At the 2013 MTV Movie Awards, Selena Gomez’s performance of her newly released single “Come & Get It” was criticized for culturally appropriating Indian culture and misusing the religious bindi embellishment. Not only did she adopt the Indian culture as a trend for her performance, the song itself is quite appropriated as well. The melody of the song reflects the culture due to its heavy percussion beats and a man’s singing in Punjabi. Her style appropriation and content appropriation of the culture was profoundly offensive and misrepresented. According to James Young and Conrad Brunk’s introduction in The Ethics of Cultural Appropriation, the concept of respect and offensiveness is closely related (Young and Brunk 2012). Gomez might have not realized that cultural appropriation is an extremely disrespectful act while recording her music, yet it all comes down to the common values and sensitivity audiences may intake from watching her performance or listening to her music (Young and Brunk 2012). The understanding of ethical issues from cultural appropriation is aesthetically important for cultures itself, in order to gain respect and diminish the attacks of their identities (Young and Brunk 2012).
Another example in popular media of the “unjustifiable harm” cultural appropriation has created (Young 2010) is associated with No Doubt’s lead singer, Gwen Stefani. When she released her first solo album in 2004, Love. Angel. Music. Baby., Gwen Stefani incorporated Japanese culture all around her image, music, and career during the promotion of her album. Not only did Gwen Stefani appropriate the Japanese culture to identify her and her image during these years, but she also used her Japanese back up dancers, Love, Angel, Music, Baby, as her props! She created an entourage of what she called “Harajuki Girls” who were indeed Japanese pinup girls. She was seen everywhere from award shows to appearances with these girls, which was utterly offensive and disrespectful. As stated in Young’s “What is Cultural Appropriation,” he poses that “artists represent their own experience in their works… when artists represent their experience of other cultures, the insiders are left with their experiences” (Young 2010). This is exactly what Gwen Stefani delivered for her intended audiences and fans around the world. She provided an insight of how she believes the Japanese culture should be portrayed; specifically in her own Gwen Stefani rock star way.
In cultural appropriation the appropriator is praised for the adoption of one’s culture while the creators of that culture are criticized for representing their unique culture (Young 2010). This is especially true within African-American culture. When someone adopts the culture by wearing dreadlocks, cornrows, or by having big booty and baby hairs (Brown 2014), they are automatically praised. Yet, when a black woman or man lives everyday life with these culturally related circumstances, they are bashed and ridiculed. There is a thin line between appreciation and appropriation of a culture. However not many people are aware of how to respectfully exemplify a culture. Whether or not the representation of a culture is appropriate, it often fails to be nothing but offensive when it is appears in media platforms.
Brown, Kara. “The Problem With Baby Hairs, ‘Urban’ and the Fashion Industry” Jezebel. 17 September 2014.
Young, James. “What is Cultural Appropriation” in Cultural Appropriation and the Arts. Wiley Blackwell, 2010.
Young, James and Conrad G. Brunk. “Introduction” and “‘Nothing Comes from Nowhere’: Reflections on Cultural Appropriation as the Representation of Other Cultures” in The Ethics of Cultural Appropriation. Wiley Blackwell, 2012.