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Essay: Exploring Cultural Appropriation: Music, Fashion & Religion

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  • Published: 25 February 2023*
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Cultural appropriation is problematic as there as two views to look at it. The proper meaning of cultural appropriation “is the adoption of elements of a minority culture by members of the dominant culture.” Cultural appropriation is very relevant in the 21st century as it is a common occurrence with celebrities and communities. The term cultural appropriation was devised in the 1900’s but has been more recently viewed with new fashion trends and celebrities using cultures that aren’t their own in fashion or design. It can incorporate religious traditions such as using the Burka for fashion ,to fashion, symbols, languages and songs. It can also be seen as disrespectful as the meaning behind the cultural element is lost. Music has been a media form that has been known to cultural appropriate black culture. The modern world is also known for using cultural appropriation particularly in fashion trends. One of the main controversies is with celebrities who have made statements about it just being for fashion and not being offensive. The music industry has used cultural appropriation through different ways, either through using elements of other cultures in Caucasian artists music or using other culture’s music sounds in your own. Fashion trends have also caused an increase in cultural appropriation such as braids, items of clothing like native American costumes or taking fashion to new lengths. Religion is also an important topic within cultural appropriation, the met gala is an event particularly that had been wrongfully accused of culturally appropriating religious figures such as the pope and catholic culture. All three of these topics are important within cultural appropriation and modern society’s.

The music industry has been known for using cultural appropriation especially when taking a large influence from the black community and mainly black artists without crediting them. For a large amount of time many white musicians have taken influence from black artists, without any credit. An artist who was extremely popular Elvis Presley has taken influence from black artists and it is clear in some of his songs. One of the main issues within the music industry is artists using different cultural elements in their own music. With Rap Music, we see Eminem a Caucasian rapper use the derogatory n word. Although he has apologised for this we see how black influence of using the n word in rap is being used in all categories of rap artists. Another artist who has been largely accused of cultural appropriation is Selena Gomez with her performance at them MTV movie awards where she is dressed in a red cultural Indian gown as well as a bindii, many people saw this as a fashion statement, but some people did not appreciate this and accused her of taking something that isn’t of her culture and making it seem to be only fashion and losing the cultural meaning behind it.  Selena also uses Indian music with a man singing Punjabi in the beginning of her song “Come and get it” which is a historical tradition within Hinduism. She also uses Indian dancing in her video for “come and get it”. Many people said she was inspired by Bollywood pop music but she had taken items such as a bindii to a sari that has religious representations just for a performance. The music industry is constantly using cultural elements for entertainment. Cultural borrowings could be more respectful if these cultures are given credit especially within music inspiration of influence.

Fashion trends have also been a significant amount of culturally appropriated history.  Many celebrities such as Kim Kardashian wore "Bo Derek braids," which was a part of black American culture for centuries. Although she has stated “I think as long as it comes from a place of love and you’re getting inspired, then it is okay." Kim has been criticized by the public for taking the culture away in light of fashion. She is not the only Kardashian who has been accused for using cultural appropriation, Kylie Jenner was accused of this when she had cornrows. Even Justin Bieber had dreads and people criticized him for wearing them as he was white and not of Jamaican culture. Black cultural elements have constantly been slammed around for fashion and entertainment. With entertainment we see Taylor Swift who cultural appropriates black women as she stands in front of the black women twerking in the music video “Shake it off”.  One of the most common cultural appropriation issues is Native America costumes.  Most native American costumes are stereotypes of what they actually do in their culture. Celebrities such as Chrissy Tegan have dressed in “Sexy Indian” costumes. Many native Americans stated that she was fetishizing it and that it shouldn’t be worn as it is a wrongful stereotype of their culture.  People on social media especially have spoken out about how celebrities and fashion trends have personally affected them and their culture. Cultural borrowings especially with Chrissy Tegan and her native American outfit, could have been done in a more respectful way, as she could’ve been more aware and cautious towards the native American culture and the ways in which the costume is significant to them.

Religion is also another element that has been culturally appropriated in todays society.  Religion symbols such as the Christian cross have been used in fashion and decretive items for a long time, this is cultural appropriation.  In the met Gala 2018 we see how fashion designers dress up celebrities in controversial religious outfits. Rihanna and Jared Leto in particular really stood out to me as they are dressed as the pope and Jesus Christ. Many people did not see this to be cultural appropriation, because the pope approved the event but they are using a religion as a fashion statement. Hinduism is also a religion that has been constantly appropriated where people take cultural elements from the religion for entertainment or fashion such as bhindis as I stated earlier. Buddhism is also a religion which has been culturally appropriated on many occasions. There have been shirts with Buddha on it, saying “good vibes” as well as people who are not of Buddhism faith using Buddha as a decoration. Like Buddhism, the Shinto Chinese religion has also been affected in this way as people use the waving gold cat which they call “cat god” outside their houses for decoration purposes where to them it has a highly significant meaning in their culture. The Christian cross, is constantly used in fashion especially in jewellery by many people who aren’t Christian but when someone who isn’t of that faith wears it , it can take the spiritual meaning behind it. Religion is not always considered as cultural appropriation but there are denominations in Christianity that mix culture with religion. I believe that cultural appropriation includes religion as people take away the cultural meaning behind something using it only for decoration or fashion. With cultural borrowings especially with the met gala’s theme this could’ve more respectful by not dressing as religious figures as they have cultural and religious meaning behind it.

 Essentially when something is culturally appropriated the meaning of the cultural element is lost. Cultural appropriation on the other hand can been misinterpreted to not come off in a negative connotation. The music industry could be more respectful when taking cultural borrowings specifically with black culture and it’s influence on current music. With the fashion industry we see the rise of trends and how it can be culturally appropriated and associated with worldly cultures. Religion although sometimes not seen sometimes as cultural, religious elements have been used as fashion or decoration for people even though they mean a lot more then that within religious views.  Cultural appropriation is problematic as it is still occurring the current modern-day world. Many people are also uneducated with particular cultures and the origins of where particular elements come from. I think if people were more educated on these topics there would be less cultural appropriation. Cultural borrowings can be more respectful if people are more aware of what they are doing.  It can also be avoided with proper learning for younger generations.

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