Cultural Appropriation: As Common as Poutine

Lots o’ folks running around spouting the new catchphrase as if it’s something really new. But if you go back in history (not that anybody does these daze except to use it to make complaints in order to wheedle reparations), to say the time of the ancient Greeks, it was one of the first cultures which used warfare to create an empire in the Mediterranean. Many other cultures were subjugated in the making of Greece into a notable early Western civilization. And later, the Romans would appropriate what they wanted of the Greek gods, culture, and methods, just changing the names.

Cultural appropriation ran amok during the Dark Ages as Norsemen and other groups overran European countries; Spain was overrun by the Moors with that country eventually adopting and assimilating much of Moorish culture. In England, the influence of the Norsemen and the French fed into England which appropriated many words, ways, and customs of these two peoples.
And so on…

T.S. Eliot said that each writer learns from and is influenced by previous poets and writers. Randy Bachman has said that songwriters ‘steal’ from each other which is ok as long as the con is not presented as completely as their own work–something George Harrison ran into trouble with on “My Sweet Lord”–a ‘subconscious plagiarism’ of the Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine”.

Copying, borrowing, and appropriating are part of the long history of civilizations, cultures, the sciences, and arts. People learn from the past and have been influenced by those who have gone before. Models and examples being what they are anyway.

It only remains to say that creators sometimes get deservedly pissed off when a rip is direct and no acknowledgement is offered. Or when the portrayal is stereotypically insulting as in the case of W.P. Kinsella’s native stories.

Cultural appropriation happens and culture gets spread in the process. But humankind seems to have ‘voted’ at least in actual practice. It has chosen free use and free expression of whatever subject matter is available, even if it is part of someone’s culture, and objections are raised. It is just way too difficult and impossible to put legal borders and limits around any cultural identity, practices, even language.

Today’s news story is about Quebec claiming that English-Canada has appropriated poutine, which shows you how ridiculous cultural appropriation can get! Especially when maple syrup has been used for centuries by non-French people without a whimper previously from Quebec.


In any case, examples of cultural appropriation would make a long list:

James Joyce using aspects of Homer’s Odyssey

Paul Simon appropriating African music on Graceland

T.S. Eliot ‘stealing from’ over 50 other cultural sources in The Waste Land

Phil Collins and Genesis borrowing The Beatles’ sound for “That’s All”

Bruce Cockburn appropriating native subject matter to write “Stolen Land”

On and on….So much for all of Western civilization and much media, book, and arts culture.

There is no bottom to the whirlpool maelstrom logic of cultural appropriation fanatics. Their reasoning won’t stand up to reality, the world, its history, and current cultural practices. An impossible practice to change or eradicate.

The e-world has, in any case, taken a pronounced turn into further freedom quite apart from all the Brexiting and Trump-limiting going on. The masses have voted, by and large, for as much freedom as possible, for as much as they can personally get, and no special-group limits and limiting are going to get the result the various appropriation opponents desire.


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