Weekly Ketchup 38 - Racial Ramblings

As soon as I finished last week's catch-up, I immediately had an idea what this week's blog was gonna be about since the thought weighed heavily on my head days after posting it.

When I made the jump from talking about 300: Rise of an Empire to the Islamic State, I did not mean to imply that modern-day Persians (aka the Turks and the Iranians) are in anyway related to the terrorist group. I actually had to research about the difference between Persian and Arabian people because for the longest time, and I'm sure I'm not the only one guilty of this, I thought they were one and the same mainly because of geography and religion. I guess it's the same how some people can't differentiate between Koreans and Chinese (or even Japanese) and assume that the cultures are interchangeable. This doesn't necessarily mean that lumping unrelated peoples together is racist but I do understand how the ignorance can be offensive, regardless of the intent.

Though I wonder why everyone else but white people seem quick to cry "racist stereotyping". Since I talked about my love of the fantasy genre last week, allow me to make examples of elves (a Norse creature) and satyrs (a Greek creature) or, more similarly, fairies and nymphs being lumped together in games and books. Why is noone crying foul over the homogenization of European culture?

I also wonder: People were up in arms when Ziyi Zhang, a Chinese woman, was cast as the lead in Memoirs of a Geisha but I don't remember a single protest raised against the "Indianization" of the Fire Nation, which had a more Japanese inspiration in the cartoons, in "The Last Airbender". The latter, of course, had bigger problems when it was accused of white-washing peoples that had distinctively Inuit and Chinese origins.

Of course, the difference between "Geisha" and "Last Airbender" was that the former was explicitly set in Japan - a real location - whereas the former was set in a fictional world, so I can maybe give the producers a little leeway when it comes to reinterpreting the source material for the big screen to appeal to a wider domestic audience (same thing that happened with the Dragonball movie).

I admit I'm also given to a bit of bias. I really don't mind if a traditionally white character gets made over into a totally different race in a reinterpreted adaptation. Michael Clark Duncan as the Kingpin? Sold! Fan Bing Bing as Blink? Loved it! Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch? Well, let's see how this goes but I'm open. There really isn't much room to wiggle here since these are characters that have been canonically illustrated as white people with a back history set in an idealized "real" world that specifically establishes such but I'm still all for it! But hell will be raised if War Machine or the Falcon were depicted as white.

That being said, I do wonder if a reinterpretation of "The Lord of the Rings" or "A Song of Ice and Fire" set in a more Asian-inspired fictional world, going directly against the authors' visions, would work? I wonder if I would be open to the idea. Right now, I'm a little curious about it as that sounds like an awesome production, travesty to the source material aside.

Admittedly, the modes of pop culture I consume - fantasy novels, comics, cartoons, even the CGI-laden summer blockbusters, and games (possibly) are all constructs of white people's imaginations, so it makes sense that some of the early works, even some of the current ones, in those genre were about them. I guess noone's crying foul about the homogenization of European cultures because the perpetrators are themselves white. We, as non-white consumers, cannot feign ignorance either because our education system has been Euro-centric from the get-go, which is why it's easier for us to accept the Greeks as heroes and the Persians as villains. Heck, I knew more about Greek mythology from high school than I ever did about Filipino lores. And no, it can't be that empire-building just leaves a bad taste in our mouth because the Romans and Alexander had empires and are venerated for it.

Why all this matters to me has to do with what I intend to leave in this world as my life's work: A fantasy epic that has gods, monsters, magic, heroes, and all sorts of creatures. One of the original ideas for the story was a desert-dwelling, moon-worshipping tribe of villainous ogres, which was immediately dropped after 9/11. I also wanted to present a human race that was far more diverse than what JRR Tolkien had in his legendarium, so I had main characters that resembled and were based on American Indians, Chinese, and Persian peoples. Meanwhile, the human halves of my humanoid creatures (aka harpies and minotaurs) are black. And yet my main character was a white boy. Even the gods I imagined then were Greek-inspired so they were naturally white.

As time wore on and my knowledge of the real world increased and deepened, the fictional world I have in my head also evolved, albeit somewhat conflictingly. The gods are no longer white humans but magical creatures instead. I have now added more humans into the world, including those based on the East Indians and the Africans. All of them inhabiting the same world as elves, fairies, djinns, dragons, and vampires! I feel like in the effort to not be racially biased, I have created this rather colorful but convoluted world and lost track of the story!

Another question that have plagued me in recent years was whether to write my Filipino ancestry into the story. After all, Tolkien drew much inspiration from his Irish ancestry for his Hobbits. I tried to rewrite the story in this vein when I joined NaNoWriMo a few years ago but I ended up with a totally different story than I originally intended! This got me thinking: Regardless of whether I find a large enough audience, should I bear the responsibility of bringing my world into this genre that I love and aspire to participate in?

On a related story: This past week, some of my friends from UP have been accusing the NU Pep Squad (and other squads) of "cultural misappropriation" in their choice of themes following last week's cheerdancing competition for which the UP Pep Squad, despite their strong advocacy theme, placed second. While I don't doubt my friends' objectivity about the matter, it can't be helped to taste bitterness in their objections. The same can be said about me expressing this observation coming from the school that placed third.

Now all was on my mind a few days ago when I thought: Maybe the only way my work would not come of as Euro-centric, racist, ignorant, culturally misappropriated and not worry about representing my ethnicity was to instead create a whole new race of humans that are far removed what exists now - like people gray skins with blue hair. I can take what little tidbits about real cultures however it would serve the story. How cool would that be to have samurai-like warriors headquartered in a pyramid, for example?

Of course, I'm rambling about a piece of work that doesn't exist yet but as my life's work, I need to really think hard about these things and educate myself.

Anyway, I'm currently feverish, fighting off a lip infection, so I apologize if this week's edition isn't studded with links and images. I'll update when I feel better, hopefully this coming week.

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