Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Myth of Cultural Appropriation


The latest music video from Coldplay ft Beyonce, the ever popular alternative rock band, Hymn for the Weekend, seems to have unsettled the outrage brigade in India, those liberal xenophobes who find cultural appropriation a crime of grave magnitude. According to these high priests, the video focuses only on so-called stereotypes of the country, and is therefore a problem (although there were no snake charmers, but let's set that aside for now).

Of course, the first minute or so gave enough reason to set the alarm bells ringing in that camp.
The myth of cultural appropriation is very much real. It has been used to condemn people in America and Canada for harmlessly playing Holi, practicing Yoga, eating sushi, flying kite-lanterns, and what not. According to this 'theory,' by failing to reproduce these in exactly the same way as they would be in their native setting (despite the fact that there are thousands of variations of each of these), it somehow degrades them, and this must be stopped. What crap!

The nature of culture is that it constantly changes and evolves. India has been a hotbed of so-called cultural appropriation, as the world came here and left their mark. This blogpost, written in a foreign language, is cultural appropriation. There is nothing wrong in it. Culture, like knowledge, expands when it is shared. Its variations are its inherent beauty. The music video shows some wonderful scenes that do very much happen in India, scenes that most Indians would be able to relate to. No, we don't play Holi 24x7, but when we do, we have every bit as much fun as is shown. And what's wrong with showing that?

The liberal xenophobes would say that such appropriation lets people 'indulge' in a culture without learning about it. So what? Indian culture, an ancient culture, is strong, and does not need to constantly preach to the world about itself. If it's these stereotypes that bring tourists here, so be it - they'll learn the 'truth' (if there be any) themselves, and help our economy in the process. Indeed, I was quite flattered by the video, particularly the ending, when Beyonce makes a grand namaste and 'Coldplay' comes up in Hindi. That is very much how one would say goodbye from one's neighbor's home in the country.

I thought this was a great video, and would love to see more of it. To those who have a problem because it doesn't show that India also has pubs and skyscrapers and casinos ('we are just like you!') - suck it up. This is the real India, not your gated communities.

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