One Prom Dresses and Cultural Appropriation

The news is chockfull of important stuff these days, from the “Russia thing” to the recently sluggish stock markets to the suddenly hopeful but still risky Korean peninsula, yet we couldn’t help noticing the big media brouhaha about a teen girl from Utah’s high school prom dress.
The headlines probably caught our eye because last Saturday we had a fine meal at the swank Larkspur Restaurant in the fashionable Old Town area of Wichita to help our folks celebrate their 62nd wedding anniversary, and the joint was filled with elegantly attired and undeniably gorgeous young women and the hilariously ill-fitted and conspicuously dorky-looking old boys who were taking them to the prom. Back in our high school days we considered ourselves too cool for a prom, even though an elegantly attired and undeniably gorgeous cheerleader who was also a straight-A student had made it clear she would be happy to escort us, and we were so precociously self-aware that realized how ridiculous we’d look in retrospect, so for hard to explain reasons we’ve taken a wistfully nostalgic interest in prom stories the last few years.
This prom story involves “cultural appropriation,” too, which is one of those cockamamie convolutions of the cultural left that always gets us riled up. If you’re not hep to the cutting edge of social justice, “cultural appropriation” is the deadly secular sin that white people commit whenever they find something appealing in a non-white culture and use it in their own lives. This ridiculous theory has condemned James MacNeil Whistler’s extraordinary Japanese-influenced paintings, Bix Beiderbecke’s lyrical contributions to jazz, Fred Astaire’s glorious tap-dancing, Elvis Presley’s most bad-ass rhythm-and-blues, countless admittedly tasteless fraternity parties, and now the prom dress of a Utah high school girl named Keziah Daum.
Daum posted some prom-night pictures of herself on “Twitter,” as teens seem to do these days, and by the time the photos went up to the big back east papers and then down to us they were what the kids call “viral.” What we saw from our faraway and thoroughly disinterested middle aged perspective was an elegantly attired and undeniably gorgeous young woman standing next to a relatively dorky-looking old boy, but what the more cutting-edge social justice warrior types saw was an undeniably gorgeous non-Asian woman elegantly attired in an Asian dress. That’s the sort of sort of thing that gets them riled up, and it was a social media contrempts that spilled over into the more old fashioned sort of media.
At the risk of sounding like the Trumpian sort of Republicans, it all strikes us as damned stupid. Both the anti-racist right and left used to agree that almost every culture had come up with at least some good idea or another, and that everyone should make whatever use they can of the best ideas, and that anyone who didn’t do so was being a racist. This sensible idea not only gave us those great Whistler paintings and searing Bix solos and show-stopping Fred numbers and rockin’ Elvis records, but also the great Asian-American and African-American musicians who have not only revived but reinvigorated the great European classical tradition, not to mention some pretty bad-assed black country-and-western performers. We’re grateful that Western Civilization adopted the Arabic numeral system, which makes our tax returns so much easier, and we hope the Arab world will eventually adopt some of our more sensible fading western traditions.
At any rate, we thought the young Daum looked quite elegantly gorgeous in her prom dress, and we’d proudly stand by her even in our disheveled and middle-aged dorkiness for a “selfie.”. We were born in the Phillippines while our Pop served in the Air Force and our Mom also served as military wife, and while they were there they travelled all over Asia and sort of went native. We grew up in a house filled with rattan furniture from the Philippines, the gorgeous sorts of Japanese prints that inspired Whistler, and our Mom had a wok in her kitchen long before any of the cutting-edge “foodies” did, and we have photographic evidence of how stunning she looked in the Asian dresses she used wear on special occasions.
Our advice to all our non-white readers is to help yourself to automobiles and electronics and democracy and whatever good ideas our crazy-assed people have somehow come up with, and not mind if we avail ourselves of the best that your crazy-assed people have somehow come up with. We also hope that gorgeous high school girl and her dorky-looking date in Utah both long remember their prom as a one of those great teenaged nights.

— Bud Norman

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