Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Appropriation Squared

some appropriation, yesterday
This is like my post-script to my previous thoughts on the Iggy Azalea/ Azaelia Banks beef. I had a look at the commentary by Aamer Rahman. I know it is a serious matter, but I hoped a comedian would put a few more jokes into his lectures.

Appropriation can take (at least) two forms. In one, we have the stealing of a culture's forms, like what Iggy has been accused of doing. In two, we have the adaptation by an oppressed group of their oppressor's cultural forms.

A good example of this is the way in which writers in post-colonial societies use the language of their former colonial masters to explore their own culture. I think the novels of Chinua Achebe are a fine place to start: and Achebe even had a crack at western critics for the way that they interpreted his work.

Wole Soyinka's Bacchae is worth a look, too. He takes a Greek classic and reworks it in an African context. And there's that time when I dressed up in my mother's underwear and stomped about the house shouting 'tidy your room, wash the dishes' in a high-pitched voice.

This kind of appropriation is usually a liberating tactic: it challenges the dominance of colonial culture, and demonstrates the resilience of marginalised groups. Burlesque, with its roots in the mockery of high art, references a time when working class culture appropriated the fancy-pants tropes of opera and ballet.

Against this, we have stuff like Iggy's appropriation of hip hop from a position of power. I had a listen to her album yesterday. It certainly appropriates the beats that Missy Elliot used to have on her tracks with the Neptunes, that low-down, sparse and sensual bass and chattering percussion. Iggy  ruins the tunes with a caterwauling vocal that manages to be both mannered and piercing. She appears to be the missing link between Maria Carey and Genesis P.

I think it is pretty clear that the music is not the issue here: Iggy has been making racist comments (racist in the sense that they caricature Azaelia Banks and other rappers). It might be worth poking at Iggy's music to see whether the way she appropriates hip hop in a racist manner - stripping away the nuance and context and exaggerating stereotypes. 

Hang on, I am drifting back into that beef. Sorry.

My new favourite writer (this week) Tom Hawking used the beef as a platform to consider 'authenticity' in pop - he mainly has a crack at the superannuated rock critic Robert Christau for his complete lack of contextual knowledge. And these two versions of appropriation, sat next to another one I just found on Google (it describes the use of found objects, like Marcel Duchamp did, and a bunch of lazy fuckers in the past century), open up that old chestnut, THE REAL. 

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