December 1, 2013

"Is it ever OK to borrow from other cultures?"

"The biggest issue with cultural appropriation is that it belittles the origin culture, in a way that trivializes an entire way of life, turning it into an accessory. If you are a sensitive and respectful individual, the only time it is OK, is with permission or authorization by the origin culture."

From a set a questions and answers about "cultural appropriation," provided on the occasion of Katy Perry's TV-awards-show performance cartoonishly mixing elements of Japanese and Chinese culture.

So — assuming those involved are sensitive and respectful individuals — who must get permission/authorization from what origin culture when the trope is Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot or Samurai Cowboy?

Consider the possibility that the "origin culture" is the United States.  Because the name of the culture is pop.

Another part of United States culture is free speech, and no, rest of the world, you don't have to ask our permission or authorization — and you don't even have to be a sensitive and respectful individual — to appropriate our culture, the culture called pop.

SNL: J-Pop American Funtime Now! from Antoine G on Vimeo.


Bob R said...

I love how culture Nazis assume that a culture can collectively give permission.

ddh said...

All cultures "appropriate," everywhere, everything--from language to food to clothing and tools. It's not always polite, but no one gives or receives permission.

The Huff Puff author doesn't know it, but she is advocating apartheid in the name of political correctness. (I am sorry that I couldn't find elderly Afrikaner theoreticians of apartheid this morning to see if they are offended.)

rhhardin said...

It's cultural Galambosianism.

dbp said...

"... the only time it is OK, is with permission or authorization by the origin culture."""

How does one go about getting permission from a culture?

madAsHell said...

All your base are belong to us.

It's a problem with the translation.

ddh said...

For what it's worth, educated Afrikaner advocates of apartheid would go on about the need for respect for Bantu culture and keeping tribal peoples pure from White cultures. It was stuff and nonsense then, and stuff and nonsense now.

Paco Wové said...

Our newest entrant in the Butthurt Victimization Sweepstakes.

Jim said...

He'll, we even put the damn concept in our national motto," e pluribus unnumbered," bitchez. Now sod off, if I may appropriate British slang. If not then F off.

St. George said...

Tell that to Willie Dixon and the other black artists that Jimmy Page and Robert Plant shamelessly ripped off. And Jagger owes James Brown something for comically imitating his dance steps.

Shouting Thomas said...

These campaigns against heresy seem to be on the verge of proclaiming their allegiance with the most fanatical fundamentalist Christians... it's a sin to sing and dance because the devil takes possession of one's spirit.

To pretend to be something other than what you are is a sin!

SGT Ted said...

The opening statement gives the game away.

They seek to control other peoples expression via mob rule, by granting an unearned authority to the self-appointed "representatives" of the favored cultures.

Yet another leftwing power play of "Heads I win, tails you lose." bullshit

Shouting Thomas said...

The profession of acting was once thought to be inherently sinful.

Given the sexual morals (and lack thereof) among actors I've known, this is probably not far off the mark.

How long before acting itself is proclaimed to be immoral because it involves pretending to be other?

Hello Puritans!

SGT Ted said...


"All you non-whites need to take those American Baseball caps off if you aren't going to wear them right. Same with your pants. Those 2 items are from Western white culture. You are being insensitive and disrespectful to MY culture when you wear them incorrectly.

Don't even get me started on how they wear Western Culture style jewelry."

Yea, the original argument is calling for us to act just like that.

TMink said...

Culture is viral. For good and for ill.


jr565 said...

One of the most ridiculous arguments in hte history of ridiculous arguments. once art makes its way out into the mainstream it becomes universal. And anyone can appropriate it.
So white people can rap, and black people can play guitar, and people who aren't Chinese can cook Chinese.etc etc etc.

Where would you get permission to use culture anyway? Aho are the spokesman for said culture and who gave them such authority.

jr565 said...

St George wrote:
Tell that to Willie Dixon and the other black artists that Jimmy Page and Robert Plant shamelessly ripped off. And Jagger owes James Brown something for comically imitating his dance steps.

they would only owe Willie Dixon if they used his songs and didnt pay for said usage. But for using blues as a reference? Nah.

jr565 said...

Note when I said "once art makes its way out into the mainstream it becomes universal. And anyone can appropriate it." I meant the style or the genre.

But not the songs themselves unless they get permission from the artists.

Paco Wové said...

"they would only owe Willie Dixon if they used his songs and didnt pay for said usage"

Try googling "led zepplin lawsuit" and feast your eyes on the results.

R.B. Glennie said...

I wonder, how does one `get permission of the appropriating culture' before `cultural appropriation' can be permitted?

Does the appropriator write to each and every member of the culture in question for such permission, and then wait for their replies in turn?

Or will permission of the particular ambassador of that culture's representative country be adequate.

This so-called `debate' about `cultural appropriation' is to put it politely, idiotic. Every single culture in the world is an amalgam of at least two cultures - often many more.

jr565 said...

If she wants, then lets not let any blacks do Shakespeare, unless they play Othello and only Othello.
Sorry, blacks, speaking in rhyming couplets is a non black thing so you can't do it.
Who made the piano by the way? Was he a black guy? Then blacks can't use them. Sorry Ray Charles. No piano lessons for you.
Hey Jimi, did a black guy create a guitar? Then why do you think you should be able to play it?
Which sports weren't created by blacks? Don't play those sports blacks.
Did a black person design the three piece suit? Well then no suits for Obama. He should have to come up with an alternative to a suit that was created by blacks.

But wait, he's mixed race. Does that mean he can appropriate some,stuff but at only half strength? ie he can play acoustic guitars, but not electric?
The whole argument is wholly a lefty argument based on political identity politics.

Balfegor said...

The fact that the people engaging in this "cultural appropriation" are popular pop stars, while the people complaining about it are internet ankle-biters leaves me with the impression that this is kind of a non-issue. Just as the Japanese (and, I assume, the Chinese) don't have any compunction about "appropriating" (and mocking) foreign cultures, I don't see why we should -- that's actually a major driver of innovation all around. Japonisme was a big thing in 19th century art.

That said, though, the earnest "respectful" people are the ones who really irritate me. You know the sort -- the simpering student-types who are very in to foreign cultures and ethnic food and anti-imperialism but don't actually know anything at all about any foreign cultures, or even speak any foreign languages. Also New Agers.

Bob Boyd said...

I got a idea!
Say I wanna wear my lederhosen today, but I don't exactly have permission from the Bavarians.

What if the government built a website where people like me could quickly go online and apply for a cultural element appropriation permit.
That would make things a lot easier wouldn't it?

Balfegor said...

Also, on the specific subject of Katy Perry and her kimono/geisha get-up, this is totally an American hang-up. Some excerpts:


Although many of her Japanese fans voiced delight at such a performance, there were repeated criticisms from foreign media and viewers of the awards ceremony that "it was too discriminatory."


This is -- Japanese don't have a problem with this but SOMEBODY is just whining on his own that this is dicrimination, right . . . even though from a Japanese perspective, all one would think is that's a lewd/low-class kimono . . .


What's racially discriminatory?
It's the same with Calpis's black people talk, but saying that using expressions from coloured races is discriminatory is white peoples' luxury.


Why the fuck is this discrimination?
Whether it's Japan or China or a half-assed mix, it's all good.
It's just a performance for fuck's sake.


Come to think of it, is this kind of bashing really going on?


You could say it was mistaken or rather, that when a Westerner wears Japanese dress for a performance, of course it will feel odd
But it's not like there's a negative image of Japan, so I wonder where "discrimination" is coming from.

Hammond X Gritzkofe said...

Now yr talkin'!

I've lived for decades in Texas, several years a literal stone's throw from the border.

Always, when we go to a restaurant on this side advertising "Authentic Mexican Cuisine" we demand first to see both their "Certificate of Authentication" and their "Permission of Appropriation."

Michael said...

Borrow? What about steal? As you know, the ancient Greeks stole their ideas from the Africans who were left with no ideas at all.

madAsHell said...

Try googling "led zepplin lawsuit" and feast your eyes on the results.

How will the courts handle rap music?
....cuz all that stuff sounds the same.

St. George said...

And, of course, Michael, the Africans did have enough ideas left over for Picasso to rape them.

YoungHegelian said...

The awful truth about cultural appropriation.

Eugene said...

As Peter Payne (his wife is Japanese and he lives in Japan) points out, it's not Japanese who are typically offended by such things:

Once I was watching an episode of Alias with my wife, and there was a horrid scene in which some female spy went to "Japan" (which appeared to be shot in a sushi restaurant about ten minutes from West Hollywood), painted her face white like a "geisha" and proceeded to extract information from her target despite not knowing his language. I was livid that in the 21st century TV producers couldn't even come close to getting basic imagery right, but my wife was enthralled with it, laughing at each new hilarious plot twist. (She also giggled at the scene in Firefly when Inara washes herself out of a Japanese-looking bucket, which is a sushi-oke or sushi serving tray, something you'd never put soap or water in.) Some movies are obvious parodies of Japan, like Kill Bill, and viewers understand this and adjust their perspective. But when ridiculous versions of Tokyo are served up to viewers in a serious way, with Chinese or Koreans playing Japanese to boot, it kind of gets my gaijin dander up.

William said...

The worst fate is to have a culture that no one even tries to rip off. Who wants to be a Somali and chew khat? I bet their food sucks too.

Mary Beth said...

Respectful, like Pon Pon Pon?

Trashhauler said...

God, that's irritating.

Trashhauler said...

God, that's irritating.

Freeman Hunt said...

Oversensitivity is very American. This is likely because we have not yet granted permission for anyone else to use it.

Freeman Hunt said...

It's funny to be culturally oversensitive about Japan of all places. Oversensitivity on behalf of other cultures is not so much of an issue there.

FullMoon said...

I am a simple man .I really liked that Katy Perry thing.
As for appropriating culture, America is every culture, so fuck you ( you know who you are)

n.n said...

So, imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery? In that case, we should do the exact opposite of every other society. Perhaps we should also follow the Dodo, in order to avoid stepping on anyone's feet, paws, claws, etc.

Joe said...

Anyone else see the irony that the author wrote in English, a language that was pretty much appropriated from elsewhere. And, as pointed out, lives in America which is almost nothing but culture appropriated, and we are all richer for it.

geokstr said...

Finally, a logical, rational argument for why certain cultures drop out of school, forego delaying gratification, don't try to have fathers stay in the family, won't learn to speak proper English, etc, ad nauseum.

You see, they were actually just respecting Caucasian culture. I feel so much better now.

Anglelyne said...

Eugene: But when ridiculous versions of Tokyo are served up to viewers in a serious way, with Chinese or Koreans playing Japanese to boot, it kind of gets my gaijin dander up.

I dunno, Eugene. I've always cracked up at old Hollywood movies where anybody vaguely "exotic" would be cast to play any kind of Asian, North, Southeast, or even South. I think my fave was the one where a strapping Israeli beauty was cast as a Malay. (Hey, they both have black hair and dark eyes, right?) But having lived and worked in Asia, where I was often honestly confused with any other European woman around, who (by my lights) looked absolutely nothing like me, including wildly different hair colors (as in, blondes or redheads, when my own hair is black), I came to realize that, ya know, people from unfamiliar groups really can all look alike.

As for using Chinese or Koreans to play Japanese, yeah, it's sometimes funny see that sort of mix-up. But would you think it weird to cast, say, an Italian as an Englishman, or a Pole for a Frenchman, and are you so sure you can distinguish one kind of European from another? Bet you couldn't do it very accurately, if put to the test.

I was pretty sure I could tell a Korean from a Chinese from a Japanese, and an Englishman from an Italian from a Pole. There are indeed people who have the classic "look" that we associate with different ethnic groups. But it turns out there are tests for that, and guess what? I'm not very good at distinguishing what I thought I could distinguish, and neither is anybody else.

So how 'bout we all just chill instead of getting butthurt about nothing?

Anglelyne said...

While we're at it, for a lovely bit of vintage "cultural appropriation", see The Scent of Paradise. Waltzes through the looking glass, a Hawaiian guitar that goes to Vienna via Damascus, and unnatural things being done to violins. Great stuff, and a showcase for a beautiful lost voice and a lost beauty. You offended?

RecChief said...

every time you people eat a hot dog, you're stepping all over my German cultural heritage.

Not to mention how painful it is for me to see the sausage race at Brewers games, or the Brewer in Lederhosen slide into a mug of beer after a home run.

Actually, Brewers is racist, what they think that all Germans make beer, and willing drown themselves in alcohol?

John Lynch said...

So much for celebrating diversity.

Brando said...

Here's the answer--yes, it is always okay to borrow from any culture. That's how culture came about--everything is influenced by something else. Black culture in America is influenced by Southern culture, which is influenced by Scotch-Irish culture, which was influenced by Celtic see where this is going.

What is not okay--or at least controversial--is mocking, degrading or insulting another culture. And whether something is insulting another culture or merely borrowing from it or alluding to it is in the eye of the beholder.

Jonathan Silber said...

My truth is, I am a Jewish-American; so why didn't anybody check with me first before taking it upon themselves to put blueberries, of all things, in my bagels?

Anthony said...

As an Italian American does this mean I can sue all you damm WASP yuppies who stole our food and made it so trendy and expensive.

My grandparents came from Naples, where are my royalties for pizza ? Though I guess I will have to share the royalties with the Sicilians

autothreads said...

With large numbers of minority-ethnic men—for instance Kurds, Indians, Mexicans—sporting moustaches as a cultural or religious signifier, Movember reinforces the “othering” of “foreigners” by the generally clean-shaven, white majority.

Considering that the American men most likely to have facial hair are orthodox Jews, it's quite fascinating that the author ignores them in her pursuit of the hirsuit.

Christy said...

So I guess we tear down all those neoclassical buildings?

submandave said...

I think it's the height of irony that the offence-by-proxy crowd is getting worked up over borrowing from Japanese culture, given that a great strength of Japan throughout its history has been its ability to absorb and "Japanize" the best from other cultures (e.g. pottery from Korea, tea from China, electronics from America ...).

RebeccaH said...

So, according to this theory, Africans should still be living in grass huts with bones through their noses, instead of in modern houses, driving cars, watching TV, using cell phones, etc., because all of that was "appropriated" from the West.

Unknown said...

In my travels I've found that the Japanese, Filipinos, and Eskimos are all fans of my native culture's (Korea) distinctive dish, kim-chee. I always thought that was cool, but little did I know that those ratbastards were actually appropriating my culture! Jerks!

Lee Reynolds said...

This nonsense doesn't even rise to the level of sophistry.

AlanKH said...

"Is it ever OK to borrow from other cultures?"

I was just pondering that question while listening to the Beatles at the local Chinese restaurant.