Taylor Swift should be ashamed of herself for romanticizing brutal, mid-20th-century European colonialism in Africa with her new video “Wildest Dreams”!
Okay, so I don’t agree with that – at all. But in the Age of Outrage, where the level of supposed outrage tends to translate to clicks and Internet traffic, it’s white noise (no pun intended).
Pop culture’s main Pop Princess, Taylor Swift, recently released the beautiful Out of Africa-meets-1930s/40s-Vogue video for her song “Wildest Dreams.” We see her up against the backdrop of the “wild” African surroundings while donning gorgeous, timeless styles. I’m not a Swiftie, but I obviously liked the video, as did most viewers and critics.
End of story, right? Nope. This is 2015, remember? Outrage…OUTRAGE, I tell you!
Almost immediately, some writers jumped on the video as yet another example of an insensitive, white pop star carelessly hurting the feelings of all people of African ancestry, or something.
“[She] packages our continent as the backdrop for her romantic songs devoid of any African person or storyline,” wrote NPR contributing writer James Kasaga. “[She] sets the video in a time when the people depicted by Swift and her co-stars killed, dehumanized and traumatized millions of Africans. That is beyond problematic.”
Yes, by merely using the styles of Hollywood’s golden age in the wild plains of Africa, Swift is shoving colonialism in the faces of Africans. Huh? Not only is this quite the stretch – it ignores the fact that art is the ultimate subjective expression of human emotion.
For example, if I were to release a music video where I’m dressed as a Spanish missionary in the New World, it doesn’t automatically mean I’m making light of or celebrating the atrocities committed by Spanish colonists and conquistadors. It means I’m using the imagery to communicate a larger point with elaborate costumes.
I’m not in any way defending what European colonizers did to the people and lands of the African continent. I would never do that – colonialism does have a horrible, painful history. But that’s not what the damn song is about. Mid-20th century styles are used as glamorous props and the African landscape as a stunning, artistic expression of her song. Her video becomes the visual representation of her “Wildest Dreams.” She even donated money to the conservation of African wildlife and lands.
She did a lot in the video. She did not romanticize European colonial rule. She. Just. Didn’t.
Not one to miss out in the outrage culture, Mic was on the video for it’s social justice warrior beat. “The image of Africa as a frontier playground is on full display in Swift’s video,” wrote Zak Cheney-Rice. “Not a single black African person is present, let alone one of specified national origin from among the continent’s 54 countries.”
So Swift is acting like a careless, insensitive frontierswoman because she didn’t put any black Africans in her video….and she should be ashamed, or something. The point doesn’t hold up under scrutiny…but at the time of this blog post going up, it helped garner over a million Facebook likes. And that’s the whole point.
Outrage sells and boy does it generate likes, shares and clicks. Swift’s race makes the outrageous package irresistible because it crudely diminishes her art to an example of the rich and powerful white person exploiting the disenfranchised person of color. Again, this post isn’t about disregarding racism or colonialism. It’s about calling out clickbait masquerading as think pieces. Now that’s “problematic.”
Note: For those who don’t understand the title, it’s a lighthearted reference to one of the funniest movies ever made – “Mean Girls.”