Is culture a good defense?


#1

Listening to the Waypoint 101 Metro where they talked about the women role in the game and how it connects to the sad parts of eastern Europe government change and how it impacted social roles made question is how much culture can really be a defense when certain aspects that are in games pop up like sexuality, gender roles, race reputation, etc.

Like Xenoblade 2 bad female designs are defended by people saying that Japan’s view on sexuality is ok and just Western countries are being babies about it. But is it really ok when it a mid teen character who’s outfit is both impractical and just uncomfortable.

Kingdom come devs say there wasn’t dark skin people in their area of culture but how can they be sure when I believe at the time countries were trading.


Is It really just a game?
#2

Here’s my answer to this - basically no.

First, culture is not fixed, it is constantly shifting, which makes any argument relying on “culture” and “tradition” inherently flawed.

Second, there are cultural practices, aspects of cultural institutions and systems that can be reasonably identified as oppressive, exclusionary etc. Yes, we may come with a particular gaze - in the development industry, for instance, it would be almost always a Western one - but that does not mean that oppressive practices should be left alone, just because we use our assumptions.

Third, cultures aren’t “whole”. There is diversity and differences within them, meaning that cultures are usually represented by their own hegemonic structures.

This is all INCREDIBLY well put in this short paper by a professor I TA’ed for (she is awesome FYI). If you don’t have access and are interested (can’t find a public version of it) I can send it to you, although I am not sure about the forum rules on this.

EDIT: Also Kingdom Come is slightly different here in that it’s claims are specifically about “history”. This is a good piece explaining how wild that is, and my thoughts on this are here, but, essentially: there is no one history, its all about perspectives, also using it as a defence for not including POCs in your game speaks more about the developer than anything else.


#3

I have always felt when it comes to a period piece, it’s important to show sexism or racism as it was AND make sure you’re making some sort of statement on it. Otherwise it sort of feels like you chose to place your story in a time where you can just get away with being racist or sexist and hide behind history to do it.

In the case of Metro, as they said in the episode, there is historical evidence to suggest that women could and should play better roles. I know Rob pointed out that that sorta went backwards at some point, but it feels like a missed opportunity to call out that backwards step in Soviet culture and make the statement that with the end of the world came the end of these crappy cultural norms.


#4

I also want to point out that i believe there is a difference between a fantasy piece like Xenoblade and something based off another existing work like Metro. Tho Metro the game obviously deviates from its sources in its own way and should be criticized for the choices it makes, i think calling out modern homophobic and sexist trends in Japanese games (looking at Persona) is perfrctly acceptable because it is a modern original fantasy tale untied to an adaptation.


#5

Any argument that relies on “culture” is suspect; you immediately get into semiotic problems where the act of culture is hard to link up with the meaning of those acts. It’s similar to the environmentalist idea of “nature”, which works well as a general idea, but dissolves once you get more than a couple people together to talk about what nature means.


#7

I see what you mean but I don’t think that completely hold up when it the fan-service parts. Also many also used the “it fantasy so it ok to be fan-servicey and weird designs” as a defends for sexing up teens and poorly design bunny ladies.


#8

Oh i’m sorry i may have written that poorly, i agree with you. I think people use history as a defense when writing period pieces but i think in an original fantasy that is completely absent of being an adaptation from an earlier work, it is total BS to design female presenting characters the way they are. There is the sex positive argument to be made, but that requires more than a ridiculous over-sexed design choice.


#9

(mod edit: this post contains discussion of child sexualisation and FGM in the second paragraph, which we have blurred out to make it more explicitly opt-in.)

I have very concrete feelings about this, but I haven’t quite figured out how to cleanly articulate them. So here goes!!

Critiquing toxic elements of cultures to which you don’t belong is very thorny. We want to say that, for example, sexualizing children is roundly bad - because it is bad - but an easy, thoughtless, bad-faith argument can be made that we are being xenophobic in criticizing how another people live their lives, or that we don’t understand the historical context of sexualizing children (i mean jesus christ), and so on. The same critique could be made against arranged marriages between children, or female circumcision, etc., and the same bad-faith arguments against making those critiques could be trotted out in response. Additionally, we might also want to say that we should allow women to cover themselves per their preferred religious doctrine, and a similar argument could be made that the religion itself is oppressive, that we should deny any cultures which predominantly practice that religion the ability to do so in ‘oppressive’ ways, and so on.

The basis for all of these critiques is the goal of protecting the individual, and protecting their ability to exercise their free will. Any cultural practice which foists limitations or any form of violence on a group of people against their will is, in my opinion, open for critique. Sexualization or denying the existence of an entire group of people are forms of violence, and are therefore open for critique. Where I think it tends to get tricky is when we have to suss out who is making the choice to exercise the cultural norm in question: the individual it affects, or society.

Having said that, I don’t think any of the examples you’ve brought up are unclear. The developers are at fault for being gross, and are lazily, selfishly citing their ‘cultures’ for validation.

I would also very much like to read the paper @Seva referenced, because I’m sure it articulates this sentiment much better than I have!


#10

Short answer: No

Long answer: The Metro series isn’t even historical fiction. There’s no hiding behind the cultural ills of Eastern Europe and Russia, not in any genuine way at least. There’s no “cultural” justification for women in the Metro series lacking agency and only being allowed to exist as second class citizens. The state of women in this post-apocalyptic world says far more about whoever adapted the books. and maybe even the original author himself than it does the culture of that part of the world.


#11

I think a better example of people defending culture with sexualization is goomba here


He goes on to say from experience that the “culture” is open to these types of things and it all in good fun. I no longer buy that since there a lot of angles that kinda don’t work.

#12

i think this discussion is eliding a lot of distinct things that are superficially similar

gonna spoiler this bc im gonna discuss sexualisation of children in non-graphic terms but Better Safe Than Sorry:

when we talk for example about sexualisation of underage characters in japanese media like… that is a criticism worth making but it is also very easy to fall into the trap of implying this is A Problem Unique To Them which is racist and also demonstrably not true (how often do tabloids run ‘All Grown Up’ features on young women + girls particularly? how often do men do fucking countdowns for when underage actresses Become Legal? how many ads in the west elide “innocence” and sexuality (infantilising grown women and also sexualising children in One Fell Swoop)

so “its just the culture” is extremely bullshit in all its forms but at the same time one should be cognisant of the power dynamics at play when criticising another culture. but also like, “but its CULTURE” to defend regressive shit is also v common (both from ppl within & without the given culture). ultmately the problem is, i guess, nobody is situating this materially lol


#13

Have you by any chance heard of this channel?

It’s completely underrated and easily the most academic channel about the Anime, Manga, and the culture that created it is also shaped and reshpaed by it constantly. Going so far as to translate interviews with Japanese law makers and politicians.


#14

Yeah this dude is flatly wrong. He’s founding his entire defense on conflating all ‘fan service’ with body/sex positivity. I’m not even gonna touch the fact that he’s speaking from a position of anecdotal, experiential ‘authority’ as a white adult male Westerner who moved to Japan.


#15

The examples listed in the OP are relatively cut-and-dry for a few reasons, but as to the general question it can get complicated. There are certainly areas of American culture that aren’t universal but are pushed sometimes as if they are, but I don’t consider things like child sexuality to be among them.


#16

Yeah, I don’t like how he paints the reaction in the west to over-sexualised characters as our cultural prudeness. Even if there are cultural differences, people are allowed to be offended by women being objectified no matter the origin of the media.

Even ignoring the west, (at the risk of also presenting anecdotal evidence of a westerner in Japan) I spent a while living in Japan and plenty of women I knew there disliked the over-sexualisation and objectification of female characters in anime and manga and had viewpoints that were a lot more inline with the opinions he presents as exclusively western.


#17

Lots of good arguments here. I personally dislike it when culture is considered “inherently good”, or the fact that “a culture exists as it is” as a reason to shut down criticism. There is no rule that states that culture cannot be criticized.


#18

Yeah, being a big reader on Anime Feminist has helped unveil the many sexist problems in Japan (Including the lgbt+ community and race views). It feels like people just don’t want to feel that the things they like have problem to them and use a countries cultures to help ease their feelings on their interest.


#19

Yeah, because real-life societies of millions of people don’t work like Star Trek races, but boy do creepy dudes Online really want them to.

Most of what I could say on this topic has already been said here, which puts me a bit at-ease because I can’t think of another forum where opening this can of worms would be anything but nightmarish. Still, I’ll add what I can.

Culture is never, ever a good defense for anything approaching objectively immoral. The fact that that sentence would garner a response of “but morality is relative!” without consideration of context is a cultural problem unto itself that intersects with many others across hundreds of groups of people and modes of thought, but that philosophical platitude is especially loved by the West’s (somewhat newfound) intellectually popular obsession with nihilism-as-excuse.

@goblin’s post on American issues is pretty on-point, but it’s almost optimistic compared to my read on the situation. [CW: child exploitation] Most western porn sites (including basic shit like pornhub) openly host child porn, as long as it’s “fictional” (i.e, drawn pictures or animations). Amateur animators/artists are a real coinflip these days, and many of them still associate with known terrible people (i.e, shadman, who was literally arrested for possession of CP). Reddit was founded on CP: r/jailbait existed for many years and the site’s admins gave literal physical trophies to the subreddit’s moderators. Law enforcement is so ill-equipped and uncaring for any of this happening online that it took years for them to even tell Reddit to take that one subreddit down with a slap on the wrist.

Westerners gladly appeal to the sexual cultural problems of Japan because they were already looking for some way to cloak, normalize and justify their already-developing habits. Just like the West, though, there’s undoubtedly whole bodies of radical progressive philosophy and thought made to push back against these issues.

Here’s the thing: Do progressive authors over here just decide to go to (or find a constant communication line to) Japan when they see them glorifying American culture to fill people in on the complex web of progressive thought specifically surrounding America? If any do, then it’s a very small minority that likely goes unheard.

It’s the same vice-versa, we neither import the works of nor have many progressive Japanese natives over here to tell us their critique of their own culture, or when we do it’s merely a niche-within-a-niche. So we’re left with what the market determines is most importable. Pedophiles saw a gap in Japanese laws & standards they could use to normalize their ideology in the West, so they became a huge influence on the subculture of anime fandom and what is chosen for import.

The intersection of progressive thought across cultures is hard to establish because it’s so tied to esoteric language and there’s so much that can be lost in translation. The language of sexual objectification is universal, though, so it’s been far easier for scumbag bullshit to take a foothold and be reinforced with spoken Woke garbage.


#20

I’ve been aware of that guy for awhile and everything he says should be taken with a grain of salt. Both him and his wife regularly slut shame cosplayers and consider themselves “humanists” instead of feminists, for example. Dude is an ignorant, ego-obsessed jerk who makes god awful videos about his “haters” while pretending to be fighting against intolerance.

The problem with cultural defense comes back to the major problem with moral relativism. It leads to a mindset where there is no real truth or moral baseline and anything can be explained away by different cultural norms. The ironic part is that most people using this sort of defense on the internet don’t know anything about the countries they’re talking about and are usually trying to deflect the reality that they’re defending their own kinks.


#21

F**king what!? They promotes sexuality in games and anime but boos at people wanting to perform? That pretty counteractive to what they want to do is promote other cultures.