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Can we strike the word 'exotic' from the dictionary? Or, at very least, from the dictionaries of white Western SFF writers, critics and fans? Before crying Oh No, Censorship, bear with me. And have a caveat: I'm writing about a problem in which I'm complicit, so there's a good chance I'll not do it justice, or get at least some things wrong.

'Exotic' is a horrible, harmful word, and treating it as a neutral descriptor erases the experiences of those that it harms. It posits the value of a place as how excitingly different it is to outsiders, rather than how it's experienced by local people. It allows outsiders to coo over things we/they find sexy or strange, without giving a fuck about their context. It fetishises. It also carries a ton of racist baggage.

Thailand almost never gets portrayed in the West as anything other than Oriental Exoticland. From early travelogues to The King and I to The Windup Girl, travellers and expats sideline the actual characteristics of the place and the experiences of the people that live there in favour of self-fulfilling fantasies about how weird and different it is. This is so much the norm that many Western writers probably don't think they're doing it at all, and nor do their readers. But the assumption that an expat must be able to write Thailand well - by virtue of having lived a privileged life surrounded by imported home comforts and culture - is total nonsense. Living somewhere for a long time doesn't make you exempt, but it might make you think you are, which is a problem in itself. Just because I grew up in Thailand doesn't mean I don't need to constantly educate myself about Thai culture and the way my own culture promotes damaging representations of it.

In Imagining Siam*, Caron Eastgate Dann writes about the circular effect of the Western construction of the exotic East:

“because it is presented in this way by writers, readers expect to receive an exoticised description, and because it is expected by readers, writers feel encouraged, and perhaps even obliged, to fabricate tales of the weird, the exotic and the erotic.”

As both producers and consumers in Western culture, we reward this kind of behaviour, and throwing the word "exotic" around as a positive in reviews feeds the circle, as does pandering to the desire for exotica in writing. How do we break the circle? Not easily or immediately, for sure, but by listening to people whose cultures have been exoticised when they say it's shit, by looking long and hard at how and why we use the word, by refusing to use it uncritically, and not getting defensive when we do and are called on it - we might have a chance.

*which uses Said's concept of Orientalism to look at the way Thailand has been written by the West through the ages - I've just started reading it, and it's not a perfect book (some Anna Leonowens apologism, meh), but it seems pretty comprehensive, and very valuable as the first English-language study of its kind.

Good intentions aren't enough, because they can mask all manner of fail, conscious or un-. Case in point: this weekend, I received a Special Commendation for my James White Award shortlisted story, Train in Vain. This is a tremendous honour, and I'm thrilled and hugely thankful to the Award, its judges, and its supporters. I was happy just to be shortlisted, not least because it’s not the kind of story I usually write - an alternate history spy thriller - and I wrote it in part to grapple with some of the issues I had with the steampunk and spy fiction I was reading at the time. I don’t think I did a perfect job of it, but I hoped I'd written something that worked against the usual portrayal of the British in nineteenth-century Thailand as a "civilising" influence - and was glad that the judges thought such a thing was worth their time.

This is what the Award website has to say about the story (bolding mine):

Tori Truslow’s ‘Train in Vain’ is a compelling tale of exotic intrigue and intricate automata, told in breathlessly vivid and evocative prose. There is no let up in narrative pace in this highly believable blend of fantasy and adventure. There’s wit too, and a hint of darkness amid the exotic imagery. We were desperate to know how the story would be resolved and we’re convinced others will be as well.

Now, this puts me in a rather awkward position. As I said, I'm tremendously grateful to be recognised, but I'm also deeply uncomfortable at the language used here, and I can't not say something. Whatever the merits/non-merits of this individual story are, it's another white-filtered representation of a country and culture that only ever gets represented in SFF by white authors, and this is a problem in itself, but especially so when that writing gets valued in terms of its exoticness.

Am I part of the problem here? Of course. I may not have meant to, but I probably did play into exoticism in this story. I contribute – however inadvertently – to the exotification of Thailand, and instead of being criticised, I’m praised for it. And round we go.

Exoticism is by no means the only problem in Western SFF (meet its mutually-enabling twin, "authenticity"), but it is far too commonplace, and if we genuinely want the specfic field to be a diverse one we need to stop letting it go unchecked. Or all we’ll have is false diversity where self-fulfilling Western fantasies forever drown out other cultures’ own representations of themselves.


( 33 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 10th, 2012 12:09 pm (UTC)
I hear you on this. "And Their Lips Rang With the Sun" got a Recommended review from Lois Tilton, who called it "exotic" -- when, I'm sure, the things she called exotic were the things that marked it as familiar and of-home to me.

It's still a word I use (it's useful for me to help decentralise what a lot of people think is universal, i.e., the completely truthful statement that "meatloaf is exotic to me"), but hardly ever unironically.

Edited at 2012-04-10 12:09 pm (UTC)
Apr. 10th, 2012 08:04 pm (UTC)
I admit, I do that too! Blackberries and London buses and English country lanes were very exotic to me as a kid.

I think I probably was guilty of some exoticism in this case, however unintentional - I do need to check my overwriting tendencies wrt that, as overwriting, say, London and overwriting Bangkok are not the same, given issues of representation, my whiteness, and the cultural tropes I've internalised. Certainly something to watch out for in future.

I'm sorry to hear your story got called exotic, that can't have been fun.
Apr. 10th, 2012 09:05 pm (UTC)
off-topic: your icon is amazing.
Apr. 10th, 2012 06:36 pm (UTC)
Can I link to this post on Facebook / Twitter / etc? x
Apr. 10th, 2012 07:09 pm (UTC)
Please, please do!
Apr. 11th, 2012 09:28 am (UTC)
What adjectives would you prefer? Strange, foreign, different, interesting, Asian?

Personally, I think "exotic" can be a completely harmless, neutral word. It depends on the circumstances and the intention. Is it used as a euphemism? In a condescending, ignorant way? By a professional who should know better? Or is it a colloquial expression used innocently by an ordinary person to indicate the fascination with something and the interest in something the speaker is unfamiliar with?

I also feel that if you get too stuck up on policing language, creating lists of forbidden words, that won't help with your goals of creating an atmosphere of more respect and understanding. Concentrating on details too much can easily come across as petty nitpicking, and makes it much harder for ordinary people to focus on your message.

Also, there's the problem of professional marketing bookspeak of blurbs and awards. They have lots of signal words like "exotic" that are supposed to make their products interesting for readers. Of course advertising slang is the product of cultural and historical context, but I think it's more a problem of industry conventions. A certain code that has become established in the industry and is used without thinking by the marketing professionals in the publishing business. Perhaps it's time to challenge that code. And not just the word "exotic" but also most descriptions of "strong heroines" ...
Apr. 11th, 2012 10:27 am (UTC)
Perhaps it's time to challenge that code.

Isn't that exactly what I'm trying to do here?
Apr. 11th, 2012 10:57 am (UTC)
Are you?

To me it was not quite clear who your rant is aimed at. Do you want to educate the common reader? Or do you want to exhort the publishing professionals? Or both?

Maybe I'm just not in the mood for reading rants today. But for me it kind of came across a bit too hmm, aggressive? Clearly, you feel hurt, as a victim of that advertising slang the book industry prefers, and it's important to express that.

Of course it's also always important to draw the attention on the meaning of words, and professionals should be aware of all their nuances.

However, I haven't had to live through such an experience, so I approach the topic more as a common person, who uses the term "exotic" just as an ordinary word to describe something foreign, different, strange, unusual. A beach with palm trees is exotic for me. No beaches, no palm trees where I live. A tree with real mangos is exotic for me. A mango is an expensive luxury fruit in the supermarket over here. A land that often suffers temperatures of -30°C below freezing is exotic for me. Or the idea that there are European countries where bears live outside of zoos. Or Aurora Borealis. Very exotic and fascinating and fabulous. While at the same time tourists from Japan and China think that a medieval market town nearby is strange and exotic.

Of course it's different when "exotic" is used in a historical and cultural context. In an exhibition about Gaugin's paintings, I would expect a good guide to give a nuanced explanation of the problem of "exotic", including all the aspects you listed.

On the blurb of a book the use of "exotic" (especially twice in a row like that) would make me headdesk, but I'd only think "stupid advertising slang strikes again". In a literary review, however, I'd expect a different language.

So for me it depends a lot on the situation if a word bothers me or not, and also on the speaker or writer and their intention.
Apr. 11th, 2012 11:34 am (UTC)
This was directed at the Western/Anglophone SFF community as a whole, which I thought my title made clear? Writers, readers, critics, fans, publishers - because we all enable each other; again, I thought I illustrated that sufficiently with Dann's concpetion of exoticism as a circular phenomenon.

To put this in context a little, it's a problem that doesn't seem to be going away. Much of the Western SFF field is claiming it wants diversity, but reviewers still fling the word 'exotic' around without thinking. Off the top of my I know of at least two examples of PoC writers having their stories reviewed in such terms and I really hope you you understand why that's hurtful. I also hope you can see why Requires Hate is so angry.

Not supporting racism doesn't mean you (general 'you' here) can't internalise it, or repeat racist tropes without realising. I'm as susceptible to that as many. I'm calling myself out here as well as the genre, because how else are we going to improve.

I don't delete comments as a rule, so leaving this as it is.
Apr. 12th, 2012 04:15 pm (UTC)
"A tree with real mangos is exotic for me."

Not for me. I grew up in South Florida, where the things grow like weeds and desperate homeowners put signs in their yard: "Free Bag Mangoes." That would be a large grocery bag, not a tiny lunch sack.

Context, see? "Exotic" is a stupid, touristy word, and it's also rude when you're talking about real people and places. It's just kind of dumb when you're talking about fantasy and science fiction, because presumably the made-up countries the author put in her story weren't "exotic" to her -- they came out of her own head.

There are other, better, less loaded words you can use for whatever this feeling is you're trying to convey with "exotic." Find out what they are and use them instead. See, it's not restricting your vocabulary -- it's giving you an opportunity to expand it.
Apr. 11th, 2012 11:08 am (UTC)
Also, as I have just been told to "shut the fuck up", I think it's better if I leave the discussion. Please feel free to delete my comments. It was never my intention to offend anyone. And I hope you know me long enough and well enough to know that I do not and have never supported racism in any way.
Apr. 11th, 2012 10:33 am (UTC)
Personally, I think "exotic" can be a completely harmless, neutral word. It depends on the circumstances and the intention.

Hey, Thai native here and I got this to tell you: shut the fuck up. No really: shut the fuck up. I don't care about Andy Cox's stinking intent--the word used has history behind it, and connotations that are not "completely harmless" or "neutral."

I also feel that if you get too stuck up on policing language, creating lists of forbidden words, that won't help with your goals of creating an atmosphere of more respect and understanding.

olol do you also think it's okay for people to call a Chinese person "chink" then? It's just a word, right? Forbidding it is policing, surely? Censorship even? Counter to creating understanding and respect?

Or maybe not, you know? Shut the fuck up.
Apr. 11th, 2012 10:54 am (UTC)
When I hear "exotic" (or "strange", or "foreign", or, or...) the thing that springs to mind first is: someone like me wrote this. (In this case, the review, not the story, I should specify.)

So therefore, it's going to be less interesting and less real, because 99% of the time when something is "exotic" then by definition it's not coming to me through someone who knows & understands it. Even if we were to set the inherent racism aside - which we can't - then the mindset makes it a more filtered, more mediated experience for me, which is inherently less interesting and less compelling.
Apr. 11th, 2012 11:02 am (UTC)
"Exotic" is definitely not a word in a blurb that makes a book appear more "interesting" to me, even though that's the intention. But that goes for most of the advertising slang.
Apr. 11th, 2012 11:05 am (UTC)
There is a vast amount of research which shows that discrimination does not have to be conscious to happen, and have vicious effects.

No-one is policing. A thoughtful blog post asking people to consider and think on language is not policing. Policing implies superior power, state power, censorship: the police are the ones who wave guns at you on demos to save the NHS, and who smash my fellow students' faces in for chanting some slogans.

I'm sorry if it's elitist to ask that writers and publishers think about language. I think your statement that "ordinary" people can't think about language is classist and viciously offensive. Your argument is that arguments should have no details - and thus no facts? I think you need to go away and reconsider... rather a lot of things, really.
Apr. 11th, 2012 11:17 am (UTC)
You don't seem to understand why below quoted point that Tori made is so damaging, so have some context.

"It posits the value of a place as how excitingly different it is to outsiders, rather than how it's experienced by local people. It allows outsiders to coo over things we/they find sexy or strange, without giving a fuck about their context."

This has been happening since the age of exploration, since colonialism. It is the reason you can see fake-looking stage-managed photographs taken by western explorers / 'scientists', of 'natives' in 'tribal dress' in western museums, arranged to look as exotic / foreign / different as possible, even when that might not be what those people actually wore most of the time, even when that might tell people nothing about those people's actual society, culture, perspectives, voices. It is the reason there are travelogues from the same era filled with 'scientific' descriptions of 'native' cultures as observed and decided on by western travellers / 'scientists', with no voices / thoughts / perspectives from the actual people the thing is about.

Are you seeing a pattern here? The pattern is, these people were and are treated as OBJECTS to be observed, studied and photographed, but never as agents with a culture they themselves have shaped and created, never as agents with their own voices. And why would they be treated as such? They were also the objects of colonial domination. This 'scientific observation' of their cultures, and othering to western audiences went hand-in-hand with attempts to categorise and classify them according to an outsider scientist framework, as if they were animals, to dominate them, and even to 'civilise' and 'improve' those very cultures. And that very same dynamic still exists in western representations of non-western cultures today. It is the same dynamic at work in Dan Simmons' horrendous 'Song of Kali', a book listed as an Amazon Masterwork, a horror story set in my parents' home city of Calcutta. The blurb of this book is as follows. Please read and then tell me that exoticising places isn't damaging and harmful.

"Calcutta: a monstrous city of immense slums, disease and misery, is clasped in the foetid embrace of an ancient cult. At its decaying core is the Goddess Kali: the dark mother of pain, four-armed and eternal, her song the sound of death and destruction. Robert Luczak has been hired by Harper's to find a noted Indian poet who has reappeared, under strange circumstances, years after he was thought dead. But nothing is simple in Calcutta and Lucsak's routine assignment turns into a nightmare when he learns that the poet is rumoured to have been brought back to life in a bloody and grisly ceremony of human sacrifice"

When I first read that I felt sick. I felt physically sick. Calcutta is thought of as the City of Joy by its actual residents. And Kali? For many, Kali is an empowering goddess, the worship of whom gives them strength and love. How is this book, an Amazon 'Fantasy Masterwork' doing anything different to the racist orientalist writing on India from the colonial period? How is this dynamic any different? Calcutta is other, strange, foreign, different. Its people are a mass of human misery and squalor. They're not agents, they're not people. They are a faceless mass of victims, with a disturbing othery unhuman religion. Can you imagine a Bengali child growing up coming across that book, winner of the World Fantasy Award, lauded as a Fantasy Masterwork, can you imagine how that would make them feel about their city, their culture, themselves?

Or a Thai child reading Anna and the King of Siam?

If you can't see why this sort of thing is damaging and harmful, I really don't know what else to say to you.
Apr. 11th, 2012 11:57 am (UTC)
Hey, thank you for this awesome comment.
Apr. 11th, 2012 12:45 pm (UTC)
I also think that it might be instructive to re-read your first comment and replace the word "ordinary" with "white", and the word "exotic" with... a word for people who are not white of your choice.

That's if thinking about words is allowed, of course.
Apr. 11th, 2012 11:43 am (UTC)
Excellent post! I really enjoyed reading it and also the links out (that post of China's was an especially good read!) As with many things you write about, it presents a huge and important topic which I am only peripherally aware of but instantly become compelled to try and understand and engage with. Thanks :)

I have a couple of questions, this not being an issue I'm particularly familiar with.

First, do you think a westerner's fascination with unfamiliar cultures is inherently a bad thing? One draw of SFF for readers is being immersed in unfamiliar settings which they can come to relish and understand. The thing you're criticising seems to be the extension of this to cultures and people that really exist, because to represent them by an exaggerated "otherness" is insulting and reductive and often carries with it racist or historically unaware undertones. Is this the broad point, would you say?

How do you think this relates to the portrayal of "exotic" but non-existant cultures, such as in the infamously dubious Avatar? And how about to other "exotic" cultures in perhaps-less-dubious SF such as the alien cultures in the Mass Effect series or in Iain Banks' Culture stories? I mean, I don't imagine you necessarily have a problem with focusing on unfamiliarity of culture in SFF writing in general; I just wonder what aspects you think are important?

Do you think this extends to places with less "exotic" (from a western perspective) portrayals? I can't count the number of times I've encountered stories set in a "fictional Eastern Bloc country". I recently played an (otherwise fantastic) game set in a civil-war-stricken "fictional Central African country". Perhaps the very notion of a fictional country deemed to exist in a certain part of the real world is a destructive idea?

Second question: you refer a couple of times to your "whiteness" being an issue and an additional reason to check yourself for exoticising. Do you really mean this literally, or are you using "whiteness" as shorthand or metonymy for something else (like the internalised cultural tropes you also mention)?

Edited at 2012-04-11 12:45 pm (UTC)
Apr. 11th, 2012 01:30 pm (UTC)
Oh gosh, there are a lot of questions here and my nerves are a little too frayed right now to do them justice. I'll have a go, with the same caveat as in the original post: I'm complicit in a lot of this and not some kind of all-knowing, objective authority.

I think wanting to learn about other cultures is a good thing, wherever you are, but the Western fascination you mention carries horrible baggage - for a far better critique of this than I could manage, see thedinglestarry's comment above. And yes, there's a tendency of Western SFF readers and writers to conflate 'unknown' settings that don't actually exist with actual real places. Someone on a panel I went to this weekend described Lima in Peru as a science-fictional landscape, which I found disgusting.

When it comes to invented cultures, the first question is: is this an attempt to actually invent a culture, or is it a thinly-veiled representation of a real culture? In Avatar, the Naavi are so obviously (in narrative and aesthetic terms) a Native American analogue, that it's hard to take the film's repetition of colonialist tropes as anything other than blisteringly offensive. I think a good counter-example is the other Avatar, the Last Airbender cartoon series - the cultures in that are very obviously analogues for several different real-world cultures, but they are presented as ordinary people, their world is ordinary to them, and the show does a mostly-good job of eschewing damaging Western tropes and stereotypes. As for the portrayal of cultures that aren't analogues as unfamiliar, that carries its own complexities - on the one hand it avoids the problems of something like Avatar, but it can obviously still engage with subjects like colonialism or genocide, which are not context-free even in imaginaryland. China Miéville's Embassytown, I think, is a good example of something that certainly isn't an analogue to any real culture, but still deals with colonial ideas like the noble savage and assimilation - although what it says about them really depends on how you read the ending, and that makes it a very frustrating book!

I've not given enough thought to fictional real-world countries, but I guess a starting point is to ask: who is the writer/creator? Why did they decide to do this? How well does their fictional country work; does it feel like its own place (Miéville's The City and the City), a stand-in for one particular country (Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories starts in a fictionalised India), or a lazy mish-mash of bits of other countries? As with most of the issues being discussed here, context is really fucking important.

Finally... yeah, I'm pretty much using whiteness literally, in sociological terms at least. But in answer to your question I'd say it's both? I have all kinds of undeserved, unsought-yet-taken-for-granted privileges (like these) because of my skin colour, and I've internalised a lot of that, along with a lot of the ways that my culture and skin tone are portrayed as normal and good, over others. It would be hard not to, given that it's hardly ever problematised. This is a massively massive, complex, nuanced, difficult subject that I am still trying to navigate, and if I may cop out slightly, I don't feel I'm articulate or knowledgeable enough to do it justice. I can just try to educate myself and encourage others to do similarly, by googling things like 'whiteness 101', 'white privilege', and by reading other people's blogs and essays. As someone who wants to write about a country that only really gets represented in the West by outsiders, the onus is on me to do think about how these things affect my perceptions and my work.

I've now spent half my day and a lot of energy trying to deal with this post and related stuff on twitter, and I'd really like to get some work done now, so I'm going to stop responding to comments for a while! I know you're coming to this with a desire to engage positively, but I'm wiped, and google is your friend :)
Apr. 12th, 2012 04:29 pm (UTC)
"And yes, there's a tendency of Western SFF readers and writers to conflate 'unknown' settings that don't actually exist with actual real places. Someone on a panel I went to this weekend described Lima in Peru as a science-fictional landscape, which I found disgusting."

What Lima is a big city it looks like other big cities on Earth. I mean what. Maybe they were thinking about Macchu Picchu? That's the Peruvian setting everyone babbles about when talking about "it was just like a science fiction movie!" Though I will say, any time I've been anywhere labeled "exotic" and "otherworldly" (note: not Peru, I've never been there), the one thing that always struck me is how familiar and how homey these places seemed to me. Now either I'm really some sort of other-worldly being, or these places on Earth are just places on Earth. They're not "exotic," they're strikingly beautiful, or just have good sunsets, or they're not the kind of place you find in your own home neighborhood. (Like, if you don't live near a tropical beach you'll think those are exotic, but to me they are just what was down the road.)
Apr. 13th, 2012 02:23 pm (UTC)
Nope, pretty sure they were thinking of Lima. It's exactly the problem you point out here - a place entirely ordinary unto itself being declared strange by an outsider, to the point where apparently it's okay to talk about that place as if it were unreal? Ugh.
Apr. 11th, 2012 12:05 pm (UTC)
got here via link-hopping (i don't remember which links exactly, sorry!)
Brilliant post. Thank you for writing it.
Apr. 12th, 2012 04:38 pm (UTC)
Linky linky
User aliettedb referenced to your post from Linky linky saying: [...] well worth reading. -Tori Truslow on Dear Western SFF: stop it with “exotic” already [...]
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 13th, 2012 04:50 pm (UTC)
Obviously, I don't have the power to actually eliminate words from anything but my own usage, but as I say above, we do need to stop using it uncritically.

Suggesting there needs to be 'a place' for literature that exoticises kind of sidesteps the fact there's already so damn much of it, and it self-perpetuates, and all things not being equal it presents a fucked-up view of the places it 'represents'. I refer you to thedinglestarry's comment above.

Edited at 2012-04-13 04:50 pm (UTC)
Apr. 13th, 2012 01:14 pm (UTC)
Another word I'd love to see banned, though obviously on the scale of things it's not as bad an offender as exotic or authentic, is 'quaint'. Dear tourist, Brittany and Paris are not quaint. Please fuck off.

You already know I heartily approve of your post & I think you and Alex have done a really good (and tough) job of speaking out about these difficult-to-express things, but I'll just reiterate it. x
Apr. 13th, 2012 04:53 pm (UTC)
Urgh, yes, 'quaint' is pretty awful.

Apr. 15th, 2012 11:31 pm (UTC)
I'm immensely saddened to read many of these comments, because this is a an attack on a comment by one of the most generous SF editors in the world, who has helped many writers to get into print. You have no damned idea who you're talking about, and for that matter, what you're talking about. I know for a fact that neither Andy Cox nor Andy Hedgecock would espouse anything racist for one millisecond, and to imply that they are is profoundly offensive, ludicrous, stupid, ignorant, and ridiculous.

Secondly, you're redefining "exotic" into a pejorative meaning which it does not have. So a few English lessons might help out on that one. Exotic in this sense means from the tropics or interestingly diverse and "other." Certainly my friends who run a Thai restaurant down the road do their very best to make it as "exotic" as possible. Exotic comes from the greek "exo," meaning other. Likewise, my Pakistani friends in their restaurant around the corner try to create a tiny Pakistan. And Mohammed's Moroccan restaurant has a beautiful tented interior which attempts to create the exotic atmosphere (for those of us who are not Moroccan) of being somewhere near Marakesh.

Thirdly, we should thank people who agree to judge for an award, and have to spend many unpaid hours wading through piles of second-rate material hoping to find something worth commending. I think you should be utterly ashamed for these remarks. You disgust me.
Apr. 16th, 2012 12:46 pm (UTC)
Hi there. Thanks for the English lesson, though as a qualified teacher of English I'm a little more concerned by your apparent lack of reading comprehension ability. Please show me where in my post I attack anyone. Oh, wait, I don't. In fact, I say how grateful I am to the judges for their consideration. Twice.

I have heard only good things about Andy Cox as an editor, and have worked with Andy Hedgecock before and have nothing but respect for him. I trust that they would both be intelligent enough to read this for what it is: a discussion of a genre-wide problem. At no point do I say that any individual is at fault, because the problem is systematic. I just wanted to talk about it, in my own space. How that constitutes an attack... no, I got nothing.

Freezing this thread because I see no point in arguing with someone so unwilling to read my post for what it actually says.
Apr. 19th, 2012 02:31 am (UTC)
I'd like to point out that non-Western cultures also exoticise the West. We're so different that they paint us in strange, awe-inspiring colors of wonder where all the streets are paved with gold and America is filled with cowboys and many variations great and small. I've had to "de-exoticise" other countries' perception of my own culture SO many times that it's become a natural barrier to me.

This isn't the plague of the West so much as a phenomenon common to all cultures everywhere. But I agree that we can control what filters we use when writing about other cultures, and how rosy and unrealistically-represented they are.

I think there is one aspect of the word "exotic" that isn't bad. It's a childlike sense of wonder and curiosity and desire to learn more. If we can somehow capture that without the rest of the baggage, that'd be great.

Edited at 2012-04-19 02:42 am (UTC)
Apr. 25th, 2012 03:02 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this post.

"Exotic" is often frequently applied to people of Asian descent, as well, and it's just as hurtful and alienating then.

People: English is a rich language. Find some other way to say what you mean--I guarantee that when you make the effort to reformulate your thoughts without falling back on common thoughtless formulas, your words will be more precise and more powerful--which should be reason enough to make the effort, beyond, you know, _not hurting other people_. [*] And if you can't say what you mean without bringing along the idea that Asian cultures and people of Asian descent are sexy-mysterious-foreign-alien-blah blah blah? Then consider not saying it.

[*] I speak from the experience of attempting to remove "lame" and "crazy" as general pejoratives from my own vocabulary.
Jun. 7th, 2012 11:29 pm (UTC)
Tori, would you mind if I shared this post with a writing group I'll be speaking to next month on writing diversity (what to do, what not do to)?
Jun. 8th, 2012 01:30 pm (UTC)
Not at all! :)
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