Monthly Archives: August 2013

Somewhere In America: Twerking As Cultural Artifact

"Oh, I ain't got no ass? So why you lookin'?" Well, played, Miley.

The Zen of Miley: Don’t try to see the ass. Realize that there IS no ass. It’s only then that you’ll see it.

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Sometimes, I use the internet to look at images of sexy women. Often, these images move. If seen by my mother, about half of them would cause her to reevaluate her opinion of me. I am not necessarily proud of this.

With that said, last week I came upon a little gem that, while somewhat suggestive, was pretty lame…I mean, tame. It featured champion surfer Anastasia Ashley warming up before a competition. Have a look for yourself and I think that you’ll agree that it’s not exactly the stuff of which empty Kleenex boxes are made.

As I watched this pro athlete alternate between stretching her quads and pumping the briny ocean air, I found myself smiling and shaking my head. The smile was me wondering whether “Bubble Butt” was an ironic choice for the accompanying song or if the video’s creators actually believed that Ashley’s certainly cute, yet hardly rotund posterior was actually bubbly. After all, I could show those cats women that would make her rump look like perfect Euclidean planes. On the other hand, the head shaking was motivated by at least a smattering of annoyance.

I mean, this was just another example of cultural appropriation, and not a very good one, right? After all, the media calls it twerking, but what Anastasia Ashley and Miley Cyrus were doing was NOT twerking. For the love of Magic City, it was booty popping…although Miley’s since gotten it right. (See below, starting at 1:26.) And while we’re at it, the 70ish bpm, bass heavy, snare rolling music that these EDM dudes are making is not trap music. Trap music is defined by rap lyrics that are drug related (thus the trap moniker) delivered over Dirty South beats, not by exaggerated components of said beats themselves. Or is it? After taking a minute to consider, I had to reevaluate my position.

Culture is creativity in collective form, and like all species of creativity, it can only reach the height of its expression when shared. A bedroom masterpiece is no masterpiece at all: it’s only after a creative act has been consumed, evaluated, critiqued, and celebrated by others outside of it that said creative output acquires value, and that value is measured by the extent to which it inspires a desire for ownership. In the case of individual works of art like paintings, evening gowns, or songs, this translates to buying (or stealing) them. When it comes to communal art, i.e. culture, this means acculturation. We take the best from other communities, making it ours, with our own accumulated experiences and aesthetic POV, transforming it into a new artifact to be claimed by someone else further along the cultural chain.

Unlike artistic efforts by individuals, we cannot choose who consumes, takes ownership, or modifies cultural output. Culture is the original open source software. It’s constantly re-imagined, renamed and remixed. There are no intellectual property laws protecting it, and thank the gods for that. Otherwise, we’d have no surfing, no bikini (at least not by that name), and no hip-hop, which means no Anastasia Ashley bustin’ it open on the beach. You may not like what she did, how she did it, or that white girls like her get so much attention when they do it, but the fact that it happened is actually a beautiful thing. While Anastasia and Miley are still twerkin’, we can sit back and reflect with pride that somewhere in America, a black girl is riding a killer wave.

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