My Kingdom for a Cogent Defnition

By Cyberquill 06/22/20172 Comments

Certain concepts, it seems, were cooked up by online content creators for the sole purpose of riling up that place known as “the Internet,” as in “the Internet erupts with outrage over [insert furor du jour].”

You can spot such concepts in that they are generally ill-defined and laden with half-baked inconsistencies, leaving it to the Internet itself to iron out the kinks until, at some point, an approximation of coherence may (or may not) emerge from the muddle.

As a shining example, let’s take a look at this barrel of drugged trout—thanks to the late David Foster Wallace for the foregoing locution—known as “cultural appropriation.”

So some company releases a poster (an ad of some sort) showing three non-Native-American ladies, including a Caucasian one, rocking war bonnets.

The Internet erupts with outrage. War bonnets, it insists, belong to the indigenous, and no one else has the right to don them for any reason. Period. Now let’s all boycott the company behind the poster. Shame on these people, including the participating models—what were they thinking???—and let’s ride them out of town on a rail.

So far so good.

But then, as happened during last year’s NYC fashion week, a designer has all his female models, including non-Muslims—including, yes, white non-Muslims—traipse up and down the catwalk wearing hijabs.

The Internet erupts not with outrage but with universal praise over this most compassionate and inclusive gesture of solidarity.

What gives?

Cultural appropriation is defined, or ill-defined, or incompletely defined, as the adoption or use of elements of a traditionally marginalized (i.e., non-white or non-western) culture by members of the dominant (i.e., white or whiter) culture.

Hence, cultural appropriation is a one-way street right out of the gate. A dreadlocked Justin Bieber is perpetrating cultural appropriation by having adopted—or stolen—an element of African-American culture. Not good.

By contrast, when Beyonce straightens and blondes her tresses, she’s practicing a form of cultural adaptation, not appropriation, as she’s not doing it just for the heck of it but in order to adjust to the white-dominated marketplace.

See, Beyonce doesn’t really want to wear a white woman’s hairstyle. But, alas, to be able to compete and make ends meet, she must make an effort, repugnant to her own personal sense of style as it may be, to blend into the culture that oppresses her.

Bottom line, white people culturally appropriate for kicks, while blacks and other non-whites do it out of sheer self-preservation, in which latter case it’s not appropriation—at least not the invidious kind.

That’s the going narrative.

Which, of course, fails to explain why white non-Muslim women that wear burkinis at the beach or hijabs on the catwalk are invariably applauded rather than excoriated. And they are applauded for doing so not in spite of but precisely because Muslims are considered marginalized in our western societies.

Even the Austrian president, a former leader of the Green Party, recently fantasized aloud about Austrian non-Muslim women donning headscarves as an act of solidarity with Muslim women. No condemnation from the Internet for his having suborned cultural appropriation.

If a white president had suggested that white women get cornrows as an act of solidarity with black women, you can bet your bottom dollar that the Internet would have blown a fuse.

Speaking of women—poignantly dubbed “the 51% minority”—aren’t they, too, a historically marginalized segment of society?

You could debate whether womanhood, strictly speaking, meets the definition of a culture, but why shouldn’t it? It certainly has its own array of uniquely identifying elements of style. (Just watch the red carpet at the Oscars. If you look closely, you may detect a few subtle differences in the way women doll up for the event in terms of hair, dress, and makeup, relative to their bow-tied and tuxedoed companions.)

Plus, word is that its members, by and large, are getting a pretty raw deal to this day, like 77 cents on the dollar and so on. (The actress playing Wonder Woman reportedly made a paltry $300.000 for her part in the film, while all her male superhero colleagues were paid millions. Doesn’t exactly sound like equal pay for equal work.)

Thus, you would think that any member of the oppressive male culture that adopts female elements like skirts or high heels—be (s)he a transvestite, a trans-gender woman, or that guy that returned in a dress after he’d been sent home from work for wearing shorts just the other day—would be roundly run through the wringer for opprobrious appropriation from the marginalized.

Yeah, right. Quite the opposite. The Internet worships at the feet of every belipsticked cross-dresser that comes along.

So if you wear a hijab or a dress without being a Muslim or a woman respectively, you’re a hero.

If you wear dreadlocks or a war bonnet without being black or Native American respectively, you’re an insensitive clod.

To be “fluid” by adopting elements of the marginalized appears to mark the most commendable stage of human evolution in some cases, while rating the most vehement censure in others.

Should you espy any rhyme or reason in all of this, congratulations!

And then there’s the blues, an arch-black type of music—how has Eric Clapton gotten away with playing it for so long?

I wonder how the Internet would react if Slowhand got dreadlocks.

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  • cheri

    Again, Cy, you demonstrate exceptional critical thinking. You should have taught my class at Stanford.

    Isn’t all about the advertising industry? About promotion and attention and money (for sure!)? What about the knucklehead in Kansas who was happy that the Louisiana congressman was shot? If you are shot by a Democrat and are a Republican, is that good for business? How does the pirate get away with suggesting an assassination of the President would be good? If you are a Democrat and are shot by a Republican is that good or bad?

    The world is upside down. Revolution is coming in the next 25 years.
    We are armed to the hilt here on the Rancho but we will probably be dead by then.

    • Cyberquill

      Thomas Paine’s observation from Common Sense regarding the timing of the American Revolution comes to mind:

      “We are sufficiently numerous, and were we more so, we might be less united.”

      Given that the U.S. population has risen to some 320 million by now, rather than anything resembling an organized and effective armed revolution against the powers that be, I see countless factions shooting it out on American streets over (a) whether to revolt and (b) if so, how best to go about it.

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