Intentions are key when cultures are shared, borrowed and bastardised
EDITORIAL: When you are greeted by someone in the street, it's normally quite easy to interpret their intentions. There may be an arm outstretched, a warm smile, an embrace, or, conversely, a hand gesture or a raised voice.
Politicians and spies notwithstanding, there is no mystery or conspiracy. Nor is there with cultural appropriation, two words that have been warped together in hyper-sensitive haste in this age of the easily-offended.
This week, a Maori commentator cried foul at the inclusion of Maori cultural motifs and customs at a Florida amusement park's new attraction, Volcano Bay.
Tina Ngata said this diminished Maori and was corporate exploitation.
It's difficult to know how Universal Studios could have done right by Ngata for what is a waterslide attraction – not a museum exhibit. A separate attraction for each culture? Perhaps shunning any reference of Maori culture, and leaving it to the tourist-bait productions of Rotorua?
She would also want to steer well clear of how American resorts include our haka in Hawaiian luau productions, which are with less tact and authenticity than Volcano Bay – which did employ a Maori kapa haka group.
While such performances can be tacky, their purpose is to entertain, not educate. They may show ignorance in their intent to be inclusive, but unless they are trying to undermine a culture or promote harmful stereotypes, they are more deserving of an eye roll than condemnation.
Too often it is the insecurities of the offended, rather than the actions of the alleged offenders, that frame cultural appropriation as a negative phenomenon.
In May, students at Massey University hostels were in a flutter over a Mexican-themed evening, fearful someone might show up wearing a poncho and not be from Mexico. But what is the insidious implication? That its wearer would be compelled to perform a racist caricature?
Is each person with dreadlocks on notice to produce their Rastafarian credentials?
Cultural exchange is inherent to living in a multicultural society, which is generally considered a good thing, unless you're a fascist.
If you are prepared to share your culture, you have to be prepared for it to be used and interpreted in different ways. You can't control or dictate its influence, be it in art or in life.
Yes, sometimes it will be misinterpreted or offend someone's sensibilities, but this does not automatically equate to exploitation or cultural larceny.