If you haven’t seen Lily Allen’s new video, “Hard Out Here,” go look it up on YouTube. I’m sure it won’t be hard to find. Your friends are probably linking it on Facebook already.
So, you’ve seen the video, so compare that with some of the criticism it’s received:
The video is meant to be a critique and satire of popular culture and manages some deserved jabs at Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” videos among others, but in the end it just reduces itself down to elevating Lily Allen’s white female body and objectifying and utterly denigrating those of the black female dancers she deliberately surrounds herself with from start to finish.
Right? Okay. Maybe the criticism seems unfair. Maybe we think the critics just didn’t get her joke, and she wasn’t objectifying her dancers; she was satirizing the way the music industry objectifies them? With that in mind, compare the actual content of the video, including the song lyrics, to Ms. Allen’s response:
Privilege,Superiority and Misconceptions
1. If anyone thinks for a second that I requested specific ethnicities for the video, they’re wrong.
2. If anyone thinks that after asking the girls to audition, I was going to send any of them away because of the colour of their skin, they’re wrong.
3. The message is clear. Whilst I don’t want to offend anyone. I do strive to provoke thought and conversation. The video is meant to be a lighthearted satirical video that deals with objectification of women within modern pop culture. It has nothing to do with race, at all.
4. If I could dance like the ladies can, it would have been my arse on your screens; I actually rehearsed for two weeks trying to perfect my twerk, but failed miserably. If I was a little braver, I would have been wearing a bikini too, but I do not and I have chronic cellulite, which nobody wants to see. What I’m trying to say is that me being covered up has nothing to do with me wanting to disassociate myself from the girls, it has more to do with my own insecurities and I just wanted to feel as comfortable as possible on the shoot day.
5. I’m not going to apologise because I think that would imply that I’m guilty of something, but I promise you this, in no way do I feel superior to anyone, except paedophiles, rapists murderers etc., and I would not only be surprised but deeply saddened if I thought anyone came away from that video feeling taken advantage of,or compromised in any way.
“It has nothing to do with race, at all”? She must think we have shit for brains.
Oh, and this happened, too:
Which Suzanne Moore is that? Oh, yes, it’s that one.
I don’t expect Ms. Allen to see this, and if she does, I don’t expect her to get anything from it except yet that yet another humorless driver of the White Guilt Bandwagon doesn’t get her use of sarcasm. So I’ll just use her as yet another bad example of responding to accusations of racism. Fellow well-meaning white people, particularly those in creative and performing professions, what can we learn from Ms. Allen’s experiences here?
Sometimes, satire fails. The message you’re trying to get across doesn’t come through. The message that’s “clear” from the Hard Out Here video is not the one that Lily Allen wanted us to get. The video doesn’t suddenly become non-racist, non-objectifying, or non-exploitative simply because she says she didn’t mean it that way.
Punching up is more impressive and effective than punching down. If she’d done more skewering the men who scold her for not staying thin after having two kids, and less slo-mo of her dancers jiggling their asses and pouring champagne on themselves, it would’ve been a better satire.
Asking the backup dancers themselves for “proof” that your video design isn’t problematic doesn’t prove the criticism wrong. It simply means those dancers are trying to make a living and are not inclined to alienate a famous artist who might give them more employment or references in the future.
There is no room to say something like, “if I thought anyone came away from that video feeling taken advantage of,or compromised in any way.” There’s no IF here. People are telling you how they feel about your video. The harm has already happened. It’s worse than people taking offense.
If you’re going to do effective satire, you need to be ready to offend people. “Light-hearted” is no excuse for crappy content.
If you’re in a creative line of work, you need to be able to handle criticism. If people think your music sucks, they’ll tell you. If part of your expression is analysis of sociopolitical issues, you will receive criticism for that, too. If you aim to push back against one type of oppression and your execution contributes to another type of oppression, you will be criticized for that and you will do well to take that feedback seriously rather than throw a tantrum on social media.
Finally: just because you didn’t WANT to be oppressive, doesn’t magically make everything okay. White folks are in no position to determine what is or is not racist. That way lies madness.