Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Open Letter to Avril Lavigne

Dear Avril,

I know I'm a bit late to the Avril Lavigne cultural appropriation criticism train, but I feel compelled to weigh in.

In your latest song and video "Hello Kitty," you reduced Japanese culture to a gimmick and used your Japanese back-up dancers as cartoonish props, almost robotic servants. It felt like a nod to Gwen Stefani and her Harajuku Girls. I use "her" intentionally.



Then you defended it.


Ah, the old "But my friends are ____ (race)" defence.

I could be wrong, but it seems to me that the director was merely pandering to common western expectations that Japanese culture is a combination of superficial experiences: eating sushi, saying catchphrases ("Kawaii") and shopping -- for candy. Yay! It obviously sells. In any case, claims of racism don't become invalid simply because members of the group in question participated. It's faulty logic.

I'm not prescribing a representation of Japan, serious and inclusive, or otherwise. No one should do that. The limited presence or absence of sophisticated, non-western driven Japanese culture wouldn't make prescribing this justifiable.

I just don't understand why so many people think that fetishizing a culture is cool or at least okay, including your many defenders who attribute the criticism to political correctness. I don't understand why so often only reductive representations of international cultures are visible. This isn't an an accident and I wish more people would think more critically about appropriation.

Sincerely,

Ashley Ashbee

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