M.I.A.'s Shock Tactics Dilute Her Politics

Categories: Music

Image Courtesy of: Grant Gilliland

M.I.A. thrives on misinterpretation. Her debut album, Arular, was named after her Tamil Tiger dad and released in the midst of the War on Terror with a lead track taunting, "I've got the bombs to make you blow." Her antagonistic resolve arrived at a time when a good chunk of post-9/11 America was ready to imprison anyone brown-skinned, foreign, and outspoken. But despite her artistic development in the public eye since then, Maya Arulpragasam hasn't come any closer to a concrete rhetoric. Her juggling of buzzwords like "PLO" and "KGB" in her rhymes, and her use of Black Panther and Zapatista images in her videos, have the political potency of a Che Guevara T-shirt on an Urban Outfitters rack. The artist who was given her biggest boost from the Pineapple Express soundtrack has been carelessly simplifying major issues into party slogans, branding what some have scoffed at as "terrorist chic."

Take her new single, "Born Free," for instance.

M.I.A, Born Free from ROMAIN-GAVRAS on Vimeo.

Its widely discussed video juxtaposes the ugliness and corruptibility of wartime invasions with victims you don't see every day. As soldiers gun down and launch explosives at young, unarmed prisoners, the point is about as subtle as your average Law & Order: SVU episode. The twist is that the innocents are all redheads, transported to camps to be shot, the idea being to show the destruction the U.S. military wreaks on civilians around the world. It's a generic enough concept that only shortly before the violent video premiered, South Park used a disgruntled race of "gingers" for a similar metaphor. It was a coincidence that unfortunately demonstrates how M.I.A.'s attempted shock angle sometimes scrapes the bottom of the metaphor barrel. And, removed from its video, the song is almost perversely blank.

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