Tag Archives: cultural appropriation
Soleil Ho has a nice critique in Bitch Magazine of some trends of cultural simplification and racism in food culture. I like her salty tone. She kicks off the discussion with the one directional consumption/service relationship of immigrant cultures reduced to food. Wondering what to reply when someone mentions to the author ‘Oh you’re Vietnamese, I love pho’:
What can one say in response? “Oh, you’re white? I love tuna salad!” It sounds ridiculous, mostly because no one cares if a second-generation immigrant likes American food. Rather, the burden of fluency with American culture puts a unique pressure on the immigrant kid. I paid attention during playdates with my childhood friends, when parents would serve pulled-pork sandwiches and coleslaw for lunch. (It took me a long time to understand the appeal of mayonnaise, which, as a non-cream, non-cheese, non-sauce, perplexed the hell out of me.) From watching my friends, I learned to put the coleslaw in the sandwich and sop the bread in the stray puddles of sauce in between bites. There’s a similar kind of self-checking that occurs when I take people out to Vietnamese restaurants: Through unsubtle side glances, they watch me for behavioral cues, noting how and if I use various condiments and garnishes so they can report back to their friends and family that they learned how to eat this food the “real way” from their real, live Vietnamese friend. Their desire to be true global citizens, eaters without borders, lies behind their studious gazes.
Ho seems insulted by the notion that you might be able to get at something essential or authentic in the culture by eating take-out food. She makes a strong argument here.
Like a plague of culture locusts, foodies, Chowhounders, and food writers flit from bibimbap to roti canai, fetishizing each dish as some adventure-in-a-bowl and using it as a springboard to make gross generalizations about a given culture’s “sense of family and community,” “lack of pretense,” “passion,” and “spirituality.” Eventually, a hole-in-the-wall reaches critical white-Instagrammer mass, and the swarm moves on to its next discovery, decrying the former fixation’s loss of authenticity. The foodies’ cultural cachet depends on being the only white American person in the room, braving inhumane spice levels and possible food poisoning in order to share with you the proper way to handle Ethiopian injera bread. But they can’t cash in on it unless they share their discoveries with someone else, thereby jeopardizing that sense of exclusivity. Thus, happiness tends to elude the cultural foodie.
She is particularly good at pointing out the harms of reducing a culture to food.
Over time, you grow to associate nationalities with the quaint little restaurants that you used to frequent, before they were demolished and replaced with soulless, Americanized joints. You look at a map of the world and point a finger to Mongolia. “Really good barbecue.” El Salvador. “Mmm, pupusas.” Vietnam. “I love pho!\” When you divorce a food from its place and time, you can ignore global civil unrest and natural disasters (see: Zagat declaring Pinoy cuisine the “next great Asian food trend” this past fall as deadly floods swept through the Philippines), knowing as you do that the world’s cultural products will always find safe harbor in your precious, precious mouth.
Hip hop syncretism — the aggressive combinations of sounds and players from many cultures. Here visible in the nice B+ film — Brasilintime w/ a cadre of great drummers and DJs. It includes:
–> One of the best examples of cultures appropriating culture ad infinitum when Jay Rocc cuts up “Apache.”
–> The Brazilian parallel with “Comanche!”
–> Not enough Nelson Triunfo.
–> Babu’s scratch session which seems the most inspired and flexible — connected to the music.
–> Paul Humphrey and Ivan “Mamao” Conti seem to jam exceptionally well together.
–> The inspired chaos of the polyrhythms made when six drummers get down and DJs cut on top of each other is a little much at times. Maybe my ears aren’t big enough . . .
–> The graphics seem excessive in the first half.
–> Hip Hop’s version of the colonial lens includes shopping for rare records in the field. American learning is commensurate with getting a bargain or getting something that other people can’t as easily get. In this case we get Paul Humphrey, Derf Reklaw and James Gadson shopping for out-of-the-ordinary percussion instruments and Cut Chemist, Egon, Madlib, Jay Rocc, and Babu shopping for records.
In some ways we can call this syncretism — where distinct cultures inform each other – exchanging language, food and music. The nod to difference that comes when the American DJs and drummers acknowledge they don’t know something about Brazilian music is matched by the assumption that they can buy and lift chunks of that music for western audiences.
I don’t have any problem with people traveling to other nations — there is something funky about this particular narrative — hunting for nuggets of music seems so crass at points. Like Egon getting the group price for all the records the crew was buying.
I dislike it when the specifics of the culture blend into the background and I like the moments of the film where the details pop out. The interviews with Brazilian drummers make this film (despite my linguistic inabilities to get chunks). I’ll probably mark some cue points in the video and chop it up — take the parts that I like and leave the rest on the digital scrap heap.
I had been thinking about posting about the Harlem shake meme videos — I was going to talk about the Waka Flocka Flame effect of enjoying music that makes you dance and have fun — considering the bodily invitation of Baauer’s nice tune. I was thinking about mapping how many ways we are constrained in movement and how nice that these videos offered a chance to have fun and simply go dumb (Rest In Power Mac Dre).
But of course, the reason why people feel so seemingly liberated is that there is a script to follow — the dances are mapped quite carefully. Check a couple of the internet meme videos and you’ll see the similarity in the costumes, poses, the points in the song where people are ‘allowed to dance,’ the invitation to unique foolishness is certainly there — but it is a copy of a copy of a copy. . . .
And in that copying is the insult for people who live in Harlem. The mockery and lack of respect for an actual dance form is central for many of the folks interviewed. I bet most of the people who are in Harlem shake videos would respond by saying: ‘I didn’t know about the history and the ties to the location.”
Which is precisely the difficulty with internet meme videos — the absolute disconnection from context at precisely the time that we are inundated with thousands of replications of the image, each one loving re-embraced by the local players who perhaps (put new text around a much loved image) or (prepare to do the Harlem shake with their buddies arguing over ‘who get’s to wear the mask?’). In most cases, the internet teaches us that what was once singularly owned or identified can be swept into the internet-o-sphere and assimilated, free of context or culture to become a clever short-term joke.
Thanks to Okayplayer who had the best coverage on this subject including a how-to on a slightly more authentic Harlem Shake.
I’m getting prepared to DJ the roller derby bout today. Thinking about sports-music — the stuff that gets the crowd pumped. A number of quirky tunes came up in my searches, including this catchy number:
But it reminded me of the Das Racist tune which I might just play.
The Das Racist video was created by the brilliant Dallas Penn by the way.
Nike’s new shoe, the Black and Tan, has been released presumably to take advantage of St. Patrick’s day drinking/marketing opportunities. Whoops. Turns out that the Black and Tan is a sour brand in Ireland because of the hated military/police group which murdered and terrorized civilians during the early twenties.
The Black and Tans were a colonial army recruited from England ostensibly to police the people of Ireland. The lack of oversight and genuine racism in the face of a guerrilla uprising led to a terrible disdain for civilians. The roughshod police force (their name is a reference to the haphazard uniforms of the unit) was almost 7-10,000 strong and recruited from former World War I veterans.
In retaliation for attacks on police forces, the Black and Tans attacked civilians, burned homes and businesses and in one case refused an entire village food. Consider the documentary The Burning of Cork.
The Nike marketing error is evidence of the smooth appropriation transforming actual Irish history into a bizarre tourist narrative emphasizing drinking, leprechauns, and Irish-affiliated brands. These tourist realities corrode against the actual history of Sinn Fein, Home Rule, and the bodily struggles associated with Irish Nationalism.
The assumption of Nike, that their party, party, party language was the universal meaning points to a kind of linguistic arrogance. NPR’s Melissa Block and Robert Siegel interviewed Brian Boyd of the Irish Times on the Nike apology.
BLOCK: Now, Nike has released a statement saying: We apologize, no offense was intended. At the same time, Nike says the sneaker has been, quote, unofficially named by some as the Black and Tan.
SIEGEL: That said, if you look inside the shoe – as we have done with online photos – you see an image of a pint of beer with two colors, black and tan.
BLOCK: Brian Boyd of The Irish Times has reported on some outrage over the shoe. But really, he says, it’s not about a shoe. It’s about a holiday.
BOYD: It’s how the Americans view Saint Patrick’s Day and view Irish culture and history. And it’s the very fact that some people are saying that these are beer-themed sneakers, that the only way to celebrate a national holiday of a country with a very rich culture and a very rich history and literature, et cetera, is to pour massive amounts of alcohol down your body.
It’s how the American treat St. Patrick’s Day. So we’re using this story to say, look, it’s the silly Americans, stupid Americans, look what they’re doing again. They’ve got it all wrong.
Who is buying the cultural hijack this season? Here are four excerpts from my buddy Zack’s reflection on cheesy selling of Native American identity.
Seeing as how this week is that special time of the year when Americans young and old come together in order to collectively indulge in enough food, mirth, and myth to sanitize the brutal genocide upon which America country was founded, I thought it would be nice to provide some shopping advice for this Friday’s consume-a-thon, and to pay tribute to the corporate tribe that has been gracious enough to supply the world with Eskimo Redneck Ice Chisels and 50 round rifle magazines.
Who calls it colonialism? I just see some king-of-the-hill type wisdom.
Contrary to the logic of sane people, the British arbitrarily decided that this vast expanse of land was ‘theirs’, since the ancient law of man asserts the right for pigmentally-challenged people to claim anything and everything as their own private property, as long as they arrive at said destination by boat (FACT: Even today, if a white guy can technically sail a boat right up to your house and dismount on your property, then it’s totally his for the taking.)
And of course the real question about shopping is WHAT DOES IT SAY ABOUT ME?
Whether seen as a tools, weapons, or tweapons gifted directly from the Great Spirit to the neoprene’d hands of man, there are three models from which consumers can choose, including the Stone Club (pictured above), which is the ideal choice for (a) those wishing to add masculine nuance to their existing ‘Indians-were-majestic-but-I’m-not-giving-back-this-mountain’ chalet decor, or perhaps (b) the smaller niche market shopper who simply wants to add Blunt Force Trauma to his or her resume.
Selling the certificate-to-justify-genocide along with the offensive weapons — capitalism at the most savvy!
This item is also “100% Navajo-crafted with a certificate of authenticity,” and this means that you’re actually getting a second guarantee for free, which is Cabela’s certificate of assurance that, if necessary, any critique of their gross commodification of Native history can be deflected with the proverbial Navaho human shield whose name appears on the certificate.