(FinalCall.com) – When news hit after the 2012 Super Bowl in Indianapolis that singer M.I.A. used an obscene gesture during the half time show headlined by Madonna, there were probably a lot of questions and likely some quick condemnations and recriminations about the lewd, crude side of hip hop and problems with today’s young people.
Hold up, wait a minute, as the hip hop generation might say, there might just be more to this obscene gesture than meets the censored or uncensored eye.
No civilized person would embrace and condone obscenity in the name of freedom of expression, which the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan explained long ago is not license to simply dump filth on the public or heap mud on a people already languishing in it.
“While M.I.A. has offered no official comment on why she threw up a middle finger during Sunday’s Super Bowl halftime show, a source close to the rapper told ABC News Radio that her actions were caused by ‘adrenaline and nerves,’ a result of getting ‘caught up in the moment,’ and ‘weren’t an attempt to make any kind of statement,’ ” ABC News reported Feb. 6, the day after the single finger salute.
“Regardless, M.I.A. flipping the bird and uttering an expletive to an audience of millions has become one of the most talked about moments from Super Bowl XLVI. The gesture came during a performance of Madonna’s new single, ‘Give Me All Your Luvin,’ on which M.I.A. raps. Viewers at home saw their TV screens blur for a second afterwards in a failed attempt to conceal the act.”
M.I.A, or Maya Arulpragasam, is a British-born singer who is also a member of the Sri Lankan minority Tamil group, which has struggled for independence and suffered inside the country. She has readily identified with the struggle of her people and gained fame with her 2007 hit “Paper Planes.” It was nominated for a Grammy award and an Academy Award as part of the Slumdog Millionaire movie soundtrack. Her voice was also used on hip hop rappers T.I. and Jay-Z’s single “Swagga Like Us” in 2008, which were lyrics sampled from Paper Planes.
Her fame and outspokenness about the yet unresolved plight of the Tamil people and use of gunshots and strong socially and politically charged images and lyrics made her controversial and at one point made it difficult to enter the United States. Her father was among those who tried to bring peace as Tamils have sought autonomy.
In an interview with Tavis Smiley, M.I.A. referred to herself as a refugee in describing living different places, not being judgmental, wanting to hear people speak for themselves and use her brain to decide what is true. “I wanted to become a musician and help some, like, some sort of change, or stand up for what I believe in or use music for what it’s supposed to be for, you know? So it wasn’t really about getting fame and success and becoming a celebrity and selling records. It was more about bringing together an opinion or a point of view of the other that doesn’t usually get heard or mentioned,” she told interviewer Smiley in a 2009 segment captured on YouTube.
“Music was also used for social change. It’s not a bad word and I think we just shy away from it, because, yeah, the pressure of being successful, and the pressure of being like sexy and standing up for nothing is just so big. You know what I mean? I think you have to be pretty tough to like fight that,” she said.
The lyrics of Paper Planes were interpreted by some as an ode to terrorism, which she denied, saying the song could be about gun corporations selling guns and making billions of dollars or immigrants being “like the scary other that is going to take everyone’s jobs.”
It has also been called “a denouement following stereotypical perceptions of immigrants, violence and M.I.A.’s own visa troubles while recording her second album.”
She has talked about racism and Islamophobia in England and the United States and once filmed a police arrest of a Black man in New York, used it at a concert performance, questioned the use of force, and said police tried to shut down her show as a result. M.I.A. charged genocide against the government of Sri Lanka. “Tamils make up 20 percent of the country and they’re being wiped out,” she told one interviewer.
Paper Planes was a major multi-million unit selling song, hitting the Top 20 charts in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. Last November, the song hit 3.6 million copies sold in the U.S. It’s obvious her message was getting to a lot of people.
Predictably the condemnations came in after the Super Bowl show, with NBC and the NFL apologizing and the Parents Television Council expressing outrage. Most viewers missed and would not have known about the gesture if not for the media hype around it and knowledge coverage would bring coveted readers and viewers. The single finger got more attention than the deaths of thousands of Tamils.
“NBC fumbled and the NFL lied because a performer known as M.I.A. felt it necessary to flip off millions of families. It is unfortunate that a spectacular sporting event was overshadowed once again by broadcasting the selfish acts of a desperate performer,” said Parents Television Council President Tim Winter, in a statement. He added that the NFL promised the council it’s show would be “appropriate.”
The council blasted NBC, saying the network should have been able to catch the act. “They chose a lineup full of performers who have based their careers on shock, profanity and titillation. Instead of preventing indecent material, they enabled it,” he declared.
While not defending the finger, it is amazing that a single gesture is obscene and a M.I.A. video called “Born Free,” which depicts the targeting of red-haired males by masked, SWAT teams who drive them to minefields, where they are blown up, and shot to death is virtually banned. But videos of semi-nude women, backsides exposed, abound and lyrics that tout murder and insanity are highly regarded and defended. M.I.A.’s lyrics about having more records than the KGB are off-limits but guns, drugs and violence are fine.
Once again, music industry and clear social fear of anything with a message rises but the pursuit of control through ignorance, appeals to low desires and sick displays of materialism are all good.
Those who want to focus on a gesture instead the abject reality under which non-White people live in this country and around the world, and the poor suffer regardless of race globally, don’t know the meaning of the word “obscenity.” It certainly means more than a finger in a world where millions suffer, hundreds of thousands die and no one says a word or cares.