This post is not another dissection of the “Wildest Dreams” music video.
I’m a couple weeks behind on the most recent Taylor Swift hubbub, but I had seen the headlines and read an article here and there dealing with the romanticizing of white colonialism in a stereotypical savanna backdrop of Africa. For a while now, Ms. Swift has been attacked for her white feminism (i.e. Sure, she wants equality, but does she address the needs of all women or just white women?) Until yesterday, I hadn’t actually watched the video in question (which you can watch here).
I am not learned enough in academic or standard feminist thought or vocabulary. I myself am still learning the language that fits me best in talking about social justice issues involving feminism and race. Therefore, as I stated above, I’m not going to be offering my analysis of the “Wildest Dreams” video or its specific ramifications. I’ve provided links below to well-written articles on the subject:
- “Blog: White Washing Africa – Taylor Swift’s ‘Wildest Dreams'” | The Writer’s Bloc
- “I doubt Taylor Swift realized ‘Wildest Dreams’ was racist, and that’s a problem” | HitFix
- “The Backlash to Taylor Swift’s ‘Wildest Dreams’ Video Shows the Perils of Nostalgia” | The Atlantic
This post is an exploration of thoughts that came up for me in thinking about what is so wrong about the video. And I invite you to join me in wondering a few things:
The past is by definition regressive. This does not mean that all ways of living before are automatically wrong or shouldn’t have existed. For example, I believe the lives of hunter gatherer tribes thousands of years ago are in some ways better than most social structures existing today – however, we cannot go backwards. The present is made from the building blocks of the past. The history of American society, the societies of our ancestors, and the history of civilization dating back to the moment a person first corralled a herd of animals and called it a farm are rife with inequality at every point. Every moment in our civilized history has been defined by some form of inequality or another.
So a question came to my mind: Are all portrayals of the past that do not focus on social inequality problematic?
In a sense, yes. Do all movies or books other media have to encapsulate every single social aspect surrounding a historical time period? No. That’s nearly impossible. The point of media is to portray an event from a specific perspective. However, there is consciously choosing to portray a perspective as a piece of a broader lens – with some artistic license allowed – and then there’s actively ignoring the bigger picture altogether. This is what is wrong with Taylor Swift’s video. As Moose commented to me, “It’s not that romanticizing colonialism is just suddenly bad. It’s like pretty much everyone else has got the picture and she’s way behind.” The focus on the glamour of white celebrities is something that used to be nearly unquestionable in its legitimacy. But to the creators of the video: it’s 2015. You can’t pass that shit off as just white people being white people anymore. That’s no longer purely the status quo.
A mental image came to my mind while thinking about this controversy:
What if, instead of dressing up as a white imperialist in Africa, Swift and co. dressed as Nazi officers lounging along the Seine? (I know, I know, I owe Godwin another nickel). Sorry for the cliche of bringing Nazis into the argument, but it’s quite an amusing thought. Taylor and her love interest goose stepping against the backdrop of 1940’s Paris is something the Internet has to make now. (Pretty please, with delectable cherries on top). This image wouldn’t be acceptable to the mainstream at all. Why? Because, well, Nazism is not romantic and the historical ramifications are, to put it bluntly, fucking horrible.
This post turned into a Taylor-bashing fest pretty quickly. I don’t hate Taylor Swift. I thought I did when I was a wee high schooler, but she’s okay music-wise in my book for now. However, as a pop culture icon, her image and her messages can be pretty problematic. Is she the only one that doesn’t get it? No – I can’t claim to have a whole grasp on it either. As catchy as I find some of her songs – go shoot me – she does come off as a privileged white girl “innocently” playing dress-up. I doubt she means any harm – in some ways, I’d have more respect for her if she did. At least it would show she’s more cognizant of what she’s doing.
Anywho, thanks for the mental runaround, Taylor. Feel free to let me know what y’all think in the comments below.