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M.I.A. IS A FAKE: Some Thoughts on Authenticity, Politics, and Truffle Oil

So, last week. Last week! We had a Theme Post Party! I was called a militant radical misandrist lesbian recruiter by (some of) the readers of The Atlantic, for disagreeing somewhat on the finer points of Ms. Caitlin Flanagan’s Boyfriend Story! My gentleman caller and/or a puppy arrived in my living headquarters, and it was very exciting! Also, in Things That Happened Last Week: I ended up giving not one, but two interviews. And filming a panel. And at a certain point in this process, Dear Reader, I began to flip the fuck out.

It didn’t help that I read the Lynn Hirschberg profile of M.I.A. that ran in the New York Times Magazine recently. That piece: It got under my skin. It disturbed me, in many visceral and icky ways. It seemed, to me, exemplary of the ways and means by which women who use their voices politically are knocked down, knocked over, and fucked up for the public’s entertainment. And people liked it. People I like, people I admire, at least one person I’m particularly close to: They responded, joined in the group-kick, were eager to denounce M.I.A. as a liar and a fake and a fraud and a bitch and a bad activist. And over what? Over passages like this:

Unity holds no allure for Maya — she thrives on conflict, real or imagined. “I kind of want to be an outsider,” she said, eating a truffle-flavored French fry.

The fact is, valuable things were uncovered in that piece. M.I.A. has been inconsistent, and misleading, about her father’s involvement with the Tamil Tigers. And I appreciated that voices other than M.I.A.’s were given the chance to speak out, in a widely read forum, about Sri Lankan politics and the Tigers; the allegation that she’s being overly and dangerously simplistic, in her unconditional support of the Tigers, is probably true. What I don’t appreciate, however, is the fact that these things were only brought up as a means of destroying M.I.A.’s political credibility — shortly before attacking her credibility on more or less every other front.

M.I.A. is a fake, the article more or less says; no matter what she says or writes or records about global capitalism being a bad thing, no matter how fiercely she would seem to defend marginalized people, she’s just a shallow, narcissistic, bossy, stupid woman who only wants your attention, only wants to be famous, only wants to be a star. And did you hear that she was having contractions when she sang “Paper Planes” at the Grammys? Shocking! Provocative! Fame-whorey! Regular-whorey! Unfeminine! Selfish! Bad mother!


Although her publicist had a wheelchair ready and a midwife on call, Maya, who has a deep and instinctive affinity for the provocative, knew that this Grammy moment was not to be missed. It had everything: artistic credibility, high drama, a massive audience. The baby would just have to wait. The combination of being nearly naked, hugely pregnant, singing incendiary lyrics and having the eyes of the world upon her was too much to resist.

Granted, there are a few common-sense things to be pointed out here: That it’s not unusual for women to work throughout their pregnancies, that lots of women go to work on the day that they’re scheduled to go into labor, that labor itself is a long process (the profile even notes that M.I.A.’s son wasn’t born until three days after the performance) and so many women often continue to work throughout the early stages of labor, especially if they’re doing something important or time-sensitive that can’t be re-scheduled — like, say, performing at the Grammys. Or, for that matter, the fact that implying that a woman ought to neglect her job because she’s knocked up is the flip-side of the rationale that says it’s okay to not hire or promote women because they will have to neglect their jobs once they get knocked up. But never mind all that: I mean, the wheelchair was right there, but instead M.I.A. was up on stage, almost naked, singing her violent lyrics about murdering people, because she cares more about performing and being famous than she does about her poor little helpless baby boy. What a monster.

In fact, the same common-sense issues keep cropping up, as you read the article. For example: Is it really that surprising that a performer, signed to a major label, wants attention? Is it surprising or exceptional that such a person has money? Is it surprising that a person subjected to constant scrutiny from millions of people has crafted a public face, a version of herself that she puts on when she’s being observed by strangers that is noticeably different and more suited to mass consumption than the one she wears when she’s alone, or with her husband and child, or with her best friends? And: If you were trying to get attention at all costs, if you were coming up with a fake personality that was guaranteed to garner acceptance and approval from the largest possible number of people, would “radical woman of color allied with militant groups” really be the one you’d pick? Because I can think of a ton of more palatable personas. I really can. In fact, it seems to me that M.I.A.’s radicalism — which is pretty much guaranteed to earn her much blowback, from many different people, at many points along the line — might be something that she does because she cares about it. It might just, conceivably, be for real. Because I imagine that it’s a fuck of a lot harder to live with than many of her other options.

But not according to the profile. The profile presents a series of choices, a standard of purity, which almost invariably excludes and diminishes the perspective of the woman it claims to be telling us about. I always read M.I.A.’s Grammy performance as a goddamn beautiful piece of synthesis: half-naked, hardcore, and pregnant, telling the world that she could function as a sexual person, as a political person, as a mother, and as someone who was better at her job than anyone else. She wasn’t giving up anything; she didn’t have to; she could be all of it, at once. But no, she can’t, says the article: She had to make a choice, and she made the wrong one, the bad one, the one that makes her a bad woman. I read M.I.A. as a person in a difficult and contradictory position: Someone who’s come into a huge amount of privilege, after growing up without it, someone who’s benefiting from the very system she condemns, and is attempting to use her position of power to bring attention to the problem. But the article says there is no contradiction: She’s privileged, full stop, and as such is a hypocrite if she even attempts to care or speak about people who are in her former position. As the sub-hed apparently runs: “Is the Sri Lankan musician’s political rap more than just radical chic?” You never ask that sort of question if you want your audience to answer “yes.”

If it’s okay to do this to M.I.A., it’s okay to do this to anyone. And the good news is, you basically could do it to anyone. Speaking out about politics is tricky; as anyone with even marginal self-awareness knows, it requires you to be more or less constantly opining on morals and an ideal future world, while also being a person with moral failings (I have them, God knows) who has made plenty of compromises or choices about how to live in the world as it presently exists. Hence, my flip-the-fuck-outery over being interviewed; being regarded as an authority is a little hard to take, given how familiar I am with my own imperfections. But lots of people on this here planet are privileged in one way or another, including people who speak out against privilege. Lots of people are inconsistent, incapable of being hardcore moral vegans at all times; pretty much everyone has unpleasant aspects to her personality. If we make personal perfection a prerequisite for speaking out, the result will be silence. It simply will be. There will be one woman, living alone and off-the-grid in a yurt, eating nothing but pickles, interacting with no-one but the squirrels, who walks out to her favorite pooping tree every morning and delivers a brief monologue to it about social justice. She will be the Perfect One, the Chosen One; she will be allowed to speak. And it won’t be a problem. Largely because no-one will actually hear her.

I learned … years ago that women had always been divided against one another, self-destructive and filled with impotent rage. I thought the Movement would change all that. I never dreamed that I would see the day when this rage, masquerading as a pseudo-egalitarian radicalism, would be used within the Movement to strike down sisters singled out… I am referring … to the personal attacks, both overt and insidious, to which women in the Movement who had painfully managed any degree of achievement have been subjected. These attacks take different forms. The most common and pervasive is character assassination: the attempt to undermine and destroy belief in the integrity of the individual under attack… If you are [an achiever] you are immediately labeled a thrill-seeking opportunist, a ruthless mercenary, out to make her fame and fortune.

That’s Anselma Dell’Olio, giving a speech on the state of the women’s movement. In 1970. If things have changed at all, it seems, it’s only insofar as the lingo has penetrated the mainstream. You can’t attack M.I.A. head-on. You can’t say that it’s a problem that she is being heard. But what you can do is attack her reasons for making herself heard; you can take her to task for being selfish, for being ambitious, for not being pure or authentic or poor or unknown or selfless enough: Call her a thrill-seeking opportunist, a ruthless mercenary, out to make her fame and fortune. I should be clear: I don’t think that Hirschberg was somehow doing this on purpose, trying to silence M.I.A. or shut her down because she consciously perceived her as a political threat. I just think it was inevitable that our cultural discomfort with someone like M.I.A. would eventually surface, in a piece that looked very much like Hirschberg’s. She was the one to write it — and to get her phone number Tweeted, which: BOOOO, bad pool Maya — but it had been a long time coming. It was inevitable. And that’s what makes me sad.

Because no-one, in the wake of this piece, is talking about the Tamils. No-one’s talking about Sri Lanka. No-one’s talking about M.I.A.’s most provocative belief, the one that’s really threatening: The idea that violent oppression can and should be met with violent resistance, which is a complicated and scary proposition, one that people have been evaluating and fighting over for a long-ass time, one that we’re nowhere near figuring out as yet. No-one is talking about that; no-one, to be blunt, really cares. What we’re talking about, instead, is a plate of fucking fries.

47 Comments

  1. Shena wrote:

    Thank you for writing this. I read the take-down of M.I.A. and was unsettled by how quickly people piled on, and I’m very happy and probably more than a little relieved to know that I wasn’t the only one.

    Monday, June 7, 2010 at 10:28 pm | Permalink
  2. Crowfoot wrote:

    *Fuck* yeah. That article – I couldn’t even finish it.

    If she had one of those magical penis-things, then she’d been commended on being such a consummate professional that she performed even while being physically “unwell.”

    And I’ve suddenly realized how going on about what the woman you’re interviewing is eating just ends up being really dismissive, rather than merely descriptive. Do interviews with men go on about what they’re eating?

    Awesome post, as usual!

    Monday, June 7, 2010 at 10:56 pm | Permalink
  3. SW wrote:

    Bravo!

    Nitsuh Abebe wrote a great article about why Hirschberg is completely missing the point: http://pitchfork.com/features/why-we-fight/7813-why-we-fight-4/

    There’s also some more discussion going on at his tumblr here: http://agrammar.tumblr.com/

    Monday, June 7, 2010 at 10:57 pm | Permalink
  4. Chris wrote:

    Thank you so much for posting this, and saying what I was thinking way more eloquently than I ever could have.

    Yeah, M.I.A.’s politics are controversial, and yeah, people are going to disagree with and criticize them, but that article had nothing to do with her politics and everything to do with tearing her down just for speaking up.

    Monday, June 7, 2010 at 11:00 pm | Permalink
  5. Miss Smog wrote:

    Ahhh!!!! Sady, you are the best! Thank you so much for writing this.
    If you are a “militant radical misandrist lesbian recruiter” then I wish there were more IRL militant radical misandrist lesbian recruiters!!!!!!!!! And that Dell’Olio quote: I can’t believe we are still facing these same issues! Gosh, people! Get with it!

    Monday, June 7, 2010 at 11:02 pm | Permalink
  6. Victoria wrote:

    @CROWFOOT

    “And I’ve suddenly realized how going on about what the woman you’re interviewing is eating just ends up being really dismissive, rather than merely descriptive.”

    There was a disturbing lot of dismissive tone in that profile. I was so put off that I couldn’t read the whole thing. Why profile someone if you know, from the outset, that you’re going to dismiss everything she says out of hand?

    Monday, June 7, 2010 at 11:25 pm | Permalink
  7. RivkaT wrote:

    The oddest thing about the article for me was the stuff about her Grammys costume, which was described as “transparent except for polka-dot patches that strategically covered her belly, breasts and derrière”–except that there was actually a picture, and no, it wasn’t. It was transparent in significant part, yes, but it wasn’t what the article said it was and you could have seen that–anyone editing the article could have seen that–just by looking. After that start, I was not well disposed to the overall thrust of the article, even though the Tamil Tigers part is absolutely worth talking about.

    Monday, June 7, 2010 at 11:34 pm | Permalink
  8. aeschor wrote:

    I think it’s interesting that Lynn Hirschberg is the same reporter that wrote the piece last year called “The Self-Manufacture of Megan Fox” (which of course you’ve read). That article was similarly obsessed with the idea that a woman, any woman, who has a public persona and/or serious ambition is a Bad Woman. Contrast that with her very lengthy piece last year on Conan O’Brien, which never touches on the duality of his personality and his persona. Nor does it discuss the now-obvious infantile nature of the Leno/O’Brien… what do they call it, anyway? Issue? Event? Stupidity? Anyway, if I were rating those three performers in terms of how much I respect their worldviews, I wouldn’t put Conan O’Brien anywhere near the top of the list. But it seems she has.

    She also conducted recent interviews with Josh Brolin and Michael Fassbender — two men who are reputedly violent towards women — without asking any questions regarding those controversies. She did ask Josh Brolin about his Mohawk, though, so I suppose it wasn’t an entirely wasted interview.

    Monday, June 7, 2010 at 11:34 pm | Permalink
  9. GarlandGrey wrote:

    Amy Poehler was rapping in front of Sarah Palin 7 days before going into labor (and talked about it on Fresh Air – talked about how she “was really trying to NOT give birth”) on Saturday Night Live. But she’s a woman who mostly focuses on her own life and work and is not advocating for any political causes and thus no one is gunning for her. So, there’s that.

    Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 12:10 am | Permalink
  10. Excellent post Sady! And excellent post on The Atlantic as well… where I notice that the comments quickly descend into an endless pit of “what about the menz” I’M SO FUCKING SICK OF HEARING ABOUT THE MENZ. Like every other freaking comment after the first 10 or so should have just been [BONER]-ified.

    (I may just be extra cranky tonight).

    Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 12:56 am | Permalink
  11. Andy wrote:

    The most frustrating part of that article for me was how Diplo repeatedly just shat all over M.I.A. and Hirschberg basically took him at his word without really scrutinizing him or what he said at all.

    “He’s got a long and unflattering romantic history with the subject of my profile, who is engaged to and has a child with another man? He sounds like a really objective authority on M.I.A. whose personal feelings probably don’t color his opinion of her at all. And what’s that, this full-grown adult 35 year-old man likes to celebrate his birthday by tripping on mushrooms? What a cool, fun guy!”

    Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 2:32 am | Permalink
  12. Andy wrote:

    Of course, Diplo is a White Man, so his Word is Law unless another White Man Challenges him, to Fight for Her Honor, and her boyfriend apparently wasn’t interviewed. I get the feeling that if he was the profile/reaction would’ve gone something like (paraphrase): “These two rich awesome smart talented hott dreamboats hate each other, because of MIA! WHY IS SHE SUCH A HORRIBLE BITCH, TURNING BRO VS BRO??? (also french fries)”

    Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 2:49 am | Permalink
  13. Ennu wrote:

    Posts like this are the reason I love this blog so much.

    Damn smart.

    Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 2:52 am | Permalink
  14. Nikki wrote:

    What drove me crazy about the article is how they downplayed her talent as a musician and minimized the importance of being a talented performer. The article brought up her lack of musical training, her inability to sing, her reliance on Diplo’s production. Her skill, the article said, is in juxtaposition, in picking and choosing from Actual Dude Musicians from around the world.

    The article talks about how she totally upstaged Lil’ Wayne, Kanye West, Jay-Z and T.I. at the Grammys- which is FUCKING HARD TO DO. It wasn’t just because she was pregnant or dressed provocatively or whatever, she’s a fantastic performer.

    Any time a lady comes out with something that sounds really different from what’s out around it, she gets Ono’d- rather than focusing on the music and the new sound she’s made and popularized, they’re talking about a.) the lack of skill/formal training and b.) the man who’s actually the brains of the operation:
    MIA is all style and no talent, Diplo does all the work. See also: Yoko Ono is a screechy harpy who broke up The Beatles, my 4 year old plays drums better than Meg White.

    Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 3:25 am | Permalink
  15. Kathy wrote:

    Echoing what Shena said, I’m a sometime poster at a pretty popular blog that posted at link to the original NY Times piece. The reaction was disappointing and, sadly, predictable: M.I.A. is an entitled pop star, her politics are sloppy and inconsistent, and so on.

    Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 6:13 am | Permalink
  16. jfruh wrote:

    I wish I could find the link now but I read an interesting bit on how MIA’s quotes were kind of manipulated in that piece — she wasn’t misquoted, but some quotes that were glommed together into a single paragraph in the article actually were spoken very far apart in the article. Oh, and guess who ordered those truffle-oil fries, to share with the woman she was interviewing?

    Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 7:47 am | Permalink
  17. Aaron deOliveira wrote:

    http://race.change.org/blog/view/who_gets_to_define_sell-out_mia_meets_the_inew_york_timesi

    Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 7:48 am | Permalink
  18. lilacsigil wrote:

    I’m going to read this article to my favourite pooping tree. It will immediately become transformed into SHINING IDEOLOGICAL PURITY. Or something. None of that nasty conflict-loving or *eating*, that’s for sure.

    Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 7:50 am | Permalink
  19. Samantha b. wrote:

    Oh my goodness, the floridity of men defending relationship abuse over at the Atlantic! All the sad young (middle aged/old) literary men, indeed.

    And, I think by definition any remotely appealing woman is a lesbian recruiter. It’s a burden to bear.

    Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 7:53 am | Permalink
  20. genna wrote:

    MIA’s video for “Born Free” taught me that if something is banned from YouTube, I should not look for it on Vimeo. Her politics do give me pause, but she has a right to be heard and is clearly a talented, intelligent woman and performer. And we need to start counting how many interviews with men talk about what they’re eating. Thank you for this.

    Fun fact that I heard: Maya used to live with Justine from Elastica! Probably everyone knows this but when I read that it was a moment of Ladies Doing Awesome in my brain.

    Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 8:06 am | Permalink
  21. K wrote:

    I’m off to work right now so before I go can I just say, I read the Atlantic piece you wrote last week and was very surprised with the comments it received. Were we reading the same article? I think I will skip their comments section in the future.

    Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 8:17 am | Permalink
  22. Vee wrote:

    Oh fuck, THANK YOU. I was struggling to figure out what I didn’t like about that piece, and I’d gotten as far as–wait, so this woman who is unquestionably really talented isn’t? Has Hirschberg listened to her music? And I was so put off by the tone of the article but I couldn’t quite articulate why, it was just this general unease. But now, yes, this. Aside from everything else, being noticed is her fucking job.

    Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 9:29 am | Permalink
  23. nina wrote:

    I swear sometimes that this blog is the only thing keeping me sane. Thank you, Sady and crew.

    Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 10:30 am | Permalink
  24. Melissa wrote:

    I always facepalm when I hear someone deny global warming on the basis that they find Al Gore annoying, and that he owns a beach house. ‘Cause if he really believed the oceans were going to rise over the next century, he wouldn’t own a beach house, AMIRITE?

    Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 10:35 am | Permalink
  25. laurakeet wrote:

    Thanks for writing this. I’ve been off the news grid a bit lately and hadn’t seen the M.I.A. piece–which it seems is for the best, as you gave the summary and the take-down all in one. Efficiency! And well done.

    Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 10:37 am | Permalink
  26. Regina wrote:

    There are a lot of problems with the Hirschberg profile. She never considers that M.I.A.’s politics are “sloppy” and “inconsistent” because she’s still working it out for herself. Also? Did Hirschberg consider the limitations of the medium? A rap song isn’t an academic dissertation. Like, I was just about to write a fake hilarious rap lyric about how complicated the situation with the Liberation Tigers and other groups is BUT IT’S SO CONVOLUTED I CAN’T EVEN MAKE AN EFFECTIVE JOKE. I think M.I.A.’s beliefs are real — to the extent that she understands those politics (and, really, if we dug deep enough with anyone who espouses strong political views, you’d find some detail s/he wasn’t aware of).

    And of course there’s the deep disingenuousness of highlighting M.I.A.’s “hypocrisy” of living a life of privilege while speaking out against privilege. Guess what, Lynn Hirschberg? People listen to the rich and famous! Privilege is required to send a message. If you’re a nobody subway preacher, no one is listening to you (and I should know, as I have ignored many a subway preacher). Fame and fortune grant you a bully pulpit. That, in itself, is **an indictment of the system**.

    Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 12:35 pm | Permalink
  27. Gina wrote:

    Awesome, Sady. Hirshcberg acts like MIA is the most notorious liar ever – every quote is qualified somehow to indicate that this is merely what MIA claims, and probably not the truth. I’m also tired of people pointing fingers at other people’s politics, claiming they’re too simplistic. A lot of us are in the process of working out our political beliefs, and we make mistakes along the way. Engaging in a mature dialogue is the way to sort through these issues; writing a finger-pointing profile is not. I don’t even know enough to comment on MIA’s political statements, but if there are problems, that profile is not the way to deal with them because it insults MIA and doesn’t advance the political conversation one iota. It does provide a detailed explanation of what MIA eats, wears, and where she lives, though, which is totally a substantive contribution to the political discussions in which she wants engage.

    Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Permalink
  28. the rejectionist wrote:

    YAY YAY YAY SADY

    Also, I believe we learned in Racism 101 that applying the word “exotic” (not once but twice! in the SAME ARTICLE) to ladies of color is, like, sort of inappropriate, especially when you are also making a lot of thinly veiled references to how slutty they are, and when someone does that, it kind of makes me stop listening to anything else they have to say.

    Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 2:13 pm | Permalink
  29. I’ve mostly ignored MIA’s politics. I do think they’re often childish and incoherent. But who gives a fuck? Dr. Dre’s not a real gangster, but you don’t see catty take downs of him in major magazines.

    A few digs as a leftist for being incoherent—well, okay. It’s not the worst thing to remember that folks like Jello Biafra or Chuck D—musicians who speak coherently about politics—are rare.

    But what was really inexcusable to me was using cattiness to question MIA for her most admirable trait, which is her dedication to her art. Oooooh, she worked while pregnant! Ooooooh, she does provocative things like a real artist, the kind with a provocation-excusing penis! Oooooooh, she’s a perfectionist about stage performance. If women start doing too well as performers, then god knows we may have to accept that they’re just as good as men, and that’s un-fucking-acceptable.

    Wednesday, June 9, 2010 at 8:36 am | Permalink
  30. @ SW @ #3, I didn’t think that article was that great. To me, he was doing the same thing that Hirschberg was, but more tentatively.

    Wednesday, June 9, 2010 at 10:06 am | Permalink
  31. sarahhf wrote:

    Thank you, Sadie!

    I don’t have much to say, except that I totally heart this post. And am also really fond of MIA, largely BECAUSE she isn’t perfect and isn’t trying to be. To me art is all about being flawed and messy.

    Also I really want truffle fries now.

    Wednesday, June 9, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Permalink
  32. Sue wrote:

    Found this through a FB link, had to back up to the original article to learn who this MIA might be. I am now going to youtube and itunes to check her out.

    This quote is so good I want to post it all over the internet, “If we make personal perfection a prerequisite for speaking out, the result will be silence. It simply will be. There will be one woman, living alone and off-the-grid in a yurt, eating nothing but pickles, interacting with no-one but the squirrels, who walks out to her favorite pooping tree every morning and delivers a brief monologue to it about social justice. She will be the Perfect One, the Chosen One; she will be allowed to speak. And it won’t be a problem. Largely because no-one will actually hear her.”

    LOL, word.

    Wednesday, June 9, 2010 at 3:38 pm | Permalink
  33. uglily wrote:

    Hirschberg suggested and ordered the truffle fries to begin with. I’m surprised no one has brought this up yet.

    The evidence: http://neetrecordings.com/blog

    Wednesday, June 9, 2010 at 4:20 pm | Permalink
  34. another maggie wrote:

    Hooray for this! I was totally nonplussed when this came out, all the OMG TRUFFLE FRENCH FRIES EVILLLL.

    Wednesday, June 9, 2010 at 4:36 pm | Permalink
  35. Alexia wrote:

    Halle-be-loooooojah and praaayyyyyze GAWD, thank you for writing this! Reading that article made my blood boil, I don’t know how I made it past “exotic”. Facebooking this.

    Wednesday, June 9, 2010 at 5:51 pm | Permalink
  36. Amelia Jane wrote:

    I was really fucking surprised when I saw a few ‘I hate M.I.A’ statuses on fbk (yeah, that’s how I get my news). But this totally explains it. WHAT THE FUCK?! I always want to ask people who do take-downs of activists what the fuck they’re doing to raise awareness for political shit. Oh, so she’s not good enough for you? Are YOU doing any better? Because, like, if the world was in YOUR care we’d ALL be eating truffle fries, right?

    Wednesday, June 9, 2010 at 8:52 pm | Permalink
  37. M wrote:

    Ha, Hirshberg ordered truffle fries for Megan Fox too:

    IT WAS ALMOST Halloween, nearly a month after “Saturday Night Live,” and Fox was in Los Angeles, eating truffled French fries at a restaurant in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/15/magazine/15Fox-t.html?pagewanted=5&_r=1

    Thursday, June 10, 2010 at 11:35 am | Permalink
  38. Manda wrote:

    Wow, um… am I the only one who didn’t impute this dire accusation of fakeness from the article? Honestly, this strikes me as reading too much into it. The description of her performance seemed pretty neutral to me — note that I’m not familiar with her music, nor did I see the performance in question, but it honestly made it sound quite electrifying. I didn’t get some horrified accusation of poor motherhood out of it, and re-reading the passage, I still don’t see it. Many of these comments sort of sound like some people have read it to themselves in the snottiest voice possible; when taken in a neutral tone it’s not that damning.

    More generally, they profiled her as a pop star, because she is one. I got no suggestion from the piece that her politics are some sort of come-on for people to listen to her music. In addition there was a lot in there that gave her tremendous credit for her creative process and seemed to be expressing almost admiration and awe that she’s just doing something totally unique. It was kind of unvarnished, in some ways. It somewhat suggested she’s a bit of an asshole, certainly. Also something that goes with the pop-stardom territory, many times. But “she’s a big fake”? I feel like that’s vastly overinterpreting it.

    Thursday, June 10, 2010 at 2:26 pm | Permalink
  39. Fantomex999 wrote:

    It also seems to me that if M.I.A. was a certain legendary male rock musician from Liverpool, she’d get favorable press for what she does (not that the famous musician in question got support for what he did when he did it.) All told, Hirschberg is a big asshole.

    Friday, June 11, 2010 at 4:27 am | Permalink
  40. Sady wrote:

    @Everybody: I hope we can focus on the issues here, not on calling Lynn Hirschberg names. She wrote a profile that I (and maybe you!) found problematic, and that I (and maybe you!) disagreed with. She didn’t run over your dog with her car.

    Friday, June 11, 2010 at 4:57 am | Permalink
  41. Keely wrote:

    When I read the article the first time there were parts of it that had me fooled just like everyone else who bought what Hirschberg was selling. Then I looked into it further, realized my conclusions were unfair, that Hirschberg’s liberal and attentive quoting of Diplo was even MORE unfair, revised my opinion…

    However.

    HOWEVER.

    Although I will not condemn MIA for the way she was portrayed in this article, nor for any inferences it led me to draw about her, there is one action of hers that left a disgusting taste in my mouth. After the article came out, MIA tweeted about it and said something along the lines of “I’ll be taking calls all night to discuss it with you guys!” She posted a number… which ended up being Lynn Hirschberg’s number.

    Is MIA faux-political and fame-whorish? No, I don’t think so at all–not now that I’ve looked at the article through a far more critical lens. But is she extremely immature in a way a grown-ass 30-year-old with a child should not be able to get away with? …Yeah, there’s really no denying that part.

    Friday, June 11, 2010 at 9:43 am | Permalink
  42. Jo wrote:

    Oh god EXACTLY. To use another example, it’s like how every single mention of Rage Against the Machine is heralded by cries of “SELLOUTS! They’re on a major label. They’re millionaires. They’re poseurs. Sixth-form level politics. If they’re so RADICAL why don’t they live in a COMMUNE and release albums on TAPE???” (these attitudes were very prevalent in articles and comment sections about RATM’s recent free gig in London.) Well, as Tom Morello said, Chomsky is happy to have his books sold in Barnes & Noble. Trying to tear them down and undermine their left-wing message because they have sold millions of records is nasty, sneaky and just unnecessary.

    Sounds like the MIA thing is on the same level of assholery, with the extra delicious layer of sexism added in to spice it up. Yawn.

    Saturday, June 12, 2010 at 6:06 am | Permalink
  43. s.e. wrote:

    You can be an intellectually shallow hypocrite and a complex human being. Attacking or defending artists even pop stars for intellectual consistency is silly. Only illustrators are consistent in their ideas that’s why they’re only illustrators.

    But of course if she were a defender of Hamas none of “real fakery” would have been possible.
    The Tigers were world leader is suicide bombing.

    Saturday, June 12, 2010 at 11:02 am | Permalink
  44. ANOK wrote:

    No, Lynn didn’t run over anyone’s puppy (to our knowledge), but let’s not act like the things that she writes have zero repercussions. Just ask Courtney Love, the person who has suffered the most from meeting the beast. A pregnant woman with her credibility under attack? She’s predictable. So predictable that M.I.A. had the foresight to record the interview.
    Of M.I.A.’s response, Lynn says that she figured she’d just want the whole thing to go away rather than calling attention it it. Then, regarding past interview subjects, Lynn says that, “[M.I.A. is much closer to Madonna than Courtney”
    Predictable. Speaking of diverting attention…

    Saturday, June 12, 2010 at 4:46 pm | Permalink
  45. jen wrote:

    Thanks for this post. one thing that really bothered me, as a person who has actually given birth, is that the writer actually used the fact that MIA had a different birth than she initially planned as evidence of her fakeness. Anyone who’s considered giving birth learns pretty fast its a very personal issue and not to judge other women if their births don’t go according to whatever crazy plan you had before you realized that giant baby had to make it out of your body. Its seriously bad form and bad karma not to realize this. There are any number of reasons MIA would choose to give birth in a hospital and MIA should have actually told her to Step Off.

    Monday, June 14, 2010 at 12:47 am | Permalink
  46. Jacqueline wrote:

    [...] the “we wish we had written this” category, Sadie of Tiger Beatdown articulates why feminists should be disturbed by Lynn Hirschberg’s snide New York Times Magazine profile [...]

    Monday, June 14, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Permalink
  47. Zanyman wrote:

    I haven’t been on your blog before, but I just want to say you fucking rocked this post. The manipulated quotes makes it obvious that the whole “selfish passive whore” schpeal was just Hirschberg writing up something she’d decided long before she actually met the woman. And how disturbing is it that on those released tapes Hirschberg fakes politeness! She was sitting there the whole time, thinking how to best frame every sentence M.I.A. said to cut her the hardest. Bitch. M.I.A. may have some unsettling political ideas, but she’s damn creative, whether she eats french fries or not, no matter who she decides to marry.

    Thursday, July 15, 2010 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

10 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sarah Jaffe, kaysteiger. kaysteiger said: … and the link http://tigerbeatdown.com/2010/06/07/m-i-a-is-a-fake-some-thoughts-on-gender-politics-and-truffle-oil/ [...]

  2. links for 2010-06-08 « Embololalia on Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    [...] Tiger Beatdown – M.I.A. IS A FAKE: Some Thoughts on Authenticity, Politics, and Truffle Oil I always read M.I.A.’s Grammy performance as a goddamn beautiful piece of synthesis: half-naked, hardcore, and pregnant, telling the world that she could function as a sexual person, as a political person, as a mother, and as someone who was better at her job than anyone else. She wasn’t giving up anything; she didn’t have to; she could be all of it, at once. But no, she can’t, says the article: She had to make a choice, and she made the wrong one, the bad one, the one that makes her a bad woman. I read M.I.A. as a person in a difficult and contradictory position: Someone who’s come into a huge amount of privilege, after growing up without it, someone who’s benefiting from the very system she condemns, and is attempting to use her position of power to bring attention to the problem. But the article says there is no contradiction: She’s privileged, full stop, and as such is a hypocrite if she even attempts to care or speak about people who are in her former position. (tags: m.i.a. music sri.lanka race female.musicians journalism sady.doyle) [...]

  3. [...] Tiger Beatdown › M.I.A. IS A FAKE: Some Thoughts on Authenticity, Politics, and Truffle Oil "[N]o-one, in the wake of this piece, is talking about the Tamils. No-one’s talking about Sri Lanka. No-one’s talking about M.I.A.’s most provocative belief, the one that’s really threatening: The idea that violent oppression can and should be met with violent resistance, which is a complicated and scary proposition, one that people have been evaluating and fighting over for a long-ass time, one that we’re nowhere near figuring out as yet. No-one is talking about that; no-one, to be blunt, really cares. What we’re talking about, instead, is a plate of fucking fries." (tags: feminism journalism politics race oppression celebrities activism) [...]

  4. [...] offensive, and misogynistic even before we learned the truff about the interview.  As Sady Doyle points out attacking M.I.A. in this way is in large part a refusal to deal with her politics: You can’t [...]

  5. feminist blogs in english » » Against authenticity on Thursday, June 10, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    [...] Sady at Tiger Beatdown and Nitsuh Abebe at Pitchfork have some useful thoughts.  Both are incredibly annoyed at Hirschberg’s suggestion that one cannot really have leftist politics while being wealthy, and I have to point out that even implying otherwise shows a certain lack of intellectual heft.  I find myself agreeing with Abebe that M.I.A.’s particular brand of politics-as-art is often childish and irresponsible and insensitive—it’s easy to be a supporter of political violence if you don’t actually have to live in the thick of it, isn’t it?  So, they’ve got that covered.  I want to talk about authenticity, and why I’ve come to hate the discourse around it. [...]

  6. [...] the “we wish we had written this” category, Sadie of Tiger Beatdown articulates why feminists should be disturbed by Lynn Hirschberg’s snide New York Times Magazine profile [...]

  7. Friday I’m In Love (With Your Blog) « threadbared on Friday, June 11, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    [...] Beatdown’s critique of the recent New York Times Magazine profile of M.I.A. is epic: “Is it really that surprising that a performer, signed to a major label, wants [...]

  8. Itemized on Saturday, June 19, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    [...] of intense political/feminist analysis/defense of M.I.A./Maya as a political/feminist martyr/pariah in the face of Lynn Hirschberg’s decidedly [...]

  9. I still give a damn about M.I.A. « Feminist Music Geek on Wednesday, July 21, 2010 at 11:36 am

    [...] article, evident in LaToya Peterson’s Jezebel article and Sady Doyle’s Tiger Beatdown piece. Unfortunately, the piece irrevocably skewed the reception of M.I.A.’s new album, forcing [...]

  10. [...] M.I.A.’s records and she did nothing herself. As commenter Andy at comment 11 on this great Tiger Beatdown post notes, what kind of authority does Diplo have to make these kinds of statements as if they were [...]