Appreciation vs. Appropriation

While I have been collecting information to develop a research report, I’ve decided it makes more sense to construct a digital artefact in the form of a youtube video to convey the information and arguments I’ve collected and developed about musician activism through the medium of music videos.

This post will be focussing on representation of race and culture in music videos and the repercussions of the portrayal and application.

One of the biggest arguments circulating the internet at the moment is of cultural appropriation – be that a Kardashian braiding her hair or wearing a bindi at a festival, the list goes on. Cultural appropriation is the act of someone borrowing an element of a culture that does not belong to them. The more innocent minds of us may miss the point in thinking ‘it doesn’t harm the culture’ (p. 8, Rao P. V., Ziff B., 1997); a more appreciative outlook on the appropriated culture. The point in this argument, however, is the privileged people in power who are appropriating a culture without acknowledging the backstory and/or using their power to support the minority groups of that culture.

A recent video that has received backlash for cultural appropriation is Coldplay’s ‘Hymn For The Weekend‘ which features Beyoncé. This video actually goes two ways for this argument. From one point, it glorifies Indian culture throughout – mainly focussing on the slums and the people rather than the lavish architecture they could have used as location. Looking at the comments from viewers I found that people felt liberated and proud of their culture. The promotion and positive insight to this culture that the video garners provides enlightened outlook and aids in the removal of negative connotations.

From the other point, Beyoncé is targeted for appropriating the Indian culture with her stereotypical use of henna tattoos on her hands and traditional Desi clothing. This sort of appropriation begs the question; why wasn’t an Indian woman chosen for the role of Bey in this song?

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A still of Beyoncé from the film clip.

While Queen Bey was at the end of this pointed finger, her ongoing support of the black community throughout her work is unmatchable. She is nothing but meticulous in her practice and her recent reliance on video in her music pursuits has been no different. Creditable mention: Lemonade.

Artists will utilise their power to raise the issues of their own culture if they have seen first hand the inequalities, but it is always uplifting to see musicians who are unaffected yet still use their platforms to preach awareness. David Bowie’s music video for ‘Let’s Dance‘, for instance, directly addressed racism right here in Australia for Indigenous people back in the early 80’s. Bowie described Australia as ‘one of the most racially intolerant countries on the planet along with apartheid-era South Africa‘ (Wilson J., 2015). Ouch. Creating this music video allowed us to see what we looked like to outsiders which gave us an opportunity to change our ways in progress for equality between races in Australia.

 

Reference List:

Rao P. V., Ziff B. (1997) Borrowed Power: Essays on Cultural Appropriation, Rutgers University Press, USA.

Wilson J. (2015) David Bowie’s Antiracist ‘Let’s Dance’ Video Brought Outback To A Global Audience, Sydney Morning Herald Entertainment, accessed 1-5-2016, source.

9 thoughts on “Appreciation vs. Appropriation

  1. The further into this reading that I got, the more excited I got to watch your digital artifact! Once I read over the words ‘cultural appropriation’ my mind went directly to three specific videos (two which are actual films).
    1. Aloha (2015)- Emma stone was cast to play a Allison Ng, who was of Asian and Hawaiian heritage

    2. Ghost in the Shell (2017, currently in production)- Scarlett Johansson is cast to play Major Motoko Kusanagi (which is now being shorten to “the Major” for the upcoming film). This Buzzfeed article goes into more details about the significance and history of the film and why people are so upset (including me): https://www.buzzfeed.com/ryanhatesthis/we-need-to-talk-about-ghost-in-the-shell?utm_term=.kf0EeZaOD#.ixLQzjg60

    3. Wildest Dreams (2015)- Taylor Swift music video

    I know my first two examples don’t pertain to your particular interest of music videos, but I think they would be interesting to look into, especially Ghost in the Shell since it’s an upcoming film. But back to music videos! I remember reading about the backlash of “Hymn For The Weekend.” I myself have not watched the music video, but have seen many screenshots and comments about it. Like you had written, why wasn’t an Indian woman chosen for the role? Is it because Beyoncé is an A-list celebrity? An Indian woman wouldn’t help get the views? Ughhhh!!!!! It’s so frustrating to see this happening over and over again. I really don’t get it! Ok, mini rant over.
    This NPR article talks about cultural appropriation in pop music. They mention “Hymn For The Weekend.”
    http://www.npr.org/2016/02/07/465901864/cultural-appropriation-in-pop-music-when-are-artists-are-in-the-wrong

    I look forward to your further research and your digital artifact!

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  2. This is a little off topic of cultural appropriation, but rather wanting to refer to A-list celebrities utilsing their status and publicity to generate awareness for specific issues. It is great when this happens because with a huge following, they can really get a lot of people behind a cause. Leonardo DiCaprio for example, a huge actor, with 6.4 million instagram followers, deidicates this entire Instagram account towards creating awareness of environmental issues. Acting as a strong environmentalist, he documents his travels and progress of helping causes and organisations and regrams a lot of posts from other organisations and significant environmentalists and figures. He even utilises his Oscar’s speech after all this time to drawing attention to the filming of ‘The Revenant’ and how hard it was to find snow due to global warming, but I’m sure everyone has seen the speech. Which is exactly why it matters, everyone has seen it. Everyone has been busting to see him get an Oscar for ages, and there has been so many memes and jokes on social media, so when he won, everyone was watching and everyone got the message.

    Referring A-list status to cultural appropriation, it would seem more appropriate to use an Indian women in the scene rather than Beyonce, they are in a position where they should use real people to portray real people, it would appear more authentic and true to the culture. Although I have not done research or know why this might be the case, but they have the public power to show what a real person is; people get too caught up on the fabricated lives of the A-listers and it would really help if they helped bring people back down to Earth.

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  3. The use of appropriation in any music video is interesting – done well or not. Thankfully, Coldplay’s clip has done a terrific job. I believe the idea for filming this clip in India comes from the idea of utilising Beyonce as mystical, angel like figure (http://www.nme.com/blogs/nme-blogs/coldplays-beyonc-collaboration-hymn-for-the-weekend-is-their-least-coldplay-sounding-song-yet), and the vibrance and colour which India can be known for. Chris Martin has synaesthesia (http://www.nme.com/blogs/nme-blogs/coldplay-15-revelations-from-chris-martins-recent-interviews-ahead-of-a-head-full-of-dreams-release), and as a result, was trying to create an album which covered all spectrums of colour, making India an ideal location to showcase both colour, and it’s cultural history. Perhaps this culture comes off as more mystical because we don’t have the experience in that culture to understand it (http://isha.sadhguru.org/blog/lifestyle/indian-culture/), but with or without understanding, India is an amazing location to shoot (http://www.blackdogfilms.com/15396/interview-director-ben-mor-talks-coldplay-beyonce-and-the-making-of-hymn-for-the-weekend/). Director, Ben Mor acknowledges and utilised throughout the video; focusing not only on the musical icons singing, but also being sure to focus on the people and culture.
    If Coldplay had chosen to take a more western focus with similar themes, utilising the colour run, instead of india and links to the holi festival, I believe they would have received far more negative feedback for whitewashing indian culture (http://www.browngirlmagazine.com/2013/04/color-run-controversy/). Within our globally connected world, it becomes hard to know where it is and isn’t appropriate to learn more, embrace, and partake in traditions from other cultures, because we all borrow elements from each other.

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  4. Although I personally don’t engage in wearing the Native American headdress or Indian Bindi at festivals or purposely wear my hair in braids as an appropriate of African American culture, I did used to agree with the quote “ it doesn’t harm the culture” but then watching more videos and becoming more educated on the subject, my opinion has changed.

    People are ignorant to the roots and origins of cultures and think they are appropriating and ‘appreciating’ the culture but don’t actually understood what these things symbolise. For example if you truly understood that the Native American headdress were worn by males who had earned great respect in their tribe, were a symbol of warfare and a ceremonial totem (http://www.indians.org/articles/indian-headdress.html) then you wouldn’t dare touch due to the tradition surrounding them and that it is actually offensive to engage with it in a non-reverent manner.

    I still think that people can engage in cultural appropriation but in a respectful manner and that not all aspects of a culture need to be appropriated. Henna is something I have no problem with because it is meant to applied during times of celebration and joy and whilst difference designs have different meanings, you are engaging with the meaning and culture which it pertains (Henna dates back 5000 years ago and spans across multiple religions and cultures across Africa and Asia) (http://www.hennaheaven.co.uk/section347126.html) rather than treading on spiritual ground or something that possess deep intrinsic value to that cultures people.

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  5. First and foremost, props on the Beyoncè Lemonade mention. As a Bey fan myself, I actually wasn’t aware of her appearance in the Coldplay music video, and I’m really torn on my stance on the issue you brought about. Beyoncè is so infamous, especially after the Formation single release and the entire Lemonade release, for proclaiming her history as a black woman. She has pride in her identity and much of the black community applauds her for this. So it’s kind of weird to see an idol like that be criticised for cultural appropriation. I understand the criticism too – it’s one of my pet peeves to see white girls at music festivals with bindis on their foreheads. I guess this whole issue just brings up a discussion about whether or not cultural appropriation is ever or could ever be okay. You might be interested in this Questlove interview where he discusses cultural appropriation: http://time.com/3023337/questlove-interview-soundclash/

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  6. I found this to be a very interesting read. I think a big part of this murky debate is the notion of who is allowed to control a culture and a narrative. As I’m sure you’re no doubt already aware, white people have a history of controlling the narrative around other cultures and groups – sometimes it is abusive, sometimes it is merely misguided, and often the intent has no bearing on the outcome. I’m sure you’ve probably already seen this TED talk as I shared it in another class, but it immediately springs to mind here as a related issue: https://youtu.be/D9Ihs241zeg

    It’s interesting you bring up Lemonade because the reception to that album has been frought with it’s own variation on appropriation; one that I do think is fair and worthy of examination (ie the voice of white critique in the face of black art) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alex-brown/white-commentary-on-lemonade_b_9780056.html?

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  7. Cultural Appropriation is a grey area, the commercialisation of cultural artefacts and practices is wrong. The wearing of cultural objectives such as native headdresses or bindis trivialises and commercialises cultures that were destroyed (generally by the society who commercialise such objects), and as a result is disrespectful towards the people from them hold meaningful bonds with such objects. Thus Beyonce should have never associated herself with such acts. Beyond artefacts, we also have the commercialisation of practices. Recently AC Milan used the significant Haka through actors and digital platforms to promote their sponsor Nivea (Sygall, N. 2016) – In no way is this appropriate.

    Reference: Sygall, N. (2016) Backlash grows after AC Milan appropriate haka to promote sponsor Nivea ahead of Series A match, The Sydney Morning Herald

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  8. “Cultural appropriation is the act of someone borrowing an element of a culture that does not belong to them”. The emphasis here is on ownership of cultural elements – which becomes blurred viewed through the lens of multiculturalism and technology. In regards to Cybercultures, the ability to belong to any community and represent any culture has undermined the reverence of cultural history. Maisha Johnson, http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/06/cultural-appropriation-wrong/, sets up a different definition: cultural appropriation is a “power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group”. The emphasis here is on how the history of control between two cultures can inform an action, rather than the action itself. The process of taking existing cultural elements (e.g. narratives) and appropriating it for a new audience requires a transformation, which is what Audrey’s comment (above) exemplified. But the act of transforming (appropriating) a narrative brings into question: the reasons for appropriating cultures to produce understanding, and the ethics of ignoring existing source material. A response to both questions requires an awareness of how you respect and portray a culture to an audience. As Jennifer’s comment (above) suggests, respect can assist in the engagement of cultural appropriation by requiring an understanding of the “roots and origins of cultures”.

    Upon reflection, I reach three points. Firstly, Minh-Ha T. Pham, http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/05/cultural-appropriation-in-fashion-stop-talking-about-it/370826/, identifies that “many critiques of cultural appropriation proceeds as if there are only two places in the world: ‘Western capitalist institution’ and ‘slum’.” Therefore is it possible to remain aware of the historic actions between two cultures to appropriately engage in cultural appropriation. Secondly, instead of the focus on the ability to engage in cultural appropriation maybe “we should ask what is not able to be appropriated, and why.” And thirdly, Elysse’s comment (above) captures my initial struggle with this argument: “Within our globally connected world, it becomes hard to know where it is and isn’t appropriate to learn more, embrace, and partake in traditions from other cultures, because we all borrow elements from each other.”
    Strange tangent, but research into cultural appropriation and the global citizen landed me on an International Politics student from the UK that discusses the appropriateness of race-fluidity (https://louiseism.wordpress.com/2015/06/21/is-race-a-fluid-concept/comment-page-1/#comment-2). Its relevance is that she tries to define a criteria where it is and isn’t appropriate for someone to associate as another race. But I came away from her piece with the same three points I had with cultural appropriation.

    In response I propose the concept of a global citizen: a citizen that transcends geography or political borders. We should reconceptualise cultural appropriation as transculturation. Richard Rodgers “From Cultural Exchange to Transculturation: A Review and Reconceptualization of Cultural Appropriation” states in his introduction: “Transculturation posits culture as a relational phenomenon constituted by acts of appropriation, not an entity that merely participates in appropriation. Tensions exist between the need to challenge essentialism and the use of essentialist notions such as ownership and degradation to criticize the exploitation of colonized cultures.” (http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/rar/papers/RogersCT2006.pdf). There’s so much to explore within this topic, I couldn’t help spend a good hour feeding my curiosity. Thank you for sparking my curiosity, Amy.

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