Friday, April 02, 2010

"America, When Will You Take Off Your Clothes?" - Allen Ginsberg

Last night's tweets;

Choirs of angels roughly wash your car.
Rejoice in knowing everything's your fault.
Clucking tongues echo off of every star.
Geraldo's blind to good in Capone's vault.

I was vaguely aware of a headline maybe a week ago on a news site that read something like, "Erykah Badu Video Causes Controversy". I completely didn't care until to-day when I saw "Erykah Badu charged over Dallas nude video shoot". Now I'm interested.

The video follows Badu walking through Dallas streets crowded with tourists, stripping almost completely naked (she keeps her hat on) and pretending to get shot, falling to the ground on the spot where President Kennedy died. I'll warn you ahead of time, the nudity's censored;

I can't find an uncensored version of the video anywhere online, so I'm guessing such a version doesn't exist. Before I watched the video, I thought this was actually a pretty boring stunt, maybe inspired by some of Amanda Palmer's instances of public nudity. It's funny how Amanda Palmer doesn't get prosecuted and doesn't get this kind of press--I guess this is what a relationship with a big studio will get you, though the fact that Badu's song is sort of common grey porridge and Palmer's songs are striking is the trade-off.

Watching the video, I found I kind of liked it. Badu's got a nice body, and there's something endearingly narcissistic about what she's doing. It reminds me of a song by Sheila Chandra I used to have on my hard drive before I deleted her whole discography because, although she has a nice voice, I got tired of how fucking stupid most of her work is. I wish I could remember the title of the song, but it was spoken word with what sounded like wind chimes in the background as she described her daughter asking questions about her mother's reclining, naked body. Chandra tells the kid about how holy and wonderful her vagina is. I'm all for women feeling more comfortable with their bodies, and I think it's ridiculous that people are taught to regard any part of themselves as fundamentally dirty and shameful, but Chandra's song was so obviously borne of her vanity, it was just silly. I couldn't help picturing Andrew Dice Clay lying on the floor naked and saying to his kid, "Hickory dickery dock and this is my cock, OOH!"

At the end of Badu's video, I think she did make a worthwhile statement about the vulnerability of someone creating something and the natural inclination of people to tear that person down. Backlash over Badu's nudity is evidence of this--yes, it's against the law, but the reason anyone's complaining or enforcing the law is that they saw this beautiful woman unashamed of herself, having the guts to try and say something without couching it in the assumption that there's anything wrong with her.

A few things would've made the video better--I like that there's a Star Trek reference in it, but the video way outstrips (pun intended) the song. She should've taken her hat off, and it probably would've been better if she didn't have any tattoos. But that's just a personal hang-up of mine--I find I often like people who have tattoos, but I'm always disappointed to see them on a naked woman, because my mind then reads her as only partially nude. Tattoos to me suggest someone who can't bear to be without body ornamentation at any time, which is the antithesis of the poetical idea of nudity to me. I also think she should've put an uncensored video online. That would take real guts. Sure, she'd probably become an item on Mr. Skin, but what's wrong with those of us who actually want to see her naked enjoying it as opposed to tourists having it foisted on them? There's something cold and hypocritical about it.

Anyway, I think the video was definitely worth Badu getting in trouble over--it's the most interesting thing I've seen her do, though I can actually see the alternative perspective. I was reminded of the story I saw David Lynch tell in an interview about the scene where Isabella Rosselini appears naked on a house's front lawn in Blue Velvet. It was inspired apparently by a naked woman Lynch saw in the street when he was a kid and how it had traumatised him. Something basically strange about the sight and how it had seemed to imply something bad but mysterious had disturbed him. So, yeah, while I do think it's bad that even little kids have already learned there's something unnatural about seeing a naked human body, the reality is Badu could've really frightened some children. I still think what she did was worthwhile, but then again I don't like kids. Though maybe this story ought to at least teach me that kids sometimes grow up to be great David Lynches.

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