I'm enthralled by the music video for Damian Marley and Skrillex's song "Make it Bun Dem" and the many artistic and political elements at play. Hat tip to Carol Ann for bringing the video to my attention, and then dissecting the piece with me over a Moroccan-French brunch one Saturday.
Thoughts on a song and a video...
I'm not one to comment on music or music videos, so I'll leave a more studious critique to the more practiced. Still, this video brims with so much metaphor and symbolism that I could not resist sharing some of what has captivated my attention.
There are two major themes at play: Economic destruction and Native American spiritualism. Indeed, one could see the interaction between the two themes as a mirror for the ur-history of the United States, a recollection of an armed, White power forcibly removing indigenous people from their homes. That element is at play in this video, but can't stand for its entirety, as there are poor, White people being evicted from their homes alongside the father-son duo.
Rather, the larger economic theme at hand is one that remains pervasive in the U.S., years after the global economy began its meltdown. Millions of Americans have had their homes foreclosed without so much as the same second chance that bankrupt corporations are afforded. "Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!" is one common chant in Occupy Wall Street protests, and there is truth to the anger. TARP, for instance, heaped gobs of money onto troubled companies so they could maintain the status quo, leaving millions of families to find their own way out of a mess for which they are not responsible.
I am no expert on the mortgage crisis, however, so I'll leave the nuance to the experts. Out of curiosity, I consulted a classic study tucked away on my bookshelf, to see if our perceptions of home ownership had changed much over the past fifty years. Here's what the eminent Jane Jacobs had to say about the role of the mortgage as it relates to urbanization:
"Behind the use of mortgage and building money is, to be sure, concern about the profit factor--in most cases legitimate concern about legitimate profits. But in addition, behind the use of this money stand more abstract ideas about cities themselves, and these ideas are mighty determinants of what is done with money in cities. No more than park designers or zoners do mortgage lenders operate in an ideological or legislative vacuum." (The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961)
Vacuum indeed. In the video for "Make It Bun Dem," the real estate figure could care less if a family (or neighborhood) is destroyed; he's got bigger plans (literally in his hands).
Other symbols figure strongly, if briefly, in the video above. The police state, as represented by the gun-toting sheriff. The shotgun, or a glimpse of it (1:58), portends violent persuasion. The school bus recalls a degrading educational system which glosses over the destruction of Native American culture.
To say nothing of the aesthetics. The boy's determined rain dancing harkens to a time and a place that this country long ago mowed over, dug up, moved out, shattered, and then swept under great rugs which we call "reservations." And yet the spirit lives, somehow, through tradition in these crazy times. The kid could very well be dancing on ancient Indian ground that his forebears, of the proud Lenape or Seminole or Spokane, or one of any hundreds of other people ripped from their lands and traditions. The house is evicted but the spirit remains. The cleansing rain pours forth amidst abundant sunshine. Rain and sunshine, two seemingly counter-examples that, under different circumstances, are held to be harbingers of hope.
And what about that falcon that explodes out of the kid's chest, a la Donnie Darko? The spirit is fierce, golden (pure), and frankly, pissed off, attacking the sheriff at the end. What is the end result, though? Does the cop, with his hand on his pistol, get trigger happy and take out the kid? Or vice versa? The old man sitting alone, quiet, guarded by three wolves, gives nothing away.
And do you hear the punctuations of "rude boy" scattered like beats through the tune? That's not an accidental reference. In Jamaica in the 1960s, rude boys - disaffected, poor youth - came out of the dancehalls and into the streets. Their roots are in music, but their modus operandi was violent. The blasts of "rude boy" throughout the song act as a call to "get up, stand up." If you're not going to fight back and stand up for your rights (like the father and son do), then who will?
Follow Shaun on Twitter @shaunrandol
Finance, Occupy Wall Street, United States