The Disney Classics and the Discourse of Color

Video Essay by: Yufei Zhu & Mariafe Ponce

References:

Gramsci, A. (2006). Hegemony, intellectuals and the state. In J. Storey (Ed.), Cultural theory and popular culture: A reader (4th ed.), (pp. 75-80). London: Pearson.

Hall, S. (2001). Foucault: Power, knowledge and discourse. In M. Weherell, S. Taylor, & S. J. Yates (Eds.), Discourse theory and practice (pp. 72-81). London: Sage Publications.

Macdonald, D. (1953). A theory of mass culture. Diogenes 1(3), 1-17.

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BLOG POST #2: Cultural Appropriation of Native American Headdresses

We live in a society where many think it may be trendy or hip to dress in so-called ‘exotic’ attires or change their hairstyle in order to look more like certain groups of people. This kind of behavior has been often reported in the news and has caused outrage among many, especially minorities, since they are often robbed from their cultural identity. Popular cases in the media include the occasion when Kylie Jenner posted a picture on Instagram of her wearing cornrow wig, causing a celebrity feud among her and Amandla Stenberg, and in general outrage about her act of cultural appropriation. But what exactly is cultural appropriation, and why is it that it can be so wrong and insulting?

According to Richard Rogers (2006), cultural appropriation is “the use of culture’s symbols, artifacts, genres, rituals, or technologies by members of another culture” (p. 474), and it can be beneficial to society in some ways but extremely denigrating towards some groups in other ways. Rogers makes a distinction between what is cultural exchange and what are more negative types of cultural appropriation, such as cultural dominance and cultural exploitation. He describes cultural exchange as a “reciprocal exchange of symbols, artifacts, rituals, genres, and/or technologies between cultures with roughly equal levels of power” (p. 477); cultural exchange is an equal exchange between cultures, with no dominance or exploitation from neither part. This type of cultural exchange can be beneficial for both parties and is a natural part of our human nature. However, cultural dominance is a negative type of cultural appropriation, given that there is a dominant culture that imposes its culture among a subordinate culture (Rogers, 2006), thus replicating some sort of hierarchical dominance among cultures. A similar power-dominance situation happens in the case of cultural exploitation, where the dominant culture takes the culture of the subordinate culture without any type of permission or compensation for it (Rogers, 2006). Thus, while cultural exchange might be a positive type of cultural appropriation, the difference in power between different cultures makes cultural dominance and cultural exploitation a representation of inequality, abuse of power, and an imposing dominance from a particular group to another.

Native Americans are a minority group who has been constantly subject to the cultural exploitation from the dominant white American culture, reducing its culture to a series of artifacts that are nothing more than aesthetically pleasing. A popular Native American artifact that is often appropriated are their traditional headdresses. Not so recently, the subculture of white American hipsters started setting a trend of wearing Native American attire, as a signifier of hipness and coolness, a sensation that is mostly noticeable in music festivals such as Coachella. According to a blog post by Ruth Hopkins (n.d.), Coachella is now filled with white Americans who wear seemingly cheap headdresses as a fashion accessory, completely disregarding the sacred historical element that warbonnets actually have – traditionally worn by respected American Indians. The argument is not that it might or might not be done offensively, but that regardless of the intent, the commodification of such a traditional and sacred artifact is disrespectful to the culture, identity and heritage of Native Americans.

coachella

Furthermore, according to Adrienne Keene (2010), the cultural appropriation of headdresses promotes stereotypes, since it reduces the diversity of a culture into a single monolithic culture. Keene argues that wearing headdresses as a fashion statement is as bad as wearing blackface, because it is just as if you were playing Indian, something that just as the history of blackface is a symbol of racial denigration (2010).

The cultural appropriation of headdresses is a symbol of the continuing culture of power from the dominant culture that happened ever since the Native Americans were colonized (Keene, 2010). Given that this is still a minority, whose culture has less social power than the dominant white American, any cultural appropriation taken from them would be seen as Roger’s cultural exploitation (2006), and thus an abuse of power and a symbol of cultural inequality, that should be stopped.

References

Hopkins, R. (n.d.). WTF Coachella?! You’re a one stop cultural appropriation festival! Last real indians. Retrieved from http://lastrealindians.com/wtf-coachella-youre-a-one-stop-cultural-appropriation-festival-by-ruth-hopkins/.

Keene, A. (2010, April 27). But why can’t I wear a hipster headdress? Native appropriations. Retrieved from http://nativeappropriations.com/2010/04/but-why-cant-i-wear-a-hipster-headdress.html.

Rogers, R.A. (2006). A review and reconceptualization of cultural appropriation. Communication theory, 16, 474-503.

MacDonald on Instagram

Evelyn Liu

Mariafe Ponce

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Macdonald’s(1953) “A Theory of Mass Culture”, touches upon the difference between High Culture, Mass Culture and Folk Art, and the different values they each have. He has a strong believe in Gresham’s Law, which speaks about how the compartmentation between Mass Culture and High Culture has been broken down, causing them to compete with each other and possibly converging into a single thing. Because of this, Mass Culture is threatening High Culture, since it provides the people with easier, simpler, predigested content. Consequently, this generates a homogenized culture, since Mass Culture breaks down class, tradition and cultural differences, mixing everything together. Furthermore, Mass Culture has caused people to idolize those who consume as opposed to those who produce, making us all victims of whatever is in front of us, accepting what is offered to us, as opposed to having own views and products – there isn’t that much outwardly directed energy, but instead we are passive receivers.

Instagram, is a social media platform where people can post photos or videos online and share them with their friends or other public followers. Instagram content is generated by two groups of users: 1) normal everyday people, and 2) celebrities or famous people. While a lot of the videos or photos uploaded onto Instagram, may be original sometimes, there are a lot of them that are not created by the users themselves, but just re-shared from another source and circulated by everyone. On top of that, even the original content found on Instagram is subject to Mass Culture, given that the users producing those particular images or videos are posting them according to their perceptions of what may or may not be successful, which is already predetermined by the types of media being produced by Mass Culture – users already know what the Mass Culture wants, therefore they aim to fit that target. Even taking into consideration the more artistic sides of Instagram, such as images posted by artistic photographers for the purpose of capturing art and beauty, that one might consider high art, these posts are lost among the several other less meaningful photography posts, such as food pictures, that people take all the time, making High Culture and Mass Culture once again compete and converge with each other.

Furthermore, while Instagram may provide the Folk culture a medium to express, the reality is that the most popular users on Instagram are Idols of consumption, such as Kim Kardashian, and as such we are mostly participants of Mass Culture.

Macdonald would probably argue that Instagram is a platform where Mass Culture, High Culture and Folk Art converge, causing the values and classes to break down. While we could feel like Instagram is a free space for art produced by the people, Macdonald would argue that it is in fact a result of Mass Culture taken control, since we all conform to Mass Culture – we decide what we follow and what we post from what is predetermined by Mass Culture as ‘good’, our impressions of what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ have been previously influenced by Mass Culture. The posts that are most successful are those with more likes and more followers, the posts we produce are judged by how many likes we get, thus making us tailor our future posts to please the ideology of Mass Culture. Furthermore, he would think of the popularity of users such as Kim Kardashian as an example of an Idol of consumption, making us passive receivers, as opposed to actual producers.

We partially agree with what Macdonald would have to say about Instagram, since it is indeed mostly driven by Mass Culture – we do in fact tailor our works to fit the ideal of Mass Culture. Yet Instagram is still a place of art produced by the people to thrive like High Art would, since you still see some users posting unique pieces of art, or unique photographs. Furthermore, it allows art to transition from Folk Culture to Mass Culture, since many of the famous Instagram users started off being common users, and they only became famous because other users, ourselves, the people, chose to follow them, consequently making them famous – the bottom-up sensation of Instagram where the common people contribute, is also a channel where those same people become authoritative figures that act in a top-down manner, similar to that of Mass Culture. In other words, we are not entirely passive consumers of the Mass Culture on Instagram – we are subjects to the culture industry related to Instagram – but we do participate actively by choosing what we like or what we share and follow, which in turn molds what the Mass Culture of Instagram looks like.

Macdonald, D. (1953). A theory of mass culture. Diogenis, 1 (3), 1-17.