Sunday, April 21, 2013

Commodification of a Culture - Nabiha Hashmi

          I came into Harems and Terrorists thinking I would only learn about representation of Arabs and Muslims. I have learned that, but I have also learned key critical analyzing tools in which I can recognize power structures and realize when images are being shown in a ethnocentric light. I honestly never understood this idea of commodification until this class. I did not realize that I had internalized so many images and ways of different cultures that I too was commodifying many cultures. I had heard of news stories in which people wanted the Native American to not be a mascot and I did not understand why they thought this was insulting. I thought the mascot was instead used to honor the Native Americans and I thought that was lovely. It was incredibly Eurocentric view in which I had internalized this idea of tribal culture being something that could be displayed in setting that got taken out of its true context.
          But, that was because I knew nothing of Native American culture. The dance the chief does as a mascot is actually a ritual and is done completely wrong. You cannot honor a culture by degrading their rituals and dress up a mascot without actually understanding the culture in the first place. This was commodification; when the intentions of using culture are more for entertainment than recognizing the culture. I was able to step back and take off my own cultural lens and understand the culture before making assumptions on how it should be portrayed. I find it so important to understand this cultural relativism so we can better understand the world around us without biases and judgments.

I love Selena Gomez but was incredibly disappointed by her description of her latest song and music video which she described to have a “tribal, exotic feel” in which she has a Native American head piece, an Indian religious bindi, and some sort of Hawaiian/Bollywood mix dancing going on. The music in itself seems like it had Arab/Bollywood influences. I am sure she does not know it – but she is selling different cultural dances and clothing as something “tribal and exotic.” By exoticizing the notion of this far away culture, she makes it seem as if she is appreciating it when really she is just using a culture she knows nothing about to sell her own work. I know she does not mean to so I do not blame her as much as I blame society to not have this initiative to understand different cultures and to be careful about their customs and ways.

          Little did I know, commodities of cultures existed all around me even of my own South Asian background? Personally, it bothers me especially because my mother did not enjoy wearing American clothing (until a couple of years ago). She felt most comfortable in her shalwar kameez which is the normal South Asian dress and she wore it for years. I, sometimes, felt embarrassed for my mother because she would get the strangest looks. I don’t think I have gotten that many looks from people when I was wearing the hijab probably because I was still dressed in the typical t-shirt and jeans. But, my mom always was looked down upon as if she was some fresh off the boat immigrant. But, it was her choice to wear what she wanted to wear – she had every right. I guess it bothers me when that same dress put on some magazine cover or worn by some actress is seen as a fashion statement even though technically it is in that case when the dress should be looked down upon or look at weirdly because of how out of context it is. By exoticizing the notion of this seemingly other worldly culture, it makes the idea of people actually wearing those clothes seem far-fetched and has an impact on how people will see those clothes in true context like on my mom. I want people to be careful at how they use certain cultural items and understand the culture and your own intentions of using it before actually using it or especially selling it. 

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