This was a monster hit in 1987, #1 overall for the year, by Billboard. Years later it was considered a song not to play, by the BBC during the 1990-91 Gulf War and after 9/11, the same deal in America. The video was dynamic and fun, but curiously, had a tricked out Libyan dictator, Colonel Gaddafi, doing the dance movies, at the 1:50 mark.
The dance moves might now be seen as “cultural appropriation.”
When parts of a minority culture in a political community are taken up by the majority culture, it may not always be done in the original context. It can stereotype and misrepresent what’s being mimicked. The borrowing can be done without consent, in areas like religion and language, sports and their team logos, and cheapen rich traditions, for art like fashion and music. So, like 1980s girl bands such as the Bangles copying what might be stereotypically considered to be how Egyptian people look and dance.
Cultural appropriation can be insensitive and offensive and is seen as such by many. It can be unintentional, as people become interested in other cultures, and haven’t figured them out well, just yet. The Bangles were just having fun. Cultural appropriate can go too far, like should an Italian pizza joint sell shawarma?
Race relations in America were lightly addressed from 1978-1985, in this TV sitcom. Two African American orphans are adopted by a rich Park Avenue, widower/single Dad, who is white. An early episode has a social worker not believing that a white man should be raising African Americans.
Can popular culture, even through the “boob tube,” lead and shape public opinion? Another question could be this: is a comedy show that is meant to entertain, the right or best forum for such issues to be addressed.
From 1980, New Waver Adam Ant wears a Jimi Hendrix jacket, and sings about feeling like an American Indian under his skin. Is this campy or offensive?
One point made is that beneath the white skin is a “wild nobility,” a freedom and danger that stuffed-up Caucasians suppress. But as well, Adam sings of cultural imperialism: from “centuries of taming,” Native Americans may have lost their roots, too.
The tribal drum rhythms, though, may be more African. Whatever, call it world music, then!
Kurt Waldheim was a Nazi oficer that later came to be the head of the United Nations. Lou Reed sings about putting controversial people in ironic positions of power, when you consider that the United Nations champions equal treatment of all.
He sings about the “common ground.” This usually means finding what ideas people share to unite them. Reed seems to mean this as giving other groups their fair shake, respect and acknowledging their past sacrifices and hardships.
Examples in the bouncy rocker are double standards for Reed: that some seek common ground with other groups in society, but not Jews? It is to him a reflexive anti-Semitism that is given a free pass. Reed feels this is hypocrisy from some people, like civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. Champions of racial equality in America can better appreciate what Jewish people have endured.
Does passing a law change people’s thoughts and behaviors?
Bruce Hornsby was skeptical in 1986 – “the law don’t change another’s mind” – thinking back to the US 1964 Civil Rights Act.
This law banned discrimination based on skin color and religion at private establishments like lodging and restaurants, and public places at the state and local government level. Employers were forbidden to discriminate on these grounds and gender, too. The law eased restrictions on voting for African Americans, though did not end qualification requirements. It started the progress toward desegregation of public schools.
Hip hop mogul Kanye West had a laundry list of issues to itemize, along with singer Frank Ocean, in 2013.
Racial segregation in schools is noted to the extent of separate drinking fountains for blacks and whites. Kanye also points to the fashion industry for past racism. It goes on.
A larger theme might be criticizing mindless consumerism, even though West is easily able to afford luxuries and set popular culture trends. Maybe that makes the man a hypocrite, or at least someone who thoughtfully feels conflicted by his wealth given the struggles of his people in the past, and the challenges many of his brothers and sisters continue to face. Whatever, the chorus crudely suggests that for Kanye, its better to lead than follow (or is that, better to give, than to receive)?
This is the type of song that raises many political issues, with individual lines that could be parsed as individual posts.
The song quotes from Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit. Also by West, reviewed here: Otis
In 1957, Arkansas governor Orval E. Faubus used the National Guard to prevent some African American teenagers from attending a high school populated by white students.
Bassist Charles Mingus had some lyrics for this jazz tune, but the record label, Columbia, only permitted an instrumental version. At least, according to some reports and Wikipedia. It could also be the case that the lyrics came later.
All the same, the song toots and sings against racism and for the integration of schools, which jived with Supreme Court rulings at the time.