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Op-Ed: What is a Culture Vulture?

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By Jay Burton (New Orleans, LA) – What exactly is a culture vulture? Some people view a culture vulture as someone who makes a profit off of a culture that they’re unfamiliar with, weren’t raised with and have no general experience in. They do, however, see it as a potential way to make a quick profit. Others will view a culture vulture as somebody who is not of the race or ethnicity, lacking any form of background, coming in and making that same type of product. Some people have been known to call DJ Vlad, a culture vulture. Others would look at people like Mariah Carey or Teena Marie among others as culture vultures.

In my opinion, a culture vulture is somebody who comes into a culture that they have no prior knowledge of or respect for. They just see it as an opportunity to make a quick buck, not caring who they hurt in the process and what that does to the culture that they are profiting from.  DJ  Vlad is a prime example of a culture vulture. DJ Vlad is a DJ, movie/film producer and director who is more widely known for being the owner of Vlad abandoned his music career and went full-time with his website in the late 2000s when Youtube started its partner program. The guise of the majority of Vlad’s interviews involves him staying off camera while interviewing somebody. His guests are predominantly rap artists. In the early days of VladTV, he was able to get bigger named artists on his platform. Vlad has used his platform to do what he would call investigative journalism, but the interviews usually have less to do with what an artist is currently doing in their careers and are more focused on any illegal activities that the interview subject may have previously or are currently involved in.

DJ Vlad has a history in the culture, but he’s shown time and time again that he doesn’t care about any of the artists that he’s interviewing. He’s only doing this for the likes, clickbait and engagement that drive up his numbers which allows him to make money from ad sales. He is also seen as taking advantage of a lot of the artists that he interviews because he purposely knows that a lot of them only see numbers and because of that they’ll sit down in front of him and do an interview because they think it will help raise their stock. While Vlad will ask them questions about their music or their careers, the interviews usually derail into conversations that have nothing to do with either of those things.

A lot of people view this as being a culture vulture, because even though Vlad has a history of being in the industry, he has no respect for the culture. He’s only doing it for profit and to maintain relevancy in a space that he was one of the first people to get into. There’s a reason that Vlad can’t get interviews with a lot of big-name artists anymore. It’s because a lot of the artists have seen what he does and don’t want to be involved.

He will occasionally get a big-name artist. Recently he’s done interviews with Omarion, Tavis Smiley and Migos to name a few. However, the majority of his artists are up-and-comers or former stars still looking for the limelight. Because of that, I consider him to be a culture vulture and he’s not the only one.

These types of transgressions aren’t just limited to just music but in different industries as well. I think another good example of being a culture vulture happens in the city of New Orleans quite often. You see it when people move down here and they put their takes on legendary New Orleans cuisines whether that’s altering ingredients or taking what was once a staple of feeding many mouths for few dollars and raising the price exponentially.

Two of the biggest examples would be the recent spins we’ve seen on Po-Boys and Red beans & rice from people who aren’t from here. All they know is that these are two staples of this city and there it’s got to be a part of the “authentic” experience of New Orleans.

There are plenty of restaurants that have taken these New Orleans staples meant to feed many on a small budget and raised the price for even less. Several restaurants will sell a small bowl of red beans and rice for anywhere from $7-11. In that same vein, several restaurants are selling 8-inch po-boys barely stuffed ranging anywhere in price from $14 to $18.

This is another clear example of being a culture vulture because you’re not respecting the history of some of these cuisines and what they were made for. You’re attempting to profit from the history of the city and sell people on an experience in an “upscale venue”.

You’re giving less and charging more because people will want what you call an authentic New Orleans experience, but oftentimes won’t venture into “risky neighborhoods” to get the same experience at a more affordable cost.

The question may arise, why can’t someone come to ingrain themselves into a culture and be welcomed with open arms? Taking it back to the music industry it again comes back down to the respect that they have for that culture. There’s a reason People like Jon B., Eminem, the Beastie Boys, Teena Marie, and so many others are looked at with reverence and respect in their industries. They care about the culture, respect it and have done their due diligence about what they’re getting into.

Respect is a recurring theme here. One of the most repeated quotes that’s said about New Orleans is that “If you love New Orleans, New Orleans will love you back.” That quote also applies to different cultures. There should be a baseline knowledge of the history of these things especially if you’re looking to profit from it. Even if you’re looking to alter something that’s been done a certain way forever, you should acknowledge where it came from. There’s a certain respect level that you must have for these cultures that you’re not born into, but you’re very interested in getting into.

Being a culture vulture is not a new phenomenon. In the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, artists like Elvis Presley, Jimmy Lee Lewis and so many others took music that was pioneered and created by black artists whom record labels didn’t know about or care to market to their white audiences. Those labels took white artists, had them cover songs by black artists and made a profit form off it.

I don’t believe that people being culture vultures will ever stop. I can only say that I hope people will not support these people blatantly ripping off from people who actually care and aren’t just looking to exploit these cultures for financial gain or recognition. All they’re going to continue to do is make more money off of something that a lot of people are pouring their blood and sweat into. Continue to support those looking to take what has been done and want to evolve the culture because it means something to them and not just because they want to pad their pockets.

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