Thursday, November 09, 2006

Glocal Cool

Waggis close-up
Originally uploaded by technicolor.
Cool and its accompanying fashions are deceptive: What may appear to be wholesale cultural appropriation may be a more subtle egagement. People in other parts of the world adapting American styles, for instance, may ...
1. Do so with little awareness of the nuances of the original;
2. Be doing something entirely new, that those stuck in the source-country's paradigm might not catch; and
3. Might be adapting styles yet still have utter contempt for the original artists.

In other words, just because they rap in France doesn't mean the rappers want to be Americans. Nor does it indicate any racial solidarity with African American rappers.

Basel, Switzerland has had a vibrant hip hop culture since the early eighties, including some of the best murals in Europe. Here's a recent clip I found on Youtube.

These are scenes from around town. When you take a train into town from the east, you go past these amazing galleries of graffiti murals. At first glance it looks like Basel is a cultural colony of New York.

But Basel also has an ancient artistic culture surrounding Carnival, or Fasnacht as they call it.

Originally uploaded by CyberWriter.

Compare the graffiti writing on display in the Youtube video, with the style of painting on the Carnival lanterns. I'd argue that the two have more in common than either does with the hip-hop culture of New York.

Culture is usually deeper than we give it credit for. Culture, of course, is related to history, and history is mostly rejected by cool in favor of the eternal present.

When we see people living in culture, and smearing coolness on top of it, we should be very slow to draw conclusions about their coolness. After all, cool is usually a hobby for people, or a crutch they fall back on. But culture is what they want their children to learn. Culture is what they want at their deathbed.

Culture - and belonging - not cool, is what most people really, really want.

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