We don’t usually think of The Wiggles as a site of latent controversy. The Australian children’s music group is primarily known for its impressive ability to provide indefatigable kids with songs about… well, I don’t know. Fruit salads. Hot potatoes. Doing the propeller. You get the gist. Not much to argue about here, except maybe over whether that fruit salad would really be as “yummy” as it’s advertised to be.
But in a very modern turn of events, The Wiggles recently found themselves in the spotlight for reasons other than their embellishment of how good their fruit salad is. In the past week, a clip of a song called ‘Pappadum’ — which was released in 2014 and featured in an episode of ‘Ready, Steady, Wiggle!’ called ‘Lachy’s Pappadum Party’ — went viral, and many have questions about its ethnic stereotyping.
In the clip, The Wiggles tap their then-events and marketing manager, Kimberley Stapylton, to perform a song — a song for which they’ve all dressed up in traditional Indian clothing to dance and wave around papadum, which is a thin, round North Indian flatbread (one usually used for eating, rather than expressing one’s joy.)
There’s also a guest in the video: a woman, presumably of Indian descent, who dances without ever actually singing along. (Several Twitter users pointed out that her silence in the video produced an eerie atmosphere, as though she’s in a kind of “horrified trance,” but The Wiggles clarified she just wasn’t comfortable with singing.)
When the video resurfaced — after a woman posted the clip and wrote that it was “not the representation [she] wanted” — Anthony Field, also known as The Blue Wiggle, quickly apologised and explained the nature of the clip.
“I wrote the song, and directed the clip in 2014 (which was meant as a celebration). It was not my intention to be culturally insensitive to the Indian community, or to add value to ethnic stereotyping. Apologies,” he wrote to a user on Twitter.
And in a statement obtained by HuffPost Canada, The Wiggles further expanded on the band’s initial intentions with the song and its accompanying video.
“Over the years, we have been fortunate to collaborate and work with some wonderfully diverse artists, musicians, performers and dancers from varying cultural backgrounds. Through these collaborations, we have had the opportunity to share, explore and celebrate many diverse cultures,” the statement reads.
“Our intention was for the song to be a celebration, not to be culturally insensitive. We apologise for any offence caused. The song and video no longer features on our Wiggles official sites and The Wiggles have decided that they will not be performing it during their live shows going forward.”
Online, the video has been heavily criticised for its framing of Indian culture. While some have quickly responded by arguing that the video is just an innocent way to introduce young kids to Indian culture (which may very well have been the intention) others have expressed different feelings.
“It’s basic Western European style condescending kids music with, for no discernible reason, an Indian woman dancing and everyone else doing mock Indian things,” one user wrote. “There’s no actual cultural enrichment going on.”
And another: “There’s a guy holding a cricket bat and a papadum while wearing clothing from another culture. The whole thing turns another culture into a punchline. There are far better ways to do this, even with whimsy.”
In their statement to HuffPost Canada, The Wiggles made it clear that they’ll do better in the future.
“We endeavour to deal with all members of our community — regardless of age, gender, cultural background, religion, or sexuality — professionally, fairly and respectfully, at all times,” they wrote. “We will endeavour to ensure that our future songs and collaborations are performed and recorded in an authentic and culturally appropriate way.”
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