Saturday, 20 December 2014

Appropriation or Appreciation? - Part 2!

Hey guys!

So here it is, part 2 of the ol' Appropriation vs Appreciation debacle. In Part 1, we looked at Bindis, Native American Headdresses, Avril Lavigne's "Hello Kitty" video, and Taylor Swift & Lily Allen adopting hip hop. 

Alright, without much further ado, let's get started with the first topic of Appropriation or Appreciation (is it me, or am I starting to sound like a game show host? Whatever):

Katy Perry's AMAs Performance 

A lot of people went off about this geisha-inspired performance, saying it was racist. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's racist, as I don't think Perry was intentionally trying to offend anyone or especially mock Japanese culture. However, I would say it could be filed under appropriation. A lot of people nowadays just think geishas are pretty ladies from Japan who wear cute outfits and have something to do with blossom trees - right? Wrong. 

Geishas have a long standing history in Japan, and some of it is pretty fucked up. For instance, there's a tradition called "mizuage", which in some cases is totally innocent, and involves apprentice geisha having a simple haircut to show that they have come of age. During the Edo period (16-1800s) and most probably afterwards as it only became illegal in 1959, geishas "mizuage" was selling their virginity to the highest bidder, most usually a creepy old man who would pay to have sex with a ripe young virgin. I know, how horrific. But the life in general of a geisha is ridiculously strict, filled with meticulous rules, and artistries to master. The way they dress, the way they present themselves, the skills they acquire like dancing, playing instruments, it's all done to a tee. Yeah, nowadays, modern geisha are women who make the decision themselves to become geisha after leaving school, and their sex lives are in their own hands (phew),  but the history of it isn't all that free. They were women who were just dressed up and made to work super hard to entertain men like walking accessories. And I doubt Katy Perry has felt that struggle. I know she's not intentionally trying to cause offence, but I would just say, she needs to sort out her stylists. Cos they're overlooking some major appropriation here.

The Crucifix in Modern Fashion

As an atheist myself, I don't really feel much offence with this, I just think it's kinda stupid. I mean, why would you wear something with a crucifix on it if you're not a Christian? And if you were a Christian, you wouldn't wear something that makes your religion seem like nothing more than a gimmick - you'd wear, erm, I don't know, AN ACTUAL CRUCIFIX? So basically I'm pretty sure these clothes are being worn by a LOT of non-believers. Also, I just don't think it even looks that good. Of all the prints you could choose, you choose one that doesn't even look that nice, and that also offends people. I'd say this is definite religious appropriation. It's kinda ironic, cos the people who sport these clothes... NEED JESUS. 

Katy Perry (again!) in her Dark Horse video

Look who it is again! This video did spark quite a bit of controversy, but not really for the overall Egyptian theme, but more for one specific moment. Muslims everywhere were outraged when they saw a scene in the video where a man wearing a necklace with "Allah" on it is burned by Katy's all powerful fingers. Over 65,000 people signed a petition to have it removed, and the Allah pendant was edited out. So, yeah, that part of the video was obviously offensive to lots of people. As for the whole Egyptian thing she's going for, I'm not really sure if it's appropriation. If anything, it's just a bit random. The song has nothing to do with Egypt, and it makes no references to Egyptian history. It even makes a reference to Greek mythology ("make me your Aphrodite"), but, er, absolutely nothing to do with Egypt. OK then. Again, I feel like this is more of a fault of the stylist, or in this case, the producer, or whoever's idea it was (because it most probably wasn't Perry's). Someone obviously just thought "do you know what looks cool? Egyptian stuff. Katy would look amazing as an Egyptian goddess". Um, except for the fact she's white, but fine. As an aesthetic, the whole Ancient Egyptian thing is pretty glam. Dressing up as an Ancient Egyptian goddess is basically just about embodying strength whilst also looking fucking fierce, as opposed to looking cute but exploiting a long standing tradition that was pretty horrific and hard work for a lot of women (as with the geisha thing). So... kinda offensive in terms of the Allah necklace thing, but the vibe of the video doesn't seem to be too appropriative. Just kinda irrelevant.

Gwen Stefani and her Harajuku Girls

OK, so if this was simply limited to one video with like a Japanese street-fashion theme or something, I would take the Avril Lavigne stance of "this is a stylistic thing, it's fine". But this is kinda fucking weird. Stefani hired four back up dancers and gave them the names "Love", "Music", "Angel", and "Baby", named after the album. She used them for all her stage performances and a number of her videos, and brought them along as her entourage at her public appearances. They're basically like her little accessories. I mean, they always look so fucking bored and pissed off in the photos, it's actually ridiculous how she got away with this. They're people... not pets. Especially dressing them up in those sailor-girl outfits like they're weird anime sex dolls. Grim. She appeared with them on "Friday Night With Jonathan Ross" and introduced them as her "imaginary friends". Just the cherry on the huge cake of dehumanisation. Margaret Cho called it "a minstrel show that reinforces ethnic stereotypes of Asian women". Yeah, OK, this was in 2005, I should let it go, but it's still really weird. Is anyone else really regretting buying that perfume? I'm not sure whether to file this under cultural appropriation or mild slavery... Either way, you can't use people as accessories, Gwen.

So there it is, part 2! 
Leave me a comment letting me know your opinions on the matter, and if you have any other ideas/examples of cultural appropriation that I can investigate: who knows, I might do a part 3. There's a lot of bad decisions being made in this world...

Tegan xo

1 comment:

Jessica said...

Katy Perry has been a busy lady stirring up the controversy hasn't she?I agree with you I don't really think she was doing it to upset anyone or be racist. I think it was just poor decision making.