When is appropriation appropriate?
Social justice warriors the world over have been fighting the good fight across a myriad of issues. With a mandate from no one, in particular, many of these valiant heroes police what aspects of culture can or cannot be represented elsewhere. As with many noble attempts at such tediously protracted endeavours, many invoke generalisations that do more harm than good. Make no mistake that cultural appropriation is as real an issue as it can get and nowhere is it more of a sensitive topic than music and the arts.
Make no mistake that cultural appropriation is as real an issue as it can get and nowhere is it more of a sensitive topic than music and the arts.
ELVIS PRESLEY, the king of rock-n-roll himself, is one of the most egregious examples of personally benefitting from the intellectual property of a culture not of your own and at the expense of said culture. Few know of Big Mama Thornton’s court case that centred on to who the credit for Presley’s hit single ‘Hound Dog’ was owed. Jazz guitarist Calvin Newborn made a similar –albeit friendly- claim against Presley but instead pointed toward the hip swaying pelvic thrusting antics that mesmerised groupies the world over. Thornton and Newborn are deeply entrenched in the legacy of the African American culture that was then alienated from mainstream society.
Cultural appropriation has largely devolved into toxic slacktivism chest thumping with little to no actual focus or understanding of context. It has been enveloped entirely by a negative connotation that has come at the expense of cultural exchange.
IGGY AZAEAL’s reliance on her “blaccent” is what contributes to the continued fire from her detractors. Had she not gone on racist rants, and not try to adopt the sound of southern American hip hop, she’d probably enjoy the same “pass” EMINEM does. KENDRICK LAMAR’s recent Grammy loss to MACKLEMORE is a clear slight to hip-hop as a whole. MACKLEMORE, to his credit, acknowledges the controversy, and EMINEM makes it a point to pay his respect to the legacy of hip hop with any chance he gets. K-pop is an emerging genre wholly dependent on appropriating western culture and its music. The emergent genre’s foundation is alien to the culture native to the Korean peninsula and the history of its people.
We are careening dangerously toward a society more culturally segregated in an increasingly desegregating world. Globalisation begets cultural exchange, and overlap of intellectual property. The borrowing of cultural aesthetic in music and by artists versus the cultural origins of the music itself is an interesting debate that very well should be held, but not at the expense of common sense.