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Moana vs The Dragon

This Halloween, my daughter is going to be a dragon. We had a tournament of choices. Raccoon vs Druid (Raccoon), Dragon vs Pirate (Dragon), Unicorn vs Witch (Unicorn), Unicorn vs Dragon (Dragon), Dragon vs Raccoon (Dragon). So she’s going to be a dragon. At no point in the process did I especially consider political or racial implications. There were none. The closest I came was making an implicit decision not to show her anything princess. But if she’d wanted it, a princess she would have been.

Meanwhile, all hell broke loose in the Cosmopolis:

Recognize this: Moana is a really special character to young girls of Polynesian descent who have never seen a Disney Princess who looks like them, just like how Tiana from The Princess and the Frog likely resonated with young Black women who had waited decades to see themselves represented. White girls have plenty of princesses to choose from — there’s Belle, Ariel, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty … you get the idea. If your Caucasian son or daughter doesn’t get to be exactly what they wanted for Halloween, encourage them to take a step back and realize that they’re awash in privileges that the real Moanas and Tianas of the world will likely never see, because the world is full of racist assholes.

And those assholes are becoming even more empowered. Our President is a hate group apologist who tries to ban refugees from seeking asylum in our country, simply because of their faith. Meanwhile, Black Americans continue to be killed by police, and antisemitic voices feel louder and more powerful than they have in decades.

So what does this have to do with a seemingly innocent princess costume? Pretty much everything. It’s important to align with, and stand up for, people of color and minorities, and a key part of that is showing respect for their cultures. To pretend to be a racial, ethnic, or religious minority when you’re not makes light of their history — and reinforces a deeply problematic power dynamic, wherein white people use, then discard, pieces of cultures they’ve subjugated for centuries just because they can.

You don’t have to work too hard to imagine how this went over. My own reaction was mostly informed by the process that we went through. Less a political correctness thing or a racial thing, and more a Dad’s desire to see his daughter happy and being pissy about the prospect of telling her no on account of someone else’s sensibilities.

Granted, I’m not going to let my daughter dress up in blackface or anything truly offensive. But it’s likely to take more than wishy-washy “cultural appropriation” shade. In my (granted, very white) perspective, cultural appropriation in and of itself cannot be an offense. Using stuff from other cultures is what this country is all about. That doesn’t mean I reject any sense of proprietary culture, but there needs to be a more specific reason: “That’s a sacred symbol” or “Doing it that specific way comes across as mocking” or something along those lines. “You’re white, you don’t get to do that” just isn’t going to work. And while “minorities can dress as white characters but not vice-versa” is, to me, an understandable impulse, it’s not a sustainable one. It also runs the risk of promoting white pop culture characters.

This doesn’t create an “anything goes” mandate, and it’s not just blackface (or an inexplicable brown tights) that’s a potential problem. The Cosmo article, though, veers towards (extremely successful) clickbait.

A variation of the article was run under a different headline by Delish. The title says “no” but tucked away towards the end is “But she does say it’s okay to dress kids in ‘official Disney/Warehouse/K-Mart/any other unofficial knock off Moana or Maui costume – minus the face paint, stick-on tattoos and brown skin colored bodysuit.'” (We’ll get to who “she” is in a minute.) According to Vikram, the Cosmo article had something similar but actually deleted it for some reason. This at least solves the concern about disincenting Disney from using non-white characters, and at least provides a path for a white girl to be Moana, but it still starts from a position of “no.”

As an aside, it also has a really weird subhead: “If your kid wears a racist costume … you’re kind of wearing it too.”

That fundamentally misunderstands the entire decision-making process. I am not especially worried about being considered racist because my little girl is wearing a racist costume. I am worried about her being considered racist. To go back to the blackface example, the order of my concern is (1) it would make a large number of people unnecessarily uncomfortable, (2) it would reflect badly on my daughter, and (3) it would reflect badly on me. There is a very, very large gap between #2 and #3. The very assumption that my concern here would be me looking bad is fundamentally strange.

There were two sources for the articles. The first was an account of a mother trying to accommodate her daughter’s desire to be Moana but eventually landing on her being Elsa (from Frozen). The second is far more interesting, because it’s by someone a little less white who actually gives some advice not on whether your daughter can be Moana, but how she can. This one was incredibly helpful, and ultimately is how we should try to best approach the subject. It also does a good job of explaining why not to do the things you shouldn’t do, which a lot of cultural appropriation pieces don’t because they consider “cultural appropriation” to be an argument in itself.

By all means, these are conversations worth having. They just last longer than a couple of words.

Feature Image by Melissa Hillier


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Will Truman is a former professional gearhead who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He also writes fiction, when he finds the time. ...more →

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120 thoughts on “Moana vs The Dragon

  1. Much of this conversation seems to completely fail to consider what dress up actually represents for young children. It is something very, very different than what dress up is for most* adults. It is an important part of development and why things like dramatic play or the “dress up corner” are essential components of any halfway decent early childhood program. Kids want to.. need to… experiment with identity, theirs and others, and one way they do this is by trying on and manipulating those identities… quite literally. It is interesting that Will notes that he does not want to make his daughter’s Halloween costume about him… when so much of these conversations are focused on adult feelings and interests and completely ignore the kids involved (Note: I’m not saying Will is doing this; I call it “interesting” because he at least thinks to mention the needs of the children).

    All that said, as our children’s caretakers, it is important we help support and guide this process. I would not hesitate to let the boys dress as a Disney princess or any other specific character/person… regardless of their race or ethnicity unless the character him/her/itself is inherently offensive. I’d steer them clear of dressing as a generic type of person focused on race or ethnicity. And I’d put the brakes on any elements of it which were offensive. So if they wanted to dress as Moana, I’d let them do so. And if they wanted to put on brown face paint — a very reasonable request from a 4-year-old not yet saddled with all of our cultural baggage — I’d explain in an age-appropriate way why that wasn’t okay to do.

    For the record, my guys decided to be robot dragons because they wanted to make Halloween impossible in their very own special way.

    * I say “most” because I reckon there may be communities for whom dressing up and assuming identities beyond their own is important in a way that may parallel the importance for children. I’m thinking of drag queens or cross-dressers, though am also happy to be wrong if I am misunderstanding the role of dress up for these folks.

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    • You hit on a couple of the more bizarre aspects of the ‘cultural appropriation’ debates that illustrate how schizophrenic the underlying ideology is. As I understand it, we are to applaud boys dressing as girls and girls dressing in costumes more traditionally associated with boys, most of which are associated with mass market fictional products (I think there’s always been a bit more flexibility for girls on this in modern times).

      However, even as we celebrate our culture’s newfound appreciation of gender fluidity by buying these costumes, we are to condemn as evil costumes in some way associated with another culture, most of which also arise out of a mass marketed fictional product.

      BUT the inclusion of the other culture in the mass marketed product must be vocally celebrated as a watershed moment or our own benighted and backward society. Except that the plurality of the people who make up our society shouldnt celebrate TOO much (certainly they must NEVER buy a Halloween costume associated with it) because that mass marketed fiction product isnt really for them, and they better damn well remember that!

      I’m not sure I understand where all this is going, but what a weird moment it is we are living in.

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  2. (At a big corporation)
    “Sales of the Moana Costume are sluggish. Apparently there’s a word of mouth campaign among whites that white people shouldn’t dress up like Pacific Islanders.”
    “How many Pacific Islanders bought the Moana costume for their kids?”
    “Not enough to overcome the negative advertising among whites.”
    “Is the script for Frozen 2 done yet? Tell them to scrap it and add another white princess.”

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  3. According to Wikipedia, there are only two million Polynesians in the word and less than half of them live in the United States. The rest are in New Zealand, the Maori whose culture is very different than Moana’s culture, Australia, and the scattered islands in the Pacific. Since only a fraction of the two million Polynesians are going to be girls involved in dressing up for Halloween, that isn’t a whole many people that get to dress up as Moana.

    Many of these articles on cultural appropriation also seem presumptuous. They are assuming that nearly all Polynesians are going to feel the same way that Social Justice Calvinists do about the issue but can’t speak up so the good, nice Social Justice Calvinist needs to speak up for them. There are many obvious problems with that scenario including a heavy dose of white savior complex in many cases.

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    • In the article he mentioned at the end, by the “not as white” but also definitely not “Polynesian” blogger, if you go to the comments section a Polynesian person has come out and said effectively that. You could have asked a Polynesian person, but you instead you made assumptions. He/ she basically details that she’s fallen into the idea a Polynesian person COULDN’T be asked and therefore she felt comfortable acting as mouthpiece.

      The commenter also points out that using the costume from Disney is the best way, because Disney has done the research, has taken great care to create something culturally sensitive and accurate in close consultation with Polynesian people and you would be unambiguously dressing as the character, whereas any changes made could be accidentally be culturally insensitive. It’s an amazing comment. It deserves to go viral.

      The worst part is, another Polynesian person also commented saying it wasn’t cultural appropriation at all and the bloggers, having gone viral, instead of printing a retraction, informed by Polynesian people, doubled down.

      The bloggers don’t care about culturally appropriating Polynesian people, they care about being perceived as being racially “woke”.

      Don’t do anything that blogger says. Being “less white” hasn’t made her better informed at all.

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    • Twitter is doing more damage to the English language than the rest of the Internet combined.

      “I’m at a school Halloween party. My daughter is dressed as Wonder Woman. Another girl is Wonder Moana. My daughter is owned and BOY does she know it.”

      I wonder if the Internet is kicking other languages in the butt to.

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      • Languages have always been kicked in the butt.

        It’s only now that we see how regular “normal” people actually put their sentences together on paper that we have realized how large that butt is (as well as how many footprints cover it).

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  4. Stuff like this just reinforces the idea in my head that most SJ essays in popular media is less about tackling actual SJ issues and more about virtue signalling.

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    • I don’t think it’s about virtue signaling, so much as expressing anxieties and playing on them for clicks and ad dollars. I mean, this is Cosmo, right?

      This is why cultural appropriation is perfect: people are generally on board with it being bad, but it’s much harder to articulate why it’s bad.[1] It’s just the thing to talk about alongside fashion articles, dieting tips, and anatomically implausible ways to please your SO in bed.

      [1] I stick by my contention that this is because it lumps together a couple bad things with a lot of good or innocuous things. AFAICT, “Dressing up as Moana” is way on the innocuous side. Current Affairs had an article that I think did a good job teasing out the bad parts.

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      • I think that a well thought answer on why little white girls should not wear Moana costumes looks something like this: “It might seem like a harsh and drastic remedy but the damage done to people of color by white people in the past through colonial exploitation and past colonial appropriation was devastating. The only way to make up for the past and to ensure it doesn’t happen again is to let white people know constantly how bad they are and why they need to think very carefully about what might seem even the most innocuous form of cultural appropriation and not do it.”

        I don’t think the above is correct and is going to fail miserably even if correct for reasons outlined by Jaybird and myself above. There is also the fact that getting every white person on the planet to think like the above is simply not going to happen. It is an articulable reason why cultural appropriation is bad though. Its not exactly a victimless crime.

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        • I’m going to tweak your explanation above by omitting some things and bolding others, but I want to be clear I’m not saying “fixed that for you” (I HATE it when people do that to someone else’s comment and the main thing it does, in my opinion, is to make people angry or embarrassed or silence them). I’m just clarifying what I think is a (slightly) different way to consider your comment:

          “It might seem like a harsh and drastic remedy but the damage done to people of color by white people in the past through colonial exploitation and past colonial appropriation was devastating. The only way to make up for the past and to ensure it doesn’t happen again is to let white people know constantly the role white people as a group have played in recent history and the many ways in which things still operate to their advantage and the disadvantage of non-whites. This reminder is why they need to think very carefully about what might seem even the most innocuous form of cultural appropriation and not do it.”

          Again, I’m not doing this as a criticism. I’m mostly doing this to suggest that a better thought out justification for “why little white girls should not wear Moana costumes” might not want to say how bad white people are, but just to point out the historical and current dynamics. I also want to say that I think your summation of that well thought out argument is a very good one.

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    • I think is spot on here. A lot of left-leaning folks believe that cultural appropriation is bad but it is really hard to articulate reasons why it is bad. As a 30-something, I know a lot of people with kids and they largely good liberals who don’t want to seem culturally obtuse and insensitive. But sometimes it can go over the top and become performative orthodoxy.

      But I gotta say that while Cosmo and Redbook are making me roll my eyes, I don’t really want to be on the side of The Blaze or Reason either.

      Slate Money was talking about the various sexual harassment scandals that happened and they mentioned that Sinclair Broadcasting is still interested in Bill O’Riley even though he paid out a 32 million dollar sexual harassment settlement from his own pockets personally. First of all, the behavior that leads to a 32 million settlement is really bad. Slate Money theorized that conservative audiences just don’t care about the sexual harassment scandals and this probably has truth.

      So I am stuck inbetween here. I don’t fully agree with the eyerolls of the Blaze and Reason but I also don’t believe fully in the Cosmo article either.

      There is a nuanced middle ground being destroyed by partisan clickbaiting and Donald Trump.

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      • Murali wrote a comment a while back on this and it might be the best explanation of cultural appropriation I’ve ever seen. (The context is that he was responding to my comment that said that while I can understand that The Mikado is cultural appropriation, we, as a culture, are better off for it having been written.) Here’s what he wrote:

        Well I haven’t watched Mikado, so let me just talk about it by assuming that you guys have adequately addressed the phenomenon.

        So let me draw up a few distinctions.

        Not all consumption of foreign cultures by white people is bad.

        More precisely, there are some acts of consumption which are bad, but no such act is ever bad merely because it is an act of consumption of the piece of foreign culture.

        Of the consumptive acts that are bad, some are bad because they are acts of cultural appropriation. It is a difficult issue to determine what is indeed an act of cultural appropriation what is not. Perhaps it is not a matter of the particular act, but in the manner and spirit in which the act is carried out. For instance, a white woman wearing a sari to a Hindu wedding is not cultural appropriation. Instead it is an admirable and imho very successful attempt to respect the cultural practices of her friend. By contrast, wearing that sari for Halloween is denigrating. Not because saris hold some sacred ceremonial role, but because they can be a person’s everyday garb (for instance my mother wears a sari to work). Firstly because my ethnicity is not something you cosplay as. Secondly because you are doing that thing for your own entertainment.

        There are other bad consumptive acts which are not bad because they are acts of appropriation, but for different reasons. One such reason is akin to why blackface is bad. Blackface or yellowface is not bad because it is appropriation, but because there is some other kind of disrespect going on. The “isn’t the orient EXOTIC?” dynamic falls under this heading. Its not quite appropriation because in some or many of these cases the things that are being attributed to the orient are false. No, Indians do not in general have sheep’s eyeballs floating in their soup/gravy. (I’m looking at you Indy) So, you (not you specifically) are not using some particular feature of my culture in a disrespectful way. Rather you are attributing some false and bad thing to my culture/people. It is still a kind of disrespect, but it is not in virtue of being an act of cultural appropriation, but instead of creating a false stereotype. Blood libel is an extreme form of this. It is bad (not just because of the consequences) but does not actually appropriate anything from jewish culture.

        Many bad consumptive acts have multiple wrong making features in them. For instance, when fiction portrays Kali as a goddess of evil, you are on the one hand appropriating some parts of the culture (the image and notion of the goddess) and using her as a devil archetype in your fiction. But also attributing false and bad things to people in my culture.

        Incidentally, portraying the heroes and positively regarded figures of a foreign culture as the villains of your piece seems like a douche move to make. And this would be made worse if you use the heroic figures from your culture. And also if you were just recently our colonial masters that makes it even worse. (Its got that whole “not only are we technologically superior, our hero just kicked your god’s ass” aspect to it which is just adding salt to the wound.) You shouldn’t do that unless you basically intend to portray a whole cultural group as fundamentally evil. We won’t mind if you use our cultural villains as the villains of your piece or our heroes as the heroes of your piece.

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        • With the above in mind, it strikes me that the nuanced middle ground that you are looking for is something like this:

          Dressing up as Moana? This is awesome. This is great. Any little girl who wants to dress up as Moana should be able to do so. Buy the outfit, put it on, and when someone asks “Who are you?” and she proudly says “Moana!”, the appropriate response is something like “OH FOR CUTE!” and not a sour face at the parents.

          Dressing up as “Hawaiian Hula Girl”? Well… at that point, we’re in “that’s not cool” territory. It’s not dressing up as a character at that point, it’s dressing up as a cultural stereotype. Dressing up as a cultural stereotype is bad.

          Dressing up as Moana? Good!
          Dressing up as cultural stereotype? Bad!

          Which, of course, leads to the question of “But wasn’t Moana herself originally based on an amalgamation of cultural stereotypes?”

          And I would answer that question except that am out of time because I promised Maribou that I would do some chores today.

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          • This is what I was getting at above.

            You want to dress as Moana? Or LeBron James? Or Jose Altuve? Go for it. Avoid the more offensive ways of taking on that role (i.e., black face) and no one should object.

            Dress up as “Mexican Guy”? Totally different.

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            • Doesn’t this make the test a question of age though? An elementary school girl is obviously Moana and a teenager or young woman in her twenties is obviously a stereotypical Hawaiian Luau girl engaging in a hideous act of cultural appropriation.

              It also makes it a test of gender. People are going to be more willing to give a teenage girl or young woman a good faith assumption that she is dressed as Moana than a teenage boy or young man that he is dressed as the historical Mexican Revolutionary Pancho Villa than a Mexican.

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      • Until someone comes up with a hard, fast, and easy to understand rule that works for a big diverse country the concept needs to be thrown out. I think its fair to condemn a very specific form of minstrelsy where a person is intentionally acting like a negative stereotype of another race. Cultural appropriation on the other hand is so fleeting and impossible to define that in practice its another form of partisan gotcha or tribal signifier. It helps no one in any material way so screw it.

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        • The biggest problem that the people who take cultural appropriation seriously is that most people aren’t going to attempt to even not do it if it seems too complicated. People are lazy that way.

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          • Maybe thats fair from an academic standpoint but if we are expecting people to live it in their day to day lives lest they be judged harshly, as these annual Halloween controversies imply, I dont agree. It isnt reasonable to tell people not to break rules that can’t be articulated.

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            • Now that I’ve reread your original comment as well as your response to mine, I think I see more clearly what you were saying. You were distinguishing between specific actions (e.g., engaging in minstrelsy) with the vaguer idea of “cultural appropriation.”

              I think I mostly agree with you. I join those here who probably are inclined to make similar distinctions and to say that cultural appropriation is almost never bad simply because it’s cultural appropriation. Perhaps even using the word “appropriation” suggests something too nefarious for what’s going on.

              My suggestion for a “case-by-case” approach isn’t really so much as to decide when or whether it’s okay to condemn people or decree what others shall and shan’t do. It’s more to put a brake against the inclination to condemn and decree in the first place, or to understand first, and condemn second.

              (Also…..I’ve learned writing this comment that it’s almost impossible for me to type “appropriation” quickly without misspelling it.)

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        • To be fair, never do it and if you doubt, the answer is no is a very hard and fast and easy rule.

          I suppose this is my problem. I don’t agree with the right-wing point of view that there is never harm or offensive in cultural appropriation and I don’t agree with the modern Cosmo/Teen Vogue hard no either.

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          • That rule misses the ‘that works for a big diverse country’ part that I think is just as important. There are too many sensibilities to take into account even for that to be workable.

            I guess I’m in the camp that does not believe it can be harmful if the concept of harm is to have any meaning. No Polynesian American is suffering any type of injury or deprivation by white children dressing as Moana for Halloween. I believe it can be offensive, but mostly just in the sense that, much like what constitutes cultural appropriation, offense is inherently in the eye of the beholder.

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            • I largely agree with you but I still think that the Blaze and Reason are more about pissing off liberals than coming up with a thoughtful way of discussing whether there is harm or not.

              Plus I’m still strongly on the side that race was more of a factor in the 2016 election than many are willing or wanting to admit.

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            • Maybe I’m way off base here, but I reckon the potential for harm exists much more in a macro than a micro sense. As you say, it is unlikely any individual person of Polynesian descent will be directly harmed by any white child wearing a Moana costume. Where the potential for harm might exist is long-term if the perception or treatment of Polynesian-Americans is worsened by the Disneyfication of their culture.

              So if we fast forward a generation and see Polynesians suffering as a result of a wave of white Moana love… well, that would be a harm.

              Now, I’m not saying that is what is going to happen. Just that has always been my sense of the sort of harm we are trying to avoid when it comes to potential instances of cultural appropriation.

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              • FWIW what I’ve heard first and secondhand from Polynesians and other South Asians from Island cultures (Sri Lankan, Malaysian, Indonesian) has been near universal enthusiasm for the movie. I mean, obviously I’m not as likely to hear negative responses and I’m very likely to find those negative responses if I look for them… but in general, my network is pretty good at telling me which things are tiresome through awful and which things are okay through awesome, even if imperfect (most things are imperfect).

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                • That is my sense as well.

                  Independent of the cultural/racial angles, I consider Moana the finest children’s movie I’ve seen. Hell, it’s better than many adult movies. The character development is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a movie aimed at young children.

                  I’ve considered doing a writeup on it, since it really stands out, but in summation I loved that all the characters were nuanced, complex, and motivated by relatable goals. The classic controlling dad? Actually a victim of trauma himself trying to protect his loved ones from a similar fate. The clunky lughead hero-ish dude? Someone caught between two worlds who doesn’t feel he belongs in either and is desperately trying to find his place. Even the baddies… Te Ka and Tomatoa… the former is actually a benevolent figure robbed of her heart and the latter shares Maui’s feelings of rejection and isolation and seeking acceptance through the acquisition of things (you have to listen to the song 4000 times as I have at this point to catch most of that). Even our primary hero, the titular character herself, is flawed and human.

                  So, yea, frickin’ brilliant on that front. One of the things I hate most about so much media for children is the creation of perfect heroes and irredeemable villains, with the latter mostly motivated by nothing more than a desire to do bad. That makes it easy for kids who tend to see the world in black and white… but it doesn’t challenge them to grow beyond this. In my conversations about Moana with Mayo, he remarked how there weren’t any real bad guys and even the scary one (Te Ka) was actually good but angry. Side note: He loved the grandma character which melts my heart.

                  Then you layer on top that this was a movie featuring exclusively characters of color and with so many strong female characters and *that* cast is the one they get SO MANY THINGS RIGHT WITH and I think even if it isnt perfect from a cultural perspective… man, I struggle to see it as anything beyond a huge plus for so many.

                  I offered this little rant here mainly to challenge a particular narrative that was forming… the micro vs macro thing… and will concede that Moana doesn’t really lend itself to that since it is most likely to be a positive on the macro front.

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              • I see what you’re saying but if that’s really what we’re talking about it seems that the appropriate target for criticism is Disney for making the film at all, not parents buying costumes for their kids. You and Maribou went into the details of that and I don’t really have much to add.

                The only other comment I’d make is seems like another situation where I’m not sure there’s a reasonable/workable rule for artistic enterprises to follow. Even people who work hard to portray other cultures fairly and accurately end up on the receiving end of these kinds of criticisms. It was just the other week we were talking about the Kirkus review correction. At some point you just have to say you can’t please everyone and go about your business.

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                • At some point you just have to say you can’t please everyone and go about your business.

                  Basically, yeah.

                  Also, not to panic in the face of some people getting mad about what you make. I empathize that this can be tough for J. Random Tweeter who finds themselves elevated out of obscurity when they find one of their tweets getting a ton of attention for offending someone, but editors and the like really do need to made of sterner stuff.

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                  • Agreed. There’s absolutely a cycle of escalation facilitated by the internet/consumerism. No one wants their brand associated with a controversy. Every overreaction to a small number of cranks and social media trolls proves someone’s political or social narrative which then, like Oscar said, gets bounced around various echo chambers until whoever the other side is feels they must respond, ad nauseum.

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                  • Yeah, this, I think is where the social antibodies probably will crop up. Remember in the early aughts when the spammers and the skammers were going to take over? Email filters were invented, people became cynical about stuff they got in email and the problem went away. I wouldn’t be surprised if sometime in the future various institutions responded to twitter outrage with yawns and some kind of form tweet.

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                • I think part of the problem is the nature of the criticism, which almost always seems to fall into the category of “WORST THING EVER!”

                  Let’s say Moana got like, 80% of the way to doing everything right. And let’s say they did that by working really really hard to get it right. We want to vilify those folks? Really??? Why not work with them on the parts they didn’t get right while acknowledging those that they did? Maybe next time they get to 85%… and then 90%… and maybe one day approaching 100%.

                  For what it’s worth, it does seem they worked hard to get it right. The behind-the-scenes footage reveals there was originally a scene in which Moana got angry and did something that would have been verboten in here society (I believe defaced a palm tree but I might be misremembering). Based on feedback from some Pacific Island folks — who pointed out that that was unlikely something she would do and it should not be included as it was. So they redid the scene. Doesn’t make them heroes but certainly puts them on the right side of the line and they should be partnered with, I say.

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                  • For what it’s worth, it does seem they worked hard to get it right.

                    What does it mean to “get it right” in a culture where people can (maybe!) dress up as Moana but can’t dress up as a “stereotypical” Polynesian? The clothes worn are exactly the same. We’re talking about cartoons here, not documentaries.

                    Oooooh. I get it now…… Everything is a documentary.

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                    • In the case of mass market media, “get it right” means “Makes recognizable sense as a fair portrayal of that culture to people within the culture.” As should be fairly obvious from Kazzy’s example, mutter mutter mutter.

                      Which is, actually, quite *different* from a documentary, or at least supposed to be, in that a documentary should be more interested in truth and less interested in respect and harmony. (Though I suppose sometimes, not always, respect and harmony will get you a bigger amount of truth for your documentary than purported objectivity will … but a documentarian should be making that choice deliberately in a way a kids’ movie really shouldn’t.)

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                      • Which is, actually, quite *different* from a documentary, or at least supposed to be, in that a documentary should be more interested in truth and less interested in respect and harmony.

                        I think you’ve made my point for me. The cultural critiques of pop culture media consumption are more interested in “respect and harmony” than truth, where two of those concepts are culturally determined.

                        Fact is, most PM cultural critiques of contemporary art view the creator’s presentation as a cultural critique of how *that person*, especially as a representative of *that culture*, views other cultures. Or its own. It’s documentary all the way down. Which may be correct given a certain ideological predisposition, but taken to its conclusion is so meta it becomes an absurdity.

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                        • Perhaps you are meaning to critique / parody a position that it seemed to me you were holding (I wouldn’t normally expect you to hold it)? I thought you were asking a question sincerely so I answered as such?

                          I mean, “If you’re going to make a giant big budget movie based on the myths of a particular culture, try to work with people from the culture to make it something they can also enjoy instead of something that makes them feel ignored and misunderstood” isn’t particularly post-modern, if anything it’s a logical extension of good old boring niceness.

                          Likewise, “If you’re going to dress your kid up as if she’s from my culture, please don’t put tattoos on her – even temporarily – that represent stuff that’s actually sacred to me, or use face paint and pantyhose in a way that feels really creepy to those of us who are brown all the time” is something rather less exciting and more melting-pot-y than the hash the ctrl-left is currently trying to make of it for clickbait purposes.

                          ……….

                          Or do you just mean that the PM cultural critiques are mostly using different values for respect and harmony than most people would in the cultures they’re purporting to uphold? 100 percent on board with that one…

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                          • No, I hold it. PM critiques are not only circular but *dangerous*. There. I said it. :)

                            Or do you just mean that the PM cultural critiques are mostly using different values for respect and harmony than most people would in the cultures they’re purporting to uphold?

                            I mean that they’re nonsense. PM is nonsense. It has no truth values (they’re subjectively determined, per the theory, everyone gets their own).

                            Descriptively there are imbalances in the way (eg) black people are treated by cops and the way women are treated by men in the workplace. Those are just basic facts which don’t rely on a deconstructionist PM critique to determine their truth value.

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                            • Right, and descriptively, stereotype threat *actually exists* and people can be manipulated into doing less well at things by being made to feel like they’re sterotypically inferior to other people. Like, that’s just a fact too.

                              Descriptively, stereotypical depictions of ANY culture other than Empire (going back to at least the Greeks) focus on their (purported) less-than qualities. If they focus on their more-than qualities, that’s an archetype, not a stereotype. That’s not objective in the sense that stereotype threat is, but it’s also basically common knowledge. (Technically a stereotype can be positive or negative, of course, but it’s reductive either way.) It certainly predates post-modernism. Nothing in your original comment required a PM critique for an answer (and none of the answers I gave were PM in nature, IMO).

                              Soa desire not to be postmodern, but to be *fair*,

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                              • Sorry, computer troubles again.

                                A desire not to be “properly” post-modern, but to be *fair*, kind, just, reasonable or pick your pre-modern or modern virtue of choice is what motivates people to recognize that taking your kid out in public dressed up like a stereotypical Polynesian *in a society that recognizes Polynesians as culturally-distinct kin and not as barbarians*, and where Polynesians or Polynesian-Americans are aware that people dress up as a stereotype of them, is at best ignorant (that’s not snark, I don’t think ignorance is that big a problem – I learn new stuff every day…) and at worst a shitty way to treat people.

                                And no, “stereotypically Polynesian” and “like Moana” is not literally the same. Any more than stereotypically Scottish and “like Princess Merida” is literally the same clothing, or to get away from the awesome and frankly creepy power of Disney on kids’ minds… dressing up as “stereotypical African American” and “like Harriet Tubman” are the same, or “sterotypical Frenchman” and “like Louis Pasteur” are the same. Because dressing up *like a stereotype* tells people who actually claim that identity that you think of them as less-than human. Dressing up *like an archetype* is honoring their stories.

                                That isn’t Derrida, it’s … Carl Jung and Martin Buber as much as anything, plus add in all those studies that prove most primates have a fairness instinct.

                                The kids these days just dress it up with PM lingo because kids these days are made to read Derrida’s intellectual godchildren, and not so much the people Derrida was made to read. Or Jung or Buber for that matter. Or primatology.

                                It’s not the expression of post-modern nonsense dressed up as justice, it’s the expression of a broader understanding of who “us” is, dressed up in post-modern nonsense. It gets messy and non-sensical as *arguments* go because we’re primates. Most of us prefer to copy what’s out there and innovate a bit, and glom unlike things together, rather than building something sound from as close to first principles as we can get. If the twig fits the termite mound, who cares why?

                                (I care why. You care why. But we’re weird.)

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                                  • Your kid dressing up as a Polynesian (perhaps their favorite wrestler or Disney character or their friend’s amazing grandpa…) and your kid dressing up as a Polynesian *stereotype* are two different things.

                                    (I don’t think the ctrl-left understands the distinction very well. But they really are two different things.)

                                    And to get to a stereotype also takes a whole lot of thinking, doesn’t it? Like, kids don’t think “I want to dress up as a jerkface representation of an ethnic group,” at least not when they’re little kids… they think “I want to be THIS person/character (or ridiculous and magical conglomeration of people/creatures/things).” Translating that desire into a stereotype is as much the product of adult thinking as complaining about the stereotype is.

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      • Saul,
        No, behavior that leads to a 32 million dollar settlement isn’t really bad.
        That’s behavior between people still capable of using a fucking legal system.
        People not dead at the end of the transaction.
        /jaded
        /realistic
        Welcome to America. It’s kinda nice here.

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    • et. al.

      Let me rephrase my objection:

      If you are insufficiently versed in a complex and contentious issue, or if your editors are not willing to allow you to devote sufficient column inches (or whatever the equivalent is for a web page) to properly treat the topic, go write about something else.

      Why?

      Because your ham-fisted attempt at discussion is more likely to result in people getting pissed off that yet another part of the ‘liberal media’ is telling them they are having fun the wrong way, and are bad, thoughtless white folks who should be ashamed of themselves for being white, etc. ad nauseum.

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      • I am going to be a Devil’s Advocate and defend Cosmo and Redbook for a second.

        https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/12/teen-vogue-politics/510374/

        One of the biggest surprises in the 2016 election and aftermath was the amount of political coverage and pointed criticism of Trump and Co. from Teen Vogue. According to the article from the Atlantic, the editorial staff of Teen Vogue did research and discovered that their audience wanted this kind of coverage.

        Hypothetically, say Cosmo and Redbook did the same market research and discovered that their core reader wanted the same kind of article. Say the core Cosmo reader is a squishy/guilty liberal who sincerely wonder/worries about whether they are being culturally insensitive by letting their daughter dress as Moana.

        So I think it is kind of a presumption to say that the Cosmo writers are just out to make whites feel bad. It also raises questions about who should magazines write for. It is clear that places like the Blaze and Reason are writing for an audience that presumes the cultural appropriation debate is a load of bullshit. Suppose Cosmo’s audience is on the other side, why shouldn’t Cosmo writer for their core reader?

        And I will criticize my side when they get their underwear in a bunch and hate-read the New York Times Style Section.

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        • “Say the core Cosmo reader is a squishy/guilty liberal who sincerely wonder/worries about whether they are being culturally insensitive by letting their daughter dress as Moana.”

          Then a thoughtful piece exploring that worry seems reasonable. A piece indulging and encouraging the guilt and worry is another thing all together.

          Just out of curiosity, given that you have clearly stated your assumptions about the intention of Blaze and Reason, are there any liberal publications you are willing to say are motivated solely by trying to piss off conservatives?

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          • Then a thoughtful piece exploring that worry seems reasonable. A piece indulging and encouraging the guilt and worry is another thing all together.

            Well, yeah, but pieces encouraging readers to worry guiltily is Cosmopolitan‘s stock in trade.

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            • Perhaps. I don’t read it. But if it’s going to be shlocky and self-indulgent, I’m not going to take it seriously.

              Write what you want… but maybe we reserve the serious discussions for serious ideas.

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        • It falls under the whole “not helping” category. You are probably right that Cosmo knows their readership, but in the big picture an hacked out article like this will probably do little to move the ball in the desired direction in any real way.

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          • Why are you against business people giving their customers what they want? Sure, other people might make fun of their customers or their product but its making people who actually use your products thats important. Let everybody else hang it.

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            • Social Justice Calvinism can make quite a lot of money.

              At the same time, it builds up mnemonic defenses among pretty much everyone who is not willing to run along with the whole “you must be *THIS* devout to ride the rollercoaster” ruleset.

              I’ve gamed out where this ends up a handful of times and it ends up in a bad place more often than it ends up in a good place.

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      • In an ethical sense I absolutely agree.

        But sadly I think the incentives are exactly the opposite. You want to draw clicks, and contentious, handwringing pieces about the cultural appropriation inherent in benign-seeming activities are an absolutely stellar way to do that. They get a lot more attention than nuanced, careful discussions of the same topic. Members of Team Red will start circulating them as proof that liberals have lost their goddam minds and probably make some ridiculous counter-arguments, drawing in members of Team Blue to defend the honor of their tribe and shoot down the ridiculous counter-arguments, and possibly folks who aren’t strongly associated with either team will sit down to carefully assess things in blog posts…

        …and all of them will Tweet your original bad article, post it to their FB wall, or maybe link to it in their thoughtful blog posts.

        Ka. Ching.

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        • This is why I call it virtue signalling. There are a vast number of topics a magazine like Cosmo can turn into click-bait gold. That they choose this topic… to me it strikes as virtue signalling. They don’t have to write it, topics like this are not part of the Cosmo brand, and it doesn’t strike me as an attempt at a topical shift (“Hey, let’s move away from articles about sex positions you’d likely find in Penthouse Forums and try our hand at something serious!”).

          Maybe I’m wrong, and it is just pure click-bait.

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  5. I think that when Mike, Will, Lucas and Dustin dress up for Halloween, Lucas can be Venkman and Mike can be Winston. (There’s a short argument about this in Season 2 of Stranger Things). I think that it’s great for Idris Alba to play Heimdall. And not that he played him as Heimdall. There’s no prosthetics or skin coloring change.

    I think that’s the way forward. Forget about the skin color, and engage with the meaning of Moana – a sailor, a leader, a daughter of a chief. I think that there might be a few who want to see skin tone and features like their own in the media, who will be disappointed. I don’t think it’s possible to please everyone, though we can certainly engage from a place of respect.

    Maybe what we need is to get better at saying “I’m sorry”, or maybe just “that kind of sucks”.

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  6. It seems that much analysis of potential instances of cultural appropriation focus only on the outcome.

    This mindset could lead to someone like Rick Bayless — an American-born white guy who is one of the premier Mexican chefs in the country. A white guy? Making Mexican food?! And profiting!!! BOO HISS!

    Only… then you read this from his bio…

    “Having begun his culinary training as a youth, Bayless broadened his interests to include regional Mexican cooking as an undergraduate student of Spanish and Latin American culture. After finishing his undergraduate education at the University of Oklahoma, he did doctoral work in anthropological linguistics at the University of Michigan and, from 1980 to 1986, lived in Mexico with his wife, Deann, writing his first book, Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico.[2]”

    and

    “After hosting the 26-part PBS television series Cooking Mexican in 1978-1979, Bayless dedicated over six years to culinary research in Mexico, culminating in 1987 with the publication of his Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico, which Craig Claiborne described as “the greatest contribution to the Mexican table imaginable.” Bayless continues to host his PBS television series, Mexico: One Plate at a Time, now entering Season 11, produced entirely on the Yucatán Peninsula.[3]”

    Now, a comment like Claiborne’s IS problematic. And if you’ve ever heard Bayless talk, he’d probably say the same. He doesn’t pretend to have invented Mexican cuisine and speaks of its history with respect bordering on reverence. He impact HAS been huge and, sure, in an ideal world, we’d have seen Mexican chefs helping to elevate the status and broaden the understanding of Mexican cuisine in the states but that isn’t how it went… in part because of racism within the system that kept Mexicans and other people of color out of the chef role.

    But knowing that about Bayless takes time and effort. Instead, it’s easier to look at the white guy making hay as a Mexican chef and cry foul.

    And none of this is to say there AREN’T instances of problematic cultural appropriation. It just takes lots of work to separate the good from the bad.

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      • I haven’t eaten at any of his restaurants so I don’t know to what extent he modifies. On some of the shows I’ve seen him on though, he seems really dedicated to representing the food and culture pretty authentically. So if I had to guess, I’d say the extent to which he is modifying is probably within the range of what is typical… as opposed to going for some fusion concept.

        But, yea, if someone were to accuse him of cultural appropriation (which, again, it’d be easy to do if you looked at nothing but the superficial outcome), I’d goto the mattresses in his defense.

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        • My aside about him modifying the cuisine was more a belief on my part that he probably does instead of any actual knowledge. I’ve never eaten at his restaurants, for example. Like you, I imagine that if he does modify it (and frankly, I can’t imagine he doesn’t….that’s what high-end chefs do), he probably does it within a range, and I don’t get the sense that it’s fusion.

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          • I got it. What I was trying to say was that my sense is he probably modifies less than most because of the intensity of his connection to the origins of the cuisine. If I remember correctly, on Top Chef Masters, he made a 40-ingredient molé during the finale because that was how an old woman in a small village taught him once.

            Hard to believe he is related to Skip Bayless.

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  7. This is just silly.

    If I had kids, I’d be tempted to just say “kiss my ass”. But more realistically, why doesn’t anyone who makes the claim of CA eliminate any of their own CA first before opening their mouth on what others do.

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  8. Out of curiosity, I get the sense from reading your description of your/her selection process, that you showed her a series of costumes until arriving at a winner. Why did you employ this approach? How would she have responded if you simply said, “What do you want to be?”

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      • Oh yes! Did you see above where I noted that my boys are going as “Robot Dragons”? Because either a robot or a dragon would have been insufficient?

        I didn’t mean to critique his approach. The ideal approach is the one appropriately tailored to the child. So curious what about his nugget made that approach the preferred route.

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    • There were a couple reasons I went that route. The first was time. I’d been focusing do much on her birthday party (which was yesterday) I realized we needed a costume with only a couple days to get one. So I needed options that would ship in two days. The second is that she has communication/social difficulties and so she does better with this/that questions than opwn ended one’s. We recently got a new dog and she doesn’t have any name suggestions at all, but liked picking between my suggestions.

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      • Wise approach. Before Mayo’s speech issues resolved, there was lots of either/or question.

        She turned 5? Or 4? I remember her and Mayo being close in age but he’s a spring birthday so they’re half a year off. Can’t remember who is older. He’s 4.5.

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  9. The real important question is that Disney has given us Native American, Asian, African-American, Polynesian, and white Disney Princesses but when are they going to give us a Disney Jewish Princess?

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  10. Of all the assorted indignations the Ctrl-Left wallows in, cultural appropriation is one of the ones that makes my mouth dry up the most and sends a chill creeping up my spine.
    When I was a political youngster (in the 90’s) and over the aughts I watched the right get dragged by social conservatism to throw itself in front of the wheel of culture screaming “offensive!” The ctrl-left and especially cultural appropriation claims ticks all the same boxes:
    -Opposition to natural American impulses (melting pot, sharing of culture etc)
    -Rectum puckered indignation over other people having a good time
    -Hypocrisy (it’s okay when certain people do these actions but not when others)
    -Screeching overwrought hectoring and moralizing.
    The idea that all the progress and advancement we’ve enjoyed could be potentially undermined in the long run by this virtue signaling nothingburgerness makes my blood run cold. My only consolation is that for the most part the ctrl lefts indulgences have remained contained mostly to the internet and college campuses and is so widely known mainly because people who despise it magnify it for their own purposes.
    Ugh, it still makes me feel twitchy though, like someone’s walking across my grave.

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    • Its the throw back to the Puritan/Calvinist part of the American Leftist tradition whether people recognize it or not. The reforming and moralistic impulse of the American Left started with the people who settled New England and wanted to create a shining city on the hill. That involved a lot of kill joy behavior.

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    • Yeah, it’s annoying and stupid.

      This has me more worried. It’s starting to edge closer to illegal acts. Of course deleting doesn’t erase your stupidity, but it seems they don’t even have the courage of their conviction.

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      • That is very worrisome. Has it been reported anywhere that doesn’t make jokes about people being limp-wristed and say stuff like “Kent State was the school where the Ohio National Guard had to shoot a bunch of communist students”?

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        • I’ve not seen it, but then again, I’ve not bothered to look. The comments are, in general, similar to what I’ve seen anti gun folks post about pro gun folks, so I wouldn’t be surprised.

          However, clicking into the twitter link, where the OP has been deleted, and reading the responses, it sure suggests something “inflammatory” was posted and since removed. I have no doubt that that line of thinking exists. I’ve heard something similar from a guy in my jujitsu class, depending on how you interpret “need to get rid of those types of people”.

          Then again, it could be more “Fake News”.

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      • It shouldn’t. First, it’s confined to twitter AND campus politics and is thus foundationally idiotic and mostly irrelevant. Secondly socialism is really old news and the only places is by pretending to not be socialism (in which case as soon as they made any traction the mask’d come off) and thus unappealing to anyone outside the twitter/campus axis or by being some form of market socialism (Bernie’s comparisons to the Nordics for instance) in which case it’s no longer socialism at all but merely the leftish version of neoliberalism and thus is no longer a threat.
        Liberalism has already processed the communism thread and I don’t think that failed ideology presents much of an ideological threat.

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          • Hrmph, I knew plenty of surface communists/socialists in university and I the only ones who managed to retain their devotion to true communism/socialism into adulthood were the ones who managed to find a way to spend their adult life living/working on campuses. Everyone else promptly discarded that nonsense in short order. True socialism/communism impulses don’t seem to long survive encounters with commonly owned bus shelters and normal life interactions. Liberalisms antibodies against communism and the like are plenty strong. I doubt you’ll even see it get up to a case of the shingles again.

            In contrast ctrl-left shibboleths are a new kind of pathogen and thus there aren’t so many assured responses.

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    • You can add to the ctrl-left’s many sins
      “Drowns out the voices of the people they are supposedly supporting.” I remember when the article Will linked about how to respectfully be Moana (without resorting to sacred tattoos and/or brownface) circulated back in January. People were sharing it, people were learning from it, etc etc.
      Now any time (internet) people say “Moana” and “Halloween dress-up”, this shite from Cosmo will be at the top of their minds….

      SIgh.

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      • Absolutely, any serious social justice conscious left wingers should be more incensed by the ctrl-left more than anyone else because the ctrl-left is making them look like idiots. Alas, such is the iron logic of ideologies that they mostly folks in that part of the spectrum want to either apologize to the ctrl-left of rationalize them instead.

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        • ” Alas, such is the iron logic of ideologies that they mostly folks in that part of the spectrum want to either apologize to the ctrl-left of rationalize them instead.”

          That does not at all accord with my experiences. My experiences is MOST of those people feel something like “UGH stupid people stealing our concepts must we?”, perhaps complain among themselves for half a minute, and then go back to what they care about, which doesn’t much involve, say, Cosmopolitan magazine. This approach (or rather non-approach) does, of course, have its own flaws, but assuming they’re actually doing good and not just talking about how one ought to, I’m sympathetic to it.

          The reason I was so appalled by the Kirkus apology is that it is very much the exception, rather than the rule, in my experience.

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          • I’ll defer to your expertise but in observing the socialcons I noted that when they were dealing with the real rabid right wing fringers their responses internally were uncomfortable “well their hearts are in the right places but they’re taking it too far” mumblings and their external responses were “you immoral baby-killer/sodomite/feminazi reprobates are way worse that our extremists could ever be!” And my (admittedly outsider/limited view) is that those responses are common among my more liberaler brethren.

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            • The thing is (and honestly was/is with the socialcons) that whatever percentage of the people who are doing what I describe *do not show up* to the external world. Loud people are the only ones we see a lot of times.

              There were plenty of socialcons who were just “wow, that’s pretty fucked up, I’m going to go back to minding my own business since these people have basically nothing to do with me,” … but we were not hearing from them in larger society. (I believe this because many of them were acquaintances of mine, were open-minded, and ended up being actively pro-gay-marriage even if they don’t get that it’s not a sin to be gay.)

              My perception is that more social justice left people are like that than social cons were/are like that, but I’m also aware that of COURSE I would think that.

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              • Yeah we both would think that and it bears remembering that the evidence that the ctrl-left has escaped the campus/internet pen and is actually presenting much real world significance is really thin no matter how much Dreher likes to hyperventilate about it.

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    • I do wonder if there isn’t a substantial political divide around age. I too remember when the attempts at cultural policing were coming from the Christian right, and it informs my views on these issues. It’s weird to think that side has lost so much ground in the last 20 years that there’s a generation of people for whom it may as well have never existed.

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      • Yeah you can get a cyclical generational feeling to it. Like the Millenials* who grew up disdaining the social right because of their behavior are now unconsciously aping the same behavior just for their own causes. That makes me eye the kiddies now, as in the actual kids who’re being told their Japanese teaparties or desires to dress as Moana are horribly racist, with apprehension. What will they rebel against? If they rebel against the ctrl-left will they have the wisdom to not throw out the baby with the bathwater or will we see a kind of socialcon revival?

        *But this lets earlier generations too much off the hook and is probably too reductive.

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        • I think the kiddies are less reacting against social conservatism than they are the consciously un-PC, anything goes, let’s offend everybody ethos of the late ’90s and early ’00s. If you grow up with South Park, Grand Theft Auto, and the like, there aren’t going to be a lot of directions to go which allow you to be more outrageous, and of course some of the backlash against the deliberately offensive stuff is pretty justified.

          I also think this drove the unbelievable scabrousness of *chan culture, which in turn seems to have done a lot to shape the alt-right. In order to get a rise out of people, you need to be really awful.

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