‘Til It Happens to You

‘Til It Happens to You

TW: The following content contains reference to rape and sexual assault.

Lady Gaga’s newest single is both a surprising and predictable move for the internationally-acclaimed star. Though strikingly different than her extravagant performances in strange costumes, this beautiful, deeply emotional PSA for sexual assault on college campuses reminds us of the social justice-focused Lady Gaga, the Lady Gaga who does not shy away from tough topics. The video, as well as the music, is heartbreaking and compelling. Lady Gaga’s powerful voice creates a sense of support and strength despite the lives falling apart in the video. The end of the video directly calls for action, stating “one in five women will be sexually assaulted this year unless something changes.” This new single reminds us of Gaga’s power and flexibility as an artist—without smoke machines or fancy costumes, she is able to create something just as deep, challenging, and powerful. I am looking forward to what Gaga will do next.

Image from DeVoe

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An Ecosystem of Representation

An Ecosystem of Representation

It seems like everyone is talking about last night’s Emmy awards, and not just about what the stars wore or the end of Modern Family‘s streak. In fact, most people are talking about Viola Davis, as the first African American actress to ever win best actress in a drama series. Her moving speech (above) calls attention to the continuing inequality and lack of opportunity for women of color in Hollywood.

Davis was one of three black women to win an Emmy last night, and Sonia Saraiya, at Salon, believes this is a sign that black women will continue to be more supported on television. She also references the new Apple Music commercial, starring Kerry Washington, Taraji P. Henderson, and Mary J. Blige, claiming that this commercial, along with the Emmys, represents a new ecosystem of representation, one where “it isn’t shocking or surprising or even noteworthy to see three women of color having a good time while another woman of color directs from behind the scenes.”

While any steps towards more representation for women of color in television is a plus, I hesitate to call this a new ecosystem of representation. The fact that it is only now, in 2015, that a black woman has won best actress in a drama, and that the number of women of color nominees for best and supporting actress can be counted on two hands, suggests that we have perhaps not reached this new, supportive, diverse television environment.  The most obvious evidence of this is Davis’s speech-crying out for more opportunities, for more representation. Or maybe it’s Kerry Washington crying in the front row, and the many journalists who are writing about Davis’s win. Davis’s win is shocking, and amazing, but it shouldn’t be. Women of color (as well as lesbians, bi, and queer women, women with disabilities, trans women, and many others) should be all over TV, and they aren’t yet. We haven’t even come close to reaching a supportive and inclusive television environment. This is what Davis wants us to remember. This is what needs to change.

Image from ABC.

It’s Deeper Than That

It’s Deeper Than That

Tyler, the Creator, was recently banned from the U.K. because, according to the Home Office, Tyler’s lyrics did not respect the U.K.’s “shared values.” While some may see this as a triumph—Tyler’s lyrics are often criticized for inciting violence, using homophobic words and phrases, and for degrading and demeaning women—it raises some broader questions about censorship. As Julianne Escobedo Shepherd asks, “What does it mean when performing artists are banned for art they created in the past? Is there ever a point in which a person can redeem himself? And third, what does it mean for an artist to be banned at all?” I think these are important questions when thinking about Tyler’s case in particular, but also more generally about artists whose work is seen as “offensive.” Tyler is the only artist I have heard of who was banned for his words alone, which begs the question, was it really for his words alone? Tyler himself has stated that the lyrics in question are from his “alter ego,” and that they do not represent his personal views. This seems perfectly reasonable, and had Tyler written a novel or a poem, even, perhaps people wouldn’t be questioning his motives. But there seems to be something else at work here as well.

Since the Ferguson case last year, the media has been inundated with cases of unarmed black men being targeted by white policemen. According to a Washington Post database of fatal police shootings, 24 unarmed black men have been shot and killed by the police so far this year, and black men accounted for 40% of the 60 unarmed deaths. These deaths are not new, and reflect a continuing fear of young black men. Though Tyler was not shot, his banning from the U.K. seems to reflect this societal fear of young black men and the stereotype that they are angry, violent, and uncontrollable.

Tyler’s censorship is in no way a victory. While I do not listen to his music, and do not enjoy violent or derogatory lyrics, that does not mean his music deserves to be censored or stopped. Censorship can never be empowering. As Nadine Strossen states, “Censorship always does more harm than good, including and especially to the groups that are supposedly benefiting from it…It ends up being ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst to the admirable goals of safety and equality.” In this case, I can’t help but think that censoring Tyler in no way creates a safer or more equal space—especially since most of the lyrics in question are from many years ago, and the current album has been toned down—and instead perpetuates the stereotypical image of the uncontrollable, violent, black man. One who needs to be silenced by the authorities so that he doesn’t disturb our “peaceful” societies. Tyler is rightfully unapologetic, stating that he knows it is not about the lyrics, which were from many years ago, and that “out of nowhere, the UK has a problem with me coming into their country?…I don’t know what it’s about now, it’s deeper than that.”

Image: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/09/tyler-the-creator-banned-in-uk-hip-hop-rap/403690/