Latoya Peterson: What disturbed me most about the talk wasn’t anything with Junot. It was the reaction of the audience to a few different things. There are screams of joy and elation when Junot talked about his dating life, but we can’t even get a clap or a finger snap when he stressed the need to care about the issues of other communities like we care about our own? I’m not going to lie, y’all–that hurt. Junot said it twice, and it still was met with silence.
If other advocates for racial justice won’t clap for inter-group/inter-ethnic/interracial solidarity, what kind of hope do we have for true, lasting change? I know that’s not as sexy as finding out if Junot was, in his words, “a cheating motherfucker” like Yunior, or even as scintillating as discussing decolonial love, but damn.
I’m not trying to be melodramatic here. But my year away has really kind of opened my eyes to all the places where we as activists are not. There is so much work to be done. So many pathways to blaze. But how do we do that if we are content with sitting in our own silos and not working across boundaries?
On Facebook and Twitter, there’s hot debate over “Bad Girls.” Many absolutely love the video, proclaiming it to be M.I.A’s big comeback, while others remain unsure. Some see it as embodying resistance to the norm, while others don’t think it resists enough.
For my part, I’m taken in but left feeling uneasy. What’s missing is the present context of North Africa and the Middle East; it’s been a year since the revolution that toppled Tunisia’s Ben Ali, Egypt’s #Jan25 call that led to the ousting of Hosni Mubarak, the Libyan uprising against Muammar Qaddafi, and ongoing struggles for political justice in Syria and Yemen. Images, videos, and news reports of the region have shown inspiring scenes of resistance.
But in “Bad Girls”’ depictions of the Arab world, I see a false, hyped-up misrepresentation of the region we now know for the Arab Spring. I’m bothered by M.I.A.’s reproduction of Orientalist tropes–“Orientalist” in Edward Said’s sense, of a distorted lens through which Arabs are viewed and “experienced” by the West. “Bad Girls” is just a hipper, high-definition stereotype of Arabs as desert-dwelling, sword-wielding, horse-riding, and dangerous.
M.I.A. and the video’s director, Romain Gavrais, perform controversy for the sake of controversy and cash in on the Arab Spring. They aestheticize the recent uprisings while avoiding a precise political statement.
I get that it’s just a music video. I also get that there’s only so much a music video can do. At the same time, compared to a reality in which Arab peoples are demanding control of their own representation, not as terrorists or blank faces with guns but as people fighting for political voice, “Bad Girls” seems lacking in creativity and vision. While undeniably hip, M.I.A.’s video is politically vacant in comparison to lesser-known artists with far fewer resources–like DAM and Shadia Mansoor from Palestine and the Iraqi-Canadian rapper The Narcicyst.