George Clinton Not a Fan of ‘Cultural Appropriation’ Argument

The funk legend advocates a melting pot approach in a wide-ranging interview with Rolling Stone.

The funk legend advocates a melting pot approach in a wide-ranging interview with Rolling Stone.

I’d bite off the Beatles, or anybody else. It’s all one world, one planet and one groove. You’re supposed to learn from each other, blend from each other, and it moves around like that.

His argument gets somewhat confusing, as he continues:

You see that rocket ship leave yesterday? We can maybe leave this planet. We gonna be dealing with aliens. You think black and white gonna be a problem? Wait till you start running into motherfuckers with three or four dicks! Bug-eyed motherfuckers! They could be ready to party, or they could be ready to eat us. We don’t know, but we’ve got to get over this shit of not getting along with each other.

Make you think, right?

FILED UNDER: Humor, Popular Culture, Quick Takes
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Andy says:

    I never understood the arguments against “cultural appropriation”, especially in America. Our entire society is appropriated and now much of the rest of the world is appropriating from us.

  2. MarkedMan says:

    I had no idea George Clinton was still alive. He sounds exactly like he did 40 years ago.

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  3. Gustopher says:

    @Andy: I mostly agree, and certainly agree on the subject of music. We’ve been enriched by blending the musical influences of everyone who touches America. And the culinary influences.

    That said, there are some symbols and practices that have a higher level of reverence in a culture, and it’s just tasteless to see them adopted by people who haven’t lived the experience or hold them in regard.

    What I’m saying is… white people should not have dreadlocks. There I’ve said it.

    No, seriously, though, using the religious symbols of another culture as fashion is just tasteless. It was bad when the Nazis appropriated the swastika, and it’s bad when white teenage girls paint a dot on their forehead because they want to feel one with the universe.

    Symbols of oppression would also be bad. So don’t go tattooing a number on your arm for concentration camp chic.

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  4. Argon says:

    Someone polled Japanese whether it would be culturally appropriate for Westerners to wear kimonos. Most had no problems and thought it would be interesting, especially considering how many things they had repurposed from Western culture. However, a much bigger percentage of younger, US born, Japanese Americans thought it might be more of an issue.

    I’m older. As long as we don’t make things into intentional insulting carictatures, I say mix away!

  5. Jay Gischer says:

    Last week in SF I ate lunch at a little Japanese “fusion” restaurant. Our waitress was clearly first-generation Japanese-American. She had bleached hair in dreadlocks and piercings. No tats, though. My daughter pointed out that in Japan, tats have a very specific association that she probably wanted to avoid.

    I think that the power relationship matters here. As does the sense of caricature. For instance, I don’t think that Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado really works any more, as it uses a deliberate caricature of Japanese people to make fun of the English. But overall, I’m fine with stuff like putting edamame into my tuna casserole, or works like Big Hero Six which self-consciously draws from anime.

    So I mostly agree with Clinton. And I love, “we got to get over this shit of not getting along with each other”. And yeah, I’m pretty sure he didn’t use a contraction to start that sentence.

  6. michael reynolds says:

    The single biggest cultural appropriation in history is the Holy Bible. It starts with a series of books written by Jews for Jews, and then tacks on some badly-realized fan-fic introducing yet another Jew and his 12 Jewish friends. Notice all the Jews?

    And yet, it’s the Christian bible. Well, well, isn’t that special. And just what am I, as a Hebrew myself, entitled to by way of royalties on our appropriated Torah, eh? The whole Ten Commandment thing? That belongs to us like the Top Ten list belongs to Letterman.

    Current estimates are that something like 5 billion Bibles have been sold. Let’s keep the math simple and say a place and time adjusted average of $10 each. 50 billion dollars. With those kind of sales you’re looking at a 15% royalty, minimum, plus performance bonuses, prize bonuses. But I’m going to let you goyim off easy. 15% of 50 billion is 7.5 billion dollars. There are, give or take, 15 million of the chosen, so you owe us each $500. I am authorized to collect from anyone who reads this. I will totally distribute it.

    Then, we can talk about all the songs, paintings, statues, buildings, dances, plays, books, poems, movies and TV shows that were derived from our underlying IP. Now, that’s going to run into serious money.

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  7. michael reynolds says:

    Oh, and the Greeks? Some of us are representing them. I haven’t read the brief but it’s something about the entire western concept of self, the origin of western ideas of beauty, philosophy, drama, a bunch of that.

  8. Liberal Capitalist says:

    You see that rocket ship leave yesterday? We can maybe leave this planet. We gonna be dealing with aliens. You think black and white gonna be a problem? Wait till you start running into motherfuckers with three or four dicks! Bug-eyed motherfuckers! They could be ready to party, or they could be ready to eat us. We don’t know, but we’ve got to get over this shit of not getting along with each other.

    I could not agree more. The man is a national treasure. He will be missed, and remembered fondly when he is gone.

    Ow, we want the funk
    Give up the funk
    Ow, we need the funk
    We gotta have that funk
    La la la la la
    Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo, owww!
    You’ve got a real type of thing going down, gettin’ down
    There’s a whole lot of rhythm going round

    Pure poetry.

  9. Franklin says:

    My experience is in the form of Halloween costumes. Dressing up as a ‘stereotypical’ Mexican with a sombrero and so forth, I can see how this would be perceived to be a bit racist (and in some cases may in fact be flat-out racist, if it’s at some college frat party). On the other hand, seeing kids dressed up like ninjas is because the kids think it’s cool. Nobody, including several native Japanese people I’ve directly asked, thinks this is insulting in any way. They feel closer to being honored than offended.

    I guess my point is this. If I’m a musician and I’m borrowing from somebody’s style, it’s clearly because I’m impressed by it. If that’s what is meant by cultural appropriation, there really is no rational argument against it.

  10. Modulo Myself says:

    It’s pretty clear what is meant by cultural appropriation. It’s Elvis–who was legit–ripping off for a lot of money black music (and white honky-tonk stuff) in the segregated South.

    On the other hand, TS Eliot stole a lot from Laforgue and Baudelaire, but he was pretty clear about it.

    There’s a huge difference. Appropriation is great. Elvis, through really no fault of his own, represented something different.

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  11. Modulo Myself says:

    Also, it’s pretty obvious that there’s a real argument against white Americans going into hip-hop. Lots of talented white people love hip-hop, and yet talent–which is real–says clearly that being white and doing hip-hop is tricky as hell. Give Eminem credit, because he did it. But there a thousand atrocious white rappers out there without talent who are too clueless to realize how difficult it is. And there are a great many talented white musicians who do not feel that it’s exactly going to work if they do it.

  12. MarkedMan says:

    @Franklin: But this is crazy. Why would a sombrero be racist? It’s a traditional headgear. Heck, the Mexican delegation wore it at the Olympics.

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  13. MarkedMan says:

    @Modulo Myself: I couldn’t disagree more. You are essentially saying that if you discover music you love but wasn’t played around you when you grew up, you are only ‘allowed’ to play it if you are good. F that. If you live music, play your dam n heart out and don’t listen to anyone trying to tell you you don’t have any right.

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  14. Andy says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    Also, it’s pretty obvious that there’s a real argument against white Americans going into hip-hop.

    What about the Japanese, Chinese, North Africans, French, and South Asians? Dude, Hip Hop is global, why can everyone on the planet do hip hop except “white” Americans?

  15. Gustopher says:

    @Andy: I long for the day when Alexander Hamilton or Aaron Burr can be played by a white guy.

    And there’s lots of white hip hop that isn’t racist — the artists have to bring their own experiences and stories to it, and make it their own. The entire genre of nerd core is white guy hip hop, if I am not mistaken (I mostly listen to banjo music, and classic rock, so I may well be mistaken)

  16. Modulo Myself says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Music is the most viciously competitive art form alive. George Clinton may be about how groovy and great influences are in an interview, but if he’s like anything like Captain Beefheart, James Brown, Miles Davis, etc., he was an insane tyrant while making it. Nobody’s like just play what’s in your heart, you be you. The worst thing you can be is derivative and unoriginal. There’s a difference between being influenced by and derivative of. No one cares about influence, but musicians care about derivative, and white American musicians being derivative of African-Americans is a special case of lowness. That’s why white musicians who were/are good in African-American art forms–Bill Evans, Dave Brubeck, Eminem, or Macklemore–were/are equally self-conscious about being white. It goes with the territory.

  17. Modulo Myself says:

    @Andy:

    If white people dressed up like that video, it would come off as a mystifying performance piece. That was the touching joke with Ali G, which worked.

    Or this.

  18. James Pearce says:

    @Gustopher:

    What I’m saying is… white people should not have dreadlocks.

    If white people should not have dreadlocks, then black actors should not play white characters and women shouldn’t wear pants.

    @Modulo Myself:

    But there a thousand atrocious white rappers out there without talent who are too clueless to realize how difficult it is.

    There are a thousand atrocious black rappers out there without talent, too. I challenge anyone to make a case for why Nicki Minaj’s music is objectively better than Iggy Azalea’s.

  19. Andy says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    Ali G is (was) certainly a treasure!

  20. george says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The single biggest cultural appropriation in history is the Holy Bible. It starts with a series of books written by Jews for Jews, and then tacks on some badly-realized fan-fic introducing yet another Jew and his 12 Jewish friends. Notice all the Jews?

    That’s definitely a big one I never thought of. Not as big as the appropriation of writing itself though – last I heard they think it developed independently in four; everyone else appropriated from those four. Pretty shamelessly too I’d say.

    Of course that means the biggest appropriation was probably language itself – one group heard another group talking and appropriated the idea of language. Making fire has to be up there too. Not to mention stone tools and weapons – I think there’s a lot of cave people from a few hundred thousand years ago who’d be feeling pretty ripped off if they were around to see how much of what they came up has been appropriated. And don’t get me started on all the culture’s who appropriated agriculture from whoever started it. Its almost as if humans have been stealing ideas from each other for hundreds of thousands of years.

    Slightly more seriously, I’m always reminded of a saying I’ve heard attributed to Picasso – “Mediocre artists borrow. Great artists steal.” If cultural appropriation has any point (I’m not really willing to concede that given how almost everything, starting at the very basics like language, have been appropriated), it might mean borrowing an idea without internalizing it. So if you take a way of speaking, or of dressing, or of way of making an ax out of flint, or of calculating the acceleration of a mass with a force on it, its cultural appropriation if you do it superficially, but not if you make those ideas part of your reality.

  21. michael reynolds says:

    @george:
    I think cultural appropriation is a stupid idea in search of a rationale. It’s so blatantly stupid you know immediately that it came out of academia. To use my example, had the Bible not been culturally appropriated by Christians it’s entirely possible there would be no Torahs today. Dominant religions might have done to the Torah what has been done to the sacred works of any number of peoples – burn, ban or stick in a museum.

  22. george says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    When Coltrane did a version of “Favorite Things”, you could argue he was only influenced by Rodgers, but you could also argue he was derivative (I suspect for instance he gave credit to Rodgers, and paid for the right to cover it). Personally I prefer Coltrane’s cover, but its clearly based on Rodger’s work.

    I’m not sure there’s really a practical way to differentiate between influenced and derivative except in extreme cases. The African-American music you mention is based on a mixture of African rhythms and European harmonies; that’s true even for the blues, and in jazz the mixture is even stronger – jazz is a great example of stealing things from different cultures and making them your own. It no more belongs to one culture than quantum mechanics belongs to one culture.

    In fact, every great idea should belong to everyone. No culture owns music they made, anymore than any culture owns science they discovered. Trivial things like dreadlocks – well, who cares?

  23. michael reynolds says:

    @george:

    Trivial things like dreadlocks – well, who cares?

    Apparently everyone but you and me. What might have been a mildly interesting academic debate became all about Halloween costumes of sexy Indians. Then the masses jumped on Halloween costumes and tried to leverage that bit of silliness, which promptly turned the mildly interesting academic discussion into self-refuting triviality.

  24. Matt says:

    @Gustopher:

    What I’m saying is… white people should not have dreadlocks. There I’ve said it.

    If this statement is supposed to be taken seriously then it shows a stunning lack of knowledge on the history of dreadlocks. Roman accounts exist about celts wearing dreadlocks. The germanic tribes and even vikings wore dreadlocks. Are those not white enough or old enough examples for you? Hell there are some people who would argue that Sampson’s hair was in dreadlocks because they were seen as a source of ancient ki/power/whatever..

    The whole thing is stupid and the special snowflakes behind it are stupid..