The Guardian, Coldplay and Cultural Appropriation

The Guardian posted an article accusing Coldplay of “Cultural Appropriation” over their new music video filmed in India. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the video itself, there was  an implied subtext that any western musicians who include elements of non-western cultures in their art are guilty of racism.

A band most of whom I know personally have recently released an album with lyrics strongly influenced by Indian spirituality. Does that mean that they too are guilty of racism? Does that mean I’m guilty by association through supporting them and giving their album a positive review?

Fortunately enough people whose opinions I trust have dismissed that piece as little more than sub-Buzzfeed button-pushing clickbait. It’s a largely fact-free thinkpiece that doesn’t cite sources or do any proper journalism. It’s the sort of thing you might expect to find on someone’s personal blog, but we ought to expect higher standards from a national newspaper with a long and illustrious history. It’s telling that under The Guardian’s new policy on articles that touch on race, the piece has no comment section, so they won’t get flooded with responses telling them how ridiculous it is. It’s also telling that the writer picked an obvious soft target, a hugely popular but deeply unfashionable band despised by much of The Guardian’s readership.

Cultural Appropriation is a bit of a minefield. It ought to be easy to understand why simplistic racist caricatures belong in the past, or why you should be careful when using sacred religious symbols outside the context of your own faith. Coldplay might even be guilty of those things. But Social Justice Warriors (I hate that term, but it seems to have stuck) take things much further; any attempt by white westerners to create art that references any aspect of non-western cultures is denounced as “problematic”, their term for “sinful”. The truth is there is an enormous grey area between those two extremes, but ideological absolutists don’t do grey areas. So much great music has arisen from cross-fertilisation between different cultures, something which would be squashed if those who would police art in this manner had their way.

There’s a whole cultural ecosystem of media pundits who earn a living playing on misplaced white liberal guilt. Nobody wants to be thought of as racist or sexist, so too much nonsense ends up going unchallenged. The whole subject of Cultural Appropriation is ideal territory for these people. It’s hardly surprising that it was meat and drink for the notorious predator Requires Hate who did so much harm within the world of science-fiction.

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One Response to The Guardian, Coldplay and Cultural Appropriation

  1. Colum Paget says:

    # implied subtext that any western musicians who include elements of
    # non-western cultures in their art are guilty of racism.

    This is almost all of them. To go back to a ‘pure’ western music we would have to throw out everything created in the last two centuries, and this is true across most art. Rock/pop was born out of heavy appropriation of afro-american blues music, which itself had inputs from many cultures across the world. At the time the conservative right were against the ‘appropriation’ of such culture because it was believed to pollute superior western culture. Now the same argument is back from a different angle, just one of the ways that the new left now apes the old fascist right.

    If we take this line of argument seriously, we’d have to go back to the culture praised by the old white supremesists (I mean the real ones, people who actually made a case for racial superiority rather than people who just get accused online because someone wants to accuse them of something). We’d also have to go back to ogham for our writing system and give up the concept of ‘zero’ among other things, and stop playing chess. Culture has never been divided up into zones of influence the way these people make out, it has always spread and mixed.

    As presumably this is a general rule, and not just something being applied in a racist manner to westerners (hahaha, we both know it’s only being applied to westerners by the new racists that populate the so-called left) most of the world would have to stop listening to modern music too, and would have to go back to the music of their ancestors. They’d have to give up most of the output of the western enlightement (but who would miss that? It’s all the output of dead white males anyway).

    In the end, this argument is a radically conservative one that tries to preserve and freeze cultures at one point in history. It is the enemy of everything rock music ever stood for. It is interesting that we live in an age in which the lead commentators on many things in the cultural sphere appear to despise and be ideologically opposed to the very things they are commenting on.

    # A band most of whom I know personally have recently released an
    # album with lyrics strongly influenced by Indian spirituality. Does that
    # mean that they too are guilty of racism?

    Well once we said that people who opposed people borrowing in other cultures (you may have seen the “don’t play a c**n song” from the times when blues was declared to be “the devil’s music” and something that good white kids should have nothing to do with) were racist. Now we say that people who *do* borrow from other cultures are racist. The term ‘racism’ doesn’t mean anything anymore. When people will defend someone like requires_hate (who says whites should ‘just go home’ from asia, and writes fantasies in which we’re exterminated), of not being racist, but accuse people who interact with other cultures of being so, one must admit that the world no longer means what it once did. Most of the language of the ‘progressive’ left has now been retooled to mean the exact opposite of what it meant formerly. Interestingly people still fear the accusation, even though it now means a different thing, but this is changing.

    # Fortunately enough people whose opinions I trust have dismissed
    # that piece as little more than sub-Buzzfeed button-pushing clickbait.

    People keep dismissing this kind of stuff, and it just keeps spreading and getting stronger. People need to start taking it seriously and figuring out how to oppose it. If not, then before long we’re all going to have to start voting Tory (which maybe was the plan all along).

    # But Social Justice Warriors (I hate that term, but it seems to have stuck)
    # take things much further

    I always say to people “if you have a better one, then suggest it”. I dislike the term because it makes them sound like a good thing. People on the left tend to be livid about this term, because they don’t want to be called out or critiqued at all. Personally, I’d like to see a resurgence of ‘loony leftie’ for these ppl, although that has the danger of implying the whole of the left is loony, but as we’re down to the point of scorched earth tactics to preserve something now, we can’t be too worried about collateral damage.

    # but we ought to expect higher standards from a national
    # newspaper with a long and illustrious history.

    Unfortunately history is no match for technological change. I’m disgusted at what the guardian online seems to have become, but unfortunately they have no choice, these are the last desperate measures of a dying media.

    # So much great music has arisen from cross-fertilisation between
    # different cultures, something which would be squashed if those
    # who would police art in this manner had their way.

    Yep. What we need, and I realize that as a Prog Rocker you ain’t going to like me saying this, but what we need is a new revival of punk, not just in music, but across all the arts. We need the appearance of a bunch of people who *want* to offend the establishment, which in cultural spaces is now mostly a middle-class leftist establishment of people who went to university in the 70s and have never left that era behind. It’ll be ugly and in many ways negative, but I can see we’re getting to the point where it’s needed now.

    # There’s a whole cultural ecosystem of media pundits who earn a
    # living playing on misplaced white liberal guilt. Nobody wants to be
    # thought of as racist or sexist,

    Yep, but this is mostly just middle-class respectability back in a new form. There’s some real fear about these days, anyone with a degree of standing in their community fears to be attacked and have their reputation blackened. Once again, we see that the modern social justice left is essentially regressive. Underneath all the pretty talk of diversity and equality, the real instincts are to move back to the world of upstairs/downstairs. In order to speak you have to throw away your reputation and membership of a community: but that’s what I mean by punk.

    # so too much nonsense ends up going unchallenged. The whole subject
    # of Cultural Appropriation is ideal territory for these people. It’s hardly
    # surprising that it was meat and drink for the notorious predator
    # Requires Hate who did so much harm within the world of science-fiction.

    I feel we can blame Ms Hate for too much. If you build a house from straw, is the wind a predator for blowing it down? If you build insecure systems, someone is going to break into them. You can blame the hacker all you like, but the real fault lies with those who build exploitable communities and refuse to even recognize that’s what they’ve done. I thought Hategate would produce some change in the SF community, but I can’t see that it has, and thus there will be future bad actors playing in that sandpit. Some of the bad actors are not entirely sane, so I’m unsure how useful it is to focus on them.