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Art, Politics, M.I.A. & Twitter

Last week, I watched M.I.A.'s new music video, because I love the Kala album. Its tunes get stuck in my head and I like the mix of cultural insight, fluff, and rhythm.

I was shocked by the video for her new single "Born Free" - a ten minute graphically violent genocide piece. It is supposed to be shocking, I am quite sure. As it has rolled around my head, and then as I discussed it briefly via Twitter with Matt & Nadine, I have been thinking:

  • this video is not really about the music - at points you can hardly even hear the song over the sounds of violence.
  • how much nudity/violence is TOO much? Yes, things like this happen. Yes, it is shocking and disturbing and we should be upset by it. So how far do we go in recreating the evil that exists in the world?
  • at what point does political art cease to be art and become propaganda?
  • what is this video trying to communicate? What is the point of this?
  • if art is going to make such strong statements, shouldn't it be tied to the opportunity for we, the viewers to do something? To act on the response elicited by the art?
I strongly dislike the video, but recognize its merit and power. Like when I read Lord of the Flies and hated it, but knew that I couldn't just chuck it out.

I'm not sure what to do with the video, but like most things, I'm excited for the conversation about it.

If you want to, you can watch the video here. But I warn you, it contains graphic nudity and violence. It is not an MTV video. You can't un-see it once you've watched it. If you want to just comment on any of these broader questions without watching it, feel free to do that too.


Jess said…
I watched it a few weeks ago too and proceeded to have a 20 minute argument with Heather about it. She found it despicable, and I, though I definitely don't really think it was something I'd ever want to watch again or think everyone can swallow, I wasn't ready to just throw it all out because it pushes my boundaries of what is a)ok or should be shown on TV and b)appropriate for music videos

My perspective was, as most of MIA's stuff, it's sending a message about freedom & how much freedom we have. But, like you, I wasn't exactly sure what it was saying.

Was she pointing out how American's aren't as free as they think?
Was she demonstrating how American authority is targeting minorities?

I think the point she was trying to make was clouded out by the horrific things she showed in the video.

Heather said, "just because this stuff happens in the world, doesn't mean it will make me think about it now that I've seen it in the music video, it desensitizes people"

I disagree. Sort of. Yes, if I watch the movie over and over and over again I will become desensitized. But, after watching that video..... I was reminded of the horror I felt the entire time I was doing my degree in International Development (admitedly, I lost the horror bc I had become jaded, cynical & come to expect genocide and evil).

In summary: I have no idea.
Yes... to all the above.

When I watched it I was pretty shocked. Before I watched it, I looked for it on YouTube and found that they taken of off of there. So I watched a news-ish clip that talked about the video and why it was taken off YouTube. They said that it was taken off because it was too graphic. I'd agree, little kids and grandmothers shouldn't see it. They even said that among some groups that were asked about it, they were more offended by the nudity than the extreme violence. Which I found WAY backwards... but that's beside the point.

I thought the video was really well done. Not as a music video (because it wasn't really that at all, even though I did like the music) but as a short political film. The thing, is how much more disgusted would you feel as a Canadian if the solders were wearing Canadian flags on their shoulders instead of American flags? And if the red heads were another racial group (African, or Asian, etc.)? I think the thing about the film is that it showed how when you strip away the "al-Qaida/bad guy" mask away, and bring the violence close to home, it gets really freaky, and people don't like feeling uncomfortable.

What I'm trying to get at is whether it is the killing of Gingers, Arabs, Christians, or Incas, it is still killing and it is still evil, and wrong, and it SHOULD make you feel uncomfortable. I think we in North America can too easily turn a blind eye to a lot of tragedy that happens in our world. I know I can start to feel callus and get clinical in how I hypothetically rule out judgement while reading the news paper in the morning, rather than squirm in my chair the way I did when I saw this film.

After watching that film I sat a my desk for a while just thinking. I realized that if was the first time in a while that I actually was thinking clearly about some of the violence that goes on in the world. With all the "freedom" talk that goes on in the media you start to forget the evil that can be found beneath it. I felt like I understood better what happened when those prison photos were taken in Iraq of the naked and tied up prisoners, and the number human rites violations that go on in Guantanamo Bay. It's horrible.

So, to sum up: Yes the video was graphic, and violent. BUT it was also a good wake up call to a callus heart who would be inclined to turn a blind eye. The reason why I like it is because it reminds us how lucky we are as Canadians/Americans to have our rites as humans respected, but at the same time it reminds us how easily that can be lost. And for those who live in war torn places, this film helped me identify with the horror they deal with every day, a problem I have comfortably sitting at my computer.

Also... I am a Red-Head
Rhianna said…
This video could be described as exactly what I would expect from M.I.A., she has long made videos or "movies" as Mathew says about violence and in particular genocide. I appreciate what she has to say about it without really saying anything. She has first hand genocide experience being Tamal and if she is speaking true to her own experience I say continue! I agree also that is would be too much for grannies to see but how many of don't think twice about violence in movies? Just because they are killing some sort of enemy does that make it ok? I love her use of gingers here, any other genocide is just as absurd to them as killing gingers is to us! She is clearly pushing the right buttons! Thank you for posting this.
Beth said…
such great thoughts so far!!

jess - i agree (on having no idea)

matt - i also thought about this A LOT after watching, and of course that leads to thinking about the real-world parallels...and being uncomfortable with them. which is good. although i'm still left feeling powerless to see things change.

rhianna - you make a great point about MIA's personal experience with genocide. that is a factor that influences how we (or at least i) view the video, for sure. it makes it less propaganda-like.
Jess said…
Matt, I totally agree. But I also know that I'm a person that particularly likes things that push boundaries of what I think is acceptable, even if I think said thing is wrong. I LOVED V for Vendetta because I at the end I had sympathy for a terrorist, and thatttt is crazy.

My only point of hesitation is for this to become mainstream & this people become desensitized. Like Matt was saying about the ppl who were more offended by the nudity (but who wouldn't be offended by ugly bodies writhing together). That's upsetting to me.

Further conclusions: as art, I LUHVED it. As a part of the music video genre, not a fan.

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