Coldplay, Rihanna and Western Imperialism
Coldplay and Rihanna’s video clip for “Princess of China” is racist! Wait. I’m in a rush, but shouldn’t throw around big blunt words. To be more precise: it perpetuates harmful ideas of white men’s superiority and the naturalised subjugation of Eastern nations. Time to explain! Let’s make this quick!:
2. That ain’t China, but a blend of several different Asian cultures!
3. There’s a baaad juxtaposition being played up between blonde, white Chris Martin as the normal, plain dressed explorer-ish it’s-all-from-his-gaze one vs “China, ” portrayed as the opposite: weird, eccentric, ancient, unnatural.
4. China finds human embodiment in Rihanna - a woman of colour, dressed to the nines in overdone cliche Asian getup.
5. Rihanna (China!) dances for the approval of Chris Martin (white man!), who sits back watching lustfully.
Let’s bring it all together: The West is portrayed as natural and normal; The East is portrayed as weird and exotic. The West is a man; the East is a woman. The natural and normal thing is for the East to dance for the West and let it have sex with her, playing up on every cliche stretching back to John diddly Donne that colonial conquests are Fruedianly akin to sexual ones.
In short, Western Imperialism is as normal as a man having sex with a painted up lady! Wait a second. That’s sexist AND racist. John Donne is back in our grill! I don’t have time for this!
Check out my more fleshed out thoughts on Orientalism in Music Videos, where I talk about Nicki Minaj, Gwen Stefani, Madonna and more. It happens a lot.
UPDATE: After I posted this, a friend of mine on Facebook got in tyouch and we had a chat about Orientalism, and the clip. Here it is.
DB: Racist? Really? Not just fetishising the exotic and stylistic appropriation?
PopThirdWorld: I say in the article ‘racist’ is too blunt a word. Now, ‘just fetishising the exotic’? Look. Noone likes a Thai boy in leather more than me, but fetishising another’s culture is problematic. There’s a looong history of it being done to make the white guy seem more normal and superior in comparison. And it has served a political end (making it feel normal for the West to exploit these other nations). I don’t think that’s what Coldplay is doing consciously, but by thoughtlessly rehashing those things, they are keeping alive those ideas (that the white man is the norm, and centre of everything).
Feminism, Civil Rights, Gay Rights, Developing World Rights - all of it - is an undoing. We’re trying to UNdo old ideas. So it’s helpful when artists work on that process of undoing (by showing women/blacks/gays/other ethnicities in non-stereotypical/demeaning ways). It’s unhelpful when they keep alive those old ideas that need to be undone (like I think Coldplay and Rihanna do here). So, it’s not a crime. It looks quite cool and there’s a lot of creativity that goes into all the costumes and design etc. It’s just not that helpful to the real world cultures and people they’re depicting.
DB: I fail to see exploitation in this pasticheast (see what i did there.) The West is not portrayed as superior. It’s not like he prevails (unlike Uma in Kill Bill, hmm.. was it racist?). and its not really ossifying modern Asian culture - these are not historical but mythical settings, ones that Asian cinema itself perpetuates. i mean, this could be a zhang yimou Chinese epic propaganda film if it weren’t for the Thai fingers and Indian goddess. you know I’ve fetishised asian culture and aesthetics my whole life. To me artworks that get us in and create an interest in “other” are a good thing. I remain unconvinced that it is “unhelpful.”
Also: “UNdo old ideas. So it’s helpful when artists work on that process of undoing (by showing women/blacks/gays/other ethnicities in non-stereotypical/demeaning ways).” isn’t having a barbadian as a chinese princess doing that?
PopThirdWorld: Fair call. And ‘pasticheast’ is an awesome word. I think it’s a tricky line. It’s not like the answer is for whiteys to never engage with other cultures, or take an interest in them, or make artworks using those other cultures’ styles etc. But when they do it, they should try not to fall into old traps. Yes, the white guy isn’t portrayed as ‘superior’ necessarily, but he is portrayed as the centre of the story. As the one you’re meant to identify with. As the normal one.
Also, there’s a bit of a trope where a white guy comes into a foreign culture, and dominates that culture – he beats them at their own game. For example, Dances with Wolves, where the white guy joins the Indian tribe and becomes their best warrior. It’s part of the white saviour trope - that whatever a white man does, he excels at it! The fantasy isn’t for him to simply participate in another’s culture. It is for him to dominate it. And that domination is naturalised because it seems like he’s respecting and taking part in their culture (also check out Avatar and Karate Kid II. There are loads of others). There’s a bit of that here. Where Chris Martin seems to know how to do this cultures’ ninja sword fighting whatever and is masterful at it. So, maybe there is a bit of a ‘superiority’ thing there, but maybe I’m overreaching on that one.