Totally CRAZY Examples of Cultural Appropriation (Only 90’s Kids Will Know #6)

1.) “Wise Guy” by Joe Pesci

I bet you didn’t know that Joe Pesci could spit bars! Oh wait, he can’t. Let’s back up: Pesci was a lounge singer before he got into acting, but he refused to give up music after he made it big time. “Wise Guy” is off his second studio album, Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just for You, which is somehow based on his 1992 hit film My Cousin Vinnie. Don’t miss clever rhymes like “and I’ll take your eyes/’cause I’m a wise guy.”

Appropriation of black music was a big theme in the readings for class this week and while I think I was supposed to be thinking about Eminem and Elvis, my mind kept drifting to this ridiculous song and video, with its awkward and technically underwhelming shoehorning of Italian-American gangster culture into a rap format.

2.) The 1992 Superbowl Halftime Show

If you only watch one video on this list, make it this one. The fact that this show actually happened is hard to believe. Organized around the amorphous theme of “Winter Magic,” this show was one of the grandest, most incoherent pageants ever witnessed.  Watching the video is really the only way to appreciate it.

Cultural appropriation highlights at 2:33, 3:34 and 4:33. The final one is a hip hop inspired number that implores Frosty the Snowman to “Pump it up!” Other lyrical highlights include “Go Frosty, Go Frosty, Go!/Yo Frosty, Yo Frosty, Yo!” Directly following, Brian Boitano and Dorothy Hamill do a figure skating performance on two surfaces that appear too small for a board meeting, let alone a Lutz.

This halftime show was so poorly received that the NFL completely rethought their process, which resulted in Michaela Jackson delivering one of the most iconic halftime performances of all time at the next Superbowl. This set the stage for the pop extravaganzas that we are familiar with today.

3.) Eurovision

There are all kinds of Eurovision acts out there ranging from famous ones like ABBA to things that are impossible to differentiate from parody (I’m looking at you Ukraine). As far as cultural appropriation goes, check out “Watch my Dance” by Loucas Yiorkas and Stereo Mike, Greece’s entry from 2011. Blending hip hop and b-boy with Corinthian columns and what I can only assume is some sort of traditional Greek song, this act is bizarre (not to mention dreadful).

I am curious about Loucas Yiorkas and Stereo Mike’s contact zones vis-à-vis hip hop. Stereo Mike’s Wikipedia page mentions that he studied in the U.K. and worked with British rappers (who themselves appropriated hip hop). I gleaned no similar insights from Loucas Yiorkas’ Wikipedia page. I suspect that in both cases

4.) Aunt Jemima’s

Where to begin? I mean aside from the caricature of Aunt Jemima herself.

A few things strike me about this ad. First, it tells men to ask their wives to serve them Aunt Jemima’s, which seems about the most patriarchal way to try to sell something possible. Second, Aunt Jemima’s is nasty and made entirely of corn syrup. It was the fist think that sprang to mind when I read about Korean’s taking offense to Japanese imitation kimchi in the Scafidi reading. This is because where I come from, syrup is made from trees and not cornstalks, but we have to contend with the cheap imitation (I realize that this might be the most privileged gripe about cultural appropriation ever).

5.) Taco Bell

Taco Bell’s marketing has incorporated various levels of cultural appropriation over the years. On the mild side: this 70’s spot which, as far as I can tell, only perpetuates the extant appropriation of the restaurants themselves, namely the food itself and those strange uniforms that the staff wears. I can’t tell if the music is supposed to have some sort of Latin flair, mostly it just seems like a soulless corporate jingle. On the high level of appropriation end of the scale we have Gorditas, the taco dog.

6.) “Numb/Encore” by Likin Park and Jay-Z

That’s right. The ultimate early 00’s crossover appeal track. The story behind this song (and I’m totally making this up, but I’m pretty sure it’s right on the money) is that a record label exec thought: “Hey, how can I make an album that appeals to two gigantic but distinct fan bases? Hmmm… I should combine nu-metal and hip hop.” The sad thing is that that person was right: mindlessly titled “Collision Course” went platinum.

This song was so popular while I was a freshman in high school that was able to compete with “Yeah!” and “Hey Ya!” for the distinction of biggest crowd pleaser at school dances. Now, of course, everyone realizes that “Numb/Encore” is just a terrible piece of music. I’m proud to say that it was never on my iPod Mini.

An interesting and completely ridiculous angle on this is whether nu metal represents a marginalized community who had their cultural products ripped off for corporate profit. If this is the case, I think we can all agree that Korn were the first sellouts.

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