Cultural Appropriation Cuts Both Ways

Last week, the focus was on cultural appropriation and society from the perspective of the majority raiding the non-material culture of minorities.  This week, the shoe is on the other foot as cultural appropriation isn’t a one way street.

The video from “The Midnight Special” from 1974 shows Redbone performing their hit song “Come And Get Your Love.”  It was a song that climbed the charts all the way to #5, and stayed on the charts long enough to be certified Gold (it sold over half a million copies) because it was catchy and fun.  The band members were Native American Indians, and the New York Smithsonian Institution accredited the group as being the first Native American Indian rock group to have an international hit.

The song made its way back up the Billboard charts in 2014 when it was featured in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie.

The year after that, Netflix used the song as the intro theme for the cartoon series, “F is for Family.”

The song has legs obviously, with as much audience appeal forty years after its release as the day it first hit the airwaves.  But forty years later, there seems to be some cultural appropriation issues with the song.

Redbone’s song lyrics referenced Cajun and New Orleans culture but the founding brothers, Patrick and Lolly Vasquez-Vegas were a mix of Yaqui, Shoshone, and Mexican heritage.  The band was known for playing rock music, R&B, blue-eyed soul, funk, and country as well as tribal music.  There’s no denying that R&B and blue-eyed soul are definitely not from any Native American Indian culture.  And funk, rock, and country music is associated with cultures other than Indigenous cultures.

But wait a minute!  Guitars – acoustic or electric — aren’t traditional Native American Indian instruments!

The first acoustic guitar as we know it was built in 1850 by Spanish guitarist and luthier Antonio de Torres Jurado (13 June 1817 – 19 November 1892), based on a design by note Spanish guitar maker Joséf Pagés (1740 – 1822) and Spanish luthier Josef Sebastián Benedid Díaz (10 February 1760 – 20 October 1836).  The guitar had a body that was now able to hold its own with an orchestra without being lost in the other instruments.  Europeans went wild for guitars!

Electric guitars had their humble beginnings at the heart of electromagnetic induction which was discovered by English scientist Michael Faraday (22 September 1791 – 25 August 1867) on August 29, 1831.

By 1919, magazine ads began to appear, offering devices that would amplify instruments, and then came American jazz, country, and blues guitarist and songwriter Lester William Polsfuss, better known as Les Paul (9 June 1915 – 12 August 2009) and American inventor Clarence Leonidas “Leo” Fender (10 August 1909 – 21 March 1991) who created the electric guitar as we know it today.

Now Les Paul’s ancestry is German thanks to both parents, and Leo Fender’s family is American going back to his great-great-great-great-grandparents.  That being said, the generation before that was from Baden-Wuerttemberg (Germany) and Cumberland (England) and Bethnal Green, Stepney, County Middlesex (England).

The argument can be made that Redbone’s success was due in part to the cultural appropriation of guitars which are obviously part of the English, Spanish, and German cultures.

Some will argue that fiddles were instruments of the Inuit and the Apache however fiddles only appeared after Indigenous peoples had contact with Europeans so it would seem that this may be a case of cultural appropriation.  But even if it’s argued that fiddles are Indigenous instruments, they aren’t guitars, and they aren’t played the way guitars are played.  This means that guitars are definitely not Native American Indian instruments.

Since we know from last weeks’ essay that cultural appropriation happens when one culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, and more are used without permission of the culture from which it is taken, is it not fair to say that Native American Indians have also engaged in cultural appropriation?

And then there’s the Aboriginal rappers to consider.  Have they engaged in cultural appropriation?

What are your thoughts on the subject?

Elyse Bruce


The Conflict of Cultural Appropriation

Cultural appropriation is the use of elements from one culture by members of a different culture.  According to law professors and psychologists, social scientists and politicians, cultural appropriation happens when one culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, and more are used without permission of the culture from which it is taken.  It’s especially hurtful when the culture being appropriated is one that’s been exploited or oppressed by the culture doing the appropriating.

In other words, cultural appropriation promotes the power imbalance of the ruling class over those who have been historically marginalized.

There are two kinds of culture:  Material culture and non-material culture.  Non-material culture is what’s meant when speaking about cultural appropriation since non-material culture deals specifically with intangibles.  Beliefs.  Traditions.  Values.

Of course, within material and non-material cultures are other constructs such as subculture (beliefs or behaviors that are contrary to the majority of the culture’s community) and counterculture (active rejection of aspects that are dominant in the culture’s community).  For the purposes of this essay, the focus is on mainstream non-material culture.

Now psychologists will tell you that culture and the people of a culture have a symbiotic relationship.  Each culture has its unique societal norms by which to live, and members of each culture live by shared expectations and rules that guide and determine their place in that culture.  To this end, people define and refine what their culture is, and culture defines and refines its people.

These days, there’s a lot being said about cultural appropriation.  Some of it is warranted such as the outcry against sports teams using names that are offensive to Indigenous peoples in the Americas.  But is it possible to create art without any cultural appropriation?

Was it cultural appropriation when the Bangles sang about walking like an Egyptian?

Was it cultural appropriation when Carl Douglas let us know that everyone was kung fu fighting?

Was it cultural appropriation when the Vapors thought they were turning Japanese?

Was it cultural appropriation when Steven Tyler and Aerosmith announced that dude looked like a lady?

How about when Toto decided to take on the entire continent of Africa?

This is where the waters are muddy.  If those songs and other art, literature, music, and more is cultural appropriation, where do we draw the line when it comes to enjoying past creative endeavors?  If we’re told to turn our backs on pop culture that draws on other cultures to exist, is it also time to boycott the classics whether it’s literature, art, or music?

Do we turn our backs on Béla Bartók’s Romanian Dances seeing he was from Hungary and not Romania?  Is it time to refuse to attend concerts where Brahm’s “Ballade Edward” is performed because it was based on a Scottish ballad and Johannes wasn’t Scottish?  How about Beethoven’s music based on Welsh, Irish, and Scottish folk songs?  After all Ludwig was German, was he not?

How about all those musicians who aren’t English but who have recorded “Scarborough Fair” or “Greensleeves?”   Should they be forced to make reparations for daring to sing something they obviously appropriated from another culture?

Should “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Go Tell It On The Mountain” be sung only by those of African-American heritage?  And next New Year’s Eve, should the traditional “Auld Lang Syne” only be sung only by those who can prove their Scottish ancestry?

Do we stop children and their grandparents from enjoying a rousing rendition of “Oh Dear, What Can The Matter Be?” if they haven’t an ounce of English blood anywhere in their background — or going back at least eight generations?

Where no offense is meant, is any harm done?  Some say yes while others say no.  But if we are to say harm is done, where does this leave the English language which is an amalgam of several languages?  Is it time to dismantle the language to create a language that English-language speakers can safely call their own that doesn’t steal from other languages and cultures?

There’s no easy solution, and this is why we need to speak openly about what is, and is not, harmful cultural appropriation.  Certainly there are ways to draw upon cultures that are not our own without causing insult and injury.  It begins with mutual respect, and this means both sides must be willing to hear each other out before jumping to conclusions.  What are your thoughts on the subject?

Elyse Bruce

The Double WOW Plus Factor

Last week on Arts Sunday, I wrote about the upcoming Missy Barrett Adventures book launch for “Barnstormin’” at the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport in Sevierville.  Mentioned in last week’s article were the WOW and the WOW Plus Factors.  What I didn’t mention was that I had a Double WOW Plus Factor planned for this book launch.

What Was The WOW Plus Factor?

The WOW Plus Factor was the Official Certificate from the National Air Transportation Association (N.A.T.A.) naming Missy Barrett an honorary member for 2016.   That alone impressed children and adults, and got kids talking about how they could earn a certificate as well.

What Was The Double WOW Plus Factor?

It might be difficult to imagine a second WOW Plus Factor for a children’s book launch, but this book launch had that thanks to Marc Hightower (a real person) of Sky High Air Tours (a real business) who takes Missy and her grandpa for a ride in his 1927 Waco Straight wing biplane.

With the help of Marc and my book launch assistant, fellow author Thomas D. Taylor, I had a surprise in place that (if all went according to plan) would blow away the kids as well as the adults.

What Was The Surprise?

In the story, when Missy first meets Marc, he makes an unforgettable impression on her.  I wanted everyone at the book launch to have a similar moment to take away with them.

The Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport is a general aviation airport so pulling this off required precise split-second timing on everyone’s part.  While Marc awaited the cellphone call as he sat in his biplane, Thomas waited for the exact point in the book reading where he would give Marc the signal to begin his approach to the doors into the terminal.

Six pages into the book, one of the children noticed the biplane moving towards the terminal.  It wasn’t long before children were excitedly whispering about the biplane that was approaching.  All of them shared a special secret, and they were certain that I had no idea what was going on because my back was to the window looking out on the tarmac.

The Double WOW Plus Factor!

Then I read this paragraph in the story:

That’s when she saw him — the pilot from straight out of the movies, and he was walking towards Missy and her grandfather.  He had on a leather jacket and a silk scarf, just as she hoped he would, and in one hand, he had a leather cap and goggles. 

As I read those words, Marc strolled into through the double doors and into the lounge area where the book launch was taking place … wearing a leather jacket and a silk scarf, and in one hand, he had a leather cap and goggles.

The Impact

I’m sure you can imagine the punch that Double WOW Plus Factor packed!  Undoubtedly, this was instantly the most favorite part of the book launch as far as the kids were concerned, and it’s a given that they were going to talk about this exact moment at school the next day.

In that careful planning, each kid had experienced a moment that was identical to the moment Missy Barrett experienced in the book when she first saw Marc Hightower.

Final Note

Not every book launch or book signing can have a Double WOW Plus Factor but when the opportunity presents itself, take advantage of it.   Those opportunities are few and far between without a doubt.  That being said, choreographing it down to the last detail will leave a lasting impression with your audience.  It could even prove to be a pivotal moment in time for some.

In the end, what you want is for your event to be memorable in the best way possible.  It will definitely require a great deal of time and effort, but in the end, it will be worth everything you invested.

Elyse Bruce

Countdown To Launch

This weekend, I’m putting the finishing touches to the upcoming Missy Barrett Adventures book launch, and while the process has been labor intensive, the event is going to be well worth the time and effort.

The Venue

Ask ten authors where book launches should take place, and most of them will insist on either a book store or a library.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with having a book launch at either of those locations so please don’t misunderstand me when I say that an author shouldn’t feel constrained to just a book store or a library.  I’m saying that thinking outside the box and going with some place other than a book store or library is also the correct answer to that question.

Missy Barrett’s most recent adventure is titled, “Barnstormin‘” so it’s fitting to have the book launch at the local airport.  Thanks to Emily Haun and her staff at the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport, the venue is going to be awesome including the Airplane Viewing Lounge where kids will be able to look out onto the runway where planes land and take off.

The WOW Factor

Everyone likes to think they have the WOW Factor nailed down for their book launch.  Some do, and some don’t.  Take some time to ask yourself, “What would my fans love to find at this book launch that ties in with the book’s theme?”  When you answer that question, you have your WOW factor figured out.

With “Barnstormin’” the WOW factor is the Book of Letters.  In the Book of Letters, various real life aviation industry people sent Missy Barrett a letter to welcome her to the world of aviation.  The Book of Letters has some interesting letters in it from airlines and aircraft manufacturers, pilots and aviation colleges, and more.

The WOW Plus Factor

Not every book launch can have a WOW Plus Factor but when you have a book launch with a Wow Plus Factor, the event becomes truly memorable for attendees.  This book launch has an amazing WOW Plus Factor:  Missy Barrett has been made an honorary National Air Transportation Association member by N.A.T.A. (complete with an Official Certificate) and I can’t begin to imagine a bigger WOW Plus Factor than this!

Goodie Bags

Every great party has goodie bags, and this party is no different.   Because Missy Barrett is a fictional 9-year-old and because her fan base is primarily young readers, the goodie bags are age appropriate and Missy Barrett themed.  Because Missy believes that anything can be an adventure if you make up your mind for it to be an adventure, and because Missy understands that every dream come true starts with a good plan and loads of imagination, the items found in the goodie bag support this idea.

The goodie bags for this event have neat items in them from Envoy Airlines, the Hard Rock Café – Pigeon Forge, NATA (National Air Transporation Association), Preferred Pharmacy, the Tennessee State Bank, Western Michigan University: College of Aviation, and WonderWorks – Pigeon Forge.

Door Prizes

And what’s a great party without door prizes?  While the goodie bags have to do with imagination and plans, the door prizes have to do with some of the places the story takes Missy Barrett, her grandfather, and biplane pilot, Marc Hightower (a real life pilot who really fly a biplane).

The door prizes are from the Comedy Barn, the Hard Rock Café – Pigeon Forge, Thomas D. Taylor, Shear Madness Beauty and Beyond, Smith Family Morning Variety Show, Smoky Mountain Opry, the Tennessee State Bank, and WonderWorks – Pigeon Forge.

Online Fun

It’s amazing how many authors forget the importance of having fun, especially on social media, when it comes to getting the word out about a book launch.  Missy Barrett has her own social media (even though she’s a fictional character) and rather than blasting out the same message about the upcoming book launch every day, I made the character approach the event the way any child her age would.

She tweeted airlines about her adventure.  One airline tweeted back using the hashtag #PossibleFuturePilot, which was incorporated in a number of Missy’s tweets.  Four airlines carried on abbreviated but humorous exchanges with Missy on Twitter.  It wasn’t long before others joined in on the fun.

Over on Facebook, Missy Barrett started an event page from her Fan Page, and on the event page as well as on her Fan Page, she shared updates and breaking news (she even has her own MBBN — Missy Barrett Breaking News — logo to go with her breaking news reports).

She had regular updates on her website.   In other words, the book launch fun began with the lead up to next Tuesday’s event.  Even if online fans and followers live too far away to attend the event, they were kept in the loop, and the comments, likes, status reactions, and more added to the excitement.

Behind The Scenes

As with every event, there are people behind the scenes lending a hand where they can, and in this case, I had (and continue to have) some fantastic help.  Thanks to David Stanfill, Phil Word, and Carroll McMahan of the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce as well as author Thomas D. Taylor.

Final Note

This takes me to the reason of why I do what I do, especially when it comes to putting together book launches.  You see, were it not for the people who read the books I write, there’s no reason for putting all this time and effort into orchestrating these events.  So the thank you that many authors forget to say is to the fans who buy and read the books.  They’re the reason the books are written, and they’re the reason the book launches are so much fun.

Whether you’re an author (aspiring or published) or you have one of my books (long-time fan or first time reader), book launches are meant to be a celebration.  I’m looking forward to having as much fun as possible on Tuesday at 5:00 p.m. at the local airport with a lot of kids and their parents or chaperones.  But between now and Tuesday, I still have 50 goodie bags to finish putting together.

Elyse Bruce

5 Book Review Facts

For those of you who follow authors on social media, you oftentimes see them writing about the importance of posted book reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.  While it may seem a mystery to those who read books but don’t write any themselves, the situation really isn’t as complicated as some perceive it to be.

Only verified readers can post reviews

Fact:  You don’t have to buy the book from Amazon to leave a book review on Amazon or Goodreads.  All that’s needed is for the reviewer to have read the book and felt compelled to leave a review regardless of whether it’s a one-star review or a five-star review or any star review between the two.

Reviews get deleted on Amazon

Fact:  Sometimes a review is deleted when it’s either not an actual review of the book or if it’s determined that the review is a paid review.  As long as the review doesn’t fall into either of those two categories, the review will stand.

Reviews need to be perfect

Fact:  Spelling and grammar aren’t prerequisites for reviewing a book.  They are prerequisites for being an author or writer.  But reviewers aren’t taken to task for making spelling mistakes or for using incorrect grammar.

Reviews have to be long and detailed

Fact:  A review has to be a review.  It can be as long or as short as the reviewer wants it to be.  Again, it all goes back to the basics:  Have you read the book?  Is this your honest opinion of the book?

The impact of reviews

Fact:  Amazon, like Facebook, relies on algorithms to determine what rises in the ranks.  The more reviews a book has, the higher the book will be in the ranks.  Fifty reviews for a book guarantees a lot of exposure.  Fewer than fifty reviews relegates the book to the pack when it comes to exposure.

Final Note

Whether there are fifty reviews or two reviews or two million reviews is a matter of business. What authors really want is feedback from readers about how their book was received.

Honest reviews help authors to hone their storytelling talents.  Honest reviews let authors know where they’ve gone right and where they’ve gone wrong.  Honest reviews result in more high quality stories being offered to fans and followers.

And lastly, authors appreciate honest reviews regardless of how many (or few) stars reviews bring with them.  Why?  Because authors appreciate readers, and your reviews are one of many ways readers show their appreciation for what authors do.

Elyse Bruce

Pirates Have Allies

The issue of copyrights and copyright infringements have been discussed on this blog in earlier entries.  The problem isn’t going to go away any time soon either as long as some people are feel that copyright owners have no right to their copyrights.  The excuses range from being too poor to be able to buy what copyright owners  have created to doing copyright owners a great service by providing them with more exposure.

Recently this screenshot has been circulating on social media.  It shows the degree to which thieves will go to justify their criminal activities.

Even more recently in a Facebook discussion in an author group, there was a discussion about book launches and ways to make the event memorable for attendees.  One self-published author stated that creating a music CD that contained music associated with various scenarios in the book and giving one CD away with every book purchased would be a great promotion.

Except that it’s not a great promotion.  It’s illegal to breach copyright (in this case, via unlawful distribution of copyright materials) as proposed by the self-published author.

What’s worse, the self-published author who made the suggestion claimed to know, and understand, the law, and berated others who dared to point out that she was proposing copyright infringement.   In the end, the author who asked the question decided that the self-published author who proposed copyright infringement was more knowledgeable than those authors who advised against copyright infringement.

So why would an author suggest copyright infringement as a great promotion when the author herself is a copyright owner?  That’s something only the self-published author in question can answer.  Suffice it to say, however, that sometimes copyright owners think of others in the industry as competitors to knock off, and if advising illegal activity knocks off the competition, some have no problem going with that approach.

Know Who Supports You and WhyUsed with permission from the artist.

SPECIAL NOTE:  Check out Jimmy S. Craig’s website, where you can purchase prints of this and other hilarious cartoons at amazingly reasonable prices.  Click HERE or copy and paste into your browser to visit his site.

If you’re a copyright owner, remember this:  If you want others to respect your copyrights, you have a responsibility to respect other people’s copyrights.

Elyse Bruce









The Real Story In A Fictional Package

There’s so much more to publishing a novel than just writing it.  Aside from the regular rigors of writing, rewriting, proofreading, rewriting, editing, and more, an author — with or without a major publishing house behind him or her — has to have a marketing plan in place otherwise the book just sits on the proverbial shelf.

When I first began writing “Knick Knack Paddywhack” back in 2013, a lot was going on in the autism community as chasms between groups grew wider and wider.  A new group of autistics had sprung up on the Internet:  Self-diagnosed Aspies.  For the most part, many were people who had taken the online quizzes a number of times until they were able to cross over the thin blue line from NT to AS.  In their wake, the chasm grew even wider.

One of the biggest problems this created was that people were increasing skittish about asking questions that needed to be answered for fear of being targeted for abuse by others in the autism community from parents to awarists, autism advocates to self-diagnosed autistics, and more.  But the questions begged to be asked.

Could autistics lie?

Could autistics bully others?

Could autistics tell right from wrong?

As an author, I wondered about that and more.  I wanted to know if it was possible for a non-autistic to convince the autism and medical communities that he had autism, and to live that ruse for an extended period of time.

April is Autism Awareness Month and May is Mental Health Month, and so I decided back in 2013 that “Knick Knack Paddywhack” would be released near the end of April to coincide with both awareness months.  I didn’t set a specific date other than to earmark publication for the end of April without pegging the year.

Oddly enough, authors usually have an idea as to what year they would like to publish a novel.  In this case, it was more important to create three-dimensional characters who reminded readers of people they knew in their real lives.  I wanted to craft a story that was compelling with unexpected twists and turns along the way.

And most importantly, I wanted readers to ask questions and to search for the answers to those questions.

A great deal of research went into this book before the first word was put to paper, right down to finding a right name for the main character.  When all was said and done, the name Rion McNeally was decided upon because no amount of searching on the Internet yielded that specific name.  The same can be said for Aidan Beresford-Smith.

With the release of “Knick Knack Paddywhack” came the launch of the “Save Rion McNeally” blog site.  Every day, Rion’s friend Paddywhack does his best to create a safe environment where people can ask and discuss what autism may or may not be without fear of trolling or bullying from those who don’t share their opinion.  A Facebook page and a Twitter account were set up as well with Paddywhack at the helm.

Paddywhack is leaving an impression on social media and, indirectly, so is Rion McNeally.  People relate to the situation Rion finds himself in and they understand Paddywhack’s concern for his friend.  And despite the fact that the blog states that all of this is fictional, the question needs to be asked.

Dean Beadle UK
What do we know about Autism Spectrum Disorder and criminality?  Studies have proven that autistics are three times more likely to be victims than non-autistics.  Autistics are bullied more often than non-autistics.  And real life has proven that sometimes autistics knowingly and purposely commit crimes.

Pick up your copy of “Knick Knack Paddywhack” on Amazon (in the US and abroad) by clicking HERE, and on CreateSpace by clicking HERE.

You can subscribe to the “Save Rion McNeally” blog by clicking HERE.  Follow “Save Rion McNeally” on Facebook by clicking HERE and follow @4RionMcNeally on Twitter by clicking HERE.

Elyse Bruce

STORY SYNOPSIS:  Rion McNeally isn’t pleased with how things are going in his life. The trouble with his life is that people keep interfering with his plans. If only they knew just how complicated his life really is!  This novel deals with a number of themes including Autism Spectrum Disorder, bullying, and criminal activities.

P.S.  Rion’s name is pronounced similarly to how one pronounces recording artist Rihanna’s name.

P.P.S.  Watch for the book trailer due out May 2016.

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