Monday, September 14, 2009

BeKancye (bee-kohntz-yay) Swift.

Lately, more than ever, it seems, we Americans are getting caught up in the small things. In the face of a crippled economy (the poor get poorer), an increasingly polarized government (the conservatives get... conservativer), and a handful of foreign conflicts ("war" is such a harsh term), we're busying ourselves with junk mail instead paying the bills. If you know what I mean.

When I first read online about the Henry Louis Gates incident, I knew from the story that it would be big news. But I didn't anticipate it being White House, Beer Summit-level news. The long and short of it is that this is one of the more "important" trivial matters that we've gotten bent out of shape over recently. In the end, whoever was right or wrong (I don't even have a very strong opinion of the matter), it shows without a doubt that we are not a post racial America. That just because we have a black president now, it doesn't mean that we're starting fresh, that we're past all that Jim Crow stuff. Far from it. Well, I think anyway. Would it have gotten so much exposure and been the talk of the news for about a week if we were actually a "post racial" society (whatever that means)?

So now, onward and downward to Representative Joe Wilson.

Okay, so he got a little hotheaded and he was privy to some shit about votes being cast for something or other. The president demands respect, yes, and there's a right time for this and that, yes, but why does everyone have to get all up in arms about this? Does it have to do with race again? That wasn't what anyone was talking about in reference to this (as far as I remember), but people have inappropriate outbursts all the time. Isn't it good at least that Wilson's passionate about something in government? Would it be better to have apathetic leaders? And aren't we glad that our government hasn't gotten to the point where they have fistfights like some foreign governments' sessions?

(I've skipped over the televised Obama speech debacle, sorry. If it's not clear, I consider all of these things to be non-issues.)

And now, we have Kanye. Kanye, Kanye, Kanye. He's evidently got some problems. But that's why some people love him. Before going into this, I wanted to verify through independent research which music video was better.

Single Ladies

(Sorry, the second video is un-embeddable.)

Now, in terms of the originality and creativity of the video concept and the execution, I hope it's clear to many that Taylor Swift's video lacks much. Irrespective of the songs involved (the VMAs are about the videos only, right? And music videos don't have to relate to their songs at all.), Beyonce's video certainly trumps Swift's. Swift's video is about a "misfit" young girl who pines for a handsome boy who is somehow infatuated with a "prettier" girl. There is an emotional appeal, yes, but it is older than the ages. It's not just a standard music video, it's a standard movie, a standard fantasy tale. It's so ingrained in our culture at this point, but some people still go for it.

Which is fine. But if you're judging a piece of art on some sort of criteria (admittedly, there is not much to be expected from MTV in this respect), it might as well be "originality" and "creativity" and maybe "impact." Sure, Swift has emotional impact, but what about Beyonce? She could have just as easily put together a music video of herself walking down a street in NYC, meeting up with some scrub boyfriends and telling them off because they haven't put a ring on her finger yet. But she didn't.

What is this video? It's got a retro feel to it, but that's not it entirely. Basically, it's three voluptuous women dancing intensely, artfully, and erotically. It's in black and white, it pans around, but it's just them in a studio, dancing. I heard that Beyonce said in an interview that it was all done in the first video shoot. Impressive. (That reminds me of the extended shots in Before Sunset, minutes upon minutes of dialog without a single cut.)

After viewing both videos (I just saw the Swift one for the first time), it seems that both reinforce stereotypical portrayals of women. Swift is the geeky girl who has to shed the glasses and the band uniform and slip into a Cinderella dress before she gets the attention of the star football player. (The song is about the other girl wearing skirts and the geeky girl wearing shirts... but the geeky girl realizes she has to give in...?) Beyonce's video is doing the usual subjection of women as sex objects. But there's also a perverse power there. The song's about not getting a ring, and Beyonce looks pissed off, and all of the flaunting of bodies seems to say, "Look at what you're missing out on, buddy. Just because you couldn't commit." It's "Independent Woman" ... Part III.

But, I mean, just look at that choreography. Who dances like that? When I saw Beyonce move at the VMAs, I was stunned. Who moves like that? It's alien. (I'm sure this is what a lot of people thought of Michael Jackson, but I was just a wee bit young for that phenomenon.) So Beyonce's video wins, without a doubt. Which is why she won Best Video, but not Best Female Video. Whatever, it's just a popularity contest anyway, right? (Which is reinforced by the fact that the VMAs took text votes to determine the winner of Best New Artist.)

So was Kanye right when he implied that Beyonce deserved to win? Yes. Was he right in rushing the stage? No. It was a Joe Wilson moment.

We shouldn't sit around and bicker over this. Everyone in their right mind (everyone who learned to share toys in preschool) knows that Joe Wilson was wrong and that Kanye was wrong. But do you really want to give all the attention to the bad kids in class --- the ones that steal all the toys and eat all the cookies? Why not instead celebrate the intense humility that Beyonce displayed when she ceded her reception speech to Taylor Swift?

I think you have to give more attention to the people doing right here.

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