Touchy subjects are meant to be poked and prodded. It’s then that you get the most genuine response from people. Gut reaction is pure, unfiltered, and often the most “right” response a person can have. If you call someone a racially insensitive word, they might scream at you or punch you in the face; an appropriate reaction to the hate-filled word slung their way. The nonexistent consideration for their being might provoke violence, but it’s a fleeting moment. Art isn’t afforded the same luxury of escaping beyond the scene of the crime, as it endures far beyond the momentary instance of a passing conversation or verbal jab.
That’s why we need artists to latch on to such subjects and make them topics of conversation. It’s my gut reaction that someone else’s gut reaction is often wrongfully violent. Take, for example, the release of No Doubt’s music video for their latest single “Looking Hot,” which has sparked outrage from Native American groups for being “insensitive” towards an entire culture of people, and was quickly taken down off the band’s official YouTube page.
Let’s start with the song, which is about finding something uniquely attractive, with Stefani’s lyrics at once welcoming objectification (“stare on my ragamuffin”) but at the same time consciously playing into the role of said alluring entity. It’s a stagnant message of “female empowerment,” but a message nonetheless. The song takes on a satirical air, poking fun at the “male gaze” and its obsession with things like ragamuffins and demeaning the entity of woman by labeling her simply “hot.” The male cages the female, the female breaks free and harnesses control. The music video merely compliments that idea—if you think about it, that is.
Let’s take a trip back to early America, not unlike the one depicted in No Doubt’s music video (if we want to get really philosophical—they don’t explicitly say this is America, or Native Americans, or—you get my point). It’s a time not a single person alive today experienced. But it is a time we’ve come to accept as being ruthlessly unpleasant for women. While the Industrial Revolution afforded women meager jobs, they were given just that in return; a meager way of life. Housewives, cooks, and family caretakers were still the most common roles for women to play. A woman’s say in politics, culture, and society was largely silent until suffrage movements reared their courageous heads in the early 1900s. Women and Native Americans were minority beings in every sense of the word.
So, we have a time period that valued male brutality, conquest, and strength over dark skin and vaginas. Do we see how it’s appropriate, purely in an artistic sense, for Stefani to take on the role of an imprisoned female Native who’s delicate frame is poked, prodded, and held captive (physically and ideologically) by the upper male hand? The clues are all there. In the lyrics and in the quick-draw between the attractive woman and Adrian Young as a “Cowboy,” Tony Kanal as an imprisoned Native, Stefani leading a tribal ceremony in dance around a fire…the list goes on; repressed versus the repressor, caging the “other,” and finally showing us the beauty of the uniquely mysterious “minority.” A battle rages towards the end, signifying an important clash of the underdog and the iron fist of dominant ideals keeping them down, an important message that, by all means, should not be stifled in today’s volcanic arena of social injustice.
I can understand backlash against things that are mindlessly provocative. Incoherence in art makes it easy to target those merely using something like race at face value to make a fleeting headline on Perez Hilton. Art with intent beyond making a momentary splash, however, is different. Think of the episode of “The Sarah Silverman Program” where Sarah mistakenly dons blackface to experience what it’s “really like” to be black. She believes she’s starting a racial dialogue, but merely brings criticism upon herself for her careless decision and strayed focus from the task at hand. The act becomes about her, not about the issue. It’s a brilliant episode. The same logic can be applied here. Trying to empathize with the struggles of another group of people is pointless and irrelevant to the progression of society. You can’t understand struggle unless it happens to you. Sympathy turned into action, however, is where change is made. No Doubt’s “Looking Hot” music video may be part gorgeous aesthetic and part social commentary, but the thread of coherence runs throughout the entire piece, which deserves a fighting chance to be heard versus quick dismissal like its subjects and real-life counterparts years ago.
Shower me with accusations of premature vitriol, but they’re cowards for taking it down.