So Given My German Ancestry, Is Anything Beyond Wearing Lederhosen and Invading France Cultural Appropration?
I will say that this story honestly loses me.
Just when you think we’ve reached Peak Sensitivity, the scolds of social justice sprinkle more sand into their underpants. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is currently showing a superb exhibition of the art of Hokusai. As per common practice at scholarly institutions, it is displaying related material, including an exhibition of contemporary Japanese photographers responding to the devastating earthquake that hit the northern part of the country in 2011. It also rehung La Japonaise, an 1876 canvas in its collection by Claude Monet, depicting his wife Camille in a vermillion kimono.
Among the educational programming at the MFA was “Kimono Wednesdays,” an opportunity for museumgoers to try on replica of that kimono in the presence of Monet’s canvas. It was slated for Wednesday evenings, when the museum’s entrance fee is by donation, starting June 24 and running throughout the month of July. But it didn’t make it that far.
Demonstrators showed up at the first two events bearing posters accusing the participants of grave wrongdoing. “Try on the kimono; learn what it’s like to be a racist imperialist today!” exclaimed one. “Let’s dress up Orientalism with more Orientalism,” read another. The protest had been arranged through a Facebook group named Stand Against Yellow-Face @ the MFA (the discussions have moved to a Tumblr), where the principals and their supporters expressed great umbrage. “A willingness to engage in thoughtful dialogue (or not) with museum employees and visitors on the bullshit of this white supremacist ‘costume’ event are welcome,” wrote one of the organizers.
Eventually the museum caved and even apologized. I can understand the caving -- as the author suggested, it simply was not a hill the museum needed to die on -- but these apologies for non-crimes have got to stop. Someone has to show some backbone in the face of these absurd pogroms.
When my family was visiting castles in England, they often had clothes for the kids to play dress-up in medieval garb. When my son and his friends were at Octoberfest, they bought lederhosen to wear when they attended. When I took Spanish for years in grade school, we often did projects that emulated various Spanish cultures we were studying (such as the Mexican tradition of leaving out decorated shoes for candy and gifts). Are these all wrong now?
I suppose if the museum had a "dress like a Kamikaze pilot" promotion or "pretend to be a comfort girl" exhibit, I could see the problem. But trying on a kimono? Kimono's have gone through several cycles of being fashionable in the West over the last 200 years or so (in the James Bond books, Ian Fleming often noted that Bond preferred a kimono for sleeping).
Seriously, we Americans have little in the way of home grown culture - haven't we appropriated about everything? And so what? The opposite of cultural appropriation in my mind is cultural apartheid. Which in fact seems to be what some progressives are advocating for on campus, coming full-circle and apparently asking for separate but equal facilities for women and certain ethnic groups so they won't be tainted by white maleness, or whatever.