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Douglas S. Ishii

Douglas S. Ishii is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Asian American Studies and Gender and Sexuality Studies at Northwestern University. He received his PhD from the Department of American Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park, and previously was an inaugural Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Colorado, Boulder. His first manuscript studies Asian American arts activism, and his previous PopCon presentations have theorized race and rock.

“Love. Angel. Music. (Maybe.): Neoliberal Feminism, No Doubt”
No Doubt’s 2012 letter for the music video for “Looking Hot,” the band’s second single from their sixth studio album, claims by way of apology: “As a multi-racial band our foundation is built upon both diversity and consideration for other cultures.” In the video, frontwoman Gwen Stefani and bassist Tony Kanal masquerade as “Indians” as guitarist Tom Dumont and drummer Adrian Young pursue as “cowboys” between shots of Stefani, in a feathered headpiece, dancing in falling rain. Hot off her Harajuku solo stint; her henna/bindi moment; and her ska/reggae influences, Stefani’s high-fashion imperialism is another white appropriation of racial otherness for white feminine chic – an iteration of what theorists like Jodi Melamed and Sunaina Maira have discussed as neoliberal multiculturalism.

Without ignoring the veracity of that assessment, this presentation works through the knots of complicity and enabling in the No Doubt universe. I focus on the case of Gwen Stefani – America’s pop-alt-rock sweetheart, to whom so many politically progressive people feel indebted for Tragic Kingdom (1995) – to engage how subcultural capital, as opposed to pop capitalism, constructs Stefani’s white innocence. I thus analyze Stefani’s catalog of excuses – her intimate and professional relationship to Indian American guitarist and producer Kanal; the loud defenses by her otherwise silent Asian and Asian American cadre of Love, Angel, Music, and Baby; and her sincere refrains about friendship, interraciality, and diversity. I ask: If key to the appropriation debate is that it is theft, what does it mean when people of color consent to their objectification - and are thankful for the opportunity? In this way, this presentation probes popular music, which has been particularly guilty and especially obstinate when it comes to cultural appropriation, to think through intellectual property, the alternative image, and the feeling of diversity.