The misleading use of “Culture”

 

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Screenshot captured from “Coldplay – Hymn For The Weekend (Official video)”, YouTube

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Screenshot captured from “Coldplay – Hymn For The Weekend (Official video)”, YouTube

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Screenshot captured from “Coldplay – Hymn For The Weekend (Official video)”, YouTube

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Screenshot captured from “Coldplay – Hymn For The Weekend (Official video)”, YouTube

These images are screenshots taken from the Coldplay’s new music video, which immediately obtained millions of views on YouTube since its release. The images show a holy place, where a temple “lives” through the growth of wild plants and the presence of fantastic undomesticated creatures. From the first 20 seconds of the video, the images show a spiritual location, where priests perform a consecrated march apparently for religious purposes.

There is an undisturbed female figure dressed in the traditional Indian’s costumes. She climbs a rising stone passage and mysteriously look at the lens. The concerned person is Beyoncé, the famous American singer, songwriter, record producer and actress.

The latest video by Coldplay has reopened the cultural appropriation debate. The scenes shooted in Mumbai capture an idealisation of India. The country is illustrated as a happy place where people pass their time throwing coloured powder and contemplating the white man visiting the city.

Beyoncé’s deep neckline dress could have been painted directly on her body. This kind of garment is more revealing than what women are allowed to wear within the Hinduism culture. With no consideration of the latter, Beyoncé has the face adorned with a piece of jewellery that recalls the bindi on her forehead. Hindu statesman, Rajan Zed, said: “The bindi on the forehead is an ancient tradition in Hinduism and has religious significance. It is also sometimes referred to as the third eye and the flame, and it is an auspicious religious, and spiritual symbol. It is not meant to be thrown around loosely for seductive effects or as a fashion accessory aiming at mercantile greed.” (Licata E. 2014)
The fact that a character who embodies the Western culture is matching the bindi with a costume which unrespect the culture that coined the latter, is an insolent method to show off and make money.

How would Westerns react if dancers of the Bollywood movies wore a rosary around their hips while performing the belly dance?

Cultural appropriation, unlike cultural appreciation, has no regard for the culture it is blatantly ripping off, to make money. Stacey Harris, who answered a question about cultural appropriation on Quora, said: “It is when, having observed a cultural artefact, a person or group decides to take the artefact and use it. However, [anything] they decide, irrespective of the nature of the artefact, or its significance to its people of origin.” (Mbonambi B. 2016, p. 4)

Videos such this, are luckily to launch new trends amongst the young target to whom the song is addressed, creating revenues for other industries, such as the fashion field. The most disheartening result of these circumstances is the complete apathy of the audience towards other’s culture. The comments below the video solely refer to the music, the band and Beyoncé. No one has mentioned the association the video has with cultural appropriation. Such facts explain why people do not get engaged by others’ culture, or make an effort to learn more about it. Cultural artefacts become valueless objects produced by mass production high street fashion brands.

The predominance of the Western man over the developing countries societies is observed in other fields, as in the film industry. The Eight-Oscar winner movie Slumdog Millionaire (2008), directed by Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan, had the gross revenue of $141,319,195, only in the United States. The movie is filmed in the major cities of India. It recounts the story of a young man, Salim, who’s being investigated for cheating in the quiz show named “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”. The movie is composed of Salim’s flashbacks during the police’s interrogation. Each memory shows his life’s experiences from where he learned the correct answers of the questions asked in the quiz show. Salim lived his entire life in the slums of Mumbai, and many scenes capture memories of his childhood and adolescence. The directors have been accused of taking advantage of the youngest actors, Rubina Ali ( Latika) and Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail (Salim), who interpreted the main characters of the film during their young ages.

An article from the Telegraph says that Ali earned about $1,000 while Ismail was paid about $2,400. (According to a World Bank report last year, 75.6% of India’s population lives on less than $2 a day.) Fox Searchlight, Boyle and Colson have declined to say what their actual compensation was. (Horn J. 2009)

Boyle said the production took special care to look after the children’s welfare, paying for their elementary and secondary schooling, covering their basic living costs. Distributors Fox Searchlight and its India counterpart, Fox Star Studios, along with “Slumdog Millionaire” sales agent Pathe International said in a separate statement: “The welfare of Azhar and Rubina has always been a top priority for everyone involved in ‘Slumdog Millionaire.’ For 30 days’ work, the children were paid three times the average local adult salary. We are extremely proud of this film and proud of the way our child actors have been treated.” Furthermore, when “Slumdog Millionaire” won the audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival, the $15,000 prize was put into Ali and Ismail’s trust fund, which will pay for their college if they stay in school. (Horn J. 2009)

However, I believe the same circumstances would not have been accepted by parents of the Western countries. For some aspects, the locals of the Mumbai slums were used to make a profit.

Rashmee Kumer writes in The Guardian “if cultural appropriation means that a
privileged group adopts the symbols and practices of a marginalized one for profit or social capital, then yes, Coldplay’s video is committing cultural appropriation. Coldplay’s Hymn for the Weekend video cannot be brushed off as ‘just a video’ – it is part of a system of representation that shapes how the West engages with the world.” (Kumer R. 2016) A romantic idealization of India represented as a happy place is the worst happening for such a problematic country which has to deal with poverty, social disparity, etc. on a daily basis. Instead, powerful influences such as Coldplay and Beyoncé should have the courage to report and spread into the collective awareness the harsh reality of India.

Sonam Kapoor, one of the highest-paid actresses of Bollywood, and ranked as one of the most fashionable celebrities in India, appears few times in the musical video. She appears as a magnificent trophy: the acceptance of the Hinduism exploitation for capitalistic profit. The actress’ presence proves the will of underdeveloped countries to become part of the western lifestyle. In the movie-musical “Humko Deewana Kar Gaye”, produced by Bollywood, there is a scene of dancers who perform to the tune of “Mere Saath Chalte Chalte”. They present a dance where even Western people could perceive the sexual movement of the sporadic hips moves. Furthermore, the actors play a game of adultery gazes while the music plays. Considering the importance of marriage in India, these actions reproduced in a Bollywood movie, represents the westernization of developing countries such India.

The current economic growth of India could be a reason for why so many pop artists have chosen it as the stage for their musical videos. Major Lazer and DJ Snake’s video have made a similar misleading video for the successful tune “Lean On” feat MØ. “Diplo of Major Lazer has called India some kind of unique creature with one foot in history and one firmly in the future with beauty that humbled him – and made him a lot of money.” (Kumer R. 2016)

FKA Twigs – in the video for Two Weeks, has a Hindu goddess look while making reference to Aaliyah’s role as a vampire in the 2002 horror film, Queen of the Damned. The mood of the video remains dusky and intimate, recurrent features in FKA Twigs’s unapologetically sexual music. The video is a full immersion in a compelling, fully realised aesthetic. (Empire K. 2014) Again, the cultural elements of Hinduism have been purely used for the wrong game of entertainment to create profit.

Nowadays people have to be educated to the understanding of others’ culture. The latter must be respected inasmuch people’s belief. The use of cultural elements should be done to enhance the differences amongst diverse ethnicities and celebrate them. There is a scene in the Coldplay video clip, where a local inhales something that produces a thick smoke. Coldplay gives no circumstances to explain the sense of this image, apart from the repetitive refrain “Got me feeling drunk and high. So high, so high”. India has a cultural connection with drugs. Hindus priests use it for spiritual rituals. However, lethal drugs have been spread all over the country, especially during the last span of period, where the social division is increasingly manifested. Drugs are a serious issue, especially amongst poor people.

Enrico Fabian, the first-prize winner for his photojournalism portfolio during FotoWeekDC—a photography festival in Washington, has documented the tragic reality of drugs in New Delhi, India. While he was walking on a busy street, he was captured by the sight of a man “whose right leg [and] right foot, looked like [they] had been ripped off freshly.” (Turner J. 2013) He was screaming and begging for money while the crowd was stoically passing by. After this experience, Fabian “felt the really urgent need of somehow documenting it.” Then he started capturing the cruel reality of India through his lens. Many his photos illustrate young boys getting ready for the assumption of pharmaceutical drugs, cheaply bought with no medical receipt. Enrico social activism uses cultural facts to denounce social injustices, but also enhance community growth in India. One of his artworks shows the “People-focused microfinance development work, [which] has empowered women in rural India to realize their dreams for their own good and that of others” (Fabian E.) Cultures must be celebrated and used as a means to help people, and not to apathetically create profit and meaningful trends. Cultures are out there to enrich one’s personal development, and help individuals to tolerance and empathy.

 

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Photo by Enrico Fabian

By Nicole Afonso Alves Calistri, 2016

HERE is the link to Enrico Fabian’s website.

Empire K. (2014) FKA “Twigs review – ‘compelling, ecstatically filthy’ music”, The Guardian, online source from http://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/jun/29/fka-twigs-ica-london-review-compelling-ecstatically-filthy accessed on 23/03/2016

Fabian E. “Realizing Dreams”, Enrico Fabian Photography, online source available from http://www.enrico-fabian.com, accessed on 24/03/2016

Horn J. (2009), “’Slumdog Millionaire’ makers respond to criticism over pay to two young actors”, Los Angeles Times, online source available from http://articles.latimes.com/2009/jan/30/entertainment/et-slumdog30 accessed on 23/03/2016

Kumer R. 2016, “Coldplay: only the latest pop stars to misrepresent India as an exotic playground”, The Guardian, online source from http://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/feb/01/coldplay-beyonce-hymn-for-the-weekend-cultural-appropriation-india, accessed on 23/03/2016

Licata E., (2014), “Selena Gomez Responds To Bindi Controversy By Doubling Down With ‘Sari, Not Sari’ Selfie”, the Gloss, online source available from
http://www.thegloss.com/2014/05/24/fashion/selena-gomez-bindi-sari-instagram-selfie/ accessed on 23/03/2016

Mbonambi B. (2016), p.4, section Life, Against Sunday Tribune, February 28, 2016, E1 Edition.

Turner J. (2013), “Musings: India’s New Drug Subculture”, PROOF: Picture Stories, National Geographic, online source from http://proof.nationalgeographic.com/2013/11/18/musings-indias-new-drug-subculture/, accessed on 24/03/2016

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