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Enigma popstar is fun / She wear burqa for fashion
August 8, 2013 11:39 AM   Subscribe

A new Lady Gaga song called Burqa has leaked online. Its production is pretty interesting. Its lyrics are... controversial, to say the least. "Lady Gaga bas a burqa problem," writes Jezebel. "You can't just ornament yourself in other cultures (especially not if those cultures are specifically targeted for violence and harassment in your home country)." Other criticisms abound on The Atlantic and Autostraddle. A blog called Racist Little Monsters has popped up to collect pictures of fans posing in self-made burqas [warning: nsfw language abounds]
posted by Rory Marinich (236 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
The jury's still out whether the song's called "Aura" or "Burqa," but it interesting that most music blogs are calling it the former while general-interest sites are calling it the latter.
posted by toxtethogrady at 11:50 AM on August 8, 2013


From "Racist Little Monsters":
"The burqa is not your fashion statement, not your orientalist dream to consume. Already, within minutes of lady gaga's leaked, "Burqa" track, little monsters have flocked to post images of themselves draped in "burqa swag". There is nothing cool about CULTURAL APPROPRIATION."

For a much more nuanced analysis of cultural appropriation (as opposed to the rather trite blog):

Rogers, Richard A. "From cultural exchange to transculturation: A review and reconceptualization of cultural appropriation." Communication Theory 16, no. 4 (2006): 474-503. http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/rar/papers/RogersCT2006.pdf

"Based on the range of literature addressing the topic, I identified four categories of cultural appropriation (adapted from Wallis & Malm, 1984; additional influences from Bakhtin, 1975/1981; Clifford, 1988; Goodwin & Gore, 1990; Ziff & Rao, 1997). Based on the assumptions identified above, these four categories can best be understood as naming the conditions (historical, social, political, cultural, and economic) under which acts of appropriation occur. After briefly defining each of the four types of appropriation, I discuss, illustrate, and evaluate each in depth.

1. Cultural exchange: the reciprocal exchange of symbols, artifacts, rituals, genres, and/or technologies between cultures with roughly equal levels of power.
2. Cultural dominance: the use of elements of a dominant culture by members of a subordinated culture in a context in which the dominant culture has been imposed onto the subordinated culture, including appropriations that enact resistance.
3. Cultural exploitation: the appropriation of elements of a subordinated culture by a dominant culture without substantive reciprocity, permission, and/or compensation.
4. Transculturation: cultural elements created from and/or by multiple cultures, such that identification of a single originating culture is problematic, for example, multiple cultural appropriations structured in the dynamics of globalization and transnational capitalism creating hybrid forms.

Cultural exchange operates in the literature as an implied baseline for clarifying the inequalities involved in the other conditions of appropriation and is generally assumed to be a nonexistent ideal. Cultural domination, in contrast, highlights the asymmetries under which acts of appropriation occur. Although many approaches to this set of conditions emphasize the power of the dominant to impose its culture on subordinated peoples, cultural dominance as a condition nevertheless requires attention to how the targets of cultural imposition negotiate their relationship to the dominant culture through a variety of appropriative tactics. Extending this implication, cultural resistance, a form of appropriation that occurs under the conditions of cultural dominance, highlights the agency and inventiveness of subordinated peoples by examining how they appropriate dominant cultural elements for resistive ends.

Resistance through appropriation, however, demonstrates the ‘‘impurity’’ of acts of resistance and of culture itself. Cultural exploitation focuses on the commodification and incorporation of elements of subordinated cultures. However, in defending the rights of subordinated peoples to protect the integrity of their culture and to control its use, most of the discourse of cultural exploitation operates from a model of culture as clearly bounded and distinct, as singular and organic. Such a model of culture is not only empirically questionable but also complicit in the subordination of ‘‘primitive’’ cultures. Transculturation further questions the validity of an essentialist model of distinct cultures that merely engage in appropriation, highlighting appropriation and hybridity as constitutive of culture, reconceptualized as an intersectional phenomenon. Although the literature on transculturation is grounded in the conditions of globalization and transnational capitalism, the implications of transculturation question the assumptions of the previous three categories in both contemporary and historical contexts."

Lots more in the essay; was hard to decide precisely what to excerpt.
posted by whyareyouatriangle at 11:53 AM on August 8, 2013 [20 favorites]


Oh, I do indeed love how she incensed Jezebel by reversing an unquestionable assumption.
posted by planetesimal at 11:53 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think the amazing thing about this song is that Gaga took something that was explicitly made not to sexualized, and then made a song that totally sexualizes it, with a dash of cultural appropriation!
posted by ShawnStruck at 11:54 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


She's a master at publicity, it must be said. A+ . Would discuss on Metafilter again.
posted by josher71 at 11:55 AM on August 8, 2013 [10 favorites]


Shouldn't the burqa also be made out of kermit frog heads? Lady Gaga, you have let me down for the last time.
posted by gobliiin at 11:56 AM on August 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm not sure I completely understand this. What's the difference between this, and sexy nun outfits, sexy kimono, sexy viking, sexy gyspy, and well, any costumes that are worn on Halloween?
posted by FJT at 11:57 AM on August 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm surprised it's taken this long for people to really get on Lady Gaga's case for shamelessly appropriating things she clearly doesn't understand.
posted by Old Man McKay at 11:58 AM on August 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


Lady Gaga’s New Song ‘Burqa (Aura)’ Is Further Proof She’s Not A Very Good Political Artist
“Born This Way,” her now-famous equality anthem, is at its strongest in the beginning when it’s a personal narrative about the support Gaga’s fictionalized narrator got from her mother, and when it invokes a kind of camp sensibility. But the song’s so eager to include everyone that it ends up with some lyrics that artistically and politically clumsy at best, like the “Whether you’re broke or evergreen / You’re black, white, beige, chola descent / You’re Lebanese, you’re orient / Whether life’s disabilities / Left you outcast, bullied, or teased / Rejoice and love yourself today / ’cause baby you were born this way.” It was clear then that Gaga didn’t have a fantastic sense that there might be some language, like “chola” or “orient,” that it might have been wise for her to avoid using even if it fit her rhyme scheme, if her primary goal is to lay out a vision of intersectional solidarity
[...]
From the same album comes the truly cringe-inducing “Americano,” an ostensible marriage equality track, which features her doing a rather awkward Spanish accent, and singing lyrics like “I don’t speak your, I don’t speak your language oh no /I don’t speak your, I won’t speak your Jesus Christo / I don’t speak your, I don’t speak your Americano.” Once again, it might be more effective to speak about the challenges binational couples, many of whom were forced to live abroad because the Defense of Marriage Act prevented the non-U.S.-born partners from becoming American citizens, by bringing in another voice, someone who could actually speak in Spanish, and not implying that such a character would use pidgin English. And while Gaga frequently represents Catholicism as both a powerfully magnetic force in her own life and as a source of sexual repression, given the large number of religious people who have done a great deal of work to support marriage equality, Gaga once again offered up a simplistic political message rather than a rich and nuanced one
[...]
There’s no question that as an advocate, Lady Gaga’s done enormous good in raising the profile of issues like Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, marriage equality, and Russia’s anti-gay laws. I just wish that her songs were as nuanced and effective as her political work can be. Using your power in service of others is a generous act. Speaking for others in your music in a way that doesn’t recognize the difference between elevating their voices and subsuming them, is less noble, and less musically effective.
She's a master at publicity, it must be said. A+ . Would discuss on Metafilter again.

She's almost ready to join the illustrious ranks that include Cory Doctorow, Amanda Palmer, and Richard Dawkins.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:59 AM on August 8, 2013 [10 favorites]


> What's the difference between this, and sexy nun outfits, sexy kimono, sexy viking, sexy gyspy, and well, any costumes that are worn on Halloween?

Depends on if the overseas suppliers can get the sexy burqa outfit in the pipeline before the Halloween shops open this year.
posted by planetesimal at 11:59 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


What's the difference between this, and sexy nun outfits, sexy kimono, sexy viking, and well, any costumes that are worn on Halloween?

You think a sexy kimono costume isn't cultural appropriation?
posted by kmz at 12:00 PM on August 8, 2013 [10 favorites]


Can't read my,
can't read my,
can't read my,
can't read my
burqa face!
posted by Renoroc at 12:01 PM on August 8, 2013 [10 favorites]


What'd Doctoow do? (this time)
posted by symbioid at 12:03 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


How hard is it to understand that someone else's culture isn't just a cosume, and to treat it with respect, even if that mean that you, poor white person, are told not to wear something?

You think this isn't a problem? How about when white people start appropriating tribal Native American ceremonial dress because they think it's cool or spiritual or just cause... while actual Native MAericans are disallowed from wearing an eagle feather during graduation, fined a thousand dollars that they must pay to get the dimploma they worked for?

It so incredibly fucked up to appropriate someone else’s culture while people FROM that culture have not just been historically punished for expressing their culture, but often face active and contemporary harassment.
posted by ShawnStruck at 12:04 PM on August 8, 2013 [25 favorites]


Uhm. Hi, I'm a fairly progressive kind of guy.

What's the deal with cultural appropriation? Are you never allowed to use the aesthetics/symbols of any other culture than your own?

Why are sexy kimonos a problem? Was japonism cultural appropriation?

I think you can be *insensitive* with how you use cultural symbols - "concentration camp chic" is something that should never be allowed to pass - but otherwise a lot of these criticisms feel like a tempest in a teacup.
posted by pmv at 12:10 PM on August 8, 2013 [13 favorites]


pmv, if you type those questions into google, I bet you'll get some nifty answers!
posted by ShawnStruck at 12:12 PM on August 8, 2013 [12 favorites]


well, some of those tumblr people look more like a ninja than a burqua wearer..
posted by k5.user at 12:13 PM on August 8, 2013


What's the problem with cultural appropriation?

At its core, it is taking something with deep meaning to somebody, and using it as a toy. That's disrespectful.

When you add the issue of cultural dominance (#2 in the excerpt above), it takes on a pretty significant social and cultural power: I get to use your shit as a toy, and if you say it's disrespectful I can call you a whiner.
posted by entropone at 12:13 PM on August 8, 2013 [12 favorites]


I've got this backpack here for you, it's invisible. We can help you unpack it, pmv.
posted by symbioid at 12:13 PM on August 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


for shamelessly appropriating things she clearly doesn't understand.

I don't understand. Would it be different if she were appropriating things she clearly did understand?

You think a sexy kimono costume isn't cultural appropriation?

Obviously, it is. Culture, or modern culture, at least, is fabricated from bits and pieces appropriated from somewhere/someone else. But what always seems to be missing in these bunfights is the discussion about what kind of appropriation is acceptable and what isn't. Instead, "cultural appropriation" is spat like a pejorative instead of a description.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:14 PM on August 8, 2013 [15 favorites]


I liked this story better in the early 90s when it was about Like a Prayer.
posted by gohabsgo at 12:14 PM on August 8, 2013 [36 favorites]


It's a turn-around jump shot
It's everybody jump start
It's every generation throws a hero up the pop charts

posted by KokuRyu at 12:15 PM on August 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think it would be really neat to have a thoughtful and nuanced discussion of cultural appropriation (I have a longer thing to post about this topic!) which did not get derailed by the very simple "why can't white people wear sexy kimonos on Halloween" level questions, especially "can't I use any thing from any other culture ever?", which is either misunderstanding at best or a straw question at worst. (The question of "japonism"/"chinoiserie" is a little more complicated/interesting/historical.)

I thought whyareyouatriangle's comment very useful.
posted by Frowner at 12:17 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


The chorus is better than her last few efforts. It has a nice John Barry style melody.
posted by bhnyc at 12:18 PM on August 8, 2013


Last excerpt—apologies if this is irritating but I find it rather pertinent to break the standard reductive, binary discussions around "cultural appropriation".

"Cultural appropriation is inescapable, but that is not to say all acts of appropriation are equal. Acts and conditions of appropriation vary in terms of the degree and relevance of (in)voluntariness, (in)equality, (im)balance, and (im)purity. The four categories of appropriation presented above presume particular models of culture and cultural relations. Cultural exchange recalls an ‘‘innocent’’ era or context in which cultures freely and without power implications mutually share cultural elements, perhaps with the effect of greater cultural understanding and creativity. Cultural domination and exploitation are modeled on dominant–subordinate relations roughly equivalent but not entirely reducible to historical models of colonization; although complexities and developments in these relations are acknowledged, the model retains a binary structure of power and is implicitly based on a desire to (re)turn to the ‘‘ideal’’ of cultural exchange. Cultural resistance as an appropriative tactic under the conditions of cultural domination, however, highlights agency and inventiveness on the part of subordinated cultures, which begins to question a static, essentialist conception of culture. Finally, transculturation is an effort to theorize appropriation in the conditions of global capitalism in a neocolonial and postmodern era. It still draws, therefore, from the domination–subordination model of cultural domination and exploitation while working to acknowledge complexities in culture, power, and appropriation that question the possibility (or desirability) of a (re)turn to cultural exchange. However, I argue that transculturation and its implied conception of culture question the validity of the assumptions embedded in the previous types, not just in the contemporary world but historically as well.

The challenge for cultural, critical media, critical rhetorical, and intercultural communication studies is to reconceptualize culture not as bounded entity and essence but as radically relational or dialogic. Cultural practices, including appropriation, are both constituted by and constitutive of culture (in general) as a realm of relationships. We need to leave behind the sovereign subject of liberal individualism and its macrolevel analog, the distinctive, singular, clearly bounded, sovereign culture that is so easily conflated with the nation state and continue to grapple with Clifford’s (1988) recognition that we are dealing with matters of ‘‘power and rhetoric rather than of essence’’ (p. 14)."

Rogers, Richard A. "From cultural exchange to transculturation: A review and reconceptualization of cultural appropriation." Communication Theory 16, no. 4 (2006): 499. http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/rar/papers/RogersCT2006.pdf
posted by whyareyouatriangle at 12:18 PM on August 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


entropone: "At its core, it is taking something with deep meaning to somebody, and using it as a toy. That's disrespectful. "

Lady Gaga is welcome to disrespect symbols of subjugation until she's blue in the face, I'm totally fine with that.
posted by mullingitover at 12:19 PM on August 8, 2013 [35 favorites]


I liked this story better in the early 90s when it was about Like a Prayer.

You liked the story better when religious fanatics and racists got all upset Madonna was appropriating their imagery to mock them? Weird.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:19 PM on August 8, 2013


Folks, I'm totes aware I gots privilege up the wazoo - but merely pointing it out isn't really helping with the discourse here. I'm literally asking you for your opinions on this because I want to understand.

Ugh, you know, I generally feel that we're on the same side here but the *hostility* leveled at people who haven't obtained the right level of enlightenment yet is annoying.

Frowner: then please, post away! This ain't a linear progression.

Like octobersurprise said,

>Culture, or modern culture, at least, is fabricated from bits and pieces appropriated from somewhere/someone else. But what always seems to be missing in these bunfights is the discussion about what kind of appropriation is acceptable and what isn't. Instead, "cultural appropriation" is spat like a pejorative instead of a description.

Culture is all about taking bits and pieces and what you find cool and fascinating. It's just not obvious to me that everything automatically qualifies. I think it's equally permissible to view, AS AN EXAMPLE, burqas to be pretty blatant symbols of patriarchal oppression. I'm kind of okay with disrespecting that.
posted by pmv at 12:23 PM on August 8, 2013 [38 favorites]


I dunno. I think the grar is a bit overblown. This is what pop-celebrities do.

On the other hand, the insane compression on that audio track in the first link is tooth-chatteringly bad. It's, like, 1998-era WMA bad. I didn't think it was possible to make audio sound that bad anymore.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:23 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Lady Gaga is welcome to disrespect symbols of subjugation until she's blue in the face, I'm totally fine with that.

The problem with symbols is they tend to mean different things to different people. I've heard accounts from Muslim women in America who voluntarily choose to wear a Burqa, and by their accounts, it's not a symbol of oppression to them, but a symbol of the possibility of liberation from being judged and evaluated by others purely on the basis of sexual desirability and physical attractiveness.

So like most things, it's not that simple.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:24 PM on August 8, 2013 [22 favorites]


At its core, it is taking something with deep meaning to somebody, and using it as a toy. That's disrespectful.

Serious question: How far does this sort of sensitivity to supposed disrespect of supposedly sacred and meaningful things go? Does it extend to, say Piss Christ, or is it okay to slag off your own culture, but not someone else's culture? Is it fine when an American burns an American flag, but offensive when someone in Egypt does it because they're desecrating something meaningful to someone else without fully understanding it?
posted by dortmunder at 12:24 PM on August 8, 2013 [19 favorites]


Ugh, you know, I generally feel that we're on the same side here but the *hostility* leveled at people who haven't obtained the right level of enlightenment yet is annoying.

It's not hostility, per se. It's just that it's something that would require either (a) almost the entire discussion in this thread (which would invariably be derailed by the same tiresome excuses from the same people), or (b) a collection of information that for now is easily found elsewhere. As you can tell, the latter is quite a bit easier and calmer to suggest.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:25 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I mean, are Nun's habits always vile symbols of oppression, too? How are those not basically the West's less popular version of the Burqa?
posted by saulgoodman at 12:26 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I dunno, saulgoodman, I've heard people claim the Battle Flags of the Army of Northern Virginia they were displaying weren't actually racist symbols but rather symbols of cultural pride blah blah blah. Maybe they believed it. That didn't make it true. Likewise, just because someone has been indoctrinated into believing a symbol of patriarchal oppression isn't actually a symbol of patriarchal oppression doesn't mean they're right.

A Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia is a racist symbol. A burqua is a patriarchal symbol. A (nazi) swastika is a white supremacist symbol. It doesn't matter whether the person using it has fooled themselves into believing otherwise.
posted by Justinian at 12:27 PM on August 8, 2013 [11 favorites]


Thank you, whyareyouatriangle, for injecting some content that is relevant, interesting, and informative.
posted by Nomyte at 12:27 PM on August 8, 2013


These were actual, young college age American Muslim women, and they were actively going against their own families' wishes in choosing to wear the burqas.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:28 PM on August 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


pmv, ShawnStruck's comment directly above yours is an excellent description, complete with relevant example, of cultural appropriation and why it is shitty.
posted by elizardbits at 12:29 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Cultural appropriation is what you call the reuse of other cultures' symbols when you disapprove of it. We have other words for the kind that you approve of: remix, detournement, hybrid.
posted by LogicalDash at 12:31 PM on August 8, 2013 [19 favorites]


saulgoodman: I'd say the difference between a nun's habit and a burqa is that the West doesn't force anybody to wear a nun's habit whereas there are plenty of places which will murder women who have the audacity to refuse the burqa. I don't think you can handwave that distinction away as the habit being "less popular".
posted by Justinian at 12:37 PM on August 8, 2013 [10 favorites]


From the tumblr linked in the FPP:

The thing about this appropriation of the burqa that people need to understand is that people like Lady Gaga haven’t done a thing for the communities [here and abroad] that wear, live and breathe the garb who are subjected to harassment for doing so. The words “appreciation” and “admiration” are painfully hollow when you take a piece of clothing from a community and strip it of its intent and the consequences that come from it. Lady Gaga makes millions and taxes subsequently take a huge chunk of those millions. Therein, a quarter of her taxes are used to ravage Muslim majority populations. Has she spoken out about this? Has anyone orientalist who bastardizes our garb done so? Where were they when the Sikh tragedy happened? Where are they now when Newsweek posts a horribly offensive article on Muslim rage, aggressively written by their puppet Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who I’m ashamed to call my fellow Somali? Do they come to our defense when we’re expected to kneel over and apologize on behalf of extremists, who funnily enough kill us as well? If I wear a burqa, niqab.. or hell even a fucking hijab, I’m a stupid, brown savage who has no capacity to think for herself. But when Gaga wears it, its revolutionary and fashionable. People love to scream equality and colorblindedness when such an event arises, but such a world is completely theoretical until we fix these the caricatured perceptions about Islam. The power dynamics here cannot be ignored.
posted by gucci mane at 12:39 PM on August 8, 2013 [12 favorites]


I am honestly of (at least) two minds about this. On the one hand, I think it's legitimate for an artist to use imagery from another culture to make a point or statement; so even though it may be 'appropriation' of sorts, it isn't exploitive. I am not so sure that this track from Gaga avoids being exploitive.

And this specific object, the burqa, is especially fraught in the context of the Western world's ongoing caricature and demonization of Islam. When comparing this song to Madonna's appropriation of Catholic imagery, there is a certain similarity in that some people of that faith take offense -- but the difference in the power dynamics between that situation and this makes all the difference in the world.

But, on the other hand, as oblivious and insensitive as Gaga's treatment of the burqa may be seen (and has been seen, by a number of muslim women commenters), I can't help but wonder if it won't, in some weird subversive, not-quite-intentional way help make the image of Islam appear less alien and threatening to your average American kid listening to pop music, who would not otherwise be arsed to think about such things. I'm not saying that this unintended consequence justifies anything -- just musing on the different layers of this sort of thing.
posted by fikri at 12:41 PM on August 8, 2013 [11 favorites]


when you disapprove of it

And this is where the discussion breaks down. It's like pornagraphy, you know it when you see it type of thing. It also deals entirely in context, so some things (burning American flags) are seen as toots fine, while others are not. You aren't going to get any hard and fast rules for this, much like Metafilter moderation. How that maps on to moral rules when they are mostly based on feelings of a vast audience unknown to the user is an exercise left up to the reader.

Add to this you have someone who follows a long line of artists who revel in controversy, and away we go!
posted by zabuni at 12:41 PM on August 8, 2013


but the difference in the power dynamics between that situation and this makes all the difference in the world.

It actually isn't clear to me that Lady Gaga is more powerful relative to regimes which rule over something like 1/8 of the world's population than Madonna is powerful relative to a Catholic Church which lost most of its temporal power centuries ago. Taking on the Roman Catholic Church is barely even speaking truth to power at this point; it's more like shooting fish in a barrel.
posted by Justinian at 12:45 PM on August 8, 2013 [9 favorites]


How are those not basically the West's less popular version of the Burqa?

The habit has occupied a (very roughly) similar space in the West. But note also the West's parallel tradition of—for want a better phrase—nunsploitation narratives, stories that appropriated the symbol of the habit or the nunnery for parodic, satirical, or entertaining motives.

I do think that disrespectful cultural appropriation is a real thing and it's something that makers and transmitters of cultures need to be sensitive to. At the same time that's only the beginning of a conversation, usually, not the end.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:46 PM on August 8, 2013


I wonder what percent of people in this discussion know how to distinguish a burqa from the more common head scarf worn by Muslim women.
posted by mulligan at 12:47 PM on August 8, 2013 [18 favorites]


You can easily get bogged down and lost on a million subtleties, and you need practical shortcuts - however imperfect - to quickly deal with complicated issues like cultural appropriation. Inevitably, simplification will occur, but you try your best. My personal shortcut is: "it's about power imbalances". I realize that it's not the end-all of the issue, but it's still useful to me.

And that is exactly how I see the burqa. In general, I find myself defending muslim minorities in a political and cultural context - in the West. Because, even though I'm an atheist who has a pretty dim view of the cultural impact of religion - and so on philosophical grounds, I'm strongly opposed to Islam just as I am to Christianity or any religion - I still defend it in the West.

Conservatives often attack liberals in this situation - 'how can you defend Islam or Muslims while they go against everything you believe in, such as gay rights, women's rights etc.? HYPOCRITE!". But it is about power. In the West, Muslims are scapegoated, marginalized, attacked, discriminated against - and they are relatively powerless. In that context, I don't condemn burqa wearing women who do so voluntarily for cultural or religious reasons. But someone grabbing a burqa for entertainment or surface fashion reasons - here in the West, where Muslims are under siege - yeah, I think that's troubling in the "cultural appropriation" sense.

I have a rather different view of the burqa in Muslim countries - where tons of women are forced into second-class citizenship, and where it is often enforced by the power structure with severe penalties. In that context, I don't hesitate to call it a tool of patriarchal oppression - even if many wear it voluntarily. I wouldn't travel there to announce my views - it's their culture and they are responsible for its evolution, and don't need anyone from the West meddling. But I won't hesitate expressing my opinion of it, here in the West, both about expression in the West and in Muslim countries.

Now, it's not always simple, even so. What happens when the minority forms enclaves which don't interact much with the rest of society, and where abuse may take place and women may not choose voluntarily to wear a burqa or submit to some deeply troubling traditions? At that point, the larger society intervenes to the same extent as they do when f.ex. children are at risk in some religious cult or another. You still have to obey our laws, if you live here. But again, it's about power and context.
posted by VikingSword at 12:49 PM on August 8, 2013 [15 favorites]


obtained via google page 1:
CULTURAL APPROPRIATION: A BEGINNER'S GUIDE
with helpful explanatory links! and a bingo card!

Now that we have all educated ourselves on the basic background and repeated arguments of cultural appropriation, we can continue our intelligent discussion as more informed and thoughtful people. Thanks! On we go!
posted by nicebookrack at 12:49 PM on August 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


You mean a hijab, mulligan? Isn't that a trivially easy distinction? Or is that your point; lots of people wouldn't even recognize a trivially easy distinction.
posted by Justinian at 12:49 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Reminds me of an Onion story from a few years back: "Marilyn Manson now going door to door trying to shock people".
posted by Pararrayos at 12:51 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


(note for pedants: I realize hijab can also mean the more general requirement to cover head, etc, but that doesn't say it hasn't come to mean the common headscarf I believe mulligan is referring to.)
posted by Justinian at 12:52 PM on August 8, 2013


And here is my longer comment!

1. There's what you might call "vulgar cultural appropriationism" which isn't thought out very well - that's where, for instance, you get people on tumblr asking in all seriousness if it is culturally appropriative to wear flowers in their hair, because they are only familiar with Polynesian traditions about this and think that white people are ripping off Polynesians instead of recognizing that pretty much every human society where there are flowers has used them for hair ornaments. What's wrong with this? It lacks historical and political organization. It assumes that every idea, practice and artifact can be traced back to a neatly defined ethnic or racial group - nothing ever evolves simultaneously, all cultural groups are clearly defined and no one is, like, the child of a biracial parent or married into a culture and converted to their religion, etc. It assumes that the problem with cultural appropriation lies in assigning an idea/artifact to the "wrong" ethnic group, not in questions of politics or power. So for instance, it is "wrong" for non-Scottish people to wear plaid (no, really this is on tumblr, folks) even though the clan plaids themselves are an artifact of aristocratic and English colonization and even though there is no material or intellectual harm being done to Scottish people by someone in Des Moines wearing a random flannel shirt. This brand of cultural appropriationism assumes that mere sharing is de facto harm - and worse, assumes that there is somewhere a form of "pure" "innocent" dress that is totally untainted by colonialism. (Which, spoiler, is not the case. No one is innocent.)

This manner of thinking has embedded in it all kinds of ideas about racial and national purity (not consciously!) and tends to be blind to its own historical contingency.

2. This doesn't mean, to me, that questions of cultural appropriation/mixing/etc are ever inconsequential or innocent. It's just that nothing in this world is innocent, so there's no reason to get all "but if I wear plaid I am trampling on the sufferings of innocent Scots!!! Therefore I will get my sweatshop-produced fast fashion at H&M, eschewing plaid and "Aztec" patterns, and I will be a virtuous dresser!"

In my opinion, fashion (and cultural fashions, and inventions, and cuisine) are basically about colonialism, because capitalism is basically about colonialism, and because in a nasty capitalist society the predominant source of novelty is exploitation/appropriation. There's very little wholesome/healthy method of cultural production because we live in an incredibly unequal society. You could imagine a sixties-SF-style utopia in which artists and bohemians produced all kinds of fashion, dances and new stuff and there were fashion cycles and so on, and it wasn't cultural appropriation because the structures of political, financial, racial, etc inequality weren't there.

I think it's quite reasonable to say "I am unwilling to be tainted by cultural appropriation and colonialist exploitation, so I will wear only the very plainest clothes from the thrift store or from US/fair trade makers, eschew fashion as much as possible and avoid focusing on my appearance". But if that's not what you want to do, it becomes a matter of choosing among already-not-innocent modes of dress. And for that one needs a rubric, and it's not going to be an "innocent" rubric, either.

3. Cultural appropriation within Europe - the forgotten appropriation! In tandem with colonizing outside of Europe, there was internal colonization/exploitation. Southern Europe, Italy, Capri, the wilds of Eastern Europe, Ireland, Scotland - you have only to read nineteenth and early 20th century popular fiction to realize that as nation-states solidified, there was all kinds of internal exploitation and expropriation. Italian foods, Spanish lace, Scottish plaids and brogues - all once exotic to various powerful nation-states! The whole "we're going to dress like the proletariat in aran knits and Greek fisherman's caps and so on" - that basically has its roots in internal colonization. So nothing is innocent. There is no innocent "white people clothing" (except perhaps the plainest of plain clothes). The history of colonization is woven into all of it.

4. Cultural drift that happened a long time ago? Or even a couple of generations ago? I always wonder about dancing, and I don't have a good solution. So, I think white people twerking is virtually always appropriative and gross. And yet, pretty much every popular dance since about 1920 derives from African American popular culture. If twerking is gross, pretty much every other form of dancing I have ever done at a dance party is appropriative and gross too. And I bet that a lot of "white" dance styles are really internal-colonization dance styles anyway.

The only rubric I have is "proximate harm that is happening right now". Right now, I can say that white people are appropriating this specific form of cultural performance - it's not something that happened in 1960 and has basically lost most of its charge.

I mean, our whole contemporary culture is pretty much the record of injustice - and a little bit the record of resistance. "Hipster"!! Pants for women (derived from Middle Eastern dress)!! Tea! Coffee, god knows.

There are obvious instances of using a charged object (native regalia, the burqa) in a way that is obviously terrible. In the case of the regalia, it goes against repeated, broadly supported requests by actual native people to stop, and it happens in a climate of tremendous global violence against native people, and in a context in the US where "cowboys and Indians" is a grotesque cultural reminder of our immediate genocidal past. This is no mere plaid shirt, here! The burqa too - a charged object. Gaga wouldn't bother with it if it were just "ooh, this minor traditional garment looks cool". It's a charged object that has a lot of symbolic power in the middle of an actual fucking war, in which women are used as symbols and justifications for murder by people who care no more for them than they do for a piece of meat. (And that's true - how much of the Middle Eastern situation is framed as "look how barbaric they are to 'their' women" by people who don't give a flying fuck about the wellbeing of any women anywhere?) This isn't mere cultural appropriation like maybe wearing a Mexican embroidered dress, something that is fairly equivocal; it's a stupid, callous symbolic intervention into real suffering and real war.

I guess my thought is this: that cultural appropriation and symbolic intervention have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis - what do they do in the world? Who profits? Who loses? What history is obscured?

~~~
A subsidiary thought: per tumblr, tattoos on anyone but people of Polynesian descent is cultural appropriation. There's a ship that's sailed, right? It is!!! And how much wonderful tattoo work has come into the world on the skin of non-Polynesians. And yet - tattoo culture does have that unpleasant history. That's a real thing and it's not very happy to contemplate, which is why every conversation about this is pretty much people shouting and ranting and trying to preserve the "innocent" enjoyment of something that isn't, at its roots, innocent.

If there's one good thing that comes out of vulgar cultural appropriation, it's the relentless demystification of fashion and cultural production.
posted by Frowner at 12:54 PM on August 8, 2013 [48 favorites]


I posted this article about the differences in Muslim headscarves (hijab, burka, etc) because I thought it was interesting and the styles are beautiful and I do believe for many Muslim women it is a choice and expression of their faith. Someone commented "her eyes look so sad" about the illustrations. What the...
posted by sweetkid at 12:56 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have to say, I really dislike the entire concept of cultural appropriation. I really feel like the message "Hey! You're not a X, so you can't wear that" cannot be detached from the accompanying message "If you are an X, you should wear that" or "If it's not ok for me to dress as you do, it's not ok for you to dress as I do, either". This results in cultural separation, often by race, which feeds into racism. This can happen because individuals are excluded from more wealthy/powerful cultures because of their race (and lose associated opportunity) or because cultures don't overlap and cross over, causing them to interact less, diminishing empathy.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:56 PM on August 8, 2013 [12 favorites]


Once while in Egypt, I had a very short conversation with a woman in a burqa in a buffet line at a hotel. When she first asked me a question, I remember feeling briefly shocked just because I thought that a woman wearing a burqa absolutely must, 100% of the time, be wearing a burqa because she was being forced to wear a burqa and she would probably be stoned to death immediately after speaking to someone not in her family. AFAIK, that didn't happen.

Following that realization, I came to understand that, while it's not my choice, some women actually do choose to wear the burqa and that I shouldn't assume that all women who wear burqas are miserable and oppressed. In fact, in general, it isn't the case that all people who wear X are Y. Not all people who wear skinny jeans are hipsters. Not all people who wear vintage t-shirts are doing it ironically. Not all women wearing mom jeans are moms.

Context matters. I think it's more reasonable to believe that the Yemeni woman I met in Egypt had been coerced or forced to wear the burqa compared to say, a Muslim convert living in the U.S. But if you just want to chat over pancakes, it's almost all the same to me. Perhaps that's my privilege talking. It's not that I don't care - if someone told me that they were being forced to wear a burqa, I like to think that I would ask them if there was anything I could do to help them out. But I think it's impossible to get to trying to help someone's situation if I make assumptions based on what they're wearing.

As for Lady Gaga, something she did led to an interesting conversation with smart people. I might be giving her too much credit but part of me thinks that's what she wanted to do.
posted by kat518 at 1:04 PM on August 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


This new track is terrible. Just nonsensical collage-pop, and her 'allegory of the self' or whatever comes off as ludicrous vanity in this presentation.

I really don't think the track is worth the amount of discussion it's already generated. One of my prerequisites for really considering controversial art and diving into the issues it presents, is that it should be quality, substantial art to begin with. I'm a fan of much of her earlier work, but this is just ugh. Bad.

obv., YMMV, yourfavoritebandsucksfilter, etc. But seriously, that track is musical nonsense. And I say that as someone who musics for a living.
posted by LooseFilter at 1:04 PM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Does it extend to, say Piss Christ, or is it okay to slag off your own culture, but not someone else's culture?

Belatedly, Piss Christ doesn't slag anything off. If anything, according to Andres Serrano, it was intended as a criticism of the commercialization of religious iconography; additionally, images of Jesus have long been associated with the letting of bodily fluids, and Serrano had repeatedly explored that sort of imagery.

That being said, yes, you generally are on stronger footing when you slag off your own culture than somebody else's, especially when your culture is dominant and privileged and the other is marginalized and historically oppressed.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:06 PM on August 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


The Abramovic Method Practiced by Lady Gaga (NSFW)
posted by homunculus at 1:06 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty sure all of those racistlittlemonsters are in fact ninjas.
posted by stavrogin at 1:10 PM on August 8, 2013


sweetkid: "I posted this article about the differences in Muslim headscarves (hijab, burka, etc) because I thought it was interesting and the styles are beautiful and I do believe for many Muslim women it is a choice and expression of their faith. Someone commented "her eyes look so sad" about the illustrations. What the..."

Human nature. We tend to anthropomorphize animals, and similarly, we tend to project our emotions or expectations on what we see around us, including people.

The Muslim women I know who wear a hijab give the same reasons for doing so that the Jewish women I know who practice tznius do: a sense of religious-based personal modesty. And yes, they can choose to do so and not everyone is so lucky.

I think if LG were trying to raise awareness of how women are oppressed in many Muslim theocracies, no one would object. Certainly not the folks over at Jezebel. The same if she were trying to say that women can be feminine, sexual and autonomous beings even if the repressive societies and cultures they might live in try to suppress that. There are direct parallels that can easily be drawn to the GOP's coercive 'war on women' which tries to exert control over women's own bodies.

I don't think she's saying any of those things. I think she's trying to take clothing that has become something of a symbol of desexualization and horrific oppression in the Western world (right or wrong) and say, "I CAN WEAR THIS WITH JEWELED PANTIES AND THIGH HIGH BOOTS AND SHOCK FUNDIES." She has an unbelievably massive, engaged audience and a podium from which she could conceivably effect a lot of good. This is either a misguided attempt to do so on her part, or pure stupidity. Most of her stylized schtick seems to be for shock value. Which is fine, but this strikes me as a real waste.
posted by zarq at 1:11 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


It actually isn't clear to me that Lady Gaga is more powerful relative to regimes which rule over something like 1/8 of the world's population than Madonna is powerful relative to a Catholic Church

Justinian, the power imbalance I am weighing is not so much Artist vs. Regime/church; it is Artist vs. Person-of-faith-X, all in the context of the Artist's society. So, White-American-Pop-Star v. Catholic in America? No big imbalance. White-American-Pop-Star v. Muslim in America? I think that's a different story.
posted by fikri at 1:13 PM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


I hadn't looked at it that way. I'm not sure I agree that's the way it should be looked at but it's something for me to think about.
posted by Justinian at 1:14 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I know I will be slagged off to mentioning this in the first place, but I am fairly certain that a nice portion of people thinking Lady Gaga is out of line with her cultural appropriation enjoyed watching the Thor film.
posted by kariebookish at 1:15 PM on August 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


Metafilter: I always wonder about dancing, and I don't have a good solution.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 1:16 PM on August 8, 2013


I know I will be slagged off to mentioning this in the first place, but I am fairly certain that a nice portion of people thinking Lady Gaga is out of line with her cultural appropriation enjoyed watching the Thor film.

I assume you're kidding, but, if not, how is this a parallel?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:18 PM on August 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


the West doesn't force anybody to wear a nun's habit

That's not exactly true. In fact, some monastic orders do require practitioners to wear them. And not all Islamic societies--not even most--require women to wear burqas under law. And really, the religious origins and justifications for both stem from a common set of beliefs about modesty and sexuality, regardless of how brutally or incorrectly those ideas are practiced in a particular Islamic culture.

whereas there are plenty of places which will murder women who have the audacity to refuse the burqa.

There are far more places where that won't happen, though. And it's arguably nothing inherent to burqas that prompts such violence; these are problems with specific, extremist cultures. The burqa might symbolize those abuses to you and a lot of other Americans and Europeans, but it doesn't necessarily mean anything of the sort to just anyone wearing a burqa.

Some of those voluntary burqa-wearers might find the deliberate sexualization of their symbol of the transcendence of sexual objectification annoying and tone deaf, and I might agree with them.

But I definitely agree with what I take to be your main point: burqas are definitely nothing more than symbols of oppression to many non-Muslims in America who've never actually taken the time to listen to what a Muslim woman wearing one says about what it means to them.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:20 PM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've got a cousin who wears a burqa and while I am not particularly happy she wears it, it is her choice and I respect it as best I can. I do like the idea of appropriating the burqa and letting people play with it because it is so much better than all the other messages we are sent about the burqa in North America. Not everything has to be so serious, especially in matters of faith and culture.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:21 PM on August 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think it would be really neat to have a thoughtful and nuanced discussion of cultural appropriation (I have a longer thing to post about this topic!) which did not get derailed by the very simple

I think it would be great if we could have discussions about this stuff where the conversation wasn't derailed when people who bother to ask questions and seek discussion are passive-aggressively told they're too stupid to participate and that only the people who know everything already deserve to speak. Talk about fucking privilege.

Like this;
Now that we have all educated ourselves on the basic background and repeated arguments of cultural appropriation, we can continue our intelligent discussion as more informed and thoughtful people. Thanks! On we go!

You really think you're being helpful? The kind of holier-than-though arrogance on display here is infuriating, as is the suggestion that the first result that turns up on Google should be regarded as gospel to the way we all need to think to participate in a conversation.

I know Metafilter has been called an echo chamber in the past. I never believed it, but lately I see people trying to make it one.
posted by Jimbob at 1:22 PM on August 8, 2013 [45 favorites]


That's not exactly true. In fact, some monastic orders do require practitioners to wear them.

But... nobody is forced to join a monastic order, saulgoodman.
posted by Justinian at 1:22 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


If I want to see women in sexy burqas I go to Dubai Mall. No shortage of Arab women wear 'em cut close and tight, with all sorts of eye-catching embellishments, towering heels and exquisite make up.
posted by ambient2 at 1:23 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


sweetkid: "I posted this article about the differences in Muslim headscarves (hijab, burka, etc) because I thought it was interesting and the styles are beautiful and I do believe for many Muslim women it is a choice and expression of their faith. Someone commented "her eyes look so sad" about the illustrations. What the..."

Human nature. We tend to anthropomorphize animals, and similarly, we tend to project our emotions or expectations on what we see around us, including people.


I know that, I just found it frustrating. It's a really interesting exploration of the different styles, but all some people can see is "oppressed woman must wear head thing. she must be sad, so sad. If only her hair could be free, free like you and me."
posted by sweetkid at 1:24 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


If the burqa isn't a symbol of oppression (note: this does not mean that every woman who wears a burqa is oppressed), then why do left-wing feminist movements in the Middle East use the tactic of de-veiling as a form of protest?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:24 PM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Bunny Ultramod: " I assume you're kidding, but, if not, how is this a parallel?"

Borrowing from other cultures -- especially their myths -- is very common in modern media. Roger Zelazny's work is notorious for it. He's borrowed from Hinduism, Buddhism, Arthurian legends as well as Native American and Celtic mythology.

Marvel's Thor is specifically retooled from Norse mythology.

The question of whether such usage crosses into negative cultural appropriation probably varies depending on the person asking.
posted by zarq at 1:25 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Before I get accused of being overly sensitive, or siding with the oppressors, let me clarify I think this is just fine, personally, and Lady Gaga is free to wear or not wear burqas however she likes. But Americans do, I think, suffer from a bit of cultural chauvinism here when it comes to burqas. Defining the meaning of other cultures' symbols for them and insisting on the correctness of those outside interpretations seems a little culturally imperialistic to me, is really all I'm saying.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:26 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I know I will be slagged off to mentioning this in the first place, but I am fairly certain that a nice portion of people thinking Lady Gaga is out of line with her cultural appropriation enjoyed watching the Thor film.

Well, sure, but I'm descended from the Watchers, so it's my job to observe the Asgardians (and NEVER INTERFERE!).
posted by Parasite Unseen at 1:26 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Was Gwen Stefani criticized for cultural appropriation for her Harajuku girls stuff? I wasn't a fan of the music so I didn't pay much attention.
posted by Justinian at 1:27 PM on August 8, 2013


sweetkid: " I know that, I just found it frustrating. It's a really interesting exploration of the different styles, but all some people can see is "oppressed woman must wear head thing. she must be sad, so sad. If only her hair could be free, free like you and me.""

*nod*
posted by zarq at 1:27 PM on August 8, 2013


But... nobody is forced to join a monastic order, saulgoodman

Tell that to a medieval woman who couldn't get a dowry. Socioeconomically, in the West's history some women certainly were forced to join monastic orders. And during many of our own various inquisitions and witch hunts, women certainly were killed for dressing immodestly. But this is getting off-topic. I cede the point, trivially, but it is absolutely true that the historical roots of the burqa and the habit are closely bound up together.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:29 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Justinian: "Was Gwen Stefani criticized for cultural appropriate for her Harajuku girls stuff? I wasn't a fan of the music so I didn't pay much attention."

Yes. Margaret Cho equated it to blackface.
posted by zarq at 1:29 PM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


If I want to see women in sexy burqas I go to Dubai Mall. No shortage of Arab women wear 'em cut close and tight, with all sorts of eye-catching embellishments, towering heels and exquisite make up.

I think you mean the niqab? It could be seen as a fine point, but the burqa has different cultural baggage than the niqab, which 8s strictly a face veil worn with many outfits.
posted by planetesimal at 1:29 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


And if this was 600 years ago I'd absolutely agree with you.
posted by Justinian at 1:29 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Was Gwen Stefani criticized for cultural appropriate for her Harajuku girls stuff? I wasn't a fan of the music so I didn't pay much attention.

Yes, extensively. And also for her appropriation of Indian style/imagery earlier in her career. And Native American culture later in her career.

She's kind of known for being awful about this sort of thing.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 1:29 PM on August 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


(that was for saulgoodman)
posted by Justinian at 1:29 PM on August 8, 2013


Thanks for the info on Gwen Stefani's awfulness. I'm always glad to read about it.
posted by Justinian at 1:30 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Now that we have all educated ourselves on the basic background and repeated arguments of cultural appropriation, we can continue our intelligent discussion as more informed and thoughtful people. Thanks! On we go!

Thank goodness we have you here to set the standard!

cultural appropriation and symbolic intervention have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis

no, see there's a Bingo card!
posted by Hoopo at 1:30 PM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


If we are going to let people speak for themselves, can we at least listen to middle eastern women offer their opinions about Lady Gaga?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:33 PM on August 8, 2013 [11 favorites]


saulgoodman: "Defining the meaning of other cultures' symbols for them and insisting on the correctness of those outside interpretations seems a little culturally imperialistic to me, is really all I'm saying."

I think this is two sides of the same coin. We have someone who is taking a symbol that has specific meanings and values to its parent culture and reinterpreting it according to her own sensibilities, and also people who are not part of that parent culture are viewing what she has done with that symbol through theirs.
posted by zarq at 1:35 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


MisantropicPainforest: "If we are going to let people speak for themselves, can we at least listen to middle eastern women offer their opinions about Lady Gaga?"

Sure. But at the same time, I think the rest of us should also be allowed to express opinions on the matter.
posted by zarq at 1:36 PM on August 8, 2013


Tell that to a medieval woman who couldn't get a dowry. Socioeconomically, in the West's history some women certainly were forced to join monastic orders. And during many of our own various inquisitions and witch hunts, women certainly were killed for dressing immodestly. But this is getting off-topic. I cede the point, trivially, but it is absolutely true that the historical roots of the burqa and the habit are closely bound up together.

I think one problem with the discourse of "cultural appropriation" is that it's an attempt to handle the political by means of the "merely" aesthetic. Which is why we're always trying to come up with reasons that we don't have to worry about some aspect of cultural appropriation - it happened 600 years ago, or 60 years ago, or in the nineties, or in another subculture, and anyway, it's too late, the ship has sailed, everyone says "yo" now or whatever.

I mean, the issue with cultural appropriation is that people do not have the ability to control the conditions under which they live, so the theft and use of their symbols, clothes, rituals, etc is both something they can't do much about and often a material threat, and sometimes an active part of a genocidal campaign. This is why, for instance, I don't give a good goddamn if you wear swedish traditional clothing even if you're a filthy Dane, or if you dress up as a Lutheran minister for your degenerate sexual rituals, but I do find it frustrating if you start identifying as a "political lesbian" or wearing union kitsch because you think unions are a hiLARious relic of our amusing seventies-style blue collar past.

And if you're "against" the critique of cultural appropriation - well, it's much easier to reduce questions of power to "lol she thinks that white people shouldn't twerk, doesn't she understand that information wants to be free", so it's a much more comforting conversation to have.
posted by Frowner at 1:40 PM on August 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


Also, history never goes away. "It happened 600 years ago" does not mean that "it" has stopped echoing in the world. If only!!! History, a slaughtering bench, etc.

Again, much more comfortable to talk about this at the level of the aesthetic/fashion rather than at the level of power and violence.
posted by Frowner at 1:42 PM on August 8, 2013


People ornament themselves in other cultures all the time without understanding what they mean. This is Urban Outfitter's business model.
posted by dobie at 1:43 PM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


I know I will be slagged off to mentioning this in the first place, but I am fairly certain that a nice portion of people thinking Lady Gaga is out of line with her cultural appropriation enjoyed watching the Thor film.

1) The Norse culture and religion hasn't existed in any recognizable form for about a millenium now.
2) The country was founded by descendants of the Norse (England's Normans via William the Bastard) and has a significant number of immigrants descended from the Norse (the southern Italian and Sicilian Normans via the de Hautevilles, a number of Irish via the eastern conquests, Northern Russians, and the Scandanavians themselves).
3) The Asgardians in the comics are essentially humanoid aliens.

/pedantry (for now)

You really think you're being helpful? The kind of holier-than-though arrogance on display here is infuriating, as is the suggestion that the first result that turns up on Google should be regarded as gospel to the way we all need to think to participate in a conversation.

I know Metafilter has been called an echo chamber in the past. I never believed it, but lately I see people trying to make it one.


There are far more commentors that have offered helpful advice on clarification than have offered. To focus on one person making a flippant comment and ignoring all of that sounds like you're just building a grievance narrative.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:48 PM on August 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


So, White-American-Pop-Star v. Catholic in America? No big imbalance. White-American-Pop-Star v. Muslim in America? I think that's a different story.

Is this a different story, do you think, because of the tensions and violence between the West and the Muslim world, or is it simply a case of the size of Muslim population in the US. There is equally a "power imbalance" between White-American-Pop-Star v. Rastafarian in America and that hasn't saved us from decades of hideous cod-reggae.

I don't really want to go to bat for any of these pop stars. I'm happy to concede that their knowledge of foreign cultures may be unsophisticated, shallow, and vulgar. At the same time, I want to defend their right to have a space to be unsophisticated and vulgar in, at least for creative purposes and at least as long as the intent isn't to specifically incite or demean or belittle.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:50 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I can't get too riled up about this. I come from a Muslim family, and have relatives that wear niqab. To me, there is no equalizing between hair-coverings and face-coverings - they are radically different. Though I'm now an atheist, I did wear the hijab for a period in my life, and I understand the complex reasons that women and girls wear it - many of which have absolutely nothing to do with religion or Islam. Many wear it as a fashion accessory, to fit in with their peers or social group. To take ownership of a societal expectation of beauty and not conform to those social expectations. They wear it because doing your hair every day is just a major pain in the ass. They wear it for cultural reasons, and also for religious reasons. It doesn't mean they're pious (and conversely - a Muslim woman who doesn't cover hair isn't necessarily non-pious). Hair coverings are complex and extremely individual.

But I just can't see the same with regards to niqab, the burka, or other face coverings. My cousins didn't always cover their face - interestingly, they didn't start doing so until *after* they settled in the US from Pakistan. One of my cousins worked as a beautician in Maryland, before she was introduced to a conservative imam, and began wearing niqab - she also forces her daughter to wear niqab. When I met my cousin's daughter for the first time, the girl was 11, and covering her face. I don't know at what age she was forced to start covering, but she was born and has lived her entire life in the United States. My (first) male cousins won't hug me, won't shake my hand, and will barely look me in the eye. A casual dinner at their house is completely gender segregated. The women in a small, stuffy room by the kitchen, and then men in the cool and spacious living room. My baby niece crawls across the hallway and foyer to the men in the living room - she's an asexual 9 month old, so it's ok. But I can't go across and get her when she starts getting into trouble. I'm a woman - that's all that's important. They don't have to say it, but it's implied - I'd be breaking some rules. I can feel the coldness watching my niece 20 feet away, but I can't cross the invisible lines, and they barely acknowledge me looking over to watch my niece from afar. I honestly feel like I can't even communicate with the men about watching her. I'm not the cousin that used to wrestle and climb mango trees with them, and ride their backs while they gave me piggy back rides around when we visited them in Karachi. At their house in Maryland, there are boundaries. You don't see them, but they're clearly there.

I believe that face coverings are an extension of those boundaries. I've posted about Mona Eltahawy's thoughts on this, and I agree with her assessment: "I support banning the burqa because I believe it equates piety with the disappearance of women. The closer you are to God, the less I see of you — and I find that idea extremely dangerous. It comes from an ideology that basically wants to hide women away."

Defense of niqab/burka/etc is supporting people who advocate eradicating a woman's presence. They don't want to see women. They don't want to even hear about women. They cannot bear to look at a woman's face, see her expressions and her smile, or her body, or hear a woman's voice - so she must be erased, blocked, censored. Get her out of my sight. Just by being, just by existing, a woman's presence is offensive. And they justify female invisibility as near godliness. This is not a matter of difference of culture, or neo-colonialism, or how people do things or what they happen to like. It is a tremendously dangerous way of perceiving half of humankind, and it does have real, detrimental effects on half of humankind. And I have no problem mocking symbols that represent those abhorrent ideas.
posted by raztaj at 1:51 PM on August 8, 2013 [65 favorites]


This is why, for instance, I don't give a good goddamn if you wear swedish traditional clothing even if you're a filthy Dane, or if you dress up as a Lutheran minister for your degenerate sexual rituals, but I do find it frustrating if you start identifying as a "political lesbian" or wearing union kitsch because you think unions are a hiLARious relic of our amusing seventies-style blue collar past.

Doesn't this echo back to LogicalDash post, Cultural appropriation is what you call the reuse of other cultures' symbols when you disapprove of it.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:52 PM on August 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


At its core, it is taking something with deep meaning to somebody, and using it as a toy.

ALSO KNOWN AS: ART
posted by Sebmojo at 1:55 PM on August 8, 2013 [13 favorites]



I think it would be great if we could have discussions about this stuff where the conversation wasn't derailed when people who bother to ask questions and seek discussion are passive-aggressively told they're too stupid to participate and that only the people who know everything already deserve to speak.


Well, I think that the internet's greatest gift to me was to get me in the habit of doing a little bit of googling when I had elementary questions about a topic that I was unfamiliar with! No, seriously, I get that the smuggery about "obviously enlightened people already know this" is annoying, but I think it's very easy to get dragged into the same conversation that we've had here on metafilter and/or elsewhere on the internet over and over because one or two people who have not read the elementary stuff jump in really actively. And so instead of a group that is, as a whole, capable of figuring out new and more sophisticated interpretations getting to do that, we have the fifty millionth retread of very simple points. And they are fairly simple! If you're smart enough to be reading metafilter regularly, you are smart enough to grasp all the 101 stuff, at least at a functional level. Someone could even read the 101 stuff and come in with an intelligent disagreement, actually.

And here is something that I hope you will read as a sincere statement about my experience instead of more smuggery: Although this may not apply to you at all...well, anyway, it might: I dislike being in situations where I know less than others, and I'm a neurotic person. As a result, when I really do know less than others (usually about something trivial, not "oh, I don't understand physics"), my immediate tendency is to get angry about the situation and to feel that I am being put down, or sometimes to feel really inferior and crawl sadly away. This is why I mean that the habit of googling has been a gift - it has helped me to feel more confident that I can know this crap, just like everyone else. Cultural appropriation 101? Well, yeah, I can read that really simple webpage - and now I know, just like the rest of you clowns!
posted by Frowner at 1:58 PM on August 8, 2013 [9 favorites]


Doesn't this echo back to LogicalDash post, Cultural appropriation is what you call the reuse of other cultures' symbols when you disapprove of it.

No, it means that I am queer and I work a union gig which I am fucking lucky to have - and that I deal with homophobia far more regularly than I would like and I hear a shit-ton of union-bashing and deal with the perpetual attempts of the right to loot the pension fund and slash our insurance. Whereas I am not discriminated against as culturally Lutheran (so to speak) or as impeccably Swedish-American.
posted by Frowner at 1:59 PM on August 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


per tumblr, tattoos on anyone but people of Polynesian descent is cultural appropriation.

Given that Otzi the Iceman, a European from ~3,300 BC has tattoos, I'd say tumblr is a bit off on that one.
posted by fings at 2:00 PM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


just like the rest of you clowns!

On behalf of Pierrot and Pagliacci ... this makes me want to cry.
posted by octobersurprise at 2:01 PM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Defense of niqab/burka/etc is supporting people who advocate eradicating a woman's presence. They don't want to see women. They don't want to even hear about women.

Funny, I could have sworn I was trying to stick up for those other young American Muslim girls I heard (I think it was on TV but it may have been NPR) talking about why they chose to wear burqas in spite of their family's opposition. But maybe I'm secretly all about forcing women to be invisible, too, and just didn't realize it?

Humans overgeneralize and confuse the map with the territory/symbols for what they symbolize a lot. For me, it just doesn't make much sense to focus on the symbolic garments people wear if what we're really concerned with is a set of oppressive cultural beliefs and attitudes. Women didn't win the right to go to the beach in bikinis in the US without doing jail time or being fined because we banned corsets or nun's habits. We never banned those things, and yet, somehow we managed to crawl out from under the monstrous pile of cultural prejudice that encouraged similar abusive attitudes and practices in our own history.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:03 PM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


More on the history of tattoos. They've been prevalent in many cultures.
posted by zarq at 2:03 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's amazing to me how these fads appear on the lefty-left.

"Cultural appropriation" is a radically confused concept, often underwritten by some vaporous, lit-critty nonsense....though more commonly the concept is just picked up by osmosis, the way other fads are.

There's nothing sacred about culture. You want to pick up our way of talking or dressing? Hey, knock yourself out. You want to play around with it, rearrange it, riff on it? That's cool.

The hyper-pious left is always looking for new political sins that the West can be charged with, new ways to show their alleged superiority (because they are just so sensitive...)...

But it doesn't take all that much clear thought to see that there's just nothing significantly wrong with this sort of thing. It only seems wrong if you're already primed to criticize everything American...of if you think that people like Judith Butler, and/or Foucault, and or Slavoj Zizek count as serious thinkers... In that case, well, you can come up with some convoluted verbal mish-mash to underwrite any preference you want...even contradictory ones...

I'm not Lady GaGa fan, but good on her for this. Even if the idea of "cultural appropriation" made sense, and even if it were a bad thing, the burqa deserves whatever ridicule we can dish out to it.

It's too bad that the real oppression of real people has become less important to certain sectors of the left than the real rights of real people.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 2:04 PM on August 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


Given that Otzi the Iceman, a European from ~3,300 BC has tattoos, I'd say tumblr is a bit off on that one.

The thing is, tattooing as a modern Western practice by white people is pretty clearly traceable to maritime contact with Polynesian peoples - some positive and friendly, some brutal and genocidal. It's like dreadlocks - white people with dreads are not wearing them as an unbroken tradition from the druids of yore, but because of reggae or the early reggae/punk connection.
posted by Frowner at 2:05 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


raztaj: "Defense of niqab/burka/etc is supporting people who advocate eradicating a woman's presence. "

So we know that some women choose to wear the niqab and burqa of their own agency and free will. Where do they fit into this? How do you classify them?
posted by zarq at 2:05 PM on August 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


Funny, I could have sworn I was trying to stick up for those other young American Muslim girls I heard (I think it was on TV but it may have been NPR) talking about why they chose to wear burqas in spite of their family's opposition. But maybe I'm secretly all about forcing women to be invisible, too, and just didn't realize it?

It is perfeclty reasonable and not at all incoherent to acknowledge that the burqa is part of a network of oppression against women in some Middle Eastern and Islamic societies, and also recognize that there are some women who voluntarily wear the burqa and don't feel that they are oppressed.

The more important point is that widespread use of the burqa can only be sustained by a culture that is hostile to women. Its no coincidence that the popularity of the burqa rose as women's rights movements slowed in mid-century Egypt. You could war around Cairo in the early Nasir years and not run into a single woman wearing a veil or burqa
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:08 PM on August 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


I really dislike the entire concept of cultural appropriation. I really feel like the message "Hey! You're not a X, so you can't wear that" cannot be detached from the accompanying message "If you are an X, you should wear that"

No - to me, "cultural appropriation" is itself a tinged term because it assumes the "wearing" of a culture by a neutral body.

Different cultures intermingle and mix and overlap; this happens all the time. Yet when a middle-class white American dude listens to rap music and dresses like a caricature of a black gangster -- this is rarely discussed as "white culture mixing with black culture", but rather as "cultural appropriation". When you see a 'professional young black couple' on a television ad wearing polo shirts, you may think of this as "black culture mixing with WASPy culture", but that's rarely discussed as "cultural appropriation".

The mindset of "appropriation" assumes a 'neutral', 'cultureless' body that engages in appropriation. That idea of 'neutrality' or a 'default' is itself the wrong kind of mindset. The right kind of mindset, in my opinion, is one that can look honestly at itself and understand that everyone carries with them a certain set of behaviors, connotations, and shared knowledge that we called culture -- and that they all intermingle. White American Suburban Culture is different from New England WASPy culture is different from NYC culture is different from East-Asian-American culture is different from SoCal Hispanic culture is different from Baltimore black american culture is different from....

Previously on the Blue: Exotic White Girls

==

And this specific object, the burqa, is especially fraught in the context of the Western world's ongoing caricature and demonization of Islam.

Yes, absolutely. In my opinion, the hijab (which is perhaps less controversial than the burqa or niqab) occupies a similar cultural position as women's high heels in the US, for example, but most people don't realize it. High heels are often times seen as the "proper" item to wear for business meetings, formal events, dinner parties, fun events, a night out, etc. High heels are uncomfortable, seriously bad for posture and for long-term health, yet they are emphasized as garments that enhance the sexuality of the wearer, almost always for the visual pleasure of the (male) viewer.

But! The usual response would be: "well, in the Muslim world, the woman gets stoned to death by her father for not wearing a hijab, while in the US, the woman gets to choose whether or not she wears heels. After all, many people don't wear heels."

First -- there are 1.6 billion muslims in the world - the actions of a few do not necessarily determine the larger actions of the second. Also - no specific garment is dictated by the Koran, but set in place through practice -- thus the enforcement has more to do with the culture of the location rather than some innate Islamic dictate. In addition, these instances are more often results of misreportings, or caricatures of events. And finally, in my experience, most people who do wear the hijab do it because they choose to do so.

Compare this similarity with a woman who "chooses" to wear high heels, considering the immense amount of societal and cultural pressure placed on that person. You could imagine a scenario in which a woman not wearing heels for a dinner party is chastised by her fellow female friends. In fact, that pressure even becomes internalized -- "well, I think high heels look good on me, so that's why I decide to wear them, even if they're really uncomfortable." Think of the endless glossy ads, movie scenes, television shots, in which a shot of a woman walking in high heels is featured as a signifier for 'attractiveness'.

This is just to say - the whole hijab, and also burqa/niqab thing is very nuanced, and the issues at stake are not 'foreign' but very close to everyone. If you're angry about hijabs/burqas/niqabs, then I hope you're examining high heels and other forms of oppression that exist in our day to day lives. There's nothing more infuriating than someone who is outraged against caricatures of "islamic oppression" yet fails to see that the exact same mechanisms exist in their own society -- and who even helps reinforces those mechanisms.
posted by suedehead at 2:08 PM on August 8, 2013 [16 favorites]


"if you think that people like Judith Butler, and/or Foucault, and or Slavoj Zizek count as serious thinkers"

I've never met anyone with a brain who didn't think Foucault was a serious thinker, FWIW.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:10 PM on August 8, 2013 [12 favorites]


Was Gwen Stefani criticized for cultural appropriate for her Harajuku girls stuff?

Yes, but I think thats an interesting case. Some of the criticism appears to be about how she presented them (I see claims they were "not allowed" to speak English, for example, or behave in some sort of stereotypical way) and its easy to see why that sort of thing is racist / bad.

But in general Japan is actively trying to spread that kind of culture to the rest of the world (under things like the Creative Industries Promotion Office). In addition, Japan as a whole is hardly a repressed/powerless country (being one of the worlds dominant economies).

People adopting Harajuku fashion is not something bad, any more than people adopting Parisian fashion. Same with anime cosplay, for example -- my general sense from Japanese friends is they like that their culture gets traction overseas. Now, adopting the fashion while trying to portray some sort of racist / stereotyped view of the people, thats something else.

Additional complications can come from power imbalance (like adopting Native American stuff) or repression/controversy (like the burqa). But simply adopting modern pop culture from a rich country? Seems legit to me.
posted by wildcrdj at 2:11 PM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


raztaj, I ask because similar criticisms have been raised in the past (and currently) by outsiders against many rituals and laws within Orthodox Jewish culture, and I'm quite familiar with the background, history and choices being made by the women who engage in them. Orthodox Jewish traditions of tznius are almost never as extreme except in super-fundamentalist sects, but they do have strong parallels in Muslim traditions.

There are crazy fundamentalist Jews. There are crazy fundamentalist Muslims. But I don't believe the fringe crazies should be allowed to define their religion for everyone else who follows it. Personally, I wouldn't assume that most Orthodox Jewish women are oppressed. Many of them have chosen to be Orthodox even though they have lived part of their lives outside their religion. In fact, I know quite a few who would take extreme offense at the idea that by engaging freely in their own religious traditions they were somehow being subjugated or oppressed by men.

So I'm having trouble reconciling the idea that a religious symbol or article of clothing is de facto subjugation no matter the circumstances. Which is why I ask how you would characterize a woman who chooses to adopt the burqa or niqab of her own free will? Yes, an argument can be made that once you're enmeshed into a fundamentalist mindset, you lose free will. But I'm not sure it would apply in every single case.
posted by zarq at 2:15 PM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is why I mean that the habit of googling has been a gift - it has helped me to feel more confident that I can know this crap, just like everyone else.

I don't want to derail this into something better suited for MeTa, but feom my perspective, I'd rather rather solicit the community for good info rather than sift through search results that I'm not academically equipped to evaluate.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 2:18 PM on August 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


I don't want to derail this into something better suited for MeTa, but feom my perspective, I'd rather rather solicit the community for good info rather than sift through search results that I'm not academically equipped to evaluate.

For example, the third link in my google search for feminism goes to reddit.
posted by zabuni at 2:30 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think there are degrees and degrees of 'cultural appropriation'. On one hand I understand and agree with those who want some sort of hands off other cultural symbols.

but in reality that is never going to happen or be the case. N.E.V.E.R. And on a meta level I'm not entirely sure hands off is that good of an approach. Continuing culture evolution happens because of cultural appropriations.

The recent post about the cartoon of a (Pakistani?) school teacher dressing up in a ninja burka to fight bad guys is at minimal cultural appropriation from Japan right? Rock and roll came about because of cultural appropriations via Jazz which is cultural appropriation itself, Rap music? Any artistic movement that draws heavily from a different culture. Can white people make Native American music, how about Americans making Irish Music? The Beetles certainly practiced it with Indian music. (you might as well just outright say ALL music is cultural appropriation in some form) Kayaks and moccasins? Cartoons of Muhammad? Damn near the entirety of Christianity foundation stories could be considered Cultural appropriation. Democracy certainly didn't originate here. Sarongs, tattoos, eye glasses and fireworks. Taco Bell and Pita Hut. Belief, dress, diet, art and consumer goods. Nothing is pure. We hardly talk abut MIA's Saudi Arabia set piece themed song any more do we? (I think is was SA? the one with all the car drifting and culturally modified dress)
We live in an extremely cross cultural, global culture environment. for good or for ill.

I am pretty leery of 'sacred cows', and hands off dictates. And really I don't think burqas deserve to be a sacred cow. For some they represent something more then repression, and that is ok, I understand and respect that an item can have multiple meanings at the same time, take the American flag as a prime example.

At the same time I do see why it causes concern and am sympathetic to those concerns but at the end of the day we navigate what symbols mean to us personally (that really is what we are talking about here) and that is the best way, imo, to deal with it.

As I said, I think there are levels and levels
posted by edgeways at 2:30 PM on August 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


So we know that some women choose to wear the niqab and burqa of their own agency and free will. Where do they fit into this? How do you classify them?

My cousins weren't forced to start covering their face - they did it of their own agency and free will. They were already married, and in the US. Their husbands didn't force them, though they all became increasingly very, very conservative, and are passing on those beliefs to the younger generation. Their kids are growing up with *less* freedoms in the US, than my cousins did growing up in Pakistan - I can guarantee that. I do believe my cousins are still passing on some deeply dangerous ideas about a woman's presence to their kids, despite their personal choices to cover their face. It is SO different than hair. People wear hats, accessorize their hair in a multitude of hair, wear all kids of different things to fully or partially cover their hair - who cares? But your face is different. It identifies you as you. You show your infinite expressions - a curious lift of a brow, a smirk, a big toothy grin, wrinkle of your nose. The face is a major part of human communication, and covering it up effectively bars a big part of your communication with others, as well as sharing and connecting yourself with others. Not that I think anyone should be forced to communicate with anyone - but to deny the enormous importance of these little things we reveal in our face is incredibly naive. I think there's also a lot of damage to be passed on to kids who pick up that no one needs to see their mom's expressions, let alone their smile.
posted by raztaj at 2:31 PM on August 8, 2013 [20 favorites]


It's amazing to me how these fads appear on the lefty-left.

I do not wish to sound as dismissive of your comment as you have been of the rest of this discussion, do please understand that I am asking this in all earnestness:

Discussions of cultural appropriation are not a fad of the "lefty left," whatever that is. It's been part of the discourse in sociology and cultural studies departments dating back to at least the 1960s. That's a half-century of academic investigation.

So seeing as you got the very first sentence of your comment wrong, why should we take any of the rest of it seriously?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:34 PM on August 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


Privilege has probably blinded me to the nicer subtleties of judging the purity of people's sartorial motivations, but for my absurd power-differential dollar, it's hard to beat the tragi-comic spectacle of a Barack Obama, a Li Kechiang, or a Prince Charles all incongruously got up in Croatian garb.
posted by perhapsolutely at 2:41 PM on August 8, 2013


I see no evidence from your link that the cravat, and later tie, has some specific cultural meaning for the Croats, or that it was absolutely unique to them. But, from your tone, it sounds like your goal is to mock this conversation rather than participate in it, and I wonder if you would not do that.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:44 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's nothing liberal or faddish about 1960's sociology departments, you say?
posted by perhapsolutely at 2:47 PM on August 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


If you think a fad is something that lasts over 50 years then I am not sure you actually know what a fad is.
posted by elizardbits at 2:50 PM on August 8, 2013 [11 favorites]


The Norse culture and religion hasn't existed in any recognizable form for about a millenium now.

Speaking of things it'd be great if people could google before they speak, this is categorically not the case. There are a lot of people in the US and elsewhere who practice the Norse religion and focus on elements of its culture. I am personally acquainted with some of them, and while I was in the military, came upon an entire journal written in futhark.

Unless you're saying that things don't exist in recognizable forms once they start being oppressed by outside dominant forces, in which case, what are we even talking about?
posted by corb at 2:51 PM on August 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


Academically:
After about the first thirty comments, I had to stop reading them. More than anything, I'm reminded of the Sokal affair since so many people are excerpting chunks of what can very, very generously be called 'cultural studies.' A concise demonstration was made in the course of that affair, and it translates well to this kind of response: discussing culture is a good thing, and an appropriate sociological pursuit, but one is hard pressed to distill anything resembling a consensus when the very language used to discuss culture is as subjective. No amount of invective will ever mean more than just invective because it's accompanied with a cultural critic's assessment. Morals aren't physical constants.

Personally:
I'm also pleased that so many people have piped up to say that they're fine with appropriation of symbols that they feel are exploitative themselves--crosses, burqas, what have you. I'm passionately in agreement with you good and reasonable people--my experience with some of those symbols has taught me the very personal lesson that, no, I do not have to respect other peoples' values so that they may, I don't know, not have to be offended or something? That's so much like the argument that Christians are being oppressed by being called out on homophobia that I actually get a little incensed myself when I read comments like, "How hard is it to understand that someone else's culture isn't just a cosume, and to treat it with respect, even if that mean that you, poor white person, are told not to wear something?," which is written above. To the person who wrote that: there's more than race in this world, chum, and I have plenty of rational, well-reasoned disrespect for my oppressors' cultural trappings. Dig it, if you wish, or continue to fume pointlessly about things you yourself probably do subconsciously.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 2:52 PM on August 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


Speaking of things it'd be great if people could google before they speak,

Speaking of Googling, you're discussing a branch of neo-paganism. The fact is, we don't really know how the ancient Norsemen practiced their religions, and, as with much neopaganism, its a modern invention inspired by the little we do know about the ancients. Berating Thor comics for borrowing from ancient Norse paganism because contemporary neopagans likewise borrow from ancient Norse paganism is a discussion, perhaps, but it's not this discussion.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:56 PM on August 8, 2013 [9 favorites]


The term that identifies the cravat/necktie as unique to Croatia at the time is 'originating'. You'll find it in the first sentence. As for whether special significance has been attached to it, I'd hope at least one Croatian might be consulted before deeming a part of the nation's traditional costume as insignificant. Not that the appropriator's (necessarily semi-informed) estimate of insignificance is carte blanche.
posted by perhapsolutely at 2:56 PM on August 8, 2013


As for whether special significance has been attached to it, I'd hope at least one Croatian might be consulted before deeming a part of the nation's traditional costume as insignificant.

Do you have evidence that the Croats have spoken out, now or ever, about neckties? If not, then why bring it into the discussion?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:58 PM on August 8, 2013


It's the Columbian Necktie that you should be fretting over.
posted by planetesimal at 3:01 PM on August 8, 2013


1 - pop, and especially rock and roll, ARE cultural appropriation

2 - like it or not, cultural appropriation of arab culture has been going on for a long damned time in this country - rudolph valentino - and if you appropriate it long enough, it becomes part of the culture

3 - rock and roll is often offensive - it sells records

4 - i am happy that someone pitch shifted the hell out of that old DX7 guitar preset to make it sound a little different - i thought it was dead

5 - uno, dos, one, two, tres, QUATRO!! (trigger warning - people in arab costumes singing about farmyard animals)

frankly, i have a hard time taking lady gaga's burqa fixation as something much less silly than this

ps - if you don't like the art your culture is producing because it's offensive, thoughtless, insensitive, there is only one real effective thing to do

make the art you want to see

pps - let's not be l-seven
posted by pyramid termite at 3:06 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe Croatians are, as a completely homogenized stereotypical group, totally in lockstep about allowing their national neckwear to be adopted nolens volens. That would make them a forgiving and generous bunch. Or maybe there are various opinions. It's just an example of cultural appropriation (from before the CA-spotting fad started) to consider. If considering it taxes you, by all means, ill consider.
posted by perhapsolutely at 3:08 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Berating Thor comics for borrowing from ancient Norse paganism because contemporary neopagans likewise borrow from ancient Norse paganism is a discussion, perhaps, but it's not this discussion.

Here's the thing. If these cultures were strong and robust, they wouldn't need any defenders. It would be patently obvious who is practicing the religion or culture, and everyone else would just be ignored. You don't see people shouting about the cultural appropriation of the dreidel, for example - and you generally don't see people shouting cultural appropriation about the cross, or sexy nun habits, or anything like that. People might find it offensive, but it's an entirely different discussion.

But it is the cultures who are the weakest who are most subject to cultural appropriation. Native Americans who have lost much of their own culture through their people being murdered and their sacred objects sold or stolen are, themselves, piecing together their culture from those who do remember. It is not generally an unbroken chain of the totality of knowledge that was before.

This is also the case with Norse descendants who want to honor their culture, heritage, and religion. It is a weak culture, practiced by few, through a mirror, darkly, as it were. Pieced together from those who do remember and the writings of those who did. It is not an unbroken chain of the totality of knowledge, but it is a striving towards what was. I don't see that it needs to be disrespected simply because it happens to be practiced by a people we don't generally think of as being oppressed, because it hasn't happened as directly for several hundred years.

But I don't berate Thor comics, even though they do bear little, if any, resemblance to, say, the Prose Edda. Because I think that to suggest that adapting the stories of other cultures is to eventually cause their death. When the stories are in living memory, even in an altered form, they continue. Thus I think that if anything is attacking these cultures, it's the idea that their ideas must be segregated and preserved only by the few who will die out, rather than the mass of people who can carry it onward.
posted by corb at 3:09 PM on August 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


It's just an example of cultural appropriation (from before the CA-spotting fad started) to consider.

No it isn't. This is one of those moments when familiarizing yourself with what cultural appropriation is -- and links have been provided upthread -- would benefit the discussion.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:09 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Speaking of things it'd be great if people could google before they speak, this is categorically not the case. There are a lot of people in the US and elsewhere who practice the Norse religion and focus on elements of its culture. I am personally acquainted with some of them, and while I was in the military, came upon an entire journal written in futhark.

You mean the neopaganism of the Romantic period of the late 19th/early 20th centuries as part of a nationalist revival? That doesn't count.

Unless you're saying that things don't exist in recognizable forms once they start being oppressed by outside dominant forces, in which case, what are we even talking about?

Technically speaking, the Norse weren't "oppressed by outside dominant forces." The Normans, for instance, converted to Christianity despite having the upper hand. They were never dominated by the Franks. The Scandanavian and Kievan Norse acquired their new religion(s) and cultures from within, not through external subjugation.

None of which has to do with cultural appropriation as we're discussing it, by the way.
posted by zombieflanders at 3:11 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Here's the thing.

And here's the other thing -- the discussion you are starting might be a bit of a derail in this thread.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:11 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


(to stress, because it occurs that there are a lot of uncharitable readers in this thread: when I say "Weak culture" I do not mean less good or inferior in any way. I mean that the interwoven fabric of it is missing a lot of either human or cultural threads.)
posted by corb at 3:12 PM on August 8, 2013


Again, all I'm saying--the full depth and scope of it--is that I wouldn't be surprised if there were some Muslim women for whom this representation of the burqa was legitimately offensive. And if they were offended and chose to speak out about it, I'd probably have to say they had a valid point. Personally, I don't really see the point in defending or condemning garments when the real issues go so much deeper. You don't cure small pox by putting band aids on all the sores.

As a general rule, I think people should be allowed to wear whatever they want for whatever reasons they have (as long as they aren't coerced) and that it isn't particularly ennobling or enlightened to advocate dictating personal choices to people for any reason.

That said, I absolutely admit there are specific subcultures within some Islamic societies where there is very little choice involved in women's lives and that is an evil no one should defend. And yes, of course, for some the burqa has legitimately come to be seen as a symbol of the deeper maladies that lead some to force women to wear them.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:13 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I see no evidence from your link that the cravat, and later tie, has some specific cultural meaning for the Croats

I'm not sure what you mean by "specific cultural meaning", but it does say they have Cravat Day in October, where the source links to an article in The Atlantic called "The Tie is a Very Big Deal in Croatia," but this does appear to be one of those situations where the culture where the thing originated is pretty stoked that it took off. Also I pretty much am only linking to the article because of the hilarious non-shopped photo of a giant tie wrapped around a roman arena.
posted by Hoopo at 3:13 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think people should be allowed to wear whatever they want for whatever reasons they have (as long as they aren't coerced) and that it isn't particularly ennobling or enlightened to advocate dictating personal choices to people for any reason.

People can wear whatever they want to -- nobody's passing any laws forbidding Gaga from wearing Muslim garments. But that doesn't mean she can be free of criticism or that this isn't a valuable conversation.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:14 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


when I say "Weak culture" I do not mean less good or inferior in any way.

Then you should choose a word or phrase that better gets your meaning across. Using a word that has a meaning and then saying it means something else is some Humpty Dumpty shit.
posted by jessamyn at 3:15 PM on August 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


Do any participants in this thread actually wear a burqa?
posted by oceanjesse at 3:16 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


suedehead: I'm curious about an aspect of the high heel / burqa comparison. In the west, it seems more likely than not that a boy can wear high heels without hazard. This hasn't always been the case, but social change has undeniably made progress in terms of decoupling clothing conventions from absolute gender roles and social obligations. In communities where burqas are worn, can the same be said of a boy who would choose to wear it?

My naive assessment is that, although high heels can be seen as relics of an oppressive culture, ithey've moved far enough outside of that history to be flauntable--easily, at that--without penalty, and even artfully with reference to their history. This seems a far cry from burqas' context, no? Does this not separate the two traditions greatly, at least today? If anything, it seems that it puts the burqa in a position that artists, provocateurs, and shit-stirrers feel irresistably drawn toward--it's where the high heel was sometime in the past.

Thoughts?
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:16 PM on August 8, 2013


The mantle of ultimate arbiter of cultural appropriation must be burdensome. There must be some sort of epigenetic adaptation by now, though, for those born to wear it.
posted by perhapsolutely at 3:16 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Probably not as bad as the weighty mantle of the dismissive douchebag.
posted by elizardbits at 3:17 PM on August 8, 2013 [11 favorites]


Native Americans who have lost much of their own culture through their people being murdered and their sacred objects sold or stolen are, themselves, piecing together their culture from those who do remember. It is not generally an unbroken chain of the totality of knowledge that was before.

This is also the case with Norse descendants who want to honor their culture, heritage, and religion. It is a weak culture, practiced by few, through a mirror, darkly, as it were.


Why are you so het up on equating the violent, sudden, and purposeful destruction of a number of myriad and often unconnected cultures like those practiced by the many disparate Native American groups with the gradual assimilation of a fairly unified culture that was never really in danger of subjugation let alone a victim of it, especially in a discussion about cultural appropriation?
posted by zombieflanders at 3:18 PM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure what you mean by "specific cultural meaning", but it does say they have Cravat Day in October, where the source links to an article in The Atlantic called "The Tie is a Very Big Deal in Croatia,"

I mean what it means in the context of cultural appropriation -- that it is something that has particular meaning in a culture, and, removed from the culture, is still recognizably a product of that culture, but radically changes or loses meaning when utilized by an outsider.

Examples of this would be Native American headdresses, Jewish prayer shawls, Samoan tattoos, etc.

You can usually tell when something doesn't have this sort of cultural meaning, because they are explicitly marketed to outsiders by members of the culture, with no protest from insiders. Jeans come from Genoa, but were created for export, and nobody minds if anybody wears them.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:19 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


but I think it's very easy to get dragged into the same conversation that we've had here on metafilter and/or elsewhere on the internet over and over because one or two people who have not read the elementary stuff jump in really actively.

No offense, because I think your posts here are generally good and thoughtful (as much as I disagree with them, not here so much as in the Big Freedia thread), but the problem isn't that people "haven't read the elementary stuff", the problem is that they disagree with your premises. Premises that, hopefully you can admit, are not exactly self-evident or intuitive.

That's what bugs me most about the smuggery - not that it's an attempt to exclude people not steeped in the social justice world from conversations like these, but that it's an attempt to short-circuit the conversation into a desired outcome. The attempts here read to me as "Can we please shut up and talk about what a Bad cultural appropriator Lady Gaga is?" when people are disagreeing in good faith with that premise.
posted by downing street memo at 3:21 PM on August 8, 2013 [14 favorites]


The attempts here read to me as "Can we please shut up and talk about what a Bad cultural appropriator Lady Gaga is?" when people are disagreeing in good faith with that premise.

Really? Because a lot of the responses read to me as "I don't agree with the premise and therefore I am going to make fun of it," which isn't exactly great conversation, or even making a point.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:22 PM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


The problem with working from the opinions of members of the appropriated culture is that it suggests there is some kind of centralized arbiter or guardian of that culture, where there isn't. I'm sure that in nearly all cases, there are members who self-identify with the culture, who either welcome or at least don't care about outsiders using cultural elements, while there are also members who frown upon it.
posted by Mitrovarr at 3:23 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is also the case with Norse descendants who want to honor their culture, heritage, and religion. It is a weak culture, practiced by few, through a mirror, darkly, as it were. Pieced together from those who do remember and the writings of those who did. It is not an unbroken chain of the totality of knowledge, but it is a striving towards what was. I don't see that it needs to be disrespected simply because it happens to be practiced by a people we don't generally think of as being oppressed, because it hasn't happened as directly for several hundred years.

In what way is Norse culture a minority culture in the English-speaking world?
posted by toerinishuman at 3:23 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


when I say "Weak culture" I do not mean less good or inferior in any way.

Then you should choose a word or phrase that better gets your meaning across. Using a word that has a meaning and then saying it means something else is some Humpty Dumpty shit.


That seems pretty uncalled for. "Weak" has a lot of meanings and if I were to start talking about "weak nuclear force" I assume you wouldn't be getting on my case for "Humpty Dumpty shit", because in that case it pretty obviously doesn't mean "weak" in the sense of "less good". In this case, I think the clarification was reasonable and perfectly valid.
posted by mstokes650 at 3:26 PM on August 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


The attempts here read to me as "Can we please shut up and talk about what a Bad cultural appropriator Lady Gaga is?" when people are disagreeing in good faith with that premise.

Really? Because a lot of the responses read to me as "I don't agree with the premise and therefore I am going to make fun of it," which isn't exactly great conversation, or even making a point.


Good news! There's plenty of both for everyone!

Wait no, that's not good news.
posted by Hoopo at 3:27 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


so what are kids in yemen grooving to these days?

how does this fit into the discussion of cultural appropriation? - and are the cultures we appropriate what we really think they are?
posted by pyramid termite at 3:28 PM on August 8, 2013


That's something that was creating in South Korea specifically for export; the music industry there has been a huge manufacturer of an export culture of pop music, and explicitly make use of international media such as YouTube to get the product into the hands of international audiences.

So it's not cultural appropriation.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:30 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


No offense, because I think your posts here are generally good and thoughtful (as much as I disagree with them, not here so much as in the Big Freedia thread), but the problem isn't that people "haven't read the elementary stuff", the problem is that they disagree with your premises. Premises that, hopefully you can admit, are not exactly self-evident or intuitive.

Disagreeing with premises largely because they're not self-evident or intuitive but further investigation is discouraging or even just sound "lefty" (as has been evidenced here) is pretty shitty as well.

That's what bugs me most about the smuggery - not that it's an attempt to exclude people not steeped in the social justice world from conversations like these, but that it's an attempt to short-circuit the conversation into a desired outcome. The attempts here read to me as "Can we please shut up and talk about what a Bad cultural appropriator Lady Gaga is?" when people are disagreeing in good faith with that premise.

Some are arguing in good faith, others aren't and just seem to have reflexive opposition towards anything that sounds like political correctness because they can't be arsed to dig any deeper than "BURQA BAD, MOCKING GOOD." Even so, most people aren't even engaging in the "smuggery" you describe, they're providing reasoned explanations with plentiful evidence. Conversly, said smugness is just oozing off of posts like yours and Fists O'Fury's above, and the "BURQA BAD" reads just as much as an attempt to short-circuit the conversation as what you describe.
posted by zombieflanders at 3:31 PM on August 8, 2013


Good news! There's plenty of both for everyone!

Actually, there's not. But thanks for trying.
posted by zombieflanders at 3:32 PM on August 8, 2013


Disagreeing with premises largely because they're not self-evident or intuitive but further investigation is discouraging or even just sound "lefty" (as has been evidenced here) is pretty shitty as well.

Do you really think that's the main disagreement, here? That people are just reflexively disagreeing with something that sounds left-wing or "politically correct"?

Upthread folks have posted any number of defenses of Lady Gaga and her use of the burqa. Some have hinged on contesting the very idea of cultural appropriation - strangely coming to the same conclusion as Frowner, that culture is "appropriation". Others - including at least one member of the actual culture and gender Lady Gaga is said to have appropriated from - have acknowledged that appropriation exists, but see subversion of the burqa-as-patriarchal-symbol as a more important goal.

In any case. The reason the "just google it, and let's move on" comments are shitty is that this isn't one of those things that's googleable.
posted by downing street memo at 3:44 PM on August 8, 2013 [9 favorites]


pyramid termite: "(trigger warning - people in arab costumes singing about farmyard animals)"

Could you maybe please not use somethng people with PTSD use and employ as an accessibility feature to make a joke?
posted by ShawnStruck at 3:51 PM on August 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


strangely coming to the same conclusion as Frowner, that culture is "appropriation".

That's not a disagreement with the premise, that's a misunderstanding of the premise. There's no doubt that culture is created through a process of cross-pollination. Nobody takes issue with that.

The issue is that a respectful understanding of culture is that there are different kinds of culture. There is some that can be borrowed from freely, and there is some that one should be more cautious about using, because those aspects of culture are so particular and distinct and special that to remove them recontextualies them so radically that it should be handled very carefully. And discussions of appropriation allow us to have the language for being respectful about how we approach other people's culture, and how we incorporate it into our own life, instead of treating every expression of culture as being more or less equal and more or less universal,
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:51 PM on August 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


So it's not cultural appropriation.

actually, it's the second question i asked that's more important - the people mentioning yemen went on about how women are forced to wear burqas, etc etc

and here i've found a video of a bunch of yemeni teenagers of both sexes grooving in a living room, rather raunchily to gangnam style, one of them wearing a huge set of plastic fake boobs as he cavorts, while another guy moves his hips suggestively above him

so, is yemeni culture what we really think it is? - what do you think the reaction these teenagers are going to have to lady gaga's aura/burqa video? - do you think they're going to be oh.my.allah offended or do you think they might just grab some burqas and habibs and start goofing off to that, too?

is what lady gaga doing just cultural appropriation? - or is it cultural subversion - not of american culture, but of middle eastern culture?

musically, a quick look through the world's pop music will tell you just how much all countries are taking from each other, and as die antwoord would insist, it's not all one way

it's not american pop music or anglo pop music anymore - it's world pop music - a world culture that is appropriating american culture for its own purposes, because it, not american culture, is the dominant culture of our times

in short, there's a lot of cultural appropriation going on but this discussion has got it ass-backwards

this is not the american century, period
posted by pyramid termite at 3:57 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


is what lady gaga doing just cultural appropriation? - or is it cultural subversion - not of american culture, but of middle eastern culture?

What is the nature of this subversion? And what is the value of it? And, seeing as she is not Muslim and has demonstrated no great connection to or familiarity with the Muslim world, do you think it is an informed and meaningful subversion?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:59 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


do you think "tutti frutti" was informed and meaningful subversion?
posted by pyramid termite at 4:06 PM on August 8, 2013


Do you really think that's the main disagreement, here? That people are just reflexively disagreeing with something that sounds left-wing or "politically correct"?

To a certain extent, yes. Some are forthright about it, others are just dressing it up in a lot of words.

Upthread folks have posted any number of defenses of Lady Gaga and her use of the burqa. Some have hinged on contesting the very idea of cultural appropriation - strangely coming to the same conclusion as Frowner, that culture is "appropriation". Others - including at least one member of the actual culture and gender Lady Gaga is said to have appropriated from - have acknowledged that appropriation exists, but see subversion of the burqa-as-patriarchal-symbol as a more important goal.

Considering the original discussion was her quite problematic history of taking cultural symbols and using them for something that was less political commentary and more self-promotion until this derail on who has the right to call something cultural appropriation, I'd say there's a whole lot of misunderstanding going on. Some of it is willful, some is not, but it's hard to tell.

In any case. The reason the "just google it, and let's move on" comments are shitty is that this isn't one of those things that's googleable.

Again, that's one quote that has been wildly overblown by yourself and other commentors as representative of the thread as whole, and it's really not even remotely like that. Apart from the assholes who insist on being racist/sexist/homophobic/etc, threads would go a lot better if we didn't have to spend 90% of them explaining and re-explaining shit and shooting down the same uninformed stuff that gets thrown around again and again. There's a lot more to be said on how there's been a lot of shittiness in social and political threads that could have been lessened (avoidance being impossible because assholes gonna ass, but anyway) by 101-level infodumps, but tbh that belongs in MeTa.
posted by zombieflanders at 4:07 PM on August 8, 2013


If Gaga was stupid, she would put this on her album. If she was smart, she would leak it, cause an almighty kerfuffle, controversy and tidal wave of discussion, then not release it. That way, she still gets all the impact, but can reliably claim that the song was never released.
posted by memebake at 4:08 PM on August 8, 2013


do you think "tutti frutti" was informed and meaningful subversion?

Well, yes I do, but I don't understand the parallel you're suggesting.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:08 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Cultural appropriation 101? Well, yeah, I can read that really simple webpage - and now I know, just like the rest of you clowns!

Received Wisdom 101?

If you really think that "studying" an issue involves briefly reading whatever Google throws up and regarding it as the sum total of all possible proper knowledge, thought and discussion of an issue, then you are not taking part in the conversation in good faith.

This is a complex issue. There are lots of issues involved here, in fact. Just saying "Hey, read this thing, congratulations you now know the approved message regarding Cultural Appropriation, and are now allowed to participate...as long as you agree with that approved message!" is ruining the whole process of discussion and debate.
posted by Jimbob at 4:10 PM on August 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


seeing as she is not Muslim and has demonstrated no great connection to or familiarity with the Muslim world, do you think it is an informed and meaningful subversion?

I don't know what Lady Gaga knows or does not know about the Muslim world, but to me the lyrics of this song are pretty clearly about Lady Gaga being 2edgy4u rather than anything much deeper.
posted by Hoopo at 4:13 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Frowner: "even if you're a filthy Dane"
zombieflanders: "1) The Norse culture and religion hasn't existed in any recognizable form for about a millenium now."
My, isn't this a friendly thread to be a Dane in. I'll just fuck off now.
posted by brokkr at 4:38 PM on August 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


Eid mubarak everybody!
posted by goo at 4:40 PM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


lebanese pop star nancy ajram's odd take on american 50s culture - and people who live in european derived fairytales

(every 6 months or so, i get a craving for lebanese pop - at least that's one good thing this thread's done)

---

on preview, salaam, goo
posted by pyramid termite at 4:42 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


[folks, can we cool it on the meta-editorial commentary about contentious topics? Strike up a MetaTalk thread if you'd like to discuss how discussions should go on the site, otherwise return to the subject of this post?]
posted by mathowie at 4:44 PM on August 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


this woman seems to have a few costume issues, too, but not as extreme as lady gaga's
posted by pyramid termite at 5:19 PM on August 8, 2013


I like to distinguish between clarity and morality. Clarity means clearly seeing what is going on, without necessarily passing judgment. "Population A committed acts of genocide against population B and then reduced portrayals of population B to cartoonish sports mascots, thereby further marginalizing population B." Clarity means seeing through people's self-serving rationalizations and justifications and taking things as they are, good and bad.

Without clarity, it can be difficult to be moral. Someone with an unskeptical take on a dominant cultural representation or narrative will have a hard time seeing anything wrong with it. At the same time, clarity is not equivalent to morality. Awareness of native American history, for example, does not magically make you a better person. The fact that you are more aware of life's unfairness than someone else does not in itself make the world a better place, even if you think it gives you the moral high ground in a debate.

Bunny Ultramod: That being said, yes, you generally are on stronger footing when you slag off your own culture than somebody else's, especially when your culture is dominant and privileged and the other is marginalized and historically oppressed.

Bunny Ultramod: The issue is that a respectful understanding of culture is that there are different kinds of culture. There is some that can be borrowed from freely, and there is some that one should be more cautious about using, because those aspects of culture are so particular and distinct and special that to remove them recontextualies them so radically that it should be handled very carefully. And discussions of appropriation allow us to have the language for being respectful about how we approach other people's culture, and how we incorporate it into our own life, instead of treating every expression of culture as being more or less equal and more or less universal

Let us take as our starting point that cultures are unequal in power: some have oppressed and others have been oppressed. What follows? Well, we should be suspicious of how the dominant culture portrays the weaker culture, because the dominant culture is likely to use such portrayals to further its strength and entrench the weaker culture's weakness.

This just doesn't get me very far. For the same reasons, I am also suspicious of non-Muslims rushing out to explain how sensitive they are to Lady Gaga's awfulness -- I mean, not only are people in general naturally self-righteous, these particular people are also often part of the dominant culture and therefore subject to the exact same tendencies that they are worried about. Now being "suspicious" is a pretty weak state and doesn't really mean anything, so maybe I need to actually consider the specific symbols in play here before arriving at some sort of concrete judgment.

And in my opinion, the burqa is a fairly straightforward symbol of patriarchical oppression, and I really have no problem with Lady Gaga's song. On the other hand, surely many people in the dominant culture have an easy time imagining the subordinate culture as backwards, primitive, and ignorant, and that fact is part of what makes the burqa a compelling and easily mocked symbol, and maybe that plays a role in my thought process. At the same time, it's just oppressive power-chasing turtles all the way down, so I'll just stop here and say that I very much appreciated raztaj's comment above.
posted by leopard at 5:43 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


My, isn't this a friendly thread to be a Dane in. I'll just fuck off now.

My partner is a Dane. I have been to Danish cultural events. "Filthy Danes" is a quote, in fact, from a Danish TV show - said by the Swedish villain, which is why it's funny. I don't want to trample on anyone's experiences, but as someone who did in fact grow up in a family where Swedish culture was alive and well, went to a heavily Norwegian school and has lived in close contact with a bunch of Danish Americans who regularly travel to Denmark, I have never, ever noticed any serious kind of cultural unfriendliness to Scandinavians in contemporary America.
posted by Frowner at 5:44 PM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


And, seeing as she is not Muslim and has demonstrated no great connection to or familiarity with the Muslim world, do you think it is an informed and meaningful subversion?

This right here is why the Madonna/Catholicism analogy made upthread was a rather poor one.
posted by naoko at 5:54 PM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


an informed and meaningful subversion

Yes. Yes, it is.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:09 PM on August 8, 2013


Yes. Yes, it is.

Care to elaborate?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:15 PM on August 8, 2013


Why be offended on someone else's behalf? Like - I don't get the utility of that sentiment. Is there a great hue and cry from the Muslim internet about this? Or - like any damn thing - is there a plurality of responses ranging from offence to shrugs to enthusiasm? Isn't it tremendously presumptuous to defend a population from offence based on your conclusion that a particular artifact of your own culture should be offensive to them? Isn't that kind of a weirdly paternalistic thing to do?
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 6:17 PM on August 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


Is there a great hue and cry from the Muslim internet about this?

Did you check?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:22 PM on August 8, 2013


No, of course not. Did anyone in this thread? I guess I just assumed that there wouldn't be an unanimous Muslim-world party line. Someone Muslim upthread was keen on the song, I'm sure there're plenty out there who are cross with Gaga too.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 6:26 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes, I checked before I started commenting, as I presumed others had. There has been plenty of hue and cry. And whether or not there is an absolutely unanimous consensus in the Muslim world doesn't mean that this is a useless conversation for non-Muslims to have.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:29 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


And, seeing as she is not Muslim and has demonstrated no great connection to or familiarity with the Muslim world, do you think it is an informed and meaningful subversion?

i don't know, because i don't have the opportunity to ask her what's going through her head - however, a major producer of hers, who's been with her all along, red one, is from morocco

i'd say that certainly means she has access to information and meaning about the muslim/arabic world

also, we've only heard the music - we have no idea how she's going to contextualize this in a video
posted by pyramid termite at 6:31 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


We do have an idea how she has contextualized this in the past -- she has worn burqas in public before -- so we can ask if these were meaningful subversions when she did them in the past.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:35 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Care to elaborate?

No, I don't have to. Nor does she.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:38 PM on August 8, 2013


It doesn't really forward a discussion if you don't feel necessary to actually participate in it.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:42 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


People on the internet are weird. They spend half the time whining that everything is too polite and sanitized and milquetoast for them, and that they wish more people would, like, push some boundaries or whatever. Then they spend the other half of the time bitching and whining when anyone does anything they consider disrespectful.
posted by ELF Radio at 6:45 PM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well, this thread has definitely proven that people don't read each other very closely whenever certain subjects come up. I guess that's useful to know. I still don't feel as certain as some of you seem to that I understand enough about what a burqa represents to most muslim women who wear one to state such unequivocal opinions of my own. I guess that's paternalistic of me, to think I shouldn't be so sure of myself. Next time I'll try being all super-confident I know exactly what another culture's symbols mean and proceed from there to avoid being paternalistic.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:45 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


we can ask if these were meaningful subversions when she did them in the past.

in the arab world or here? - they certainly have had an impact here, judging from all the "little monsters" who have decided to adopt similar dress - and there is nothing more subversive in our present time than adopting arab/muslim culture, thought and religion - or perhaps pretending to

as far as some americans are concerned it's the 21st century's equivalent of communism

as far as the arab/muslim world is concerned, i think those who might be offended are probably wrestling with other issues, such as the u s bombing and droning the crap out of them and the whole israel/palestine mess - i'm not sure the fundies over there are real concerned with the details of our godless culture

those who might be interested in a positive way will probably take it as a supplement to melodytv (which is easily as strange as our music videos) or other national MTV-type channels - or inspired to perhaps push the envelope a little further by combining sex and conservative clothing

i don't think it's impossible that she's been paying attention to this kind of stuff - some of it's pretty interesting, musically and visually

then on the other hand, i see from your link that she also wore a costume with giant mickey mouse ears

remember that her main task, as a "fame monster" is to get attention

once again, she's succeeded
posted by pyramid termite at 6:59 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


i think those who might be offended are probably wrestling with other issues, such as the u s bombing and droning the crap out of them and the whole israel/palestine mess

I think you underestimate the size and diversity of the Arab world, and how many of them are actually here in the west.

But if your case is that this was just a fame-seeker seeking fame, then am I right in assuming that you don't see this gesture as a meaningful subversion?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:03 PM on August 8, 2013


again, you're asking me questions that only lady gaga can really answer

i will say this - that the people who wrote "ding dong the witch is dead" and placed it in the wizard of oz had no idea of protesting and subverting UK politics

and yet, that's just what happened

and i wouldn't put it past her to have both motives - to get attention and be subversive
posted by pyramid termite at 7:12 PM on August 8, 2013


And whether or not there is an absolutely unanimous consensus in the Muslim world doesn't mean that this is a useless conversation for non-Muslims to have.

Yes of course, it's an interesting conversation. I didn't mean that we should just drop it until there's pan-Muslim consensus on the issue, I just think it's sort of ridiculous and parasitic for people without skin in the game to buy into being offended, especially if offence is not the default response in the Muslim world. Discussing the meaning and valence of something as complex as the burqa is fascinating but if it's not actually a part of your cultural experience then it's a bit rich to tell someone else that their use of it is inappropriate.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 7:15 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Justinian, yeah. a surprising number of people think Burqa is the general term.
posted by mulligan at 7:17 PM on August 8, 2013


I just think it's sort of ridiculous and parasitic for people without skin in the game to buy into being offended, especially if offence is not the default response in the Muslim world.

I'm not sure this discussion is about offense, or if that's useful. It suggests that people are having an ill-considered, pearl-clutching, unreasoning response of personal outrage, when what I have seen in this thread and elsewhere is a reasoned discussion of the meaning of symbols within groups and concern about the possibility that outsiders might use these symbols thoughtlessly and in a way that is ignorant of and disrespectful of their meaning within the group that created them.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:20 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


BU: Once you're trying to get inside the artist's head to judge whether their art is acceptable or offensive or what-have-you I think you've lost your way. It seems to me that the very fact that so many people are now engaged in this discussion across the entire world is prima facie evidence that Gaga's art has been provocative and meaningful. Is her subversion "intentional and informed"? I have no idea and neither do you. But it is self-evidently provocative and meaningful. Which is more than can be said about a lot of art.
posted by Justinian at 7:37 PM on August 8, 2013


It doesn't really forward a discussion if you don't feel necessary to actually participate in it.

I'm participating, you just don't like what I'm saying.
posted by Sebmojo at 7:38 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have never, ever noticed any serious kind of cultural unfriendliness to Scandinavians in contemporary America.

Fun fact: The word "honky" derives from "hunkey", which is a shortening of "bohunk", the slur used to describe Scandanavian workers in America. It was emphatically understood as a slur, and comes up in, for example, Raymond Chandler novels in that sense.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:49 PM on August 8, 2013


What? No! Bohunk is slang for someone from Central/Eastern/Southeastern Europe, not Scandinavia. You know, like Bohemia?
posted by Justinian at 7:52 PM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


i always thought "honky" was derived from the habits of pickup truck drivers who think you're not driving fast enough
posted by pyramid termite at 7:57 PM on August 8, 2013


the straight dope's take on the origin of "honky"
posted by pyramid termite at 7:59 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm participating, you just don't like what I'm saying.

You mistake my disinterest in an unsupported opinion for dislike,
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:05 PM on August 8, 2013


Once you're trying to get inside the artist's head to judge whether their art is acceptable or offensive or what-have-you I think you've lost your way

Can I speak as an artist? I disagree. Artists are a part of the larger culture, and art is a part of the larger discussion of culture, and questions of appropriateness and taste and sensitivity and power and all the other questions that go into cultural appropriation? Those are the very questions are deals with best.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:07 PM on August 8, 2013


I didn't say talking about those things was a mistake, I said that making the criteria what was going on inside the artist's head was a mistake. Kind of like using an authorial intent argument for writing.
posted by Justinian at 8:09 PM on August 8, 2013


I haven't asked what's going inside her head. Perhaps someone else in the thread did -- I missed it.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:10 PM on August 8, 2013


and there is nothing more subversive in our present time than adopting arab/muslim culture, thought and religion - or perhaps pretending to

This is an interesting way to look at Gaga's use of the burqa, and probably the most in line with her general edgy, attention-grabbing but fundamentally shallow mode of subversion. Of course, that doesn't make it any less offensively appropriative.

I'm (culturally, more than observant) Muslim-American, and it kind of pisses me off to see a rich white woman donning the burqa for shock/artistic value when other Muslim-American women are abused, derided, and even murdered for wearing the burqa, niqab, or hijab. Gaga can take it on and off, because it doesn't really mean anything to her beyond its perceived artistic value. For her, it's just "for fashion." Muslim women who choose it as an expression of their faith (or those who are forced to wear it) cannot be so cavalier. Attempts to divorce the burqa and niqab from their cultural and religious meanings, and the way those meanings are perceived in the US, are disingenuous at best. Lady Gaga wearing a burqa "for fashion" makes her just as much of an appropriative asshole as the white people who wear Native American head dresses.

In contrast, I would consider M.I.A.'s video for Bad Girls to be a meaningful, and less offensive, subversion (in this case of wearing niqab), because a) M.I.A. isn't wearing the niqab herself, b) the video is making a contextualized commentary on an issue relevant to Muslim women (the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia) and c) it's also a subversion of the male gaze and the sexualization of women to have women in niqab dominant in the video not for their bodies, but for their badass driving skills.
posted by yasaman at 8:11 PM on August 8, 2013 [17 favorites]


concern about the possibility that outsiders might use these symbols thoughtlessly and in a way that is ignorant of and disrespectful of their meaning within the group that created them.

That's a considerably more nuanced perspective than that evident in say, the Jezebel piece linked. Still though, why "concern"? Where does it come from? If I heard the song outside of the context of this thread then depending on my mood I might think it either amusing or tacky. I'd never think that it was inappropriate - that it was something Gaga should not have made. It just doesn't register strongly enough with me one way or another.

My half-cocked theory is that some people, upon hearing the song, would realise the subject matter is a bit contentious and then try to put themselves in the place of a Muslim hearing the song, and then base their reaction on how they think this hypothetical Muslim would feel. I guess that's a virtuous and empathetic impulse but I think it's very difficult to actually exercise your empathy thus without reducing Muslim identity to a caricature. And entirely aside from the logistical difficult, is it even your place to attempt the simulation? I'm sure this kind of vigilance against potential offence is intended to create a more civil community but I'm not sure it actually has that effect.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 8:15 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


If the burqa isn't a symbol of oppression (note: this does not mean that every woman who wears a burqa is oppressed), then why do left-wing feminist movements in the Middle East use the tactic of de-veiling as a form of protest?

I just want to point out veiling/de-veiling is not a simple binary of oppressed/not oppressed, and that both states are more politically and culturally complex than the typical Western narrative would have you believe. This is a good post that complicates that binary view. Sometimes wearing the veil is a political expression of a woman's sovereignty over her own body, sometimes it's not. I caution against making generalizations, because the Muslim world is not monolithic and the cultural and political meanings of the veil are not the same across the entire Muslim world.
posted by yasaman at 8:31 PM on August 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


If I heard the song outside of the context of this thread then depending on my mood I might think it either amusing or tacky.

She's also worn the burqa at fashion week, so this response is not merely to the song, but to her actually wearing the item in a way that makes it seem like she sees it as a fashion object instead of a cultural symbol. Were it just the song, I doubt the response would have been so pointed.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:37 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's a lot more to be said on how there's been a lot of shittiness in social and political threads that could have been lessened (avoidance being impossible because assholes gonna ass, but anyway) by 101-level infodumps

The problem is that in social and political threads, it is flatly impossible to do an unbiased and neutral 101-level dump. What you might think of as 101-level, someone else thinks of as flatly wrong, and what someone else thinks of as 101-level, you probably think of as flatly wrong. When you say these things could be avoided by 101-level infodumps, you mean your 101-level infodumps, of information that you want to be taken as the unvarnished truth.

But by its nature, anything that is controversial has multiple sides, and unless you're trying to put together The Official Metafilter Position, you just can't "do an infodump."

What I think does make these threads hard is in fact the idea that people think there is a 101-level knowledge base that other people are failing to heed, that those who do go by it are right and everyone else is wrong, and everyone should accept their morally superior wisdom.

I have never, ever noticed any serious kind of cultural unfriendliness to Scandinavians in contemporary America.

You've never heard "dumb Swede" jokes? I mean, sure, there's not real, ongoing prejudice against Swedes or Norwegians now, but a lot of them settled the Midwest, and I can't help but wonder if the stereotypes of the strong, taciturn men unintereted in city dwelling -and not very bright - that we seem to hold about that area have anything to do with stereotypes of the Swedes and Norwegians.
posted by corb at 8:49 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think cultural appropriation is just a concept that I'll simply never really understand. I can't imagine someone from another culture subverting something I find sacred/important/emotionally charged in a way that offends me. This may be because I don't have any symbols that I'm aware of that are that important. My concept of tradition includes nothing of consequence.

So I can totally empathize with people that think that cultural appropriation is not a thing. For some people, there's just no way to understand it. However, we can certainly accept that it matters to some people, and accommodate that, even if we don't understand it.
posted by Jpfed at 9:07 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


The burqa isn't a requirement of Islam, it's primarily a Central Asian thing. Even the niqab is optional (and is actually not allowed when doing the rituals in Mecca, as covering your face then is only allowed if there's a medical concern). So, this whole debate about appropriation is shaky here. If we're talking about specific groups of ethnic Muslims, then maybe the discussion gets a little more in focus. But what's being appropriated is a big piece of cloth.
posted by planetesimal at 9:15 PM on August 8, 2013


ps - if you don't like the art your culture is producing because it's offensive, thoughtless, insensitive, there is only one real effective thing to do

make the art you want to see


I already do this. I also like reading people's critique about other people's art, because I think straight-up critique as a craft is an interesting way to tackle these issues.
posted by NoraReed at 9:37 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, this whole debate about appropriation is shaky here. If we're talking about specific groups of ethnic Muslims, then maybe the discussion gets a little more in focus. But what's being appropriated is a big piece of cloth.

It's a big piece of cloth with a specific religious and cultural meaning and context to specific groups of Muslims, yes. I don't understand how reducing it to a "big piece of cloth" makes the debate about appropriation shaky or makes what Lady Gaga is doing less appropriative. You can reduce a Native American head dress to "a bunch of feathers and beads" and beanplate about which specific tribes use it, but that doesn't make random white dude wearing it any less offensive or appropriative. The fact that the burqa is primarily a Central Asian thing and not a requirement of Islam doesn't make Lady Gaga's appropriation of it somehow okay.

The whole point is that it's just a "big piece of cloth" to Lady Gaga and others who have no stake in the culture in which that "big piece of cloth" has actual meaning and significance. That's part of why cultural appropriation is offensive: it's the reduction of a minority/oppressed class's meaningful cultural and/or religious practices and objects by a majority/privileged class, to practices and objects completely divorced from their meanings and contexts.

Listen, I'm not one to defend the burqa, but I am offended when I see a wealthy, white, privileged woman use it in such a shallow way. Lady Gaga is not Muslim or Central Asian. She has not indicated any interest in or engagement with Muslim women on their own terms. She has not indicated that she is wearing a burqa to make some sort of political or feminist statement, or at least it's not any political or feminist statement that has any meaning or application to the majority of Muslim women.

She is wearing the burqa, an incredibly charged cultural, religious, and political object, "for fashion." It's pick-and-choose Orientalism at its worst. Lady Gaga can do this effectively consequence-free, short of a lot of publicity. A Central Asian Muslim woman could not. A Central Asian Muslim woman lives with the consequences of wearing or not wearing a burqa every single day, and those consequences are not insignificant. So I will reiterate, in that context, Lady Gaga's trivialization of the burqa as a fashion statement is offensive and appropriative.
posted by yasaman at 9:45 PM on August 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


it's the reduction of a minority/oppressed class's meaningful cultural and/or religious practices and objects by a majority/privileged class

The crux of the issue for me is that I don't see Gaga as a member of the majority/privileged class and Muslims or Central Asians as the minority/oppressed class. I see the oppressed class as women in general and the oppressors as the Muslims and Central Asians who treat women as subhuman.
posted by Justinian at 9:59 PM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


The crux of the issue for me is that I don't see Gaga as a member of the majority/privileged class and Muslims or Central Asians as the minority/oppressed class. I see the oppressed class as women in general and the oppressors as the Muslims and Central Asians who treat women as subhuman.

Perhaps we'll have to agree to disagree, but I don't think the fact that Lady Gaga shares one axis of oppression with Muslim women makes her use of the burqa magically non-appropriative or unoffensive. Especially since, like I said, she doesn't appear to be making any effort to meaningfully engage with the burqa's context and history. In fact, she explicitly says in her song that her use of the burqa is "not a statement." So, y'know, not really feeling the solidarity with Muslim women against their oppressors here.
posted by yasaman at 10:14 PM on August 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'm pretty sure virtually everything Gaga does in her persona as Gaga is a statement of one sort or another.
posted by Justinian at 10:18 PM on August 8, 2013


Yes, but I think her decontextualization of the burqa is a much stronger statement than whatever approved statement of solidarity with oppressed women Gaga apparently is supposed to make.
posted by planetesimal at 10:19 PM on August 8, 2013


People can make stupid statements.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:20 PM on August 8, 2013


Her name is Lady Gaga. Of course it's going to be stupid. But, none of us can say that her stupid, self-promoting statement isn't actually more effective in changing the opinions of future men than some upright thing we can all feel nice and egalitarian about.
posted by planetesimal at 10:23 PM on August 8, 2013


I think I can safely that this is the case. Let's check back in 10 years and see if I was right.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:35 PM on August 8, 2013


ok good luck
posted by planetesimal at 10:38 PM on August 8, 2013


1) Critique is a form of art, and if you don't think it is then you apparently live at least five centuries ago. Or you don't know what the shit you're talking about, which I think-slash-know is more likely.

2) What is this tripe about "oh just because something somebody did is loud and attention-getting, we should stop paying attention to the specifics of that person's actions"? The more public a person is, the more they get talked about. This meta-garbage of saying "by talking about this issue you've proven that her plan to get you talking about this was successful" assumes that every loud fart released in public is intentionally and crafty rather than simply large and smelly.

3) Lady Gaga is a somewhat savvy person and her heart's in the right place, but that doesn't mean she isn't capable of being a complete idiot too. Her big awesome anthem Born This Way contains the appalling line "You're Lebanese, you're orient", which attracted no end of controversy, and FAILED to generate any meaningful discussion about... whatever you think ought to have been a meaningful discussion there, beyond "do shitty rhyme schemes justify racist terminology?" So I think it is by no means inappropriate to assume that Gaga, rather than playing some 3D media manipulation game, is instead just kind of sucky at this stuff. Which is rather on par for the "twentysomething white former NYU student" course, my experience with NYU alum tells me.

4) It's become apparent that this is a complex issue with multiple perspectives deserving of consideration. Gaga did not create that complexity, and is not responsible for the richness of this conversation. She created a song about burqas being sexy because it was a thing she hadn't sung about being sexy already.

5) I am impressed that nobody here attacked the song for how unconventional its production is, but I am also saddened that nobody here has acknowledged how neat that production is. (That does nothing to reduce how thoughtless the lyrics are or may be, but I still think it is nice.)
posted by Rory Marinich at 11:11 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Thanks yasaman.
(& this is also why I respect Grimes for choosing not to wear a bindi)
posted by aielen at 1:53 AM on August 9, 2013


Critique is a form of art

it's a secondary art, not a primary one - whatever we, or rolling stone, or people magazine say about lady gaga's new album, it's not going to have the cultural impact the album itself will
posted by pyramid termite at 3:54 AM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]



You've never heard "dumb Swede" jokes? I mean, sure, there's not real, ongoing prejudice against Swedes or Norwegians now, but a lot of them settled the Midwest, and I can't help but wonder if the stereotypes of the strong, taciturn men unintereted in city dwelling -and not very bright - that we seem to hold about that area have anything to do with stereotypes of the Swedes and Norwegians.


Oh, I've heard "dumb Swede" jokes - my grandfather, the child of Swedish immigrants and someone who had to work really hard growing up, used to tell a few mild ones in an ironic manner. I add that I live in the midwest and have for most of my life, and the "stereotypes" I hear about Scandinavians are all neutral or positive, with a very occasional anti-socialist "yeah, if you live in 'socialist' Sweden you'll kill yourself because it's so depressing" - but that isn't coming from a racialized place.

Of course there is a history of oppression of immigrants, somewhat and sometimes including Scandinavians, in the midwest - and I assume this persists in the cultural landscape. But does it damage actual Scandinavian-Americans, or Scandinavians who work or live in the US? Especially, does it damage us/them more than any northern european whites are damaged by their own history of immigration? I'd argue not - that in fact, people from central europe like the Poles actually experienced/experience more residual discrimination, as did/do Italians - I grew up outside Chicago in a suburb where the Poles were still stereotyped as the dumb kids and the Italians still the trashy kids into the nineties - I mean, whites were racialized in the service of racism where I grew up, and yet of all the things people could have made fun of me about (and generally did, as I've shared elsewhere here) my race was never mentioned.

Honestly, okay, I should not have written "filthy Danes" without also writing "as the Swedish villain says in the Danish TV show that my Danish partner quotes all the time and finds hilarious"...but I find it kind of disturbing that there seems to be traction for idea that contemporary white USians of Scandinavian descent face hostility based on our race. If someone is skeptical of one's reconstructed Norse paganism - well, there are all kinds of reasons, from plausible to rude and ignorant - that they might feel that way, but it's not based on some kind of exotification/exploitation/disdain of/for Scandinavians in the US. And I'd say that Thor as a superhero character is far more similar to various satiric and comic treatments of Jesus/Christ figures in Western literature than it is to, say, Fu Manchu.
posted by Frowner at 5:19 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


She's almost ready to join the illustrious ranks that include Cory Doctorow, Amanda Palmer, and Richard Dawkins.
OMG SUPERGROUP POTENTIAL! Can you imagine the self-important interviews, the music videos, and the stage nudity, while Dawkins lurks backstage, waiting to inject one of his rap verses about Muslims and Cory Doctorow fiddles with a keyboard?
posted by Sonny Jim at 5:34 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I mean, sure, there's not real, ongoing prejudice against Swedes or Norwegians now, but a lot of them settled the Midwest, and I can't help but wonder if the stereotypes of the strong, taciturn men unintereted in city dwelling -and not very bright - that we seem to hold about that area have anything to do with stereotypes of the Swedes and Norwegians.

Of course there is a history of oppression of immigrants, somewhat and sometimes including Scandinavians, in the midwest


Tangent on a tangent, but it's possible the person you were responding to was talking about prejudices non-midwesterners have about the midwest being similar to older prejudices towards the ethnicities that settled the midwest. Key words in the original quote being "about that area".
posted by Jpfed at 6:01 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Actually, if I can post an email from My Partner The Culturally Danish Danish-American:

Okay, here are some other things:
1. When we look critically at the relative social position of people of Scandinavian descent, it's important to recognize that Scandinavians have occupied a privileged position right from the start. In contrast to almost every other immigrant group, with the possible exception of English people, Scandinavians were never legally discriminated against, certainly not in any systematic way. There was never a serious or widespread anti-Scandinavian immigrant backlash in the popular press. Scandinavians were allowed to maintain basically every significant cultural tradition from their homeland without interference, and to keep speaking their own languages in their communities without hindrance.
2. Individual Scandinavians have held very privileged positions specifically with regard to race and white supremacy. Gutzon Borglum, the defiler of Mt. Rushmore, was a 2nd-generation Danish immigrant. Jacob Riis (How The Other Half Lives) and Jacob Holdt (American Pictures) were respectively a Danish immigrant and a Danish expatriate. When the government wanted a critical look at race, they called in Gunnar Myrdal, a Swedish social scientist. Scandinavians have been place simultaneously *above* and *outside* the general racial order in the US. Our participation in acts of genocide and white supremacy has been almost completely whitewashed from history.


I imagine that there may have been some very minor legal discrimination somewhere against Scandinavians specifically (as opposed to general anti-immigrant sentiment) in the late 19th century. And I know that there was pressure on Scandinavians to stop speaking Scandinavian languages - but I also know that this was far less pressure than, for example, Mexican immigrants get, or Chinese immigrants.

I don't want to say "oh, immigration for Scandianvian people was a total lark, lots of laughs and money!" - I often think of my one Swedish ancestor whose photograph we still have (taken in Skone before he left) and how desperately painful it must have been to leave home for good with only letters as a continuing connection, even in flight from the poverty and repression of the Swedish state of the day. And I think of my grandfather, who was a good artist (we have a few sketch books) but who never got a chance to develop that because he had to work and work. I know that immigration stories are substantially about pain, loss and displacement, even for those who "make good" in the "new world". But while I don't want to minimize that, I do want to keep it separate from questions of racialized discrimination, because I don't think that white Northern European immigrants faced anything like the racialized discrimination against other groups, and I think trying to insert ourselves into that story as fellow victims is a harmful thing to do.

(My partner also speculated that the main person keeping "dumb Swede" jokes alive is Garrison Keillor and that Lake Wobegon has solidified a notion of Swedishness/Scandinavian-ness that was much less firmly established before he started his career.)
posted by Frowner at 6:07 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I do want to keep it separate from questions of racialized discrimination, because I don't think that white Northern European immigrants faced anything like the racialized discrimination against other groups, and I think trying to insert ourselves into that story as fellow victims is a harmful thing to do.

I agree with you that white Northern European immigrants didn't face nearly the same racialized discrimination that other groups had - absolutely, it would be silly to suggest otherwise. But I think where I disagree with you is that I don't like what I tend to refer to as the "oppression Olympics", wherein people compete to see which the most oppressed group is, and that group and only that group gets to talk about their experiences and have sympathy.

I think it's really important to be internally consistent in your ideology. And if your ideology is "never make fun of other people's culture / never casually take anything from a culture you do not belong to", that's fine. I disagree - again, I think that cultural borrowing has created some of our richest and best literature, art, and beauty - but I can completely see where someone is coming from there.

But when it becomes "I approve of making fun of THIS culture, but not THAT one", it becomes less of a high-minded principle, and more, as LogicalDash said above, a way of arguing that everyone should disapprove of those uses of culture that we personally disapprove of.
posted by corb at 6:31 AM on August 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


i don't know, because i don't have the opportunity to ask her what's going through her head - however, a major producer of hers, who's been with her all along, red one, is from morocco

i'd say that certainly means she has access to information and meaning about the muslim/arabic world


For one, there is no 'arabic world'. Arabic refers to the language. The people are called Arabs.

For two, there are few Moroccans, especially those in the cities, that wear burqas or veils.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:03 AM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


it's a secondary art, not a primary one - whatever we, or rolling stone, or people magazine say about lady gaga's new album, it's not going to have the cultural impact the album itself will

More people know Mark Twain's critique of James Fenimore Cooper than read James Fenimore Cooper directly. More people know Ebert's review of North than know North. Pauline Kael's review of Bonnie and Clyde goes hand in hand with the movie itself, practically.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:16 AM on August 9, 2013


I recently read this very interesting and frank discussion of cultural appropriation between the editors of Rookie magazine.

I must admit, sometimes the discourse surrounding cultural appropriation makes me uncomfortable. I don't have a problem with the critique elements - I think it's incredibly important to acknowledge the problematic and oppressive backdrop to many common practices and actions. What I'm less comfortable with is the proposed solution - just don't do things which could be construed as culturally appropriative - firstly, because it's not achievable, secondly because it doesn't actually ameliorate troublesome situations, and thirdly (but related to the first two reasons) because it seems like it grows out of a cleanliness/purity model of political engagement.

For example, it's important to acknowledge the problematic historical background of our current tattoing practices, and it's both interesting and useful to trace the connections between colonialist maritime explorers and today's tattoos, and even to connect this to the weird contemporary practice of 'get something from a language/symbolic system that is alien to me as a tattoo'. However, I think that to move from honesty about the various roots of today's tattoing practice to an injunction that eg white people shouldn't get tattoos, is to ascribe a contaminative power to causal roots, and also to imply that there are courses of action which are not thus contaminated. I don't think it's true that there are things I as a white person can do which don't have a problematic historical background, or indeed a problematic contemporary context. Obviously, this doesn't mean I get to do whatever the fuck I like, but to assert certain norms as being necessary to avoid being oppressive suggests that it's possible to avoid being oppressive, and I think that's why asserting these norms ends up being popular on places like tumblr. I mean, I actually think there's a serious ethical question of how one makes a livable life under these circumstances ('these circumstances' = pervasive and global systems of hierarchy, exploitation and violence), so I'm not belittling the weight of knowing that you are doing something one meaning of which is the perpetuation of a systematic wrong. Nonetheless, I think the current rule-of-thumb of 'don't do it, and call out/shame people who do do it' perpetuates this clean/dirty dichotomy and also ends up performing its own version of policing of the boundaries of race and ethnicity, eg you get Johnny Depp justifying whatever the fuck it was he was doing in the Lone Ranger film by saying he has Native ancestry and producing papers to prove it.

People seem to acknowledge now that it's possible to move away from the old dichotomy of 'This work of art/fiction is racist/problematic so you can't enjoy it' vs 'I enjoy this work of art/fiction so it can't be racist/problematic', towards being able to say 'This work is racist/problematic, and I enjoy it in complicated ways'. Wouldn't it be better to start being able to say 'This cultural practice has a dark and complex history, and I acknowledge that while I participate in it'? I'm not sure it makes sense to shame white women wearing bindis any more than it makes sense to shame people for enjoying Game of Thrones. Both* are complex and have multiple meanings, some of which are extremely troubling, but I'm not convinced that straight-up avoiding them is the solution.

I mean, I'm pretty much keyboard-pondering, here, because I've been thinking about this stuff for ages and I still don't have an answer. And in the event I often rule-of-thumb it and don't do stuff that could be appropriative because I still haven't got this worked out, plus I acknowledge that I'm white and feeling like I get to think this one out on my own is its own kind of privilege, etc. Plus, fuck Lady Gaga, she comes across as a total idiot here.

*I mean 'white women wearing bindis + GoT', not 'bindis + GoT', obvs.
posted by Acheman at 8:33 AM on August 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


Oh, and also: I think we should acknowledge that a lot of the discourse surrounding cultural appropriation has its own historical roots, particularly in academic discourse surrounding intellectual property/plagiarism, which is itself rooted in very specific practices and concepts, and is in some respects hegemonic and oppressive. I don't think this invalidates the notion of cultural appropriation, although I do think that some concepts, eg those surrounding 'intellectual property', should not be used uncritically when describing/categorising cultural appropriation.
posted by Acheman at 9:01 AM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Acheman, you've expressed a lot of my concerns about the idea of cultural appropriation. Though I'd go farther: sometimes "cultural appropriation" is necessary. White male artists are often criticized for only writing about white males, and I think justly so: it ignores diversity, marginalizes other people, and it's boring. But the only way for a white male to write about non-whites and non-males is to borrow someone else's experience.

As well, it seems to me that the progressive thing is to be interested, even fascinated by other cultures, and believe that they produce things of value.

Of course, ignorance about what you're borrowing is bad. It can be simply silly, like tattooing yourself with a fake hanzi, or it can move into arrogance-- where the message is no longer "I value this stuff from your culture" but adds "...but I don't value it enough to understand what it means or how it really operates."

It also gets more disturbing the more of a power imbalance there is. I can understand why many Native Americans are sick of the whole exchange and want to keep their culture to themselves. It can be a tricky issue in linguistics, where we really want data from all languages, and occasionally some people would rather not have outsiders even know bits of their language.
posted by zompist at 3:52 PM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


As regards "honky," "honkey" or "honkie," quoth Wikipedia...
posted by dr. zoom at 12:41 AM on August 10, 2013


Man, my fellow white people get SO MAD when people of another culture even dare to tell them "no" or "that's not for you".
posted by ShawnStruck at 3:32 PM on August 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


That's exactly what the entire thread has been about! Very insightful.
posted by Justinian at 5:26 PM on August 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Just for the record...I actually think it's pretty sensible to have one word for cultural appropriation when it is done with care and compassion, and another for when it isn't. There's nothing wrong with criticizing art that clumsily offends people, and naming a way of doing that makes criticism easier to do.

The use of "cultural appropriation" as the term for that is confusing, but I haven't come up with a better one. Language construction takes time.
posted by LogicalDash at 4:41 AM on August 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Would be good to hear from a burqa-wearing woman at this point.
posted by inkypinky at 2:23 AM on August 12, 2013


. I mean, I actually think there's a serious ethical question of how one makes a livable life under these circumstances ('these circumstances' = pervasive and global systems of hierarchy, exploitation and violence), so I'm not belittling the weight of knowing that you are doing something one meaning of which is the perpetuation of a systematic wrong. Nonetheless, I think the current rule-of-thumb of 'don't do it, and call out/shame people who do do it' perpetuates this clean/dirty dichotomy and also ends up performing its own version of policing of the boundaries of race and ethnicity,

Well said. I have similar qualms about veganism, to provide an example - practicioners seem to believe it's possible to live a life that harms no other creature, when in fact just being alive yourself inherently harms other creatures. The land you live on and the land you derive your sustenance from was once natural habitat that is now destroyed. Even if you survive by living in the forest picking berries, you are harming birds by depriving them of food. Veganism taken to its ultimate conclusion is a denial of the fundamental ecology of the planet.

Sorry to shift the topic with my veganism rant, but I feel that in a similar way, this privilege/cultural appropriation debate, when taken to the limits, denies our common humanity and shared global history. It divides, rather than unites. Privilege is a great lens to understand why things are the way they are. So is Marxist historical analysis! But like Marxism, problems arise if you try to use it to change the world, and it's no longer so simple. In the case if the issue of cultural appropriation, it can devolve into a quasi-mystical fawning over every other culture, wrapping then up in tissue-paper and putting them in a display cabinet for future preservation. Any subsequent change in this protected culture is viewed through the lens of cultural imperialism, rather than autonomous participation in global humanity.

As an old-school internationalist, this reeks of paternalism.
posted by Jimbob at 1:07 PM on August 12, 2013


Jimbob: ". I mean, I actually think there's a serious ethical question of how one makes a livable life under these circumstances ('these circumstances' = pervasive and global systems of hierarchy, exploitation and violence), so I'm not belittling the weight of knowing that you are doing something one meaning of which is the perpetuation of a systematic wrong. Nonetheless, I think the current rule-of-thumb of 'don't do it, and call out/shame people who do do it' perpetuates this clean/dirty dichotomy and also ends up performing its own version of policing of the boundaries of race and ethnicity,

Well said. I have similar qualms about veganism, to provide an example - practicioners seem to believe it's possible to live a life that harms no other creature, when in fact just being alive yourself inherently harms other creatures. The land you live on and the land you derive your sustenance from was once natural habitat that is now destroyed. Even if you survive by living in the forest picking berries, you are harming birds by depriving them of food. Veganism taken to its ultimate conclusion is a denial of the fundamental ecology of the planet.

Sorry to shift the topic with my veganism rant, but I feel that in a similar way, this privilege/cultural appropriation debate, when taken to the limits, denies our common humanity and shared global history. It divides, rather than unites. Privilege is a great lens to understand why things are the way they are. So is Marxist historical analysis! But like Marxism, problems arise if you try to use it to change the world, and it's no longer so simple. In the case if the issue of cultural appropriation, it can devolve into a quasi-mystical fawning over every other culture, wrapping then up in tissue-paper and putting them in a display cabinet for future preservation. Any subsequent change in this protected culture is viewed through the lens of cultural imperialism, rather than autonomous participation in global humanity.

As an old-school internationalist, this reeks of paternalism.
"

Cultural appropriation isn’t simply about what you can or can’t do. It’s also about what happens when certain groups do it, how they are treated and then what happens when other groups do it and the way they are treated. That's what people mean when they say "my culture isn't just a costume".
posted by ShawnStruck at 11:29 AM on August 14, 2013


I don't think you get to say what people mean when they say things.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:36 PM on August 18, 2013


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