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Jay Z and Kanye West's picture of violence


Watching the new Jay Z and Kanye West video, this quote from one of my favorite teen movies, Clueless, popped into my head.

“So, okay,” chirps Alicia Silverstone as Cher Horowitz, “the attorney general says that there’s too much violence on TV and that should stop. But even if you took out all the violence on shows, you could still see the news. So until mankind is peaceful enough not to have violence on the news, there’s no point in taking it out of shows that need it for entertainment value.”

Romain Gavras’ video for No Church In The Wild certainly employs violence for entertainment. In fact, the last time I had as strong a reaction to a video was when I saw Born Free by MIA, which was also directed by Favras. While the MIA video portrayed a bizarre system of racist profiling against redheads, No Church shows angry mobs in various tackles with the authorities.

The images of riots and mass violence in this video bear striking resemblance to the footage we all sat watching last summer as demonstrations took hold of the streets of Cairo. I have watched the video many times. I am drawn to it in some voyeuristic way. It’s not often that we are privy to images as wild and unhinged as these.

While there is something incredibly satisfying about the slow motion shots of police cars burning, isn’t this a bit irresponsible? Maybe it’s the timing of the release of this video, or maybe it’s just the extreme nature of the shots that gives me a moment’s pause.

In some way I feel that Jay Z and Kanye West, two incredibly talented and rich artists, have capitalized on some serious distress. By using these images in this way, they de-contextualize them, using them only for their impact while subtracting their purpose.

Who are these riots against? Who are they for? It doesn’t really seem to matter. The thing that counts here is that the video has tapped into an international rage that seems to grow fierier every day.

It is true that this violence exists in the news. And maybe because of that, it shouldn’t just be copied to give meaning to a catchy tune.

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    1. schlitzy mcmichael

      The video is a cinematic portrayal of banlieu (suburb) riots in Paris. In the banlieus, which are equivalent to the ghettos in the US, rioting is a regular occurrence, but the most known outbreak was in 2005 when nearly every city in France experienced massive riots in reaction to the police murdering two young minorities.

      The video is not being irresponsible for graphically depicting very real social tensions that exist because poor people both in France and and every part of the world are routinely brutalized and murdered by the police.

      You are irresponsible for not doing any research for an article that presumably thousands will read.

      Reply to Comment
    2. sh

      It’s an artistic portrayal of real violence that you can watch on facebook or youtube every day. Most of those watching the latter also don’t understand why it’s happening, they only know it is.
      Art galleries and churches are full of this stuff. Take a look at the countless blood-drenched portrayals of the martyrdom of St Sebastian, or of Jesus, or paintings like Goya’s http://onlygodreallyknows.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/goya-shootings-3-5-1808.jpg or Picasso’s Guernica. Shocking, depraved stuff because its happening somewhere not far from you and it never seems to stop.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Jake

      Just go over to the settlements. There you can shoot a palestinian boy, then tie him up and beat him. The most that will happen to you is that they might take away your gun. You know the one the state bought for you in the first place.

      For fun, make sure you have a friend take a video of it and add this sound track. Welcome to the 21st Century. Isn’t it good to be a Jew. 🙁

      Reply to Comment
    4. Simply amplifying and feeding back the insurrection, as such, is entertaining but it has no political value, even if a substantial number of white kids are also affected by it and become somewhat emotionally radicalised. Insurrection by itself simply provokes repression, and the odd cosmetic reform or replacement of an interchangable cog in the state’s personnel structure. Political responsibility is a very difficult thing when the truth of the matter is that you are allowed to shout as loud as you like because it will make no difference. Hip hop is a pretty phony genre, like other genres. The only 100% genuine person I have discovered in it is KRS-One. He gives the expression “old school” definitive meaning. I recommend him.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Charles

      Aw, the revolutionaries don’t like having rebellion appropriated for commercial purposes!

      Reply to Comment
    6. Philos

      In the fine tradition of NWA who riled the elites with their famous chorus “f**k the police”

      Reply to Comment

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