M.I.A.’s “Born Free” Music Video – Who’s on the Bus?

UPDATE: As predicted, YouTube yanked the other upload of this video that I happened to find within 24 hours. You can watch it here on Vimeo – from the actual director’s page. (WARNING: This music video contains explicit, violent images)

This new M.I.A. video “Born Free” is something you have to watch, let roll around in your mind for a few hours, watch again, etc. Rinse, repeat.

In a nutshell, it’s a graphic political video that doesn’t hold back. A group of American soldiers storm through buildings and apartments searching for someone, and beating anyone who gets in their way. And who are they looking for? It turns out to be a resistant, young, white redheaded man. It becomes clear soon after that redheaded males are the only targeted group – and there’s an army-driven bus full of them. Ultimately, they are being driven off to be massacred.

One thing that this explicit video makes me think of is how the reign of MTV – and music television in general – is over. Not surprisingly, this video was primarily heard about through viral online tactics. As I’ve said before, the new music video platform is the internet. And what can you get away with on the internet? That’s right: Everything.

Sure, Marilyn Manson shocked everyone in the 90s when he released, for example, “The Dope Show” on MTV. But compare that to this M.I.A. video or the new Erykah Badu video and Manson just looks silly. I mean, the dude is only walking around in an alien body suit that gives him breasts…But this new wave of videos – these are forms of art that feel like they matter and are standing up for something. Artists are making statements not because they want to out-shock each other, but because they’re genuinely pissed off or impassioned. They are screaming to be heard.

As for M.I.A.’s video itself, there’s so much you could say. But I’ll give my first impressions. The choice of redheaded men as the target is the first thing to boggle your mind. Why them? It’s obviously symbolic in one way, or possibly in every way. You could say they represent Jewish people. You could say they represent Palestinians (and it’s interesting to note that the redheads attacking the bus are wearing red and white keffiyehs, most often associated with Jordan).

But for me what’s striking about this video isn’t who’s on the bus, but who’s not on the bus. People of color. Women. Girls. Blonde people. Dark-haired people. Old people. The only people targeted are light-skinned, redheaded boys and young men. But are M.I.A. and French director Romain Gavras trying to draw our attention to everyone who is and has been persecuted by marking their absence?

Another way to look at it is that it’s meant to make us realize how ridiculous profiling is. By asking, “Why the hell target redheaded young men?”, you might as well be asking, “Why the hell target Jewish people? Black people? Japanese people? Muslim people? Hispanic people?” The list goes on. The point being: There’s never a good reason for ethnic cleansing, prejudice, and profiling. It is never humane and it is never justified. And what good timing on M.I.A.’s part – just days after Arizona demands that Hispanics (or, sorry, only illegal immigrants…) show them their papers.

As for the artist herself, I do know this: Anyone who thought M.I.A. was done was horribly, horribly wrong. Long gone are the days of overplayed and eventually mediocre “Paper Planes.” M.I.A. does not just exist for you to announce that no one has “swagger” like you. This is why M.I.A. exists – to scream out against the world’s injustices. So get ready. ‘Cause it’s gonna get loud.

Retrospective Admiration for Monica Vitti

It’s not hard to become fascinated with actresses in older, black-and-white films – especially when you’re viewing them for the first time in your college years decades later. There’s something about the mystique of this glamor of the not-so-ancient past: the cigarette smoking before it was publicly deemed life-threatening; the delicate implication of sex instead of, well, what we have now; the classic but on-the-brink-of-modern flirtatiousness; the early 60s. Some glamorize Jean Seberg. For me, it’s Monica Vitti.

The late Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni really knew what he was doing by casting the uniquely captivating Italian actress in all three of his “trilogy” films (L’Avventura, La Notte, L’Eclisse).  I say “uniquely captivating” because – aside from the tousled blonde sex hair and the big, pensive eyes – you can’t exactly place your finger on what else draws you to Vitti, though you know it’s a culmination of things.

Vitti in 'L'Avventura'

In Antonioni’s films, she often plays the role of “the lost woman,” in a state of limbo in romance and in life. And she plays it well. Though the audience knows she is unsure and she admits it herself at times, she always somehow retains a sense of self-assurance, striking in its tenacity. While her roles in Antonioni’s films often require copious amounts of staring off deep in thought, Vitti accomplishes this by refusing to bore the audience. Simply put: You just can’t stop looking at her. Beauty helps, I’m sure. But I like to think it’s more of what she can produce with her eyes alone. It’s a look of profoundness masked with boredom.

Overall, she is effortless – walking or running in strappy heels, leading on a suitor, or putting on an outrageous show. There’s a scene in L’Eclisse that happens to be one of my favorite examples of Monica Vitti as an actor. Though – I must warn – this clip is drenched in racism, it’s one of the rare opportunities where we get to see Vitti break out of her more somber role. Vitti’s character, Vittoria, is over at a friend’s apartment – a white woman with a family-owned plantation in Kenya who also expresses blatant notions of racism towards Africans. In this scene, Vittoria and another friend put on a crudely offensive show and dance, mocking the Kenyan women who appear in numerous photos around the friend’s apartment.

I’ve always believed that this scene is meant to caricaturize the white Kenyan’s unabashed racism (and presumably the more suppressed racism of the other two), while also pointing to the desperately sad states of these bored, well-off Italian women cut off from the reality of the rest of the world. And here, Vitti is the obvious “star” – the ultimate vessel of upper-class boredom and yet provocative introspection.

While Monica Vitti is 78 years old now, she feels indefinitely suspended in the first few years of the 60s – placed in an Antonioni black-and-white film, playing the beautiful and charismatic “lost” woman with the intense, preoccupied eyes.