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 Scott Creney

Scott Creney reacts to Pitchfork’s reaction to M.I.A.’s Finger

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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.

None of this makes Ryan Schreiber a hypocrite, however. It makes him a contradiction — which is another way of saying that it makes him human. The intersection between self-expression and business is always filled with contradictions. It’s the one thing he and M.I.A. have in common. The difference is he seems oblivious to how it affects him. As for M.I.A., she is all too aware.

The contradictions between money and art are at the heart of M.I.A.’s music, as well as her public persona. Her music dramatizes the conflict in huge, colorful, bombastic sweeps. The ways in which capitalism exploits people, the way in which we exploit ourselves in order to get more money and material goods, is at the heart of her best music. It’s definitely art, and it’s definitely subversive.

In this sense, M.I.A. has a lot in common with people like The Clash, The Sex Pistols, Public Enemy, John Lennon, and all the other musicians who ever dared to criticize the system from within. But off course when the Sex Pistols swore on TV, it was rebellious and hilarious. When M.I.A. does it, she’s ungrateful and rude. Funny how that one works, isn’t it? Or when Joe Strummer calls an album Sandanista, he gets to be a rockin-rebel-man-of-the-people, but when M.I.A. speaks out about Liberia she doesn’t know what the fuck she’s talking about. And just to be clear about this, as politics, M.I.A.’s music is under-informed and oversimplified. But we could say the same thing about The Clash (a bit too much about guns as a solution) and Public Enemy (anti-semtism is pretty wack, Chuck). But nobody denies that those groups had an impact. In fact, most journalists constantly wring their hands and wish there more people saying things like that today.

In one sense, all of those artists were hypocrites and full of shit. But of course so am I and so are you. The argument that I can’t say rude things about America because I reap the benefits of living here are empty, conservative, and politically dangerous. Nobody would dream of saying that someone receiving government assistance shouldn’t have the right to protest. Let’s extend the same courtesy to artists.

And then you hear people saying that the fact she got paid to be there somehow denies her the right to comment on the spectacle. Of course, you could also argue that by hiring an artist, that is someone who expresses themselves for a living, there is always the possibility that they might decide to actually, you know, express themselves. Maybe next time the Super Bowl should hire an entertainer, like Celine Fucking Dion, or Sufjan Stevens or someone like that. Because apparently once you get paid you’re nothing more than an employee just like the rest of us. And if the guy at home has to eat shit every day and keep his mouth shut because he’s afraid of losing his job, then the artist better keep their fucking mouth shut as well.

Personally, I wish EVERYONE would start swearing on TV and flipping off the camera. God knows there’s enough to be pissed off about. I dream of turning on the television and suddenly seeing every program filled with rudeness and obnoxiousness as far as the eye could see. How cool would it be if the evening news anchor ended each broadcast by holding up a middle finger and saying, “Fuck you, America. You can all kiss my ass”. Or if every single interview, every game show encounter between contestant and host, every single interaction on television — that dull, morally bankrupt exploitation of the soulless — featured someone telling the establishment to go fuck themselves. Shit, I might even start getting cable again for that.

But as I touched on in last week’s article, Pitchfork is only continuing their inevitable move from iconoclast to establishment. Noel Gallagher just finished completing a similar transition last week, and after reading a post like this one, it isn’t too hard too imagine Schreiber writing a similarly misguided article about George W. Bush five years from now. Pop stars today all hate America. Everything was better back when The Rapture were starting out.

Look people, love of money is the fucking devil. It will warp your values and corrupt your soul. It will turn humanitarian Christians into tax evaders and stock speculators, guarding their billions by any means necessary. You will see everything as a dollar sign and become unable to measure value in any other way. It will happen gradually, over a long period of time, so slowly that you might never notice, but unless you remain vigilant, it will most certainly happen.

But Ryan Schreiber should be, if not ashamed, then more than a little embarrassed at the moment. Calling someone an asshole for raising a middle finger to a Super Bowl camera when you run a website and a music festival that has no problem promoting songs about rape, misogyny, and homophobia is empty and pathetic.

Related posts:
Everett True reacts to Ryan Schreiber’s news item about M.I.A. pretty much exactly the way you’d expect him to

M.I.A.’s Middle Finger, Madonna, and Me

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