Thursday, May 7, 2015


"There is no rule that pop music has to work in a certain way. You might wonder what would have happened if Rihanna had imagined herself at risk, if she had shown herself being buried alive. What a powerful statement that would have been, to say that for all of her popularity and wealth, she’s no different than the young black men and women who are so often the targets of racialized, institutionalized violence.

That’s what Toni Morrison meant when she said in 1998 to Ed Bradley on 60 Minutes, despite being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, that she still believed whites could betray her: “If the trucks pass and they have to make a choice, they’ll put me on that truck.” Pressed about those comments in a subsequent interview, she explained it again: “I meant that in the final analysis, that if they had to choose to be white or to be human, and I was the key, they might choose to be white. Being human is hard” 

First off, big up PopMatters for the new site design and Robert Loss's latest column and takedown of Rihanna's video is one very on-point celebratory induction into this new era.  Robert is too polite to refer to its empty gestures as the turgid cutesy blue state demagoguery of brand management, but does make some excellent statements on the way pastiche that purports to be political usually winds up negating any potential content in favor of its own stylistic choices.

(though you could write a master's thesis about the implications of how she sexualizes images of 9/11)

"In the final analysis, “American Oxygen” is not a political song except in the sense that every American song exists in a political culture. The song and the video come off as reactions that are either afraid to be explicitly political or simply can’t find the language, verbal or visual, to do so. The problem isn’t that “American Oxygen” fails as political art. It’s that we might consider it a success, when instead it’s a mere gesture.

If someone who desperately needs it finds inspiration in “American Oxygen”, good. As a white American male with a decent job, and thus someone far less likely to be choked by the police for illegally selling cigarettes, I should be able to recognize that even a gesture toward the suffering experienced by the oppressed can be a powerful recognition in their eyes. Sometimes gestures are the best any of us are going to get on any given day. But they’re not enough. They’re never enough. Recognition can amount to nothing more than condescension, and aspirational messages can obscure institutionalized racism and end up blaming the victim. What we need is real change."

It also doesn't help that the song kinda stinks. 

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