Wednesday, January 5, 2011

"Born Free"

Today, I fear for life. Not because I saw someone killed...or because I knew someone that was injured in the Omaha Millard South shootings, but because one person in the world is probably dying every second, many unjustified and undeserved.

It began when I was browsing Youtube for old Backstreet Boys videos (to recall my 13-year-old self and Oprah, bless her heart, invited them onto her show today). I came to a like for VEVO's "Best of 2010" video playlist. Most of them were the infamous Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Willow Smith. After watching Usher's "OMG," wishing I had my 3D glasses handy, I came to M.I.A.'s "Born Free" video. Here's what went down:

The film depicts a U.S. military SWAT team, driving up to a building and staging a raid, during which they ignore a man sitting in a room smoking crack, beat a couple engaged in coitus, and then force a young man with red hair violently into a detainee transport vehicle, along with other red-haired men previously captured. The detainees are then driven out to the desert, treated brutally, and forced to run across a live minefield. During the course of events, a young boy is shot through the head, and another is blown to pieces after stepping on a live mine. Soldiers continue to chase, beat, and shoot the others.

The film for "Born Free" has been widely described as political allegory, drawing parallels to many indigenous resistance movements around the world. During the video, a mural is seen depicting armed red-headed men and the slogan, "Our day will come," the historical motto of the Irish Republican Army. Also depicted are keffiya-wearing red-headed young people who throw rocks and glass bottles at the armored vehicles transporting the detainees, in an apparent reference to the iconic images of the Second Palestinian "Intifada." The 12-year-old red-haired actor, Ian Hamrick, whose character is shot in the head, described the video as "showing violence to end violence."

Here's a link to the video - for mature audiences.

And here's what people had to say:

The Huffington Post stated "Whether it's a comment on the absurdity of genocide (of which M.I.A. saw plenty during her early childhood in Sri Lanka) or a challenge to the idea of "other" in Arizona's immigration law, it is startling even in the context of recent genre-bending music art-films." --- Zach Baron, writing in Village Voice added "NSFW isn't exactly the word. More like art film? We can think of no goofier political allegory than the persecution, abuse, and murder of redheads, but then again, M.I.A.'s politics have never been of the kind you read about in the New York Times." --- James Montgomery of MTV described it as "unflinchingly, unapologetically real" depicting "the kind of things that most nations - including the U.S., which is portrayed as the aggressor in the clip - often pretend don't happen: the rounding up of ethnic minorities, the trampling of personal liberties, the bullying of the powerless by those with authority." Real life parallels were drawn with the "ongoing issue of immigration in states like Arizona, the treatment of prisoners by U.S. troops at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, and, more universally, the brutal tactics used against minorities by government forces all over the world." --- Salon described "Born Free" as "the most violent music video in ages -- and a nine-minute masterpiece" adding that "M.I.A. has built a career on making music that's as outspoken as it is danceable" and described the video as "undeniably powerful, a lurid parable on the systematic ethnic cleansing that goes on all over the world." Eric Henderson in Slant
stated, "what stuck with me is the furious dignity it accords the main tracksuit-wearing prisoner, and the amount of anger it allows him to deliver...I recognized within him and the band of rock-throwing dissidents that pelt the armored bus a sense of kinship relevant to anyone who occupies a minority class." While he felt that "the clip is but a metaphor, and not entirely successfully so, when the pitbull-faced, tenement-snatched redhead boy is slammed against the iron fence and still dares to glare into the eyes of his attackers, I want to be right there by his side fucking their shit up."

The film was described as "controversial" after its removal from U.S. Youtube soon after its posting due to its graphically violent content. It was made available again with an over-18 viewing disclaimer. On April 27, the BBC reported that the video was being removed in some instances by Youtube, and labelled with an age-restriction in others. Neither M.I.A. or her record label, XL Recordings, commented on the development, but M.I.A. tweeted it was not her label responsible. In subsequent interviews, M.I.A. stated she found the reaction ridiculous, citing Youtube's streaming of real-life killings. She stated in an interview with Miranda Sawyer of the The Observer.
It's just fake blood and ketchup and people are more offended by that than the execution videos.

Referring to the clips of Sri Lankan troops shooting unarmed, blindfolded, naked men in the head that she tweeted beforehand, later telling French music magazine Mondomix:

It's amazing to me that is the state we're in today - people are more moved by something synthetic than something real. And as an artist that's the decision you have to make -whether to be real or synthetic.

A week after its release on Vimeo on April 26, the video was viewed 1.8 million times on the site. From April 27 to May 2, M.I.A. remained the most blogged about artist on the Internet, according to MP3 blog aggregator The Hype Machine. The video was then re-posted on Youtube by VEVO, without users having to sign in to prove they were 18 or older. The raw video is also on M.I.A.'s website. To date, the video has been viewed 30 million times on the Internet.

It's frightening to me that children can come across similar links and videos, view them unaware, and dream about the terror that is the world today. As an adult, the "real or synthetic" philosophy has me thinking, though still questioning: almost everything in the visual and audio media is media-fied, watered down, or hyped up to evoke emotion. It's true that this video brought tears, and I have never seen live execution videos. I'm certainly not saying they aren't real and that this particular video is invaluable in its teaching or awareness. I'm aware that genocide and murder are underway during all parts of the day - evil is certainly at work. It's important to be aware. I commend M.I.A. for bringing up the issue again, but I stand against her (or whoever made the decision) in making it available to anyone on the web, including young and tender hearts and minds.

As I sit in peace at home, in safety, with some faith in justice in America, I'm afraid that there is nothing I can do or ever do. The guilt of wanting to show compassion, though never received. Sometimes, all we can do is pray - for those in persecution, in the midst of unjust murder, and for those in fearful exposure to death by evil in the world.

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