I’m all about multicultural infusion. Heck, I AM a multicultural infusion. I grew up simultaneously speaking two languages, consuming information and media from two completely different cultural frameworks, and eating family dishes originating from opposite sides of the globe. I can dance polka and bachata with equally clumsy ability, and I’m a veritable swear word polyglot.

Multiculturalism is the very fabric of my being. Yet, I can’t help but notice how often (and tactlessly) a veneer of cultural curiosity and multiculti interaction is used to sell stuff. The first example that comes to my mind–and it pains me to say this–is yoga.

Guru Gucci? (via guccigoods.com)

I started practicing yoga last year, and while I have physically and emotionally benefited tremendously from the practice, it has also caused me no shortage of intellectual conflict. Mostly, it seems disingenuous for posh studios to charge up to $20 per class (at least in my city) to dish out an exercise sold as spiritual guidance. If these yoga postures and meditative chants are sacred rituals passed on from sagely eastern gurus, why can’t they be more accessible to people who aren’t necessarily well-to-do young urbanites? Why must Lululemon yoga pants cost upwards of $110 per pair? How did eastern spirituality and holistic living become so intertwined with the exclusive realm of yuppie consumer culture?

Don’t get me wrong; I love practicing yoga and nearly every person I have encountered through this pastime has been unbelievably likable. Yet, it’s difficult for me to accept the earnestness of the “yogic lifestyle” when so much of it is muddled by an emphasis on fancy props and overpriced sports bras (and, yes, almost every studio I’ve ever attended sells these). This sense especially comes to the fore when I’m sweating out a grueling hot session populated by a demographically uniform crowd of soul-searchers–whose levels of privilege roughly meet or surpass my own– and I’m being reminded by my instructor to “honour the oneness of the world.” I know the individual’s intentions are sincere, but something still doesn’t jibe.

On another, shamelessly gimmicky level, there’s Noko Jeans.

I read an article yesterday about a trio of Stockholm-based twentysomethings who–upon a night of drunk grandiosity–endeavored to set up a designer denim enterprise in North Korea. The Pyongyang-made black jeans (never blue, due to taboo Yankee connotations) are sold exclusively in a Stockholm boutique-slash-“museum” of North Korean history, and have unsurprisingly sparked a flurry of controversy.

NoKo jeans (image from hypebeast.com)

The inevitable question–whether it is ethically sound to produce jeans within a dictatorship infamous for its human rights violations and global nuclear threats–has been countered with the Noko boys’ argument that any outside interaction can only result in a beneficial cultural exchange. What I wonder is, beneficial to whom, and how?

Despite the admittedly apples-to-oranges nature of this comparison, I predict that consumers will eventually embrace Noko jeans the same way we have embraced the high-end yoga lifestyle, and for not dissimilar reasons. People will wear their North Korean jeans as a novel emblem of foreign quirk just as I unblinkingly accept my $15 hourly dosage of diluted eastern spirituality, because we all want to feel connected to a world beyond what we see on a daily basis and it’s a lot easier to drop a buck than to think too hard about what it all means.

(Or maybe I’m just a curmudgeon. This is entirely possible.)

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