Thursday, 30 April 2009

More racism for your entertainment

Recently, THMers debated Eskimo lollies. Some saw them as a racial slur; others thought they were a harmless bit of kiwi heritage.

Now, Apple have release an iPhone game that's drawing criticism: Pocket God. The game features identifiably Pasifika 'primitives', which the player controls.

What, if anything, is the difference between this and Eskimo lollies? Does it matter more if you offend people who live closer to your home. Does the medium - lollies vs a game - make a difference? Does it matter that the game is new, rather than part of NZ's so-called heritage.

I guess this game is supposed to be an ironic bit of technological glibness - it's advocates will argue that no one takes such things seriously. I think it's just some more crude racism. How did racism get trendy again?

What say you?

19 comments:

stargazer said...

and here is a response from the creators of this application, posted to the aotearoa ethnic network:

Thank you for taking the time to provide us your comments on Pocket God. Bolt Creative takes seriously user comments and welcomes all reasonable suggestions and criticisms. Bolt Creative respects all races and cultures and strongly supports diversity and free expression. The fictional characters in Pocket God do not directly or indirectly represent any human nationality, race or cultural people. Bolt Creative does not intend and has never intended to offend or marginalize any nationality, race or culture in any of its video games, including Pocket God. We are sorry you may have taken some offense at our application, but we insist that such offense is misplaced.

Very truly yours,

Bolt Creative
see, they aren't depicting humans so your offense is misplaced! just because they look like islanders doesn't mean they are islanders, cos they're expressions of the divine. sheesh, isn't that just so obvious?

Anna said...

Yep. Easter Islands statues are ubiquitous - the game could be set anywhere.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I think the fact that people allowed the shocking racism of the film King Kong pass without comment made this kind of thing sadly inevitable

Anna said...

I haven't seen King Kong - would you be keen to elaborate, Anon?

Anonymous said...

Basically the same thing but on the big screen. Jabbering, violent, cannibalistic tribespeople of indeterminate (but definitely) Polynesian background who spend all their timelessly attacking the protagonists in the hope of abducting a white woman for sexual sacrifice to their god. What I find most surprising is that they were able to find members of the tangata whenua to act this way! I guess the lure of a paycheque in tough economic times will lead people to degrade themselves in many ways.

The River Queen was pretty bad, too, not least because in that one they weren't indeterminate-polynesians, but explicitly identified as Maori.

Julie said...

I agree about the King Kong racism, and I seem to recall some discussion about it at the time too...

And while we're on the subject, the portrayal of the orcs in the LOTR's movies was pretty on the nose. Is Peter Jackson perhaps something of a serial offender?

Anonymous said...

It's true, Tolkien's orcs, while theoretically nonhuman, are very much based off the 'non-white savage' tropes he absorbed while growing up in South Africa

Ironically many modern depictions of Orcs, notably in World of Warcraft, depict them as having a fulfilling, spiritually aware culture which puts them in touch with the land and their surrounds. So in a way the stereotype has come full circle!

A shame the same can't be said for actual humans!

I think the question is not 'when did racism become trendy' but 'did it ever stop being trendy'? And the answer is clearly 'no'

Anna said...

Now you're going to have to elaborate on the orc issue for me...

I read as a kid a criticism of 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom' for the same kind of racism as appears in King Kong - ignorant superstitious savages being liberated by superior white folks. The director (Steven Spielberg?) defended this by saying that he was harking back to the serial TV of his childhood. Which wasn't much of a defense, really. In light of that, it's kind of strange that Peter Jackson didn't try to adapt some of the outmoded racial themes.

Anna said...

Simulposting...

Anon the latter, I think you're right that racism never went out of fashion, but there seems to be trends in terms of how we express racism and against whom. (International events, migration and so on play a part.)

That's what intrigues me about the Eskimo vs Pocket God thing - why are some expressions of racism more accepted than others?

muerk said...

I think the Eskimo lolly was something that was done over 50 years ago. Likewise King Kong came from a different era of thought about how we portray other ethnicities. Same with tiki mugs.

The question is, should we be adding to this kind of stereotyping?

Personally I'd leave it be and let consumers choose.

Anonymous said...

Well, although Tokien invented orcs and basically portrayed them in a totally one dimensional way, they have become such a staple of fantasy literature that later writers have expanded on them, given them a distinct culture and value system (although not always a particularly admirable one), until right now there are many fantasy books/games where Orcs are presentede as viewpoint characters who are no more evil than humans.

Tui said...

Well, I think a key issue of Pocket God - if you want to defend Eskimos particularly, which I don't - is that the game a) calls Islanders primitive and b) is designed to make you kill them in horrible ways. the extent of what Eskimos say about Inuit is "they wear hoods." You have to be overthinking your eating to get the same murder value out of eating an Eskimo that you do playing Pocket God (I'm guessing - have not played the game, just seen caps.) Yeah, it's racial stereotyping and eskimo is such a loaded word that I think it's totally impolitic and offensive to many people, but I'm not sure it's quite on the same scale as this fetishising.

Re: LOTR. The source text is pretty racist to start off with - PJ's movies are IMO much less so, although it certainly is in there. (For a start, no COC! Off the top of my head anyway)

Which wasn't much of a defense, really. In light of that, it's kind of strange that Peter Jackson didn't try to adapt some of the outmoded racial themes [in King Kong].I think PJ's problem is actually dedication to his genre. The kind of thing that occurs in King Kong - well, it's actually a reprisal from one of his early flicks which is straight-up horror/gore/slapstick, Brain-Dead. It's a zombie flick, blah blah racist in really predictable ways, and there is a scene which is strikingly similar to the one in King Kong. Anyway. I do NOT think this is defensible, but I think it is explicable. I think PJ is really interested in exploring conventions of his genre which is horror, and these kinds of visual themes, which are about some stuff that is fairly deeply embedded in to Western culture in unpleasant ways. he is interested in tapping into this kind of exotic horror. Unfortunately he's not interested in doing this in subversive, intelligent, or critical ways - just in ways which are cinematically kinda neat/scary. This is a real shame, although it does make his films textbook examples for this kind of exotification.

For the record, I know that he tried to alleviate the racism in King Kong by drawing parallels between New York and Kong's island/the islands etc. f'rex, the people in new York are also often old, beaten down, unattractive. The visual effects were designed to use the kind of skyscraper canyon effect to make the island reminiscent of the city. He speaks about this in the commentary. I personally feel that this is not sufficiently present in the film to justify it, but some may disagree.

Anonymous said...

If he was trying to draw a parallel between NYC and the Island, he didn't do very well, since the New Yorkers weren't running around randomly assaulting people.

(I actually felt that the New York sections of King Kong were the best filmed part of it. Kind of makes me wish he'd do a whole movie like that)

Bevan11 said...

Er, that bit about Orcs was parody, right? You can't seriously be racist towards Orcs.

They're fictitious, and they're not 'a thinly veiled reference to a race of humans'. So therefore they can be treated however people/authors want.
It's not possible to discriminate against them.

Even if they were real, they're a different species. They don't have the innate equality to humans that say, human African races have to human South American ones.
Therefore we can discriminate them in the same way we discriminate against, say, pet birds (e.g. keep them in cages for our own amusement).

Mmm, that was bizarre.

Anonymous said...

Totally serious about the Orcs.

If you really think when Tolkien was creating Orcs he didn't have any part of human society in mind, then, well, I have a bridge in Brooklyn available at a very competitive price.

Tui said...

@bevan - so, right, when Disney uses, as it typically has, African-American or race-specific voice avtors for its villains, and standard Midwest american voice actors for its heroes, there's nothing going on there because Disney characters (e.g. the lions on the Lion King) aren't real people? Or, hey, how about the Oompa Loompas (in the original novel and the Johnny Depp one, not the other ones) - no such thing as Oompa Loompas, so totally not veiled race references at all!

There are a bunch of ways to code non-human races in fantasy that use racial stereotyping &c. It's unfortunate but it is just the way it is.

@Anonymous, re: New York: I compltely agree, not good enough. As I said, he's too much of a sucker for the conventions of his genre.

katy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Danielle said...

Plus the original King Kong is really All About Miscegenation anyway. 'Oh noes, black men (King Kong) may want to have sex with white women (Fay Wray)!' Anxiety, racism, misogyny, eugenics... it's everything about the US in the early 20th century in a nice tidy package.

Julie said...

Readers may be interested in Mike Moeru's cartoon today.