At age 25, Taylor Swift has accomplished a great deal—she is the epitome of an American Idol, but arguably to her credit without having endured the from-nobody-to-Diane-Warren-singing-glamazon assembly line process that is that show. She’s done it with a little help from her friends and family, sure, but Swift’s career is remarkable: scores of awards that span the spectrum of country, pop, and overall popularity; over 40 million albums sold when album sales are in the toilet for most; money, of course–tons of money; and, in this day and age, most importantly, a more social media followers than there are people in some countries. On InstaGram alone, a platform whose sole purpose is to post a flattering photograph every now and then, 44.8 million people are watching this young woman, hungry for her next cat-eyed contribution to the material world.
With accomplishment and notoriety comes responsibility. Swift has taken on that mantle as well as can be expected: she’s become, she says, a proud feminist, and she’s been loud about the real-world value of any artists creative work.
Can I take a quick break to tell you how important that is? Most people have absolutely no idea that any kind of creative work is work, and it’s intensely personal, and it mostly cannot exist in this world unless people compensate those who put their energy and intellects into making art–even if it’s formulaic pop music. And, by the way–my opinion–for what it is, I think Swift’s music is better than that of most of her peers. I couldn’t compare her with Faulkner, certainly, or any of my personal idols, Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, or Kate Bush…but Swift has a clear lyrical identity and an evolving point of view that she shares openly. She is talented and could grow into a great artist.
Now, with the release of her newest music video, “Wildest Dreams,” she has revealed herself to be a white supremacist who years for the good old days when Europeans ruled over and tamed the African lands and their people.
Give me a fucking break.
Our culture has really become unthinking and vitriolic. Taylor Swift, despite all she’s done and all she is known for, and despite her following, is young and she grew up in the entertainment business–she has been working since she was a child. The likelihood of this young woman having been steeped in historic knowledge of the abuses of African colonialism are somewhere between zero and minus zero. And people are calling her a racist colonialist because of her starring role in a music video that she almost certainly was a reference to the glamour of Old Hollywood.
Let’s teach Taylor and her followers a lesson–but not in that comic book bully “I’ll teach you a lesson!” kind of way. Not with a knuckle sandwich. With dialogue. That’s how we learn and grow civilly.
But no one really wants that–to learn and grow. We want to identify enemies and punish them. Especially those who have all the coveted attributes–youth, beauty, wealth, talent, what have you–they deserve to be taken down. To quote, as I too often do, Tori Amos, “Why does someone have to lose?”
Everyone chill out. Don’t kill the conversation–don’t say, “she’s innocent! Move on!” Instead say, “this is an opportunity to learn–have you read Heart of Darkness? “ How about Waiting for the Barbarians?