Monday, May 19, 2008

The Sociological Importance of M.I.A. (really)

So I don't know where You stand on MIA. When I first heard her it was several years ago and Sara had ordered the first CD from somewhere like Amazon Singapore because it was not available in the states. At this point I don't remember if this was because she was just not exposed enough for anyone to mass release her disc in the states or if this had something to do with the entire 'she oposes her oppressive government so we she's too dangerous to let into our country' thing, but it doesn't matter for the sake of this little observational piece.

I like MIA. Not enough to actively listen to her on a regular basis (I like the music but her 'I'm too sublime to do more than utter easily repeatable phrases at converstational levels with hardly any emotional inflection' kinda irritates me), but coming out of that whole Electro-trash/clash thing ARULAR seemed an interesting progression. The beats on that album were very scattered and minimalist, like a blind man with a dyslexic sense of rhythm programmed the beats. It was interesting and different so I liked it. Also, there was that whole, 'watching a knife fight ala Street Fighter video game level in Sri Lanka' vibe to the music - like you were slumming it with some counter revolutionaries in a third world ghetto (remember I said third world ghetto later, that's the crux of my blathering today).

Now MIA has blown up. I know I'm writing this about 6 months too late, as the 2nd album came out a while ago, but its not even the album itself's presence I'm talking about - I don't actively see too many people listening to it or meet too many people that claim to be into her. But THE SMALL, WELL ARMED CABAL OF PRODUCERS WHO MONOPOLIZE THE POP WORLD RIGHT NOW SURE AS FUCK ARE. Seriously, I dig Timbaland and Pharrell and Co. I think they are amazing producers who get amazing drum recordings, make interesting musical arrangements and generally have elevated the fickle arena of pop. If in 2000 you would have told me I'd be a fan of the first Justin Timberlake album I would have finished my fucking beer and knocked you across the face with it (good thing you didn't warn me, eh?) but I am. Period. So now I have kind of followed these guys and seen some of what they've done. And it all has been influenced by MIA's music. Most recently Madonna's new album hard candy, produced by both Neptunes and Timbaland, got me thinking about MIA's impact, because Madonna is all about doing what is going on in the scenes beneath her, and Hard Candy (worst album cover ever. YOUR FUCKING 50, stop the faux bondage shit! really...) has MIA all over it.

And maybe its just LA but all the cars that drive around 'bumping' bass music - well its all hip hop chart station stuff and it seems from a distance like it all has that same 'third world ghetto' feel to it.

So now here's why MIA is really sociologically important. Warning, I'm about to offend any 'Love it or leave it' types out there, although if that's you, what you'd be doing on my blog in the first place would be an interesting question.

AMERICA IS A THIRD WORLD COUNTRY. No, seriously, it is. Don't believe me? Let's look at a few things, starting with a definition:

The term Third World was originally coined in times of the Cold War to distinguish those nations that are neither aligned with the West (NATO) nor with the East, the Communist bloc. Today the term is often used to describe the developing countries of Africa, Asia, Latin America and Oceania.
Many poorer nations adopted the term to describe themselves.

That's from, a site that from my brief research before quoting it, seems rather agenda-less, if that's possible in this day and age.

So that's where the term started, but that's not what the idea had become by the first time I'd grown old enough to understand how people were using it as colloquially. For that nuance you need only take that second sentence above and rewire it a bit:

'Today the term is often used to describe countries considered poor and exploitable by the major powers in the rest of the world, where poverty, oppression and lack of education are the rule of thumb'. (if you think I'm going out on a limb look at the way the same website from above broke down the lists

First: our 'ruler' wasn't elected, he took office by white collar force. Nuff said. Oppression occurs via the government and perhaps more notably through the companies that lord over us. Disagree? Well, look at all those nice mortgage companies who made their money via predatory loans and then got the government to either bail them out or let em' sink while their CEO's jettisoned with massive pensions. Any of those debters get their mortgage forgiven?

On that topic, our economy is proof fucking positive of my point. Look at things like housing, unemployment, etc. No one has money except for what, some 5% or something? Everyone lives beyond their means. The only difference between us and what we used to think of as a third world country is we on the ground floor in this modern example are more useful to those exploiting us because through the magic of credit EVEN POOR WE CAN CONTINUE TO BE EXPLOITED. Those aforementioned forces of oppression folks used economical weapons such as credit cards, pay day loans and the like to cause the decline in the first place by continually squeezing every last drop from us they could.

And if you still need more proof of this economically, consider that major companies for all industrious or technologically advanced countries, including ourselves, that used to close factories or ship programming jobs over to these third world nations to exploit cheap labor are now moving them here because our money is so weak and our rights as workers have been eeked away until we're all just so fucking happy to have a job we don't flinch when our employers fuck us in the ass on a regular basis and still don't give us extra money or benefits, in fact they just continue to take them away. Air Bus and other European companies are opening plants here now because of the weakened state of the dollar compared to their Euro. There's an interesting article on that here:

Enough already about the economic reasons we meet the criteria, lets move on to that old favorite education, or in our case, the lack thereof I mentioned earlier. Anyone think I'm wrong in saying we fit this criteria AND THEN SOME? Cause if you do, go drive down to the part of town you normally avoid (we all have them), park, leave your car unlocked with the windows rolled down and go for a nice long walk. Then tell me I'm wrong. Shit, for that matter, just walk into a Best Buy, a supermarket, a fast food restaurant...

Our cities have become schizophrenic amalgams worthy of 50's sci fi writer Phillip K. Dick's imagination: consistant, healthy 'communities' (remember when that world was real time and not just some 'virtual' idea) are gone, replaced instead by patchwork landscapes comprised of gated subdivisions on one block and low income, squallor-housing on the next. To further illustrate how we are the next evolution in the third world based on our poors' continued exploitation, while you're strolling through your friendly neighborhood ghetto, look at the cars parked on the street in front of the buildings: hummers, escalades, dodge 300's, etc. Can't afford a nice place to live but through the magic of debt I've got a $30k car.


So, back to MIA, coming from a third world nation, and having the cultural imprint of that in her music, it makes perfect, evolutionary sense, if sociologically one of the ways you can observe and understand a society is through its art and thus its music, then its perfect timing that she should alter the sound of our streets so appropriately: the music we hear while walking through town should evoke images of hostile third world streets - that's what we have. That 5% prey on us, we learn by example and prey on those around or 'below' us. Thus is the world we live in, go ahead and tell me its not 'third world'.


Sara said...

It's coincidental that you post about M.I.A. Last night, I was on the balcony of a fifth-floor apartment that overlooks La Croisette and the beaches that string the Riviera. One beachfront bar/club was having a party - and the music thumping out of it was none other than M.I.A. It's what is blaring in shops & cars ... the other popular album here seems to be Madonna's "Hard Candy." Funny how from even 7,000 miles apart, our lives run parallel. It goes to show you how connected & small the world can really be sometimes. From one Third World to another.

D said...

I heard an interview with MIA and she said her father was a member of Eelam Revolutionary Organization of Students (EROS). Which was one of the starting groups of the Tamil Tigers. Fine line between terrorist and freedom fighter?

So, no wonder she had trouble getting a visa to get into the country for a tour.