By Scott Creney
If I’d known Ryan Schreiber, founder and CEO of Pitchfork, was going to give me more material, I would’ve held off on last week’s Pitchfork piece. I’m not looking to become Collapse Board’s resident media critic, but sometimes someone writes an article that is so odious, that reveals so much about themselves, I feel obligated to respond to it.
By now, everyone knows about M.I.A.’s televised middle finger, and the ensuing lecture she got from the standard bearer for good manners and appropriate behavior, Pitchfork.com.
By the way, here’s their review of Jet’s Shine On from 2006. And yes, that is a chimpanzee holding its cock while it pisses into its own mouth.
This article isn’t about the quality of M.I.A.’s music. It’s about the reaction to her performance, specficially Ryan Schreiber’s.
Instead, in the few bars Madonna was kind enough to grant her during the biggest television event of the year, M.I.A.’s message to America was simply, “Fuck you.”
Well first of all, if America gets to drop shitloads of bombs all over innocent brown-skinned people whenever we feel like it, exploit third-world economies for our own profit and luxury, and inflict the Red Hot Chili Peppers on the world, then I think the US deserves a middle-finger raised in its direction once in a while. And I say this as an American.
Secondly, that “biggest television event of the year” involves a bunch of dudes bashing themselves into traumatic brain injuries that will affect them for the rest of their lives. On the average, they will be dead by the age of 58. Seventeen per cent of the NFL workforce suffered career-ending injuries in 2010. Furthermore, the commercials shown during this big television event tend to be aesthetically and morally repugnant. As Sasha Frere-Jones pointed out in his must-read article about the controversy, “television viewers were submitted to ad after ad that likened women — negatively — to sofas, cars, and candy”. Schreiber sees all of this as being worthy of our respect.
And as for Madonna being “kind enough to grant” M.I.A. a place on that stage, others have already pointed out that you could just as easily argue that M.I.A. was granted that spot in order to make Madonna look cooler, or you could argue that maybe Madonna respects M.I.A. as an artist and there’s something incredibly patronizing in the tone of Schreiber’s writing, to say nothing of the underlying sexism in his assumptions.
But none of that is as noteworthy as Schreiber’s primary criticism of M.I.A.’s stunt, that it’s a bad business decision.
What’s extra annoying about last night’s event is that M.I.A. doesn’t need these cheap ploys to up her visibility, even when the stage design and costuming is best described as “GoldenPalace.com.” After all, she released her first great single in years just last Thursday, and its music video had already racked up more than 3 million YouTube views even before the Super Bowl send-up. Following the rep-shattering press surrounding 2010′s /\/\/\Y/\, it wouldn’t be the worst idea to draw as much focus as possible back to her music.
Everett’s already pointed out that M.I.A.’s last album got all kinds of great press. But what’s weird about that paragraph is Schreiber feeling the need to criticize M.I.A.’s business acumen. In doing so, he reduces a cultural event into a business event, turning the language of art into the language of money. And it reveals shitloads about how Schreiber and Pitchfork make their decisions. The only reason to perform for people is to ‘up your visibility’. You measure your success by the number of views your video gets on YouTube, and you always want good press. Artists should always make their decisions based on what is good for their careers, based on strategy not impulse, through consolidation not risk, always seeking to maximize their earning potential.
Any artist concerned with issues of wealth and exploitation walks a tightrope between art and commerce. According to Schreiber, an artist should ALWAYS come down on the side of commerce. It isn’t even open to debate. Schreiber sees music first and foremost as a commercial product, something to be consumed. I see it as art. M.I.A. sees it as a platform.
And what’s also jarringly odd about that paragraph is the way Schreiber automatically assumes that bad publicity, or controversy, or rudeness is bad for one’s career, to say nothing of one’s art. Lana Del Rey’s debut album entered the charts at #2 last week, in no small part due to the controversy that surrounds her. Or, closer to Ryan’s doorstep, there’s the case of Odd Future. According to Schreiber, that group’s rudeness is an essential part of their art.
It’s fucking nauseating to think that the same guy who has championed and defended Odd Future (Jim DeRogatis did a fascinating interview with Schreiber and P4K President Chris Kaskie about them booking Odd Future for last year’s Pitchfork festival) feels compelled to call M.I.A. an asshole for flipping off a camera. It says shitloads about Ryan Schreiber, and his values, and none of it is good.
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