Here at SocImages, we typically use the phrase “cultural appropriation” to describe rather frivolous borrowing of cultural practices and objects for the purposes of fun and fashion. We’ve posted on examples ranging from the appropriation of American Indian fashion, the mocking of the Harlem Shake, and an Orthodox Jew-inspired fashion show.
A slideshow of members of the punk scene in Burma, however, offers another version of cultural appropriation. Their fashion is clearly inspired by the punk scenes of Britain and the U.S., which started in the 1970s. Accordingly to an interview with Ko Gyi at Vice and an article at Spiegel Online, some members of the sub-culture believe themselves to be rebelling against an oppressive state, others are interested in “non-political anarchism.” While their music has to pass through state censors, they are talented in pushing their lyrics right up to the limit and deft in using metaphor to get their point across.
This is a fully different kind of appropriation, the kind that is about fighting the establishment, not spicing it up with “colorful” bits of marginalized groups. It is more akin to feminists and gay liberation activists borrowing the tactics of the civil rights movement. Alexander Dluzak writes:
In Burma, punk is far more than just a superficial copy of its Western counterpart. Here, what is probably the most rebellious of all subcultures in the Southeast Asian country is going up against one of the world’s most authoritarian regimes.
Cultures can borrow from one another, then, in ways that both empower and disempower. It will be fascinating to see if this particular appropriation can shape the future of Burma.Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.