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Real art belongs to everyone

Russian ice-dancing duo Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin have enraged some Aboriginal leaders because their routine at the Olympics will be an homage to the Aborigines of Australia, said Eric Felten in <em>The Wall Street Journal.</em&g

Eric FeltenThe Wall Street Journal

“The politics of multiculturalism are tricky,” said Eric Felten. Just ask Russian ice-dancing duo Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, whose routine at the Vancouver Olympics will be an homage to the Aborigines of Australia, complete with a “hip-hoppy track of didgeridoo sounds’’ and costumes “painted with pseudo-tribal designs.” It’s pretty tacky, even for ice dancing, but that’s not why the couple’s routine has enraged some Aboriginal leaders. They claim that the Russians have “exploited” their heritage and are even “stealing” it. Sigh.

It’s a familiar complaint: For years, some critics and musicians have insisted that white musicians “stole” rock ’n’ roll from blacks who created R&B, and that whites have no business playing jazz because of its black origins. But you might as well argue that only Teutons should be allowed to play Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

Years ago, jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie told a guilt-ridden white musician to stop worrying about emulating the great Charlie “Bird” Parker. “You can’t steal a gift,” Gillespie said. Art and culture are gifts, belonging  to the entire human race—not to one tribe or another.

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