Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Dancing in Tongues

I was watching TV the other day and DJ Khaled was touting some new song/album/just how awesome he is and after every few sentences, he kept proclaiming that he and his crew are "global." I did not keep watching the interview and I can't really remember if he justified this claim but it got me to thinking about this new trend of globalized tastes and how we are all scrambling to prove how down we are with distant and previously unfamiliar cultures, or as someone put it, "getting sexy by going native."

I have already expressed my disdain at certain filmmakers' tendency to reduce complex and varied cultures into simplistic symbols - as is quite apparent in Wes Anderson's treatment of the exotic in Darjeeling Limited - and I was delighted to see that there was a similar conversation over at Dutty Artz' dancing in tongues that broaches this subject in terms of music. 

The original post and subsequent comments engage in the polemics of authority and ownership that you could very well apply to all aspects of life, including politics & economics. When you have different cultures interacting on a massive scale as is happening today, it is inevitable that there will be a power struggle. This imbalance could manifest itself in the economic relationships - for instance, what does it mean to have goods inexpensively manufactured in China for American consumers? In political terms, how does the forced exportation of "democracy" to Iraq, for example, affect the sovereignty of Iraq? In both these instances, one culture imposes its principles and authority on another and essentially forces these cultures to submit to the dominant paradigms. Similarly, when you have American DJs/listeners appropriating non-American music for themselves without much consideration given to the fuller experience of these cultures, then you have a situation where the West has claimed that culture's language and expression and in effect controlled its identity and remodeled it within an artificially constructed framework. 

As the experience of colonialism has taught us, imperialism is practiced in a variety of ways, both concrete and abstract, and dancing at a club to some mash-up tune is no less a manifestation of this than the blatant exploitation practiced in political or economic endeavors. What's worse is that this pseudo-appreciation is driven by quite noble liberal intentions, with many of its perpetrators thinking that they are in no way insulting the integrity of their chosen ethnic fetishes. 

Ultimately, this post really is a return to the sentiment that prompted me to take blogging up in the first place. There are certainly many generalizations, cliches & symbols that have all put a tongue to the lie of how people experience their lives, to borrow Zadie Smith's words, and in taking so hard a stand on this issue, I do not mean to subject the "West" to the same generalizations that I am trying to refute because after all, regardless of where we are from, a lot of us (myself included) are guilty of these same things. Plus, there are obviously many conscientious DJs/listeners, and even those who aren't are at least playing a part in the propagation of diverse cultural elements. But to paraphrase Quentin Tarantino in his recent Under The Influence interview,  you gotta know your shit or other people will know that you are completely talking outta your ass. 

Yet when all's said and done, it would be naive and even a little too traditionalist for my liking to impose strict limitations on authority in a postmodern society. 


Anonymous said...

excellent post.

all of this rings true, but who's to decide that fine line between a mashup in poor taste and a culturally challenging juxtaposition?


Iman said...

that's frequently a subjective judgement and why my support/criticism never really goes any further than blogging about it all in my tiny little corner of cyberspace.

thanks for stopping by, i'm a fan (if you are THE dbs)