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Arts and Culture

A Ginger’s Response to M.I.A.

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Posted on Apr 27, 2010
mia
vimeo.com

By John Cheney-Lippold

(Page 2)

We have been telling the Middle East to “stop” for decades, and we have pleaded with our children and parents to “stop” being so racist, for gangs to “stop” the violence, and for everyone to “stop” being homophobic. But saying “stop” really doesn’t stop it. Rather, by saying “stop” to Palestinian militants and Israeli soldiers, we are merely waxing over the colossal land grab that Israel has made of Palestinian territory over the last 60 years. And by saying “stop” to racism, we are falling back on some archaic notion that racial discrimination is something just about skin pigmentation and not about slavery, wage disparity and, let’s be honest, the struggle for white people to keep living with privilege.

M.I.A.’s video asks us to stop in the most bland manner. This is not to say that the video isn’t in itself one of the most gratuitous visual displays since those “Saw” movies I refuse to see. But rather that it works on the same level as the bloated black child surrounded by flies, making us wince at the inhumanity and, maybe, fork over some change to thwart hunger in the imprecise foreign land of “Africa.” But where does that child really live? Is it malnourished because of war or famine? And why in the world is that particular country in Africa having an issue feeding its own people? These are questions that complicate charity, as well as complicate the situations in the Middle East, Sri Lanka, or even Arizona. And these are the questions we should ask, rather than be wowed at the shocking intolerance M.I.A.’s video offers us, to which we can pretty much map any serious conflict of the past 100 years from the FBI’s attacks on the American Indian Movement to the LAPD’s ongoing war against black people.

Gingers, redheads, carrot-tops, Agent Oranges, lil’ reds, big reds, Fred the Reds, fire crotches, los gingerinos (if you’re not into the whole brevity thing)—we are doing alright nowadays. While I do think that people who dye their hair red are no-good cheaters, basking in the exotic nature of whatever it is we have, yet avoiding the years of teasing that make all of our post-adolescent “I love your hair” compliments worth it, we aren’t oppressed. But M.I.A.’s video doesn’t address that. Instead she’s trying to make a statement, as weak as it is, that ultimately relies not on political intrigue or artistic innovation, but on violence and sex to get the public’s attention for her upcoming album. Is it cynical to say it’s all a ploy? Sure ... but, at the end of the day, despite all this critique and intellectualizing, the song behind the video is pretty awesome.


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By direwolf, May 4, 2010 at 9:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

i like how the article refers to the video as “M.I.A’s” video. Its an M.I.A song playing, but i’m pretty sure the artistic direction of the video came from the DIRECTOR of the video, Garvas. Which, that taken into account, makes the thing make a whole lot of sense. Watch his video he did for “Stress” by Justice, same sort of abstraction about society. Whether or not it resonates with you on a real political level or whatever, its still a wicked video. I think that’s why people should like or dislike it.

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By diman, April 29, 2010 at 6:16 am Link to this comment

The video and its makers are gutless, why didn’t they put arab looking youngsters in their video to make it truly original and a real protest against oppression.

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By Earthling, April 29, 2010 at 4:27 am Link to this comment

Were the non-armored persons appearing in the video presented in a different guise, we couldn’t distinguish this video from one reporting on a state of war or on some state of society.

So, I don’t understand the offense that so many people seem to have taken to the video. If these folks are like me and reside in one of the world’s many societies, then, like me, most likely, to some extent they are morally responsible for the kinds of atrocities the video shows.

In any case, I couldn’t hear much music at all in the video, and, therefore, don’t think it is a very successful MUSIC video. So, I don’t really get it…..

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By P, April 28, 2010 at 5:40 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I have to disagree with this article on a couple of grounds:

A) The sort of detailed contextualization the author is calling for cannot take place in space of a music video. Just as the author accuses the director of lacking historical context, we can accuse the author of lacking any eye to popular cultural context. This is a music video, ... See Morenot a four hour film.

B) The director obviously used Gingers precisely to decontextualize the violence depicted because, and this is what historicists will deny to their graves, there is a dimension of power that is not contextual or historical but is precisely universal and generic. Hence, the director’s use here and in his other videos of people of color in the positions of police and military. The video is suggesting that State power is structural and thus pliable to different geopolitical contexts.

C) If the depicted target of this violence is, in a sense, abstract. It is concretely identified as the working/underclass, a global poor.

D) The author misses the one bit of “context” that the director drives home time and time again. Whoever these “men with guns” are, they are representatives of THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA -ie. global capitalist imperialism. And this is where the author is off base entirely. This is not ultimately a video about the suffering of victims; the victims are, to a certain extent, presented as an abstract category. Rather, this is a video about The United States of America.

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By bran, April 28, 2010 at 4:49 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I think the message is a lot simpler, and echoes the calls of warning Mr. Hedges has been issuing on his columns:

The kinds of fascist police state images and atrocities M.I.A is depicting can happen in the U.S., and we’re fooling ourselves if we think blindly trusting in the establishment is going to do something constructive to alleviate the structures that are already in place that can allow such a dark fate to befall us.

She’s not depicting opression of “gingers;” she’s depicting government-sponsored terror. What’s done to the “gingers” is as much a part of her message as the poor people whose lives were violated during the terrorizing police raids.

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By diamond, April 28, 2010 at 4:00 pm Link to this comment

Writer on the Storm, the Israeli oppressors are not racially identical to the Palestinians. In fact, most of the Israeli settlers are of European descent and a lot of them have American accents. They are not Arab, they are not Middle Eastern people and you would have to go back thousands of years to find any links at all. The entire defense of their appropriation of the land they have taken is based on founding a theocracy, an ideology of racial and religious superiority, a feeling of grievance and entitlement to compensation and an expansionist religio/political agenda, not on shared race or even a shared history. Their discrimination against the Palestinians and all Muslims has now morphed into the war on terror in an attempt to make discrimination against Muslims global.

But you don’t need to focus on the differences: look at Rwanda where both sides were black, or at the Bosnian war where the Muslims were blonde, blue eyed and indistinguishable physically from their tormentors, rapists and torturers. As were many of the Jews in the concentration camps in World War II. The Muslims of the Balkans were the same people as the Serbs and the Croats: the only difference was that they has converted to Islam under Turkish rule. The Serbs also attacked and killed the Croats and in that case they were the same people with the same Christian religion EXCEPT that the croats were part of the Russian orthodox church and had a different alphabet.

In the final analysis hatred, intolerance and egomania are the problems as well as the political uses to which they can be put. As in Arizona where a law has now been passed that would have made Hitler proud and which makes redhead-style discrimination a reality. Discrimination is really just a particularly nasty and disastrous version of the blame game you can see in any kindergarten and which some people never outgrow.

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By Géza Éder, April 28, 2010 at 1:57 pm Link to this comment

@Samson: Don’t be dense, it’s a pretty simple and meaningful statement.  Just like in Hungary, we have rich romani and poor ones, and rich whites and poor ones, it still makes sense to say that “romani are poor”; we also have white people who aren’t racist against them and those that are, but it still makes sense to say that white Hungarians in general are at least somewhat racist against them. 

As for the video, it’s mostly meaningless sensationalism, based on cheap, generic emotional manipulation.  It’s intelligent in the same way that a TV ad is intelligent: it is efficient and effective in manipulating you to get some kind of emotional high, while not really saying anything except generalities.

Everyone feels they know that evil is evil.  The video found a theoretical form of evil that most people can understand and identify with, without reminding people that sometimes, most of the time, we’re also responsible for other people’s suffering.  You can watch it and feel generally good because you’re not like that and so on, or philosophize about how evil the world is etc etc.

It also takes no real risks, as noone will be able to identify with the “bad” side, the pure textbook nazis, they’re incomprehensible, simplistic evil guys.  “Discrimination is bad” - you don’t fucking say.  Show me how I’m discriminating against other people if you’re an artist, or reference real history or something, otherwise it’s just a trick.

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By ann, April 28, 2010 at 10:25 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

i agree with your points, but i think it’s made to show how easily (and ridiculous) it is to discriminate. i think by using red-heads, it strengthens the ridiculousness and absurdity of discriminating against someone unlike you. i think the political value of the video decreases with the use of red-heads, but maybe that wasnt the
point?

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By Gordy, April 28, 2010 at 10:05 am Link to this comment

Nice balanced write-up and I agree that the political
statement could be a lot more penetrating even if it is
a good song.

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Petro's avatar

By Petro, April 28, 2010 at 9:35 am Link to this comment

Good points, diamond.

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By WriterOnTheStorm, April 28, 2010 at 9:34 am Link to this comment

More often than not, what we call racism is more properly culturalism—an urge
to “protect” ones culture from outside influences which manifests in hatred and
violence. Race is often associated with culture, a coincidence that leads to a
semiotic short circuit, a cognitive bait and switch if you will, in which race becomes
the mistaken locus of our cultural identity.

Just take the time to notice, and you might see that racially integrated people are
really just the ones who walk and talk like those with whom they have integrated.

Racially, the Palestinians are nearly identical to their Israeli oppressors, so at best,
the Ginger metaphor is just lazy visual shorthand. And unfortunately, this kind of
laziness usually fans the flames.

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By eib, April 28, 2010 at 7:21 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The men who degrade are not entitled.
They are degraded and devalued first.
And whatever privilege they may secure from their brutality is empty solace.
Do people really want to live such that they spend most of their time in pain and only a small part in solace?
When does life get off the pain and solace merry-go-round?

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By diamond, April 28, 2010 at 1:18 am Link to this comment

I hope you’re not all as shallow and obtuse as your posts make you out to be but I fear I will be disappointed yet again. The point of this music video is the same point made in the documentary ‘Blue Eyed’, where a sociologist showed how easily a group of brown eyed people could be encouraged to discriminate against a group of blue eyed people. The effect on the blue eyes was devastating: it was the first time in their lives they had ever been confronted with how it feels to be singled out for discrimination and some of the brown eyes were shocked at how easy it was to become the master race and to behave accordingly. As for what occurs in this video: American forces have been doing exactly this to Muslims for the last ten years and the Israelis have been doing this to Muslims for 60 years. Wake up and face the truth. Or is that why it was banned? Just a little bit too close to the bone? Too confronting for Americans and others in the Coalition of the Willing to bear? Banning things doesn’t make them invalid or untrue and the mere fact that it was banned shows that it is disturbing and confronting: the way genocide and ethnic cleansing should be.

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By footnote, April 27, 2010 at 10:48 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Missing the point guys.

The video is portraying authority…normal social democratic authority…the type we are taught to never question, engaging in house raids, targeting those who have been profiled and inflicting terror on them. Do you think that ‘our’ authorities would be incapable of mine clearing in the way shown? Do you think that ‘our’ authorities would be incapable of mindless murder?

Shock, horror. News just in. It’s not about Palestinians any more than it’s about child soldiers in the Congo or any other identifiable group.

It’s about authority. And it’s about the potential expression of authority.

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By Petro, April 27, 2010 at 6:52 pm Link to this comment

I have to admit that, after watching, the video is too amateurish to move one emotionally.  The “retro” gas masks were cool, I guess, but I think they hurt themselves with this sort of hipness-reaching.  Not that that’s the only reason - they somehow found a way to make the gore cartoonish *and* unpleasant.

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By Petro, April 27, 2010 at 5:26 pm Link to this comment

Good post - I think you are thinking about this in exactly the right way.  Nothing wrong with shorthand protest, but it shouldn’t distract one from the substantive scrutiny of the particular issues, and the potential particular remedies.

“los gingerinos (if you’re not into the whole brevity thing)”

OK, that was funny.

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By Samson, April 27, 2010 at 3:34 pm Link to this comment

“That has lead to a sense of entitlement in those of light skinned people. That sense of entitlement continues to be a major source of racism today. “

Yes, I’m sure everyone in Appalachia feels so entitled.

Nothing at all knowing like you’ve been born to a life in a tar paper shack and that the only job you’ll have a chance at is that of a private in the army.  Maybe you can die in a coal mine disaster if you are really fortunate and make the grade to get the ‘good’ job.  Its so wonderful to be born a white person and therefore entitled to such great privilege.

Saying that all white people have a sense of privilege is prejudice.  If you said ‘some white people have a sense of privilege.’, then you might be ok.  But not every white person is a Harvard grad.  Its incredibly sloppy thinking to suggest otherwise.  If you doubt this, then go drive around Appalachia.  Or if that’s too far away, I’m guessing you can find some poor white trailer trash near you that don’t feel terribly privileged.

Just because there are some rich white jerks who seem to own everything, don’t make the mistake of somehow thinking that all white people come from such privilege.

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By Wren, April 27, 2010 at 10:40 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

@DasBoot

“...let’s be honest, the struggle for white people to keep living with privilege.”

“Let’s be honest, I have no idea why such an idiotic sentence crept into an otherwise laudable article about the underlying social and economic issues that produce individual and collective racism.”

You would have to understand the origins of race and racial based slavery. Like this article tries to make clear, you have to understand the origin of the prejudice and not just the excuses for its continued existence. Race was invented to easily identify slaves. That has lead to a sense of entitlement in those of light skinned people. That sense of entitlement continues to be a major source of racism today.

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Orbis Unum's avatar

By Orbis Unum, April 27, 2010 at 9:30 am Link to this comment

While I found this article succinctly articulated in it’s surmising presumptions, it fails to clearly suggest any solution oriented Science of Right Reasoning to State a Claim for which Relief can be Granted, against the backdrop of Political Standing to say otherwise. Having said otherwise, by those with Political Standing, I venture to query the enterprising sort, if at all possible, how does having one’s word heard merit any value without Political Standing to say otherwise? And, being the enterprising sort (that is to test “all” things by the Science of Right Reason), how does one acquire Political Standing? Since being the enterprising sort and knowing the answer to the query, one wishes only to venture forth in hopes of finding cognitive awareness and the honor to justly state the matter as succinctly articulated rather than by surmising presumptions!

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By charles, April 27, 2010 at 9:23 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

the music is among the worst I have ever heard….
the video does what everyone tries to do nowadays, shock you. by showing the killings, etc.
seems like the only way to attract attention is to shock the audience.
that is just plain wrong.
the way in which the audience should be attracted is by quality. by quiality of sounds, quality of image…
by art.
not by trying to be more nasty, more explicit than anyone else.

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By Jesse, April 27, 2010 at 8:20 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Right - Musician/entertainer, not social scientist. The song rocked, the visuals were stimulating and nowhere near as filthy and violent as many video games being played by very impressionable people. It is most certainly there for publicity, and the media is obliging nicely. Good job!

Oh yeah, I’m guessing just by context that the kid who gets shot was a boy.

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By mcthorogood, April 27, 2010 at 8:15 am Link to this comment

Possible roots for racism?

God created human beings in her own image.
People see an image of god in the mirror each morning.
When people look upon each other, they don’t always recognize God.

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By reynolds, April 27, 2010 at 7:08 am Link to this comment

w o w

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By DasBoot, April 27, 2010 at 6:40 am Link to this comment

“...let’s be honest, the struggle for white people to keep living with privilege.”

Let’s be honest, I have no idea why such an idiotic sentence crept into an otherwise laudable article about the underlying social and economic issues that produce individual and collective racism.

Your criticism seems misplaced to me. You are blaming musicians for not being social scientists. In contrast to you I did not like the music, but I see that M.I.A. use the medium they have at their disposal. Do you want them to publish books instead?

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