Author Topic: Race/Poverty and Authenticity (and cultural appropriation?)  (Read 1347 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline Johnny Slick

  • "Goddammit, Slick."
  • Poster of Extraordinary Magnitude
  • **********
  • Posts: 11990
  • Fake Ass Skeptic
Race/Poverty and Authenticity (and cultural appropriation?)
« on: March 14, 2017, 06:24:22 PM »
There's probably a better term for this and I'm all ears if someone has it.

So, over the past week a class I'm taking had us read a short play by the playwright Amiri Baraka (nee Leroy Jones) called "Dutchman", which is a highly allegorical story about a young black man who is sort of entranced by an older white woman (there's a scene where she actually offers him an apple, to which all I can say is, this play was written in the 1960s) and who is sort of, for the lack of a better term, led down a path that forces him to choose between accepting this woman's increasingly annoying attempts at cultural appropriation and rejecting them. He chooses the latter with this big dramatic monologue that basically talks about how this woman, because she is white, will never really and truly understand what Bessie Smith really means when she sings the blues or what Charlie Parker really gets at with bop. I won't give away the ending except to say that it's pretty damn disturbing, but I wanted to stick with that retort by the main character.

As a black person, this really resonated with me. Okay, I am not actually black FINE. Seriously though, as a person who grew up poor - poor in a middle to upper middle class community, to be sure, but poor on a level that my classmates from elementary school all the way through high school not only didn't understand but, like, were fundamentally incapable of understanding. There's another piece of, um, literature that is about being poor rather than being black that might tie this in better, the song "Common People" by the band Pulp:



Quote
Rent a flat above a shop,
Cut your hair and get a job.
Smoke some fags and play some pool,
Pretend you never went to school.
But still you'll never get it right,
'Cause when you're laid in bed at night,
Watching roaches climb the wall,
If you called your Dad he could stop it all.

You'll never live like common people,
You'll never do whatever common people do,
You'll never fail like common people,
You'll never watch your life slide out of view,
And dance and drink and screw,
Because there's nothing else to do.
I don't want to, like, overemphasize my role as the Voice of the Poors or anything; my parents were almost like single-generation tourists to poverty (both of their families were/are strongly middle-class - they were held back by mental illness, to paint our issues with an overly broad brush), although I didn't get monetary support from my extended family, there were clear pathways out of the predicament that me and my brothers and sister found ourselves in which are just not there for a lot of poor folks, and, not to put too fine of a bow on it the other way but both of my parents still raised us with very middle-class instead of working-class values**. There's no denying our own poverty but I do feel like we were kind of ersatz poor, close enough to the people whose parents and grandparents and great-grandparents knew nothing but poverty to understand better what reality was like to them, but never, like, truly part of that world either.

That was an awful lot of lead-in, I know but there's a point to this: I really and truly *do* think that there is a vibrancy and, for the lack of a better word, authenticity that comes from art forms that spawn from the underprivileged that other art forms just do not possess. I feel like we as Americans have this subconscious acceptance of this that permeates our culture: what we do for the most part is not so much create our own thing so much as we take that incredible, almost magical art created by the less privileged both from within our own subcultures (jazz, the blues, rock and roll, gospel, R&B, hip hop... but also, lest we make this an entirely black vs white thing, country and folk music too) and from without (Tex-Mex food, salsa music, the inclusion of Cuban and Brazilian music in particular into American pop). This is, like, what we do, and we're not particularly ashamed about doing so. At our best, we syncretize this art with our own and kind of revitalize both (jazz to me is a great example, combining some of the most avant garde of Western classical music with the improvisational style and rhythm that, if "we" white Westerners ever had in our history, was almost completely forgotten) or create spaces where some of these subcultures can get together and make their own syncretizations (rockabilly springs to mind), but I feel like all of this comes out of this general feeling that poor-person art is, if not "better"***, at least markedly different and amazing in its own way that is just worlds apart from how "classically" white/Western forms are good.

I feel like an awful lot of what we refer to as cultural appropriation is getting at this: it's easy to say that everyone who cares to can "get" jazz music now, 50+ years after it was absorbed into the mainstream culture and the ambassadors of the original "vibrant" form taught its rules to the culture as a whole, but go back to even Charlie Parker in the late 40s and those white kids listening to him, slamming their hands on the stage, losing themselves in the crazy new rules that bop imposed on melody... did they fundamentally "get" what they were listening to? Was it *possible* to "get" Charlie Parker in particular of bop in general if you weren't a young African-American man who learned and helped to create a brand new form of music, music that you chose to in many respects sacrifice your life and well-being for, in the grips of such poverty that it was actually cheaper for you to get addicted to heroin than it was to get your ulcers treated, all the while butting up against this huge, monolithic white culture that simultaneously loved and hated (adored and resented, dismissed and cherished) what it was that you were doing with your life and with your music, but never *quite* loving you or your music to actually do anything to help you or your people? I'm white (obvs) and not a product of that age so my account of it is far from perfect, but isn't there a piece of truth in there - truth that is only I think made clearer by the fact that my decades-later, informed by learning about Parker and his friends and bop take being still only covering a tiny fraction of what it must have been like to have been in a guy like the Bird's shoes - that those white "boppers" had, like, no fucking *idea* what it was that they were listening to? And if you're in a guy like Charlie Parker's shoes, or for that matter Amiri Baraka writing about it 15 years later, isn't it natural to feel a lot of resentment about this? I mean, isn't that, like, the sanest fucking opinion in the room?

I guess at the end of the day you could say that music is just about notes and dynamics and rhythm... but it's really not, is it? Cooking isn't just about mixing foods together and chemistry. Writing isn't just about putting words together in the right order. There is this other, greater thing that influences art, that brings it together and makes it something larger than the sum of its individual parts. I'm not saying that it's God or it's supernatural or anything like that, but it's definitely greater than the person who is performing it and if that's true, it sure as hell is greater than the person who is consuming it at any given time. Once we accept that, don't we, like, have to accept that an awful lot of the art that we love, we love for reasons that we are never, ever going to understand, much less be able to imitate? Shouldn't we then also accept that this also means that a lot of the time, in our attempts to ape some of this stuff - which I am not even condemning per se - that we will do something that is offensive to the original creators? We don't get what it's about in the first place; how can we *not* accidentally step on toes while we attempt to create our simulacra?

This is especially rambly, I know, because while there's a core of... something I want to get at and write about, I'm finding it exceedingly hard to figure out exactly the right words, so, like, excuse me and stuff. I also wish that I had a "people should be more like X" kind of conclusion but I really don't. I just... wanted to explore this idea that a skeptical part of my brain kind of rejects but which a... different part that for the lack of a better term I'll call spiritual but I'm not fond of that word thinks has a ton of merit.

*I've talked about this elsewhere but long story short, I know first-hand what it's like to be on welfare, to have to go to food banks for years, and to not just be appreciative of but to flat-out depend upon the kindness of strangers to get fed, not get evicted, and so on for years at a time I am *sure* that there are people on this board who had it worse than me growing up and I don't wish to engage in a "poor-off" here; I'm just establishing where I'm coming from when I talk about how this issue resonates with me.

**This is the kind of thing that I'm talking about...

http://www.democraticunderground.com/10023754347

Quote
Sociologist Melvin Kohn argues that working-class values emphasize external standards, such as obedience and a strong respect for authority as well as little tolerance for deviance.This is opposed to middle-class individuals whom, he says, emphasize internal standards, self-direction, curiosity and a tolerance for non-conformity.

***Another thing I wish I could get into but this is already novel-length: all of the insults levied against that poor-person art right up to the very minute it's accepted into the larger American culture. Remember when people whinged that rap "isn't really music"? Or, if you're older, how "trashy" and generally inferior R&B or funk was compared to [older, now accepted forms of art]?
Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Offline nameofthewave

  • Keeps Priorities Straight
  • ***
  • Posts: 332
Re: Race/Poverty and Authenticity (and cultural appropriation?)
« Reply #1 on: March 17, 2017, 03:56:51 AM »


I guess at the end of the day you could say that music is just about notes and dynamics and rhythm... but it's really not, is it? Cooking isn't just about mixing foods together and chemistry. Writing isn't just about putting words together in the right order. There is this other, greater thing that influences art, that brings it together and makes it something larger than the sum of its individual parts. I'm not saying that it's God or it's supernatural or anything like that, but it's definitely greater than the person who is performing it and if that's true, it sure as hell is greater than the person who is consuming it at any given time. Once we accept that, don't we, like, have to accept that an awful lot of the art that we love, we love for reasons that we are never, ever going to understand, much less be able to imitate? Shouldn't we then also accept that this also means that a lot of the time, in our attempts to ape some of this stuff - which I am not even condemning per se - that we will do something that is offensive to the original creators? We don't get what it's about in the first place; how can we *not* accidentally step on toes while we attempt to create our simulacra?


Ultimately music IS just about notes and dynamics and rhythm... the other things come from the meaning we attach to it or the feelings that the particular notes, dynamics and rhythm evoke. So in that sense whether or not someone can completely "get" something is quite subjective. Sure, to take your example there is a history behind jazz and blues but that history (to me anyway) enhances the art form, and if there are people who only like the music because of the way it sounds and nothing else then that is fine but they themselves are missing out, I mean, that is the thing about great art - it works on multiple levels. If the initial superficial enjoyment is a gateway into learning more about the origins and history behind it then that is always a positive thing but should not be some kind of moral prerequisite. I don't think jazz or blues have suffered from being absorbed into the wider musical culture - the original forms of the music are alive and well, the history and stories behind them have spread far and wide, and they have imprinted themselves on just about all popular music for the last 70 years. What's not to like? If white kids had been reluctant to experiment and explore crossover styles due to reverence for the purity of jazz and blues then that wouldn't have happened to anywhere near the same extent.

Also, regarding the Pulp song. I don't think Jarvis is narked with the posh girl "appropriating poor peoples' culture" as such, more that she is pretending to be poor ONLY because she thinks it is cool, but that is ultimately mocking people who are actually poor because they have no choice but to live like that.
« Last Edit: March 17, 2017, 04:03:55 AM by nameofthewave »

Offline Johnny Slick

  • "Goddammit, Slick."
  • Poster of Extraordinary Magnitude
  • **********
  • Posts: 11990
  • Fake Ass Skeptic
Re: Race/Poverty and Authenticity (and cultural appropriation?)
« Reply #2 on: March 17, 2017, 07:26:16 AM »
Yeah, I strongly disagree with that first bit. It's *sort of* just notes but there's all kinds of subtle things you do to the notes that is very hard and sometimes impossible to pick up, especially with newer art forms (70 years on I can tell you, for example, that bop swings at something closer to 55/45 than the "standard" 67/33 you hear in swing, but if you tried to do that in 1947 without being a part of the culture you're going to just try to swing or play it straight, both of which sound awful). As for white people slamming their hands on the tables, well, like I said I'm torn on that. On the one hand you have your point, that ultimately the melting pot probably helps those cultures to get recognized and maybe even lifted out of poverty. On the other hand, "Dutchman" is hardly the only place I've seen this resentment expressed and I feel like we at the very least need to acknowledge it.

And trying on poor people culture because you think it's cool is exactly what culture appropriation is. I don't think the term existed when Jarvis Cocker wrote the song but that's absolutely what he's talking about. The fact that she would never be able to "get" it is why it was offensive. FWIW well meaning white liberals gatekeeping those cultures might stem from the same thought process though.
Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Online superdave

  • Stopped Going Outside
  • *******
  • Posts: 5013
  • My name is not dave.
Re: Race/Poverty and Authenticity (and cultural appropriation?)
« Reply #3 on: March 17, 2017, 09:07:06 AM »
the great thing about art is that everyone can appreciate it in their own way.
And I think it's fine to say your personal history lets you have some understanding of the Black experience as long as you don't go overboard.
As a Jewish person I feel like I have some understanding of being a minority and dealing with racism, it lets me empathize somewhat with the black experience but certainly is not a substitute for being black or and certainly is only a partial understanding at best. 

Offline nameofthewave

  • Keeps Priorities Straight
  • ***
  • Posts: 332
Re: Race/Poverty and Authenticity (and cultural appropriation?)
« Reply #4 on: March 18, 2017, 04:14:20 AM »
Yeah, I strongly disagree with that first bit. It's *sort of* just notes but there's all kinds of subtle things you do to the notes that is very hard and sometimes impossible to pick up, especially with newer art forms (70 years on I can tell you, for example, that bop swings at something closer to 55/45 than the "standard" 67/33 you hear in swing, but if you tried to do that in 1947 without being a part of the culture you're going to just try to swing or play it straight, both of which sound awful).

But those ARE just technical aspects of the music, right? I mean, I don't doubt that if you were a black person from that era, brought up with this kind of music being played around you, it became embedded somewhere to the extent that you could "get it" much easier than a white person would in 1947. But I'd be reluctant to go further than that (otherwise you get to the stereotype "black people have got natural rhythm" which I can't get on board with).

Quote
As for white people slamming their hands on the tables, well, like I said I'm torn on that. On the one hand you have your point, that ultimately the melting pot probably helps those cultures to get recognised and maybe even lifted out of poverty. On the other hand, "Dutchman" is hardly the only place I've seen this resentment expressed and I feel like we at the very least need to acknowledge it.

I don't disagree, but I do feel a bit torn on this. I guess its the sense that groups of people could "own" certain cultural practices or customs and if you are not from that group then you need in some sense to justify why you want to enjoy that thing. I do think having a strong cultural identity is, in itself, a privilege of sorts - and yes - I know that very often strong cultural identities arise in groups of people as a consequence of historical hardships and oppression and I would never wish to diminish that. I think ultimately it is about respect but not reverence.

Quote
And trying on poor people culture because you think it's cool is exactly what culture appropriation is. I don't think the term existed when Jarvis Cocker wrote the song but that's absolutely what he's talking about.

The thing with this is, if the girl from the song just wanted to play pool, smoke cigarettes (I know you Americans have a different meaning for the word 'fag'  ;D) and shave her head ONLY because she wanted to do that or enjoyed doing those things, then for me that is totally OK. Poor people don't 'own' doing those things. But from the song lyrics she is just doing those things because she wants to look like she is poor, she says she wants to live like common people, she wants to do whatever common people do, i.e. a patronisingly oblivious cultural tourist at best.

Quote
The fact that she would never be able to "get" it is why it was offensive. FWIW well meaning white liberals gatekeeping those cultures might stem from the same thought process though.

I'm not sure. Maybe she could "get it" on some level, maybe she could imagine what it was really like to be poor. Maybe she could actually empathise to some extent but DESPITE that she still wanted to act like she was poor only because she thought it was cool and nothing else. I think that would be offensive rather than just being entirely oblivious, people can't help being ignorant of what they don't know, what they haven't experienced or had a chance to learn from.
« Last Edit: March 18, 2017, 04:20:15 AM by nameofthewave »

Offline Andrew Clunn

  • Poster of Extraordinary Magnitude
  • **********
  • Posts: 15646
  • Aspiring Super Villain
Re: Race/Poverty and Authenticity (and cultural appropriation?)
« Reply #5 on: March 18, 2017, 06:19:27 AM »
So what you're saying is that Weird Al is horrible and he should stop taking legitimate and sometimes challenging art and making palatable parodies for "oh so ironic" suburban white people?
To err is human.  To syntax error is System.NullReferenceException

Offline Johnny Slick

  • "Goddammit, Slick."
  • Poster of Extraordinary Magnitude
  • **********
  • Posts: 11990
  • Fake Ass Skeptic
Re: Race/Poverty and Authenticity (and cultural appropriation?)
« Reply #6 on: March 18, 2017, 09:28:54 AM »
So what you're saying is that Weird Al is horrible and he should stop taking legitimate and sometimes challenging art and making palatable parodies for "oh so ironic" suburban white people?
No.
Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Offline Drunken Idaho

  • Natural Blonde
  • Reef Tank Owner
  • *********
  • Posts: 9487
  • Comrade Questions
Re: Race/Poverty and Authenticity (and cultural appropriation?)
« Reply #7 on: March 18, 2017, 01:28:47 PM »
Really depends upon how you define "getting" the music.

At its core, music (imo) is meant to move a listener, and to express the feelings of its creator.

A white person in the 40s may not have heard any of the pain and struggle that Bird put into his music, but they could most assuredly be moved by it. At the same time, a black person in the 40s may *also* not have heard any of the emotional intention, and a privileged white person certainly may have.

Struggle is at the core of SO much art; I do not believe one must share the same struggle as the artist to "get" the art.
Strange women lying in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government.

Offline Johnny Slick

  • "Goddammit, Slick."
  • Poster of Extraordinary Magnitude
  • **********
  • Posts: 11990
  • Fake Ass Skeptic
Re: Race/Poverty and Authenticity (and cultural appropriation?)
« Reply #8 on: March 18, 2017, 03:54:51 PM »
So... I think there's a longish process to the getting it stage where the other party tries it out, the first party says "no, you're doing it wrong", and then at some point they get closer to "right" by trial and error or else decide they like the "wrong" way better (I think this is kind of what happened with rock and roll, although in that case there were deliberate efforts made to "whiten" it in the 1950s).

I'm actually not sure if there's a good contemporary analogy tbh. Rap was a decent analogy in the 80s - the few forays by white people into it were hilariously bad (see "Rapture" by Blondie) but, beginning with poor white people living near enough to poor black people to get that proper level of immersion you need (Eminem strikes me as the most obvious example but he's hardly the only person or the first good white rapper), the lessons of what makes hip hop work have been learned.

I guess the thing is - and I say this as a person who, when they were 14, listened the shit out of NWA and LL Cool J - I also remember a time when it wasn't easy to "get". There were black acts that barely had any flow either (I remember reading, for examplem that Eazy E couldn't record live because he couldn't stay on beat and kind of had to be coaxed into it by some very patient producers), but white attempts to rap almost invariably didn't work for reasons you just couldn't pin down at the time. It got to the point to where if an artist decided he wanted a rap section in the middle of his song he'd hire a hip hop artist to do that part.

Rap is also a *lot* more complex than it was back then and I think syncretism has a lot to do with that. And again, I don't feel like I know what the "right" course us here except to acknowledge that this is a thing that we do.

Sent from my SM-N910V using Tapatalk

Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Offline Drunken Idaho

  • Natural Blonde
  • Reef Tank Owner
  • *********
  • Posts: 9487
  • Comrade Questions
Re: Race/Poverty and Authenticity (and cultural appropriation?)
« Reply #9 on: March 18, 2017, 04:32:18 PM »
Can you define what you mean by "getting" the music?
Strange women lying in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government.

Offline Johnny Slick

  • "Goddammit, Slick."
  • Poster of Extraordinary Magnitude
  • **********
  • Posts: 11990
  • Fake Ass Skeptic
Re: Race/Poverty and Authenticity (and cultural appropriation?)
« Reply #10 on: March 18, 2017, 09:12:56 PM »
Can you define what you mean by "getting" the music?
Not really, no.
Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Offline PANTS!

  • One leg at a time.
  • Reef Tank Owner
  • *********
  • Posts: 9291
  • What seals? I auditioned for this job.
Re: Race/Poverty and Authenticity (and cultural appropriation?)
« Reply #11 on: March 18, 2017, 09:18:10 PM »
Oh Johnny.  The author is actually dead.   >:D
Now where I come from
We don't let society tell us how it's supposed to be
-Uptown, Prince 👉

We cross our bridges when we come to them and burn them behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke, and a presumption that once our eyes watered.

Offline Drunken Idaho

  • Natural Blonde
  • Reef Tank Owner
  • *********
  • Posts: 9487
  • Comrade Questions
Re: Race/Poverty and Authenticity (and cultural appropriation?)
« Reply #12 on: March 18, 2017, 10:19:56 PM »
Can you define what you mean by "getting" the music?
Not really, no.

Since your whole post centers around who "gets" the art and when, I think it's vital to figure this out.
Strange women lying in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government.

Offline SkeptiQueer

  • Stopped Going Outside
  • *******
  • Posts: 5595
  • DEEZ NUTZ
Re: Race/Poverty and Authenticity (and cultural appropriation?)
« Reply #13 on: March 18, 2017, 10:48:59 PM »
Here's what comes to mind for me: go listen to Tennessee Ernie Ford sing "16 Tons." He's clean, hair done up, manicured mustache, smiling and snapping along to a song about miners dying in debt slavery. I think it's fair to say nobody in that audience "gets" the music. Nobody in that audience spent a day in a coal mine, and the poppy snap of Ernie Ford is happy and upbeat. Then you go listen to the Merle Travis version, bluesy on an acoustic guitar even though the beat is the same, and you get a little taste if his childhood as a coal-miner's son.

Another example would be all the yuppie hipsters I live around who listen to scratchy-ass NWA records on vinyl even though the Ferguson protests were the closest they've come to experiencing the police brutality that "Fuck The Police" is about.

Actually rap is a really great example, because the rap (which is a guess sort of one wing of hip hop nowadays) scene is reeeeally hard about authenticity. It's not hard to pull a beat together and throw some lyrics over it, but there is a certain je ne sais quoi that comes through even in the Easy E stuff that wouldn't be there for someone writing it today.

I guess I would compare it to how a Real Muthafuckin Warfighterâ„¢ can often smell bullshit when someone who has only read about the horrors of a particular campaign talks about it. It's by no means perfect, but there are some subtleties that someone who has lived it can pick up that aren't obvious to people who haven't.

That's my ramblings on the topic, anyway.
HIISSSSSSSS

Offline Johnny Slick

  • "Goddammit, Slick."
  • Poster of Extraordinary Magnitude
  • **********
  • Posts: 11990
  • Fake Ass Skeptic
Re: Race/Poverty and Authenticity (and cultural appropriation?)
« Reply #14 on: March 18, 2017, 11:01:15 PM »
Can you define what you mean by "getting" the music?
Not really, no.

Since your whole post centers around who "gets" the art and when, I think it's vital to figure this out.
I also find it hard to create sculpture that explains poetry.
Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson