Authenticity and consumption in the Australian Hip Hop culture

Download Authenticity and consumption in the Australian Hip Hop culture

Post on 08-Dec-2016

214 views

Category:

Documents

0 download

Embed Size (px)

TRANSCRIPT

<ul><li><p>Authenticity and consumption inthe Australian Hip Hop culture</p><p>Damien ArthurThe School of Commerce, The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia</p><p>Abstract</p><p>Purpose The purpose of this paper is to investigate the effects that local interpretation and theglocalisation of the Australian Hip Hop culture have on the consumption practices of members,exploring the reasons for such effects, and drawing marketing implications.</p><p>Design/methodology/approach Three principal methods of ethnographic research were used:participant observation, informal conversations, and semi-structured in-depth interviews.</p><p>Findings The findings suggest that symbolic representation within the Australian Hip Hop culturetakes the form of consumption of brands congruent with the values of authenticity and self-expressionat the core of the Australian Hip Hop culture. Many mass-produced Hip Hop brands originating in theUSA were not perceived as authentic as their meanings were associated with commercialisation andartificiality by cultural members. Furthermore, members of the Australian Hip Hop culture appear toexpress authenticity by being true to themselves, refusing to imitate African-American Hip Hop styleand rejecting what they perceived as black Hip Hop brands. Finally, members of the Australian HipHop culture also represented their geographical place via consumption, and used symbolicconsumption as a form of subcultural capital.</p><p>Originality/value This paper fills a gap in the literature by providing a detailed analysis on theeffects of interpretation and the glocalisation of the Australian Hip Hop culture on consumption.</p><p>Keywords Consumption, Culture, Australia</p><p>Paper type Research paper</p><p>The scene takes place in Adelaide, Australia, at the welcoming of an internationalconference for studies in popular music. An aboriginal dance group has just concludeda routine acknowledging the original owners and custodians of the land the Kaurnapeople. One of the dancers, KT, steps forward to the microphone and addresses theaudience. During his speech he grabs his oversize FUBU jersey, thrusts it forward withhis fist and states:</p><p>You might see me in my FUBU top. It doesnt stand for FUBU. It stands for Full Blood.</p><p>As he leaves the stage, I sneak out the back and catch him with the rest of the dancegroup preparing to leave.</p><p>DA: Excuse me KT. My names Damien and I am a PhD student investigating symbolicconsumption. I just wanted to ask you a few things about what you said up there, aboutFUBU standing for Full Blood. Is that widely known in the aboriginal community?</p><p>KT: No. Thats what it means to me.</p><p>DA: Oh, Ok. Whys that?</p><p>KT: Well the red you see, thats symbolic of the blood. And the black, thats my colour.But amongst the aboriginal community it stands for For Us, By Us.</p><p>DA: So thats the case even though the Us originally referred to African-Americans?</p><p>The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at</p><p>www.emeraldinsight.com/1352-2752.htm</p><p>QMRIJ9,2</p><p>140</p><p>Qualitative Market Research: AnInternational JournalVol. 9 No. 2, 2006pp. 140-156q Emerald Group Publishing Limited1352-2752DOI 10.1108/13522750610658784</p></li><li><p>KT: Well yeah, I mean there arent any Aboriginal brands and until we develop a brand of ourown, then yeah, I guess we align ourselves with the African-American community.</p><p>IntroductionAs the prologue indicates, much of the utility of consumption is its symbolic value(Belk, 1988). For KT, the brand FUBU symbolises his unmixed aboriginal ancestry.However, this is an internalised representation, one that the wider population or eventhe rest of the aboriginal community are unlikely to interpret. This is what FUBUmeans to KT, and he is proud to tell us of his interpretation. KT is also aware thatamongst the aboriginal community FUBU stands for For Us, By Us. Thisinterpretation is a shared meaning understood not only by the aboriginal community,but also by the Hip Hop community, and by some members of the general population.Interestingly, the Hip Hop interpretation of Us in FUBU refers to theAfrican-American community. Upon its arrival in Australia the shared meaning ofFUBU has grown to incorporate the Aboriginal community. Upon further questioning,KT revealed he is aware of the original interpretation, but justifies his appropriation ofthe meaning of the brand through an alignment with the African-Americancommunity, based on a shared blackness, and the absence of any Aboriginal brands.</p><p>The above example illustrates the transformation of the meaning of Hip Hop brandsas they cross the Pacific and arrive in Australia. In an increasingly inter-connectedworld, brands are crossing borders at a faster rate than ever before (Solomon, 2003). Asa result, the meaning of brands is increasingly interpreted outside of their culture oforigin (Howes, 1996)[1]. As the FUBU example illustrates, when a brand is consumedoutside of the culture of origin, its meaning is often altered, and adapted by the hostculture. In an effort to develop a greater understanding of this process, this paperexamines the symbolic meaning assigned to Hip Hop brands by members of theAustralian Hip Hop culture.</p><p>The Hip Hop culture revolves around four key activities: rapping, graffiti art,breakdancing and DJing. It originated in the South Bronx area of New York Cityduring the early 1970s, and articulated the values and attitudes of the urban inner-cityyouth (Rose, 1994). During the 1980s, hip hop became more than just a culture, but alsoa profitable commodity, with Hip Hop music, fashion, and entertainment consumedacross the world. Hip Hop initially arrived in Australia through the mass media as anAmerican cultural export. Symbolic representation of Hip Hop authenticity wasusually denoted by the imitation of American Hip Hop style and the consumption ofAmerican Hip Hop brands. As global Hip Hop values mixed with the local conditions,Australian Hip Hop differentiated itself from its US roots to create its own uniqueidentity. This fusion, combined with the consumption of brands outside of the cultureof origin, has created a shared understanding of the symbolic meanings of Hip Hopbrands by members of the Australian Hip Hop culture, which has serious implicationsfor marketers. The next section undertakes a selective review of the literatureregarding the role the local interpretations of foreign brands and the glocalisation ofmass cultures play in determining consumption is undertaken. The paper thenpresents the research objective, method and the qualitative findings, before drawingsome recommendations for marketers.</p><p>Authenticity andconsumption</p><p>141</p></li><li><p>Review of the literatureSubcultures of consumptionIn 1995, Schouten and McAlexander introduced the subculture of consumption as acollective of individuals who identify with certain products, brands or consumptionactivities and, through these products, brands or activities, identify with other people.Like other communities, a unique ethos or set of common values, rituals and traditions,unique jargon and an identifiable set of social relationships among members governsubcultures of consumption. Furthermore, subcultures of consumption have often beenobserved to transcend national and cultural boundaries, and ethnic, age, and classdifferences (Schouten and McAlexander, 1995; Muniz and OGuinn, 2001; Schau andMuniz, 2002). Past research on subcultures of consumption have investigated bothbrand focused communities, such as Harley Davidson (Schouten and McAlexander,1995) and Apple (Muniz and OGuinn, 2001), and non-brand focused communities, suchas gay consumers (Kates, 2002) and the rave scene (Thornton, 1995).</p><p>The Hip Hop culture can be considered a non-brand focused subculture ofconsumption in that it is a collective of individuals who identify with similarconsumption activities in regards to music, fashion, and entertainment. As it is anon-brand focused subculture of consumption, brands that are perceived as authenticwill be rewarded through consumption choices (Kates, 2004). Hip Hop members useauthentic Hip Hop brands as symbolic cues to determine membership in much thesame way as the gay consumers in Kates (2004) study used their gaydar as a means ofscanning for signs of gayness. Furthermore, by manifesting an identity in materialgoods, the culture establishes a degree of security, a feeling that the culture is real andexists. This is important in that the Hip Hop culture in Australia is perhaps bestdescribed as neo-tribal: dispersed and loosely organised, and hence rarely, if ever,experienced in its totality (Maffesoli, 1996).</p><p>Local interpretations of foreign brandsGiven the accelerated pace and increased scope of world trade, branded goodsincreasingly cross borders (Solomon, 2003). In addition, advances intelecommunications and media technologies have allowed cultural industries tomore easily disseminate information to a growing proportion of the world population(Appadurai, 2001). When branded goods and popular culture move from their cultureof origin to host cultures, interpretations of the symbols tend to become indigenised.That is, the understanding of the symbolic meaning assigned to the brand in the hostculture may be entirely different to that interpreted in the culture of origin (Howes,1996). Given the role of the symbolic value of brands in explaining purchase choice(Sirgy, 1982; Solomon, 1983; Belk, 1988; McCracken, 1988a, b) this consideration mayexplain the failure of some brands in markets outside of their original culture.</p><p>As cultural signs, brands allow individuals to construct their own meanings aboutthe world and to communicate meaningfully to others (Douglas and Isherwood, 1979;McCracken, 1988a, b; Hall, 1997). Interpretation is an essential aspect of this process,and numerous studies have emphasised how the interpretation of products may bediffer between cultures (Miller, 1992; Gillespie, 1995; Howes, 1996; Miller, 1998;Jackson, 1999, 2004). These studies have acknowledged that even the most globalbrands, such as McDonalds or Coca-Cola, have different cultural connotations andare consumed quite differently in different places. For example, in his study on</p><p>QMRIJ9,2</p><p>142</p></li><li><p>consumption practices in Trinidad, Miller (1992) describes how the meanings assignedto television shows such as Dallas and the Young and the Restless varyconsiderably outside of their original culture. Hence, when goods are consumed in thecontext of different cultures, the interpretations of their meanings may differ.</p><p>The glocalisation of mass cultureOne often cited view of the consequence of the migration of goods throughout theworld and the diffusion of popular culture is that of global homogenisation (Strinati,1995; Howes, 1996). Miller (1994) suggests that although mass production andconsumption are commonly considered a homogenising influence that hinders culturaldiversity, the opposite might in fact be true due to the local interpretations by the hostculture. Miller argues that the consumption of mass produced goods in local culturescreates greater diversity and new cultures, because of the varying interpretationsassigned to the meaning of the goods. Such cultural change should not be regarded ascontinuity on prior cultural traditions, but as a new culture in its own right. Suchculture creation by the fusion of local and mass culture is what Robertson (1995)defines as glocalisation.</p><p>While the effects of glocalisation can be found across many cultural categories, forthe purpose of this paper we will restrict our analysis to the particular case of Hip Hop.Hip hop has grown over the past 30 years from an outlet for expression amongst NewYork City youth, into a US$10 billion a year industry (Watson, 2004) that is projectedthroughout the world via MTV and other global media outlets. So what happens to themeaning of Hip Hop and its signifying practices when global media outlets broadcastthe culture to those outside of the USA?[2] The meaning of Hip Hop and its signifyingpractices seldom remains the same because of the different cultural backgrounds of theconsumers and other environmental variables (i.e. a dispersed population, airplayrequirements, etc.). A growing body of work, which collectively examines the role ofHip Hop in a range of globally and culturally diverse settings, addresses this notion.These academics have researched Hip Hop in countries outside the USA such as theUK (Bennett, 1999; Hesmondhalgh and Melville, 2001; Swedenburg, 2001), Japan(Condry, 2001), the Netherlands (Wermuth, 2001), Germany (Pennay, 2001), Korea(Morelli, 2001) and New Zealand (Mitchell, 2001), and have found evidence of localinterpretations of Hip Hop symbols, of glocalisation of Hip Hop culture, and haveidentified local cultural members who interpret their participation in Hip Hop asauthentic.</p><p>Each of the cultures investigated have combined elements of US Hip Hop with theirlocal culture. For example, Japanese Hip Hop crews rap in Japanese and within theirlyrics there is no mention of guns, or misogyny, and very little violence (Condry, 2001),while Islamic Hip Hop crew Fun-Da-Mental rap lines from the Koran, such as Al-lahuakbar (God is greatest) (Swedenburg, 2001). Although different in many respects, eachculture investigated is similar in that they were all conceived through the diffusion ofUS Hip Hop via the media. Furthermore, in each case, imitation of US Hip Hoprepresentations portrayed in the media was initially undertaken and was followed by afusion of the local culture with US Hip Hop. Also, as a result of this glocalisation, eachculture has, in its own way, had to negotiate issues regarding imitation andauthenticity.</p><p>Authenticity andconsumption</p><p>143</p></li><li><p>AuthenticityAuthenticity is generally defined as the condition of being genuine, trustworthy orreal. However, interpretations of authenticity may differ when products and brandsare consumed outside of the culture of origin. Kates (2004) discusses authenticity interms of cognitive and moral legitimacy, where moral legitimacy results fromconsumers actively assessing whether brands truly benefit the community in question,and cognitive legitimacy relates to axiomatic brand meanings. When examiningcognitive legitimacy Kates identified three frames that frequently enjoin brands andconsumers:</p><p>(1) insider interpretations;</p><p>(2) rewarding legitimate brands; and</p><p>(3) punishing illegitimate brands.</p><p>Insider interpretations refer to when informants attend to the double coding of brandsand their marketing communications by elaborating on their inclusive meanings thatacknowledge their community. Of particular interest to marketing practitioners is thatbrands that are perceived to acknowledge and support, the subculture are rewardedthrough the members consumption habits. Those brands that fail to acknowledge orworse still, exploit the subculture, are punished via consumption boycotts. Forexample, Heineken beer was boycotted by the Hip Hop culture after a recentcommercial aired which claimed a DJ invented the scratch at a party in 1982 when heacci...</p></li></ul>