Please, step away from the feather headdress already! What is it about music festivals that makes otherwise educated adults want to dress as walking political insensitivities? Attended by some of the world’s most stylish citizens, festivals like Coachella continue to attract a dress code that is not only sartorially offensive, but culturally offensive as well. Since when did these events give people license to totally disregard years of hard work in the realm of breaking down cultural stigmatisation?
As we enter the international festival season, we’re forced to ponder how and why events like Lollapalooza and Glastonbury have become — and worse, remained — veritable stomping grounds for over-the-top sartorial choices that are also blatant examples of insensitive cultural appropriation. Before you launch into an argument about how it shouldn’t be seen as racist to embrace other cultures…Well, does it even really need to be said at all? Certainly, it’s a fine line that exists between cultural exchange and cultural appropriation. Though this line is rarely straight and clear, it seems fairly reasonable to concede that wearing bastardised versions of cultural symbols as costumes is just downright inappropriate today, whatever the occasion. Let alone the fact that we are here to listen to music, where an oversized Native American headdress is not really serving those behind you in the crowd. Nor is your neighbour particularly appreciating getting all tangled up in your overload of fringe. So, if not practicality, what is it really all about?
The most obvious answer, of course, is peacocking; the trope of attention grabbing that has become so common in today’s social media saturated culture. But even if that were the case, why on earth would you want to look exactly the same as every other festival goer with the exact same idea as you where that floral crown was concerned? Even those within the fashion industry seem to fall trap to this tragic trend of poor wardrobe choices at festivals. Ordinarily fashionable models and actresses like Alessandra Ambrosio and Kate Bosworth have been known to step out in ethnic inspired outfits for music festivals like Coachella. It is 2015 and, yet, it seems that so few are exempt from the trappings of fringe, feathers and face paint where these events are concerned. As intelligent and politically informed adults, don’t we know by now that it just isn’t cool to wear a garish feather headdress as part of our fancy dress costume? It is an out-dated approach that, for the most part, we have now come to see for what it really is: overtly disrespectful. So why, then do music festivals tend to be an area that remains exempt from this logic?
I think that Woodstock has a lot to answer for here. Why is it that festivalgoers all over the world today continue to dress as though it is 1970? Despite what the recent collections in New York and Paris may have told you, we do not in fact live in the seventies now and, let’s be honest, we have come a long way since then in terms of our approach to cultural difference — as well as many other forms of difference. In fact, we are increasingly moving towards a world in which that difference is celebrated, not mocked. So why do we insist on dressing like trussed up carbon copies of one another when it comes to the specific microcosm that is the common music festival? Not to mention that the cultural symbols we are ‘borrowing’ in the process were never ours to take in the first place. In that respect, there is no exchange, understanding, or respect in such cases – only taking. And therein lies the real difference between cultural exchange and cultural appropriation.
When the real-deal Woodstock was still around — the original festival took place in 1969 — we didn’t necessarily know that cultural appropriation was such a big deal. Devoted music fans in attendance at that event have most likely been the very proponents of those very same floral crowns that now run rampant at modern festivals today — though they were decidedly less neon back then. But now that we can recognise cultural appropriation as being an inherently bad thing, there is just no excuse for such ignorance. Navajo ponchos, poor replicas of Native American headdresses and the trickling down of other such bastardised cultural symbols are not only unoriginal, but also plain offensive. That is not to say no one is ever allowed to wear fringe, but rather to encourage people to question what they wear to music festivals today and what message they might really be sending. There is a big difference between appreciating a little bit of fringe and dressing up like Pocahontas on steroids. I, for one, look forward to a future where we can set new — and more culturally sensitive — trends at our music festivals, instead blindly following those that came 40 years before our time. See you at Lollapalooza?
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