The Conspiracy

Bongs & Cultural Appreciation [Musings]

20110924 - ALL concert after Riot Fest - z - IMG_3616 - after the show - oh look, a head shop!

Gas Masks, now attached to bongs, were once issued for Israeli citizens | photo by flickr user Rev. Xanatos Satanicos Bombasticos (ClintJCL) (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)


Cultural appropriation is, for lack of a better word, weird. An indisputable part of our cultural milieu, the lines have been blurred in an increasingly global world until origins and intent are nearly invisible. So when I read about how Israeli gas marks have been appropriated by Americans in order to smoke Marijuana, I thought it was interesting, to say the least, that a necessity in one nation could become a luxury in another: we’ve taken these instruments of war and recast them as pleasure.

I’m not sure if what’s happening is offensive or hilarious. I would be inclined to say the latter, but I know there are others who would disagree. And with good reason. By taking something indicative of something so serious in another culture and reframing it as a lark, one, however inadvertently, decreases the potency of that symbol. A friend of mine grew heated in her discussion of how dreadlocks, a symbol of Jamaican freedom and resistance, were being worn by whites trying to “express themselves”. I can definitely see that for the group whose culture is being appropriated, such acts can be considered offensive.

I guess it boils down to who can be considered the owner of a symbol, and how sensitive the issue is in its consciousness. For Israelis to whom the memories of the days in which they had to use a gas mask are still raw, it’s offensive that Americans are taking them and using them for weed. For those with distance from the incident, it might not be a big deal. And to someone with no ties to the origins of their objects, its a subtle indication of just how globalized the world has become.

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