More on culture and consumerism

I just can’t shake this, I know. However, it has been coming up as the subject of blogs I follow very regularly, so it’s top of mind.

I have discovered that there’s a sliding scale of opinion, with two extremes: yay, who cares and hell no. In the middle is the opinion that it mostly sucks, but if you’re doing it while making an effort to change people’s thinking, to create a place where minority communities can be themselves without fear of discrimination, then that’s an appropriate occasion for adopting parts of a culture that is not your own.

This appears to be the prevailing American mindset.

It’s fairly repulsive. Apparently it was intended as a humor column, and surprised both its author and TIME magazine by receiving a massive negative response. I’m surprised that they didn’t anticipate that. The response came because it’s commodification at its worst – using the stereotypical view of an ethnic group for humor. It’s something that minority comedians can use effectively, because they’ve experienced the reality behind the laughs, but a white comedian can’t really go there, because there’s no shared experience.

So then came this very intelligent, well-reasoned article.

I agree with most of what’s there, even if it does slip occasionally into dense academic language. It’s a good look at another scale of absolutes, contrasting insensitive appropriation with cultural nationalism, something that oftentimes is guilty of the same things it’s attempting to combat.

And finally, this short documentary on appropriation:

I found it to be quite insightful. I understand now why certain people are so against any white person wearing bindis, saris, whatever. My experience is not at all the same, but I was not popular growing up. I have a hard time being around people. Most of the time I was teased daily – for liking science fiction, for not having the same “cool” clothes as everyone else, for being interested in school, for not shaving my legs. Ultimately, these were all things I could change, except for the clothes.

And then at the end of the video, its author says something very insightful – if you’re doing it because it’s “cool” or the “trend,” and you aren’t making an effort to stand up for the culture it comes from, it’s not acceptable. However, if you’re making an effort to learn and be an advocate, then that’s a respectful thing, and that’s how you should go about it.

Modern consumer culture commodifies things indiscriminately. It’s up to us to make sure that the people who own those cultures can be as free expressing themselves as we appropriators are. I can’t make up for those of my skin color who don’t treat minorities fairly, but I can, as Gandhi put it, “be the change [I] wish to see in the world.”

About HappyGoth

By day, I'm a graphic designer. By night, I'm a knitter. I'm doing my part to keep Hotlanta stylish. I imagine that if you don't already understand the title of the blog, you're probably confused and perhaps slightly annoyed, but never fear - I do have a reason (and it's a good one). Having gone to hear Stephanie Pearl McPhee, and then having been inspired to blog about knitting, I found myself wondering what to call the blog. I recalled a conversation I had with Mouse and the Chicken Goddess about why it is a Bad Idea to anger knitters - this conversation was following SPM, aka the Yarn Harlot telling the assembled throng about Those Who Do Not Understand Knitting and Therefore Belittle It Much to the Chagrin of Others, or TWDNUKTBMCO, which is not the acronym she used but is the one I'm using because I forgot hers - that is, we are numerous and we all have very pointy sticks, easily transforming into an angry mob. Therefore, knitters = angry mob.
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3 Responses to More on culture and consumerism

  1. Kodanda says:

    This happens to every culture upon integration into American society. One could even say American culture is cultural appropriation, be it clueless girls in bindis, hipsters in kufiyas or even bubba’s in kilts. A little known fact in America, but even the Irish were treated the same way as their numbers increased, it was common to caricatures of the Irish looking like lepricaunized monkeys and referred to as dirty foreign monkeys. It was not uncommon to see signs that say “No Irish” or “Irish out” next to signs that said “Whites Only”. Now days I see a girl wearing a claddagh and inquire about it and they have no Irish what so ever, in fact most times they do not know the symbolism, or if they do know it’s a bastardized version of the meanings. Then you see 300+ lb bubba’s in kilts with Germanic surnames etc. etc. I guess because there is no colour divide less is said or even noticed about this. In the end though, the Irish were not instantly welcome into mainstream America, often working the most shite jobs, living in slums and beat on a regular basis.

  2. Kodanda says:

    clarification*- Kilts are not Irish, but was using as an example of a cultural marker being exploited. Remember, the tartan set represents a certain clan, district or family, and technically should only be worn by that family or with the chiefs blessing. Infact there are tartan setts that are not even allowed to be warn by most family members. Such examples are Chief sets (which technically are only worn by the clan chief and immediate family or the Balmoral tartan which is only allowed to be worn by the Royal family, certain estate workers and by warrant of the queen.

    • HappyGoth says:

      I went through a heavy Scottish/Irish phase as a teenager, going as far as to learn a little Scots Gaelic (I’ve forgotten most everything, unfortunately), taking Irish dance and learning as much as I could about my own family clan, the MacNabs. That said, we all (my friends) wore claddagh rings and we all sort of blended the two and didn’t really know why it was we were doing it, only that someone somewhere in our pasts was actually from the country those traditions were taken from. In fact, we’re working on an SCA demo at the local Highland Games, and this year we’ve been requested to “help people understand how Scotland relates to the Middle Ages” (I kid you not). I don’t think that people really think beyond what they’re presented with. I’m an outlier, being a history and culture sponge. Most people, though, aren’t, and to this day that gigantic fat buffoon of a character in the Austin Powers films raises significant ire in my person, because he’s such an offensive stereotype. And jokes about the Irish being lazy, drunks, whatever make me angry, too.

      Basically, I want people not to take things at face value and treat people (of all races) like human beings, not stereotyped caricatures.

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