Monday, November 28, 2011

[November 28th] A Touch of Racism in Music

It’s been quite the debate over whether or not Florence + the Machine’s video for their single “No Light, No Light” is racist. Youtube’s comment section has gone up in flames and several official music critics have expressed their negative opinions in regards to the video. The cause for this criticism is the painted in black Asian dancer, who performs voodoo rituals during the video. Here is the whole bit: 

I’m not convinced the video is racist. It’s decision to play a black-white motif [and I’d like to point out it has been present culturally long before the color became attached to races] with a set of religious beliefs that has everybody’s panties in a twist. To the average viewers pitting Christianity against Voodoo will represent Good versus Evil, mainly because misconceptions about Voodoo as a dark craft are still well and alive. What I believe this pairing to represent is the conflict between rigid control [Christianity] and the close to the heart desires [Voodoo] in the context of a dramatic, forbidden relationship, which throws the one receiving its affections off kilter [here comes the image of falling]. 

But Harry, the painted-black voodoo priest has a voodoo doll and pins it with needles? 

Yes, imaginary reader I’m having a dialogue with. The priest does have a doll and uses the most recognizable imagery associated with Voodoo to illustrate the passionate throes and pain associated with the type of love, which Florence sings about. Florence never sings of anything easy. She intensifies every feeling, every motif in her lyrics to the point that it overloads the human emotional circuit-board. 

It’s not an easy love. It’s all possessing and all possessive. It vibrates and finds itself in every aspect of the singer’s existence. If you watch the video closely, you will see that all the time Florence is laying in bed with a man, which means that the video sequence is happening within her soul space, it’s a conflict and questioning of what to do and how to behave. 

On the outside, she is as calm and controlled as the choir of young boys are [the idea of false self-control is reinforced through the scene where she falls through the stained glass roof], but below the obvious surface she is rocked with these storms of emotions, sweet and torturous at the same time. 

To me this would have been racist, if the dancer chosen to be painted black was Caucasian, which would have been a tasteless call back to racism in cinema, where people from African descent were portrayed using ridiculously painted over white actors. The fact that they chose an Asian and painted him black, thus creating a race that does not exist, but has the quality of haunting and visually striking beauty, is a giveaway that we, the viewers, have to think in terms of symbolism. 

At the end of the day, however, I believe that this video will be perceived as racist, even if I don’t believe it. Working with religion, beliefs and skin color is dangerous, because these are deeply personal and defining to a lot of people. It’s the same with sexuality, especially the jab that homosexuals receive, so I can personally see as to how the video can and has offended a group of viewers, even if it had no intention to attack anyone. It’s the risks that you run with art, I suppose. 

Tell me what you think. Is the video racist? Should artists in any medium try and experiment with skin color and religion? Has a music video offended you?