Scrapbook Asian Style

Miss America has the answers
Luxury Bedrooms

Scrapbook Asian Style coverScrapbook Asian Style!
Harris
2008

Submitter: Oh boy. I came across this after it had been weeded, waiting to be put in our book sale. I’m not sure which of my coworkers weeded it, but I’m glad they did. This book is painful to read for anyone with the slightest bit of cultural awareness. Harris simplifies and generalizes the diversity of southern and east Asian cultures into a tacky aesthetic for easy, ready-made appropriation. She does talk about specific countries sometimes, but still oversimplifies every aspect of their traditions that she refers to. And she never cites a single source. Readers have no idea where she’s gotten her information – a lot of it she has apparently gathered from her time living “in Asia,” which I guess has given her insight to the cultures of India, Japan, China, Korea, and “the tropics”? She never mentions researching, just says, “I’ve learned that…” then makes a broad statement about the supposedly singular culture of an incredibly diverse nation – or the entire continent. She also uses the word “exotic” far too often and as a cop-out from using any actually descriptive words. Some of the projects in this book were made by people of Asian descent, but the majority of the content is Harris, a white woman, vomiting out the product of centuries of European Orientalism and exoticism so that she can sell her “Asian”-themed scrapbooking supply line.

A few excerpts, with my commentary in italics:

“Indirect communication, while very common in daily life in Asia, also extends to the art world. Asian cultures often use traditional design elements, motifs and symbols to impart meanings beyond just the simple beauty of the object. [Yeah, every culture does this. Please don’t act like it’s some great insight you have into a multitude of cultures that aren’t your own.] Looking closely at Asian artwork, the trained eye recognizes the similarity between Chinese, Korean and Japanese artistic patterns [more like the lazy eye doesn’t bother to differentiate between them]; and over time I have learned that the symbols used in the three cultures often have the same meanings. [Learned from where?? Cite your sources!!]”

“Decoding the Art of Asian Writing” [There is no such thing. Dear god.]

“When using rubber stamps or other supplies that have Chinese text, one trick I use to make sure the characters are right side up is to think of the writing as a form of calligraphy.” [It is a form of calligraphy, Kristy. But really, doesn’t the idea of a western scrapbooker accidentally using a rubber stamp of a Chinese character upside down just perfectly sum up the disaster that is this book?]

Holly: Ouch! Pretty scathing review from Submitter. Anyone have this item on their library shelves that wants to reconsider?

Scrapbook Asian Style back cover

Balinese Beauty

gong xi fa cai

Bollywood Babes

Scrapbook Asian Style introduction

Scrapbook Asian Style back cover

18 comments

  1. I think the submitter’s critique is a bit harsh.

    My husband is Chinese and found none of the pages shown offensive. He did, however find them plug-ugly.

    It’s scrapbooking, for Pete’s sake! It isn’t a learned treatise on the subtleties of Asian cultures and art. Lighten up a bit. Yes, there are insulting appropriations of non-European cultures out there but this book isn’t one of them.

    It certainly could be weeded but not because it lacks authenticity.

    1. my sentiments exactly. this isn’t a museum exhibit. this is for grandma’s scrapbook.

    2. Though for a book published in 2008 – the author could’ve presented the content more tactfully & with a lot more cultural competency, or at least better differentiating specific Asian cultures vs. “Here’s a stylistic element from [[Asian country]] that you can incorporate into your scrapbook.”

  2. I doubt I would have dressed my children in the garb of another culture, and I doubt they would have let me. But where one sees cultural appropriation, another sees admiration. I’m not seeing the offense here.

  3. What is Asian about putting the lime in the coconut? And why on earth would anyone spend time doing this kind of thing when you could be, oh, I don’t know, doing just about anything else? Blogging about reality TV, say.

  4. The submitter’s review is just rude. People consider just about anything to be appropriation and equate appropriation with offense. If this were a scholarly article I would be more concerned with differentiation but this is a craft book.

  5. Almost none of this looks like it’s going for an “Asian” look. It just looks like every other flashy scrapbook out there.

  6. My father has always admired everything “Asian” — but mostly he means Chinese, Japanese and Bruce Lee. He is very old now. When I was born, I was given the middle name Lee, after Bruce Lee. And at some point, I was dressed in a green outfit liked the red ones seen here.

    I think this book is atrocious. But my father, in all his innocence of cultural appropriation, has always loved and deeply admired all things “Asian.” In later years he took up calligraphy and Tai Chi. Is this wrong? I can’t say so. But the book deserves the critique.

  7. I don’t get it. Is it racist now to like and appreciate other cultures? I thought it was racist to HATE and NOT appreciate other cultures. Jerry Seinfeld was right, everyone is too sensitive.

  8. Wait, was that a nonalcoholic pina colada? Or did they just sit there and take pictures of a child drinking alcohol?

  9. As librarians we often have to judge whether a book should be in our collection. Is supposed cultural appropriation now one of the criteria? Just because we may disagree with a point of view, images, or whatever does not make it an automatic weed. It is not our responsibility to weed books because it MIGHT offend someone else. If that were the case we wouldn’t have to look very far to weed all kinds of materials and have a much reduced collection. The submitter needs to step back, take a deep breath, and move on. If the book is in poor condition, low circulation stats or is otherwise out of date, sure pull it. Otherwise, leave it on the shelf and let it be. This is a craft book and I don’t think the author meant anything but cultural appreciation.

  10. Book author: *blatantly simplifies, exotifies, and misrepresents multiple Asian cultures that are not her own that are commonly misrepresented, exotified, and simplified into one barely differentiated mass out of well meaning ignorance*

    Submitter: *points out this isn’t a good thing to do*

    Way too many of y’all: “You can’t even APPRECIATE other cultures these days? Well damn, I might as well HATE them! This wealthy, now old, out of touch comedian with a literal airplane hanger of expensive cars was right! We should just run roughshod over any culture we damn well please, even if we do ignorant crap in the process!”

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