A Celebratory Thing

I read another write-up on M.I.A. and was struck by her final quote:

“I don’t know why it’s not a celebratory thing, the fact that I just know about a lot of fucking shit. That’s all. Yeah so I know how billionaires live in America, and I know how poor people live in Sri Lanka, and I know how soldiers are, and I know what it feels like for your dad to throw hand grenades out of your bedroom window, I just know that. I’m not going to be able to change any of those things, and ultimately I believe in creativity. You get out what you put in, and it’s not like I only put one thing in.”

You may remember a NYT Magazine article from earlier this year that had all sorts of negative things to say about M.I.A. One of those things was that she’s a sellout for marrying rich and living in LA, and that she can’t talk about her years of living poor in London and Sri Lanka anymore. Which, as she points out in this quote, is bullshit.

She’s had years of various experiences, and she’s perfectly entitled to talk about any and all of them, just as the rest of us are. Pretending you are still living an underprivileged life is very different from continuing to speak up about the conditions of that underprivileged life, and M.I.A. is doing the latter. She has strong (and controversial) political opinions and she’s using her fame and music as a forum for talking about those opinions and drawing attention to issues she believes are under-addressed in mainstream media and hip-hop.

She knows how music works, she knows how fame works, she knows how growing up in a civil war works, she knows how art school works, and she’s weaving all these parts of her past life into her current and future life. If we’re self-aware enough, we’re all doing the same thing with our own lives; sorting through which experiences and ideas are still useful to us, which aren’t, and which we still need to process in order to determine where they fit in our life story.

I can’t argue that M.I.A. is looking to make a buck, but I’m getting so sick of people railing against musicians and authors for that. We are all trying to make a buck, and generally those artists who make a lot of money use it to continue making art. Whether the art becomes good or bad isn’t related to the fact that they made money, but what they chose to do with it once they made it. A sellout uses money to shut down their creativity, whereas a financially successful artist uses money to fuel it.

So she isn’t selling out, she’s synthesizing her life experiences into her art and creativity. We should all be so lucky. As she says, it’s “a celebratory thing.”

5 thoughts on “A Celebratory Thing

  1. Nice post. I think that standing up for MIA in this context is less about agreeing with her substantively (she’s not a great political thinker…) than it is about pointing out the double standards and other kinds of basic unfairness in evidence in the conversation about her here in the states (especially in that NYT article).

    • Right. It’s not an exact corollary to “I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it,” but it’s a similar idea of acknowledging the basic right for people to say what they want to say, even if it’s not what you’d say or how you’d say it.

  2. I think there are a few interrelated sides to this (actually, it could probably be split into more, but all I’ve got is three right now): the backlash against people in the arts who espouse unpopular views (especially musicians like M.I.A., the Dixie Chicks — funny how all the examples I can think of are female), the selling out accusation against people in the arts and entertainment who make money off art/entertainment with a political or social message (less so maybe with movies?), and the difficulty people have in criticizing a person’s opinions without criticizing the person (this includes attempts to hide a dislike of the person in criticism of their opinions). And it all gets jumbled up into a little ball of disdain and then laid out for us all to read.

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