“Cultural Appropriation” is a fancy term for something that is actually pretty simple: Stealing other people’s stuff. More accurately, it’s absorbing traditions, symbols, images and artifacts from minority and immigrant cultures into the predominant culture with no concern for their origins.
Think of it like that 16-year-old who wears a Ramones T-shirt without being able to name a single Ramones song—only, instead of a band, it’s deeply held ideals, beliefs and artform at stake. It’s generally frowned upon, but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming a national pastime. Here’s a breakdown of some instances of cultural appropriation in pop culture:
Lavigne’s big comeback made headlines in the worst possible way, with her music video for “Hello Kitty” showcasing such a blatant disrespect for Asian culture—featuring a context-free parade of sushi, a bevvy of Japanese backup dancers and Asian candies—that it was quickly taken down following immediate, outraged backlash.
The furor over Miley’s disastrous 2013 VMA twerking performance largely centered on her hyper-sexualization, which is fair enough. But not lost in all the uproar was the fact that her backup dancers (both at the awards show and in her video for “We Can’t Stop”) were largely black and treated more like accessories than peers.
This year’s biggest pop success story has been hogtied by her repeated need to defend her use of Indian culture (in the music video for “Bounce”) and Southern African-American culture (in pretty much everything she does). Azalea is from Australia, and while co-opting these cultures has brought her a lot of success, any quick Google search will reveal a lot of anger at her as well.
The Flaming Lips frontman has loudly supported the trend of people wearing Native American headdresses at music festivals, despite backlash from Native American groups.
T-Swift’s video for “Shake It Off” featured her flanked by a multiethnic team of twerking dancers. Like a lot of Swift’s schtick, the video was clearly meant to be self-deprecating, but that didn’t satiate Odd Future’s Earl Sweatshirt, who tweeted that the video was “Perpetuating black stereotypes to the same demographic of white girls who hide their prejudice by proclaiming their love of the culture.”