Actual Ethnic Person Expresses Disgust

A hundred years ago, writers and film makers in the West could just say ”poorly known ethnic group X is scary and evil”. Tolkien used his invented goblins and orcs for the same purpose. Thankfully this is considered hate speech today. But it seems that some stories still need tribes of exotic villains. So a new trope has emerged that I like to call ”Actual Ethnic Person Expresses Disgust”.

The Tcho-tcho people were first described in a 1932 story by August Derleth and Mark Shorer, “Lair of the Star Spawn”. They are a race of evil Burmese pygmies. Derleth & Shorer did not make up this fictitious ethnic group out of any concern that peaceful Burmese tribespeople in the real world would read the story and be offended. More likely they had no idea what any real tribe in Myanmar was named. The nasty Tcho-tcho then proved tenacious: they have recurred through the decades in many stories by other writers, notably Lin Carter and T.E.D. Klein.

By the 1990s it became clear that an Actual Ethnic Person had to come in and Express Disgust if the Tcho-tcho people were to remain useful to horror writers. In the 1997 modern-day supplement Delta Green for the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game, Dennis Detwiller et al. explained that though the Tcho-tcho themselves are indeed scary evil pseudo-humans from south-east Asia, everybody else in that part of the world absolutely hates them. In scenarios in the 2018 collection A Night At The Opera, which myself and my RPG group have been enjoying for months now, Shane Ivey and Greg Stoltze specify that the Chinese, the Vietnamese, the Burmese and the Thai loathe the Tcho-tcho. In Stoltze’s neatly structured and unusual scenario “The Star Chamber”, a woman who keeps a bar in a remote multi-ethnic Myanmar village informs the player characters that the Tcho-tcho are terrible monsters — even though a number of them live in that same village.

A really clear recent example of this trope from the screen is found in the fine 2015 horror Western Bone Tomahawk. Here the scary evil people are a race of mute murderous male cave-dwelling cannibals who treat their own women with horrifying cruelty. But they do seem to have been living in that cave for a very long time. And this, the script writer realised, technically makes them Native Americans, which is not good. So there’s a scene in the movie where an Apache man (played by Zahn McClarnon) comments on them and says that the troglodytes are nasty and evil and absolutely not Native Americans. (Even though several of them are played by Native American actors!) The Apache character serves no other purpose in the narrative and is never seen again. Even in our own more enlightened time, once an Actual Ethnic Person has Expressed Disgust, we are free to enjoy the fight against the scary evil people / orcs as if it was 1932.

For a solid summary of Tcho-tcho lore in fiction and RPG materials with references to the literature, see Daniel Harms, The Encyclopedia Cthulhiana. I have the 1998 2nd edition.


Author: Martin R

Dr. Martin Rundkvist is a Swedish archaeologist, journal editor, skeptic, atheist, lefty liberal, bookworm, boardgamer, geocacher and father of two.

14 thoughts on “Actual Ethnic Person Expresses Disgust”

  1. I can’t recall seeing this trope myself, but this century there is more and more concern about the whole idea of a “bad guy / evil race / species / tribe”, thus Ken Hite’s suggestion that if you need goons for the good guys to gleefully terminate use Nazis.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. If you want to hear a caucasian person express disgust with Europeans/Americans it would help to listen to John Lydon.


  3. I’ve seen this in a few books, though I can’t cite anything right now. I’ve also seen authors use invidious stereotypes and just throw in a line that “Most whatevers aren’t like that at all.”. Using the invidious stereotype makes the story telling easier while offering a level of deniabilty, “I did say most whatevers aren’t like that.” It’s lazy storytelling, but sometimes you just want a lazy read. There’s a reason we have genres.

    It’s a problem authors have to deal with if they want a nasty enemy as a major element of their narrative. At various times, Europeans used Huns, then Mongols, then Turks, and when Huns, Mongols and Turks were on the warpath and fresh in people’s memories, this worked out well. It doesn’t work as well now with Huns likely settled as Hungarians, Mongols noted for bitcoin mining and Turkey the eastern flank of NATO. That’s why science fiction and fantasy are so popular. You can draw your own map populate it with your own races and nationalities complete with all the invidious stereotypes you please.

    One of problems addressed by the Kabbalah was where God created the universe if God was everywhere. Their answer, which has to be speculative, is that God took a deep breath, tsimtsum, and evacuated a place where he could create the universe, something omitted from the official record. For centuries, if you were European, you could set your stories in Africa and make up whatever nonsense let your narrative roll. (Presumably, storytellers in Africa returned the favor and populated Europe with all sorts of fantastic peoples.) It’s harder to do that nowadays because someone will pipe up, “That’s nonsense. When I was in Accra, the big thing was cell phones with multiple SIM cards and badly dubbed videos out of Nollywood.”


    My favorite variant on this was Arens’ book The Man-Eating Myth which argued that there were never any cannibals. Eating other people was just an expression of outrage that peoples all over the world hurled at other peoples they didn’t like. It was a pretty clever hypothesis except that there are a good number of documented cases of cultural cannibalism complete with first person descriptions and forensic evidence.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Huns likely settled as Hungarians” – No. Genetically Hungarians are no different to other Europeans, they just retain the language of conquerors who have vanished.


      1. I remember reading somewhere else that the genetical makeup of the population of England didn’t change much due to the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, Normans, etc. The fact that one can relatively easy recognize people, especially children, as English seems to confirm this. Also, considering how fast the Normans went from speaking Old Norse to French, probably most of them were not genetically Viking.

        I think that modern-day Turks and Greeks are genetically essentially the same, but most of them don’t want to hear that. I know someone who used to go to a Greek restaurant and order a Turkish coffee.


      2. It depends where in England. Ango-Saxon ancestry is highest in Essex, where it hits around 70%. It is a lot lower in the west, and is virtually non-existent in Wales, which figures because getting into Wales was really difficult, and it was a bloody awful place when they got there. Danish ancestry is clearly detectable in the northern midlands.

        The Normans are totally undetectable – so few Normans moved to live permanently in England, and they so enthusiastically fucked the natives, that they have not left any detectable genetic signature. You have to get it from the names (like Massey) and the Y DNA. Why am I so confident about Massey being a Norman name? Because there are several (small) places/areas or even just a small church with a village green called Massey in Normandy. And Hugue de Massey (or de Mascey – they weren’t fussy about spelling in those days) was one of the Companions of King William when William invaded England in 1066, and was rewarded with land in Cheshire. Now, Cheshire is absolutely crawling with Masseys. My paternal great grandfather came from a village in Cheshire, and he migrated to Australia. Yeah, he was a really important guy – he was a brick maker. He made bricks, for fuck’s sake.

        The good old Normans – within the space of a few hundred years, they had fucked themselves out of existence as a distinct ethnic group by invading other countries and screwing the natives like crazy. So what did I do? Yeah, I invaded China and…

        Liked by 1 person

      3. You mean that in order to stay visible in modern genetics, the Normans should have brought their sisters across and married inside their group?


      4. Well, they should have married women from Normandy, at least, although by that time they were already mixed Norse/French. But it would ultimately have been a bad strategy, because there were just not enough of them. You either remain visible as a distinct genetic group and rapidly become inbred, or you marry the natives wherever you go and you have healthy kids, but they are just no longer what you are genetically. I opted for healthy child.

        Most of the invasion force that survived the Battle of Hastings returned to Normandy after the country was pacified (which actually took a few years, including William’s ‘harrying of the north’ which sounds like it was pretty horrendous). Of those Normans who stayed in England, and some others who migrated in after the conquest, the first generation or so took Norman women as wives. But after one or two generations they just intermarried with local English women. And they continued that pattern everywhere they invaded.

        Robert the Bruce, king of Scotland, was actually Robert de Bruis, of Norman ancestry.

        It really all started when the Norseman Rollo settled in Normandy, having helped himself to it and with the French king too scared to try to stop him. Within a fairly short time, the Norse in Normandy had married local French women, began speaking Old French and adopted French customs. And became Christians – forgot that bit.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. My youth was filled with books like this, which I devoured:

        That has been classified as a ‘children’s book’, when it is actually full of blood-curdling stuff. Maybe the classification is intended to be camouflage, to avoid the book being scrubbed from history.

        Ion L. ‘Jack’ Idriess was a vastly experienced bushman who based his semi-fictional works on real occurrences. The Torres Strait Islanders and Coral Sea Islanders went straight from head hunting and cannibalism to overly enthusiastic Christianity. You could never get away with publishing books with such titles today. Horrie the Wog-dog – a ‘wog’ was an Arab. Try re-publishing that. But he recorded a wealth of cultural observations about the Aboriginal people and Melanesians that no one else made note of. He was actually more of a journalist than a writer of fiction, and some of his works deserve to be classified as anthropology as much as anything else.

        He also managed the feat of serving in the Australian infantry overseas in both world wars. At the request of the military, he wrote instructional works for Australian guerrilla fighters during WWII. During WWI he was at Gallipoli and served as a ‘spotter’ for the prolific half-Chinese sniper Billy Chin (nicknamed ‘the murderer’ because he killed so many Turkish soldiers). Billy Chin was a big hero during the war, but was instantly forgotten and exceeded afterwards.

        The closest I ever got was I met an Aboriginal girl whose grandfather was featured in Idriess’ book Forty Fathoms Deep about Western Australia’s pearl diving industry. She was cute and I liked her, but she worried me the way that she would down a very expensive cocktail in one gulp and then say “What can I have now?”

        Idriess deserves a great deal more recognition in Australia than he has had, particularly as he always wrote with great respect about Aboriginal people. I would give anything to have a full collection of his writing now. He wasn’t actually disrespectful of the ‘headhunters’ either, he just made them sound terrifying, which no doubt they were.

        My other big thing when I was a kid was big game hunting, especially of ‘man eaters’, and I devoured all of Jim Corbett’s books, which were all factual. That led into a broader interest in animals generally. I was sure I wanted to be a zoologist, until I found out that if you had a PhD from the right university and had the right contacts you might be lucky enough to get a job cleaning the shit out of the animal enclosures at the local zoo for lousy pay. It is thanks to Corbett that I still have a morbid fear of large predatory animals. It doesn’t stop me from reading about them.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. There is a big difference between exo-and endocannibalism, but you all know that.
    The writers of the old books probably did not know sh*t beyond rumors.
    As for the orchs, they were just being pragmatic.


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