Appreciation or Appropriation?

In the movie version of The Commitments, the band manager Jimmy strongly opposes sexual interactions within the group. Although this theme is a little less obvious in the book itself, with Jimmy even admitting to his slight feelings for Imelda (like all of the other boys in the band), it is still present at times. This contributes to my argument in my conference paper, regarding how both the presence of children, and the lack thereof, is the defining characteristic and perpetuating force of the Black and Green Atlantic itself. In this case, The Commitments leans heavily towards the “lack thereof” argument; opposition to sex directly prevents future generations being born, so film Jimmy’s strong opinions prevent the cultural integration that occurs with each new generation of children. 

This is somewhat ironic, considering the Irish band that Jimmy instigated and manages plays soul music, a genre that originated within the Black American community. With the goal to bring soul to Ireland, on the surface it appears that Jimmy is truly trying to mix Black and Irish cultures. However, moments within the book and film suggest that he is really just trying to copy American soul music. For example, in both the book and the movie, Jimmy instructs the singers to not use their Irish accents. He says, “An’ yis shouldn’t be usin’ your ordin’y accents either. It’s Walking in the Rain, not Walkin’ In De Rayen” (Doyle 34). They do change the lyrics at times to more Irish-themed words, specifically to the song “Night Train,” but this seems to be done so that they appeal to their Irish audiences who love it at concerts, not necessarily to promote cultural integration. 

At the very end of the novel, the remaining band members end up leaving the soul genre behind and moving on to making “Dublin country” music (Doyle 165). Considering Jimmy’s opposition to perpetuating future generations of the Black and Green Atlantic, as well as the performative nature of bringing soul to Dublin, there is a strong indication that it was not Jimmy’s appreciation of soul that led to The Commitments, but that it was appropriation all along.

One Reply to “Appreciation or Appropriation?”

  1. You make some compelling arguments about how The Commitments were about appropriation and not appreciation. It seems the band did not truly feel this transatlantic connection and just bought into it because they just wanted to perform. They did not try to put their own spin on the songs but solely imitated what they heard. They also didn’t study the Black experience as a whole but fetishized the soul singers indepently. It makes sense how they end up moving on to new musical ventures relatively quick.

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