Week 12; April 4th-18th Blog Entry #4 (Done by R).

The damages of Cultural Appropriation 

In this blog, I chose to discuss the controversy of Selena Gomez and her choice of clothing in her new “Come and Get it” music video. Following in the footsteps of Gwen Stafani and Madonna, she is not the first to hyper sexualize the Indian dance, wear a bindi and appropriate forms of Indian clothing. Rajan Zed, the president of Universal Society of Hinduism said, “[The bindi] is not meant to be thrown around loosely for seductive effects or as a fashion accessory aiming at mercantile greed. Selena should apologize and then she should get acquainted with the basics of world religions.”

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When an Indian woman wears a bindi, she is not just wearing a ‘beautiful face gem” but she is showing her religion and culture. It is who she is. When Selena Gomez wears a bindi, it is like throwing that value back in the faces of Indian women, saying their cultural symbol has now been picked up as a westernized beauty symbol and there is nothing they can do about it. This is a perfect example of the culture appropriation that Professor Tolmie spoke about in her lecture. Susan Scafidi defines cultural appropriation as “Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission.” This is exactly what Gomez is doing in her controversial music video and following performances. She is replacing the original culture with her copy created by the dominant culture. She stripped it of all symbolic value and merely used it as a tool to appear more sexualized. People of these hegemonic cultures automatically assume they have the power and the right to do these types of things and make a profit off the components of South Asian culture. It is actually quite ridiculous; especially when Gomez defended herself saying the song is “tribal.” What does tribal even mean? Are these Indian women part of a tribe? She obviously does not understand the culture in which she has stolen and pretty much butchered for her music video. Not only is Selena wearing the Indian clothing in her music video and the bindi on live performances, she is also wearing the bindi out on her regular day-to-day routines as a fashion statement. I am not sure if she is trying to start a new trend, or if she is purposefully trying to offend people, but either way, I do not think it should be acceptable to wear an important and culturally significant symbol as a fashion statement. 

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One of the main oppressing factors in this issue though is the concept of white privilege. In lecture, we were provided with a link to the article, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” written by Peggy MacIntosh. She states that, “I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.” White people have this privilege. They think they are not being racist or socially insensitive because they are not ‘being mean.’ I am sure Selena Gomez justifies what she is doing because she is not trying to offend these women, yet that is so ignorant. What she does not understand is her white privilege. For years and years, many women have been ridiculed and harassed for wearing a bindi, for supporting their culture. Yet, as soon as Selena Gomez wears a bindi, it is immediately a fashion statement and is considered beautiful. She used the fact that it is a famous and important symbol and she made a profit from it. An online blogger made a really good point about this fashion icon as well. She stated that, “On [Selena Gomez], it’s a bold new look; on me, it’s a symbol of my failure to assimilate. On her, it’s unquestionably cool; on me, it’s yet another marker of my Otherness, another thing that makes me different from other American girls.” As soon as a famous icon wears a bindi, people immediately look at them with more appreciation. Comparing this to when an Indian girl wears it as something meaningful and special to their culture and upbringing. Hegemonic culture is the norm for our society. We assume that the leading culture can dominate and oppress other minority groups with no questions asked. Many articles online spoke of how great it is that Gomez is expanding societies view of beauty and that she is only appreciating the Indian culture by wearing their clothes and having a bindi on her forehead. What these people do not understand is that there is a very thin line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation. This fad is not appreciating their culture. It is completely appropriating it.

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-R-

Works Cited

AceShowBiz. ACESHOWBIZ.com, n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2014. <http://www.aceshowbiz.com/news/view/00060488.html&gt;.

Tolmie, Jane. “Cultural Appropration.” Queens University. Biosci Complex, Kingston, Ontario. 3 Mar. 2014. Lecture.

– – -. “Gender Studies 125: Class 2.” Queens University. BioSci Complex, Kingston, Ontario. 14 Jan. 2014. Lecture.

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2014. <http://amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html&gt;.

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4 Comments

  1. Week 12; April 4th-18th – Comment/Response (Done by S).

    Thank you for your well-written and passionate blog about the rape of cultural appropriation by a celebrity. This may seem rather simplistic but I can’t help but equate this to lessons we learn as children. There are golden rules we learn and one of them is ‘don’t take what doesn’t belong to you’. Our parents teach us about honesty, integrity, ownership, and respect forming the foundation for understanding rules that society lives by. You don’t get to take other people’s stuff just because you like it or want it; that’s called stealing. So it’s disturbing to watch this music video knowing that Gomez has done just that, she’s stolen something and far from being reprimanded for her actions she’s benefiting from it. Choosing to pluck one aspect out of Indian culture and religion, stripping it of all its associations and significance and then attaching sexuality and seductiveness to it is an act of outrageous disrespect. While Gomez may not be white her status as a celebrity is insidiously entwined in a matrix of domination that catapults her to the top where she is able to make social systems work for her. So she gets a few bad reviews or a bit of public push back from people such as Rajan Zed, the president of the Universal Society of Hinduism; does it really affect her? At the end of the day she is surrounded by the protective plasticized world of Hollywood and cocooned safely inside her celebrity status. Perhaps if Gomez is going to attire herself in a bindi and Indian clothing she might like to spend sometime inside the skin of Indian women as they deal with other aspects of their culture. On Saturday April 12th 2014 The Toronto Star carried an article by Nirmala George entitled “Indian women disillusioned with politics, party leaders”. George reports on the reality that Indian women remain disadvantaged compared with men in all aspects of life. Safety remains their biggest concern particularly when the state’s top elected leader chooses to down play rape; a danger that women face each day as they leave their homes and go about their business. This isn’t a smorgasbord Selena, you don’t get to take what you like and leave the rest behind!

    – S.

  2. I don’t disagree with you that this is an utter sign of cultural appropriation, in that Gomez took cultural staples and twisted it for her own benefit. However, I do question the public uproar that she should not have been allowed to do this. While I get the argument that she has hypersexualized religion for her own personal benefit, I fail to see how this is any different than a music video that benefits from exposing disadvantaged people. Consider videos that take the viewer through rough neighbourhoods to show them the tough living situation. Why is this any different? Admittedly, it is dissimilar in that we are dealing with religion in one respect and a neighbourhood in the other. However, in the latter instance, there is no attempt to help these disadvantaged people anymore than in Gomez’s music video. I think people are very quick to be critical of anything that isn’t in absolute harmony with political correctness. I think people often need to take a step back and put it into perspective, that the odds are, Gomez did not mean to be offensive. I do not attempt to take away from people that she did offend, however, i question a society in which somebody cannot take on another religion for the purposes of creative liberty. Again, I do not necessarily condone Gomez’s video, I simply suggest a sober second thought when analyzing these types of videos, and to consider that there needs to be some room for creative liberty in the artistic process. Ideally, it would not be at the expense of offending people.

    – M

  3. I really enjoyed reading your blog and the approach you took to writing it. I have definitely seen this type of cultural appropriation many times, especially when it comes to religion. When society is unaware of the religious significance behind certain symbols, inappropriate actions can be made. What first came to my mind was the 1990s “gangster” phase where rappers and many teenagers wore bedazzled rosaries and crosses as fashion accessories. Had they understood the religious meaning of a cross, or why rosaries are used, maybe they wouldn’t have used them wrongly. With this, I think society generally needs to become more versed in different cultures. Or if that is too much to ask, I don’t think it is appropriate to use a symbol from a religion in ways it isn’t intended to be used, especially if the individual doesn’t know the true meaning. Like you said, Selena wears the bindi and supports herself by saying she does so to coincide with her “tribal” video. She clearly does not know the importance or significance of the bindi, thus she shouldn’t wear it and risk disrespecting certain cultures. There are an infinite amount of ways Selena can express herself through her wardrobe and I am a firm believer that this should be done with utmost respect to all religions.

    – J.

  4. I enjoyed your view on this specific example of cultural appropriation. When this subject was introduced to us during the semester, I found it difficult to differentiate between freedom of speech and cultural appropriation, but your explanation of Selena Gomez’s use of bindis to hypersexualize herself and gain attention has led me to believe that this is cultural appropriation. The fact that she does not take it seriously as a religious belief shows an incredible lack of respect and takes advantage of a group of people who it has meaning for.
    L

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