling of the show changes things, it seems to me.

              Sure, the BFMA ought to have had a lot thicker skin, here… but I can’t help but see a show closing in response to public outrage as a show closing in response to public outrage.

              I mean, the BFMA seems to have thought that they ought to have closed the show in response to these kids and now the kids think that the BFMA ought to publicly apologize…

              Something is going on here and I’m not sure that assuming that the kids shouldn’t be seen as even powerful enough to make the BFMA close its show doesn’t seem to be irrelevant given the whole issue of the BFMA closing its show.

              And, let me point out, we don’t seem to be in a situation where “moving it from this museum to a fully privately funded one” would resolve the problem the way that the bullies from the wrong side of the aisle back in the day pretended it would.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                So, given that the BMFA decided of it’s own volition to close the show, your OUTRAGE is that these kids had the ignorant, bullying audacity to try to get the show closed but not that the museum actually did??!!??

                Is that right? That the real grievance here is that people do stuff you disapprove of? (Let’s assume that’s right since I’m a roll here!) But what is it, specifically, that you disapprove of? It’s not that they expressed the view that the exhibition is racist I’ll suppose (since that’s a Protected RIght and denying them their voice amounts to Censorship!) but that they further demanded that the exhibition be closed. So you’re complaint is that these kids don’t hold Freedom of Expression in higher regard than their perception of racism, yeah? Which means, in turn, that you just disagree with them about the beliefs they hold and call them, following CC, “ignorant bullies” as a shorthand to express your outrage.

                I mean, if you’re really gonna get outraged, it should be directed at the museum. Where’s their commitment to free speech, dammit??!!

                IOW: this just sounds like the standard old complaint about other people fucking things up for you.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                You seem to be implying that my opinions are much stronger than they actually are. I’m not saying “injustice” or “outrage”. I’m saying “censorious” and have dropped the word “bully” in favor of “idiots with buzzwords”.

                If you’d like me to denounce the BMFA, I will happily do so now.

                The BMFA caved in to censorious idiots with buzzwords and, in doing so, have opened the door for bullies to think that they can veto the arts for others in the future. They’ve made the culture worse by doing what they’ve done and by giving these censorious idiots a larger platform by giving them the time of day.

                I’m sure that this will happen again, and again, and again. And we will again, and again, have opportunity to berate museums for listening to censorious idiots with buzzwords over following their own damn mission statements.

                This is a camel’s nose that they’ve let into the museum. The camel will soon take up a lot more space in there.

                To the point where even you might say that the camel deserves a share of criticism.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Errr. OK.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Hmmm… First, remember that the “show” hasn’t been cancelled. They just don’t let people try on the kimonos. The painting is still there, as are the kimonos.

                Second, you didn’t answer my objection to the use of the word bully, you just restated what I was objecting to.

                Look, the kids are clearly idiots with buzzwords. There are intelligent people out there talking about this, though. Hell, some might even have talked to the MFA folks. Perhaps we should do that thing where, when something looks so obvious, and those who disagree with us look so stupid, we take a step back and try to find better versions of the counterargument, ones that don’t so easily confirm our existing beliefs.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                If the objection is to the word “bully”, I am cheerful to switch to “idiots with buzzwords”.

                Would you agree that the interactive portion of the show has been cancelled?Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      Are they supposed to not express their speech rights when the outcome of such expression is self-censorship by others? How the heck is that consistent with speech rights?

      “Can” does not imply “should,” and “should not” does not imply “should be prohibited by law.”

      We don’t say freedom of speech is important because every act of speech is good. We say freedom of speech is important because giving the government the power to decide which speech is good and which speech is bad, and to ban the latter, has a fairly limited upside and a huge downside.

      Which is to say, it’s not at all contradictory to say that freedom of speech is important while maintaining that certain speech acts are bad, and the people performing the contemptible.

      Not that the BMFA doesn’t deserve a big share of the blame for backing down, but there’s plenty to go around.

      Edit: To draw an analogy, most people agree that a) people should not commit adultery, and b) the government shouldn’t criminalize it. Do you disagree with either of these propositions?Report

      • Avatar Road Scholar says:

        Brandon Berg: “Can” does not imply “should,” and “should not” does not imply “should be prohibited by law.”

        We don’t say freedom of speech is important because every act of speech is good. We say freedom of speech is important because giving the government the power to decide which speech is good and which speech is bad, and to ban the latter, has a fairly limited upside and a huge downside.

        Which is to say, it’s not at all contradictory to say that freedom of speech is important while maintaining that certain speech acts are bad, and the people performing the contemptible.

        I don’t really disagree with any of this, but I find myself reminded of, first, the conversation we had here in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre and, second, the more recent go-around about the Confederate flag. And… I find myself struggling to find a halfway consistent principle at play apart from that expressed in your second paragraph.

        To my mind, putting the blame on the protesters feels an awful lot like that thing certain law and order conservatives do when they blame defense attorneys when fairly obviously guilty criminals walk free on a technicality.

        I think we can fairly criticize the position advanced by the protesters while also putting the blame squarely on the MFA for making the decision to cancel the event. Two actions, two different critiques.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          I agree that the MFA harbors the primary blame here, but there is a critical difference between this and Charlie Hebdo. In this case, the resulting action seems to be consistent with the goals of the speech. In the Hebdo case, getting killed was not the goal of the speech.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman says:

            I should add that this comment assumes that it was a goal for the BMFA to cancel the show, which is sort of my assumption. If they were just complaining about it, and BMFA canceled it, then their responsibility seems extremely negligible.

            I should also add that I don’t especially consider this to be an example of censorship. Or, if it is, it’s of the pretty mundane variety. That doesn’t mean I think their response to the alleged offense was justified or proportional. But barring extraordinary circumstances, and without threat of punitive action (sometimes with), “that’s offensive and we’re asking we want you to take it down” is how society and speech work.Report

  22. Avatar Jaybird says:

    New(ish) developments!


    The new “list of demands and charges” from the group, which calls itself Stand Against Yellow Face @ the MFA, is nearly 2,000 words in length. They group is offended by everything from the prospect that the MFA planned to curate the photos resulting from the event for its Facebook and Instagram accounts to the fact that the robe, they say, is an uchikake, not a kimono. (An uchikake is a formal variety of kimono, or outer robe, used in wedding ceremonies.)

    They demand that the museum apologize not only on its website but via “multiple media outlets and on social media” and that it explain “why this event is unacceptable.”

    The article finishes up with a shot at Clarence Thomas, which is nice.Report

  23. Avatar Chris says:

    Interestingly, reading the responses to this incident elsewhere, places not dominated by white dudes talking to other white dudes about what this stuff looks like to white dudes, I found some interesting discussion (unlike here, where there is just precisely the sort of thing Sam got criticized for the other day, only in this case by some of the same folks who were criticizing him: as over there, we now know y’all are reasonable and morally righteous; awesome). I recommend trying it.

    Or you could stay within the safe confines of white dudes taking about how white dudes feel about these sorts of things, so everyone will recognize the reasonable righteousness of your intelligent, well-thought-out and informed opinion.

    Outrage at outrage!Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      tl;dr version:

      Ordinary Times, Safe Place for Rational™ White DudesReport

      • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

        Chris: Ordinary Times, Safe Place for Rational™ White Dudes

        Premise: “Rational White Dudes” should be denied safety or any kind of refuge. Wherever they gather, they should made to feel the shame of bearing the Mark of White Cain.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          No, my premise is that folks here are a lot like folks at Shakesville, but for a variety of reasons, they don’t have to police the place as explicitly.Report

          • Avatar Dave says:


            Great premise. Now if only knew what Shakesville was, I could figure out whether or not I’m in that category.

            What a hell of a conversation to come back to after a vacation… #facepalm. Well, at least no one is being accused of being a bigot so I guess that’s progress.Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              The folks who complain about trigger warnings know Shakesville, I suspect, as it is one of the more well-known users of them. An early adopter, even.Report

              • Avatar Dave says:


                I had to look up that site just to see what the hell you were talking about (as you can see, I’m not all that experienced in these kinds of conversations to pardon what may be appear to be a knee-jerk repulsion to the concept).

                I may understand based on this article right here:


                This article was posted onto T-Nation’s Facebook page. The comments section erupted into a virtual brawl. I can’t tell you how many people pulled the “T-Nation, I come here to read training articles, not this shit” or “T-Nation why do we have to read this politically correct bullshit” cards and got HAMMERED for it (I was one doing the hammering).

                I would have thought that the title itself was a sufficient enough trigger warning to keep those still offended by gays from reading it, but no, the biggest criticisms of the post didn’t focus on substance but the fact that the post was published in a place where people “come to read about training”. My apologies for not being up to speed to this, but my take on those people was that they viewed T-Nation as a safe space.

                If I’m looking at you like you have three heads (hence my snarky comment given my at-the-time high level of irritability), it’s probably because my frame of reference is limited to what I most recognize, something that I’ve rarely seen here, if at all.

                Just sayin’Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I don’t think this place is policed in the way that, say, Shakesville is. Doesn’t mean it’s not policed. I mean, we could ask the conservatives who used to be here, but we can’t really ask all the non-white people who used to be here, because…Report

              • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

                Why wouldn’t we be able to ask them?Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Hard to ask non-existent people anything.Report

              • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

                I can think of at least six former and current non-white contributors. The list of all current and former contributors appears to have been removed, or else I may be able to think of more.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Six! I stand corrected, then. There were/are six people to ask. By all means, ask them. All half dozen of them.Report

              • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

                When did you become a troll?Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I’m just going to assume that you haven’t read any of this subthread before the comment to which you responded (and that you didn’t really read that, either), and therefore didn’t realize how incredibly silly it was to respond to “This place is overwhelmingly white and male and milquetoast social liberal” with “there are/were six non-white contributors,” which is then why you took my response, which was essentially, “Are you fucking kidding me?” to be trolling.

                I’ll also assume that if you want to continue playing the “I didn’t read this thread so I really have no idea what is going on here, but I’m going to comment anyway and then accuse someone of trolling” game, you can play it by yourself and don’t need me to play along.

                tl/dr: Have you always been an ass?Report

              • Avatar Dave says:


                Please reach out to me if there are any issues from this point forward (EDITED BY DR)Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                Sorry about that… thot we were going to be moving faster on the new contriibutor pages at the time, then forgot about it, I think… or maybe just forgot to restore the widgetReport

              • You could ask me and Saul. If you were a Nazi, anyway.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                I’m going to suggest everyone try taking a breather from this thread for a bit.Report

    • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

      @chris , Why don’t you do these pathetic “white dudes” and fellow travelers the service of presenting or linking to the (predictably!) superior and apparently even interesting commentary that you have encountered in your very elevating travels to these much better places?Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Never seen someone take such offense to being called interesting ;).

        Look, you of all people here should be wary, if not openly critical, of folks railing against views they have snippets of in cases they have incomplete information about (e.g., did the museum receive other complaints?).

        I suggest seeking out info yourselves, of course. Twitter has hosted several interesting threads. However, here are some discussions to start, because they’re open on my phone:




        • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

          Chris: Look, you of all people here should be wary, if not openly critical, of folks railing against views they have snippets of in cases they have incomplete information about (e.g., did the museum receive other complaints?).

          Fine, but life is short, while the insistence that white-dude-ness or lack of it must be the key criterion is clear, and something different from the question of what people do or don’t get to do on a museum’s community day in Boston.

          Now, I did read through one of the posts you linked, from a “non-white-dude” (as I suppose we have to say while engaging in this exercise in ethnodemographic opinion-sorting), and the author finally gets to her Japanese-American bottom line:

          As earnest and well-meaning as [patronizing white person] sounds, it’s lack of imagination, ultimately, that is the problem here, the lack of willingness to consider someone else’s position. To consider that the OK of one Japanese friend who likes your kimono doesn’t mean wholesale approval from all Japanese people, let alone Asian-Americans. Or to consider that even if an act — a harmless one like putting on a costume in front of a painting — isn’t wrong, it might not be right either. Most of all, what I wish we’d do in the face of race-related protest is listen, consider other possibilities, then have a real conversation.

          The uncertainty about whether the act is beyond or other than “right or wrong” raises questions about the determination to assess the aesthetic expression as a moral and political expression at all, while the call for a “real conversation” ought to be painfully familiar, unless it’s just numbingly familiar. I’m pretty confident that her call will remain unanswered, and that we will instead repeat our endlessly unreal conversation for the infinitieth time.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      I must confess that sometimes I find it hard to know exactly what to do with this kind of comment, which I see a lot of these days: A white dude hanging who hangs out at a site, criticizing other white dudes for being white dudes hanging out at the very same site.

      I say this not as a cheap dig, but rather as simply noting that I’m genuinely not sure how to respond to it. I often find myself being in turns sympathetic, in agreement, eye-rolling, and feeling slightly absurd, often all within the space of a second or two.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        [Edit: Cold is wrong.] Could be wrong, but I think he’s just getting at another incarnation of the “splainin” dynamic, which is obviously offputting to certain folks.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Obviously I have no problem hanging out with white folks, but when issues of race, or even gender come up, the self-satisfied ignorance can be a bit much. Combined with the site’s reflexive dislike of anything socially further left than, say, Jay, it’s even more frustrating. That is all I mean. I doubt I’m alone in this.Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

          I get that. Like I say, I’m usually nodding along to comments like yours as I read them, even as I recognize that there’s a certain level of absurdity baked in to my doing so.

          Though I am not sure what to make of your noting that the site is hostile to anything left of Jaybird. FWIW, this has not been my personal experience at all. As the site’s official No-Declared-Team guy, I almost feel the opposite: Lots of cheering whenever I take on the Right, pretty thoroughly excoriated by just about everyone when I dare criticize anyone or anything on the Left.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:

            Lots of cheering whenever I take on the Right, pretty thoroughly excoriated by just about everyone when I dare criticize anyone or anything on the Left.

            It’s TEAMS!, all the way down!Report

            • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

              Not really my point. I’m just making a headcount observation.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Well, to Chris’s point, this site does have a pretty good track record in the “white guy splainin” comment category. Seems to me anyway. And the issue isn’t that white guys have opinions about stuff. It’s when white guys discount other people’s opinions because those folks are, for example, ignorant. Or bullies.

                Which reminds me of what Roger used to say, so maybe it’s not teams all the way down, it’s Ignorance and Evil in Others all the way down!Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                Well, sure it does. I not only agree with that observation, I don’t know how anyone could not.

                But that seems the answer to a different question than the question, is pretty much everyone here a social conservative?

                Because the answer to that question seems to me to me, “No.” (Or at least, not unless my understanding of what social conservative tend to believe is way, way, way off.)Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Tod, I haven’t read all the comments but I did read trizzlor’s comments (everyone should always read the trizz!) and he was the only person who struck me (could be wrong) as trying to defend the protestors and/or the change in the exhibition. Most folks who’ve criticized the OP, from what I’ve gathered, have challenged either CC’s judgment of the protestors, or placing the blame on them, or etc. So, all in all, not very far to the left (by one conception of that term).

                Heck, even Chris isn’t defending the guys CC sites in the OP. All he’s said is that there are more nuanced, less vitriolic arguments expressing the same views and those are less susceptible to arm-chair refutation and worth taking more seriously for folks inclined to refrain from reflexive judgments.Report

              • Avatar trizzlor says:

                Thanks Still! Reading through the thread I think Lee and Doctor Jay made a much more careful and considered rebuttal to the shaky arguments in the OP than I did. Which is probably why they were mostly ignored.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:


                No problem. I think your comments are consistently some of the best, most interesting reading here at the OT.

                And thanks for mentioning those other writers. I’ll scroll thru and check em out.Report

              • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

                FWIW, my criticisms of the protesters are as follows and come from “the left”:

                1 – They don’t appreciate the context of the exhibition, and their opposition to it comes from that ignorance.

                2 – Their tactics and goals – looking to censor art, shouting at museum-goers, having protest/counter protest battles with actual Japanese people trying to defend the exhibition – are self-righteous and forms of bullying.

                3 – They’re trying to project their own cultural norms onto another culture’s interpretation of an art exhibition. This, for me, is the most damning.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:


                I get that. You think they’re ignorant, bullying ignorants. 🙂Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Whether Japanese people in Japan, as opposed to Japanese (and perhaps other East Asian ethnicities) Americans, are the right group to talk to is itself a topic for discussion. “Actual Japanese people in Japan liked it” is a highly incomplete argument.Report

              • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

                That’s a fair point, and one which I made in the original post.

                I think in this case, it’s pretty clear that members of the cultural group most clearly implicated by the exhibition strongly desire the exhibition to continue as originally planned, and that is quite enough for me.

                Further, you mocked me below for saying this, but the Japanese Americans I know living in Boston are frankly quite shocked and disappointed that Bostonians will not get to wear the kimono that they were supposed to wear as part of this exhibition. I can think of no more-immediately-involved stakeholder group.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I didn’t mock you, I mocked busy
                Jay. He was giving a version of what you said that, in the context he used it, deserved it. You didn’t say it that way.

                That said, are there Japanese Americans expressing concern? Because again, they’re the ones implicated more immediately than anyone in Japan. And they’re the ones who have to deal with us. What do they say? Or why should we not ask before deciding certain positions are absurd and not worthy of even considering, as most seem to have done here?

                I also wonder whether it was just those kids with their buzzwords, or if they got other complaints, further undermining the “bully” framing.Report

              • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

                I didn’t read Jaybird as making the argument that you attribute to him either.

                In any case, you have some good points. Again, the Japanese Americans that I’ve talked to or read about are upset that the exhibition is being rolled back.

                I suppose it is possible that the museum got other complaints. If so, this hasn’t been mentioned in any of the sources that I’ve looked at.

                I see that you keep referring to the protesters as “kids”. I think this is somewhat patronizing and underplays the seriousness of their accomplishments and will continue to insist that they are indeed bullies: they’ve managed to compel something – the censorship of an art exhibition – that hasn’t happened at the MFA in decades. For this, I take them very seriously. Their forceful rhetoric and tactics as well fit the bully mold.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                They look quite young in the picture I saw, and I’m not convinced it was their accomplishment.

                Also, if you’ve got some Japanese-American sources, I would love to read them.Report

              • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

                I’m assuming Timothy Nagaoka and his group are Americans, but they could be Japanese citizens, I suppose:


                Hiroko Tabuchi’s Twitter feed, which you linked, seems to contain some interesting commentary, I’m not sure if Tabuchi considers herself American, but she certainly has one foot in the US and one in Japan. https://twitter.com/HirokoTabuchi/status/618639896476012544?s=09

                The other sources I have are personal, Facebook posts of people I know in Boston, people my wife has talked to, etc. They think it’s sad that visitors can no longer wear the kimono.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                She generally seems to not consider herself American. She seems to both disagree with the complaints and take them seriously.Report

              • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

                The sources I’ve read suggest that it very much is the group’s accomplishment. They’ve been standing in front of the painting for weeks accosting museum guests.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            By socially left of Jaybird, I mean exclusively socially. I think he is socially liberal in a way that is perfectly representative of this site’s mode.

            By left, I don’t mean Saul, I mean Freddie and left, and I mean “SJWS.” I think his thread is representative.Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

          Can we all just acknowledge that Chris is on the side of the angels? I think it would mean a lot to him.Report

          • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

            Well, that seems a purely semantic trick.

            Is saying that you should listen to, say, women when talking about women’s rights issues more a sign of signaling moral superiority than, say, saying that you have no need to listen to them because you’re way beyond that?

            Saying that one should listen to what people are saying before criticizing them for saying it seems pretty damn far away from being a moral scold.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            I know you are but what am I? Is that where you wanted to go?Report

          • Avatar Notme says:

            Are you just learning this? Ive known it for quite some time.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      We had Chris Carr talking about his experience with the views of Japanese folks in the comments here…

      But, sure, let’s discount that. What posts ought we be reading on this?Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Yeah, I spent some time in Japan, I have a Japanese wife! I’m practically an Asian American myself, you see!Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          That comment seems downright uncool.

          I can’t help but imagine that it will seem uncool to you after a good meal.

          I’m going to go get one myself.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            It’s a snarky way of criticizing the “but I have a black friend” argument, of which that is a special case.Report

            • Avatar trizzlor says:

              Not to pile on, but “I have a black friend, therefore my views can’t be offensive” and “I talked to my black friends and they think this isn’t offensive” seem like qualitatively different arguments to me.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                It’s actually quite similar.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                How is it – relating other opinions received 1st hand – qualitatively different than what you did, linking to other opinons? Or shall we dismiss all oral history?Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                1) I know a person

                2) I know a person who said to me “”

                3) here’s a person who said “” read for yourself

                2&3 are closer to each other than 1 is to any of them.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Do you think people are more or less likely to pull their punches with friends, or even avoid punches altogether, than they are in other contexts?

                “My black friend says” is much closer to “I have a black friend” than you realize, I suspect.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                Well dandy then. I don’t need to listen to other peoples’ opinions on subjects because they’re not going to be honest anyway. Good life hack timesaver.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Well, if you want to read me as saying the opposite of what I’m saying, that’s fair. I will make sure to pay you in kind.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                You said that personal friends aren’t going to be forthright about certain subjects. You said it’s very much like saying I have certain friends so I know how those people think. Or it’s very much like saying I have certain friends so I can’t have such and such feelings about those people (despite this being yet another distinction)

                But you link to certain people on the the Internet saying that everyone needs to read those people to get perspective. Yet personal experience is dismissed because one sounds supposedly sounds like Donald Trump when citing personal real conversations with individuals where one has an authentic personal relationship.

                Thus, strangers on the Internet are a better source of information than anyone I may know. That is the lesson learned and will heed.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:


                As someone who spent a good chunk of his life as a demographic minority and, therefore, often found myself on someone else’s “turf”, I can say that many folks speak very differently when they are on the home team versus the road team.

                A POC writing in a POC space is likely going to express his/her opinion quite differently than when he/she is in a white space.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                So what’s the Internet, where nobody knows you’re a dog?

                ie is signaling and posing on public intenet fora a greater or lesser impediment to truth than circuspect social norming in meat space?Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                I mean I do get that Balloon Juice’s This Week in Blackness segments are something I should be in receive mode only on. I just discount the discounting Chris is doing for any of those type of conversations in so called real life.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Huh? I don’t follow. There are spaces on the internet just like there are spaces in real life.

                Do you speak with equal candor with your friends and your colleagues and your significant others and your family and your neighbor?Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                Just so we’re clear here, Chris claimed that black people will lie to white people and tell them that it’s not actually so bad when they’re talking face-to-face.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Just so we’re clear here, Chris claimed that black people will lie to white people and tell them that it’s not actually so bad when they’re talking face-to-face.

                I claimed that people talk differently to different people. They do so for a variety of reasons. Sometimes your black friends don’t want to be “black people” for every white friend they have. Sometimes they just don’t want to talk about race (because their white friends always want to talk about race with them). Sometimes they sugar coat. Sometimes they just avoid. You know, like all people everywhere in different circumstances.

                Turns out, black people are people. Who knew?Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                The lesson, by the way, is not “don’t believe what the black people you know say,” but, “Just because that one black dude you see sometimes when you’re walking your dog says it’s OK doesn’t mean ‘Black People’ think it’s OK.”Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                Ah-heh. So the next time I’m talking to a black guy about something and he says “yeah, we don’t really care about that as much as people think we do”, I’ll tell him that he’s wrong and he needs to do a lot more reading before he can discount the experience of actual black people like that.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Density, I see you’re having trouble understanding, so let me recommend this site. See ya in a few years.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                You’re trying very hard to not have been wrong. I guess the effort is commendable but surely there’s a better use of your time.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Dude, you remain as valuable an interlocutor as you have always been. If you can’t even bother to try to read what I said and not what you want me to be saying, I’m not even going to bother acting as though you are here. So long.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                What I’m saying is actually quite simple, and it’s not a mere discounting. What people say about things depends on context, and what’s more, what one or two people think is not necessarily reflective of what any group or collective or association of which they are a member thinks generally. It’s far too easy to hear what we want to hear with a small sample (Chris’ article includes one Japanese person’s opinion, e.g.), particularly a small sample of friends. Instead, you should seek out more than one opinion, and if you can, find dialogue, because when people are talking they tend to express more than one view, and they will often come upon ideas and perspectives that, if they were writing a straight up opinion piece, say, they wouldn’t.

                What’s more, what I was discounting, to the extent that I was discounting anything, wasn’t what my friends say, but what Chris’ friends say, because I wasn’t there, I don’t know their relationship, etc., so I’m not going to take, “The Japanese people I talked to say” as constituting enough evidence for me to believe “Japanese people say,” or “most Japanese people say,” or even “a lot of Japanese people say.”

                As usual, none of this seems even remotely controversial, except that it looks like its implications for opinions you’ve already formed make it uncomfortable for you.Report

              • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

                Chris, serious question: How many Japanese people saying they’re not offended by this exhibition would it take for you to conclude that it’s not offensive?

                Even discounting the fact that this – and in particular I’m talking about the kimono-wearing – is a Japanese exhibition planned by and administered by Japanese people and official institutions specifically for Americans, I’ve talked to or read about at least six Japanese people living in the United States or Japanese Americans who are not only not offended at all by the exhibition but are indeed offended by what they have described quite clearly as non-Japanese, non-Japanese-American offense. I’ve found no one who has been offended outside of the offense that I express in the article. Since I have failed to find anyone, the upper limit of a 95% confidence interval here is approximately 3/n -> 3/6, so fifty percent, so I will acknowledge that 50% of Japanese/Japanese Americans may be offended and that I just haven’t contacted them by chance. But outside of this slim probability, unless I am not to take the freely expressed opinions of relevant stakeholders at face value, there is just nothing that I can think of that legitimizes these protests.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I don’t know how many, though it took me all of two seconds to find Japanese Americans who weren’t entirely comfortable with the Kimono wearing (I believe I linked to one, and to others in a conversation). So if you are only finding people who agree with you, all the more reason for me not to give your second-hand testimony much weight.

                Which is not to say I won’t give it any weight. If you will look at my comments in this thread, you’ll find I largely agree with your conclusion, but take issue with the labels you use and with the pretty universal dismissal of objections to the exhibit as silly and SJW nonsense. I figured there might be more nuanced opinions out there, there were, and that alone is enough to make me wary of opinions expressed in overwrought language, including your OP (bullies! censorship!) and the people it criticizes.Report

              • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

                Fair enough that your hearsay contradicts mine. I think that you’ve been reading what I’ve written charitably for the most part, but just in case, to clarify: I don’t dismiss the protesters’ opinions and in fact find much of our cultural portrayal of Asian women to indeed be very offensive. I was unfamiliar with the term SJW before this thread, nor have I ever used it in my life.

                After examining this specific protest group, however, I have determined them specifically to be very ignorant and very uninformed by actual Japanese persons and myself to be more informed. It was, in fact, discussing this with Japanese people in Japanese that inspired me to write the post. I find the protester’s tactics boorish and rude, and the fact that they’ve successfully censored an art exhibition that they are at best, minor stakeholders in, and something that rarely. rarely happens, even in the case of quite obviously offensive things as piss-Christ or Virgin Mary in elephant dung, is quite menacing.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                And like I said, I ultimately agree with your conclusion, both about the exhibit’s offensive and about the group. But I wasn’t going to get there with hearsay, and I was open to clear arguments from those who thought otherwise. If you were as well, good. Some here, perhaps most, clearly had no interest in even the possibility of such arguments, but were instead happy to revel in an opinion they held before you even wrote this post.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                I would actually even add more to @chris .

                For starters, all of this isn’t even a thing about people from different communities. Many a bad manager has justified his bad management on his very accurate memory that whenever he had asked his employees if we was doing OK, not one ever told him “you are terrible and you need to learn better management skills.”

                There is also the issue that often times people you know tell you A, and you hear B. For example, there are certain people I’ve worked with over the years that have, at times, asked me if I saw any flaws in their plan/proposal/idea. For these people, it never mattered how carefully I told them, “It has these strengths — and these strengths are great and so there’s some real promise here — BUT IT ALSO HAS THESE REALLY IMPORTANT FLAWS AND IF YOU DONT’ ADDRESS THEM IT’S GOING TO SINK LIKE THE TITANIC.” They’d say, “So, no flaws then! Great! Thanks!” People hear what they want to hear, more often than not. And at least in my experience, often times when white straight people go to minorities asking if they get offended by them doing X, what they are really looking for is approval for doing X — and they often therefore hear that approval no matter the answer. Not because they are white and straight; because they are human.

                Additionally, all of us aren’t really so honest with other people when we’re talking about difficult stuff. Our spouse asks us how they look before going to work and we think, “Man, those pants are really unflattering on your frame with the weight you’ve put on this past year,” but we don’t really say that, or at least not in those words. Yet we still have a tendency to think that we are the only ones clever enough to say things slightly different than we think them in our heads to keep the peace. So if we are white, and a black person asks us “What do you think about this potentially racially charged thing?,” we find a polite, politic, and perhaps not entirely 100% open and honest way of saying what we think. But when we ask the same of that black person, we take his or her polite, politic and not 100% open and honest response and we catalogue it as factual data being transferred to us by someone who is an expert.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Tod, exactly what I was initially getting at.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                I knew.

                I was hoping by the adding of non-racial examples the penny might drop for those that were getting hung up on the racial stuff.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Right, and thank you.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                “Our spouse asks us how they look before going to work and we think, “Man, those pants are really unflattering on your frame with the weight you’ve put on this past year,” but we don’t really say that, or at least not in those words.”

                What’s this “we” stuff, white man? If my wife asks me for my opinion, I give it to her. I don’t act mean about it, but if she says “does this make my ass look fat” and it does, I say so, because she’ll be happier with her ass *not* looking fat. It also means that when I say “no” she can believe me, because she knows I wouldn’t lie.

                If you want to say “sometimes we hear what we want, not what people say” that’s certainly true, but it’s also not at all what Chris was saying. He’s saying that when a black person tells me that something isn’t problematic I can’t trust them; I have to trust random strangers on the internet, whose weight of numbers is more important than the person I’m talking to right now.Report

            • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

              This is not any kind of case of that argument, which is used to justify saying something offensive. This is reporting material facts about an exhibition, and if there is any truth to be gleaned, it certainly has nothing to do with me and my experience or my family. Let’s leave the ad hominems out, please.Report

  24. Avatar DavidTC says:

    I think the idea of ‘cultural appropriation’ has clearly gotten a bit out of control, and I think it’s time we draw some fairly clear lines about what it *isn’t*:

    Eating another culture’s food.
    Wearing another culture’s clothing.
    Listening to another culture’s music.

    None of those are cultural appropriation or ‘offensive’ *unless* those things have specific rules within the culture. Unless those things are somehow ‘sacred’.

    I.e., Native American headdresses, which people in that culture can’t just *wear*, they have to earn them. Likewise, some music in various cultures is only played within a religious context, and it’s insensitive to use it in other contexts, perhaps. Same with food, maybe. (Can’t really think of any examples…food usually acquires sacredness from context, probably because people don’t want to waste food. That might be sacred bread and wine, but only because someone blessed it.)

    But kimonos are…not one of those things. Any random Japanese person can wear a kimono. In any context. They sell them in stores, both nice handmade ones made the way they’ve always been made…and cheap machine made ones. It’s sorta the equivalent of a tuxedo…it’s a little odd to wear around day to day, but there aren’t any *rules* about who can wear it, or when and where. It’s…just clothes.

    And, yes, not being a member of the Japanese culture, I guess it’s white-splaining to explain that…but at some point we have to accept the word of reference materials and actual Japanese people about that. As has been pointed out many times, getting people, both Japanese and non-Japanese, to try on and even rent or buy kimonos is actually an *industry* in Japan. Maybe we should actually start taking them at their word that kimonos are not some sacred dress and anyone is allowed to wear them.

    Historical/cultural is *not* the same thing as sacred. People in one culture are not going to be offended by people in another culture doing *perfectly normal things* that they do all the time.

    If we can’t hold that as a truth, if we can’t stand the idea of someone going ‘Hey, I like what that group does, maybe I’ll try that’, the entire idea of multiculturalism is screwed.

    Now, there is *another* form of cultural appropriation which is when a group takes from another culture without *acknowledging* it, and starts *producing* that thing but claiming it’s their own innovation. (In fact, this is what the term was invented for.) But that’s clearly not what’s happening here.

    And any of this could be, perhaps, done in a mocking or disrespectful or stereotypical manner, and whatever…and perhaps the original painting is doing that, but probably not. Either way, that’s not the same thing as ‘cultural appropriation’. Let’s not lump all bad things under a single term.Report

  25. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    I just realized a great irony in the criticism of white people wearing Japanese clothing. Japanese people have so fully adopted western clothing norms that the most common word used to describe clothing in Japanese, 洋? (youfuku) literally means “western clothing,” as does the Chinese word for suit, ?? (xifu).

    Yeah, I know they claim it’s different because western culture is dominant, but 1) Japan’s a major economic power, 2) Japanese-Americans are a particularly well-off demographic, and 3) at this point they’re basically arguing from dictionary definition, except it’s not even a dictionary definition, just something they made up.

    Edit: Oh, come on! What do I have to do to insert appropriated characters into a comment?Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      @glyph Seems like you’d be the right person to ask about this.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      @brandon-berg From what I have read from those who have a problem with the MFA event, I think this largely misses the point. Were Westerners to adopt traditional Japanese clothing in a way that Japanese people have adopted Western garb, I do not believe there would be an issue. Rather, it’s the use of a type of clothing that has a lot of culture and heritage attached to it being used as a costume for s**ts and giggles.

      A more exact comparison, I think, would be friends of mine who are Catholic who find people dressing up as nuns for Halloween/costume parties/etc to be deeply offensive. And in fact I suspect that if the MFA had done an event fore Matise’s famed Monique Bourgeois works and had a fundraising booth where patrons could have their pics taken in nun’s robes and habit, there would have been an outcry from Catholics.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        I havent’ seen any outcry about the Miko-esque battling nuns on Japanese animation.
        There are a considerable number, too…

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        Also, Dia de los Muertos and Cinco de Mayo. Those are by no means “Mexican Halloween” and “Mexican Fourth Of July”.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        This is a pretty good explanation, I think, and suggests that it’s possible to both disagree with the protesters and recognize that there may be issues involved that are not simply dismissable as “SJW” nonsense.Report

      • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

        I like this analogy too, except I think it would be more applicable if your Matisse exhibition had been sponsored by the Catholic Church and custom-made robes been sent from the Vatican.Report

        • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

          We should also imagine that most of the protesters are evangelicals and that Catholics are actively boosting the exhibition.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            Or that Italian Catholics loved the exhibit in Italy, but we don’t know what American Catholics think, and probably shouldn’t go exclusively by what the Italians were saying.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I would wonder how the arguments above would change (and, if so, who would be making which arguments) if there were a Catholic outcry against Monique Bourgeois. (Assuming any change at all, of course.)

        I suppose it wouldn’t be fair to look at Chris Ofili’s “Virgin Mary” to draw conclusions, given that 9/11 changed everything.Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

          @jaybird No, I think this still misses the mark by a family wide margin. There is a difference, I think, between someone attempting to create art and someone doing costumes for a fundraiser.

          Catholics and Evangelicals protesting a showing of Last Temptation at a film festival would be a thing I would have very little sympathy for, and indeed might counter-protest if they succeeded in having it taken off the screen. But I would seriously have zero problem with Catholics and Evangelicals protesting a publicity event for said film festival where you paid to have your photo taken on a fake crucifix.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        It’s really not the same at all. (Full disclosure: I’m totally cribbing off Wikipedia here.) Historically, the uchikake was used as everyday wear for upper-class women. In the late Edo era it was even worn by prostitutes. It has never had the religious significance that priests’ or nuns’ clothing have. I would say it’s more akin to a tuxedo. Formal, but not sacred.

        As I suspected, on their Tumblr they dismiss the observation that Japanese people wear western clothes by asserting that racism is power plus prejudice and therefore only goes one way. For some reason SJWs expect other people to accept their arbitrary redefinitions of commonly used words. This is a favorite rhetorical technique of theirs because it allows them to define “racism” extremely broadly while excusing the exact same behavior from their nonwhite allies because they don’t have power (even when they do) and thus can’t be racist.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          It’s also used as wedding garb, even today. It’s not religious significance, it’s cultural significance. I didn’t take Tod to be saying otherwise.Report

          • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

            It’s also used as wedding garb, even today.

            As are tuxedos. As I said, that would be a more apt analogy.

            It’s not religious significance, it’s cultural significance. I didn’t take Tod to be saying otherwise.

            But Tod’s analogy derives its power from the religious significance of a nun’s or priest’s garb. If he had suggested that people might protest over non-westerners trying on tuxedos, I think we’d all agree that that would be pretty silly.Report

            • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

              You’re making the flaw of saying, “because non-religious cultural dress is something we care little about in the US, no one cares about it elsewhere.” It’s basically like the Redskins. You can find all the parallels to you and your life that you can think of in order to convince yourself that no one who is Native American is actually offended by the name, but that doesn’t make it so.

              Now, it doesn’t necessarily follow that we should stop something just because it offends someone, mind you. I actually think that the MFA should have kept doing the photo shoots, and it’s what I would have chosen if I were king of the universe. It’s hard to have a world that’s very interesting if you primary goal is that no one ever gets offended.

              But that doesn’t mean that those offended people don’t exist, or that they are “silly” for being so culturally different that they are offended for the wrong things.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

                Okay. I assume you’re just going to have to take my word for it, but here’s a Japanese translation of a Huffington Post article on the protest. The comments are filled with Japanese people saying, essentially, “Huh? Why is this offensive? It’s fine. These people aren’t even Japanese.” (That’s a composite; not everyone remarks on the protestors not being Japanese).

                I didn’t read them all in detail, but as far as I can tell, none of them express a positive opinion of the protests. There’s one who explains the argument, but I can’t tell whether he endorses it.

                Granted, it’s a small sample and it’s the comments of a HufPo article, but still.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                But here again, this makes me think that you haven’t taken the time to read what people who have issues have been writing.

                For one, it seems to be Japanese Americans, not Japanese people, that have been objecting. For another, everything that I have read by the people who are uncomfortable with it seems to be along the lines of, “well, it’s complicated…”

                Read the piece from the Boston Globe if you want…


                … and agree or disagree that the MFA should have shut it down (I disagree, as I have already said). But at least take the time to listen.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC says:

                …wow, that woman has quite a lot of issues about her identity, doesn’t she?

                I have to suggest her life would be easier if she *didn’t* think people wearing the clothes and eating the food of another culture was cultural appropriation *in the first place*.

                She’s decided that only Japanese people can do certain things, and she’s not sure people see her as Japanese enough to do them, and they’re all judging her. And thus she’s worried that white people wearing kimonos will make other people think she’s also just a white person wearing a kimono.

                Here’s a crazy idea: How about *anyone* can buy canned sardines in the fish market or wear a yukata? And we *don’t* judge non-Japanese people for doing that?

                Her frowning at an actual white person trying on a kimono in an art exhibit is *exactly* the same impulse as other people have frowning at *her* for wearing a kimono because *she* doesn’t look Japanese enough. Exactly the same thing.

                I’m sure I’m coming off like an asshole here, because I’m sure she actually is insecure and hasn’t actually sat down and thought about this…but, Jesus Christ. The worries she’s living under, the insecurities she has, *exist because people think like she does*, and she’s going around spreading it!Report

              • Avatar DavidTC says:


                ‘Man, I hate it when people judge me for wearing a kimono because I don’t look very Japanese. They think that just because I don’t look Japanese enough that I don’t have the right to wear a kimono. I hate their judging of me, it makes me feel very insecure about my identity. Who gave them the right to decided who could wear a kimono?’

                ‘Anyway, back to my original point: Are those some non-Japanese people trying on kimonos over there?! How outrageous! That must be stopped! Non-Japanese people aren’t allowed to wear kimonos!’

                Wow. Just…wow. Total lack of self awareness.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

                I read the Tumblr earlier, and it was the same jumble of ill-conceived far-left shibboleths I’ve been seeing on SJW blogs for ten years. It’s really hard for me to escape the conclusion that they’re protesting not so much as Asian-Americans as leftists looking for a fight to pick. Especially considering how ridiculous a fight they chose. Your comment about your own experience as a protestor supports this as well. Checking their individual Twitter feeds…yeah. They’re on board with whole left-wing package.

                I’d be much more inclined to take these complaints seriously if they were coming from someone who doesn’t have, e.g., opinions on economic issues that I consider indicative of a deeply misguided worldview.

                The person you link to seems less ideologically precommitted, but…did I miss it, or does she not actually explain why she finds this offensive? Help me out here. I read it three times, and I just don’t see it.

                That aside, why are Asian-Americans—who may or may not even have any Japanese ancestry—more qualified to decide the appropriate use of Japanese cultural artifacts than Japanese people who’ve lived there their whole lives?Report

              • Avatar DavidTC says:

                The person you link to seems less ideologically precommitted, but…did I miss it, or does she not actually explain why she finds this offensive? Help me out here. I read it three times, and I just don’t see it.

                She’s a Japanese-American that does not look very Japanese, and hence she feels, when participating in things associated with that culture, that other people are judging her and thinking she’s just a white person who has decided to pretend to be Japanese-American. She thinks everyone thinks she’s appropriating their culture.

                Thus when any white person actually *does* do things associated with Japanese culture near her, she thinks they should stop, least others think she’s like one of them. She doesn’t like people actually doing what people are wrongly judging her for doing.

                The idea of just deciding that she should stop playing along with this bullshit, and demand that people stop judging her, and others, for eating Japanese food or wearing Japanese clothing while ‘not being Japanese’ (Or not looking it.) seems to have not occurred to her.Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              No, the analogy gets its power from it being a culturally salient example of some people taking meaningful cultural objects and using them for amusement. It doesn’t have to be religion.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC says:

                But that doesn’t mean that those offended people don’t exist, or that they are “silly” for being so culturally different that they are offended for the wrong things.

                Wow, let’s just move the goal posts *way* on the other side of the field, how about it?

                The question isn’t if some people are ‘offended’ by it. People can be offended by anything they want. Including pretty silly things.

                The question is if it’s *cultural appropriation*, or racist, or some other sort of *objectively* problematic thing in the same vein.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                Cultural appropriation is objective?Report

              • Avatar DavidTC says:

                And, see, it’s times like this that I feel the right wing ‘This is all bullshit the left makes up’ has a damn point.

                If all this stuff was subjective, than it’s, literally, all complete nonsense. It’s just gibberish we’re all saying because we don’t like stuff, and has exactly as much weight as anyone else complaining about something.

                However, there is stuff that is *objectively* racist, and stuff that is *objectively* cultural appropriation. And there is stuff that is, objectively, *not* those things.

                And there is stuff that is hard to decide, but that’s not because the idea is inherently subjective, it’s because stuff near lines is sometimes fuzzy, or it might be a very *small* amount of that that some people think is a problem and some people think is fine. (Which does not make the thing itself subjective…the actual amount of salt in food is objective, the ‘correct’ amount is subjective.)

                But here, we’re actually not very close to the line here. This is about as cultural sensitive as *possible*, where outsiders are invited to participate, respectfully, in a non-sacred cultural…wearing of clothes. Objecting to this implies that cultures aren’t *allowed* to share themselves with other cultures.

                I would insert a joke here about this being the equivalent of a non-Jew visiting a Jewish household and having people outside protesting that they’re ‘appropriating Jewish culture’ by eating a traditional Jewish meal that they were served, except…that joke sorta just happened in real life: There is a link, above, to an blog post about someone who thinks ‘buying canned sardines at the market in Little Tokyo’ could be considered cultural appropriation!

                Maybe you’re ready to go full Humpty-Dumpty on the world, but I’m not, and I’d *really* prefer the left not fall into that insanity and start kicking own goals.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                The subjective is “literally, all complete nonsense”? Well that explains a lot.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                I’ll note that there are some artists who do agree with him.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I hope their agreement is entirely objective.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC says:

                I admit my pronouns were a bit unclear, but in the sentences

                “And, see, it’s times like this that I feel the right wing ‘_This_ is all bullshit the left makes up’ has a damn point.

                If all this stuff was subjective, than _it_’s, literally, all complete nonsense.”

                the pronouns ‘it’ and ‘this’ were referring to ‘complaining about things and protesting them’. I.e, what is happening *here*.

                If cultural appropriation is subjective, than cultural appropriation is a complete nonsense as a justification to demand someone stop doing something.

                Of course, everyone here seems to be very confused about the different between ‘subjective’ and ‘people disagree about’, so maybe that’s what you’re doing.

                ‘Subjective’ doesn’t mean ‘hard to measure’ or ‘people disagree about how to measure’ or ‘people think different amounts of it are harmful’. It means ‘actually has different values for different people, and no amount of measuring will change that’.

                Which flavor of ice cream tastes best is subjective. There is no actual measurement for that. But rocky road causing someone to have an allergic reaction because they’re allergic to nuts might be personal, but it’s still *objective*.

                Now, I will admit that this exhibit might have some miniscule amount of ‘cultural appropriation’ if that was somehow measured. But if *that* level of ‘cultural appropriation’ was not allowed, if that level is a problem, we’d literally have to stop all intermingling of cultures at all. (And if it’s disallowed *retroactively*, America doesn’t even end up with a culture at all.)

                Or, in other words, the thing we’re measuring isn’t ‘cultural appropriation’, it’s ‘cultural mingling’, and it can be done in a wide varieties of ways, with different levels of respect and sensitivity…and this exhibit is about as far to one side of that as possible, with one culture being *invited* into participating in a very small, non-sacred aspect of another.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                If cultural appropriation is subjective, than cultural appropriation is a complete nonsense as a justification to demand someone stop doing something

                Again, if the subjective is “complete nonsense as a justification to demand someone stop doing something,” that says a lot.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Is this conversation a strawman of the argument?

                “I feel something strongly and this feeling puts an obligation on you.”

                “If I grant that, for the sake of argument, I then want to ask if my feeling something strongly puts an obligation on you?”

                “Depends on what it is you’re feeling.”

                (If it’s not, and it feels like it’s not… though I understand that that doesn’t necessarily put an obligation on you, then I’d follow up by asking who is the good example and who is the bad example in the conversation.)Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I don’t know. What argument are we talking about?Report

              • Avatar DavidTC says:

                Is this conversation a strawman of the argument?

                I don’t even know at this point. I suspect that Chris, like many people, does not know what ‘subjective’ means. (I seem to recall having *exactly* this discussion before here, except WRT facts vs. opinions.)

                The left does not, or at least is not supposed to, fight things because people ‘feel bad’. That is *exactly* the attack used by the right, and it’s used because it is, as you pointed out, rendered the entire thing nonsense…it works just as well in *any* direction.

                The left fights things because the left believes they are objectively *harmful* to the left’s view of how society (Which is actually pretty close to the right’s view) should(1) work, not because they made some guy ‘feel bad’.

                If the right generally disregards claims of cultural appropriation, it’s because the right *doesn’t* see such a thing as harmful (Or that the claims of such thing cause more problems than the actual things.), or think the direction that thing leads society in is a fine direction…not because the concept is subjective.

                Two people disagreeing on an objective fact does *not* make the fact subjective. It makes someone *wrong*. Likewise, two people who agree that an objective fact will cause a certain thing, but one person thinks that outcome is good and one thinks it’s bad, doesn’t make the fact subjective.

                This exhibit does not appear, in any way, to be harmful to anything. Even if there is some very slight harm (which I’m not seeing), it appears to far outweigh the good of informed cultural presentation and exchange. People would have walked away from this with *more* understanding and tolerance, not less. That is an objective fact I believe.

                It is a objective fact that I could be wrong about, but it is, nevertheless, an objective fact.

                1) And let’s not go down the philosophical rabbit hole of how society ‘should’ work and how that’s subjective. I am aware the entire basis of ‘best’ outcomes has no foundation at all, and that asserting it’s ‘better’ we don’t all die in a nuclear holocaust, or that we’re not all mad-maxxing it in the streets, has no objective basis. But we’re not having a damn philosophical discussion here. The point is, things objectively lead towards or away from what we have decided society should be like.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I suspect that Chris, like many people, does not know what ‘subjective’ means.

                Probably true. For example:

                This exhibit does not appear, in any way, to be harmful to anything. Even if there is some very slight harm (which I’m not seeing), it appears to far outweigh the good of informed cultural presentation and exchange. Report

              • Avatar DavidTC says:

                Probably true. For example:

                This exhibit does not appear, in any way, to be harmful to anything.

                So you actually *don’t* know. For future reference, whether or not something causes harm to people (Or, in fact, if it causes anything specific) is *objective*, regardless of whether or not that fact is correctly known.

                Meanwhile, saying it doesn’t *appear* to be a certain way is me phrasing an objective statement as an opinion, because, as I said repeatedly, I am willing to consider I am wrong.

                Saying ‘I am not 100% sure of this, but it appears to me that these are the facts, and we should operate society based on that…’ is vastly different than saying ‘That makes me feel sad, and we should operate society based on that…’.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Ah, that explains it.Report

              • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

                “Or, in other words, the thing we’re measuring isn’t ‘cultural appropriation’, it’s ‘cultural mingling’, and it can be done in a wide varieties of ways, with different levels of respect and sensitivity…and this exhibit is about as far to one side of that as possible, with one culture being *invited* into participating in a very small, non-sacred aspect of another.”

                This is quite well put I think.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC says:

                This is quite well put I think.

                I’d actually like some examples of cultural interchange that *are* allowable under the protesters’ logic, because it really seems to me like they’re asserting that a dominant culture isn’t allowed to take *anything* from any other culture, at all…

                …and perhaps they’ve forgotten that there are a lot of places where dominant doesn’t quite mean what they think it does. As others have pointed out, by this logic, Japan is *horrifically* guilty of cultural appropriation of America. But, wait, that’s us imposing our culture on them…wait, no, that might have worked as excuse in the 1950s, but not quite as much now.

                And what about places where Japanese culture is *ahead* of us, like with cell phone usage? Are we stealing that from them…back from them? How does this work? Or does the word ‘culture’ only refer to things before the 1950s with Japan…and yet somehow refers to modern black culture?

                But, wait. What about African-Americans wearing traditional African clothing…but not caring enough to make sure it’s where their ancestors were actually from? Does ‘American’ count as the dominant culture vs ‘African’ (Well, *that* premise sounds racist!) or should we view their relative position in their own societies?

                Also, should white people be allowed to eat Mexican food? Thai food? I’d like these people to go ahead and explain to the *millions* of immigrants who come here to and start a business selling their native food that white people who buy that are racist, because, uh, some reason.

                And, hell, now we’ve got the question of who *actually* counts as part of a culture, and we’ve got to check everyone’s identity, all the time. Here’s an interesting fact: If a supposed way to reduce culture-ism requires *everyone to be acutely aware of everyone’s culture and police what that person is allowed to do based on their culture*, that solution is fucking stupid.(1) That is, literally, the opposite of reducing culture-ism .

                People need to acknowledge where things come from, and be respectful of *actual rules* that cultures might have about things. And perhaps doing a lot of research when trying to portray another culture in fiction and whatnot. That’s it. People do those things, we have almost no problems.

                1) And hilariously, there’s an article above talking about someone who lives under such policing, and dislikes the exhibit because she doesn’t look Japanese enough and feels she is policed harsher when nearby white people do Japanese things…and has failed to notice the actual problem is idiots policing her behavior based on her (apparent) race.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC says:

        And by ‘being used as a costume for s**ts and giggles’ you mean ‘trying it on as part an exhibit of how that sort of clothing works’.

        Were Westerners to adopt traditional Japanese clothing in a way that Japanese people have adopted Western garb, I do not believe there would be an issue.

        Please, explain how exactly kimonos are supposed to adopted as traditional clothing if *no one knows how to wear them or what they feel like*?

        You’re honestly arguing that it’s perfectly reasonable for Westerners to *buy* kimonos and wear them, but it’s *not* okay to do that in the context of museum exhibit intended to exhibit the clothing and explain how it works?

        Do you have any sort of justification for that idea?

        A more exact comparison, I think, would be friends of mine who are Catholic who find people dressing up as nuns for Halloween/costume parties/etc to be deeply offensive.

        Nun’s garb can be considered sacred, and, as I pointed out, cultural and sacred are *not the same thing*. Kimonos are *not sacred*, there is no additional meaning besides ‘formal wear’.

        How would people from the Midwest feel about a historical art exhibit created by the Smithsonian in Italy, that explained exactly what cowboys wore, and even let people try on the clothes, shown next to a Western filmed in Italy?

        Why, that would be almost nonsensical to complain about, wouldn’t it? It’s an explanation of their actual culture, shown next to a historically-relevant work the host culture created that was supposedly about said culture.

        And that’s pretty much exactly what’s going on here.

        And, of course, actual Japanese people, and people from that culture, don’t appear to see anything wrong with it. It appears to be a bunch of random people who, best interpretation, think anything showing the culture of anywhere in Asia is racist, and worst interpretation are actually anti-Japanese and dislike the exhibition for *that* reason.Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

          How am I on your side? Monet was an Impressionist, not a Surrealist.Report

          • Avatar DavidTC says:

            I have no idea what is going on here, but we’re having pretty serious thunderstorms, so I’m entertaining the idea it’s the apocalypse.

            If you want a disagreement between us, I suspect the SJW are easily-lead idiots and the instigator of this was some anti-Japanese sentiment that managed to frame it in a manner that stupid SJWs could get on board with, whereas I suspect you think this is just how SJW work in general.Report

  26. Avatar Keiko says:

    “Nevertheless, I heard from a Japanese national in Boston that there may be an ulterior motive: apparently, whenever the MFA has a specifically Japanese exhibition planned, members of other Asian-American ethnicities protest or threaten to protest, invariably claiming “orientalism”.”

    I’m wondering how well sourced the above is? I’m Japanese-American and I’ve lived in Boston for almost 20 years and have never heard of anyone protesting a Japanese exhibition at the MFA before. Part of the reason that Japanese nationals are so confused about the protest is because they lack the cultural framework to follow the confused logic of the protesters and many don’t have the English language skills to follow the debate in English. I have tried and I think failed in most cases to explain the protest to Japanese friends because they don’t understand words/concepts like orientalism, japonisme, colonialism, imperialism, Black Lives Matter, race-based sexual harassment/assault in the US. They also take a very different view than we do in the west of things like the Kanagawa Treaty which us Asian Americans view negatively through the lens of Western imperialism but as far as I can tell is celebrated by most Japanese. They’re also very proud of the influence Japanese art and culture had on European artists.

    I’m told that the Japanese media has done a very poor job of framing the protest and explaining to Japanese audiences what it’s about, though admittedly English-language media have also done a poor job of this as well. I’ve been writing about it for the past two weeks on my blog:

    • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

      Hi Keiko,

      The comment was posted by a Japanese friend who lives in Boston and has worked with the MFA in the past on his Facebook page. There is obviously no proof that these protests have to do with anti-Japanese sentiment, and I’m inclined to take the protesters at face value despite their lack of Japanese or Japanese-American representatives.

      I just read through a couple of your posts. These are probably the most thoughtful I’ve come across on this topic. Thank you for sharing. I’ll continue to follow your blog.Report

      • Avatar Keiko says:

        Hi Christopher,

        Thanks very much. I met with Katie Getchell, the MFA’s Deputy Director, yesterday and it seems this is the first time they’ve had a protest like this so I’m not sure what your Japanese friend is referring to. Perhaps the MFA has received negative feedback from non-Japanese Asian Americans or Asians in the past but they’ve never had any of their Japanese art/events protested in person.