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mia “born free” / bureaucratic banality of evil

with 4 comments

I really don’t know what to make of MIA’s “Born Free” video. (Can’t easily embed it so you’ll have to go here if you want to watch it…) I think I generally agree with Voyou Desoeuvre’s analysis of the political content / message. The use of redheads as the persecuted minority group is the first problem. Following from what Voyou argues, racism relies about arbitrary distinctions that in the end aren’t all that arbitrary, when considered historically… Voyou is right – socially constructed categories aren’t any less real for being socially constructed. (See also, for instance, the infamous “brown eye / blue eye” pedagogical experiment, a favorite of Oprah and a symptom of self-hating liberal do-goodery, which relies, like most “progressive” liberal arguments on a sense that I too could be a victim of racism… Which really, in the end, isn’t all that true….)

But even beyond all this, as a short dystopian fiction, the video certainly is strange, especially at the end. To my mind, staging the killing of the prisoners as a bizarre sort of game on the part of the guards humanizes the brutality in a way that leads this video in the wrong direction… The starkest horror of the sort of situation that is being half-allegorized here is, I think, the horror of cold bureaucracy rather than individual or aggregated sadism. This displacement – from the filing and list-keeping of state terror to the helmeted insanity of the guard gone wrong – is the same sort of thing that made Abu Ghraib into an ironically safe subject for media and political discussion, as it was a story grounded in human perversity (even if structurally-facilitated perversity) rather than the boring mechanics of everyday terror.

Anyway, you might want to take a look at Coetzee’s old piece on the representation of torture for more if you’ve never read it. Probably deserves a post in itself, as it’s not an uncomplicated piece of writing both in terms of the argument and Coetzee’s personal situation vis a vis these issues… If I get a bit of time perhaps I’ll write something up…

Written by adswithoutproducts

May 2, 2010 at 11:21 pm

Posted in music, torture

4 Responses

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  1. What was unusual too, at least for MIA., was how highly calculated every ‘rebellious provocation’ really was – the people we see have sex are not only old but fat too – how gross! The red head killed has to be a child, of course. And then that kitsch ending. And now I hear she’s engaged to the scion of a liquor dynasty, who’s dad is the CEO of Warner. It starts to make one think that when she used ‘piracy funds terrorism’ she wasn’t being ironic.

    What struck me about the finale, having just been in Cambodia and doing a traveler’s cursory diligence, was that I could have sworn a similar tactic was employed by the Khmer Rouge. They would mine a rice paddy and then force people to run through it for their torturer’s entertainment, before summarily executing anyone who reached the end safely. If you really wanted to shock, why not a wholesale rip off rather than the disjointed conclusion we are offered?


    May 3, 2010 at 12:26 am

  2. The video’s director, Romain Gavras, directed the similarly “inflammatory”, politically-inarticulate video for “Stress” by Justice, so seeing his name on the credit roll is an immediate tip-off to prepare for mockumentary exploitation. Beyond that, Gavras is rather shamelessly ripping off the 1971 film “Punishment Park”, a fine faux-doc about an alternate reality wherein Nixon has begun politically cleansing the US & whose brutal handiwork is done by expendable “loose cannon” agents of the state: park rangers & police who work in desert “survival games”.

    But for want of actually articulating much of anything, the video is (as Jessica Hopper wrote) “gratitous for it’s own sake, which makes it no different than the shock n’ awe power beatdown/American media culture they seek to criticize.”

    The two things not enough people are mentioning in the discussion for my taste:

    1) Gingers as oppressed minority who are driven to “terrorist” rebellion? “South Park” was there first!

    2) The song sucks. Seriously. Can we honestly consider someone who lock-stock appropriates someone else’s song, Puff Daddy-style, as a creative entity?


    May 4, 2010 at 4:09 am

  3. Penelope and Seb,

    Agreed with all of this, I think. Strangely dissociative, to wrap seemingly serious political allegory, or whatever it is, in so many layers of mass media meta. There’s lots in the world that can be shown directly, and lots to quote that’s not “mockumentary exploitation.” Makes me think of Children of Men, and the much more evocative and pressing quotation that goes on in that….


    May 5, 2010 at 6:26 am

  4. […] dehistoricizing racism by turning it into ginger genocide, and the move that ads without products describes of turning the state violence of the guards into “individual or aggregated sadism,” […]

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