TUESDAY, JUNE 30, 2015|
Posted by: April Siese
It's been nearly a year since British Columbia's Bass Coast festival banned Native American headdresses. Countless congratulatory headlines and positive pieces hit the web praising the electronic music festival's smart decision, from Buzzfeed to the Guardian. Soon after, California's Lightning in a Bottle enacted their own ban, going so far as to pen an explanation for their stance. "If a Native person sees you in that headdress, will you feel awkward?" Lightning in a Bottle immediately asks before concisely explaining just what cultural appropriation is exactly and why such headdress and where they originate from deserve respect and understanding.
That question lingered in my mind during this year's Hangout Fest in Gulf Shores, AL, where the first thing I heard getting through security was a transphobic statement about Caitlyn Jenner to my right and to my left I saw the one-two offensive combination of a drunk out of his mind white guy in the biggest, fakest headdress I'd seen all weekend. For the sake of getting through and covering the festival, all I could manage was a glare to my left and a glare to my right. No one said a thing around me about either statement. It's a hugely missed opportunity that I didn't confront either party, nor did I begin recording and questioning as I came upon headdress after headdress after headdress throughout the weekend. I regret not taking a bolder stance and advocating for better but then again I can't imagine if anyone in attendance was really thinking about much of anything prolific as they hopped from the Malibu lounge to Bud Light's House of Whatever to the Pizza Hut volleyball courts to the main stage.
So far the only large-scale festival to even react to the phenomenon of headdresses dotting the sea of fans at these musical bacchanals has been the UK's Glastonbury, albeit so incredibly feebly that it took an italicized correction just below a Guardian article for me to realize they'd only required "prior authorization or discussion with the markets' management" regarding the sale of such garments. The decision, which was publicized poorly and convolutedly by media outlets and came with zero additional statements from festival organizers, only came about due to a highly successful Change.org petition that asked much, much more of the festival. No mention has been made on their official website and it takes submitting a vendor (trader, in their words) application to receive a full list of potentially off-limits items that may not be allowed to hit the Glastonbury marketplace. Not even the radiate positivity-heavy Bonnaroo has issued a formal statement on the garb.
You'd think the positive press of advocating for cultural understanding amongst fans would be enough of an incentive to get bigger festivals to firmly look into the issue of headdresses and other offensive garb rather than taking a hands-off approach. Will fans really miss standing behind the guy with the foot high headdress effectively blocking their view? And is it really that important to preserve a faux sanctity of fun and laissez faire while sacrificing the respect of an entire culture? The nagging thought that the entire festival machine could've done more stayed with me throughout my weekend in Gulf Shores, only briefly shutting itself off in mental narrative when TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe took the time between songs to call out a fan wearing an afro wig, pointing to changing attitudes and what may be next on the growing list of so-called "costume" pieces you should probably leave at home. "My people built this land. We are beautiful," he said to the sound of scattered applause, myself and a few others contributing to the clapping.
The thinking may go that no one likes a buzzkill and nothing is more "party foul" than calling someone out for what they're wearing or doing so at a place most fans go to get away from such social mores. And it's certainly not enough to scowl or take a photo on the sly for social media shaming when you don't know the offending party in the least bit. Even media galleries depicting image after image of cultural appropriation clearly aren't enough to make a difference. That Glastonbury Change.org petition managed 65 signatures before its creator called it a day. Festivals may never get it together but artists and fans in the moment honesty could finally turn the tide. As Adebimpe patiently waited, an entire TVOTR set hanging in this sunny beachfront moment, the crowd grew silent and the wig-wearer removed his afro.