Xper explains why the controversy over the book is so complicated

Carl May’s novelist Winito has caused a heated debate about racism and cultural appropriation.Photo: Leonen Studios/Mark Rayman

an interview

Evelyn Paul

The controversy over “Young Boss Winito” based on the trappings of Karl May is in full swing. The accusation: The depiction of indigenous culture in the book and film is racist, and the portrayal of the characters is tainted with clichés and is a matter of cultural appropriation.

In the meantime, the critically oriented criticism crystallized in public. For example, professor of ethnology Susanne Schrotter of Goethe University in Frankfurt told the Zeit Online portal:

“People have always adopted things from others that they have thought useful. In short, all of human history is a history of cultural appropriations, without which there would be no development.”

“The debate shows that we are in a very contradictory social evolution.”

Art teacher Andreas Bren

Watson spoke to Carl May expert Andreas Breen about the extent of racial stereotypes that can be found in the character of Winito.

Andreas Brin is Professor of Art Education and Art Education at the University of Potsdam.

Andreas Brin is Professor of Art Education and Art Education at the University of Potsdam.Photo: Andreas Bren

Watson: Mr. Breen, how important or valid are these discussions of racism and cultural appropriation in the context of films and books?

Andreas Brin: I think this discussion shows that we are in a very contradictory social evolution. On the one hand, we live in an open society characterized by a great deal of freedom and ample opportunities for participation. On the other hand, we have set high ethical standards that want to ensure that each person can develop according to their preferences without discrimination. Each person should be given a position to speak with as little resentment as possible. This creates a tension that is not easy to resolve socially – freedom of expression and the right to universal rights, as well as the right to non-discriminatory acceptance. As a result, polarization arises.

Does guilt over the colonial past manifest itself in the entire debate?

There is, of course, the claim to decolonize your culture. The complex tradition of a European state is never without these claims to hegemony, which are mostly based on history and find expression in a particular culture. It is important to take a critical look at this culture.

“What is defined today as colonial is actually a confrontation with the foreigner in the realm of adventures and romantic characters.”

On the other hand, this focus is problematic from the perspective of justice theory, because it looks at the past from a present perspective. This is evident in the debate over a children’s book that would have been potentially undisputed twenty years ago. What is defined today as colonialism is actually an encounter with the alien in a world of adventures and romantic characters.

“Assignment in a negative sense would be a transcendental behavior that avoids dialogue.”

How do you see the accusation of cultural appropriation?

If one describes the process of cultural appropriation in a neutral way, the term cultural development seems more appropriate to me. Because dealing with a culture that has not been identified as an individual’s culture implies a translation process. In Western culture, this is manifested, for example, in the fact that Roman culture to some extent appropriated and revalued Greek culture.

Karl May's flea market releases: Old pork full of clichés, isn't it up to date anymore?  Or a timeless novel that arouses interest in foreign cultures?

Karl May’s flea market releases: Old pork full of clichés, isn’t it up to date anymore? Or a timeless novel that arouses interest in foreign cultures?Photo: imago / Steinach

On the other hand, personalization in the negative sense would be a transcendental behavior that avoids dialogue, selectively chooses objects and practices, reframes their context and makes them usable for value creation. Views on the theory of justice play only a superficial role. Appropriation actually means cultural development which finds new forms through confrontation with phenomena recognized as not its own.

“Culture is a radical organization, forming an endless network like mushrooms without any centres.”

What is the contemporary example of this?

A well-known example is the whole of American pop culture, which is based on the “mutual appropriation” of different traditions in a new territory. It combines cultural elements of Afro-American culture with the cultures of various immigrant groups from Europe, as well as traditions from the African, Caribbean, and Central and South American regions. Cultural hybrids, such as the Tex-Mex culture, appear in the border area between Texas and Mexico.

So cultural appropriation can also be a positive?

exactly. There is a post-structuralist figure in the thought behind it, which says that the core culture is fiction. I also think that the idea of ​​a single, unalterable indigenous culture is fundamentally wrong. This translates to the “distortion of indigenous culture” which is understood as fundamental. This is not true, because the indigenous cultures of the USA today are constantly evolving.

“The image of the ‘Indian’ coined by Karl May is racist insofar as it is practically made into an eternal sanctuary.”

What would such a case be?

The best example is the plains Indian cultures of the Lakota or Cheyenne, which arose through interaction with the invaders and the horse culture they introduced. their hermetics (He pointed out. Red: the isolation of the original culture) has racist connotations, as well as the idea of ​​”Indians” as “noble savages” living in harmony with nature. Cultural developments are always gray, not black and white. Culture is a dynamic process without a center. This idea is related to Gilles Deleuze’s philosophical concept of culture, according to which culture is built on a root foundation, like a mushroom that forms an infinite network without any centers.

But the vulgar romantic portrait of heroic Indian leader Winito deserves criticism too, right?

Due to the popularity of Karl May’s stories, interest in the indigenous cultures of Germany is of great importance. This resulted in a very positive image of the “Indian”, not knowing that this had more to do with projecting one’s thoughts than with ethnographic knowledge. This is racist insofar as the “Indian” is practically turned into an eternal sanctuary, presented as an organically healthy human being living with nature. This idea is related to the character of Winnetou, who reveals new life in the current children’s movie. You cannot justifiably deny it or criticize it.


‘Der Ölprinz’ performance at Karl May 2022 Festival in Bad Segeberg: Too many cliches?Photo: imago images / FuturexImage

“It’s about seeing. Indigenous representatives consider it valuable, especially when it develops into a confrontation with reality.”

However, you defend the work and influence of Karl May…

You have to keep saying it’s all about vision. And indigenous representatives consider it valuable, especially when it develops into a confrontation with reality.

Regardless of the cultural context, Karl May’s stories tend to be very dense and complex, and also contain all kinds of interesting themes beyond what is now outdated. For example, the question of identity, the question of the basic human ability to be at peace.

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