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Hymn for the Weekend (In 1942): How Beyonce and Cold Play Messed Up

By now, everyone’s brown twitter has been blowing up on the disappointingly bland song #hymnfortheweekend.

There are some rather golden comments made in 142 characters (or less) both praising and deriding the video.

@DeepakNarang9 hits the nail on the head with this one, though.

The idea of #culturalappropriation is naturally being twitter-debated with all the skill and gusto of the RNC Presidential Debates.  Or am I being unfair to the RNC?  Some people see nothing wrong with ‘appreciating a culture for what it is;” some people are just happy to see the subcontinent in Western pop culture at all, while others are saying just shut up and enjoy the music.

The problem within these comments is that they gloss over somewhat imperialist, racist, and straight up inappropriate portions of the video (let alone the music itself – but that is for another article on ‘U2 with a piano’).

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My husband ain’t only one in da family wif an Injun strategy (pic courtesy news united.com)

With a population of over a billion, 5 metro areas with a larger population than the London metro area (each with its own culture, language and traditions), Ben Mor and Chris Martin had a lot of options when it came to exploring and portraying India.  Instead of selecting the land’s natural beauty, or any of so many vibrant cities, or even a rural, agricultural India where a large percentage of its population still exists, they chose a slum of Mumbai.  Having a Brit portraying India in this 1942-era really made me think that some folks in Her Majesty’s lands really need to let it go.  Those old projectors, dingy theaters, travelling Ramayana shows are all associated with colonial/post-colonial India.  I guess we should thank our stars that they didn’t show the nice white man giving sweets/candy to the poor little orphans. If they wanted to actually show Mumbai (let alone India), they could have shown how different people live within 100’s of meters from each other; Mumbai has over 10 million cell phones; 6 million people ride the train system every day; dabbahwallas deliver over 160,000 tiffins every day; etc, etc.  We then could be talking about income inequality/technological progress/new and old traditions/mixed cultures and religions/etc etc.  Instead, we got Lord Mountbatten’s progeny bringing joy and happiness to those (literally) still living in the last days of the Raj.

Beyonce does not have a good look in this video, I hope the Bey Hive isn’t gonna come after me, but she should have known better! Everything from her outfits to her hand gestures just fell flat.  There was nothing fierce about it, nothing showing Beyonce.  It was just another example of the white gaze, just being done with someone who normally isn’t in that position.  The sad part is that Beyonce could have stayed Beyonce – they got the highest paid Indian actress Sonam Kapoor to be in the video.  Why not let her just be the recipient/manifestation of the white gaze?  Kapoor was barely in the thing for 10 seconds.

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Hey boyz- will Cold Pay our inevitable physical and emotional therapy bills ? (pic courtesy consequenceofsound)

I also *love* how they told the kids to play holi – because, you know, god forbid there is ANYTHING done with India/in India/with Indians/whatever without color.  Otherwise how can you tell that the natives are having fun?!  Can we please get something else to show joy/fun?  How about an amusement park?  Hanging out by the beach? Indians are regular people.  We manifest joy in so many ways.  Even when there isn’t any powder in sight- colored, or the white kind.

This video plays to cheap caricatures of India that have been around for many decades.  White man in poor slum.  Females only represented in Bollywood or hiding demurely in a room (where they belong). Non-South Asian women wearing Bollywood clothes.  South Asians playing with colored powder.  British Raj-era local amusements.  Religious symbols.

Maybe they should have invited Taylor Swift and Iggy Azalea and they could have all gone to an Indian wedding and then a safari.

Guest Writer Shrenik Sanghvi- Special to usindiamonitor

EDITORIAL: Let Selena Gomez wear her darn bhindi

SelenaMahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor.

On April 16, a young Latin American singer/actress named Selena Gomez created some waves with her live performance at the MTV movie awards- a rendition of the song Come and Get it featuring a prominent bindi on her face.  A number of Indians and particularly Hindus were upset by this 20-year old American girl wearing the traditional female forehead accessory during a suggestive pop song and dance number.  As you may  know, many believe the bindi or “red dot” is supposed to be worn by married Hindu women only as a “third eye of wisdom.”

People emerged to publicly chastise the pop star and defend the honor of Indian women.  A Hindu leader named Rajan Zed whined to the media, “(The bindi) is not meant to be thrown around loosely for seductive effects or as a fashion accessory aiming at mercantile greed.  Selena should apologize and then she should get acquainted with the basics of world religion.”

We are going to dive into some sensitive and controversial waters here, so it is probably worth getting a few things out of the way up front.  I know little to nothing about Miss Gomez, have never heard her music or watched her on film before, and  I honestly never cared about her.  I am certainly not a fan.  But then I read about this silly controversy she caused, and decided that someone needed to forcefully and rationally defend her right to wear a bindi, even though I don’t think it looked particularly good or tasteful on her.  Secondly, I am a practicing Hindu, though I have never worn it on my sleeve or proselytized about my beliefs as some do.  I also don’t intend to do so here.  However, my understanding of Hinduism is going to shape what I’m about to say.  Finally, I have spent a great deal of time in both India and the United States, and this gives me a certain perspective on the situation as well.

Responses such as Zed’s are ABSOLUTE NONSENSE.  Nobody religious or otherwise has the right to demand that one cannot wear a particular fashion accessory, demand an apology for it, or shame someone into learning about their religion, or any for that matter.   I’m no stranger to bindis or what they are supposed to mean; my mother has worn one every day that I have ever known her while living in multiple countries- carrying its meaning wherever we went.  So here’s why this so-called moral outrage outrages me so much:

Hinduism is meant for all.   Some of the critics need to learn more about their own religion first.  Hinduism is considered the world’s oldest existing organized religion, and by no accident it has some of the most liberal views on lifestyles and society.  Anyone can be a Hindu.  A person who knows nothing about Hinduism can be a Hindu.  Even an atheist can be a Hindu– something that clearly separates it from other major religions at its core.  It’s not a special, exclusive club with traditions that cannot be shared.  Anyone can enter a Hindu temple anywhere.  Anyone can wear a bindi, sari, dhoti, or OM symbol without needing to convert formally or getting the equivalent of a “baptism.”  One could wear it for the simple reason that they think it looks cool.  The only exception here is for particular advanced traditions of the swamis or brahmin priests, such as wearing the sacred thread, and this requires passing through some proverbial gates as I have done.  These involve a status bestowed by others, and are not being questioned here.

Selena thinks she knows something about Hinduism, though her interview answer makes me think she might be confusing my Indians with the “other” Indians:  “I think the song has that Hindu, tribal feel and I wanted to translate that,” Selena explained. “I’ve been learning about my chakra and bindis and the culture … It’s beautiful.”   However much or little she knows is not the point though; she should be accepted by all Hindus without judgment or questioning of motives.

So what is the point?  Unfortunately, I know all too well what all this is madonna1really about.  Many Indians and Hindus are exceedingly insecure when it comes to their history and culture.  They are deathly afraid of the onset of modern culture at home and abroad, especially because young people are choosing it over their own in droves.  They are threatened by a Hispanic girl sporting it.  How dare a non-Indian girl wear a bindi seductively to make money off of it!!!  This controversy is really about Selena’s skin color.

Have you ever seen a Bollywood movie?  Indian pop tarts make piles of money strutting around seductively every single day with various bindis on, and just as tastelessly as Miss Gomez if not more.  So why single out this poor girl for it?  Are we so sure all those good little brown girls know the religion?  Why aren’t they being asked to apologize?  This is about racism, pure and simple.

We’ve seen this movie before, folks.  When Liz Hurley got marrgwenied in India, a court case was opened against her by religious zealots for drinking alcohol and wearing shoes (heinous crimes, I know).  The subcontinental moral majority also came out of   the woodwork in full force when Gwen Stefani and Madonna decided to put on the bindi years before Selena even had her first menstrual cycle.   What’s the common thread here?  Yes, the prejudice extends beyond skin color; there is sexism going on too.  Perhaps Hindus are a little afraid of bindi-wearing foreign women because they might be rakshasis– roughly translated as demons in female form?  They are going to swoop in, steal away good Indian men and also ancient Hindu traditions!

You can’t speak for all of us.   This is America.  Like India, there is freedom of the press and speech in general.  This also includes freedom of expression, such as wearing whatever the hell you want.  By the same token, I respect the right of people to criticize Selena’s or Gwen’s little bindi experiments.  But fortunately for us, there are no popes in Hinduism, no grand leader that everyone has to listen to and conform to.  It’s a disparate sort of system, with millions of gods and over a billion adherents following various traditions.    When I claim to speak for Hindus by saying it’s OK for Selena Gomez to wear her bindi, I can say it with just as much authority and probably more adherents than those who would denounce her for it.  Keep doing it, Selena!

I look forward to a debate about this in the comments section; I’m quite certain some of you reading this would disagree.  I’ll be here.  When you’re ready, come and get it.

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