This week, Adele threw herself into the carnival spirit by covering her boobs in small Jamaican flags and making her hair look fantastic with bantu knots. Despite looking amazing, she was criticised for something called ‘cultural appropriation’. Her defenders countered that she was expressing ‘cultural appreciation’. So, which is which and how can we all get through the day without risking the opprobrium of appropriation accusers?
- Don’t be flippant
Medical students on a pub crawl in Newcastle, dressed in Sombreros and sarapes, downing tequila shots is wrong. Here, the students are ‘appropriating’ superficial aspects of Mexican culture and turning it into a depraved and drunken pantomime. They are dressing their debauchery in stereotypes.
‘Appropriation’ can easily be turned into ‘appreciation’, by simply showing an understanding of Mexican history. Perhaps, students could raise a shot glass to the great Aztec King Moctezuma Xocoyotzin, in each of the pubs they stumble into. They could go further and pay homage to Mayan spiritual beliefs. By offering a human sacrifice at the end of the night, they could soothe the gods and save on taxi fares. Those still sober enough could devour a culturally appropriate burrito, instead of the inappropriate kebab.
- Eat carefully
In a gross appropriation of multiple cultures, many British people smother fish and chips in curry sauce, every Friday evening. The complexities and nuances of Indian cuisines is reduced to a crude ‘curry sauce’. No respect is paid to the Sephardic Jews who introduced fried fish and the Irish are not thanked for providing all the potatoes.
Jamie Oliver has campaigned against foods favoured by the British working-class in order to demonstrate that he is cultured. His campaign against turkey twizzlers and chips, in favour of cheesy pasta and goose-fat smeared roast potatoes demonstrates an appreciation of high culture. However, Jamie was criticised for producing a ‘punchy jerk chicken’ rice dish that excluded any of the traditional Jamaican flavours. Although he was accused of cultural appropriation, others unfairly labelled Jamie as a money-making hypocritical jerk. Jamie has recently made amends, by putting on several stone in order to front a government health campaign.
- Dress for the occasion
Historically, people have borrowed, copied and adopted clothing from other cultures. Western hippies appropriated clothing from rural India and turned it into hip poverty chic. Japanese clothing companies copied American denim and produced better quality jeans. Business people from around the world, appropriated the Saville Row suit.
However, some world leaders show their ‘appreciation’ by adopting the dress of the countries they visit and ‘join in’ with local cultural practices. This launched a trend often seen as ‘cultural humiliation’. Theresa May was an early adopter, imitating children dancing in South Africa. When visiting India, Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister dressed his entire family to look like the cast in a Bollywood film. The times of India described it as “embarrassing”. Next time, Trudeau could try dressing up as Ghandi.
- Sexual appropriation
Traditionally, drag queens have appropriated women’s clothing in order to perform. They stand accused of misappropriating high heels, lipstick and big hair, in order to become the diva of their choice. The pleasure derived from such an act is now considered to be a frivolous abuse of a woman’s wardrobe. The desire to look utterly fantastic, is simply identity theft in the pursuit of hedonistic pleasure. Even if only carried out at the weekend.
Men who prefer to feel like a woman, rather than feel an actual woman, are now encouraged to become a woman. Special clinics have been established to help a man change sex, obviating the need to steal clothes from an older sister. Transitioning between the sexes is the greatest expression of cultural appreciation.
At the end of the day, there is a fine line between cultural appropriation, appreciation and humiliation. It is simpler to appreciate the humiliation of those who are accused of appropriating, by appropriating the culture of public humiliation.