The latest kerfuffle to hit the net seems to be about Avril Lavigne and her new video “Hello Kitty”, and I can totally understand why. I mean seriously, did you see that hair? It’s like she went from punk rock to pop rocks!
Wait, I’m getting some new information in. Looks like the problem has nothing to do with her hair (except for some snarky comments from people who have no substantive criticism to offer) but rather that the whole thing is blatantly, screamingly racist and Avril should be ashamed of herself.
What? I sat through the whole video (admittedly on mute – I’m not a strong man), and despite thinking that Rainbow Brite threw up on her I didn’t see anything to particularly take issue with. So what’s the deal?
Here’s the thing: Americans, and particularly white Americans, are very sensitive and determined to take offense, especially if they can do so on behalf of someone else (it’s the new white person’s burden). The irony of course is that those most likely to try to police others in their actions are, as always, the least likely to bother actually getting more than a superficial understanding of the people and cultures they are trying to “protect” and “stand up for” (see how this sort of language subtly diminishes and disempowers those other cultures? Nah, neither do I.) So if someone is actually paying tribute or homage to that other culture or, god forbid, accurately reflecting it but doesn’t match the preconceived notions these folks have of what someone of that culture should look like (particularly their skin color, gender, features, etc.) then they are being racist.
Did you catch that? If you don’t look how we say you are supposed to look and you aren’t doing what we expect you to do, you’re the one who is being racist. Interesting turnabout there. And all in the name of “protecting” people from… what exactly? Damaging the culture? How exactly is Avril Levine or Miley Cyrus (to name another famous singer recently accused of “appropriation”) damaging the culture by trying to partake of it? (Okay, I wouldn’t want to be associated with Miley either, but still.) It’s not like anyone believes they invented it, nor are they claiming to have done so.
To those who would suggest that these cultural artifacts “belong” to one group or another exclusively, I say with all the eloquence I can muster: horseshit. Culture is a human artifact to be shared, manipulated, adapted, adopted, and remixed by other humans so that we can all grow and benefit from it. What would happen if white people tried to say, “Hey, we invented golf, it’s part of our culture and you can’t have it”? Oh wait, they did, and two things happened. First they got sued, and second Tiger Woods came in and made them all look like idiots.
I’ve “been” a lot of things in my life: preppy, nerd, punk, nerd, goth, nerd (seeing a theme here?), grunge kid, and Average White Guy™. Most all of those have been amalgamations of various different cultural influences, and none of them would exist if purists such as these had their way. Maybe instead of trying so hard to police the behavior of others, they should spend some time working on themselves.