Has anybody watched the latest music video by Avril Lavigne? As some of you would be aware, ‘Hello Kitty’ has been widely accused of racism and cultural appropriation. I’ve followed the controversy with curiosity, not least because it’s a part of philosophers’ job to consider when it’s appropriate to use normative terms to blame someone or something. It’s one thing to say that a singer is tasteless; it’s quite another to say she’s racist and indulges in cultural appropriation. One is an aesthetic claim; the other is a moral one.
Are critics right to morally blame Lavigne? I discussed this elsewhere, and the thought I’d like to share with you here is a separate one, namely, that one doesn’t need to be in a library or in a seminar room to reflect on moral questions. For example, if you’re in a bar and vaguely watching something random on screen such as ‘Hello Kitty’, you could start asking yourself questions. Why is this controversial? Who are offended, and why do they feel offended? What are the terms the critics have used to blame it? Are they right to use those terms? Did the singer respond? If she did, was that an adequate response? And if you find yourself agreeing with the critics, what changes would you like to see? In other words, what kind of pop culture would you like to see to emerge?
Of course, it’s not healthy to be contemplating moral questions 24/7. You should indeed stop contemplating if you decide to get on the dance floor, for example. But it’s worth remembering that we can begin a moral enquiry in a wide range of contexts. In fact, it might be that an ethically better world is the one in which people talk and think about moral questions in bars, restaurants and coffee shops, rather than in libraries and seminar rooms.