The cultural appropriation police are in uproar about Avril Lavigne’s new music video, “Hello Kitty.”  The evidence for the crime: the video includes Japanese women and a lot of Japanese pop culture references that anyone interested in Japanese culture could recognize.

According to one article on Huffington Post:

Hapless white girls co-opting culture earn a collective eye roll, but we should demand a little more from women who make four-minute videos viewed by millions. “Hello Kitty” is not cute. It’s not novelty. It dismisses Asian culture and the women who choose to enjoy it as mindless pawns at white America’s disposal.

Lavigne herself has said that she loves Japan, and the video was made in Japan with help from Japanese people. It seems that Japan seems to be cool with it as well. According to TMZ, “Peeps at the Japanese Embassy in Wash. D.C. are pretty chill about it though … telling us they believe Avril ‘had only good intentions when making the video.’ The spokesman added … they ‘would be happy if the discussions surrounding her song and music video results in more people discovering the beautiful and rich culture of Japan.'”

So maybe well-meaning white liberals in the U.S. should think and listen to the “wronged” group of people before they point fingers. I should point out that Japan has kawaii ambassadors, such as popular singer and model kyary pamyu pamyu, with hopes of spreading kawaii or “cute” culture to other countries. Japan’s willingness to share its most popular elements — to include Hello Kitty — can’t be overlooked.

The real dismissive attitude comes from those accusing Lavigne of being racist simply because she’s a white chick participating in a culture that is different than the one that is ascribed to her. This is especially true considering at least some from Japan do not consider her video to be racist.

In the U.S., there are thousands of people interested in Japanese pop culture. They go to conventions, wear cosplay, dress in gyaru or lolita fashion, listen to Japanese music and read manga. But it’s not as if the U.S. only takes (which would be required for appropriation). Both U.S. and Japanese companies have capitalized on this interest with manga and anime being translated to English, Japanese websites such as NicoNico catering to non-Japanese audiences, and streaming websites such as Crunchyroll licensing and simulcasting Japanese anime. Japanese singers and bands such as kyary pamyu pamyu, Utada Hikaru, L’arc-en-Ciel and others have visited the U.S. and other countries and performed concerts for their fans (which includes non-Japanese ones).

You can’t simply dismiss the thoughts of those non-Japanese and Japanese people simply because they don’t fit into your worldview. If Lavigne has the blessing of those around her — who are Japanese — how is she being racist? If she weren’t white, would this still be an issue? Is every person (or specifically, white person) in the U.S. interested in Japanese pop culture participating in cultural appropriation? Of course not. Perhaps Lavigne chose the elements she liked the most about kawaii culture and made a video with the help of Japanese people (this is important to remember). The entire concept of her video was “cute,” which fit in with the aspect of one subculture she was going for and reminded me a lot of kyary pamyu pamyu’s videos.

I have a strong feeling no matter what elements were chosen, someone was going to complain about the video and how it highlighted kawaii culture. But no matter what you thought about her picking and choosing certain aspects of kawaii culture to display in her video, SOME Japanese people were OK with it. Does it require 100% permission from every Japanese person? Or just the right (read: white) people? Situations like these are not black and white.

I, myself, am interested in Japanese pop culture. And if I were in Lavigne’s shoes and I had the opportunity to create a video for my fans — I’d do it too. I might choose a better song though.

  • The interest of the japanese in spreading these elements is an important distinction in cultural appropriation versus cultural exchange. I don’t think the argument that some japanese people approve or don’t mind of the project to really be an argument against it being appropriation though.

    • Addie Hollis

      The thing is, Japanese people played a direct part in the making of the video. How is that still cultural appropriation? That was my beef. It’s like the people accusing her of all these things are overlooking that really important fact. That and it was made for her Japanese fans. So I find it frustrating that people (who aren’t even from Japan) are accusing her of being racist. Who does she have to please/ask permission from in order for it to not be cultural appropriation? Apparently since some Japanese people aren’t enough … must it be all? Or maybe the U.S. liberals (which defeats the purpose IMO)? What exactly is the problem with the video, other than her being a white woman! I was banging my head against the desk on this one. LOL.

  • jbrisby

    I’d agree with everything here except the idea that Avril Lavigne made the video “with the help of Japanese people”. It would be more accurate to say that Japanese people made the video with the help of Avril Lavigne. After all, she’s just the performer.