M.I.A. – Born Free

Like the rest of the world, I’ve been fascinated by Lynn Hirschberg’s New York Times Magazine profile of M.I.A. I can’t say that my opinion of her or her music has been much changed by the article; it was a hit piece–a very well written one at that– but I never really listened to her music for the politics.
I have been reconsidering her controversial music video for “Born Free,” however:
Hirshberg doesn’t think much of the video, calling it “politically naive” and calling attention to it’s violence. It’s obvious that the video is intended to shock, but I think the discussion has to be a little more nuanced than that.
You have to consider if you can appreciate the work of art, the video, independent of the aesthetic of it’s creator. It would be valid to dismiss the video as an exploitative offering by a political dilettante, especially considering the cartoonish governmental figures in the video, and the stylized violence. It undermines the sincerity of the video to know the extent of M.I.A.’s political involvement. At the same time, the video kind of works without knowing that context. It’s central conceit is to take paramilitary actions and images that we’ve become familiar with in the context of the war on terror, and apply them to a population that has never been targeted as such (“gingers”). It takes racial profiling to an abstraction. The message, if there is one, is that if targeting a population for their red hair seems senseless and counter to the mantra of “born free” that repeats in the background, why would you accept those actions for any other population? There’s a debate to be had about whether the video is honest or exploitative, but I think it’s unfair to call it “politically naive.”

One response to “M.I.A. – Born Free”

  1. I just read the article. I had been avoiding it primarily because I really didn’t care but I wanted to be an informed reader and so I at least skimmed it all.
    I would agree with you. I think that the politically naive comment could be accurately attributed to MIA’s simplification and exploitation of the Sri Lankan incident, however, it is woefully off base with this context. In reality the “ginger” killing video provides an interesting commentary not only on ridiculous profiling but also gives light to the very real persecution or at least borderline joke/harassment of red headed people that has evolved recently. I doubt I could argue whether the video is informative about or promotional towards this movement but I think Miss NYT writer missed an opportunity to point of the reality of the growing popular trend of many people to ostracize red heads.
    In regards to the article as whole it certainly portrays MIA in a very poor light and perhaps only due to the controversy regarding the issue I am more inclined to doubt it’s authenticity. I think that the author’s attempt to take MIA seriously only lends credibility to the persona or attention that MIA wants instead of hurting or denouncing it as I presume was the intention.

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