What’s this? What’s this? It’s ransacking another culture!
Just like climate change and the moon landing, cultural appropriation is a real thing. You’re probably tired and most likely annoyed by people screaming about it all the time, but that doesn’t make it less of a thing. Because the knee jerk reaction is usually shouting and screaming, you might not really even have an idea of what it even is. Maybe just a vague notion that it’s wrong and it feels like everything falls under it in some way.
Well, I’ve decided to try to explain cultural appropriation the best way I know how, with movies. Now don’t worry, I didn’t choose some boring drama as my example. No, I decided to go with something everybody at Hot Topic seems to love, The Nightmare Before Christmas. Now, you’re probably asking, “what the hell does Jack Skellington have to do with cultural appropriation?” Well, let me tell you.
As a refresher, let’s remember that Jack Skellington was the King of Pumpkin Town, which pretty much put him in charge of everyone there. Sure, there was a mayor, but everyone looked to Jack. Now, Jack could have been happy being the best in the entire Town at what he did, but he wasn’t satisfied. He wanted more.
This leads to Jack setting out on a journey of self-discovery and instead stumbled upon Christmas Town which was a sight to behold for the skeleton. He admired all that Christmas Town had to offer. He marveled at all the things that made it so different from Pumpkin Town. All the things that were so unique to the snowy little Town.
So, what does Jack see as the best thing to do? Well, he takes his findings back to his own world and demands that the Town adopt all the things he loved most about Christmas Town. The gifts, the decorations, the very image of its leader, Santa Claus. He sees something he admires and thinks is cool and decides to take it with no understanding behind it. After all, he never actually spoke to anyone in Christmas Town. He has no idea what the Christmas spirit is. He’s just an observer who saw something he wanted and took it.
Now, you might be thinking, “What so wrong with admiring something from another culture, seeing that it’s something to be admired and appreciated, and adopting it for yourself?” Well, nothing. That’s cultural appreciation. You take the time to really understand what the meaning is behind an aspect of another culture and because of your honest belief that it is something that will better your life, and that you respect the culture it came from. That’s not so bad. Especially if you don’t try to pass yourself off as a full on member of that culture.
Jack though. Well, Jack really didn’t do any of that. In fact, one of the first things he did was have Santa Claus kidnapped. What’s even worse than that though, is after the deed is done, he never tries to even discuss the Christmas spirit. Instead, he pretty much mansplains how Santa doesn’t have to worry and he’ll take care of it.
At this point, it’s important to note that everyone in Pumpkin Town has adopted the culture of Christmas Town. That is except for Sally, the rag doll who is essentially kept as a slave by her creator. So, the one who has experienced actual oppression is the only one who thinks robbing another culture is a bad thing. On the flip side of this is the Pumpkin King, the most privileged in Halloween Town (yes, privilege is a thing, but it’s really, REALLY complicated and I’m not going near that right now), deciding to keep going and twisting another culture to fit what he knows.
Taking a hard look at the movie isn’t making is seem quite so sing song and child-friendly, is it? It doesn’t just stop there. Jack takes their culture, kidnaps the leader of the community, and then adopts his identity. Pretty bad right? Well, it would be, but there’s one thing that all these towns have in common. There is one day a year that is their day. The day that they get to celebrate. The day that gives them purpose. The day they count down to. Well, Jack decides that he is going to take that day from Christmas Town. That’s pretty messed up.
Now, you might be starting to think that cultural appropriate might actually be a bad thing. But, how is it dangerous? Well, let’s look at what actually happened when Jack took that culture and used it for himself. A bunch of kids woke up with the most terrifying gifts in all existence. Gifts that were not only scary but life threatening in most cases. Now, we didn’t actually see anyone die, but the military decided that there was enough danger to launch a full on attack at Jack Skellington. Which leads me to believe there was probably some loss of life in the mass chaos he created.
Of course, Jack sees the error of his ways and tries to repent by “doing the right thing.” Luckily, Santa is able to take back his day and his culture. But does that excuse what he did? No, not at all.
Hopefully, this gives you a bit of insight into what cultural appropriation is really like. It’s taking something that isn’t yours and then saying it’s yours. Worse than that, it’s bordering on identity theft (Santa Skellington). In some cases, it really does end in death too. So, next time someone says something it cultural appropriation, it’s important to stop and think before there’s a knee jerk reaction. Sometimes they’re absolutely right, but sometimes they’re absolutely wrong. If they are, link them back here. At most, they might learn something. At the least? Well, I’ll get some interesting comments to read.