My thing (or rather my couple of things) with this M.I.A. video is that, like most of M.I.A.’s art, it’s unsubtle yet still unclear. It’s not “pointlessly violent” as some people are arguing on Stereogum, nor pointed. It’s just blunt. We’re left to debate whether this is okay in a video:
Her art is about her, first, always. But she has other, better ways of doing this. I interviewed her about her Kala cover art for Paper Thin Walls:
I did find that Qaddafi is one of my artistic influences, which might be really hard to diminish. But if you look at Col. Qaddafi, the way he dresses, he takes backdrops really seriously, to the point where he has his bodyguards carry backdrops carry backdrops with them. And every time he’s photographed, he pulls them out, and he makes sure he’s photographed against these pineapple prints and things like that. I was really inspired by that, I think it’s so interesting. If you look at all African dictators, especially someone causing the most crazy chaos, they’re really fashionable, and really into art, and really camp. I found all those things really, really interesting. So my inspiration comes from that mash-up of those two things. Of having these African dictators and their obsession with image control, but their choices in fashion and art and colors is so loud and and crazy. I don’t know. It’s really gory, you know?
Not necessary subtle, but with interesting threads and connections and little self-righteousness. The Kala album cover was about image control. Maybe “Born Free” is about image control. But that would be really cynical of her. Though she hasn’t responded to any backlash-y stuff, I think that her response would go somewhat like the responses in that same Stereogum thread:
— You don’t like this because you don’t realize that this happens EVERY DAY.
— Maybe it’s stupid, but doesn’t the fact that we’re here, debating it actually make it genius?
The first is just meant to shut down any discussion. The second I’ve always found idiotic, whether applied to art or to say, Sarah Palin (doesn’t the fact that was are talking about her/she can stay in the news make her a sort of media genius?). The (other) usual defense, that she’s fascinating because of her contradictions would only work if her contradictions were fascinating. Note: M.I.A. herself wouldn’t find this an acceptable defense. But that’s what makes her so compelling, right? (No.)
And finally, for a much better time watching exploitation as education, rent Men Behind The Sun. I would make some animated gifs from it and post them if I didn’t think I would have day vomits and nightmares for the next week.