Episode 19: Transcript
Our Opinions Are Correct Episode 19 — What’s so bad about cultural appropriation?
Transcribed by: Keffy Kehrli
Annalee: [00:00:00] Welcome to Our Opinions Are Correct, a podcast about science fiction. I’m Annalee Newitz. I’m a science journalist who writes science fiction.
Charlie Jane: [00:00:06] And I’m Charlie Jane Anders. I’m a science fiction writer who just dreams constantly about sci.
Annalee: [00:00:11] This episode is about Cultural Appropriation. We’re going to be speaking with our very special guest, Jaymee Goh who is a scholar in Critical Race Studies. She’s written a dissertation about steampunk and whiteness and she’s also an associate editor at Tachyon Publications which is a fantastic small press and you should be reading all their books all the time. And we’re going to be talking to her about what does it mean to appropriate another culture. How does that work? How does it affect science fiction? How is it sort of built into our every day experience of life but also how we consume media? So, we won’t exactly solve the problem of cultural appropriation this episode, but we are going to make an effort to talk about some solutions that you can take home and put in your pocket and hopefully put into practice.
[00:01:04] Intro music plays: Drums with a bass drop and more science fictional bells and percussion.
Annalee: [00:01:32] Welcome to the show, Jaymee. Thanks for being here.
Jaymee: [00:01:35] Thanks for having me.
Charlie Jane: [00:01:35] Yay!
Annalee: [00:01:36] We’re super excited to have you and since you are basically an expert in cultural appropriation, you’ve been—dominant culture has deemed you an expert in cultural appropriation can you give us like a quick and dirty explanation, or even like a long and clean explanation of what cultural appropriation is?
Jaymee: [00:01:56] I can give you long and dirty.
Charlie Jane: [00:02:01] Woo!
Annalee: [00:02:02] I’m ready.
Charlie Jane: [00:02:03] All right.
Jaymee: [00:02:03] Okay. So, in order for us to talk about what cultural appropriation is, I think first we need to talk about what we mean when we talk about culture. Because usually when I see this discourse around what cultural appropriation is, it’s always centered around, like, things, and stuff, and like, items. Artifacts. Images. Iconography. And these tend to be seen as like these free-floating things that can signify whatever a person wants to do, particularly people who are artists, because, like, we are little cultural magpies, picking things up to use on art, and it’s like, “Well, no one claims ownership over them.”
Annalee: [00:02:48] Can you give an example of something you’re thinking of when you say it’s an icon that an artist is taking, or?
Jaymee: [00:02:52] The easiest thing would be, like Pocahontas. The sexy Native American costumes, right?
Annalee: [00:02:57] Yes.
Jaymee: [00:02:58] Everyone says, well, it’s just a piece of cloth at the end. Well, it’s just a costume. It’s just a thing, right, whereas to people who are from those cultures, we’re like, no. These are representations of our culture and this is how we are dehumanized through these representations. But because all this discourse is wrapped up around this commodification of these things, that’s in the end we start to think of this as this is what culture is.
[00:03:27] So, in order to think through why cultural appropriation is such a fraught issue for a lot of us and why some of us are so dismissive of it, we have to think about what culture is. So, rather than just thinking about it as items or in terms of legal terms, we can think about it as like, these are icons, ephemera, performances, rituals, what have you, that don’t just represent a culture and therefore can be like, taken an re-represented in another way, but also as ways that a culture expresses its identity. So that brings up a different discourse of, well, culture is meant to be shared, which is another way people deflect the whole—I’m not cultural appropriating, I’m appreciating, or I’m just sharing in another person’s culture. It’s like, it’s shared among members of the community to show that they are members of this community, that this is what their alignment is. That this is where they belong to and when you take these forms away and commodify them, then that’s how you dehumanize them. And you essentially say, this thing that you use to express your identity, to express your community’s philosophy is meaningless. It can be bought and sold.
[00:04:52] So that’s what I mean when I say culture, and that’s what gets caught up in the whole debates around cultural appropriation, and there’s a really really good definition. So, this is the quick and dirty. The quick and dirty is, I’m going to like, steal a quote that I’ve been quoting since forever. It’s from a book called Unthinking Eurocentrism by Ella Shohat and Robert Stam. It was published in 1993, and in it they have a definition that they actually took from a woman who was a dancer or she studies dance, called Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. And she says that cultural appropriation “separates forms from its performance. It brings those—turns those forms into influences. It brings those influences to the center. It leaves the living sources of these influences on the margins and then it pats itself on the back for being so cosmopolitan.”
[00:05:52] So all these five things are the different processes that come together in cultural appropriation and that’s why—everyone usually just focuses one or two of the other and kind of ignores the other elements. No one gets a full picture that way. But if you think about like, it separates forms from its performance, being like, where does this thing originate from? This iconography, this ritual. This way of doing things. This way of portraying things. You take that away, or you don’t even necessarily take that away, you’re just like, that looks really cool and you lift it up and say, “This influenced me in what I’m doing.” And then you take whatever it is that you’re taking, whether it’s an artifact—and you bring it with you to the center. To whatever platform you want. And whatever the origin source is? Whatever. They don’t matter anymore and you didn’t bring them with you to the platform that you’re now bringing it to. You get all the social capital, all the financial profit for being—for bringing this art form to life.
[00:06:57] The example that sticks up to me most is Disney’s Tangled, actually.
Charlie Jane: [00:07:01] Oh.
Jaymee: [00:07:01] Right? The thing with the floating lanterns. Because that is actually a living practice that’s still being done in several Asian countries. But then it gets taken up and it’s plonked into this incredibly European-esque kind of setting with no head nod whatsoever to where it comes from. And it looks beautiful. Everyone loves that scene. I love that scene, but at the same time, like, coming from a place where I know that this is practiced elsewhere. I look and it’s like, this looks so beautiful, but—it’s good enough to be taken from the people but the people aren’t good enough to go with it, basically, is what that action says.
Annalee: [00:07:40] Yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:07:40] Right.
Jaymee: [00:07:41] Or, even like Disney trying to trademark Day of the Dead, as like an original thing for Coco, yeah.
Annalee: [00:07:48] Oh, with Coco, yeah. No, that was a mistake.
Charlie Jane: [00:07:50] Oh, my God.
Annalee: [00:07:51] So, it sounds like there’s several pieces of this process of cultural appropriation. One is that, so culture goes from being a performance or a lived experience to being a thing or a commodity. Something that can actually be physically moved, or a set of moves that can be patented almost, like dance moves or something. And then, taken away from the original context and performance and put into a different cultural context. And then the final stage is in the new context, somebody basically sells it or turns it into something they can sell.
Jaymee: [00:08:26] Yes.
Annalee: [00:08:26] So, commodification is a big part of it but also, it seems like one of the things that you’re saying is that cultural appropriation kind of changes what culture is. Like, culture goes from being a performance and an activity to being a bunch of stuff.
Jaymee: [00:08:41] Yeah. It goes from being a signifier of identity into this free-floating stuff that can be imbued or infused with completely different meanings and therefore it renders whatever it was meaningless.
Charlie Jane: [00:08:59] Building on that, it’s basically taking the surface of something without the context and where it originally came from and all of the history attached to it, and the meaning of it to the people who created it, right?
Jaymee: [00:09:10] Yes, and no, in that you can sometimes bring with it the context and be like, oh, such and such, this is where I get my inspiration from. But, where it gets dicey is, like, this is where I get my inspiration from but I’m not giving back to that community because I have no reason to, because I am the artist here. This is my work. Like, I am the original brain that brings to life all these performances and this art. Like, this is mine, ultimately because we have this approach to what’s art which is very dependent on notions of private property. And because it’s dependent on notions of private property, it’s wrapped up with all these various laws that deal with private property. And, in a book called Borrowed Power, which on essays on cultural appropriation, there is actually a book, an essay that discusses the legal discourse surrounding appropriation and why it’s not a really good way to approach it.
Annalee: [00:10:13] I want to bring in a very cheesy moment from Back to the Future, just so that we can discuss how this kind of looks when we see it in mainstream science fiction. So this is a scene where our main character, white guy, Marty McFly comes from the future, and he plays a riff from Chuck Berry at a dance, and then here’s Chuck Berry’s cousin responding to it.
BttF Clip: [00:10:37] [Guitar riff playing in the background.]
John, John! It’s Marvin. Your cousin, Marvin Berry. You know that new sound you lookin’ for, well listen to this!
Annalee: [00:10:52] So the thing that’s hilarious and terrible about this clip is that it’s basically white culture trying to claim that appropriation never happened. Because the way that rock and roll really evolved in the United States was that it was a black cultural form. It came out of the blues, it came out of black dance clubs. And then, white people overheard it, people like Elvis and others, overheard it and were like, “Dude! It’s the new sound. I’m gonna sell it.” But like, in Back to the Future, it’s actually a black person who’s inspired by a white guy, and so it’s like, we get to have our cake and eat it, too. So, what do you think of this as like, kind of a moment in cultural appropriation?
Jaymee: [00:11:34] I feel like that is the moment—so, I also did whiteness studies as part of my PhD, and—
Annalee: [00:11:39] Is this something that white people are always doing?
Jaymee: [00:11:43] Well… yes.
Annalee: [00:11:44] All right.
Jaymee: [00:11:44] Quick and dirty answer: yes.
Annalee: [00:11:46] Okay, good.
Jaymee: [00:11:47] To me, like this is a moment where you have what is essentially a black cultural history and the insistence of white bodies to insert themselves and make themselves the centerpiece of that which is not white. Because it’s a habit of whiteness and Helen Young actually has got this really fun book on Habits of Whiteness in fantasy, which informs my thinking on this where you have what is essentially, like, non-white history because it has so much cultural cache, and it has contributed so much to popular culture, whiteness needs to appropriate this history for itself and therefore inserts a white body even though it’s clearly tongue in cheek because it’s Back to the Future, and it’s like, time travel, ha ha. It’s clearly not real. But, like, the effect of that being that it reinforces the idea that only a white person could have invented rock and roll. Only a white person could have, however he brought his genius, he’s the one to bring this art form, this cultural form into being in history.
Charlie Jane: [00:12:57] So, how does this affect speculative fiction particularly in terms of like, people wanting to do science fiction with, like Asian folklore or Asian characters in it. Or white people wanting to take African myths and turn it into a fantasy story or whatever. How does this specifically play out in science fiction?
Jaymee: [00:13:19] I think this plays out specifically in the back end of the publishing industry, generally, where you can have—say there are a dozen writing writing about the same African myth. Half of them are white, and half of them are non-white. The chances—what are the chances of the non-white person being taken up versus the white person being published? Who is the one who’s most likely to get noticed and who has to fight harder to get noticed. Because what happens is that when a cultural form has been filtered through a particular gaze, the gaze of the dominant culture, that is likely to be the form that’s going to be most recognizable and most acceptable. So, I had a friend who was trying to sell a manuscript and like, she kept on getting these revisions, like, she was writing. She’s Nigerian-Canadian, and she was writing about stuff that happened specifically in her household, that she understands to be part of her identity as Nigerian, and every so often she’d get back these edits being all, like, “Can you take these things out.” Because it’s too weird. It’s too, like, no one’s gonna understand what’s going on in this scene.
Charlie Jane: [00:14:32] Oh.
Jaymee: [00:14:33] And then, later, after she’s done that, she gets another round of edits, like. Can you make it a bit more African?
Charlie Jane: [00:14:40] Oh no.
Jaymee: [00:14:42] Right? Like, those of us who are people of color, we end up having to edit our identities and the ways we express our identities so that it fits this—the very, like, white supremacist commercial sense of what will sell and what will be recognizable. And, very often, what is recognizeable is low-key racist, but because—
Charlie Jane: [00:15:05] God.
Jaymee: [00:15:05] –because it’s like, seen as really novel and like no one’s done it before. It gets forgiven very easily.
Annalee: [00:15:15] So, I wanted to go back to a term that you used earlier, which was dominant culture, because I think we need to talk about that to really understand cultural appropriation, and what we mean. So, first, to introduce this, we’re gonna have a little clip from Star Trek.
Star Trek Clip: [00:15:29] We are the Borg. Lower your shields and surrender your ships. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.
Annalee: [00:15:44] All right so I brought that up because I think that there’s often—when I talk to people about cultural appropriation, sometimes they get confused about how it works, because they think it’s just like, what you were saying, like sharing. They’re like, well, but like Japanese people borrowed from Disney tropes, and like, so that’s exactly the same as a white American author borrowing anime tropes. It’s exactly the same thing. But what the Borg show us in this clip, of course, is that when you are the dominant one, you demand assimilation and you’re in a different position than the little puny humans and their ship who are being assimilated, right?
[00:16:22] Tell us a little bit about what is a dominant culture, and how do we recognize dominant culture when we see it?
Jaymee: [00:16:28] Dominant culture is what’s surrounding us and also what is invisible because it’s so ubiquitous. So, here in the United States, dominant culture is very white-washed rock and roll, it’s like white Hollywood. And like, wasn’t there a time period when Hollywood actors went to a very particular school to learn how to speak. The fact that as—and this was a stat I remember from Unthinking Eurocentrism—but, in 1992, Hollywood accounted for 80% of all cultural exports of film being circulated internationally. That is dominant culture. It’s that it’s something that is everywhere and it permeates the environment so much to act otherwise, to behave otherwise, is to mark yourself as outsider, and to invite any kind of violence onto yourself, whether that’s in the form of discrimination or in the form of like, psychological violence. As in ostracization, or even physical violence because you refuse to behave according to norms and standards of the dominant culture. So, I’m from Malaysia where the dominant culture is Malay, and everywhere you go, you see—and with the rising Arabization, everywhere you go, you see Arabic alphabets everywhere because that’s how we sometimes write Malay. At some point, like, the Arabic alphabet was being taught in schools because even those of us who are non-Muslim were expected to be able to read it. It didn’t take, thank God. It was actually really fun.
Annalee: [00:18:08] Yeah, I like a good Arab alphabet.
Jaymee: [00:18:11] Right.
Annalee: [00:18:11] I’m pro.
Jaymee: [00:18:12] But it also means that, you know, on Fridays, a lot of us who were non-Muslim felt that it was more appropriate, so we have two different uniforms: the pinafore, and the baju kurung, it’s got long sleeves and it’s like, that’s the top layer and the layer of a long skirt underneath. And Fridays are when the Muslims have the whole prayers, so because it’s Friday prayers, there’s going to be more Muslims than usual out and around, those of us who are non-Muslim feel the need to wear the baju kurung because it’s more modest, even though the pinafore is a perfectly acceptable article of school uniform. And that’s actually very benign. A lot of us don’t really mind that. But that does mean that our differences tend not to be as accepted. If we want to take time off for religious holidays we actually have to bring in a letter saying that we need to have this day off, and this is why I’m absent from school today. Which you guys don’t even get here in the states, so I don’t even know what’s going on.
Annalee: [00:19:15] I got to take Jewish holidays off, like if you got a note from I don’t know what, from your parents. They would like let you take a Jewish holiday off at my school even though dominant culture in the US is definitely Christian, so, yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:19:28] Yeah, so, I’ve been on a lot of panels lately at conventions about cultural appropriation and writing the other and everything, and you know, it always seems to center the question of like, the rights of the white author and whether we have the right to write something and it doesn’t kind of… usually it doesn’t get as much into the responsibilities of trying to be—trying to do your best to promote understanding of other cultures and to promote authors from those cultures. And—
Jaymee: [00:19:57] Right, because that’s the logic of private property, that legal framework of what private property is and what, therefore, we have a right to. As a writer, this is now my private property to write as I please. My brain. My brain is my private property and I can do whatever I please in it and share its contents.
Charlie Jane: [00:20:18] And like, the thing—the questions that it always kind of comes down to, is who is the best person to tell this particular story, especially at this particular moment, and people get really uncomfortable when you kind of put it that way. But you know, for example, in a world where relatively few young adult fantasy authors are Asian in the US, it’s still a really marginalized group in YA. Who is the best person to tell an Asian story in YA, and is that different now than hopefully it will be 10 years from now and how do you explain those questions to people about the kind of own voices issue?
Jaymee: [00:20:55] I usually frame it in terms of representation and numbers. When was the last time you heard an Asian tell an Asian story out of all the reading that you do. And also, I think, I tend not to end up in these conversations because I think a lot of people sense that I have no time for them and no patience for this. But, if you think about the whole study, that study of how men perceive—how much talking men perceive that they do versus how much talking women do. If women take up more than 30% of the discourse in any given space, men immediately think, oh, well, they talked all the time, even though it was really only 30%. And if you get to like, 50%, like equal participation. It’s like, they are taking over.
[00:21:45] Samuel Delany mentions this in his early essay on racism in science fiction. He was like, well, while we’re only just a few black authors. Just like me and Octavia, and a few others. It’ll be fine. But there will be a tipping point once we hit like 10, 15% of black authors. There will be push back. And that’s what we’re seeing right now, is that push back.
[00:22:07] That’s kind of what I tend to fall back on to explain that. Why is it that there is push back when people are speaking out about this? Why does it matter that you’re not allowed to tell this story? It’s like, sometimes, you’re not the teacher. If you’re not the teacher, you’re not the expert, you need to learn to sit and hush and let someone else do it. Because it doesn’t have to be about you all the time. If it ain’t about you, don’t make it about you.
Annalee: [00:22:33] Speaking of which, I know that you’ve spent a lot of time studying steampunk and how it’s related to cultural appropriation, so tell us a little bit about that as a specific example of cultural appropriation.
Jaymee: [00:22:44] Wow, okay. So, back in 2010 when Diana Pho and I started presenting about multicultural steampunk, and we were really trying to push the idea. Like, we need to have multiculturalism in steampunk, because, at this point, the market was starting to feel really oversaturated by like, Victorian-based steampunk. And so we really wanted to advance this idea, that, you know, people of color exist in steampunk, but not only that, our own cultures and our own histories also are interesting enough to have like cool ray guns and lots of airships, because that’s why we do steampunk, right?
Annalee: [00:23:20] It’s not just for white people anymore.
Jaymee: [00:23:22] It really is not just for white people. But I mean, like, white people did it themselves by making it available to everything and demanding that we accept this as a common iconography. One of the things I noticed when we started doing that. I would go to a convention and there would be at least one white person who was dressed up in some form of like Asian clothing. Usually like, corsets on kimonos. Which doesn’t really bother a lot of people. It bothers me because I think that’s lazy. Like, I feel like you should do a bit more than just, like, substitute the corset for the obi. And also because in my research I’ve done work on what the corset signifies and how that’s tied up in colonial history. And now I’m even more uncomfortable with it now that I understand why I’m uncomfortable with it. This is what research does to you.
[00:24:14] I didn’t notice more participation, necessarily, by people of color. It’s like, huh. There’s more multicultural steampunk, there’s a lot of people emailing me saying, “Will you please review my book because I’ve got a multicultural setting, or I’ve got a multicultural character,” but not necessarily more non-white creators on the scene. And those who were on the scene were often alienated out, so I had a friend who used her pow wow regalia for her Native American mad scientist outfit and she’s like, wandering the halls of a steampunk convention and some guy says, like, “If you want to be Native American steampunk, like, you got to have more feathers.”
Charlie Jane: [00:24:59] What?
Jaymee: [00:25:01] Because that’s white supremacy in action, is being able to tell minorities what they can or cannot do with how they signify their own identities. And I just like, I wanted to understand why in the face of all this push to multiculturalism in steampunk, why were we still not seeing very many non-white people. Why do I feel so alienated by all this discourse around the discouragement towards multiculturalism. And it was just because there were more white people being published for doing non-white steampunk but also because the fan discourse was really uncomfortable to see. Mostly because the fan discourse treated culture as commodities and objects that you can incorporate it into your steampunk. As if steampunk did not already have a form to itself and was not something that could be built up from certain other elements that aren’t necessarily tied to Victoriana.
Annalee: [00:26:03] So, when this guy, white guy says to an indigenous woman, like, all right. You gotta have more feathers. Like, that’s a perfect example of appropriation, basically. It’s a white person in a white culture saying, “I kind of own your culture, and I’m going to tell you how to do it.” So, what I’m wondering is, what is the word or action for the opposite where people of color come into a steampunk environment and try to not be doing that? I mean, is there a word for is it decolonization, what is that? What is it when, if you were to really have participation from people of color in a meaningful way where there weren’t white guys telling them what to do? What would that be called?
Jaymee: [00:26:46] It’s definitely a process of decolonization because it’s thinking through, like, okay, what is it that makes this concept so Eurocentric and so white. How do I either strip out all of these elements that make it white, what’s left behind and how do I recover the parts of my identity that have been diminished by 19th and 20th century imperialism and colonialism. And this is really difficult because—one of the reasons it’s—why everyone does Victorian steampunk all the time, even people of color do Victorian steampunk all the time is because it’s easy. It’s really really easy to pick up books on Victorian history. So many books on like Victorian fashions and British and American fashions, there’s just so much of the ephemera, basically, has been recorded. Has been kept for posterity.
[00:27:42] Which has not been accorded to many marginalized communities and so what ends up happening is we end up having to do this weird cultural, psychological archaeology to recover that which we know very little of. Like, I didn’t realize just how little I knew of actual Malaysian history until I started writing Malaysian steampunk and started thinking through like, what would race relations look like in Malaysia if the British had not come in with their divide and conquer racist techniques. And I was like, I have no idea. I have no idea what those race relations would have looked like. I don’t even know where to start, what archives to start looking into. I don’t know who even to talk to because I grew up in a middle class suburb. We don’t think too much about this thing because we’re kind of busy trying to join the rat race of capitalism.
Annalee: [00:28:40] Assimilate. You will be assimilated.
Jaymee: [00:28:42] Right! And like, I know I’m not the only one. When I edited The Sea is Ours, like, and I’m from Malaysia. I grew up with an entire year of Malaysian history in the school curriculum, so I imagine it must be really really difficult for people of color here in the states who have to kind of like, what further scraps do they get, if I got scraps. Like, what tatters and remnants are left for those in this kind of an environment. I’ve noticed like, it doesn’t matter if we’re in diaspora or whether we’re in the country we are writing about, we all tend to have the same kind of anxieties about, like, am I representing my country right? Am I speaking to this history of my ancestors? They’re my ancestors’ lives. Am I depicting them right or am I doing them an injustice in taking this thing and making it this fun little lark in the sky? We end up having a lot of those anxieties, and yeah. That’s kind of what I see to be the problems of cultural appropriation in the steampunk culture industry, is like, it rewards certain people over others.
Charlie Jane: [00:29:51] What’s the solution to cultural appropriation? What can white people in science fiction and what can everybody do to fight cultural appropriation and create more positive representation and inclusion?
Jaymee: [00:30:03] The easy one would be to end racism. That’s—
Annalee: [00:30:06] Oh, okay, let’s do that.
Charlie Jane: [00:30:07] Let’s do that.
Annalee: [00:30:08] First, end racism, then end world hunger.
Jaymee: [00:30:09] Right. If you end racism, then you don’t have worry about cultural appropriation anymore. I—and I’ve had people say, like, “If I want to do this non-white thing in steampunk, what should I do?” I’m like, “Well, you should bring ten friends of color into steampunk and make sure they stay.” Bring them into the community and make sure they see the value in it long enough for them to stay. That’s what I think.
[00:30:36] Also I feel what needs to happen is kind of like a system-wide awareness of the numbers involved of who gets to represent what. We always need more writers of color, we need—and it’s not just like, we need more writers of color, right? It’s like everyone—whenever I read a racist text, for example, I’m just like, wow. This was a) written by an actual person, and then it was read and okayed by probably an agent who passed it on to an editor who was like, don’t see a problem here. And it goes through any number of levels and no one who has the power to say, wow, this is not okay says it, so it just keeps on being passed around until… In publishing, we say you only need one yes. You only need one yes to get this racist text through.
[00:31:29] But at the same time, like, you know, you feel like there needs to be an accountability process at every level of authority that goes into cultural production and awareness at those levels of authority of like, this is not okay. This is not the kind of representation—what community is this representation responsible for. And how do we pay respects to that community while still trying to turn a profit. Like, do we have to profit off this racist representation?
Charlie Jane: [00:32:02] Right?
Jaymee: [00:32:03] Right.
Annalee: [00:32:03] So, it sounds like the dominant culture needs to change and so, basically to move from appropriating to like, inclusion, so instead of publishing the white person talking about stuff, how about just publishing a person of color talking about stuff?
Jaymee: [00:32:21] Right. It’s also about the sharing of power, the sharing of platforms. Not just, you know, trying to get expertise and trying to accumulate expertise. Because sometimes expertise and knowledge is also treated as this commodification. This commodifying thing.
Charlie Jane: [00:32:37] Cool, well thank you so much for joining us, Jaymee. It was so great to have you here.
Jaymee: [00:32:39] Thanks for having me.
Annalee: [00:32:40] So, Jaymee, how can people find out more about you?
Jaymee: [00:32:43] They can Google me, my name is J-A-Y-M-E-E G-O-H, because sometimes people get tripped up by that. They can also find me on Twitter, @Jhameia. They can also find me on Tumblr sometimes, also Jhameia. I do have a blogspot and a wordpress, also usernames Jhameia. They have my bibliographies of the work I’ve done and also other writings I’ve done on cultural appropriation and multiculturalism. I also have a blog called Silver Goggles. That’s my post-colonial steampunk blog—
Charlie Jane: [00:33:16] Yay!
Jaymee: [00:33:17] –where I’ve done a lot of—like, that was the basis for my dissertation, or my eventual dissertation, so people can go back and read through the archives there because I don’t think I’ll be taking down that archive any time soon.
Charlie Jane: [00:33:29] Cool.
Jaymee: [00:33:29] That’s mostly how people can find me.
Annalee: [00:33:30] And we’ll have links to all that stuff in the show notes.
Charlie Jane: [00:33:33] Yay! Thank you so much, yay!
Annalee: [00:33:34] Yay!
Jaymee: [00:33:34] Yay!
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Annalee: [00:33:45] And now we have a little segment called Research Hole. So, Charlie, why don’t you start us off. What research hole did you fall into recently?
Charlie Jane: [00:33:54] So, I got obsessed with researching the history of Mandrake the Magician—
Annalee: [00:33:59] Whoa.
Charlie Jane: [00:34:00] –who, some people claim is the first comic book superhero. He debuted in 1934 before, like Superman was 1938, I think. And he was in newspaper comic strips and comic books, and he’s basically a magician with a really pencil thin mustache and a tuxedo and a red cape and a top hat.
Annalee: [00:34:21] That’s like how I dress all the time.
Charlie Jane: [00:34:24] Yeah. It really is, yeah. No, and he’s super dapper and he sometimes has actual magical powers, sometimes not. But he has hypnotic powers. He can cause people to see illusions, whatever he wants them to see, and he can confuse people, and he goes around with like, his African sidekick, Lothar. Who is probably pretty problematic, and also his girlfriend Princess Narda of Cockaigne.
Annalee: [00:34:52] Okay, Princess Narda is like… the best name ever.
Charlie Jane: [00:34:55] And he goes around fighting bad guys including his own evil twin brother and his own evil half-brother, and basically other various evil members of his family.
Annalee: [00:35:04] Oh, really? It’s all in the family.
Charlie Jane: [00:35:05] And he fights aliens. He goes to other planets, he, like, saves Earth a whole bunch of times. He occasionally joins up with The Phantom who was also created by the same guy, Lee Falk. And they were huge back during the Great Depression. There was like a huge Mandrake the Magician craze. There was a radio serial for a long time. There was a film serial that lasted about 12 episodes and, you know, Mandrake the Magician, and The Phantom were both like, huge cultural icons in the era pretty much before Superman and Batman. But they still continued to be popular after Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman came along. And there have been various attempts to revive and bring back Mandrake the Magician.
[00:35:47] The newspaper comics, I guess, have never stopped and Lee Falk continued writing them up until his death in 1999. So, for like 60 years he was writing Mandrake the Magician comics. But, they’re still going. There’s been a variety of artists working on them. And in 2016, Sasha Baron Cohen, best known for Allie G and Borat was going to star in a Mandrake the Magician movie and he said in part it was because his confrontational style of comedy was no longer working as well as it had used to. And obviously, we know how that turned out. There’s no Mandrake the Magician movie, and instead Sasha Baron Cohen is basically back to doing his old stuff, but so…
Annalee: [00:36:24] Yeah, he just did a terrible new series, so…
Charlie Jane: [00:36:25] So, we could have had a Mandrake the Magician movie to possibly watch while very stoned, but we didn’t.
Annalee: [00:36:32] Yeah, wow. I’m really sad about. I wish I was in the alternate history where like, Sasha Baron Cohen, who I love, did Mandrake the Magician instead of his new series for, I think it was Showtime. It was terrible. I’m sorry if you liked it even though it was bad.
Charlie Jane: [00:36:44] So, what have you been obsessed with researching?
Annalee: [00:36:46] I fell into like a research hole after reading a paper in Science Advances because that’s the kind of thing I read about pre-Clovis technology.
Charlie Jane: [00:36:57] Ooh.
Annalee: [00:36:57] So, yeah. Pretty exciting. In the United States and throughout the Americas, humans arrived on these continents many thousands of years ago. And it’s obviously been a huge debate among archaeologists: when did people arrive? How did they arrive? The old idea was that people walked on a land bridge between Asia and the Americas and that’s how they got here. That’s pretty much now not really the main hypothesis. Most people believe that the earliest people who came to the Americas came by boat from Asia and came down the coast. And this new paper is looking at some of those people who probably came down the coast because they couldn’t have come by land bridge because they were here 15,000 years ago before all of the ice melted that would have prevented them from coming on the land bridge. So they had to have come by boat and what they left behind was just thousands and thousands of examples of what are called projectile points. This is an archaeology term for basically the pointy thing that you put on the end of a stick. Not sure if it’s a spear or an arrow, so we just call it a projectile point. This was all discovered in Texas, near a place called Buttermilk Creek where there have been a ton of discoveries of really ancient humans in the Americas because, you know, living next to a creek is kind of a good thing.
[00:38:18] So, what was cool about this was I learned that one of the most common kinds of projectile points in the Americas about 13,000 years ago was called Clovis, and it just describes a certain kind of point. But these kinds of projectile points were pre-Clovis. They didn’t really look like Clovis points so the exciting thing is there was a whole culture that was making these different type of projectile points before the Clovis people.
[00:38:47] Maybe those are the ancestors of the Clovis people who are themselves the ancestors of Native Americans, or maybe it was a totally different group that came separate from the people that were the Clovis people making these Clovis points. So, the whole story that I just told you about confusing migrations and different kinds of tool kits is really about how scientists are now accepting the idea that the Americas were populated by people who came in different migrations, different groups of people. It was a diverse group that came and conquered or at least settled these continents. Some came by land, some came by sea. They have different cultural beliefs, they had different technologies, and they all wound up here. And it would have been a pretty interesting time to be around. I would have definitely visited 15,000 years ago here, hung out with some mega fauna. What about you? Would you come?
Charlie Jane: [00:39:42] Let’s fire up the time machine, let’s do it.
Annalee: [00:39:44] Yeah. We have to be able to come back though, because I really—I love antibiotics.
Charlie Jane: [00:39:49] Yeah.
Annalee: [00:39:49] I’m like, super into them.
Charlie Jane: [00:39:50] You know, we just bring some antibiotics with us. Give some to the megafauna, maybe it’ll help the megafauna survive so they’ll still be around in 2018.
Annalee: [00:39:59] Mastadon has some penicillin.
Charlie Jane: [00:40:00] Give the mastodon has some penicillin.
Annalee: [00:40:01] All right, well thanks so much for listening, we are as always Our Opinions Are Correct. You can support us on Patreon at patreon.com/OurOpinionsAreCorrect. You can follow us by subscribing on Apple Podcasts, on Google Play podcasts, Stitcher. You can just go to our website at OurOpinionsAreCorrect.com.
[00:40:23] Many people help make this show awesome including you, if you’re supporting us on Patreon. But also Chris Palmer writes the music and Veronica Simonetti is our amazing producer and editor who makes it all happen. Thanks again, and see you in a fortnight.
Charlie Jane: [00:40:38] Yay!
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