How American Popular Music Has Misappropriated American Indian Culture
Pop culture is a unique combination of authentic cultures and a mass product. In other words, it is a diversified industry in which long-standing traditions of different nations and nationalities successfully exist, which are integrated into modern music and visual trends. Unfortunately, this musical course has the feature of showing cultures without a correct interpretation of the basic concepts, symbols, and attributes. Consequently, the original meaning of objects is lost against the background of the desire to create a show and a popular product for the audience. For example, the image of American Indians is one of the most famous objects of copying and borrowing in modern pop culture and at the same time is one of the most pressing ethical problems.
The wrong and misappropriate image of Indian as a single nation, which has many stereotypical characteristics, such as owning a tomahawk or hunting animals, is a notorious part of modern pop culture that incorrectly interprets the culture of ancient people. Music is a part of art that is strongly associated with the history and culture of various nationalities. For example, Singing Redface is a somewhat negative concept from the nineteenth century, which consisted in portraying the Indians according to their traditional characteristics (Giacona). In other words, non-natives perceive American Indian according to enduring stereotypes and significant events from the past, and especially their roles in the development of modern Thanksgiving Day. Thus, Singing Redface is quite a long process that has its roots in the mass culture of the nineteenth century and consists of depicting the traditional characteristics, visual image and habits of “Indian” as a single nation that lived in the north of America. It is worth noting that this is a negative concept, since non-natives incorrectly and generically depict different areas of activity of an entire nation, destroying an adequate understanding of the history of American Indians.
Racial Antipathy consists of consciously or unconsciously dividing people according to the color of their skin or nationality and the corresponding honor of typical stereotypical characteristics. In other words, each nationality and race is perceived according to their traditions and habits, which may be incorrectly interpreted. It was noted that popular culture often depicts Indians as wild warriors who attack opponents on horseback. Undoubtedly, such an opinion has the place to be, but it is not a generally accepted and inaccurate understanding of the nationality as a whole. The problem also lies in the fact that the stereotyped notions about the Indians are manifested in pop culture as stable notions. For example, “Indian Giver” is an apparent misconception and an outdated concept since it is too generalized to represent Native Americans. It can be concluded that in addition to the evident social harm of racial antipathy, one should also consider its impact on pop culture, which has a significant effect on modern trends in society.
Idealized Sympathy is a collective designation that means assigning the characteristics of one culture to another, more powerful one. In other words, culture or nationality that has experience in attributing other people’s characteristics can depict such actions in the first person. It is essential to understand that pop culture is an example of a sharp object that is strong enough to absorb or partially take over other cultural characteristics. Assigning objects of Indian culture is the use of physical attributes (household items, weapons, clothing, legendary hats), art elements (songs, dances, musical instruments) and stereotypical actions and events (hunting for wild animals, holding the first Thanksgiving Day). Although each of these elements took place in the culture of the Indians, their image is often exaggerated and distorted for a better visual effect. Thus, Idealized Sympathy is a negative term, which means the incorrect assignment of cultural characteristics.
Cultural Misappropriation is a phenomenal concept, as it is characterized by incorrect and false borrowing of the characteristics of other cultures. It is worth noting that this term borders on inspiration and legal appropriation, which takes place in modern pop music (Metcalfe). Besides, it is essential to identify a clear difference between these concepts: • An artist was inspired by the sound of percussion and wind traditional Indian instruments. Then the musical material was created, which is similar to the conventional music of the Indians, but has a modern foundation and style. Such creativity can be called inspiration and appropriation since any artist can freely study the culture of other countries and draw on the unique sound of each of them. • An artist uses external attributes such as clothes and hats, playing traditional Indian music. It is worth noting that non-native, which performs such actions, distorts the true essence of conventional music and violates the listeners’ understanding of the roots of this nation.
Consequently, such a process may be called cultural misappropriation. Thus, cultural misappropriation is a crucial concept in the process of illegal use of materials and intellectual property of Indians, and also carries the risk of losing the original meaning of the spirituality of this nation. Cultural confusion is a derivative concept that arises after the incorrect use of the characteristics of Indian culture. The USA is a multinational country with a steady presence of numerous American Indians in history. It is essential to understand that misappropriation and voice appropriation is an ethical violation in itself and has the prospect of a breach of the public understanding of the exact specifics, uniqueness, and characteristics of Indian culture (Young, and Brunk). For example, the stereotypical image of Indians in modern pop music is the image of a wild, evil and militant person who is not able to exist next to a different nationality. It is a sign of cultural confusion, as Americans continue to stereotype a strongly diversified nationality. It can be concluded that the confusion is due to the incorrect reproduction of information about the Indians, as well as the stereotyping of the most well-known actions and characteristics of this nationality.
Blackface Minstrelsy is a significant cultural event of the twentieth century. It is a kind of theater in which white actors were made up as African Americans and showed typical scenes from the lives of members of this race (Higginbotham). It is important to note that the show was created from the life of African Americans as slaves with a similar mentality and art. Blackface has a clear connection to Redface since in both cases the representatives of another race or ethnicity depict a minority in a degrading and stereotyped form. Playing Indian is another art form that was created because of the stereotyping of the people. It is evident that Indians are often depicted as militant savages who wear fancy hats and clothes. Therefore, Playing Indian is a combination of each of these strong opinions that have taken root in modern pop culture as an image of the culture and uniqueness of the Indians. Some children’s themed songs have cultural overtones or impropriety. For example, the song “I’m A Little Indian” tells about Indians who have bows and arrows and continuously shout. It is important to note that this image is the most stereotyped and familiar in modern pop culture and is a sign of singing redhead. This song is a constant attribute of Thanksgiving and children sing it in families and schools. However, this is instead a contrary fact, since children have the risk of creating distorted awareness of the true roots of Indian culture. American pop music is a diversified industry that is capable of cultural misappropriation. For example, the constant stereotyped attributes of American Indians, such as tomahawk, bow, arrows, and dancing, became part of pop culture, which created a negative tendency to generalize and distort the true roots of this culture. The problem is that singing and playing redhead in different degrees generate an understanding of the Indians as a single nationality that performs specific actions regardless of geography and time. It was noted that the American Indians are representatives of hundreds of tribes and groups, each of which has unique, authentic traditions. Nevertheless, music and cinema art uses a steady image of an Indian as a wild warrior, who shows cruelty to any representatives of other nationalities. It can be concluded that such an incorrect interpretation of traditions and images of American Indians brings with it the formation of erroneous ideas of modern society and the gradual forgetting of the true roots of culture, authenticity, and uniqueness of this nationality.
- Giacona, Christina. ‘Singing Redface: The Misappropriation Of American Indian Culture In Popular Music’. University Of Oklahoma, 2016.
- Higginbotham, Carmenita. ‘Birth Of An Industry: Blackface Minstrelsy And The Rise Of American Animation’. Journal Of Southern History, vol 83, no. 2, 2017, pp. 454-455. Johns Hopkins University Press, doi:10.1353/soh.2017.0131.
- Metcalfe, Jessica. ‘Native Americans Know That Cultural Misappropriation Is A Land Of Darkness | Jessica Metcalfe’. The Guardian, 2012, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/may/18/native-americans-cultural-misappropriation. Accessed 10 Jan 2019.
- Young, James O, and Conrad G Brunk. The Ethics Of Cultural Appropriation. Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.