In defense of M.I.A. - Macleans.ca
 

In defense of M.I.A.


 

To recap the events so far: Rapper M.I.A (born Maya Arulpragasam) submitted to a lengthy profile for the New York Times Magazine, written by Lynn Hirschberg. Maya didn’t like the way she was portrayed and subsequently tweeted Hirschberg’s personal phone number. She (Maya) also complained that she’d been quoted out of context (which the Times admitted) and put online some clandestine tapes she’d made herself of the interviews with Hirschberg that showed that the Times reporter had been less than scrupulous in her description of events.

But even if Hirschberg hadn’t torqued things, her whole agenda is so ridiculous that Maya has plenty of reason to be annoyed.  While most of the profile is interesting and pretty straightforward, Hirschberg gets in enough digs to make it clear that she doesn’t think much of Maya’s limousine-terrorist schtick. Hirschberg makes much of Maya’s relationship with Ben Bronfman, son of Seagram’s heir Edgar Bronfman Jr., and her tone when describing their house in “very white, very wealthy Brentwood” is almost gloating. But it’s passages like this where Hirschberg makes her agenda plain:

Maya’s tirade, typical in the way it moved from the political to the personal and back again, was interrupted by a waiter, who offered her a variety of rolls. She chose the olive bread.

Or this:

Unity holds no allure for Maya — she thrives on conflict, real or imagined. “I kind of want to be an outsider,” she said, eating a truffle-flavored French fry.

Okay, we get it. Maya’s a hypocrite. Here she is, trying to play up her family’s Tamil gangsta cred while drinking white wine and eating yuppie fries in a fancy restaurant in Los Angeles. And in this age of authenticity, where an artist is only entitled to those forms of personal, artistic, and political expression that are properly underwritten by their background. If you don’t live it, you can’t say it, and a hypocrite is the absolute worst thing you can be.

Hirschberg summarizes the dilemma thusly: “What Maya wants is nearly impossible to achieve: she wants to balance outrageous political statements with a luxe lifestyle; to be supersuccessful yet remain controversial; for style to merge with substance.”

It makes one wonder what planet Lynn Hirschberg is living on. There is absolutely no tension between balancing radical politics with high living, no difficulty in making style into a political statement. Just the opposite: the selling and marketing of non-conformity – what’s been called radical chic, or the rebel sell, has been the very essence of our culture for decades. The point has been made over and over again, by everyone from Tom Wolfe to Thomas Frank, but for some reason Lynn Hirschberg seems to have missed the memo. What Maya is doing isn’t impossible to achieve; it’s frigging dead simple.

At one point, Hirschberg calls Maya’s new video, “Born Free”,  “politically naïve,” but it is pretty obvious that it’s all-too-savvy. Want to know just how clued out Hirschberg is? After Maya talks to some designers about riffing off the uniforms worn by Blackwater operatives for her upcoming tour, Hirschberg seems perplexed. “The oddity of using a garment linked to mercenaries to convey a very different message seemed to elude Maya,” she writes.

At risk of beating the point to death: there is nothing remotely odd about a political radical adopting the uniforms of the oppressor and co-opting their meanings. Bohemians have been doing that for literally centuries, most notably though during the Vietnam war.

In short, the Times profile of M.I.A. is a travesty. Lynn Hirschberg is desperate to portray her subject as a sell-out, but Hirschberg is the one who’s fallen for the authenticity hoax.


 
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In defense of M.I.A.

  1. A *frikken men!!
    Great article.
    I get the feeling Maya knows exactly what her politics are, but she wants to know what everyone thinks about these issues, and not talk so much about what she thinks.
    That and the fact she JUST wants to share what happened to her in some way with the rest of the world. Her outlet is her art. You dont like it, f off.
    I love that attitude.

    • yeah.. gr88888 cover.

      it reflects the totally disoriented narrow view of modern times today..
      people don't look at the entire picture these days… and the album cover is like that.

      (( by the way, not a MIA fan.. never heard her music)). but liked the cover.. and liked the spunk in the way she outdid Times and Lynn and showed their true colors )). she seems like she cuts through red tape fast…

  2. Wait for it, wait for it…last sentence…."the authenticity hoax". Got it.

    • I LOLed

  3. I read the piece and didn't have sympathy for either Hirschberg's or Mya's agenda. I think the former was obviously writing a ham-handed hatchet-job, and the latter was/is both naive and kind of a yutz. I don't doubt her experience as a Tamil in Sri Lanka, then a refugee, was both horrific and shaped her world-view, but supporting the Tamil Tigers is like Sinead O'Connor singing a song about the Troubles and then supporting the IRA: On the one hand, your opinion isn't any more valid because of your artistry, and on the other, it's hard to reconcile your support for an organisation that uses similarly dirty tactics than those groups you oppose. Get over it.

  4. Yes, MIA showed them what a truffle is in reality: fungus.

    who would have thought New York Times would resort to tricks like that?….
    but that gets (or should get) ppl to wonder: is what Lynn did just the tip of the iceberg?

    Had MIA not had the tapes, everyone would have sided with Lynn.. saying MIA is just sore loser. Lynn is an attractive very honest looking person… while MIA looks like the bad one. Looks like the innocent looking ones get away with everything… THE INNOCENT STATUS QUO……… has fungus…

  5. It makes one wonder what planet Lynn Hirschberg is living on. ==>

    She's living a planet where she's never met a single 'full of themselves' Hollywood celebrity or rock star before…
    9 pages of "she has loads of bucks & claims to feel for her roots"…

    well.. shockers!! MIA had bucks.. we never knew…

    Lynn doesn't get out much, does she?

  6. how in the world is someone a hypocrite if they are rich and support a cause of the opressed????? isn't that what every celeb does these days???!!!

    what, are rappers supposed to take a vow of poverty these days?
    what.. did we miss the interview where MIA vowed never to enjoy a single day till everyone in Lanka was free??!!

    if MIA was a NUN and living the high life and telling her supporters and members to live in poverty.. Lynn would have a BINGO!!

    MIA is a rock/rapper star !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    & She is supporting a cause based on her views..
    she is not running for vice president, people..
    is this the twilight zone??!!!!

  7. Here comes the sisterhood defending a fellow sister with a barrage of punctuation, lolololololol.

    Which cause is she for? Tamil self-determination? That cuts both ways; there are 250,000 Tamils in Canada, and if Tamils have a right to self-determination then so do the Canadian people, and Americans, and Brits.

    I see a parallel between her and the Tamil Tigers. Mao said you need at least one friend on the outside to conduct a successful revolution. The Tigers decided early on to use terrorism knowing full well nobody would support them because of that. They lost, in part because nobody supported them, because nobody wants to associate with terrorists.

    When Tamils seized and occupied downtown Ottawa for a week, they knew that would piss people off. They didn't care, they knew the Canadian people wouldn't support them, so they punished them.

    Similarly, she wants to portray herself as a bad ass "pop terrorist", with the AK47s and going on about murdering people and whatnot. Okay. You're a terrorist and a bad person. Just don't ask me to support your cause or like you, and don't portray yourself as on the side of right or defending the oppressed, because you're not.

    • not sisterhood defending her…
      there are a lot of ppl who never heard MIA's music..

      but will support the fact that artists can be rich and make it to the top even if they're immigrant artists and support their cause. if the entire-lot of Hollywood is FILLED with rappers, rocks stars, and celebs making millions and living the high life, what in the world do you expect MIA to be any different for???

      a jouralist has a right to 'expose' them if they think their motives are fraudulent.. but so far, no one has shown ACTUAL evidence of MIA's motives. just ramblings and ramblings of assumptions. However, MIA has shown ACTUAL EVIDENCE of journalism fraud (albeit perhaps sleight, but 100% real).

    • Way to engage in hyperbole. The Tamils neither seized nor occupied Ottawa. As someone who lives in that city (and works just one block from where most of the Tamil protests took place on Wellington St.), I was as annoyed as anyone else about the noise and the disruption of traffic. They set up a large contingent of people on Wellington and on the Transitway. Big whoop. Again, annoying and perhaps over-the-top, but it did not in any way represent a seizure or occupation. Despite the annoyance factor, the Tamil protesters were completely peaceful and did not engage in any actions that were dangerous or reprehensible. To top it off, they were protesting what is for them a painful and pressing issue – one that the world largely managed to ignore for decades. So, if they felt they needed to do something more than simply chant on a streetcorner to bring attention to the situation in Sri Lanka, I have no problem with that as long as they don't engage in violence. As far as I'm concerned, the Tamil protesters in Ottawa were certainly no worse a disruption than the fathers' rights advocates who scale buildings, bridges and other public structures for media attention.

  8. I wonder if this would have been a big deal to Hirschberg if she was a he, because there is a long history of very opinionated male celebrities saying all sorts of things. Mick Jagger can sing Street-Fighting then jump on a Learjet while his team of accountants tally up T-shirt sales.

    Further, I would also give her the benefit of the doubt. I imagine the last couple years have been fairly trying emotionally for any Tamil (not in anyway to excuse the terrorism of the Tigers)

    I dig some of her tunes.

    • and the thing is.. MIA also breaks the sterotype of the typical South Asian woman: meek and humble and quiet. never bold.. and heck.. never tanned!! So she may not be getting any support from India either or even her own origin nation ..(who don't all necessarily find Tamils in South India as their beauty ideals.. currently the biggest beauty icons in India (Aishwarya, Kareena, etc.) in India looks opposite of a dark Tamil– green eyed; light haired, fair complexioned with Indian features,, playing the ever-smiling dancing Bollywood heroines on screen). Just going by the silent discrimination in India of Tamils in just that one sense,, one can see MIA has a strong point.

      • p.s. this is NOT to say that MIA does not deserve political scrutinity. sure , she does, just like any other celeb. but the ramblings of 'she hooked a big Brentwood guy' doesnt cut it. some of her 'make war' comments are disturbing. even more curious is that she made war on Lynn and won. however, for now, all she seems is like what the mis-guided Jane Fonda was: living the cushy life and being a 'rebel', perhaps a mis-guided rebel artist.

  9. Got the names of both your books in there. Well done.

    • ooh, I missed that one, good eyes!

  10. MIA did a lot of this NYT crap to herself (prolonged by her Tweet).

    Saying Madonna shld give HER (mia) chocolates just makes MIA look self-adoring, pompous, ridiculous.

    Dissing Gaga makes MIA look the talent-less one…or insanely jealous.

    If MIA is an authentic badass FU rebel, then just screw the controversial reviews — the NYT profile definitely won't be the last.

    W/her violent Tamil schtick, what does MIA expect? Only non- or mildly controversial reviews? Plz…go join Paris Hilton.

    As for her Brentwood lifestyle…irrelevant. Being a "gangsta wannabe" Tamil sympathizer-loudmouth and living the high life aren't contradictory. (Emphasis on "wannabe")

  11. For those of you who don't get it…Andrew Potter's not actually defending M.I.A..
    This is his passive aggressive way of insulting her…and plugging his old book.

    If you read his post carefully, you'll see that he agrees with all of Lynn Hirschberg's conclusions.
    He flat out nods at them, without challenge.
    His actual problem is that Hirschberg constantly poses these [fake] revelations as dilemmas or questions.
    He'd rather she just declare M.I.A. unworthy, and give his book "Rebel Sell" half the credit.

    His is a criticism of journalistic style, not substance.

    Someone who actually wanted to defend M.I.A. would present a simple truth: If you disagree with someones politics, debate them on the issues. Unfortunately, neither Potter nor Hirschberg are capable of that. So a driveby shooting of redacted quotes, outright lies, & phony juxtapositions will suffice.

    I posted the following elsewhere, but it's instructive enough to repeat.
    Using Hirschberg's fine journalistic standards, you could conclude the following:
    – George Clooney has some nerve opposing rape in Darfur, because he breaks womens hearts with impunity.
    – Sean Penn has some nerve making Haitians sleep in cramped JPO tents, while he owns a mansion.
    – Oliver Stone has some nerve directing anti-capitalist "Wall Street 2", while he's the son of a banker.

    Back to your regularly scheduled "two minutes of hate", kiddies.

    • well.. see.. MIA's not allowed to be in the Clooney, Penn and Stone category.
      she reached the glass ceiling and broke it. Their glass ceiling is higher.
      imagine, as a rap star.. she lives in Brentwood !! how dare she!

      Instead of doing normal 'rock star' things like fighting with her family and breaking things and getting into drug and divorce settlements over bad press and mis-directed anger, — she puts anger at the source… cuts through the red tape, exposesTimes.. and moves on. and she eats real food like fries too. she's probably in a Brentwood park right now, thinking about politics. People in Brentwood are not supposed to do that. tsk tsk MIA

    • I agree. Andrew Potter and Hirschberg/Jan Wong are just two sides of the same contemptuous coin. These critics want to be famous for telling us how phoney famous people are. It's just more bullsh*t.

  12. Okay, we get it. Maya's a hypocrite. Here she is, trying to play up her family's Tamil gangsta cred while drinking white wine and eating yuppie fries in a fancy restaurant in Los Angeles ==> guess you dont' get out much , do you?? she and nearly every other celeb in Hollywood hang out in fancy restaruants day and night… and since when did MIA claim her family CURRENTLY were gansters? she explained her roots and country of origin in trouble.

    You and Lynn should get out a bit more.. a travesty…

  13. a joke. keep defending your buddy Lynn's article on how right you are on Maya. the reality is none of you are exposing anything NEW on her.. all this rich stuff? did she HIDE IT? did she pretend to do drugs, live on welfare in a LA run-down city.. while secretly at night going to Brentwood and living it up???

    WHAT THE ##888 NONSENE DO YOU PEOPLE KEEP RANING ON ABOUT???!! GET TO THE POINT.

  14. Lynn, Andrew and Benny got her GOOD!!!

    See.. what ppl didn't know is this:
    MIA tells her fans she's a drug addict tormented by real life and lives in LA (the bad side) on welfare.. and took a STRONG VOW OF POVERTY until everyone in Lanka has champagne and a puppy just like Paris Hilton. This is, after all, the height of the American dream for immigrants of third-worlds. But secretly at night, she goes back to her REAL home in Brentwood, which she married the loaded dude for.

    INCREDIBLE STING WORK GUYS.

  15. There's a difference between a "vow of poverty" and just living a comfortable life. Don't we constantly see things about how every dollar helps a child in need in a struggling country? Words bring awareness but the only thing that can actually end things is money…everything in the world has to be bought out.

    If you're not wearing some LA Boutique $250 t-shirt you might as well wear a burlap sack…

  16. Wasn't Lynn Hirschberg the same journalist who alleged Courtney Love had been using heroin during pregnancy, leading to Mrs Love and Kurt Cobain of Nirvana to lose custody of their daughter Frances, and quite possibly one of the factors in Mr Cobain's decision to end his life?

    • Yes! LA child services took custody of Frances Bean away from her parents based soley on Hirschberg's Vanity Fair article. No one believed Courtney when she said Hirschberg misrepresented her. Interesting to see Hirschberg discredited here. Throws a whole new light on the Frances Bean allegations.

  17. The irony is NO ONE actually knows what M.I.A.'s political views are! They know themes, as Paul Escobar brilliantly put it, don't know shit enough to debate her on them, but never really get her because they can't link it back to her 100%. You've got her mature songwriting and elusive imagery to thank for that. Too third person, yet personal. Mind Fuck.
    M.I.A. = GENIUS.

  18. The irony is NO ONE actually knows what M.I.A.'s political views are! They know themes, as Paul Escobar brilliantly put it, don't know shit enough to debate her on them, but never really get her because they can't link it back to her 100%. You've got her mature songwriting and elusive imagery to thank for that. Too third person, yet personal. Mind F***.
    M.I.A. = GENIUS.

  19. The irony is NO ONE actually knows what M.I.A.'s political views are! They know themes, as Paul Escobar brilliantly put it, don't know s*** enough to debate her on them, but never really get her because they can't link it back to her 100%. You've got her mature songwriting and elusive imagery to thank for that. Too third person, yet personal. Mind Fuck.
    M.I.A. = GENIUS.

  20. The irony is NO ONE actually knows what M.I.A.'s political views are! They know themes, as Paul Escobar brilliantly put it, don't know enough to debate her on them, but never really get her because they can't link it back to her 100%. You've got her mature songwriting and elusive imagery to thank for that. Too third person, yet personal.
    M.I.A. = GENIUS.