reappropriate

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Shakira on the MTV Video Music Awards

I'm currently watching the MTV Video Music Awards as I type up my notes for the morning, and I just watched Shakira and Wyclef Jean perform "Hips Don't Lie". And would you believe that Shakira and her back-up dancers appropriated Asian Indian traditional dress and dancing? I'm so tired of watching Asian cultures get appropriated by contemporary performers as a way of "snazzing up" the same 'ol routine, as if a little dash of "the East" can give an overplayed song an exotic twist. How many pop culture singers and dancers have we seen over the past few years dressed in hanbok or chi-pao? Are we really surprised that this generation's youth think there's nothing wrong with appropriating Asian cultures? Those who establish "that which is cool" send the message that not only is there nothing wrong with appropriating Asian cultures, but that it's in fact desirable. But then again, why am I turning to the MTV Video Music Awards for discussions of identity politics? Sarah Silverman (known to Asian American activists for her defense of the epithet "chink" in her comedy) just did a homophobic segment lambasting recently outed Lance Bass. I feel my brain cells dying. This is my generation?

32 Comments:

Blogger NursePam said...

It's not your generation Jenn. It's people. Unfortunately, the human race appears to be incapable of taking giant leaps forward.

Keep talking. Some people can hear what you're saying.

9/01/2006 11:16:00 AM  
Anonymous gatamala said...

Consider this in light of Shakira's ascendance in the English-speaking world...Remember when the US went livin la vida loca, bootleg Spanish was abound, mamis & papis bein' thrown around all over the place!

I guess she got bored with herself??

9/01/2006 01:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

People are stupid, stupid creatures. I, for one, am a top-grade cyborg. *sarcasm*

You should read Ralph Linton's essay "100% American". It's standard required reading for cultural anthropology classes, but it sure gives an insight on how so many things in America have been appropriated from other cultures.

I expect white folks (since most of them are pretty ignorant) to appropriate Asian/Pacific Islander cultures.....but it's even more disappointing when you have people of color appropriating other cultures. Tragic, isn't it?

But rather than go into the "Bitter Asian Male" tailspin of "whitey's taking our wimminz" and "we don't have small dicks"......I'd say let the karmic circle complete itself. Hollywood and the mass media will NEVER get it right with positive views of APA/PI/hapa populations, because it's run by ignorant, rich, racist Anglo Jews.

9/01/2006 08:24:00 PM  
Blogger Cocacy said...

Great post. Appropriation has always been an interesting topic for me. I remember way back when Shakira said she dyed her hair blonde to appeal to American [i.e. read white] culture. Just curious, how did you feel when Outkast appropriated Native American culture in their performance about two years ago for the Grammys?

9/01/2006 09:54:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Just curious, how did you feel when Outkast appropriated Native American culture in their performance about two years ago for the Grammys?

I didn't see the performance "live", only a still picture of it, but I was really disgusted by that as well. Again, people appropriate non-White cultures for their own gains, and in-so-doing, perpetuate their "Other"-ing.

9/01/2006 11:09:00 PM  
Anonymous philly jay said...

Heh, well I guess I'll be the odd ball here.Every group, and I mean everyone from asians, to blacks(yes blacks I've seen it with my own eyes), to whites, to lations etc,etc, has been appropriating someone since who knows how long.And sometimes (not saying appropriating is never bad for the nitpickers) that appropriation isn't as bad as people make it out to be.Man everybody is so picky over little stuff these days.What about world hunger? :)

"I expect white folks (since most of them are pretty ignorant) to appropriate Asian/Pacific Islander cultures.....but it's even more disappointing when you have people of color appropriating other cultures. Tragic, isn't it?"

It's not really so bad.Besides what sets apart POC (man that term never grew on me) from white people when it comes to ignorance of people they don't know?

9/01/2006 11:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Mac said...

I agree with Philly. I can see if she was making a mockery of the culture, but wearing a traditional garb and doing a dance? If that's wrong then I would like to see every non-black person to cease appropriating Hip-Hop culture.

9/02/2006 02:32:00 PM  
Anonymous sk said...

I missed this on TV-what were they wearing? Saris?

After Madonna took on Sanskrit, henna, and bindis, nothing will surprise me. What bothers me is when people put images of Ganesha and Vishnu on shoes and underwear.

9/02/2006 04:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Tam said...

Hollywood is run by Anglo Jews?!

Never mind the inherent bigotry of such a generalisation, what exactly IS an Anglo Jew?

9/02/2006 04:19:00 PM  
Anonymous philly jay said...

"Hollywood and the mass media will NEVER get it right with positive views of APA/PI/hapa populations, because it's run by ignorant, rich, racist Anglo Jews."

I thought I was the only one who noticed what he said.......

9/02/2006 05:46:00 PM  
Blogger little light said...

Hey, Shakira's not just Latina; she's also of Lebanese descent. Maybe she was shooting for her own heritage and missed by some miles?
I'm just trying for a no-prize, here.

9/02/2006 11:37:00 PM  
Blogger Justin said...

Also note that actual Bollywood choreographer/director Farah Khan was the one responsible for Shakira's routine.

And yeah--Anglo Jews? You mean like Marty Feldman? I wish Marty Feldman ran Hollywood....

9/03/2006 01:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, more like the Weinsteins. The ones who absolutely INSIST on remaking awesome and well-made Asian films. I'm still angry at the fact they want to remake and do a prequel of "Wo hu cang long" (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). Luckily that fell through, I hope. =| Hollywood surely has a very unoriginal way of "whitewashing" high-caliber Asian films. What, are American audiences too dumb to understand an actual, complex plot? jeez....

And what I mean by Anglo Jews are the batshit extremists within the Anti Defamation League who think that only their genocide matters (ooo, we're special and you're not! forget that the rape of Nanking, the Khmer Rouge, and the Armenian genocide existed!) and that any human being who is against Israel bombing the shit outta Palestinian women and children is AUTOMATICALLY an anti-Semite. The ones who that think they are holier-than-thou and higher than everybody else. :P

9/03/2006 08:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a different "anonymous" than the "anglo-Jew" guy, just wanted to be clear. Although it does amuse me how people in Hollywood were shocked! over Mel Gibson, because before him, there was never any racism in show business. Oh, heavens, no.

Anyway, we all know it's the Scientologists who run Hollywood, right?

Actually, I just wanted to update comments about the accuracy of my earlier links to the black 9/11 hero being cast with a white actor in Stone's World Trade Center movie.

Apparently, the story here has been updated and corrected--the writer apparently mistook Nick Cage's character as the black marine, when it was William (Tom Cruise's cousin) Mapother's character. And if you need more verification, here's the Fox News profile of Marine Sgt. Thomas. The producer apologized, giving some lame excuse that Thomas was not known to be black during casting, and that they found out only after production had begun (but didn't explain why they then didn't recast the role with a black actor once the truth was found out).

It's a factual story, many news outlets have picked up on it. Here's an NPR commentary about it.

Just wanted to get the facts out there.

9/03/2006 11:01:00 PM  
Blogger Filby said...

The ones who absolutely INSIST on remaking awesome and well-made Asian films.

At the risk of going off-topic, I have to say I was pretty miffed when they remade Shall We Dance?. One of my favorite films.

9/04/2006 08:00:00 AM  
Blogger Justin said...

Anonymous, it's just that "Anglo Jew" is an incorrect descriptor of--say--the Weinsteins, who are certainly Ashkenazni, but I'm guessing have little to no Anglo-Saxon lineage.

And while I understand getting upset about Hollywood remaking Asian films, Crouching Tiger isn't the best example as 1. it was a US-China coproduction and 2. it was a big hit in the United States (and it bombed in China and Hong Kong.) Plus Ang Lee thought of it as a Jane Austen martial arts movie. It definitely isn't a purely "Asian" movie.

9/04/2006 01:52:00 PM  
Blogger Lee Herrick said...

Thank you for bringing this to my [our] attention, Jenn. I had not heard of Silverman, but I am glad to know who she is and what kind of racist she is. The texture of race dynamics get lost with people like her, but it sounds like Aoki made some valid arguments. It's strange this is still going on, but I am glad that at least the discussion is being "made," even if it is a bit tilted.

And yes, the era of loud-mouthed, illogical, and beligerent people has run amok.

9/05/2006 09:49:00 AM  
Blogger William said...

http://community.tvguide.com/thread.jspa?threadID=700005498

The above article makes it sound as if the VMA performance was actually a bit of cross-promotion, rather than exploitation. Then again, this might start the argument of "Should Shakira be in a Bollywood-ispired film?" But that's also like asking, "Should non-Asians be in movies choreographed by Yuen Wo-Ping?"
Discuss.

9/05/2006 05:58:00 PM  
Anonymous kristen said...

i'm going to have to diasgree. As a fan of shakira- at least before her 'laundry service' album I have notice that she has long used traditional colombian, lebanese music, dance and dress in her music and performances. just b/c she's done this doesn't mean she's appropriating asian influences.

with the world the way it is, can it really be said whose appropriating whom? should i, as a black woman get mad when i see 'non'black' kids listening to hip-hop and/or "acting black"? not really.

and when is borrowing influences from other cultures appropriation? sometimes it is unfortunately- madonna, gwen stefani, those ridiculous "I Am African" campaigns. but you'd be surprised that most of the time it actually isn't.

so please get off the high horse

9/06/2006 05:56:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

thank you all for the comments and my apologies for not writing back sooner.

kristen, if i were a black american, i would be angry with the misappropriation of black culture that runs rampant through non-black america. similarly, i'm furious to see that the only time asian cultures are given any sort of treatment in hollywood is when they are mistreated and used by celebrities looking to for flair.

asian americans have long struggled against the perpetual foreigner stereotype -- but is there really any surprise that other americans still call us monkey and welcome us to our birth countries when the only time we and our heritage is seen publicly is as exotic aliens from a distant land?

9/07/2006 11:37:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

william, just because a minority community benefits from (indirectly, i might add) from heightened exposure doesn't justify that exposure.

and i'm dead certain shakira had no altruistic motives for her act. this is just madonna and gwen stefani redux.

9/07/2006 11:39:00 PM  
Anonymous kristen said...

jenn i agree with you. however since black culture at times is so difficult to adequately define, some aspects that could be seen as being "black" such as love of rap, clothing styles, language dance are in my opinion "cultural" like the hip-hop culture that pervades much of urban music.

madonna's wanna be rapping? mariah carey's claim of being black everytime someone criticizes her weight? gwen's adoption of mexican or japanese or insert ethnic groups cuture to sell records that to me is appropriation and i find that offensive. however knowing a bit about the background of shakira goes a long way in explaining her cultural influences. madonna and gwen stefani she is not

oh yes let me take back my get off your high horse comment, you know i loves me some shakira

9/08/2006 04:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Kyla said...

Shakira's father is Lebanese, maybe she was trying to go for that and just,like, screwed up? I know she used Arabic lyrics and was influenced by Lebanese dance for her song Ojos Asi and the video for it.

9/08/2006 04:43:00 PM  
Anonymous gatamala said...

For the record, Lebanese - Indian NOTHING TO DO W/ EACH OTHER. I think Shakira would get that right.

Kristen
some aspects that could be seen as being "black" such as love of rap, clothing styles, language dance are in my opinion "cultural" like the hip-hop culture that pervades much of urban music. This makes no sense. Please, cut the trolling and misidentifying yourself.

9/08/2006 05:16:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Kristen, again with all due respect, I don't think I understand this statement:

some aspects that could be seen as being "black" such as love of rap, clothing styles, language dance are in my opinion "cultural" like the hip-hop culture that pervades much of urban music.

In my opeinion, hip hop culture is authentically part of Black culture, as that is where it first arose and where it evolved from call-and-answer style music to poetry, gangsta rap, and hip hop (and subsequent variations). Those who rap and cannot claim authentic membership to Black heritage and culture must deal with questions of inauthenticity -- does that mean that only Black people should attempt to rap? No, but those who are not Black who try to rap must be able to face accusations of appropriating another community's culture.

Secondly, I don't think I understand this statement:

mariah carey's claim of being black everytime someone criticizes her weight?

Mariah Carey is biracial -- while I dislike her attempts to shrug her racial identity on and off whenever it's convenient, I also don't think it's fair to argue that because Mariah Carey can pass, she is no longer able to discuss her identity as a biracial woman who is half-Black without it being considered "appropriation".

I'll admit I don't know a huge amount of Shakira's background, but I fail to see what I need to know about her that would explain her appropriation of Indian-styles of dance and cultural dress.

Kyla, I agree with Gatamala: Lebanese and Asian Indian are not the same thing. They're not even close. Not even a little bit. To me, if Shakira tried to make such a statement about her MTV act, it would be like Sen. Allen's campaign and their lame attempt to cover up his calling an Asian Indian a monkey by saying "macaca" sounds like "mohawk".

9/08/2006 09:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Kyla said...

Jenn -

I get what you're saying. Honestly, I can't really comment, as I didn't see the program. I saw two poor-quality stills, and the costume she was wearing looked like some of the Lebanese dance costumes I've seen, but...they were poor-quality images, and I didn't see the show, so I don't know what kind of dancing she was doing.

As for Shakira knowing the difference herself, yeah, she should, but I know people who are half-Jewish and don't know anything other than Chanukah. My sister's fiance and his siblings are half-Mexican, and none of them speak Spanish or celebrate Dia de los Muertos, wear traditional garb, etc. If her dad didn't practice his culture at home, she may have seized on stuff that was somewhat familiar.

I'm not meaning to make excuses, though that's how it seems to have turned out. I'm just saying that there may be another explanation for Shakira's actions than deliberate appropriation for the sake of exoticizing herself. Of course, she's an entertainer, so it very well might be that she did exactly that, because she knew it was what her audience of teenyboppers wanted.

Sen. Allen is a whole 'nother issue that I won't even get into, but suffice it to say that I think he's an idiot.

9/09/2006 12:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Fire Fly said...

Jenn,

What do you mean by appropriation and why in particular do you think it's problematic?

I'm not trying to challenge your view that it is, I'm trying to get to the heart of why. Too many people use the term without clarification, and that confuses the politics behind it, to the detriment of less-poweful cultures.

I also think that it's less problematic to appropriate the trappings of a wealthy and poweful cultural force (Bollywood), whose entire reason for being is to gain power over representation and popular culture (at the detriment of more localised cultures, might I add), than over cultures which are very much about people making sense of their lives and the world around them.

Did you know that Shakira is also planning to be in a Bollywood film? At what point does inter-cultural communication and representation cease to be (mis)appropriation and start to be mutualistic?

Please, have some sense of nuance.

-Fire Fly

9/09/2006 06:28:00 AM  
Blogger Filby said...

At what point does inter-cultural communication and representation cease to be (mis)appropriation and start to be mutualistic?

I think at least part of the line between appropriation and mutualism (though surely not the length and breadth of the issue) is motive.

That is, to paraphrase an earlier post, it's not that you're interested in another culture, but how. I.e., renting a lot of Akira Kurosawa movies because you think he was a great director is one thing, whereas buying a nunchaku just because you saw Chuck Norris use one and think it's "cool" is not good.

Trivializing and/or "exotifying"/objectifying another culture because you think it's "cool," I think.

9/09/2006 07:17:00 AM  
Blogger JJ the Inquisitive said...

Hollywood and the mass media will NEVER get it right with positive views of APA/PI/hapa populations, because it's run by ignorant, rich, racist Anglo Jews.

Decrying racism against one group by being racist against another group doesn't work, mate. You're still racist.

And yes, what the fuck is an Anglo Jew? I'm a Jew who usually - but certainly not always - "passes" as White, but I'm sure as hell not Anglo, and I'm certainly not White in the eyes of those who would persecute me for my Jewishness.

AND where the hell did you get the idea that Jews are somehow inherently more unable than White folk to "get right" depictions of people of colour? That's just bizarre and wrong. The "Jews run the media/Hollywood/banks/world in general" is a racist myth dating back to the Middle Ages, and I'm disgusted that you continue to spout it, especially in putative support of marginalized communities.

Anyhow.

The Shakira thing bothered me, but I think it's the latest in a growing fad of appropriation of Asian cultural elements. What bothered me more than Shakira's use of Indian costumes was Gwen Stefani and her "Harajuku Girls" (gag), who were contractually obligated only to speak Japanese in public, and who she renamed Love, Angel, Music and Baby for her purposes. She basically had four Japanese girls as pets - she appropriated not only their style, and their language, and their demeanour, but them. It was sick.

9/09/2006 07:53:00 AM  
Anonymous kristen said...

"In my opeinion, hip hop culture is authentically part of Black culture, as that is where it first arose and where it evolved from call-and-answer style music to poetry, gangsta rap, and hip hop (and subsequent variations). Those who rap and cannot claim authentic membership to Black heritage and culture must deal with questions of inauthenticity -- does that mean that only Black people should attempt to rap? No, but those who are not Black who try to rap must be able to face accusations of appropriating another community's culture.
"


i wasn't saying that hip-hop culture wasn't a part of black culture, of course it is- my point which is actually what you wrote was that it wasn't the ONLY aspect of black (american) culture- a point i admit i didn't clearly explain. a genuine love of a form of music, dance, or dress style isn't always appropriation- for example comparing snow and vanilla ice to eminem or lady sovereign- it's just a love of something that can best represent your own desires. i myself listen to hip-hop though i must say that i listen to rock/al music much more that hip-hop.

i'm not even touching the mariah carey comment but i will say that "Mariah Carey is biracial -- while I dislike her attempts to shrug her racial identity on and off whenever it's convenient" this was the point i was trying and failing to make.

i agree though with firefly that the why is just as important as the how. and that is a very important distinction. great post/comments

9/11/2006 06:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you really serious, all of you I presume are concerned about race... THIS IS THE BEST YOU CAN DO. I am so tired of the PC bullsh*t that we don' address reall issues. Who gives a f-k that a Latina is giving props to a cutlre (BOLLYWOOD) that makes fun and over exaggerates Western AMERICAN culture.

Did we forget this is America I thought we wanted to celebrate people getting into and findind interest in other cultures than their own!

9/19/2006 10:12:00 PM  
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