Smite: sexist, racist, and culturally appropriating [LONG]

[ETA: I’ve revised my comments with regards to the Greek deities and whiteness, which weren’t clear enough, but you should also read the comments.]

I try not to pay attention to MMOs anymore, because the vast majority of them are steaming dung piles of bullshit sexism. However, Smite is a game that kept coming up on my radar for various reasons. When it first came out, my brother emailed me a few pieces of promo art of the female characters. More recently, a few friends over on G+ that have been talking about playing Smite. So when Smite made a few headlines last week for its decision to include Hindu gods as playable characters, I figured that it would be worth taking a closer look since that was the third time in a relatively short period of time that it caught my attention.

As it turns out, I wound up having a lot of stuff to say. So let’s just jump right on in!

Getting ready to rumble

What exactly is Smite? Smite is a MOBA – a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, a genre made popular by games like Defense of the Ancients 2 (DOTA2) and League of Legends. Smite, like other MOBAs, has a pre-set roster of characters that you can choose to play as that have set abilities. If you wish, you can pay extra to unlock special characters or alternate skins. And Smite has a lot of playable characters – sixty-six in total.

Those of you who have been reading my blog long enough to be familiar with my numbers posts will know that I generally tend to stick to the same set of criteria when evaluating character designs in video games; typically I will compare the numbers of figures that are shown with: 1) active poses versus neutral poses and 2) fully clothed versus suggestively attired by gender in order to demonstrate the consistent under-representation, objectification, and sexualization of female characters.

However, this time around going to all that effort really felt like a tremendous waste of time. Such an approach might be worthwhile when I’m writing about Magic and how, despite recent improvements in art direction, their art is still very sexist. But when I’m looking at a game like Smite, which is just as blatant in it’s bullshit sexism as League of Legends, it just feels like a giant fucking waste of time.

I mean, look. This is Aphrodite:

aphrodite

Ridiculous, right? Even more so when you consider that she’s not even the least clothed Smite character. So let’s just take it as a given that the female character designs are definitely objectifying and sexist and not waste time beating a dead horse[1]. Especially as there were a lot of characters to look at and other issues of representation that I wanted write about regarding problematic racist tropes.

Criteria examined and overall summary

[Note: When looking at characters, I looked at the default designs and descriptions as shown on Gamepedia’s Smite Wiki. If I get anything wrong here, I blame Gamepedia.]

In the end, the criteria I decided to examine were:

Number of figures by gender: simply the number of female figures and the number of male figures

Whether a character was whitewashed: I considered a character to be whitewashed if they came from a nonwhite culture but were explicitly depicted as white. I did not count a character as whitewashed if they were an animal or other nonhuman, had animal features, or had nonhuman skin tones (there are several characters that are either blue or purple). While some of them seemed like edge cases that could count as whitewashing, for the most part it seemed too ambiguous to make a definite argument one way or another.

Deity alignment: This was taken from the character descriptions on the wiki rather than the artwork; each character had a blurb a few paragraphs long about their backstory. I read each and assigned each deity as either Good, Neutral, or Evil. (A lot of the Greek gods wound up as Neutral, just because they capricious assholes even if they are gods of nominally good things.)

Character Damage Type: Again, as defined on the Smite wiki, I was curious to see if there would be an imbalance of Ranged characters versus Melee characters, since that’s a pretty common area of imbalance in many other video games.

After going through all 66 characters and taking tally, here’s what I came up with:

overall

In some ways, the numbers were a bit surprising even while they were also completely predictable. Female characters account for 30% of all playable characters. However, while they were clearly more sexualized and objectified, they weren’t any more likely to be whitewashed or to be pigeon-holed as a ranged character. There is an interesting difference when it comes to alignment, but I’ll come back to that in a bit.

Bullshit sexism

As previously stated, I don’t intend to waste words proving that Smite’s character designs are sexist and bullshit, because they just are. Many of the female promo art pieces feature broken spines, anti-gravity sphere boobs, and painted on clothing. Almost none of the female characters have clothes that would actually function to preserve modesty in any meaningful way in the real world. So regarding the female character design, I’m just going to issue a blanket: THEY’RE BULLSHIT and move on with my life.

Instead, let’s talk about how Smite is another perfect example of the interesting/pretty binary, which I’ve talked about before:

Notice how the male human gets to have actual facial expressions that convey emotions? While the female character renders all have the same vapid expression but with different hairstyles. Because men get to DO THINGS and EXPRESS THEMSELVES but women get to BE PRETTY.

When looking at the different character types, there is such a huge variety when it comes to male characters! Male deities can be humans, humanoids, demi-humans, robots, giant flying serpents, or even giant-ass rock-creatures. Whereas the female deities? Well they get boobs. And sometimes funny hats.

Case in point, look at what happens when you compare male animal and demi-human deities with female animal and demi-human deities:

animal dudes Animal ladies

(TOP LEFT: Anhur, TOP MIDDLE: Anubis, TOP RIGHT: Fenrir, BOTTOM LEFT: Arachne, BOTTOM MIDDLE: Medusa, BOTTOM RIGHT: Bastet)

The male deities are all very appealing avatar images. They give a strong sense of the culture that they come from, while also appearing strong and heroic. Whereas the female deities? The most important part of their designs are their tits, and making sure that they are clearly visible to the viewer. Giant spider thing? TITS. Man-eating snake thing? ‘DEM BOOBS THO. It really goes a long way toward illustrating[2] the priorities of the design team.

Now the interesting thing about Smite is that is that it also manages to throw in some “benevolent” sexism along with all of the bullshit objectification. Remember how I said there was a weird gender imbalance when it came to deity alignment? Well it turns out that out of 19 evil deities, only one is female:

female alignment

male alignment

Now, you may be saying to yourself – but wundergeek, I don’t get it. What’s the problem? The problem is that the stereotype of women are more wholesome and more nurturing is benevolent sexism, which is still sexism. It’s like the boss I had once who told me he only hired women to work in the office because we were more nurturing and community-minded. I found his comment terribly offensive, but didn’t say anything because I happened to desperately need the job at the time.

However, even if it is a stereotype I will admit that this actually ran counter to what I expected. Given that the female characters in Smite were so grossly oversexualized, I had expected the evil deities to skew female – you know, because sexy women are always evil. Since, you know, [mumblemumble]femme fatale[mumblereasons].

So at least if the female characters are horribly stereotyped, at least we have a mix of regressive stereotypes. Yay diversity!

Racist whitewashing

Something that’s honestly more important than the frankly not-all-that-exceptional-for-video-games level of sexism in Smite is the fact that there is an UNBELIEVABLE LEVEL OF WHITEWASHING. Literally EVERY PANTHEON except the Norse deities is whitewashed, with the worst example being the Greek pantheon – who are shown almost universally as blondes or gingers:

greek-whitewashed
(LEFT: Aphrodite, MIDDLE LEFT: Scylla, MIDDLE RIGHT: Apollo, RIGHT: Athena)

[sigh] Uh, video game industry dudes? I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but Greeks are NOT ACTUALLY WHITE ACTUALLY PRETTY BROWN. Take for example, Tonia Sotiropoulou – who played the Bond Girl[3] in Skyfall. I realize this is an embarrassingly common trope in video games (I’m looking at you Soul Calibur!) but this is pretty fucking awful.

However, EVEN WORSE than the Greek deities are the Chinese deities:

Chinese whitewashed
LEFT: Chang’e, MIDDLE LEFT: He Bo, MIDDLE RIGHT: Hou Yi, RIGHT: Ne Zha

WHY DO NONE OF THEM LOOK ASIAN? Seriously, the only one who maybe looks even sorta-kinda Asian is Chang’e, and even then she still looks Katy Perry doing her best Asian drag. All of them have round eyes and decidedly European features.

And I already know what some people might be saying; OMG it’s just the style, the art is anime-influenced, the art is heavily stylized, blah blah blah. So let’s take a second and zoom in on two of the character portraits for these supposedly Chinese deities, shall we?

HouYi-NeZha
LEFT: Hou Yi, RIGHT: Ne Zha

Looking closely at the faces, you can see that it’s not just the eyes – although those are a big part of why they look decidedly un-Chinese. Their eyes are round, with visible lids, and are un-slanted. But more than that, the features and facial structure overall conveys the impression of whiteness. And given that I see this mistake repeated again and again across all of the character designs, I have to think that this mistake is more than just accidental.

The Chinese deities do not look Chinese. The Greek deities do not look Greek. The Hindu deities do not look South Asian. It’s obvious that effort was put into ensuring that the costume design would be recognizably adherent to the culture that was being referenced, but when it came to the actual faces of the gods being portrayed? The artist doing the designs obviously didn’t bother looking up references for non-white faces, because EVERY. SINGLE. DEITY. has white features. ALL of the deities that are even slightly human have indisputably white features, which is frankly, inexcusable.

About the only positive thing that can be said with regard to Smite’s frankly terribly racist character designs is that, contrary to my first impression, heroic gods weren’t more likely to be whitewashed than evil ones. So. yay? At least we’re engaging in equal opportunity racism and whitewashing here.

Culturally Appropriating

And here we come to the bit that inspired me to write about Smite in the first place. Apparently the publishers of Smite have decided to add Hindu deities as a faction – a decision which breaks with their use of only dead religions for all of their other factions. (ETA: It’s been pointed out to me that Norse paganism is not actually a dead religion, even if it is widely perceived to be. I apologize.) Unsurprisingly, given that Hinduism is a religion that is alive and well in the world today, there was pushback against this decision, arguing that if Hinduism was fair game that figures from other modern religion – like Jesus or Moses should be permissible.

However, Smite’s publishers would like us all to know that they are definitely not going to use Christian, Jewish, or Islamic figures in their game. But don’t worry – Hindu deities are still a-okay!

250px-T_Ram_Default_Card
Rama – one of the chief avatars of Vishnu

…which is, frankly, pretty bullshit. Especially when you look at the list of Hindu deities that are included, like Rama – one of the chief avatars of Vishnu and one of the most widely venerated figures in Hinduism today. And Hinduism is not a small religion! With approximately 1 billion adherents, Hindus account for approximately 1 in 7 humans on the planet – which makes the decision of Smite developers to use religious figures of central importance to a large and vibrant modern religion all the more shocking.

Because it’s obvious that when faced with the question of “where to draw the line” that the developers of Smite were clear on the fact that they weren’t willing to do anything that might offend any adherents of the Abrahamic traditions, many of whom are white or can pass for white[4]. But Hinduism? Well Hinduism is for INDIANS who are just so, you know, EXOTIC.

…which is just more creepy, culturally appropriating bullshit.

But really, given how generally awful Smite is, I guess that shouldn’t be too surprising.

[1] Fair warning. Any comments attempting to argue that Smite’s character designs aren’t sexist are going to be straight-up trashed. I don’t have time for bullshit of that magnitude.

[2] See what I did there?

[3] I have a whole ‘nother rant about Bond Girls and how fucking sexist they are, and how it’s particularly awful that in Skyfall the Bond Girl literally has sex with Bond and then has maybe 3 or 4 more lines of dialogue before dying.

[4] I realize that I am arguing something problematic here. There is a perception that Christianity is equated with whiteness, despite the fact that there are large and vibrant faith communities in South America and Africa and other areas of the world that are decidedly nonwhite. And given the overlap of traditions between the Abrahamic faiths, there tends to be a certain level of automatic goodwill extended to Judaism and Islam. However, I recognize the racial diversity of the communities that practice these faiths and certainly am not arguing that they are worth protecting because of their whiteness or proximity to whiteness.

 

36 thoughts on “Smite: sexist, racist, and culturally appropriating [LONG]

  1. I don’t understand the first graph. Are 71% of male characters whitewashed, and 29% of female characters whitewashed? That might be true, but it makes no sense that the numbers would conspire to add up to 100. Maybe I’m just reading the graph wrong, but it seems to need more labels or different axes…

    Also, you said “While some of them seemed like edge cases that could count as whitewashing, for the most part it seemed too ambiguous to make a definite argument one way or another.” I think you reversed the sentence, possibly by leaving out a “not” or something.

  2. re: your point #4: this ties back into the racism aspect, too, because the extension of “adherents of the Abrahamic traditions, many of whom are white or can pass for white” is that “non-white Christians don’t count.” For many people, “Christian” = “civilized” = European culture and descent. It’s valid to say that their biases are based on the idea that Christians are white, because many people who perpetuate these types of biases don’t particularly count non-white Christians as “one of us.”

  3. Hey wundergeek, do you mind changing the colours of the first graph? I’m pretty damn colourblind so it’s difficult to tell where one bar ends and the other begins. I’d recommend colours with very different lightness or saturation to make it clearer. Thanks!

    Otherwise, completely agree with you, a lot of MOBAs have this problem with character designs. The added fun of including figures from a currently practiced religion but refusing to do the same for Judeo-Christian mythology is pretty shady. If you’re going to include current religious figures, go the Shin Megami Tensei route and just have something from everywhere.

    • Whoops! I honestly hadn’t thought of that as an issue. What colors would be more distinctive to avoid problems?

      And yeah, honestly it wouldn’t bother me very much if they had characters like Jesus, Moses, and Abraham. That’d be pretty sweet, honestly.

      • Orange/blue is generally the best contrasting color pair – opposite colors, and extremely different brightness.

  4. As always, I agree with everything but I wanted to clarify something. Modern Greeks are actually overwhelmingly white. The difference is that they often tend to have mediterranean characteristics such as darker and curlier hair, hairies bodies and stockier figures and so on. That said however, the ancient greeks did actually conceptualize their deities as, for lack of better word, aryan archetypes. I.e. fairer skin and blond hair was considered a sign of beauty, I guess because everything else was so common. I do agree though that they could have designed them better in that aspect, even if they weren’t horribly sexist already.

    • I’ve known Greeks who identify as white, but the fact is that I know many more Greeks (and Italians, and Jewish people) who DON’T identify as white and don’t like having whiteness imposed on them. The definition of whiteness has expanded considerably in the last century, and not everyone that meets the modern standards for whiteness wants to be seen as white. Just because white people have decided that entire groups of people get to “count” as white now doesn’t mean that everyone in those groups agrees with the classification.

      • OK, I really don’t know about your experience really, but speaking as a native Greek, I’ve never seen Greek try to reject whiteness. But Greeks on the other talk about race in different manner, and their manifested racism is significantly different than what one experiences in the US.

        • Please don’t interpret this as me telling you that your experience is incorrect, because that’s not my intent. But I have a friend who is a native Greek who doesn’t identify as white and thanked me for what I had written so… It’s a complex situation I guess, and not one that lends itself to easy classification.

          • Maybe it would be easier to talk about it in a perspective of privilege? I believe the overwhelming majority of Greeks would benefit from white privilege both in Europe and in the US.

            • Man, white-passing privilege is SUPER interesting to me, but I don’t really feel all that comfortable talking about it, given that I am WHITER THAN WHITE and it’s really just a super complex subject.:/

              • As I’m reading the comments about whether Greeks are “white,” it opens a whole other discussion on how we should represent the mythology of a people when potentially the “ideal person” in that mythology may embody certain views of “ideal” that only ever matched a small ethnic or social group in that area ever.

                For a lot of ancient cultures, having pale skin was a high class signifier. At minimum, whiter skin meant you were rich/powerful enough not to have to go out in the sun and work for a living. In some cases, lighter skin in myth prefers a trait of the ruling ethnic group over the people they ruled. There’s archaeological evidence that Greeks used white lead to whiten their faces; whiteners were also used by the Heian era Japanese. Lightness of skin has been associated with higher castes in Hinduism.

                Basically, the upshot is, in many places in the ancient world, gods and goddesses with the pallor of Scarlett Johannson would likely not be seen as outlandish even if most people were far browner; gods were seen as being royal, and royal people weren’t as tan as everyone else.

                But even if we got an archaeologically or mythologically “accurate” ideal goddess, and even if it arguably did look like a anchorwoman for Fox News, using it as-is is just reiterating the judgments about race and class the propagators of that myth made long ago.

                It would be saying that we have to have the pale-skinned, straight-haired, possibly blue-eyed Jesus because the majority of the surviving mythic iconography has that Jesus, so that’s the “most accurate.” It’s not a totally on-point analogy (there’s a wider diversity of Jesus images and an argument for a “historical Jesus” that you can’t make for, say, a “historical Zeus”), but it’s close enough; basically we’re taking the myth that reflects the power structure of an older time period and copying it to the present day even though we should reject a lot of the assumptions about race and class built into that myth.

  5. It’s probably worth noting their very Nordic looking (blonde-haired, blue-eyed) Aphrodite probably counts as both cultural appropriation and whitewashing in a fashion, considering she was firstly, a Mediterranean goddess (and explicitly depicted as such in Greek statuary and art – she wears her hair in a style which is very definitely not possible with Northern European hair; the Phrygian knot style she’s depicted as wearing in Classical Greek statues and art works far better with coarse, wavy hair than it ever will with smooth, straight hair), and therefore, secondly, would probably have had more olive skin, and almost certainly a darker eye colour.

    Bastet has very Northern European features for (firstly) a cat-headed goddess, and secondly, an Egyptian (i.e. North African) one. I appreciate what they did with Anubis, because that’s straight off the blinkin’ cartouche, but Bastet going from a fully cat-headed goddess of childbirth to a sort of neko-figure out of anime? No. Not good. As for the treatment of the Chinese deities… I feel like grabbing this mob by the collective scruff of the neck and showing them my current desktop wallpaper (Cloud Strife, Advent Children version) – because he’s a blue-eyed blonde who still looks more believably East Asian than those images do (and if you look closely at the images from Advent Children, you find that yes, Cloud does have slightly slanted eyes, and the epicanthic fold as well; so does Vincent Valentine in Dirge of Cerberus).

  6. The problem with including Hindu deities is in their treatment, not by the lack of inclusion of other religions. There are lots of self-described “equal opportunity offenders” or non-Western developers who are unfamiliar with Western religion who’d throw a Jesus into their game and that wouldn’t make their depictions of Hindu deities less superficial or, frankly, racist. Hindu gods shouldn’t be in the game because the developers have made it clear that they don’t know what Hinduism is, not because they don’t throw in something from their own (presumed) religions.

    Smite seems to be attempting to include mythologies with what I’ll call (for lack of a better term) “flat” polytheistic cosmologies. That is, a pantheon of gods who are roughly equal in power, but each controls a particular aspect. To the extent that there’s a “ruler” over all the gods, it’s not because that’s the “over-god” who includes all of his/her sub-gods’ powers, but just that that god won an election or a fight or something.

    This “flat” kind of structure is basically how the Norse, Greek, and Egyptian pantheons work, and to the best of my limited knowledge can also be applied to some currently practiced religions like Shinto and some native American religions. It is not how, for example, Zoroastrianism or Cao Dai structure their universes, because even with their multiple powers, there are supreme powers and subordinate powers. Western monotheisms have spent literal millennia making sure that a flat cosmology like the Greeks is basically antithetical to what they believe.

    It’s easy to argue that Hinduism is a bad inclusion because it doesn’t have a flat cosmology (the developers clearly don’t know what the concept of “avatar” means for the Hindus), and forcing its gods to act that way demonstrates a real ignorance of what Hindu gods are. One can even argue that including the Hindu gods is ignorant on the level of trying to jam something from the Western monotheisms into the game.

    But the sin isn’t that Western monotheisms aren’t included. If Smite said, “okay, since we have Rama, now we’re going to throw in St. Francis, Samson, and a djinn,” that’s not better. It’s still using other people’s iconography ignorantly as interesting background.

    • This is excellently said. Thank you! I’ll admit that I’m a bit of a theology nerd when it comes to Christianity, but I’m not as conversant with non-Abrahamic religions as I should be.

  7. The Greek couple that moved here from Greece and lived next door when I was a pre-teen would be very surprised to learn they’re not white! They had jet-black hair, pale skin, and I *think* they had green eyes. Same goes for the light-brown-haired, green-eyed, light olive-complexioned girl I knew in high school whose parents were from Greece.

    The random photos I’m finding online of everyday Greek people are turning up in just about every color combination, which isn’t helpful… However, I’m noticing that the dark/black-haired ones tend to be pale or light-olive *except* in formal photos, in which case makeup is evidently common — the women in particular seem to use a lot to accent the eyes, which makes them look either Hispanic or Roma (gypsy).

    I’m not sure what these people are if not white:


    A hundred years ago, yes, Southern Europeans were considered non-white, but that was primarily the result of the substantial differences between their cultures and that of of the existing Northern European-based American population.

    • [sigh] I’ve gone back and revised the wording in my actual post, because it was too strong to get at what is a little complex.

      Would some Greeks identify as white? Sure – I’m sure they would. But other people of Mediterranean extraction do NOT identify as white and resent the expansion of whiteness that imposes whiteness on them.

      I honestly couldn’t be whiter if I tried so I’m really NOT going to get into an argument about who does and does not count as white.

  8. I’m really glad that you’ve been pointing this stuff out about Smite because I felt very little was being done in regard to how they’ve chosen to represent so many cultures as, well, white. However, I am a little worried about the weird classifications you have for “Asian-ness” when looking at the Chinese influenced characters. I know this probably isn’t what you meant, but by your classification as to what would be considered an Asian type eye (slanted, no visible lids, etc.) only really applies to a subset of ethnically Chinese, Korean, and Japanese people, as even people within those regions don’t really universally conform to this idea of an “typical Asian eye.” I mostly bring this up as a friend of mine has gotten a lot of flack for not being Asian enough because of his features (darker skin, larger rounded eyes, etc.) regardless of his cultural background.

    • It’s a really tricky issue! I know that there is no one “correct way” to “look Asian”, and it sucks that your friend has had that experience.

      However, when you look at the Smite character designs, the fact that ALL of the human-featured Gods have European features regardless of Pantheon is pretty fucking problematic and makes me not at all inclined to be charitable regarding the intentions of the artist.

      • Absolutely! I kept hearing all this praise being said about Smite, how it was so innovative with the MOBA genre, but I guess that innovation didn’t include its character designs.

  9. Just reposting the Tumblr posts this article inspired and commentary tags as a comment here:

    “… Okay, people have said a lot about Smite’s character designs, most of it bad, and always deservedly so… but WHY IS BASTET A SLIGHTLY-MORE-FELINE-THAN-USUAL SEXUALIZED NEKOMIMI?”

    “What the fuck? Why is Scylla, like, eight years old? I’m all for playable cute little girls, but the best-known versions of Scylla’s backstory both involve her being cursed for her beauty by the jealous would-be-lover of someone she caught the eye of. That gets all kinds of weird when she’s eight. (What the fuck, Scylla is one of my favorite mythological figures too, I… blargh!)

  10. It’s neither here nor there, but fun fact: Rama was appropriated from the Greeks by the Indians by way of Hellenism. Kinda like how Saint George is a Christian reskin of Perseus. The Ramayana is basically a Hindu retelling of the Illiad, but with lots of demons and talking animals.

    Smite looks absolutely awful, though if we’re talking about culturally accurate representations of the Greek gods, it’s lucky that they’re wearing any clothes at all.

    • I don’t really know that part of history very well, but from what I remember, that is not appropriation because the Indians were not oppressing the Greeks at the time. However, I may be misunderstanding either cultural appropriation or misremembering history.

      • Then by that assertion, that it is only appropriation when an oppressor assimilates the culture of the oppressed, the only acceptable way culture can spread is via oppressor to oppressed, in which case if we are to condemn appropriation, we are indirectly advocating erasure.

        As someone of mixed ethnicity, though, my feelings are it’s okay to take stuff from other cultures that you like and are interested in and experiment with them; just be expected to be called out if you get it completely wrong. On a side note in regards to someone’s comment above mentioning Samson, I’ve been dreaming all week about a 2D sidescrolling beat-em-up based on the Book of Judges.

        • Sorry if I was unclear, but the statement I was trying to make was “If culture is not flowing from oppressed to oppressor, then it is not considered cultural appropriation.” That statement implies “If a movement of culture is considered cultural appropriation, then culture is moving from the oppressed to the oppressor.” That does not imply “If culture is moving from the oppressed to the oppressor, then that movement of culture is considered cultural appropriation.” In some cases, culture can move from oppressed to oppressor and not be cultural appropriation. Like you said, they should try to understand it to not get it wrong, and I would add that they should show respect. Furthermore, culture can move from one group to another without one group oppressing the other. An example of this is trade. I hope this clears it up, and I apologise if I said anything disrespectful.

          • Oh, no, I took no disrespect at all. No worries. Just curious, though, what do you think would be a case in which culture moved from oppressed to oppressor that would not be appropriation? Or at least not be considered unacceptable appropriation? At what point can we say that something is merely exchange and not appropriation? Trade is one example you give, but I wonder how many others there are.

            I ask because there are groups out there which may not necessarily be oppressing one another but do borrow in ways that could be labelled appropriation; sometimes these groups borrow out of mere exoticism rather than the result of direct cultural contact. Japan’s fascination with Kabbalah, is an excellent example.

            • I gave trade as an example of a situation with an even power dynamic (I’m not sure that was the best example now because trade can definitely involve an uneven power dynamic). I’m afraid I cannot give an example of culture moving from oppressed to oppressor that is not appropriation off the top of my head. I do not know very much about cultural appropriation, but many of the articles I’ve read about specify that the term was originally coined to describe culture moving from oppressed to oppressor.

              • The Roman adoption of Christianity might be a good example. The Romans appropriated everything else, but Christianity’s flexibility allowed it to retain its “important parts” despite being merged with all sorts of other religions. Obviously in later times the cultures with Christianity already tended to be the oppressors, but in the beginning the early Christians didn’t object to their religion being spread to non-Hebrew people because that was a part of what they believed anyway.

              • I think it might be problematic to assume that cultural relationships are binary in nature, which is why the idea of appropriation gets thrown around sometimes more than it should. For instance, some people might consider white (or even black) people in america enjoying ethnic cuisine or using another culture’s holiday as an excuse to celebrate is appropriation and therefore a bad thing. In truth, I reserve “appropriation” for stuff like when the Romans dragged the Greeks off into slavery and wholesale stole their mythology. The Aeneid, for example, is a great case of appropriation, as it’s the rewriting of another culture’s myths to legitimize and lionize one’s own culture. Nazi use of the Swastika, certainly appropriation of eastern culture. White people wearing sombreros and eating tex-mex on Cinco de Mayo, not so much (though I do suggest that a culturally appropriate way for whites to celebrate would be with baguettes and brandy). When it comes to works of art and literature, it becomes a bit more iffy, because those tend to be the ways that cultures spread and propagate in the most lasting and meaningful ways. I’ve read some who are of the position that other cultures should be off-limits, period, but I’m more of the opinion that those works can open doors to better understanding of other cultures because they reflect a desire to become better acquainted with ideas outside of one’s own cultural box. It’s when it’s poorly done or done for its own sake that it is obnoxious. For example, Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light is probably a far more nuanced and insightful exploration of Hindu mythology and philosophy in a science fiction setting than, uh… Smite. Some people might be down on Zelazny for having the audacity to write about Hinduism in the ways he did as a Polish American, but if it got someone interested enough to pick up the Mahabharata, then I’d say it is a positive thing for that culture because it has propagated itself.

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