Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Is This Video Controversy Simply Much Badu About Nothing?

I finally got to see the much-talked-about new Erykah Badu video tonight. If you've been living in a cave for the past few days, it's for the song "Window Seat" off her new album, New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh, which (not coincidentally, I'm sure) dropped yesterday. For most of the video, she's walking down a city street doing a gradual striptease, completely oblivious to the presence of passersby, including kids. That's the controversial part for most of the nation.

But here in Dallas, it's a double shot of controversy: The street she's walking down is Elm Street, through Dealey Plaza and past the old Texas School Book Depository. That's right--the place where John F. Kennedy got shot. And just in case somebody misses the connection, there's spliced-in audio of a gunshot near the end of the video, and the naked Badu falls to the ground.

Even though it's been nearly fifty years, the collective psyche of Dallas has never quite gotten over being the site of the Kennedy assassination, and, as you can imagine, reactions here are strong in many circles. A lot of people wonder how Badu, who grew up here and graduated from the Booker T. arts magnet, could possibly do such a thing knowing how sensitive some people are to the subject.

So why did she do it? She offers an explanation:
Badu said in an interview Monday that the video for "Window Seat" was a "protest" and "about liberating yourself."

She said she chose Dealey Plaza as the backdrop because "the grassy knoll was the most monumental place in Dallas," and she compared the criticism she expected to receive to Kennedy's murder.

"I tied it in a way that compared that assassination to the character assassination one would go through after showing his or herself completely," she said. "That's exactly the action I wanted to display."
Hmm--sounds kinda fuzzy to me. I wonder if she also just wanted to get nekkid in a busy public place in broad daylight just to say that she could get away with it.

As I said, a lot of people were outraged. Here are a few samples:
"I don't understand how someone who lives here, who is a resident of this city, could do such a thing," said Lindalyn Adams, a longtime civic volunteer who is credited with rescuing Dealey Plaza from neglect and exploitation in the 1980s.

John Crawford, president of the nonprofit Downtown Dallas, added: "It's in poor taste and poor judgment, in my opinion."
But Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt, whose district includes Dealey Plaza, called the incident trivial in comparison to the many complex issues facing the city today.

While some people wondered if the video wasn't in fact some sort of videographic trickery--meaning that Badu could have stripped in front of a blue screen indoors and been inserted into the street scene by an editor--she confirmed that it was real, taking place on the afternoon of March 13, a Saturday. She noted that she was petrified the entire time she was doing the shoot.

So far, Badu hasn't been charged with anything, though she did violate several ordinances (being naked in public, doing the filming without a city permit, etc.), and city officials say that she won't be unless one of the bystanders files a complaint. And while my own reaction to the whole thing is pretty much "meh," there is one thing that bugged me--the presence of kids in the background. Here's Badu's response to that:
Asked about the presence of minors, Badu said when she saw them, "I tried to telepathically communicate my good intent to them. That's all I could do, and I hoped they wouldn't be traumatized."
Wow. Makes you wonder what she might have been smokin' beforehand, doesn't it?

If you haven't seen the video yet, a version of it is here. (The nudity has been pixelated, but it's probably still NSFW.)

UPDATE: A few days later, someone did file a complaint, so Badu will be charged with a Class C misdemeanor for disorderly conduct; the charge is so mild that the citation--which carries a $500 fine--will be mailed to her.

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