Friday, April 02, 2010

Eryka Badu, part 2 (by Suzie)

Because Echidne is a kind and generous goddess, she's letting me post my reaction, which would have been awfully long for a comment on her post below.

Eryka Badu's "Window Seat" video brought out a lot of mixed feelings for me because I'm a Dallas native, as is Badu. Unlike her, however, I was alive in 1963. I had just turned 5. Marina Oswald had been living in the home of Ruth Payne, who had been my Sunday school teacher at a Unitarian fellowship in Irving. Lee Harvey Oswald had hidden his rifle in her garage. The song's title reminds me of the window from where Oswald fired.

Badu calls JFK a revolutionary. He wasn't. Nevertheless, it bothers me to hear a shot at the same location. It bothers me that she compares the character assassination of celebrities to the actual assassination of a president. It bothers me that she calls for respect of the individual, but shows no concern for bystanders, some of whom consider that sacred ground.

I find the video thought-provoking, but I don't see Badu as a victim. My mixed feelings and I enjoyed Natalie Hopkinson's take, but not so much the one by Tamura Lomax, linked by Echidne in her post. (Disclosure: Lomax and I disagreed in 2008, when she said I misrepresented her in a post about her post on Father Pfleger and Hillary Clinton.)

Badu says she got the idea for the video from punk duo Matt and Kim, in which they strip while walking in Times Square for “Lessons Learned.” Lomax notes that MTV awarded them, while “Badu has become somewhat of a despised prophet. Meaning, as predicted in her video, her subjectivity has been 'assassinated' by public rage.” Lomax also refers to “the immediate move towards discipline and punishment” of Badu.

One reason Badu's actions may be more controversial is because she’s famous. MTV has given this brouhaha much publicity. A co-director of the video told them: "I think she really wanted to get arrested and even make a bigger message."

While Matt and Kim’s video was being shot, police jumped Matt but released him after M&K proved they had a permit to shoot a video while "inappropriately dressed" for winter. Badu did not have a permit. The mayor pro-tem of Dallas, who has written of his admiration for her, thinks what she did was inappropriate. Although not outraged, he wants a higher fine for people who make a for-profit video without the proper permits. Because a witness with small children complained, Badu is being mailed a citation, equivalent to a traffic ticket, and she can fight it or pay a fine. The Dallas Morning News article concludes:
The fine: $500.
The publicity: Priceless.
If the outrage arose because Badu is a black woman, I'm curious what famous white singer could have done the same thing without controversy. She didn’t have to be a “prophet” to predict that stripping in Dealey Plaza would stir anger, and it’s hard to imagine that Badu’s fans now despise her. I'm guessing her latest CD, released Tuesday, will sell well. On the Internet, she has a lot of supporters talking back to the haters.

Lomax describes a white woman angry at Badu:
If nothing else, Lewis’ desire to “whoop” Badu reflects a rupture to a particular sort of racist imagination as well as a desire to put Badu back in “her” place. Perhaps if Lewis had things her way, Badu (and all other black folk) would be back on plantations.
Does a white person have to be racist to dislike what Badu did?

She has called her act liberating, as did Matt & Kim. I live near a lot of nudist/naturist resorts, and the first time I went, it did feel liberating to step out of my clothes. That experience was helpful after I got thrown into the medical world. (Just today, I dropped my pants for two doctors and a nurse.) Being naked is not the ultimate vulnerability, it does not bare your soul, it does not strip away all the layers of meaning imposed by society.

Is a woman, considered attractive by many, challenging conformity and "groupthink" by taking off her clothes?

The controversy also raises the question of an artist’s intent vs. the perception of the audience. Feminists and anti-racists often say that a person's intent doesn’t matter. If others perceive something as sexist or racist, then it is.

A lot of people who watch Badu's video just want to see a famous person naked, including the men who objectify her, as Afrobella notes. On a much different scale, the same can be said for strippers. Some women may find it liberating, but does it not matter what the men think?