Culturally Appropriate This

Yesterday on St. Patrick’s Day I was celebrating my Irish ancestry by listening to Irish music, from traditional jigs and reels by the Chieftains to the punk tunes of the Pogues. Today I’d kill for a Japanese curry (Digression: Why are there no curry restaurant chains in this country? Curry houses are almost as common as sushi shops in Japan.) and listening to Wagakki Band.

And all this is happening in rural North Carolina.

I’ve been meaning to write about “cultural appropriation” which evidently is a hot topic on some college campuses (Digression: Why aren’t getting good grades, landing a good job, or the skyrocketing cost of higher education hot topics? Instead of talking about the mind-expanding process of learning we seem to be talking instead about the mind-closing process of safe spaces and cultural appropriation.)

I am an American male of Irish and Slavic ancestry. My great-great grandfather and great-great grandmother escaped the genocide of the Irish brought about by the British occupation policies. (Digression: The potato famines (yes there were several) weren’t natural events. Sure the potato crops were blighted, but the famines were brought about by the political decisions and actions of the British.*) My Slavic ancestors were peasants of the Austro-Hungarian empire who escaped central Europe in the late 1880s and early 1890s. My hybrid genes have left me with a tendency towards sentimentality and alcoholism from the Irish coupled with an instinctive paranoia and natural talent for baking that kept my Slavic alive while oppressed. I have lived in two non-Western nations – Japan and Tanzania – and my experiences abroad educated on what it means to be American, as well as made me appreciate Western Civilization so denigrated today by nearly everyone.

At the same time those experiences also left me with a deep appreciation of other cultures, particularly the Japanese. To put it bluntly, I think the Japanese are a crazy people. They are racist in ways you have to witness to believe. They are silly, stupid some times and downright ignorant at others.

But this world would be so much worse off without them and their culture. Listen to the song embedded above and watch the video. Wagakki Band has taken traditional Japanese instruments and added American heavy metal to create a unique sound. You don’t have to like it to appreciate its vitality, its energy and its unique character.

By current Leftist standards on college campuses what Wagakki Band has done is culturally appropriate an American sound to create something new. One character trait of the Japanese over the past 1,500 years is their skill at cultural appropriation. In the 7th century they appropriated Chinese religion (Buddhism), writing, and government – then blended it into their own unique culture. Their Buddhism was never much like the rest of Asian Buddhism. As for their writing they may use the same characters as the Chinese but they pronounce them differently and have stuck to a syllable-based language represented by their own writing kana forms. And their form of government was very different from the Chinese, lacking the complex meritocratic bureaucracy of the Chinese. Later Japan would emulate various elements of the Portuguese, British, Prussian and Americans. Strip away all the cultural appropriation and very little would be left of Japanese culture, and what remains would be rather dull (although Shinto has its moments – especially at drunken fire-festivals).

Fredrik deBoer has some good comments about cultural appropriation that got me thinking about all the above since Japan factors into his argument. deBoer writes, “when white progressives complain about culture appropriation, (it) is the denial of the agency of people from other cultures. To accept the idea that, say, an art museum holding an event at which people wear kimonos is necessarily a heinous act of appropriation is to presume that you know that no Japanese people would ever approve of such a thing, even though actual people in Japan will be very happy to at least sell you a kimono. I’m sure some Japanese people wouldn’t like Kimono Wednesdays. I’m sure some Japanese people would find it flattering. I’m sure many wouldn’t care either way. A common response to the controversy, in Japan, appears to have been bewilderment that anyone could be upset about it. But to become offended on the behalf of Japanese people,  you have to presume that Japanese people have no agency [emphasis added]. You have to presume that no Japanese person could say to him- or herself “I’m gonna make a choice, not as an avatar of a culture of millions of people but as an individual, to accept/encourage/facilitate white Americans wearing kimonos.” In place of their agency, you put your own righteous judgment.

I lived in Japan 5 years and never wore a kimono but many of my gaijin friends did on occasion and the Japanese always seemed to appreciate it. When a non-Japanese decides that wearing a kimono is racist against the Japanese, s/he presumes to speak for 120 million Japanese people. That strikes me as pretty arrogant, particularly when those worried most about cultural appropriation seem to have spent very little time in the cultures they profess to speak for. I have friends who have spent 30+ years in Japan and have citizenship (Digression: Very difficult to get unless you are a sumo wrestler) who wouldn’t presume to speak for the Japanese, so some college brat doing so seems laughable. But it’s not that funny; as deBoer states “you have to presume that Japanese people have no agency.” This means that the college kid has decided that s/he has more power to speak for the Japanese than the Japanese themselves do. That’s the modern equivalent of what the White Man’s Burden of a century ago. Not surprising considering that the efforts to separate the races on American campuses are nothing more than Leftist versions of separate-but-equal post Plessy v Ferguson America of the early 1900s. All we need is a progressive version of the Ku Klux Klan for completeness.

deBoer concludes, “Like so many other elements of contemporary culture, the economy of offense is revealed to be just another expression of our own ego. We need to remember that we are not the cosmos, that the world is full of other people making their own adult decisions. To forget that isn’t progressive. It’s, well, a kind of imperialism.”

And that’s exactly what I’ve been thinking. This progressive effort to define and then separate the cultures strikes me as conservative to the point of being reactionary. It’s fascism without snappy uniforms and all that goose-stepping. First it wields power over a group of people without their consent. Then it makes decisions telling them what they can and cannot eat, “You are Chinese therefore you must eat Chinese food. No Big Macs for you.” How to dress, “You are German. You must wear lederhosen and dresses like Julie Andrews wore in ‘The Sound of Music’.” And what music to make, “You are Japanese. You must not play rock music; instead you must play traditional Japanese music with shamisen and koto. What the Koto isn’t Japanese, it’s Chinese? Well then no Koto for you Japanese girl.” It’s actually a lot like what Tokugawa shogunate did, mandating the jobs people and their descendants did forever, creating the classes and setting their interactions – and the Tokugawa shogunate isn’t exactly a progressive icon even if the average progressive knew what it was.

I’m confident this whole movement will pass. Any movement that restrains freedom and prevents people from appreciating Japanese curry is doomed to fail. And any group that would keep Wagakki Band from rocking it like Ono no Komachi meets Motorhead deserves to be ignored.
——-

*The tone of that statement reflects my feelings towards the British government during the Irish occupation. Just because I have issues with the treatment of the Irish during those years doesn’t mean that I support the IRA or hate the British governments post 1922. Quite the opposite. In fact I’m a bigger fan of the British government rather than the Irish Republican government due to the latter’s support of the PLO and neutrality during World War 2. Yes I’m one of the few who believes the Irish have some explaining to do over their actions during that war.

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