Tuesday, September 17, 2013

378. The Life and Times of A Musical Virus - 36: The Argument for "Hybridity"

There is, of course, more to the story of musical "globalization" than I've presented so far, and there is definitely another side to this issue that warrants consideration. Some understandable concerns are eloquently expressed in an essay by Larry Strelitz, of Rhodes University in South Africa: "Against cultural essentialism: media reception among South African youth" (Media Culture and Society 2004; 26; 625 -- http://mcs.sagepub.com/content/26/5/625.abstract). Strelitz takes exception to the "cultural essentialism" of what he calls the "media imperialism thesis," i.e., the notion that age-old traditions all over the world are being shunted aside by the aggressive marketing of popular music based on "Western" tastes:

An assumption that runs consistently through the media imperialism thesis is that before the United States-led media/cultural invasion, Third World cultures were largely untouched by outside influences . . . This bipolar vision pits a culturally destructive and damaging ‘global’ against the ‘local’, with the latter seen as a site of ‘pristine cultural authenticity’ . . . As Morley observes, the conventional model of cultural imperialism presumes ‘the existence of a pure internally homogeneous, authentic, indigenous culture, which then becomes subverted or corrupted by foreign influence’ . . . (p. 626)
Strelitz argues that such criticisms betray a naive romanticism -- no cultures are absolutely pure. "Cultural encounters – often backed by coercive political and military power – have, after all, been taking place for centuries. Given this, encounters between these societies and globalized forms of electronic media represent only the latest such cultural encounter." (ibid.) Thus,
[a]s Hall points out, ‘All the most explosive modern musics are crossovers. The aesthetics of modern popular music is the aesthetic of the hybrid, the aesthetic of the crossover, the aesthetic of the diaspora, the aesthetic of creolisation’ . . . Furthermore, not only is creolization increasingly a cultural reality, but in contrast to the pessimistic claims made by the media and cultural imperialism theorists, Hannerz . . . believes that this trend is something to celebrate. For, as Hannerz writes, at the core of the concept of creole culture ‘is a combination of diversity, interconnectedness, and innovation, in the context of global centre–periphery relationships’ . . .(ibid.)
Some ethnomusicologists have gone even farther, arguing that, far from threatening indigenous identities, the effects of musical globalization actually strengthen them. According to Rebekah E. Moore, of the University of Maryland,
Popular music performance is a special context for the public construction and evocation of indigenism; through popular music many indigenous performers employ musical and cultural signifiers to reinforce their status, illustrate commonalities between indigenous communities, and challenge western demands for cultural authenticity. . . I argue that the issue of representation in ethnomusicology is directly challenged by these complex constructions of identity in musical performance, and by a new understanding of the world music aesthetic employed by many indigenous performers” (from an abstract for the MACSEM meetings of 2005: "S├ími Popular Music and Identity in the New Millennium").
I am struck particularly by the phrase I highlighted above, "western demands for cultural authenticity," with its implication that the concern over the survival of authentic traditions reflects a typically western bias, and is at odds with the needs of the "indigenous communities" of today.

A similar view is implied in the following statement, by Professor Paul Greene of Penn State, in his introduction to a panel on “Global Rock” at the annual meetings of the Ethnomusicology Society in 2005: 
The panel thus not only offers new research directions; it also inspires much needed reflection on the past and future of our field, and a reflection on the efficacy of rock music as a vehicle of self-advocacy for marginalized voices around the world today. (My emphasis)
 (to be continued . . . )


J.A. B. said...

Strelitz's point is basically the point I was trying to make in my comment to your last post.

Of course, there is something very specific that this latest cultural encounter doesn't have in common with all the preceding ones, which is the incredibly large-scale, forceful "steamroller" nature of it.

DocG said...

Yes, "steamroller" is an excellent word choice. It's pretty much irresistible isn't it?