A New Case of Appropriation?

A New Case of Appropriation? February 1, 2016

There’s been buzz going around lately about a music video put out by Coldplay featuring Beyonce that is set in India. Brown Girl Magazine asked people for their responses and here are their thoughts…

Hymn For the Weekend: Cultural Appropriation or Not?

Representation or Appropriation?

This article at The Independent rounds up many responses, many of them positive or not seeing what the issue is.

“These videos, along with Coldplay’s, continue a long, dubious tradition of depicting India as a backdrop for western fun and enlightenment.” –http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/feb/01/super-bowl-halftime-show-coldplay-beyonce-cultural-appropriation-india-bollywood

As usual the question gets raised: is it appropriation or is it appreciation?

To me what makes it lean more towards appropriation is how the Indian people themselves are in the background and on the margins. If you’re going to appreciate the culture, raise up the people of that culture.

Another strange thing is that the song has nothing to do with India and so the choice of backdrop seems to be purely for the exotic and interesting scenery.

Zach Klein - http://www.flickr.com/photos/zachklein/2641130/in/set-66401/
Zach Klein – http://www.flickr.com/photos/zachklein/2641130/in/set-66401/

One thing that I wonder is whether dedication makes a difference here. What I mean is that I obviously get looked at by some as being appropriative. There are those who don’t think that I can or should participate in Hindu culture. But I do. Many others respect my place in Hinduism because I have not been flighty with it. I’ve been dedicated to Hinduism for over ten years and practiced Hinduism before I even knew that’s what it was.

If a Western musician was to declare themselves a Hindu and stay true to that, would the discussion be different?

I think of Gwen Stefani, who was enamored of Indian culture and bindis in the 90s. But she lost interest in that and went through a phase of Black American culture and then into Japanese culture. If she had stayed connected to Indian culture all these years, would we have respect for that?

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  • You get it. That’s what it’s about. I’m going to say it again about the U-Turn.

    Quoted from the Mandala of Indic Studies web site in one of the essays at http://www.infinityfoundation.com/mandala/i_es/i_es_salmo_psych.htm

    There are a few broad categories of misunderstanding which warrant consideration before examining the particular lenses – phenomenology, psychoanalysis, etc.- described earlier. One of the more common types results from a process of picking and choosing. Amongst Western practitioners, it generally proceeds something like this: (1) An individual goes to India to study meditation; (2) he ignores all aspects of the tradition except those which appeal and make sense to him; (3) he comes back to the West, becomes a psychologist, and begins to adapt selective aspects of the spiritual tradition to what he considers to be modern needs. (4) After some years, he comes to see that the meditation practice has not accomplished what he had hoped, and describes in great detail the limitations of the practice… not realizing that he has excluded the very aspects of the tradition which might have addressed his expectations.


    Only apply this to musicians. This is exoticism, plain and simple. What these musicians don’t understand is that they are trying to escape the straight-jacket of westernism and groping for something better spiritually, without realizing that Westernism is EXACTLY using them as trawling minions to harvest palatable aspects of the Indic tradition and mapping it back onto their own western tradition. It’s like Westernism is a virus that they are infected with.

  • Emily.E.N

    I just wrote a long comment two separate times, but it can really be pared down to: 1.) “Why are we being offended on behalf of Indians, many of whom are not actually offended, because there’s no reason to take the pop music industry seriously.” and 2.) “Well…this is pretty much what white people think India looks like, even when they go there. That’s a problem.” Seriously, there was somebody who lived in the same hostel as me while I was there and he wanted to see spirituality everywhere so badly that he once thought a begging women was namaste-ing/bowing to him (?) when she was asking for food and money, and I was so disgusted that he couldn’t see the reality of what was happening. There’s so much more to Indian society than ascetics and exotic-looking festivals, but at the same time, Coldplay isn’t responsible for how people chose to see and interact with the world around them. People just need to take responsibility for their own learning and interactions with others, which, unfortunately, is too much to ask when people have their own agenda.

    • Ambaa

      Personally I am not sure how to feel about this and so I wouldn’t say that I’m offended on behalf of Indians. That’s why I decided to post links to articles written by people of Indian ethnicity and get their thoughts on the matter!

      I definitely agree there is an issue with westerners idealizing India and Indians as perfect and spiritual when they are human beings just like us (except for, you know, the ones that actually are enlightened!)

  • Throwaway

    A few thoughts:

    – How can they get away with putting Beyonce dancing under the banner “Mariya Mata” near the end? Surely that’s not allowed by Christianity, as I believe the banner refers to Mother Mary?

    – It seems to me that when the appropriated is in some way disadvantaged then it is labelled as “appropriation”, whereas when the appropriated is “well off” then it is labelled as appreciation and flattery.

    – Nobody Indian in that video looked like they really understood or loved Coldplay. They were all just having a good time.

    – On one level I would say Coldplay appropriated Indian culture to sell their song, as all it does is use Indian culture for visuals. On another level, as this shows glimpses of India and might conceivably increase tourism to India to experience some of the things in the video, one could say the Indian people are far more clever in that they appropriated Coldplay to promote India 🙂

    – None of the non-Indians could dance, and were given so much screen time. Yet they glossed over the kathakali and bharathanatyam dancers. I think maybe they were afraid of being upstaged 🙂

    – Everyone watching Beyonce’s “film” looked quite wooden, and I didn’t like that they turned the poor film-projectionist into a “dirty old man”.

    – The Indian kids around the lead singer were all doing western dance moves, which is really “realistic” 🙂

    – What really made me smile was how Mahadev and Bhajarangbali somehow appeared in the video 🙂 I don’t believe it was a coincidence or “artistic decision” at all.

    • Ambaa

      ” one could say the Indian people are far more clever in that they appropriated Coldplay to promote India :)” Hahaha. I like that!

  • To me this is just like a Vogue photo shoot that uses India and Indians as a backdrop for their western models and styles. It’s complete with every stereotype and “exotic” thing and very colonial in nature. The thing that surprises me most is that they were actually able to get a Bollywood actress and yet Queen Bey is the center of attention.

    And I actually do think that Coldplay is responsible for people’s interpretations of India, just as the producers of the colonial era newsreels were, because that is what most people here will see. Danny Boyle, Coldplay, Major Lazer – all should have asked themselves questions on what they were portraying and why, and if they were resorting to the same old tired stereotypes that have been resorted to over over 100 years. When you have a public platform you should be conscious of how you are using it.

  • JustSaying

    The video was for super bowl, right ?. How does India figure in that, especially Indian/Hindu religious symbols. That guardian article has hit the nail on the head. Thank you for the link. And it is always Holi !!!!
    I cannot resist re-posting Edward Said’s quote “From the beginning of Western speculation about the orient, the one thing the orient could not do is represent itself.””
    How can anybody tag you appropriative and object your participation in Hindu rituals ? Ignore them .