Meet the Death Metal Cowboys of Botswana. In black leather decorated with metal studs, they play a pounding style of music that people who know more than me trace to the British band “Venom” and its 1981 album Welcome to Hell. Question: Is this cultural appropriation? Why or why not?Because, really, that dress she was wearing was only sort-of Chinese. The style was created after the 1911 overthrow of the Qing Dynasty and its irritating laws regulating dress and hair:
The question is inspired by a spasm of social-media cruelty that caught wide attention last week. A young woman in Utah bought a Chinese-style dress to wear to her high school formal. She posted some photographs of herself on her personal Instagram page—and suddenly found herself the target of virulent online abuse.
For once, the story has a happy ending. Good sense and kindness prevailed, and instead of her prom being ruined, the young woman exited the dance buoyed by worldwide support and affirmation, most of all from within China.
When the Manchu dynasty was finally overthrown in 1911, Chinese people found themselves free for the first time in 250 years to dress as they pleased. In the decade afterward, creative personalities in the great commercial metropolis of Shanghai devised a new kind of garment for women. They called it the cheongsam.Every cultural meme you can think of has a similar history; trace it back far enough and you will find that it was born from borrowing, mixing, and historical accident.
The new garment was a fusion of old and new, east and west. Manchurian-style fabrics were tailored to a European-style pattern. In the past, upper-class women’s clothing had conveyed status and restricted movement. The cheongsam was equally available to women from a wide range of statuses—and enabled Chinese women to move as their western counterparts did.
You cannot own a culture.