The Ghost of Appropriations Past: Joan Franka’s Performance

There are cases when similarities stiffen, shrivel and dissipate. Then, there are cases when similarities are so abundant that you experience a discombobulating double vision – an almost discomfiting déjà vu. Yesterday I had one of those déjà experiences when I happened to catch a glimpse of Joan Franka’s performance; she’s won the final of the Nationaal Songfestival and will be representing the Netherlands at the Eurovision Songfestival in Baku.

It wasn’t her song that called forth an overwhelming sense of familiarity, but her styling and performance. Ms. Franka wore a Native American warbonnet, and had a team of women in Little Hiawatha-like ensembles as background singers/dancers.

As I was watching this Cowboys-and-Indians-without-the-Cowboys mess unfold I asked myself why Joan Franka had been given (or worse still gave herself) a shade too much of Cher circa 1973 – a decision which made her appear like the ghost of appropriations past. In addition, her team of sexy squaws back-up dancers/singers, who danced around her in circles Indian style, only added sordid insult to injury.

What enhanced the déjà experience – apart from the Native American headdress – is the remarkable resemblance between Joan Franka and Cher. If Joan Franka had done her homework she would’ve known that her antecedent, Cher, incurred a lot of criticism for her wearing a Native American headdress.

At any rate, because of these factors Joan Franka’s performance, which shouldn’t have been familiar at all, felt thus eerily familiar.

The judges lauded the song “You and Me” and her vocal skills. The song, which she has written herself, is catchy in that annoying MMMBop way though a lot less peppy. The judges reserved their rhetorical aggressiveness solely for her sartorial choice. They criticized her ensemble severely not because she appropriated and revised a piece of “Native American” culture for entertainment, but because they didn’t like it…

Anyhow, apparently there was a kerfuffle over her sartorial choice on Twitter as well. Some people expressed some xenophobic views on Native Americans, which caused journalist Kustaw Bessems to tweet,

“Ik walg en word heel verdrietig van al die indianofobie die ik hier op Twitter zie. Zet toch geen hele groepen mensen weg!”

(I’m disgusted and saddened by all the Indianophobic comments on Twitter. Don’t marginalize an entire group of people!)

Well, in his expressions of disapproval Kustaw Bessems failed to address the act of cultural appropriation  which is as equally destructive as those “Indianophobic” comments – perhaps, even more so since it escapes criticism.

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4 thoughts on “The Ghost of Appropriations Past: Joan Franka’s Performance

  1. Is there even a word or phrase for cultural appropriation in Dutch? I didn’t know anything about it until I read about it several times in blogposts,,

    1. That’s a good question. As far as I know, there isn’t a word, a phrase, nor a term that encapsulates “cultural appropriation.” This lack goes to show that we have still a long, long way to go. Perhaps, once we really start discussing Dutch colonial history from different perspectives – and how it has influenced and shaped what is now perceived as “Autochtoon culture” – we can come up with a term to describe the act of taking something from another culture without having the decency to contextualize said thing.

  2. She’s probably ignorant that what she’s doing is harmful. She also probably hasn’t ever heard of cultural appropriation, so we ought to teach her. I sent her a message on facebook — you could too, it’s easy enough to find her.

    1. Oh, I suspect she wasn’t aware of the stereotypes she was perpetuating with her costume. Most acts of appropriation are not driven by malicious intent; these acts are, however, centred on an epistemology of ignorance that is a direct result of White privilege. She doesn’t have to know about “Native American” culture and the struggles Native Americans have to face. I’m not on Facebook, alas, otherwise I would’ve sent her a message.

      Thank you for reading my blog, and taking the time to comment.

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