M.I.A.’s Born Free: Violence, Media, and Artistic Representation

Another week…another controversial music video…

This time up to bat is avant-garde hip-hopper M.I.A., with the short film for her single Born Free.  M.I.A., born Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasa, brings politics front and center with a violent albeit cinematic critique of ethnic cleansing and genocide. The shocking video was banned from YouTube just yesterday.

The daughter of a Tamil revolutionary father, M.I.A. is no stranger to the violent political discord, the likes of which her video dramatizes.   She was born in London but was raised in Sri Lanka during the decades long Sri Lankan Civil War that pitted the ethnic Tamil minority in rebellion against the Sri Lankan government.  The conflict was characterized by forced evacuations, raids, and many argue genocide.

French director, Romaine Gavras sets the video in a generic-gray cityscape, complete with the high-rise tenement housing that serves as a backdrop for the docudrama styled film.  Born Free’s sonic rock, drum laden beats and distorted vocals open the video with a police raid on one such tenement that finds a terrorized couple, nude in their bed and under attack.

Next, the video narrows in on its disjointed narrative, which finds the police squadron singling out, kidnapping, beating, and eventually executing red heads.   The most jarring scene features a redhead boy being shot in the head at point-blank range.   Other violent scenes include cringe inducing police beatings and a graphic landmine explosions, one in which a man is blown up and torn apart limb by limb.

The selection of red heads as the terrorized minority seeks to satirize and critique the absurdity of ethnic and religious divisions that characterize such genocides in the real world.  The video could have easily extrapolated its narrative trajectory from the recent Nigerian massacres; in which Christian villagers were trapped and killed by Muslim herdsman—between 200 to 500 were killed.  Similarly, it could be connoting the Armenian genocide, during which 1.2 million Armenians were killed under Ottoman-ruled Turkey.  As an aside, Armenians around the world gathered to commemorate the mass killings just this past Saturday.

The Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide, the war in Darfur, or the Bosnian Genocide are all variations on the same tragic narrative that has plagued too much of our collective human history: arbitrary violent division justified by differences that when compared to our common humanness are as negligible, as the between red or blonde hair.

Lady Gaga’s Telephone video filled with bondage, sex, and Quentin Tarantino references felt risky and subversive less than two months ago—now with Badu and M.I.A. making strong and radical political statements in their videos and songwriting, Telephone’s celluloid sexuality and materialism feels like light fare.  [See M.I.A.s humorous take on Gaga here]. 

M.I.A.’s social justice critique does not single out one group, conflict, hero, or villain in the video; instead she takes wide lens in her radical approach to confronting injustice of persecuted minorities.  Like Erykah Badu’s Window Seat, Born Free seeks to make a bold political statement about injustice—through asexualized nudity and graphic violence.   Badu’s assassination and M.I.A.’s executions are both uniquely striking visual representations, during this cultural moment.  M.I.A. inserts an international voice to the domestic conversation Badu started with Window Seat.   The systematic persecution of people of color, undesired minorities, poor people, and immigrants is a shameful and all too common reality in this country and around the globe.

How timely that this video would come out at the same time that Arizona enacts a law ” that requires local police to question the legal status of anyone they “reasonably suspect” of being in this country illegally”.  The law—noted by our immigrant son President as being “misguided”—will no doubt lead to increased racial profiling and harassment of ethnic Native,  Mexican, Hispanic, and Latino peoples, regardless of legal  their status.

The law appears unconstitutional and against the very precepts and values of a Nation supposedly founded on the equality of all men; a nation alo built by immigrants and “displaced” people, whose checkered history on human rights rightfully deserves interrogation. From the historic treatment of Native peoples, the tragic past of African enslavement and Japanese internment to the systematic plague of urban warfare that plagues are large cities today, America should pay close attention to Born Free, before life imitates art.

Militia groups, Tea Partiers, Birthers, and any number of groups are rallying in the name of freedom, with cries of “we want our country back“.  However, what does “our country” really mean?  The radical fringe elements of these and other groups are advocating secession, civil war, armed rebellion, and even the assassination of dissonant voices.  This is scary stuff.   With Palin’s firearm rhetoric and talking heads spewing hateful and malicious  vitriol 24/7, I wonder where our great country is headed.  Is polarization and divisiveness really our only future?

While cable news can be scary, it is not nearly as frightening as the government mandated discrimination that provides the framework to the Arizona law. For those concerned about civil liberties, regardless of political affiliation, this law should be of concern.  It brings us as a country—developed nation and all— one step closer to the police state depicted to in the M.I.A. video.

So what do we think? Does M.I.A.’s use of graphic violence to critique the injustice of genocide provide the cultural stimulus required to start a national or even international conversation on human rights?  Or are her unapologetic politics to radical much for the entertainment sphere?  Is political music and art vital and/or commercially viable in this cultural moment?


I’m A Highly Educated Single Black Woman and No I’m Not Lonely

I should be depressed.   Why? I’m newly single and everywhere I turn I keep reading, hearing, and seeing so-called consensus couched as definitive evidence that as a highly educated black woman, I may be that way from here until eternity.   The lonely black girl narrative is being embraced with very little interrogation in this cultural moment and I for one am ready to put the Kabosh on it.  So, here it goes:


I mean sure, I would like to go to Applebees and have some nice conversation with a gentleman suitor, as much as the next girl; but I am not the least bit desperate or disillusioned at the prospect of not marrying again.  I’m leaving that  aspect of my life up to God’s providence, which means not settling, accommodating, rationalizing, or rearranging to fit into someone else’s context.  No sir. Imma be me.

Any questions? 

However, I digress.  I can certainly acknowledge that the startling statistics on the state of the Black marriages and the overall decline of the Black family are culturally and economically significant, if not a sign of the Black apocalypse.   Hence, why I found a recent article sent to me by a sistah friend worth sharing. Found in April’s Economist Magazine—the latest mainstream media outlet to foray into the now well tread ground of the lonely black girl narrative—the article entitled How the Mass Incarceration of Black Men Hurts Black Women takes a look at how the mass numbers of homies on lock down results in declining marriages in our community.

I encourage you to check out the article in detail.  It has all the oft quoted statistics on single motherhood, black male incarnation, disproportionate educational levels etc. etc.   We know this story.  We live it every day.  We live it when our dentist girlfriend gives the blue collar brother a chance, even though they have next to nothing in common, aside from melanin; or when our aunt, the professor, settles for being the other woman, “just to have somebody”.  Accordingly, the part of the article that stood out to me is captured below:

“I thought I was a catch,” sighs an attractive black female doctor at a hospital in Washington, DC.  Black men with good jobs know they are “a hot commodity”, she observes. When there are six women chasing one man, “It’s like, what are you going to do extra, to get his attention?”

Bing. Bam. Boom and preach. As a native Washingtonian and current DMV resident, I can testify that this woman is speaking nothing but the God’s honest truth.  I haven’t dated in the last really ten years and I can tell you that it is viscous out there.   There are many successful, Ivy-educated, community service doing, church-going, peach cobbler baking, supermodel good looking women in this area and accordingly  it’s a man’s paradise.

Therefore, while being single does not sadden me, seeing my sistahs compromise in the name of love does.  The competition is so fierce that you have Rhodes Scholars dressing like cocktail waitresses to get attention. I’ve found black women are losing the unique expressions of our beauty, becoming carbon copies of this video model aesthetic with mythic long weaves, skin-tight ultra-short spandex dresses, and stripper platform heels.

I do recognize that men are visual and you have to show a little skin to bring the boys to the yard, but as of recent the hemlines and push-bras are getting out of control, not to mention the butt pads and felatio classes.

I for one refuse to play.  I’m almost thirty.  I don’t have the energy or desire to compete for a man who probably won’t even take the time to call me anyway.  I’ve learned they only text now. I’ve been out of the game a while.

Perhaps I’m content in my singleness because I’ve been there and done that with the whole marriage thing and realize that once the gardenias are wilted, the marital union is probably the most challenging endeavor one will take next to raising and child and battling a terminal illness.  It is more important in this life who you are becoming not who you have.  I believe when you tap into that; the right person will be revealed, regardless of race.

I am not a marriage hater; I’m just a singledum embracer.  The guys get it.  The 25 – 35 years old men I know do not seem to be rushing to jump the broom.  Most are keenly focused on reaching their professional goals and dreams, chillin with the boys, traveling, partying, and when and if they have time, they may get up with you. Maybe.

So where does that leave us ladies?  Do we keep playing the game?  Sacrificing, compromising, and exploiting ourselves in the pursuit of love?  Or since most of these dudes out here think they are living some real life version of For the Love of Ray-J, do we change the game up?  I’m advocating saying goodbye to the getting caught in the thick of thin relationships and focusing on the real purposes of our lives.  I’m saying don’t settle for crazy. You are worth more.  The good news is the right one will come along.  Providence will step in, when you are fully loving you, growing your character, and embracing each tomorrow with joy and exuberance, whether single or not.

VA Governor Declares April Confederate History Month: Brief Thoughts

I can remember it like it was yesterday.  My 4th grade class was celebrating Black History Month in the usual fashion of the day.  Our classroom was papered with posters of historical figures and civil rights leaders like Carter G. Woodson, Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth.  It was a Montessori school, so we also had Black Leaders of the Past Flash Cards—for the tactile African-American learning experience.   I don’t recall any direct classroom instruction about the tragic, storied, revolutionary, or resilient past of my people.  However, I do recall a Caucasian classmate requesting that we celebrate “white history month” in March.  Hmm.

A classroom full of prepubescent militant midgets, between the ages of 9 and 11, protested this request in visceral anger and disbelief far beyond our years.  I can recall an especially passionate classmate responding, “Why would we do that?  Every month is White history month“.   Despite our protest, I remember the teacher acquiescing to the request in some strange rationalizing mind-fog he considered fairness, and March was  officially declared White history month in my class. 

At the time it felt ridiculous, confusing, and even painful.  I knew even then that Black History month was a way of celebrating the accomplishments of a marginalized community and acknowledging the dignity of a people subjugated since the country’s infancy. 

Some twenty years later, I am left similarly confused and at the news that Virginia’s Governor declared April Confederate History month in Virginia.  The whole Dixie pride thing is removed from my experience and it creates in me a real cognitive dissonance.  Perhaps it’s because I love me some Scarlet O’Hara and Blanche Devereaux, both entertaining caricatures of or evoking a far-gone era.   

 You see I did not grow up in the South, but my Grandmother did.  I remember for years, she boycotted the entire state of South Carolina, after they refused to remove the confederate flag from the State House.  At 94-years-old, she carries the racial burden of living through the pre-civil and civil rights era and was no stranger to segregation and racial injustice.  Nevertheless, she raised me with a sense of history and racial pride and more importantly taught me to  love  all humanity regardless of race.  We are all children of God.

Yet, the controversy surrounding Confederate History month must be viewed in the context of the day.  Just last year, the country elected the first African-American President, a source of pride for millions of Americans of all races.  Strangely, at the same time, we have racial epithets and spit being hurled at members of the Congressional Black Congress during the recent healthcare rallies.  We also see the rise of militia and anti-government groups, who use blatantly racist propaganda in their messaging.  Furthermore, many states are becoming increasingly divided on issues of state and federal rights.  For example, Texas Governor Rick Perrythreatened to secede from the Union, after the Tea Party protest last spring.  Thus, we must be mindful; history as a way of repeating itself.

My critique of Governor’s McDonnell’s move is one of style, as much as it is substance.  The timing of this proclamations is poor considering the racial tensions in the country are already at a slow boil.  The symbolic move is not unlike waving the Confederate flag on the state house.  Perhaps it will instill pride in some, but to others it represents hate, fear, and intolerance.

 The original  proclamation language did not include language on slavery, which is much of the reason it garnered so much controversy.  McDonnell has since attempted to reconcile this issue by apologizing for leaving the language out and adding the following revised text:

“(I)t is important for all Virginians to understand that the institution of slavery led to this (Civil) war and was an evil and inhumane practice that deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights, and all Virginians are thankful for its permanent eradication from our borders.”

I understand confederate History Month will appeal  and even fill with pride those who trace their history, family members, and roots to Confederate Virginia.  Moroever, I am sure the history is rich and worth remembering.  Nevertheless, not unlike the original proclamation, the “good ole days” nostalgia and myths associated with Dixie, often fail to acknowledge the peculiar institution of slavery in any real way.  At worst this nostalgia is due to fragmented narratives  and at worst it is racist and ugly.  If you have read any message boards on matters of race, you will see plenty of comments by folks who have this warped world view.  I read a comment on the post today that suggested because the blacks kill each other in their cities, they would be better off on plantation today.  Ignorance prevails.

The Civil War was as much a war about economics, as it was abolition. Many argue that by holding on to slavery for as long as it  did, the South was working against its own economic best interest—especially poor plantations owners.  Similarly, today we see the Tea Party movement populated by mostly middle-income average Americans, rallying against a President and his liberal policies that are at least economically in their best interest to support.  Accordingly, this proclamation feels like calculated pandering to me.  It was a vapid empty-headed move that was completed just to appeal to McDonnell’s base.  Despite what the “mavericky ” governor will tell you, it was not about tourism. 

In close, I will acknowledge that Virginia’s history is closely tied to its Confederate past.  Richmond was the Confederate capital and sadly many confederate  soldiers–black and white–were lost on battlefields within the state.  To this end, perhaps April should become a month in which Virginia acknowledge the Confederate narrative in its entirety and within the context of present day.  Perhaps, it should become a teachable moment about what happens when fear, prejudice, greed, and the passions of men become wrapped in intolerance and incivility.  In short, people die.   

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

 George Santayana

Chastity Chic: Can Celebs Like Lady Gaga Make Celibacy Cool?

The word of the day is CELIBACY.  Yes kids; you heard me correct: CELIBACY.  From Lady Gaga’s  recent promulgation on the benefits of chaste living to public demands to free Catholic priests from the ties that bind, celibacy is becoming an increasingly  important component of this cultural moment.  So  let’s talk about not having sex, those opting out and those that may want to think about opting in.

This week both CNN.com and the Washingtonpost.com are featuring stories about celebs abstaining from sex.  In addition to Lady Gaga, celebs who have gone on the record about their chaste lifestyles include: Adriana Lima, Lenny Kravitz, Jordin Sparks, and Miley Cyrus.   Gaga’s celibacy contradicts her sexualized image and lyrics.  Her music video for the hit dance single Telephone  features a full frontal crotch shot; a move that does not exactly inspire modesty. Gaga, who is Catholic, often invokes Madonna in her styling and image, an artist who wrote the book on “Sex“.  Ironically, early in her career Madonna riled the Vatican faithful; her erotic videos were laden with symbols of her Catholic childhood.  I wonder if Lady Gaga’s pledge of celibacy will result in a Papal endorsement:

It’s OK to be whomever it is that you want to be,” she said. “You don’t have to have sex to feel good about yourself, and if you’re not ready, don’t do it.

Celibacy’s place in the modern Catholic church is also under scrutiny. as the massive domestic and international sex scandals dominate recent headlines.  Many critics suggests that celibacy within the priesthood has led to this institutional problem of child sex abuse.  However, research as shown sexual abuse rates in the Catholic Church is not higher than in society, other public institutions and other religious denominations.   However, one must wonder if the vows of celibacy have a place in the modern world?  The more progressive Episcopal church allows priest to marry and have recently allowed gay clergy to serve in the memory.  Is such an approach more aligned to this cultural moment? 

Whether pledging purity out of religious, moral, health, or any number of motivations, I hope abstaining finds a place in the world of gratuitous sexual exploitation.  Perhaps Gaga’s advice may save a few more teenage girls from starring appearances on MTV’s Sixteen and Pregnant.

So what do you think?  Is abstinence the new sex?  Does celibacy sell?

Top Cheating Songs of All Time – Musical Musings on Infidelity

Is it me or is cheating the new black?  It seems like everyone is getting their “creep” on.  The long list of public officials, celebrities, sports icons, and other noteworthy individuals engaging in this—at times—extremely tawdry behavior has made cheating uniquely part of this cultural moment.   We all know the infidelity is older than David and Bathsheba, however, the media saturation, public interest, and hyper speed revelations of mistresses, porn stars, call girls, and prostitutes have created new spectacle around the act. While JFK’s philandering remains largely mysterious and surrounded by myths, now we get Twit Pics, YouTube confessionals, text message transcripts, and enough tabloid fodder between the newsstands and cyberspace to fill a landfill the size of Texas.

Take a look at today’s Google entertainment news.  The top stories include the Sandra Bullock and Jesse James debacle and Oprah’s planned interview with former John Edwards mistress Rielle “skankalicious baby-mama” Hunter.  Lest we forget  the peripheral cheating news of the week, Tiger Woods is returning to golf after a five month absence stemming from the fallout of his well-reported extra-marital trysts.   Over the last year, the list of cheating hearts has been epic: Eliot Spitzer,  Kwame Kilpatrick, Mark Sandford, David Letterman, Steve McNair (R.I.P.), David Patterson, and even country music sweetheart LeAnn Rimes have all be caught up in the media scandals involving their reported philandering.  When what’s done in the dark come to light, there are tears, lies, hurt feelings, and countless numbers of broken marriages that illustrate the repercussions of infidelity. 

For all the hurt, this basement of the human experience that is infidelity has also produces some pretty good tunes.  Songs about infidelity run the gambit, from the campy and sardonic, to the emotional and lyrical, to the morally ambiguous. So with no further ado, here is The Kabosh’s countdown of the top cheating songs of all time:

As We Lay – Kelly PriceKelly lays bares her soul on this soaring ballad about a night of passion with a secret lover. While I prefer this version, the original sung by the legendary Shirley Murdock is also yearning and breathtaking. 

Resentment – Beyoncé: B’s take on the inner conflict of staying with a cheating lover builds to a roaring crescendo of heartbreak and pain.  

Fool of Me – MeshellNdegeocelloA barebones confessional that emphatically asks, “You made a fool of me, tell me why?  If you have ever been cheated on, you may need the tissues for this one.

G.H.E.T.T.O.U.T. – Changing Faces: When a woman’s fed up, brotha you betta get to steppin because, as the song states: “I can do bad all by myself”. 

In My Bed – Dru Hill:  This soulful breakout hit, which along with the then controversial single’s video, put Dru Hill on the map. 

I Can Be – Aaliyah: A bass-driven funky boast of a woman who is ready, willing, and able to be the other woman. 

Love Should Have Brought You Home – Toni Braxton : A hit from the Boomerang soundtrack, this song always reminds me of when in the film Halle Berry responds to Eddie Murphy’s declaration of love stating, “…love shoulda brought your ass home last night” and proceeds to smack him silly.

Secret Lovers – Atlantic Starr:  A philandering classic of star-crossed lovers kept apart by their current relationships. 

Everything I Miss At Home – Cherrelle Featuring Alexander Oneal – The duo famous for Saturday Love recounts an affair of the heart.

Me and Mrs. Jones Not much to say about this one, they had a thing going on.  Strangely enough, in blue-eyed soul news, I found out Michael Bublé has a version of this song, as well.  Something about this feels wrong…blasphemous even!

Creep – TLC – Everyone’s favorite keep it on the down low anthem—the lyrics to which my mom still manages to mangle:  “just keep it on the downside“.   

Down Low – R. Kelly – Don’t mess with Mr. Biggs’ Woman Kells; Ron Isley will get the reach on you.  Nuff said. 

Not Gon Cry – Mary J.  BligeSome of us are still waiting to exhale.  Listening to this Mary track should get you at least half way there.

O.P.P. :  Naughty By Nature – This song is without a moral thermometer, but it sure does rock the club. 

Laundremat – Nivea & R.Kelly Soap, Powder, Bleach, Towels, Fabric Softner, Dollars, Change, Pants, Socks, Dirty Drawers I’m Headed To The Laundromat

Now give me your favorites.  Which cheating anthems get your blood boiling? Which help you cope with the pain of a wayward lover?  Do you blast them in your room in the mirror? Or do they provide the soundtrack while you bust the windows out his car?  Also, what does this cheating moment mean?


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