Sunday, December 1, 2013

Kanye, Katy Perry, Bob Dylan and Mastodon: Bound 2 Cultural Cluelessness

[via Pitchfork]

I don't plan on turning this into a non-stop pop culture blog, but musicians just keep dropping the ball left and right with using racial, ethnic, and gender commentary/imagery as promotional devices.

Last Sunday, Katy Perry performed her new single, "Unconditionally" at the American Music Awards.

Her costume choice to bring home the lyrical theme of submissive dedication to a difficult man?

A geisha.



There was Perry, in full kimono, tabi socks, lacquered hair and geiko pancake, belting out her latest smash hit. Her traditional outfit had been tightened at the bust with a triangular cutout designed to accentuate rather than flatten her generous bosom, and the sides cut to the waist to expose her pearlescent American legs. And she was surrounded by a throng of acrobatic maiko, their faces rollered with fat streaks of kabuki makeup, who provided energetic fan-flapping as backup — at least until they started flying and somersaulting through the air.

In short, this was a a full-barreled technicolor assault on a quarter-millennium-old set of traditions that would’ve given any self-respecting denizen of Kyoto’s Gion District a massive fatal heart attack. But Perry’s whiteface/yellowface performance was also a harsh reminder of how deeply anchored the archetype of the exotic, self-sacrificing “lotus blossom” is in the Western imagination.
Meanwhile, Kanye West's publicity tour for the Kim Kardashian/scenic landscape motorcycle ride "Bound 2" video has already yielded a couple skewed, condescending views about race and culture on his part.

In an interview, Kanye claimed the video's instantly parodied aesthetic was itself a parody of a certain easy ethnic target.
Kanye explains, "I wanted to take white trash t-shirts and make it into a video." He confirms that, yes, he purposefully made the visual look "bad." "Yes. I wanted it to look as phony as possible. I wanted the clouds to go in one direction, the mountains to go in another, the horses to go over there, I wanted to show that this is the "Hunger Games" this is the type of imagery that's being presented to all of us, the only difference is there's a black dude in the middle of it."
In the same interview, Kanye claimed President Obama's political troubles in office had to do with his lack of connections due to his race.
"Man, let me tell you something about George Bush and oil money and Obama and no money. People want to say Obama can't make these moves or he's not executing. That's because he ain't got those connections. Black people don't have the same level of connections as Jewish people. Black people don't have the same connection as oil people.
This theory, of course, ignores the President's relationships with Jewish-American entertainment juggernauts David Geffen and Steven Spielberg, his campaign donations from BP, and the fact that the president himself is half-white.

Recently, Bob Dylan has received flack for a seemingly well-intended statement about U.S. racism he made to the French edition of Rolling Stone.
"This country is just too fucked up about colour. It's a distraction. People at each other's throats just because they are of a different colour. It's the height of insanity, and it will hold any nation back – or any neighbourhood back. Or any anything back. Blacks know that some whites didn't want to give up slavery – that if they had their way, they would still be under the yoke, and they can't pretend they don't know that.

"If you got a slave master or Klan in your blood, blacks can sense that. That stuff lingers to this day. Just like Jews can sense Nazi blood and the Serbs can sense Croatian blood."
The entire blood statement speaks for itself, but it's the last example that has landed Dylan and the magazine a lawsuit from The Council Of Croats in France.

Finally, metal band Mastodon - while not nearly as popular as the aforementioned artists - released a Thanksgiving-themed t-shirt (posted up top), that they have denied as being racist.
Regarding our thanksgiving shirt, whether you choose to believe or not, the American Indians were massacred by the white settlers who became the Americans we are today. this shirt represents this atrocity and celebrating in the face of this atrocity is chilling. 
we may have a sick sense of humor, but we are far from being "Racist" as some of you who might not get it are calling us.
Ironic image? Sure. The best merchandise option for a band with a bunch of white dudes? Maybe not.
The design, by artist Phil The Guy, hasn't gone over well with some Mastodon fans, including self-described youth activist and indigenous feminist Erica Violet Lee, who wrote an open letter to the Atlanta-based metal band on her blog. In the letter, Lee expressed that she would like to think the band produced the shirt with the best of intentions: "I want to believe that the shirt was designed with the intent of trying to disrupt the lie of American Thanksgiving; a holiday based on the story of Pilgrims and Indians coming together and sharing a nice meal, when in reality what occurred was genocide. And of course, a critical element of 'conquering' Indigenous people used in the United States and Canada is the rape and enslavement of Native women."

Lee opined that, even if that was indeed the intent behind it, the shirt was a misguided attempt to address the issue, and that the imagery used only serves to reinforce the racist and misogynist stereotype of Native women as subservient sex objects.

In a commentary on Chartattack.com, Jordan Darville argued that the shirt enabled the members of Mastodon to "profit off the genocide of an entire people".
Maybe it's best just to leave the politics out of the publicity campaigns.

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