An incomplete list of why that argument is flawed:
- Art can be racist. We wouldn’t have a western canon, or any art canon for that matter, if we hadn’t already acknowledged that years ago. Racism doesn’t negate something from being art and art doesn’t negate something from being racist. This is not a platform worth arguing on.
- Art has the power and scope to affect society in a way that nothing else does. Nothing is ever ‘just a book’ or ‘just a music video’ or ‘just a song.’ If it’s not important enough to think about, then it wasn’t important enough to be made.
- Art is a decent enough gauge of what some members of society were thinking at any given time. We study art to study culture and history. Visual art in particular is not simply a presentation of one’s inner-most feelings and beliefs but a reproduction of the culture the artist lived in and, often, a reproduction of that culture’s historical viewpoints; shorthand that the artist may not have even realize they internalized.
Also, a bonus tip! This one’s on symbolism but tune in next week for the next dumb racist thing fandom does for the next installment:
Having darkness represent evil is lazy and trite, but generally acceptable. Having a dark person represent evil is lazy and trite but also racist. Having a non-black person dress up in blackface to represent evil is not only lazy, trite, and racist but also a direct continuation of the same destructive shorthand that cost people their lives and livelihood. The time in-between has not allowed for it to be less offensive or more ironic.
In fact, let’s take this opportunity to segue into a preemptive offense of my least favorite literary device: Irony. In order for irony to work, there must be two layers involved: the implied, often traditional, meaning and the literal one.
Society at the time of blackface was casually and institutionally racist. The white population had unparalleled privilege over everyone else and were the ones who found any entertainment value in blackface. Society at the time of Florence + the Machine’s video is casually and institutionally racist. The white population has unparalleled privilege over everyone else and she, as a member of that population, is the one who sees any entertainment value in blackface. The only thing that is ironic about this scenario is attempting to use irony in the first place.
As for edginess, using blackface, an old racist visual tradition, in a music video in 2011 is about as edgy as pulling out the clothes that were worn during blackface’s heyday and wearing them in a music video.
You want to get into a discussion about how edgy or culturally appropriate something is? Try Annie Leibovitz’s 1998 photos of African American comedian Chris Rock in whiteface. Using the shorthand of blackface, which exploited blackness as a source of comedy for white people, and flipping it so a black comedian was put in whiteface as a commentary on modern day comedy actually is edgy and interesting. Or, if you prefer discussions and debates about symbolism, how about Annie Leibovitz’s 1984 shot of African American comedian Whoopi Goldberg simultaneously submerged and emerging from a tub of milk (which Leibovitz specifically stated was meant to symbolize her coming out from all the whiteness in comedy)? Here, the racial overtones of color are being used intentionally and smartly. In 1984!
Annie Leibovitz is, for anyone who might not be aware, white.
…But oh, wait, those examples actually give the visual power to the POCs! They legitimately challenge, or document the challenging of, the status quo! I guess something is only considered edgy if it’s someone doing, or defending their right to do, the exact same thing as their ancestors!
I may have reblogged this already, I can’t remember. oh well.