November 1st, 2009

asleep at mal 9/09

cultural appropriation and halloween

something that's been on my mind all week, and i have a serious question to ask...

friday's festivities the theme was demons - as i do not believe in the xian idea of hell, i am uncomfortable dressing as a xian demon, plus to be honest i knew several friends would be doing it, and much better than i could hope to with the amount of energy i have to put toward making a costume

so i did some thinking and some research and wound up dressing as a japanese ghost/demon - i have (and know how to properly wear) a beautiful period kimono thanks to sca and other historical events and a friend taking the time to teach me how to tie an obi, and after reviewing the stories on my bookshelves and online (many of these involve wronged women who come back to take revenge) it was a fairly simple task to apply ghostly makeup, modify the wig i already had, and approximate the descriptions and images of female ghost/demons

but i worried even as i was dressing if this was an unacceptable costume as i am not japanese

in the end, i decided to go ahead because i knew that i was wearing the appropriate clothing and hairstyle in the proper way and while the makeup was imperfect it was a decent approximation (i adore the blithe spirit professional makeup for it's ghostly blue/white glow, and other than that some red lipstick was all i used - no eye makeup/eyebrows because they were missing in some of the stuff my research turned up and drawing oriental features on my face... )

so my question to you out there in lj land is: i know i chose to use an image from a culture that's not mine when chosing this costume (i empathize with why these ghost/demons exist and the message they drive historically - that treating women badly can lead to an ugly death), but is that an unacceptable, hurtful appropriation? what is the cutoff point at which using an image or idea from another mythology becomes wrong?

i tend to find the "ethnic" costumes available at the halloween store disgusting at best; but then again, i bristle at the fact that the styles i wear and spend so much time making become cheap, easy costumes for the mundanes this week - and when they decide hey, i'm going to a "gawth" club with friends, let me break out that "sexy witch outfit" from last halloween, that's black and shiny and then i'll look like i belong i get really irritated - better to wear jeans and a black t-shirt or that nice jewel-tone cocktail dress in the back of your closet than look like a slutty fool

ETA i didn't get any negative responses to the costume friday, and from my pov the appropriation was respectful

however i sometimes think maybe i spent too much time doing theatre, sca, and costuming to have a clear perspective on acceptable vs. unacceptable appropriation - for instance, i love the musical the king & i (i appeared in my hs production and can still sing most of the songs), but i know it's a racist, sexist mess in too many ways to count

but when i'm watching a good performance, especially live, i tend to do my best to immerse myself in the world that's being presented and suspend my disbelief/critical thinking until it's over - then i begin analysis and critique of the work (and i can be a really harsh critic) - so for example i can love a play that is disturbingly violent and triggery (marat/sade) even when i hate the acts depicted onstage (otoh, really bad performances, live or otherwise, will see me silently cringing, covering my eyes, watching the lights or other technical aspects, and perhaps leaving at intermission - but i know the performers are putting themselves on the line, so i won't walk out in the middle unless it's uber uber offensive)