Avril and Katy in the Great Race Caper


You know what's fun? Fetishizing other cultures and appropriating them as you see fit. I mean, hey, if you like one part of a culture, but just that part, why not take it and make it look indicative of the entire culture that you lifted it from? Other than the fact that you're putting a superficial and toxic label on an entire country, and you're offending legions upon legions of people with your blatant misunderstanding and misrepresentation of their culture, it's a completely fun thing to do! And if people get offended, well, they just need to calm themselves down, because it's all in good fun, and if you meant to use something humorously, then by all means, that makes it okay. Even if you're showing a symbol of a sacred deity getting smitten to ashes. Because, hey, you're white, and everything is yours for the taking.

The above paragraph seems to sum up the mentalities of Katy Perry and Avril Lavigne, the latter of which took down her patently offensive "Hello Kitty" video from YouTube yesterday amid cries of racial insensitivity. Of course, Katy Perry's "Dark Horse" video is just as, if not more so, offensive, and nobody's really done shit about that because, well... Perry is more relevant these days than Levigne, and therefore has more clout. We saw the same shit when Gwen Steffani was at the height of her popularity, and we'll probably see it again. But before you call me a killjoy, or anything along those lines, let's take a look at some reasons why this behavior is really screwed up and not at all justifiable.

It Trivializes and Homogenizes Entire Cultures

"Does this look Egyptian? No? What if we throw some of those weird symbols up? Perfect!"
Katy Perry isn't even remotely close to being of any Middle Eastern descent, considering she's a blond Californian whose first album was a lovable collection of Christian, God-fearing jams. And despite Avril Lavigne's massive cult of personality among Japanese teens, which I swear is not something I'm making up, I would hazard to guess that she's not very aware of that country's culture in the least. So when Perry decides it's totally okay to have a symbol that means "Allah" get smitten into dust, or Lavigne decides to blurt out poor Japanese spliced with silly English while drinking sake, one might start to get suspicious that these ladies have absolutely no idea that what they're doing.

Perry, while dressed as Cleopatra, throws Middle Eastern symbolism into the mix because, hey, they're all brown people, right? And Lavigne drinks sake, eats sushi and sings about Hello Kitty, because those are things that Japanese people are into, yeah? It's this kind of mindset that is incredibly problematic and caustic to whole countries, but is nevertheless commonplace in American society. We take things we see in movies and television from other countries, then base our entire understanding of those countries on those things. Who cares that cute culture is something that a majority of the Japanese populace has has issues with since Seiko Matsuda made it big in the 80's, or that the symbols Katy is waving around actually have serious significance to some peoples' livelihoods?

Nobody, apparently, but heaven forbid somebody say something about Jesus, or our Christian god, because everybody knows that our culture, built upon the blood of slaughtered natives and the bones of slaves we exploited to get where we are today, is the end-all, be-all. And if we like something from your culture, no matter how sacred or problematic it is for you, we'll take it and wave it around for a few seconds because it's fun for us. Because we're white. And we can do that. But if Beyonce wanted to do it, she couldn't, because she'd be too white.

"But wait, you social justice scum!" you cry. "Other countries do this to us! Don't you see? We're oppressed, too!" Oh, really?


Other Countries Do This Because of Us, Not Them


American standards of beauty are the best, AMIRITE?
It's true that there are significant Japanese sub-cultures built around dressing in rockabilly clothing and tanning your skin and bleaching your hair blond. And yes, it's true different countries use English lettering for a wide variety of things. But this isn't because, as a culture, they're taking bits of stuff they like and trying it on, or using it for fun. While this might seem unlikely to some in the case of the fashion sub-cultures, a lot of this has to do with the good old-fashioned, family-friendly enterprise of imperialism. Think about it for a second, if you will. When a country doesn't do something we like, what do we do? Diplomatically solve problems to reach an amicable solution? Hell no, we invade and occupy their asses, or at least, threaten to unless they get their act together (see: The Meiji Restoration)! What if there's two countries fighting each other, locked in a war they've been in for thousands of years? Sweet, two-for-one invasion special (see: the Middle East debacle)!

America is a country built on sticking our nose where it doesn't belong, then keeping it there until the scent is pleasant and helps us feel good about ourselves. If we don't like Japan's treatment of women, for example, we can ignore our own and chide them for being too "traditional," ignoring the fact that women in the majority of pre-Meiji Japan actually had more autonomy than they did until our asses showed up. So, over time, other countries tend to pander to us and live by our standards, because if they don't, they risk the threat of our government acting like authoritarian pricks until things change... or until we kill them all. Yep.

So what does this have to do with clothing choices? See, that picture above is of a ganguro, which is a type of girl who (obviously) bakes herself in a tanning bed or coats herself in spray-tan, then bleaches her hair and dresses in garish clothing. Whether these young women know it or not, they're subtly influenced by the far-reaching imperialism of Western beauty standards. The same goes for the spike in breast-focused porn in Japan withing the past several decades, when historically, bare breasts hadn't really been considered that big of a deal. But thanks to our rampant fetishization of a body part that produces milk for babies (please think about that for a second,) they became a huge focus of the Japanese smut industry. 

This ties into skin-bleaching in countries where darker skin is common, or eye surgery in countries with more pronounced Asiatic features. Previous standards of beauty are becoming obsolete thanks to our shoddy globalization, and our life-threatening throttlehold on other countries. So, no, other countries don't "do it too." We started it. And then we kept going because, fuck it, it's worked so far, right?


It's Just Really, Really Misguided


More like Genghis KHAN'T! #gotem #comedy #burn 
Look, Avril and Katy aren't criminals. And honestly, at least in the case of the former, I doubt they're flagrant bigots. I hesitate to say that about Katy, because this is the same person who used "gay" as a pejorative in a song, played into the fetishization of lesbians in a song and a video, and has routinely wielded other cultures as toys to be played with in her frankly stupid music videos. Honestly, she's kind of a problematic person, and refuses to own up to it. In Avril's defense, she has a massive Japanese fanbase, and she was probably trying to reach out to them with her limited knowledge of Japanese culture. At least she had the courtesy to go to Japan, hire local directors and dancers, and shoot all of the video there. That doesn't make it right, sure, but at least she was trying. Sort of.

The real point I'm trying to make here is that using other cultures for Western entertainment is really, really shitty. On top of that, it's not cool to say you "love" another person's "culture," then just show one or two popular, cliche aspects of it. And to top it off, being a white person and using other nation's iconography to be "cool" is borderline racist, and show that we really haven't come that far as a society. I mean, we still cast white actors in Asian roles today, or Chinese actors in Japanese roles, or vice versa. This is over half a century after John Wayne played Genghis Khan. Come on, people. We can fucking do better than this.

At least, I hope so.

Comments

  1. Hey Mr. AFC,
    I enjoyed reading the cultural appropriation article you wrote up, but I just wanted to clarify that western culture by no means started breast fetishism (See: penis worship takeover in Catal Huyuk, Turkey during the neolithic era. Not to say the American people didn't help propagate it). I feel like you kinda played up the victim game on other cultures, as Japan also used to be an extremely imperialistic empire and definitely had their stint in occupations (See: Manchuria) plus the middle east isn't exactly the most accepting place on the planet. Not to say that western culture (I feel that saying white people when you mean the United States isn't exactly appropriate in modern day times, it worked in the last century but the United States as a whole isn't just white people anymore.) didn't have it's fair share of appropriation.

    I feel that inappropriate cultural appropriation should be condemned, but it isn't like all of white people or all of Japanese people are to blame. It's such a stupid generalization to me. We as a society can't move onto greater heights by constantly victimizing and condemning other races. I have no idea if this made any sense, but I do like you Mr. AFC. I look forward to reading all of your future posts.
    Sincerely,
    A New Fan!

    ReplyDelete

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