Tag Archives: cultural appropriation
Soleil Ho has a nice critique in Bitch Magazine of some trends of cultural simplification and racism in food culture. I like her salty tone. She kicks off the discussion with the one directional consumption/service relationship of immigrant cultures reduced to food. Wondering what to reply when someone mentions to the author ‘Oh you’re Vietnamese, I love pho’:
What can one say in response? “Oh, you’re white? I love tuna salad!” It sounds ridiculous, mostly because no one cares if a second-generation immigrant likes American food. Rather, the burden of fluency with American culture puts a unique pressure on the immigrant kid. I paid attention during playdates with my childhood friends, when parents would serve pulled-pork sandwiches and coleslaw for lunch. (It took me a long time to understand the appeal of mayonnaise, which, as a non-cream, non-cheese, non-sauce, perplexed the hell out of me.) From watching my friends, I learned to put the coleslaw in the sandwich and sop the bread in the stray puddles of sauce in between bites. There’s a similar kind of self-checking that occurs when I take people out to Vietnamese restaurants: Through unsubtle side glances, they watch me for behavioral cues, noting how and if I use various condiments and garnishes so they can report back to their friends and family that they learned how to eat this food the “real way” from their real, live Vietnamese friend. Their desire to be true global citizens, eaters without borders, lies behind their studious gazes.
Ho seems insulted by the notion that you might be able to get at something essential or authentic in the culture by eating take-out food. She makes a strong argument here.
Like a plague of culture locusts, foodies, Chowhounders, and food writers flit from bibimbap to roti canai, fetishizing each dish as some adventure-in-a-bowl and using it as a springboard to make gross generalizations about a given culture’s “sense of family and community,” “lack of pretense,” “passion,” and “spirituality.” Eventually, a hole-in-the-wall reaches critical white-Instagrammer mass, and the swarm moves on to its next discovery, decrying the former fixation’s loss of authenticity. The foodies’ cultural cachet depends on being the only white American person in the room, braving inhumane spice levels and possible food poisoning in order to share with you the proper way to handle Ethiopian injera bread. But they can’t cash in on it unless they share their discoveries with someone else, thereby jeopardizing that sense of exclusivity. Thus, happiness tends to elude the cultural foodie.
She is particularly good at pointing out the harms of reducing a culture to food.
Over time, you grow to associate nationalities with the quaint little restaurants that you used to frequent, before they were demolished and replaced with soulless, Americanized joints. You look at a map of the world and point a finger to Mongolia. “Really good barbecue.” El Salvador. “Mmm, pupusas.” Vietnam. “I love pho!\” When you divorce a food from its place and time, you can ignore global civil unrest and natural disasters (see: Zagat declaring Pinoy cuisine the “next great Asian food trend” this past fall as deadly floods swept through the Philippines), knowing as you do that the world’s cultural products will always find safe harbor in your precious, precious mouth.
Hip hop syncretism — the aggressive combinations of sounds and players from many cultures. Here visible in the nice B+ film — Brasilintime w/ a cadre of great drummers and DJs. It includes:
–> One of the best examples of cultures appropriating culture ad infinitum when Jay Rocc cuts up “Apache.”
–> The Brazilian parallel with “Comanche!”
–> Not enough Nelson Triunfo.
–> Babu’s scratch session which seems the most inspired and flexible — connected to the music.
–> Paul Humphrey and Ivan “Mamao” Conti seem to jam exceptionally well together.
–> The inspired chaos of the polyrhythms made when six drummers get down and DJs cut on top of each other is a little much at times. Maybe my ears aren’t big enough . . .
–> The graphics seem excessive in the first half.
–> Hip Hop’s version of the colonial lens includes shopping for rare records in the field. American learning is commensurate with getting a bargain or getting something that other people can’t as easily get. In this case we get Paul Humphrey, Derf Reklaw and James Gadson shopping for out-of-the-ordinary percussion instruments and Cut Chemist, Egon, Madlib, Jay Rocc, and Babu shopping for records.
In some ways we can call this syncretism — where distinct cultures inform each other – exchanging language, food and music. The nod to difference that comes when the American DJs and drummers acknowledge they don’t know something about Brazilian music is matched by the assumption that they can buy and lift chunks of that music for western audiences.
I don’t have any problem with people traveling to other nations — there is something funky about this particular narrative — hunting for nuggets of music seems so crass at points. Like Egon getting the group price for all the records the crew was buying.
I dislike it when the specifics of the culture blend into the background and I like the moments of the film where the details pop out. The interviews with Brazilian drummers make this film (despite my linguistic inabilities to get chunks). I’ll probably mark some cue points in the video and chop it up — take the parts that I like and leave the rest on the digital scrap heap.
I had been thinking about posting about the Harlem shake meme videos — I was going to talk about the Waka Flocka Flame effect of enjoying music that makes you dance and have fun — considering the bodily invitation of Baauer’s nice tune. I was thinking about mapping how many ways we are constrained in movement and how nice that these videos offered a chance to have fun and simply go dumb (Rest In Power Mac Dre).
But of course, the reason why people feel so seemingly liberated is that there is a script to follow — the dances are mapped quite carefully. Check a couple of the internet meme videos and you’ll see the similarity in the costumes, poses, the points in the song where people are ‘allowed to dance,’ the invitation to unique foolishness is certainly there — but it is a copy of a copy of a copy. . . .
And in that copying is the insult for people who live in Harlem. The mockery and lack of respect for an actual dance form is central for many of the folks interviewed. I bet most of the people who are in Harlem shake videos would respond by saying: ‘I didn’t know about the history and the ties to the location.”
Which is precisely the difficulty with internet meme videos — the absolute disconnection from context at precisely the time that we are inundated with thousands of replications of the image, each one loving re-embraced by the local players who perhaps (put new text around a much loved image) or (prepare to do the Harlem shake with their buddies arguing over ‘who get’s to wear the mask?’). In most cases, the internet teaches us that what was once singularly owned or identified can be swept into the internet-o-sphere and assimilated, free of context or culture to become a clever short-term joke.
Thanks to Okayplayer who had the best coverage on this subject including a how-to on a slightly more authentic Harlem Shake.
I’m getting prepared to DJ the roller derby bout today. Thinking about sports-music — the stuff that gets the crowd pumped. A number of quirky tunes came up in my searches, including this catchy number:
But it reminded me of the Das Racist tune which I might just play.
The Das Racist video was created by the brilliant Dallas Penn by the way.