The Political Correctness police are at it again, infuriated by Katy Perry’s cultural appropriation in the the MTV VMA’s. It is, evidently, not okay to borrow from other cultures. Just what is cultural appropriation? According to the HuffPo:
Cultural appropriation refers to picking and choosing elements of a culture by a member of another culture without permission. This includes traditional knowledge, religious symbols, artifacts or any other unauthorized use of cultural practice or ideation.
This, of course, begs the question of how an entire culture is supposed to give its permission? And, perhaps more importantly, why is the HuffPo so one-sided? What they’re really saying it that it’s not okay for U.S. culture to appropriate elements. Obviously it’s quite okay for other cultures to borrow from us.
The PC police are also missing the obvious: There is no American Culture. Is there any element of our culture that is unique to our culture? American culture is built on the foundation of integrating other cultures into our own. What we are is a mixture of British, French, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, African, Russian, Mexican, Indian, and hundreds more cultures. Is the HuffPo seriously suggesting that Blacks shouldn’t have borrowed baseball and football from the white Americans? Are they seriously suggesting Japan should hit the rewind button on “Cowboy BeBop?” Should we be purging all Gilbert and Sullivan operettas from our midst (Yikes! Both Asian and British culture in one go! How DARE we!)?
How exactly are other cultures supposed to come to America, hold on to their own culture, get treated equally, and yet not have anyone else adopt any element of their culture? Does HuffPo seriously want to roll back Mexican influences in our culture, kick salsa out of our restaurants and stores?
This sort of thinking show why I have a hard time taking liberal ideas seriously sometimes. How do you contain culture? How do you get a culture’s permission? Are they as concerned about other cultures stealing our cultural elements? Give me a break. The world is flat, right? My daughter is currently learning to draw Manga. Some of the books she’s been studying from are written by people with Japanese names. Some are not. But how can we really be sure she has the permission of Japanese Culture to borrow their cartooning style? Just because one of her teachers may or may not be Japanese? Am I supposed to confiscate her books lest she inadvertently cause an international incident?
Cultural leavening isn’t even a conscious process any more. It’s a natural byproduct of a world that in increasingly interactive. Yes, there are uses of other cultural elements that are insensitive and even offensive. The vast majority is not. Katy Perry’s VMA performance is no more insensitive than some yuppie’s Asian wall-hanging or someone else’s laughing Buddah statuary in their garden. It’s no more insensitive than Japanese youths wearing replicas of WWII-era US aviator jackets or smoking imported Marlboros. It’s no more insensitive than Firefly characters swearing in Chinese.
Culture-as-Fad has been a staple of world culture for years, and it’s only escalated in the Internet age. We borrow what we like, ignore what we don’t, and remix, reboot, and mashup to our hearts content. What, if anything, should be a concern is the loss of unique culture, not the spread thereof. If there ever was such a thing as “American Culture”, you can bet it will be homogenized out of existence within the next 100 years. Will that be a bad thing? Who knows? It all depends on what elements we adopt. Integrating the Japanese work ethic or educational commitment may be a good thing. Integrating the Islamic moral framework might not.
It would be interesting to go through the HuffPo writer’s dwelling and see just how many elements of other cultures we could find. Forget whether the culture she borrows from gave permission, I’d like to see how many she is even aware of and made a conscious decision whether she was appropriating it acceptibly. Culture isn’t so cut and dried as she might want to think. I’m not inclined to defend or criticize Katy Perry–she’s in a business where causing offense is a means to an end. It could have been totally innocent; it might have been intentionally controversial. Who knows? Who cares? She got people talking about her, and that’s money in the bank. Hooray for her.
We’ve got enough things to worry about. Being constantly conscious of whether or not I’m appropriating from other cultures is not something we should be concerned about. I’m a fantasy writer. It’s pretty much a given I will be. In fact, there’s a movement by some writers to insist that we represent other cultures and peoples of color in our works. So how do we do that and still make the HuffPo crowd happy, exactly? I’m supposed to include “the other” in my work, do them justice, make them realistic, and yet do so without borrowing anything from another culture without their permission. Yeah…right. One problem with the whole PC movement is that they don’t all work from a common rulebook. They make it up as they go along–mainly as a means of keeping the rest of us off balance, I think.
It’s amazing that people have so much time on their hands to be able to sit around thinking about what to be offended by (Besides HuffPo writers, that is. For them it’s part of the job description). But answer me this? If appropriating elements of a culture without that culture’s permission is bad, wouldn’t being outraged and defensive on another culture’s behalf without their permission also be bad? Who this writer or anyone else to assume she can speak for another culture? Who is she to assume Ms. Perry didn’t get permission from someone qualified to speak on behalf of their culture (surely this must be possible, else why the definition above)?
So just so you know, you do not have my permission to take Trey Parker and friends to task for their depiction of Mormon culture and doctrine. I couldn’t care less what they do, really. They’re not doing anything someone else hasn’t already done, and much more maliciously. I do not need you to be outraged on my behalf. Not that I’ve seen anyone being all that concerned about whether Mormons are being offended. Even the guardians of cultural PC-ness have their limits. Or, dare I say it, bias and prejudice.
And that is just one reason why I have a hard time taking these people seriously. If they don’t speak for me, I can only assume there are plenty of others they also don’t speak for, even though they pretend to it. Such people (aka busy-bodies) do no one any good.