Hello Kitty, Cultural Appropriation?

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LiaYDPRedWQ

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Megan Vaillancourt, Professional Procrastinator

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On April 23, 2014 punk-gone-pop Canadian starlet Avril Lavigne released her newest music video for her song, “Hello Kitty”, on the video-platform giant, YouTube. In under a month the video hit over 16 million views. The video borrows many aspects of Japanese culture, and the Harajuku style that is prevalent in Japanese fashion. Avril is featured speaking Japanese, wearing Harajuku-esque clothing, and bounces around various locations in Japan. She also has a backup group of Japanese girls who are stone-faced the entire video. The real controversy, however, comes when you look in the YouTube comment section. Comments from users around the world poured in both praising and critiquing the video.

Let’s take a look at what some people had to say. From username Katie Jane Amelia Stuart-Smith: “I was told this is racist, is it f—! It’s just stereotypes.” The initial response from many viewers was that the video was racist, but later comments advocated that in fact it was not, and rather an act of admiration of Japanese culture; a salute to her Japanese fan base. Username oniontheknight stated: “Although I’m not a fan of the song, there’s a load of people in the comment section that really need to learn how to differentiate admiration from racism.” Other viewers simply did not enjoy the video, and complain of the visual changes Lavigne has made to herself and her brand/music.  The real question that should be addressed is if this video draws on stereotypes in Japanese culture, and in result perpetuates racism.

In recent times the topic of cultural appropriation has come up in the media. This particular event draws attention to the rising issue of it in mainstream culture. By definition, cultural appropriation is the adoption of specific elements of a culture different from one’s own. The problem that cultural appropriation poses is that many times certain aspects of a culture become trivialized, or a whole culture is assimilated; similar to the melting pot effect that takes place in the United States of America. Does Lavigne borrow certain aspects of Japanese culture? Yes. Are these aspects trivialized to a point where they become stereotypes? Possibly. When an average North American citizen thinks of Japan, it is possible they think of Hello Kitty, or the anime/pop culture that Japan is famous for?  If Avril Lavigne uses her music video as a one-time appreciation of Japanese culture, then she doesn’t run the risk of completely appropriating aspects of Japanese culture.  It seems as though the video draws heavily on Japanese culture, but is in appraisal of the culture, and therefore harmless.  Of course, it is up to each individual to decide whether Lavigne has taken it too far, but the general consensus from YouTube members is that: no, the video is not racist, but it still wasn’t one of Lavigne’s best efforts.

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