Exporting authenticity and the hybridity of culture






The king asked the fellow, “What is your idea, in infesting the sea?” And the pirate answered, with uninhibited insolence, “The same as yours, in infesting the earth! But because I do it with a tiny craft, I’m called a pirate: because you have a mighty navy, you’re called an emperor.”

Cicero’s anecdote, quoted in Adrian John’s Piracy, 36–37

The World Cup is the place I begin this chapter, not because of the soccer (football), but because of FIFA’s (the International Federation of Association Football’s) choice for the 2010 theme song, Waka Waka—This Time for Africa. The geography of World Cup football aligns with the already designated national boundaries of the state and keeps narratives of nationality easy—Brazil plays Chile, England plays the United States, while national flags are flown. The complexities of identity, citizenship, and the global flow of people are erased in the temporary allegiance to a national team pulled together for this specific event. While the football teams represent a unified national narrative, the 2010 theme song unintentionally demonstrates the complexities of culture, identity, nationalism, and the power of musical diaspora. Thus, the geography of the World Cup anthem aligns with the hybridity of our expressive cultures against both nationalist impulses and state control.

Much to the disappointment of many South Africans, Columbian pop star Shakira was chosen to sing the World Cup opening song, though South African musicians Freshly Ground were brought in to collaborate with her at the last minute.1 While there is some dispute over what the words “waka waka” meant, there was no dispute that the words and music were adapted from a song by the Cameroon band Golden Sounds who recorded the original in the 1980s.2 Golden Sounds are not the original creators of the song either, but adapted it from military marches of unknown origins that go back as far as World War II. Despite this appropriation from the public domain, the location of original authorship for the purposes of remuneration has been attributed to Golden Sounds.3

To make matters more complex, it is unlikely that Shakira heard the original Golden Sounds recording when she made her own version, because the words, music, and style of Waka Waka has been moving around the globe for decades. Songwriter Wilfrido Vargas, who played with “several African diasporic styles in creating his high energy version of 80s synth Merengue,” seems to have adapted this tune for the band Las Chicas del Can, who performed the song in the 1980s in South America.4 According to radio station WFMU, their version in turn inspired other versions in numerous other countries.5 All told, Waka Waka has previous versions available by other artists in France, The Netherlands, Rwanda, Suriname, The Dominican Republic, Senegal, Liberia, and Cameroon, and probably elsewhere.6

A conclusion of musical piracy, loss of monetary reward, and the global exploitation of African signers and songwriters by the corporate music industry can certainly be reached, all justifying tighter and more restrictive copyright laws and more powerful enforcement mechanisms. The political economy of music can be seen here too—Golden Sounds didn’t have the resources to hire lawyers and sue Sony (Shakira’s label).7 However, the international visibility of the song put Sony in the awkward position of having visibly pirated music, despite its own efforts to take the moral high ground on efforts to curb copyright piracy. Therefore, unlike dozens of other African musicians, whose works have been used without attribution or payment over the decades, Golden Sounds received a settlement from Sony.

Despite the conventional piracy narrative, a counter-conclusion from those more interested in the flow of music can also be made. As the DJ for WFMU who followed the trail of this song around the world put it, “we were able to track down the origin and proliferation of a truly global song that proves language is no barrier to a great melody.”8 The Waka Waka song is emblematic of how music can disrupt national borders and demonstrates how cultural expressions evolve through direct contact and inspiration. In almost every musical genre, the boundaries of ownership are difficult to enforce against the way musicians collaborate and share.

For example, Christopher Dennis argues that, for Columbian hip hop, “the initial emergence of hip-hop in Columbia often had less to do with the development of global communication systems and the marketing and exportation of U.S. pop culture, and more to do with a combination of unique processes of migration flows and direct cultural contact.”9 The same story could be told about jazz, blues, rock, blue-grass, and virtually all other genres. In other words, great music flows even as national narratives seek to bind it within the borders of the state, and corporate interests seek to own it for profit.

The controversy over Waka Waka is multi-layered. A blonde Columbian pop star singing a remixed version of an already globalized song for the World Cup hosted by South Africa could be seen as resisting a simple nationalist representation and instead embracing the global flow of culture and meaning. The music video also subverts the idea of a unitary allegiance to a single country, given that American choreographers created an African-inspired dance routine for the singer and backup dancers. Additionally, the subtitle for the song, “This time for Africa,” and the lyrics, which include the phrase, “We are Africa,” imply a larger continental if not global affinity on the part of all who identify with the song. However, these subversions take place within a corporate-owned cultural milieu. Shakira’s performance can also be seen to represent the corporate globalization of music and the devaluing of the local at the expense of the global as concentrated musical interests such as Sony monopolize music and turn it into what Matt Calahan calls anti-music.10 Might this also be a form of piracy that takes what once freely flowed and renders it static? At that level, the song and video, with cuts to inspirational football players dressed in their nation’s colors, is also simply part of a global entertainment spectacle devoid of any type of subversive ability.

An effort to assert nationalist discourses dominated the controversy around the song. Some South Africans complained about Shakira’s pronunciation, suggesting that her version was not “authentic.” Cameroonians were “proud to think that the song comes from their country.”11 Thus, while symbolizing the globalization of music and the ways in which a melody can move around the globe, the origins of the song as coming from a specific nation was an important element in staking out identities in the process of cultural creation. While assertions regarding the authentic were made, the song also demonstrates that cultural products are anything but purely authentic and that cultural innovation most often occurs in the “contact zone” that creates the third space of cultural hybridity.12 Within this third space, claims of piracy are much more difficult to make because it is almost impossible to locate the origins of an “authentic” (read isolated and not inspired by cultural context) creative moment.

Music, while an excellent example of how cultural traditions are shaped by the interaction between people, is not the only art form reliant on the hybridity of culture. In this chapter I turn from the analysis of the role of the state as explored in the first chapters in order to examine the power of artistic expression to ignore borders all together. While the state seeks to control culture as a national expression and a commodity, culture itself flows through human contact, demonstrating the ways in which the law does not reflect the human impulse to share and be inspired, but instead reflects other interests to control and stabilize the act of sharing. Furthermore, the flow of culture tends to disrupt claims about cultural authenticity that are contingent upon the nation-state and nationalist discourses. In the face of global migration and the limits of the nation-state to adequately capture the diversity of cultures that might exist within its borders, much more complex stories about culture, property, and the search for authenticity must be told.

Even as states seek to shore up their borders and establish an authentic sense of identity, cultural diasporas scatter people across the globe.13 Furthermore, in the age of modern travel, global nomads ignore the boundaries of the nation-state to fuse cultural traditions as they seek moments of personal authenticity and ways of escaping the globalized dominance of corporate culture, a theme I will return to in the last chapter of the book.14 These counter-trends not only challenge the nationalization of some sort of authentic culture but also highlight how diasporic movements facilitate cultural flows and are key to cultural development.15

Claims about national culture and stable cultural traditions tend to serve reactive ideological and political interests rather than interests that would embrace, celebrate and be inspired by difference. Telling a more complex story of cultural contact pro-blematizes the nation-state as the guardian of “authentic” national culture, and the notion of authentic culture itself. It also helps to contextualize claims of piracy within the larger global landscape of cultural flows.

The world tends to see the “Western” as the “universal” and often ignores or renders invisible the ways in which this universal appropriates from the local and cultures that are not hegemonic. This chapter will identify several moments of appropriation, not considered piracy, but instead seen as “inspiration” that help conceal the ongoing privileging of “Western” culture while discounting the ways in which these innovations are globally contextualized within a history of colonialism and power relations. In terms of copyright, the general narrative “truth” is that the global South is one of the greatest threats to innovation and creativity via piracy. At the same time, these broad narratives of piracy are only possible if one ignores the importance of what is appropriated via cultural contact and exchange that falls outside the legally acceptable definitions of piracy.

To examine the issues raised by nationalized culture, cultural fluidity, intellectual property, and authenticity I will first discuss the concept of culture as it relates to the nation-state. Second, I examine the complexities of the cultural landscape by raising questions about cultural authenticity and documenting that the flow of culture is not always from the hegemonic West to the periphery, but also flows from the periphery to the core, though often in unacknowledged ways. This chapter makes the argument that, while it may be grounded in the local, culture itself is implicated in the exchange of ideas and thus offers the possibility of hybridity within the context of globalization. This chapter also serves as a precursor to the next one, which will focus specifically upon the possible pathways for indigenous cultural expressions. Indigenous cultural expressions offer a unique perspective on the theory of hybridity as well as the legitimacy and function of the nation-state. However, in this chapter, the focus will be on the broader theoretical frame of hybridity and its complex relationship to the nation-state.

Hybridity and the nation-state

The state-formation process in the early post-colonial era suggests that new states were the “uncritical successors of the colonial state.”16 When it comes to intellectual property laws, for example, post-colonial states simply inherited European intellectual property regimes and joined the international intellectual property system as independent nations. Early international agreements on intellectual property were signed by the signatory nation on the part of their national territory and the colonies they controlled. The fact that many new post-colonial nations joined international organizations such as the World Intellectual Property Organization indicates that little critical thought was given to the value of intellectual property to a developing nation.

As these new states struggled with identity formation, infrastructure development, and efforts to industrialize and mirror the economic policies of the West within the Cold War politics of the twentieth century, cultural policies were already framed by intellectual property laws, despite the fact that few new states had the legal infrastructure or ideological frameworks to use and enforce these laws. To take just one example, the African nation of Chad has struggled since its independence to retain the semblance of national control and has generally failed to supply basic infrastructure needs to its population. However, it has been a member of several of the WIPO-administered treaties on copyright since its “birth” as an autonomous state.17

States such as Chad continue to exist because they were integrated into an international system of states that relies heavily upon the fantasy of national sovereignty to function, despite the fact that “empirical sovereignty,” the ability of a state to actually govern its territory, may be absent.18 In other words, the idea of the nation-state for a country like Chad is imposed from the outside to give form to an international system of states that might otherwise be seen as the continuation of empire under a different name. As Ioana Puscas argues:

[In] the post-colonial space, sovereignty exists, to a large extent, through the empire’s will, through the consent and support of an international legal system and order, mostly inspired and created by Western hegemonic powers, which allows these states to possess juridical sovereignty, in parallel with their frailty.19

The international regime, built upon the concept of national sovereignty, creates the myth of equal nations interacting on a level international playing field. The myth of the equal “family of nations” for international copyright conceals the hegemony of Western powers that is built into the very structure of the international system. Claims regarding international intellectual property piracy are made within a field of already existing assumptions; they are enshrined into international law and constituted as a legal regime that all nations must adhere to. However, there is no equality amongst states, given the vast differences in resources that can be dedicated to the international domain.

Within contemporary debates over nationalism, culture, and globalization, we have taken what globalization scholar Jan Nederveen Pieterse calls a “cultural turn.”20 This cultural turn poses a change from understanding national differences to instead framing difference in terms of culture. These cultural differences are further framed by modernity, which has acted like a “steamroller, erasing cultural and biological diversity in its way.”21 In this chapter, while highlighting the tension between the exportation of what nations would like to see as authentic national culture, I would also like to further support the larger concept of global hybridity as a means of understanding cultural evolution. As Paul Hopper notes, culture travels, creates networks and webs, and given the mobility of people and ideas produces a deterritorialized culture that flows globally.22

In the contemporary discourse on culture, creativity, and copyright, global flows of culture are almost always narrated as moving from the north to the south, and thus globalization is seen primarily as Westernization. Vast oceans of piracy, it is argued, exist where cultural consumers of the third world take the creative work of cultural producers in the first. Almost always the flows of culture are described as one-way, where creativity, originality, and innovation are located in the West and appropriation, copying, and theft are practices of the global South and the East. As Pieterse puts it, the literature on globalization tends to ignore the countercurrents—”the impact nonwestern cultures have been making on the West,” while “it overrates the homogeneity of western culture and overlooks the fact that many of the standards exported by the West and its cultural industries themselves turn out to be of culturally mixed character if we examine their cultural heritage.”23

These claims discount the impact of the colonial legacy on previously colonized territories as well as the vast disparities of wealth, income, and opportunity that structure global life. Western discourses of copyright piracy treat each state as an equal within the “family of nations,” given that each has been extended sovereignty over its territory.24 Despite the illusion of international equality, the expectation is that the state will produce and enforce copyright laws in keeping with U.S. and European ones, no matter what the domestic situation might require or how weak or impoverished the state may be. Claims regarding appropriation and theft by the global South further ignore the enormous effort put into exporting Western culture as a commodity, which is consumed legally and illegally around the globe, and the reliance of Western markets on these forms of consumption. It is worth remembering, as noted in Chapter 4, that the success of American culture globally is really based upon massive government subsidies to promote American culture and win the world to an American way of life, thus even the ideology of the free market in culture is distorted in ways that remain invisible.

In producing the narrative of piracy, negotiators for the United States and its advocates ignore the ways in which intellectual brain drain siphons off the creative from the global South and also the ways in which cultures of the “other” are used and appropriated, called “inspiration” when done by Western artists using the cultural works of the global South.25 As Western industrial interests have developed a global discourse of intellectual property piracy to shore up their own efforts to privatize cultural work and concentrate ownership, their claims erase and render ahistorical the production of Western culture itself as a hybrid of practices and appropriations that rely upon the colonization of the global South.

Furthermore, the political economy of international copyright law can only exist if cultural expression can be clearly narrated as authentic, original, and tied to a nation-state. Adrian Johns notes that the long history of piracy is implicated in the “development of a system of interacting nation-states,” where the practice of piracy and its defense became vehicles “for national, and nationalist, passions.”26 As Johns goes on to say, piracy is “essentially a phenomenon of geopolitical thresholds” that is always associated with the uncivilized who pirate—a group that extends out over time.27 According to Johns, “it is accordingly destined to be superseded through the civilizing process that leads to a neoclassical, globally integrated economy,” an argument that the continued existence of piracy helps confirm as a myth, but an important myth that helps to mobilize specific types of economic and national interests.28

The edifice of copyright and its ability to function at the international level depends upon the stability of all these concepts, as well as a commonly understood definition of piracy. In order to undermine the myth that piracy creates, it is helpful to acknowledge that concepts such as the nation-state, authentic culture, and intellectual property are not stable and should not be used uncritically. This chapter is designed to undermine the edifice itself by calling into question the stability of all the terms in the discourse—those of original cultural expression, claims to property, and the idea of the nation-state. While the previous paragraphs should call into question the stability of an international family of nations, the next few paragraphs will take up the problematization of cultural expressions and culture more generally.

First, there is nothing stable about the idea of culture or claims that one might be able to own culture as property. As noted in the introduction, the literature on culture does not reference copyright law. Those creating culture only seem to begin thinking about property rights in artistic expression once it has entered a market economy. By contrast, those who think about copyright always think about property rights and assume the only reason to create is if you can command a price in a market economy. In this section, I want to develop the concept of culture outside the assumption that it should be commercially exploited.

It is difficult to pin down exactly what culture might be—expressions, languages, music, art, literature, and social structures are all considered part of a cultural milieu. The symbols of culture—the play, the piece of music, the oil painting, or book, while having been “fixed in a tangible form” to use the language of American copyright law, are in actuality not easily defined. These tangible representations of what we call culture might also be understood as multiple sites where knowledge is produced and categorized in such a manner that everyday life and commonly shared values are expressed through a discourse of who we are as a people.

In the literature, there are a variety of ways to understand culture from the postmodern to the Marxist. Cultural critic Harry Read documents that the first use of the world “culture” in its modern sense was in 1510 and that it has always been aligned with an emerging capitalism that pulls culture out of everyday life.29 Anthropology has long grappled with the concept of culture, studying the cultural variation of others and narrating culture through the local terrain of everyday life.30 Coombe clarifies that the traditional anthropological study of culture had “orientalizing tendencies” that “delineated cultures as discrete formations,” and the introduction of a critical cultural studies revealed the underlying Eurocentrism regarding art and literature that framed global discussions of culture.31 Thus, any discussion of culture rests upon an already politicized foundation, where culture is utilized in battles of the local against the global, the national against the other, and the authentic against the inauthentic.

To render the discussion more complex, culture is produced performatively.32 The performative, while it is produced locally, is less about location and is instead contingent upon sharing ideas and expressions. Indeed, despite efforts to pin culture down as part of the national or as existing somehow removed from outside forces is simply inaccurate. Peggy Levitt makes this point:

Continuing to study cultural products within discrete containers and assuming beforehand the boundaries and levels of the appropriate spatial units of analysis blinds us to important ways that contemporary life is actually lived and the power hierarchies that underlie it.33

Thus, despite playing out within local spaces, culture is already transnational and is not rooted solely in the local or the national. Instead, even our most “national” of products might be implicated in the already connected world founded upon cultural hybridity and of course indebted to a colonial past of nearly invisible appropriation.

Nestor Garcia Canclini suggests a deterritorializing of culture has been the result of globalization, which he takes to mean the “loss of the ‘natural’ relation of culture to geographical and social territories.”34 This deterritorialization produces a trade-off for Canclini between the hybridity of culture and the nation-state. As Steger and James put it, the social whole which used to be “contiguous with the nation-state” and thus “society” was assumed to exist up to the boundaries of the nation.35 However, society is no longer coterminous with the nation-state and instead we are witnessing a “thickening of our consciousness of the world as an interconnected whole.”36 The reshaping of our global understanding produces double-edged results for culture. As Canclini puts it, while culture looses an exclusive relation with territory, it gains in “communication and knowledge.”37 There is a need to understand the distinction between territorial culture and translocal culture, one of which assumes a geographic and nationalist base, while the other looks outward.38 While it may become impossible to preserve the concept of “the authentic,” the communication between previously disconnected territorial domains also heightens the possibilities for new fusions of ideas and expressions.

In an effort to reterritorialize, or at the very least make culture and the products of culture contingent upon the state, many countries have created cultural policies that aim to articulate an authentic national culture, protect their citizens from the influence of too much “outside” culture, as well as export the unique creative products of their national culture for consumption within the global market. These cultural policies developed to create a specific way of ordering the world and creativity.39 Developing national cultural projects, while helping to define the scope of the nation, fosters uneasiness for many, given the modern multi-ethnic, multi-cultural state that is fractured along so many lines that a unified national narrative becomes difficult to conceive.

Despite the many fractures and possibilities of culture that emerge from the critical scholarship, the prevailing narrative framing modern culture is the viewpoint that culture is the circulation of products of the culture industry tied to specific nations. The globalization of culture has not happened outside the market, but instead has been significantly implicated in the marketing of culture as products worldwide. The culture industry as the engine for consumer culture is a theme interwoven throughout this book and I will return to its critique in future chapters. To transform culture into a commodity, the modern ideology of the individual author as the owner of cultural property must fully inform our understanding of cultural production.40 Once we can allocate ownership rights to the individual, the circulation of culture as property can commence.

Mark Banks notes that culture and commerce have long been narrated as ideologically opposed:

Culture offered an aesthetic realm distinct from the vulgar incursions of modernization which threatened to replace ‘authentic’ values with a calculative economic rationality. Where art and culture promised individual freedom, the economy appeared to provide only collective enslavement to the commercial imperative. Thus, the worlds of art and commerce have long been judged diametrically opposed.41

Banks goes on to argue, however, that the distinction between art and commerce is essential to a functioning oppressive system, which conceals the manner through which modern artistic expression is exploited within a corporatized environment that uses the illusion of the autonomous artist to mask a system of oppressive work conditions.42 The culture industries are able to perpetuate this system of exploitation because of our underlying assumptions about the value of artistic expression, authentic autonomy, and a widely held assumption that art is the vehicle of original expression and not as a type of labor or a collective activity. However, most of these values are what Canclini calls “fragile fictions.”43 When culture becomes subordinate to the market, which it does in capitalist systems, it looses much of its autonomy.44

The case for hybridity rests upon the frailty of our most stable imagined truths about nationalism, culture, and originality. In essence, culture is already implicated in the flow, sometimes invisible and other times much more visible, between otherwise distinct practices. I’d like to use three different examples to help elaborate on these ideas.

A. “Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole”—Jonathan Rickman, The Modern Lovers

As the story goes, Picasso was looking for new inspiration for his art when, in the Spring of 1907, Henry Matisse showed him an African sculpture that he had just purchased.45 Picasso, Matisse, and other avant garde artists found the Western tradition to be “corrupt and exhausted of ideas.”46 The art of Africa, by contrast, was refreshingly new to them because it allowed them to view art through a completely different aesthetic sensibility.

As a result of seeing Matisse’s African sculpture, Picasso went to the Trocadero Museum of Ethnology where he was able to view other examples of similar sculptures. He said ofthat trip:

A smell of mould and neglect caught me by the throat. I was so depressed that I would have chosen to leave immediately. But I forced myself to stay, to examine these masks, all these objects that people had created with a sacred, magical purpose, to serve as intermediaries between them and the unknown, hostile forces surrounding them, attempting in that way to overcome their fearsby giving them colour and form. And then I understood what painting really meant. It’s not an aesthetic process; it’s a form of magic that interposes itself between us and the hostile universe, a means of seizing power by imposing a form on our terrors as well as on our desires. The day I understood that, I had found my path.47

Picasso’s search for the authentic became contingent upon the colonized “other” for inspiration. As Bendix notes about the quest for the authentic, it is for something “beyond texts, history, and language.”48 This authentic could not be captured in the modern and “civilized” world of Europe, but was instead found in the museum where the masks spoke to a “sacred and magical purpose.”

Western countries sought the authentic in the traditions of the “common” people, or folk, but also in the cultures and practices of the “uncivilized” other who were seen as less alienated by modernity and thus closer to the “real.”49 For Picasso, African art spoke to that authentic impulse that could resist the banality of civilization. He began collecting African art, primarily masks and figures from West Africa, which served as inspiration for his work during what has come to be known as his “African” period.50 For Picasso, African art was a turn “against the rational and sensory contents in favour of metaphysics and the irrational.”51

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