Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Can't Argue Art

If there is an artist in your life and you support this president, then you are failing that artist.
If there is an artist in your life... a painter, a sculptor, a singer, a dancer...
Today we learned that the President’s FY 2019 budget proposes elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts. We are disappointed because we see [that] funding actively making a difference with individuals in thousands of communities...

Even if this part of Trump's proposed budget gets blocked, the proposal itself is an assertion that our nation should not support the work of artists, that creativity is not something our nation should nurture or value, that money is more important than artistic expression.

That is an actual argument we are having in our public discourse right now.
There are people who believe art does not contribute to the common good.
People will work hard to ensure that our government does not support the work of artists.

I know the following reaction plays into some stereotypes about liberal academics, but I am not going to let those ugly caricatures of liberalism blunt my message here:
People who believe our government should not support the arts are ignorant. 

I know. It is hard, perhaps even impossible to engage in a reasonable debate after insulting people who disagree with me.

But I cannot imagine a reasonable debate with a person who holds that belief.

For one thing, that person is too ignorant to argue with. 
Sure, a person might be able to sound intelligent. They might explain that support for the arts can/should come from places other than our government. They might even pull out numbers and charts demonstrating all of the non-government sources of support for art. And all those arguments, no matter how intelligent they may sound, will only confirm the ignorance of those who espouse them. By limiting the role of our government exclusively to the maintaining of our nation's economic health, those arguments show the mental limitations of the people making the arguments. 

For another thing, I know too many artists to maintain my composure while listening to a person spout that kind of nonsense. I have too many personal connections to artists to keep my cool: my brothers, my niece, my aunts, my friends, my students... The list just keeps growing, and then there are my hopes for my own kids...

Yeah... No way I'm letting that argument even start. It is a stupid argument made by ignorant people. 

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

An Unresolved Argument on Cultural Appropriation

There are these two things I geek out over, and I want to mash them up.
But I am concerned about cultural appropriation, and I'm hoping some genorous readers can help me sort this out.

The first part of this proposed mashup is not controversial. I play Dungeons & Dragons.
As hobbies go, it's a tad geeky, but less so today. It is certainly less controversial than it once was.
So, yeah. The D&D stuff is not what I'm concerned about.

Here's where I get into uncertain territory. 
I have been developing a playable D&D world based on ideas, characters, and philosophies presented in the songs and album art of Parliament and Funkadelic.

Some Background
World building is a big thing in D&D. If you're unfamiliar, think of any big fantasy or science fiction world: Lord of the Rings, The Handmaid's Tale, Zelda, Star Wars, Dune, Wheel of Time, Marvel, DC, or Earthsea. All of the stories told in those worlds depend on strong world building.

In D&D, people running a game have an opportunity to engage in world building, giving players a unique place to develop the characters they play.

In the world I've been building, the moral alignments (typically Good, Evil, Chaotic, Lawful) are inspired by the music of George Clinton's bands. The pantheon of deities is populated by characters like Dr. Funkenstein and Rumpofsteelskin. The names of various dimensions in the world are based on places and settings the bands sing about. 

It's been a labor of love.

I discovered the band Parliament in 1996

This led me to Funkadelic, and then on to The Gap Band, The Commodores, The Ohio Players, Darondo, Sly and the Family Stone, The Bar-Kays, The Meters, Zapp, and so many more.

The groundwork had been laid long before I first heard Flashlight. 
I got into the Talking Heads well before I learned that collaborating with Bernie Worrell had provided the band with so much of their groove. I was a teenager during the Golden Age of hip-hop. James Brown was a fixture in my CD collection in high school, and my folks played a lot of Motown while I was growing up. 

But there was something about Parliament that drew me deeper into the genre of funk. If you've ever listened to the band, no further explanation is needed. If you haven't, I'll just say this much here: The bands' music transports you into an alternate reality where the power of funk is a mystical force that combats boredom and the uptight. There is a wonderful and rich mythology built up in the songs.

The Conflict
I'm a white guy, and Parliament-Funkadelic is a brilliant creative result of African American culture.
Now, I know it is not cultural appropriation for me to enjoy the music of Parliament and Funkadelic.
But what about when I take the ideas from the music and use them for my own creative endeavor?

I'm not going to make any money running this D&D world, and I plan to be completely transparent about the inspiration. It's an homage.

But that doesn't change the fact that I am using ideas that emerged from African American culture to build my own creative setting.

I'm not helped by a certain lack of diversity in Fantasy and role-playing games. For example, that alignment chart I included up above? Pretty white, huh? I went looking for one that included more cultures. Not much luck.

Where does that put my efforts?

I cringe when I hear my inner voice say, "This doesn't feel racist."
That's a thing racist people say.

Nevertheless, playing D&D in a world where Sir Nose D'voidofFunk is in a cosmic battle with Star Child feels right to me.
The Request
Could you help me figure out if my efforts are honoring the work of these artists or if those efforts are trying to claim their work as my own?

I want to be honoring the makers of this music I love, but I'm too close to this project to be an effective judge.

If I am on the wrong side of the line, is there something I can do, or do I drop this?

Any response is welcome.