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Cultural appropriation in music

Cosmik

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#1
https://www.splicetoday.com/politics-and-media/cultural-marxism-is-killing-music
...Richards makes the argument that musicians should self-censor themselves in deference to prevailing political orthodoxies.
...“A band of white indie rockers performing the songs of a black R & B singer? No way. It would be seen as cultural appropriation.”
(Unfortunately I can't get the to the main article because I'm in Europe and there are "technical compliance" issues preventing it being made available here).

What a strange world we find ourselves moving into!

Remember Aerosmith/RunDMC? In an article from the distant past (2016, before the virtue signalling sincere preoccupation with cultural appropriation was known to many people) the Guardian said:
...to put the needle on the vinyl, even at 30 years’ distance, is to hear worlds colliding, and walls tumbling down.
That was the healthy and colourful world we used to inhabit, but we didn't realise just how good it was. We didn't realise that things could actually go backwards in the name of 'progressiveness'.
 

RayDunzl

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#2

andreasmaaan

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#4
Firstly, "cultural marxism" is an empty, absurd slander-term that has no relationship to any real theory of economics or politics. By putting this in his headline, the author is basically announcing his lack of education up-front. This intellectual ignorance is again demonstrated later in the article when he connects Richard's position to the Frankfurt School, a philosophical movement that has about as much to do with questions of cultural appropriation as cassette tapes have to do with audio fidelity.

But putting to one side the author's intellectual laziness and tendency to ignorantly namedrop philosophical schools, the topic is an interesting one, so I'm glad you've raised it.

I think this topic is a difficult one to discuss without reference to specific examples. Because, really, what we're talking about here is:
  • whether there should be a line;
  • if yes, where the line should be drawn; and
  • who should (or should have the right to) draw the line
The author discusses only one actual example as far as I could tell: "a band that so loved a record by an R & B artist that they wanted to cover it. They finally decided not to."

Ok, a band allowed questions of possible perceived disrespect for others to factor into their decision about how to do their art. I might not do the same, but surely that's up to them, isn't it? I mean, if anyone is going to draw any line anywhere, the artists themselves are surely the ones with the right to do that, I would have thought.

Anyway, since the author doesn't bother to raise any other specific instances in which he thinks claims of cultural appropriation in music have gone too far, perhaps @Cosmik you would care to?

Then we'll really have something to discuss.

EDIT 1: when cassette tapes were being developed, questions of audio fidelity actually were considered, so my simile is actually poor; the Frankfurt School thinkers gave absolutely zero thought to any question of cultural appropriation.

EDIT 2: my apologies if my tone comes off as aggressive. I hope it's apparent that from my point of view this is all in the spirit of debate and good fun :)
 
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Ron Texas

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#5
Cultural appropriation is something the American Left made up to further their bankrupt agenda of identity politics. Cultural Marxism, that's a new one.
 

andreasmaaan

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#7
I must admit, I found this article a little baffling. The author is presenting a seemingly thoughtful view on what he describes as "cultural marxism" ----- the problem is that "cultural marxism" is not a field or intellectual school that any of the thinkers he references ever actually mentioned, recognised, or identified with.

The accepted blanket term for the majority of the fields he describes would be "cultural studies"; born in the mid-20th Century, it is the study of society - and in particular the power structures within it - through the analysis and critique of culture (in the broadest possible sense of that term). Within that discipline, there are all sorts of sub-disciplines or what might more accurately be called foci: race, gender, etc... and of course class - where Marx's theories obviously intersect. However, Marx is by no means central to this field and many cultural studies theories cut in rather contrary directions to Marx's. Note also that cultural studies is a discipline of primarily British origin, and is not directly associated with the Frankfurt school.

Now, the term "cultural marxism" as a descriptor of aspects of cultural studies (and of progressive politics in general) is not something that came into existence until the 1990s, and then only to be used in a derogatory sense, the idea being that marxism is bad, therefore "cultural marxist" is an insult to be levelled at any progressive whose views or activities are to be attacked.

This is why Wikipedia (sorry, but it's basically a convenient barometer of the consensus view on these things) states: "Cultural Marxism" in modern usage refers to a conspiracy theory which sees the Frankfurt School as part of an ongoing movement to take over and destroy Western culture."

And that, I'm afraid, sums the term up pretty effectively.
 

Guermantes

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#8
I think that's an interesting overview that shows how cultural studies evolved. I tend to share the view that a purely Marxist approach requires a worldview based too much on conflict between groups/classes.

I do agree with @andreasmaaan , though, that "Cultural Marxism" is first and foremost a derogatory term and I can't see that it should be legitimised as an academically neutral, objective term in the way that Galen Watts has done. As used today, the term "Cultural Marxism" is one often used by anti-anti-fa groups. It has been given a militant aspect in much the same way as the term "ideology" and the connotations outweigh any attempt at academic objectivity. Mark Judge is simply using it for shock value.

Going back to the topic of cultural appropriation and where to draw the line: audiences can and often do draw that line (e.g. the reaction to Jar Jar Binks in The Phantom Menace). Artists don't always produce intelligent works of creative originality -- a lot of it is mind-numbingly derivative -- and appropriation is not always smart but can be offensive sometimes, ethically and emotionally. Should artists have the freedom to make those appropriations? Yes, I think they should, but they have to be prepared to face the consequences, too. There is nothing an artist hates more than being rejected and "misunderstood".

Mark Judge over-estimates the genre when he considers that pop/rock's creative freedom has grown expansively. I think the genres and attendant markets have expanded, but that is not the same thing. Pop music and capital are easy bed-fellows and it is idealistic to think that the constraints and interests of the latter don't influence the former.
 

Cosmik

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#9
The claim of cultural appropriation is not restricted to direct covers of songs, but can also apply to styles, sounds, 'beats'. What some people reading this may not realise is that the term applies only one way: it is supposedly not cultural appropriation if a member of a supposedly oppressed group 'appropriates' the supposed culture of a supposedly dominant group.

Off the top of my head, The Police were clearly reggae-influenced, and sure enough, it does seem that they have been accused of cultural appropriation.
https://genius.com/a/sting-explains...e-police-culturally-appropriated-reggae-music

Would the world be a better place if The Police had not created the songs they did?

I do feel slightly awkward in dignifying the whole concept as though it is something real. To me it is just a ridiculous idea dreamed up by people who are not artists in order to create another imaginary injustice to define their own virtuousness against. But at the same time it is now out there: a factor that inevitably chills against the free-for-all creativity that we have lived through. An artist now needs to run their creation against a checklist of possible political transgressions at every stage. Witness Rita Ora in trouble with one of her latest songs, and Katy Perry having to disown her earlier song lyrics.

Until recently, I would have said that musical artists had near complete freedom to produce whatever they wanted - with only the most extreme lyrics being a limitation. We are now talking about it being virtuous for social media mobs to cyber-lynch a musician who, even unwittingly, includes a certain rhythm or melodic progression in his/her music! It isn't being imposed top-down by the authorities, but by self-appointed censors whose influence is amplified by 'social media', and is all the more pernicious for it.
 
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Wombat

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#10
Does this extend to language, food, fashion, religion ...................................... ?
 

andreasmaaan

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#13
I agree that in some cases cries of "cultural appropriation" are overzealous.

But just as we must champion the right of artists to freely express themselves, we must also champion the right of critics to freely criticise. Indeed, any distinction here is artificial: the right to express oneself freely is the right to criticise freely.

Where does that leave us then? Well, we should obviously oppose laws that limit the right of artists to freely express themselves on the basis that expressions are cultural appropriations. But no such laws exist.

Beyond that, what should we do? Nothing, I contend. Let the free debate rage on.
 

Wombat

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#15
It seems like .......... 99, 100, change hands stuff. :p
 

andreasmaaan

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#16
No one disagrees with that. But their criticisms are, frankly, stupid. And we are delightfully free to label them as such.
In many cases yes, but I don't think it's very meaningful (or fair) to label all criticisms on the basis of cultural appropriation "stupid". This is why I suggested earlier that a discussion like this really needs specific examples if it's to be at all meaningful.

On one extreme we have the Police, who adapted rhythms and sounds from reggae music into really excellent pop music. Sting is on the record as saying how much he loves reggae and explaining how and why it influenced his work. That's great, it's exactly what artists should be doing.

But on the other extreme, in Australia for example, it's estimated that up to 85%* of Aboriginal "art" is produced overseas or by non-Aboriginal owned businesses in Australia, to be sold to foreign and domestic tourists at a profit to the producer - and more importantly, at the expense of Aboriginal artists who often don't have access to the same supply chain mechanisms due to their geographic and socioeconomic disadvantage, and who cannot artisinally produce work at competitive prices.

Now that should not be illegal (unless of course the pieces are actually passed off as Aboriginal art, as opposed to Aboriginal-style "art"). But it should absolutely be criticised, and the art-buying public should be informed of the cultural appropriation that's taking place, both for their own benefit as consumers and for the benefit of the Aboriginal artists whose works are being marginalised.

So like I hinted before, cultural appropriation is in itself a valid and important ground for criticism; it's just a question of where and by whom the line is drawn.

*This figure comes from this media outlet but I can't verify it, so let's just say for the sake of being conservative that we're talking about a significant proportion.
 

Cosmik

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#17
I agree that in some cases cries of "cultural appropriation" are overzealous.

But just as we must champion the right of artists to freely express themselves, we must also champion the right of critics to freely criticise. Indeed, any distinction here is artificial: the right to express oneself freely is the right to criticise freely.

Where does that leave us then? Well, we should obviously oppose laws that limit the right of artists to freely express themselves on the basis that expressions are cultural appropriations. But no such laws exist.

Beyond that, what should we do? Nothing, I contend. Let the free debate rage on.
That is spot on.

However, what if the 'establishment' is swayed by the mob and tries to appease them, or tries to make itself look virtuous too? What if the government co-opts the power of the twittermob to do its bidding indirectly?

A prime example, I would say, is where the UK parliament recently legislated for all companies to publish information regarding their gender/pay statistics (a.k.a. 'gender pay gap'). I don't know whether the government really cares about the supposed issue - I suspect they are simply being pushed by some zealous MPs and want to dress themselves in the clothes of social justice. But the interesting thing is that that is all they legislated for. In effect, they didn't express any view on whether the 'pay gap' should be narrower; this gesture was purely to appease the rabble rousers who could 'take it from there'. And, indeed, the BBC and other news organisations gleefully reported the results in headlines that they knew most people would interpret as meaning that men are literally being paid more than women per hour for the same job (something that has, in fact, been illegal since the 1970s). Another division of suspicion and resentment between two groups in society was born...

I would say legislation directly limiting 'cultural appropriation' will never appear, but what might be more likely is that school curricula start including it, thus using the power of the state to establish the concept in society, anyway.
 
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andreasmaaan

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#18
That is spot on.

However, what if the 'establishment' is swayed by the mob and tries to appease them, or tries to make itself look virtuous too? What if the government co-opts the power of the twittermob to do its bidding indirectly?

A prime example, I would say, is where the UK parliament recently legislated for all companies to publish information regarding their gender/pay statistics (a.k.a. 'gender pay gap'). I don't know whether the government really cares about the supposed issue - I suspect they are simply being pushed by some zealous MPs and want to dress themselves in the clothes of social justice. But the interesting thing is that that is all they legislated for. In effect, they didn't express any view on whether the 'pay gap' should be narrower; this gesture was purely to appease the rabble rousers who could 'take it from there'. And, indeed, the BBC gleefully reported the results in headlines that they knew most people would interpret as meaning that men are literally being paid more than women per hour for the same job (something that has, in fact, been illegal since the 1970s). Another division of suspicion and resentment between two groups in society was born...

I would say legislation directly limiting 'cultural appropriation' will never appear, but what might be more likely is that school curricula start including it, thus using the power of the state to establish the concept in society, anyway.
I'm not sure it's possible to say what the UK Government's motives are in introducing a law. My assumption would be that Parliament consists of a diversity of viewpoints and that what it expresses through legislation reflects a combination of these diverse and competing views modulated by pragmatic political imperatives. In any case, it is a primary function of a democratically elected government to cater to public opinion, for better or worse.

Regarding school curricula, I'd welcome the critical teaching of the concept of cultural appropriation in schools. Indeed, one of the most important functions of education is to teach children to understand and be critical of prevailing social, political and economic forces. The key thing is how it is taught; this means helping students to understand the issues being debated and to think critically about them so that they are able to arrive at and effectively express their own points of view.
 

Cosmik

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#19
On one extreme we have the Police, who adapted rhythms and sounds from reggae music into really excellent pop music. Sting is on the record as saying how much he loves reggae and explaining how and why it influenced his work. That's great, it's exactly what artists should be doing.
But what makes me uncomfortable is that your approval is merely based on 'common sense', and any artist accused of cultural appropriation could - would - say that they were just expressing appreciation for how their work had been influenced by another culture, just like Sting. In other words your defence of cultural freedom is not absolute. Although you are not calling for laws to restrict cultural freedom you are, in effect, happy for there to be 'hate speech' levelled against 'the wrong type' of artists.

I am not saying that there is a solution to the problem of 'cultural marxism' - it is just an aspect of a society that has run out of real problems to worry about. But I am having a moan about it...:)
 

andreasmaaan

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#20
But what makes me uncomfortable is that your approval is merely based on 'common sense', and any artist accused of cultural appropriation could - would - say that they were just expressing appreciation for how their work had been influenced by another culture, just like Sting. In other words your defence of cultural freedom is not absolute. Although you are not calling for laws to restrict cultural freedom you are, in effect, happy for there to be 'hate speech' levelled against 'the wrong type' of artists.

I am not saying that there is a solution to the problem of 'cultural marxism' - it is just an aspect of a society that has run out of real problems to worry about. But I am having a moan about it...:)
"Hate speech" from the Oxford dictionary: "Abusive or threatening speech or writing that expresses prejudice against a particular group, especially on the basis of race, religion, or sexual orientation."

Far, far, far from what I'm advocating.

And my defence of cultural freedom is absolute.* It would be less than absolute if it didn't extend equally to the critical, as to the criticised.

Also, please note that my distinction between the case of the Police and the case of non-Aboriginal produced "Aboriginal" art has nothing to do with "common sense". It is based on questions of exploitation made possible by socioeconomic disparity.

EDIT: *subject to most of the usual limits, e.g. threats, defamation, hate speech inciting violence, etc.
 
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