When the East Appropriates the West
DB: Hey PopThirdWorld, I read your take on Coldplay/Rihanna’s ‘harmful’ appropriation of Eastern imagery in their Princess of China video. I was wondering what you think of Eastern appropriation of Western imagery?
PopThirdWorld: Generally speaking I am pro-appropriation. I like when Western artists appropriate Eastern artists’ work, and when Eastern artists appropriate Western artists’ work. It’s a great way for artists and their audiences to learn and experience other cultures! It makes global harmony that much closer!
Having said that, there are some times when appropriation is a bad thing. The clearest example is some cultures have bans on those outside their tribe/clan using their particular cultural symbols. For example, certain Australian Aboriginal tribes only allow members of their own tribe to use symbols in paintings or take part in certain rituals/dances. These limits should be respected.
For other cultural art forms without such direct rules in place, your question kind of ties in with the idea of reverse racism. Is a white person making a generalisation about a black person the same thing as when a black person makes a generalisation about a white person? I think both are problematic, but that the former is worse. To progress our society we are un-doing old prejudices/power dynamics. So when a white guy says something racist about black people, it is a generally more powerful person saying something about someone less powerful. And, whether intended or not, it helps keep entrenched these harmful old race-based power dynamics. Even if it’s a white low class tea-partier saying something racist about Obama, it is still trying to assert that those old power dynamics - that black people should be put in their place and shouldn’t reach such high office - should exist. This hinders the progress for all black people. This is the kinda thing that needs to be actively un-done.
So to bring it back to your question about whether it’s wrong for the East (generally, less powerful) to appropriate the West (generally, more poweful), it really depends on how they’ve appropriated it. It’s a case by case thing. The question we need to ask ourselves is: Is this appropriation entrenching ideas of this other culture that are damaging? Is it helping or hindering the process of un-doing troubling power dynamics/prejudices?
It’s really complicated. To go with the East and West thing you raise, it’s interesting how K-Pop has taken on Black American rap/hiphop culture. So in a sense you can say it’s one marginalised group appropriating another marginalised group (wait, maybe that’s a bit dumb. Being Korean isn’t marginal when you’re in Korea). There are some who find it terrible that K-Pop has gutted the ‘realness’/substance from hiphop and use the signifiers of that culture (rapper interludes, clothes etc) as a superficial way of adding edge. Other’s would say that when something like rap/hiphop culture goes mainstream it is unrealistic to try and insist on a ban on appropriation. Artforms are meant to evolve and be played with. That can’t be stopped and shouldn’t be stopped.
Lastly, a lot of pop culture is meant to just be fun. Some pop t might be hindering the grand process of un-doing old ideas, but that doesn’t mean it’s all bad. It’s a balancing act. For example, Kylie Minogue isn’t doing anything that great for feminism with her objectification of women etc. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t also amazing and talented in other ways. In my head, she loses 10 points for her lack of feminist credentials, and gains a million points for being so cool and fun and sweet and ahh I love her! So when I poo poo some elements of that Coldplay/Rihanna team up, or if I find something objectionable in K-Pop that doesn’t mean there isn’t a world of other stuff that could be said about those things that’s positive.
NOTE: The picture is of Jang Wooyoung, an attractive man that I guess kind of has something to do with this post.