Ahh…October 31st, Halloween, the time to scare people, eat lots of sweets and dress up in costumes, but that’s not all Halloween does. Halloween also shows the debate on cultural appropriation, something that has become a huge issue among transnational media especially that of pop culture.
Over the years the entertainment business has developed into a transnational production merging different ideologies, themes, identities and culture into the films that we watch today. Because of this the world has become a more diverse place and has lead to the adoption of different believes, values and cultures. However, with this adoption comes the debate over cultural appropriation vs. cultural exchange.
But what’s the difference?
Cultural appropriation is defined, as the broad use of cultural symbols, artefacts, genres, rituals or technologies by members of another culture, is inescapable when cultures come into contact, including virtual or representational contact. Cultural appropriation is something that we see a lot of in today’s society, although a lot of it is trying to be pasted off as cultural exchange.
Cultural exchange happens when two or more cultures neither superior to the other, come together and share their traditions.
Within the entertainment industry cultural exchange likes to be thrown around a lot, as different elements of particular cultures are used to create films everyday. “Within cinematic public spheres, filmmakers act as bricoleurs (Newcomb and Hirsch, 2000), mixing both global and local elements to appeal to audience tastes and trends (Bhabha, 1995; Burke, 2006; Volkmer, 2003)” (Karan, K and Schaefer, DJ 2010, p. 309). Karan and Schaefer argue the increasing value of cultural exchange through “Indian/Hindu references into mainstream North American media” (Karan, K and Schaefer, DJ 2010, p. 312) has led to more film makers taking elements from different cultures and religions.
One common example of this is Avatar, which uses Indian mythology, which creates the setting and characteristics of the movie. James Cameron using these elements and intertwined them with the western view of society, this mixture of elements and cultural exchange led to an amazing production, though we do not see the use of the Indian mythology in a negative light, which it can be used in sometimes, we do not know Cameron’s full intensions to why he used these elements. Although his construct of the Indian religion was well represented. However, this is just one example of cultural exchange another example that is passed of as cultural exchange are within pop culture and the music industry.
This argument comes from cultural symbols becoming something of a fashion item and a trend to set. We see this especially with pop culture where traditional bindi’s of the Indian culture are used to highlight the “free spirited” young teens when they go to music festivals. This association with sex, drugs and alcohol can leave those of the culture offended as the symbolic meaning of the symbol has lost all meaning to make room for fashion trends.
Due to the blending of elements that we see in transnational media we see a lot of negative backlash towards these representations often being used as a way to stereotype people of a certain group in ways that aren’t true and can offend. Although many do feel like this is harmless, using it as a way to state that ‘white’ culture is only trying to blend with the rest of the world.
Cultural appropriation houses a huge debate that will always be at the surface of any new trend out there. The key is to represent it in a way that is respectful of various cultures and bring it back to cultural exchange where we appreciate them for what they are and not use them as a means to sexualise or discriminate.
Here is a video and some further reading you can do to get different views on cultural appropriation.
Dawisha, N (2014) ‘Halloween: The Season for Culturally-Insensitive Fashion’, The Huffington Post, weblog, 31 October, viewed 31 August 2015 <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nadia-dawisha-/culturally-insensitive-fashion_b_6070292.html?ir=Australia>
Smoothiefreak (2014) ‘ White Party – A Lesson in Cultural Appropriation’, online video, 2 December, viewed 31 August 2015 <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ipx3fKn4G3U&feature=youtu.be>
Alvia, T (2013) ‘The Difference Between Cultural Exchange and Cultural Appropriation’ Everyday Feminism, weblog, 30 September, viewed 31 August 2015 <http://everydayfeminism.com/2013/09/cultural-exchange-and-cultural-appropriation/>
Karan, K and Schaefer, DJ (2010) ‘Problematizing Chindia: Hybridity and Bollywoodization of popular Indian cinema in global film flows’, Global Media and Communication, 6: 3, pp. 309-316.
Khan, N (2010) ‘Oscar winner ‘Avatar’ has an Indian connection’, Masala, 9 March, viewed 31 August <http://www.masala.com/oscar-winner-avatar-has-an-indian-connection-19678.html>
Alvia, T (2015) ‘Here Are 5 Cultural Appropriating Outfits It’s Time to Retire for Good’ Everyday Feminism, weblog, 20 July, viewed 31 August 2015 <http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/07/cultural-appropriating-outfits/>
Marinashutup (2014) ‘What Is Cultural Appropriation? – Feminist Fridays’, online video, 5 December, viewed 19 August 2015 <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZT1sTYpOJ04>
Nittle, N.K (NA) ‘What Is Cultural Appropriation and Why Is It Wrong?’, About News, weblog, NA, viewed 31 August 2015 <http://racerelations.about.com/od/understandingrac1/a/WhatIsaStereotype.htm>
Johnson, M.Z (2015) ‘What’s Wrong with Cultural Appropriation? These 9 Answers Reveal Its Harm’ Everyday Feminism, weblog, 14 June, viewed 31 August 2015 <http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/06/cultural-appropriation-wrong/>