This is a somewhat related, somewhat unrelated post in relation to the topic of my blog. But I felt it was something I wanted to write about (read that as: rant about and get off my chest). This post is about Selena Gomez’s latest song ‘Come and get it’ and all the cultural and ethnic appropriation and inappropriateness it stirs up. Since this borders on representation (this one’s not just for my sisters but also for my brown brothers), consider this an open letter to the poor, misguided soul.
Oh Selena. Oh dear, sweet, naïve Selena.
Whatever prompted you to write this song? Barring the fact that I would rather hear the sound of fingernails on a blackboard than listen to your latest offering, why would you incorporate ‘Bollywood’ beats into it? The song has no relevance to India, Indian culture, Indian people or even Indian food! Firstly, let me clarify that there is no such term as ‘Bollywood’ beats. Music in India is different in every state, with each having its own unique instruments, ragas and rhythm pattern. So when you say ‘Bollywood’ beat, you’re usually referring to a particular musical pattern that is predominant in some part of India that has been appropriated for the Bollywood film industry and made into a popular ditty that blares from every rickshaw on the street. The beats you’ve used come from a state called Punjab and just so you can identify with it, it’s the place the turbaned Indian cab drivers in Manhattan come from (insert sarcasm HERE). I see a little light bulb just went off over your head, so that’s your first mistake clarified. I hope you’re still with me, because there’s more to come.
Second of all, when you say you wanted the song to have a ‘Hindu tribal’ feel to it, it was all I could do to contain my uncivilized Indian nature and start dancing and chanting around a fire. For your kind information, a Hindu and a tribal are not the same and it’s a farce that you used them in the same sentence. Hinduism is an ancient religion, one that is predominant in India and one that now has a worldwide following. Tribals are the minority population of India who reside in the rural parts of the country and are equivalent to Australian aborigines. I can see how easy it was for you to get both terms mixed up. Can I just say that India is so much more than snake charmers and random elephants walking the streets? I don’t know how you did your homework on India (if at all) and I’m pretty sure you haven’t been there so this representation that you’ve put in front of the world couldn’t be further from the truth. Do you know we have English language schools? That India has one of the youngest populations on the planet? We are so much more than computer engineers and ‘Bollywood’. Our women are making strides in civil and mechanical engineering. The late Shakuntala Devi was a math prodigy. Kalpana Chawla, an Indian astronaut, was chosen as one of the seven crew members of the doomed Columbia mission in 2003. We come from a land that gave birth to Mahatma Gandhi, who introduced the world to non-violence as a form of protest and Aryabhatta who was an ancient pioneer of mathematics and astronomy. Sarojini Naidu was India’s version of Florence Nightingale and was a pioneer in so many ways that her birthday is celebrated as Women’s Day all over India. I could go on and on… But my point is, you see, that we’re not uncivilized cave men waiting to be ‘brought into the light’. We were drinking wine and building cities and leading governed lives long before the rest of the world came out of the woods.
My next bone to pick with you is over your performance at the MTV Movie Awards. I can tell you didn’t actually have any input from anyone even remotely connected to the subcontinent, if you feel you can qualify a shredded red dress, random jerking hand and feet movements and a posse of Caucasian females making Namaste gestures as your backup dancers, as a ‘Bollywood’ (there’s that term again) performance. Woman, have you ever watched a Bollywood movie, EVER? We know what rhythm is. Every hand and foot gesture in Indian dance has a meaning, a purpose. Most of our traditional dances are based on mythological stories and each hand movement, each facial gesture; a simple nod of the head conveys a message. Also, the bindi you have taken to wearing everywhere lately has a deep cultural and religious value associated with it and we would be enormously grateful if you went back to being you before this karmic makeover. If you don’t get it, don’t go there. We don’t want a repetition of Gwen Stefani circa 1998 (I was too young to rant about that then).
Phew! Glad to have had this little discussion with you. I know I speak on behalf of many when I say that unless you have the right input, don’t mess with another culture. The Internet becomes a whole different creature when you mess up this way and I’m just adding another drop in the ocean.
Now, my drum circle brothers and sisters…Let’s have a quick Namaste.
Concerned Brown Girl