Costumes, props, and appropriation

by Deanne Walters

For a discussion on appropriation is it apt start off with a definition on what cultural appropriation is. Cultural appropriation is taking part of another group’s culture and removing it from the original context; often simplifying it and the original culture. This post is going to focus on cultural appropriation going on in mass media in two areas, fashion and music videos.

This section will look at the example of Native American appropriation in fashion and costumes in America. A new trend that has been going on is Native American inspired clothes. As seen with the Urban Outfitters line of ‘Navajo’ styled clothes, a major problem with this kind of appropriation is that it simplifies culture. Navajo is just one of hundreds of Native American tribes. It also commodifies this culture as it simplifies it, so it takes a complex group of cultures and turns them into products for hipsters. This removes any cultural context that might have been attached to these items or patterns in effect turning these products in to stereotypes of Native American cultures.

There are also much more blatant stereotypes of Native American people, such as costumes. These reduce vast cultures down to one idea often based on stereotypical images produced in media. Costumes also ignore any and all cultural context behind them. A common accessory in both costumes and fashion are headdresses. While the original meaning behinds these were symbols of strength worn only by warriors and chiefs now they are just seen as a fashion accessory or a costume. In both fashion and costumes Native American cultures are simplified and commodified for the economic benefit and enjoyment of non-Native Americans. This is contributing to the erosion of Native American cultures.

The next example of cultural appropriations is Japanese culture in music videos and performances. The most recent example is Avril Lavigne’s ‘Hello Kitty’ music video, but this is nothing new this has been seen in Gwen Stefani’s ‘Harajuku Girls’ and Katy Perry’s American Music Awards performance of ‘Unconditionally’. All of these examples simplified and stereotyped Japanese culture into a prop, something to add ‘exotic’ spice to a music video or performance. In the two music videos the only people who were Japanese or of Japanese decent were background dancers maybe getting a line or two in the song. The only thing that matters for people producing this content is the profit they will make from it. This cultural appropriation and is contributing to the stereotyping of Japanese culture.

The clear link between these two cases of cultural appropriation is simplification and commodification. Complex cultures are being turned into caricatures and used for profit. Overall, cultural appropriation in mass media often ends up stereotyping and only profiting individuals with no deep connection to the culture they are appropriating. As seen with these two example cultural appropriation is wrong and should be stopped.


Fager, C. (n.d.). Cultural appropriation. A Friendly Letter. Retrieved April 30, 2014, from (nd.). Indian headdress. Retrieved April 30, 2014, from

Ray, P. (2013, November 1). Cultural appropriation: Halloween’s post-modern problem. The society pages. Retrieved April 30, 2014, from

Sharp, G. (2011, June 7). Discussion of cultural appropriation. The society pages. Retrieved April 30, 2014, from

Sharp, G. (2012, May 10). Social media and the fight over urban outfitters’ appropriation of native american cultures. The society pages. Retrieved April 30, 2014, from

Zimmerman, A. (2014, April 25). Avril Lavigne’s dumb ‘hello kitty’ video is rife with cultural appropriation. The Daily Beast. Retrieved April 30, 2014, from



3 thoughts on “Costumes, props, and appropriation

  1. Wow, this is amazing and spot on. I am so glad that other people are also talking about it. The writing style is very coherent as well as descriptive. Thanks for also your compassion to bringing these voices and I have surfed through many posts, really commendable project and am so glad to have found this blog. If I don’t presume too much I will share one post by me ( as it also cover some similar topics.
    Once again thank you very much.

  2. Pingback: Taylor Swift Having Fun With White Privilege: Racism and Sexism in Pop Culture | The Other Sociologist - Analysis of Difference... By Dr Zuleyka Zevallos

  3. Pingback: Taylor Swift Having Fun With White Privilege: Racism and Sexism in Pop Culture | Roger Tharpe

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