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Cannibal Culture: Art, Appropriation, And The Commodification Of Difference
by Deborah Root
In Arizona, a white family buys a Navajo-style blanket to be used on the guest-room bed. Across the country in New York, opera patrons weep to the death scene of Madam Butterfly. These seemingly unrelated events intertwine in Cannibal Culture as Deborah Root examines the ways Western art and Western commerce co-opt, pigeonhole, and commodify so-called “native experiences.” ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published February 9th 1996 by Westview Press
(first published February 8th 1995)
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Sep 05, 2015 Michelle rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone.
This is by far the best critique I've read of cultural appropriation. Root is absolutely merciless and cutting in identifying the ways neocolonialism, capitalism, and empire are built on the mass cannibalization of oppressed cultures, the devouring of the flesh of the oppressed. It's a tremendous book, and would I think needs to be taken very seriously in debates on colonial power and cultural exchange. She also offers a great deal about how empires are configured, drawing on Aztec cosmology to ...more
Deborah Root was a huge influence on my academic studies of Comparative American Cultures. I now am able to recognize cultural appropriation in all its guises. Take for example Bed Bath and Beyond currently has a bathroom ensemble featuring Kokopelli images on bath mats and garbage cans. What was the designer thinking (or not)?
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“Our conceptual maps tend to lack a way to conceive the immanence of violence and power in the ideals and practices that have become dominant in the Western tradition. Mass death has tended to be conceived as something accidental, something outside the ordinary run of events. I think the difficulty in coming to terms with the peculiarities of the Western will to power has to do with the absence of a central metaphor capable of describing the link between consumption and death. The consumptive mentality has in many respects been normalized, as has the violence that underpins and is the effect of systems of universal judgment. Certainly the aestheticization of difference is coextensive with the romance with violence that has become so characteristic of contemporary Western society.”
“Because cultural difference has long been conceived as a redemptive solution to the ambivalence of a Western culture established in the destruction of its own traditions, the appropriation of other aesthetic and spiritual modes is ultimately self-referential. This means that any attempt to perceive another culture based on the commodification and consumption of difference will fail. Understanding never really was the point.”More quotes…