Appropriate This

The Mikado is a massive display of innocent cultural appropriation, and a delightful operetta for normal people, which is why you don’t see it performed very often anymore.

So let me explain it to you once again, one more time. If a white girl wears a Chinese dress to the prom, she is guilty of “appropriation.” If another girl wears hoop earrings, she is also guilty of “appropriation,” but now in a different direction. If a fraternity hosts a Mexican dinner and the boys serve up their re-fried beans while wearing sombreros, they are guilty, guilty, guilty of “appropriation.” That’s cultural appropriation to you, and it is an offense that smokes to the sun and blackens the sky.

But if a dude starts wearing falsies, lipstick and stiletto heels (or—thought experiment!—maybe even hoop earrings), he is revealing his authentic and noble self to the world. And, as you know, the world is required to stand up and applaud. If you don’t stand up and applaud this cornucopia of fake authenticity, the boys down in HR have a few mechanical devices they want to attach to your thumbs, just for a minute.

So why are all these lesser “leaps” examples of hateful appropriation, and the giant appropriating leap across the sexual divide is taken in stride as a matter of course? It is as though everyone says whoa-we-can’t-believe-you-did-that if you jump across a sidewalk crack, and then yawn serenely if you try to ride your Evel Knievel rocket/motorcycle across Hell’s Canyon. No biggie. Only natural. Everybody knows how natural it is.

This is not even close to being consistent, and so this should provide all of us with the central clue to what is going on. This is not about consistency, or arguments, or truth, or conformity with the way God made the world. Nobody yelling at you about your white-boy-appropriating-ways cares anything at all about any of that, not the least little bit. The only thing they want to do is yell at you about anything that you will let them yell at you about. That is why there is so much yelling going on—we let them do it.

Realize that if Bruce Jenner had showed up somewhere in blackface, the pieces of the venue where he had done that particular misdeed would still be falling out of the sky. If the drag queens reading to the little kids at the libraries across our fair republic had decided to mimic and appropriate something else, something way closer to their actual DNA actually, and thus showed up to read to the kids in Charlie Chan eyes and a pigtail, they would find themselves outside the city limits of whatever metropolis they had tried that stunt in, trying to pick chicken feathers out of the tar in their hair.

So there are two things that should be noted about all of this. The first is that the inconsistency in the “anti-appropriators” is a principled inconsistency. They are not stupid. This whole thing is a power move, pure and simple. When someone is trying to establish alpha-dominance of this kind, and they are trying to make you do things, the more absurd it is, the better. A tyrant doesn’t want to command you to do things that make sense—because you might have done them anyway. He wants to establish a pecking order by making you do things that you would never had done had he not issued the command. It is Mark Studdock in the Objective Room.

The appropriate answer to this is the horse laugh.

The second observation is that people are yelling about cultural appropriation in those areas where people are making no serious truth claims at all. The appropriation is done for the sake of tribute, or humor, or flair. The woman wearing hoop earrings does want anybody to think she is a Latina. She likes hoop earrings. So the people yelling about sidewalk-crack appropriation and giving full-throated endorsement to rocket/motorcycle appropriations are doing this—again, because they are not stupid—because the former is consistent with truth-telling, and the latter is nothing but a lie. They want the right to remake the world, and in order to do this they have to excommunicate the truth and embrace the lie. So that is what they have done.

The third thing is an observation from the Normal Seating area in this weirdness stadium of ours. What does all of this look like—whether expressed out loud or not—to all of the normals? The Germans have a most necessary word that addresses our current situation. What do you call it when you have an acute case of vicarious embarrassment for someone who ought to be embarrassed about what they are doing, but somehow inexplicably is not? The word is fremdschämen, and that is where we live now.

So the cross-dressing library readers of the world do need to understand that there are millions of people staring at them goggle-eyed, with the same sense of wonder and amaze that we would have (over their lack of self-awareness) if they, in blackface and all, decided to do a banjo/fried chicken/watermelon skit for a Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial banquet. And they need to understand that we understand that what they are currently up to is worse than that.