Perhaps the biggest bane of the internet/social media age is the ridiculous rapidity by which outrage spreads over the most mundane of issues … including even pure enjoyment.
The College Fix has covered “controversial” instances of so-called “cultural appropriation” many times; the latest comes from Temple University where a group of students and professors yammered about the phenomenon in the music realm.
Global studies (of course) / political science major Gabriella Duran defined the term thusly: “When an artist tries to profit from the music style without showing respect to the culture, they also demonstrate cultural appropriation. Music is an art form, and we can learn so much from it when it’s done correctly” (emphasis added). This is perfect from a progressive perspective because that “respect” will forever be malleable — its definition always will shift to whatever the perpetually aggrieved believe necessary.
The confab pondered singer Bruno Mars: Does he use “his racial ambiguity to cross genres”? English major Dynas Johnson said “The situation is complicated, but the point is that there is a lot of misunderstandings and not enough conversation.”
Justin Bieber also took a hit for his role in a remix of “Despacito” which, according to Duran, “disrespected Spanish culture and helped Bieber profit.” Spanish culture? The original tune was done by Puerto Rican artists, Ms. Duran. “Spanish” refers to Spain, so why are you disrespecting boricua culture?
(By the way, assuming Ms. Duran is Latina, and unless it’s a typo on The Temple News’s part, her first name has appropriated Anglo spelling. Spelled as is it would be pronounced “gah-bree-AY-ya/zha” in Spanish; the actual spelling in the language has just one “L.”)
Just imagine plopping in the various artists’ latest offerings into the CD player around these folks. They’d be scribbling each and every perceived violation of PC norms onto their little notepads, and to hell with songs’ melody, lyrics, and beat. Every song from every album would follow this pattern: “Did this (insert ethnicity) artist adequately respect the (insert historically marginalized culture) throughout?”
Cue: hair pull.
I must admit I wondered — for about a nanosecond — if my enjoyment of Spanish-language music is culturally appropriative. My favorite bands/singers include Soda Stereo (Argentina), La Ley (Chile), Aleks Syntek (Mexico), and Los Amigos Invisibles (Venezuela). I had even played some of their music to my Spanish classes back in the day (wait, me teaching Spanish … was that cultural appropriation, too?). Then I realized: These artists play a lot of rock and roll. If anything is cultural appropriation, they’re the ones engaging in it.
Well, at least to some degree. According to “Race, Rock, and Elvis: Music in American Life,” rock and roll is generally agreed to be a “merging of the African musical tradition with European instrumentation”; since my faves have some degree of European background, I guess they get some latitude.
Need it be said you can see how absurd this all gets? My favorite artists notwithstanding, just consider the Bruno Mars bit: His ethnic background seems like it was thrown into a blender and frappe’d for over an hour … but we have to have a “conversation” about the types of music he creates? How pathetic is that? And if we really want to play this game, where is the conversation among the Temple-ites about hip hop artists’ (among others’) appropriation of white engineer Robert Moog‘s great invention, the synthesizer? (Have a headache yet?)
Instead of this foolishness, perhaps more attention could be paid to how great African-American musicians of sixty-or-so years ago (and later) were taken to the cleaners by white singers and record company executives piggybacking on their creations? The problem wasn’t that white artists emulated black bands and singers, it was that the latter weren’t adequately compensated for what they had made.
And hey, if the 1950s had possessed the enlightened racial culture of the early 21st century, Little Richard might have been crowned “The King” instead of Elvis Presley.
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