Thursday, April 01, 2010

Erykah Badu and Neal McDonough and Me: Two ends of the media sexuality spectrum and one end of the mom spectrum

Recently, Erykah Badu, without a permit, stripped completely bare for a video shoot. She traipsed through Dealey Plaza in Dallas dropping articles of clothing as she went. By the time she reached the spot where President Kennedy was assassinated, she was naked. A shot noise sounded, and she crumpled to the ground, with blue letters spelling "groupthink" flowing from her head like blood.

Badu has offered a lot of artistic integrity philosophical explanations for why the video required her to strip in a public place with no warning to the tourists and public there.

Playing the artistic integrity card is supposed to be the quickest end point of any controversy or argument over an artist doing something the general public finds offensive. Boo. Hiss. That's lame logic and doesn't truly address the issue at hand: the artist inflicted something offensive on an unsuspecting and unwelcoming public.

And the general public did find Badu's spontaneous strip act offensive. When news crews interviewed the people who were there, most were appalled. They were troubled that she had done this, with no notice, and largely focused on the fact that children were there and this is a very adult situation that left parents in a challenging and unenviable position.

Tourists came to see the landmark honoring President Kennedy, and in addition got an eyeful of a stripping woman.

Certainly as parents we encounter challenging public situations we have to explain and deal with for our children. My daughters and I have discussed people spanking kids, adults arguing, customers being rude to cashiers, bad drivers, littering, and more that we've seen in public.

But we've never had to discuss why a lady strips naked in a public outdoor venue and I have to confess, I'm more than a little glad because at heart, it makes me very uncomfortable.

I know some artists have as their goal "make people uncomfortable, shake them up, make them open their minds" but I'll be truthful and say I find this BS. When I'm discomfited, I shut down, as, I expect, many people do.

Granted, sometimes, that is the right artistic path. But usually, in my opinion, it's a lazy cop out. Or, worse, deep disrespect.

Badu had many other choices to film her video: there's an excellent film studio in the Dallas area at Las Colinas-she could have used a set; there's amazing things you can do with film editing and overlays-even I can do it on my home Mac; she could have found a more private location, secured a permit, or warned the public.

But she didn't. So, in short, she was discourteous of that space as their space, too.

That's probably what I would have told my kids, actually.

I also would have told them she had other choices.

Neal McDonough is a good example of a successful actor who makes other choices. McDonough, an award winning actor (you may know him as Lt. Hawk from Star Trek First Contact), refuses to have a sexual encounter that is graphic for any acting role, any show. In fact, he has walked away from plum roles exhibiting not his skin, but the courage of his convictions. He says that, by his principles and religion, a graphic sex scene is a betrayal of his vows to his family.

I hear that.

In a world where we think nudity, graphic sex, and violence are a necessary to art -- largely media such as movies and, more and more, television -- I'm concerned about how often we ask others, ourselves, actors, and artists to release their inhibitions, principles, and compromise their ethics. And we make this a condition of success.

I don't intend to imply any form of censorship, and certainly do not think that Badu should be banned from stripping for a video.

I'm just wondering: why is that the norm? the standard?

It may be real life, but so much of it is gratuitous, and thus, artistically unnecessary, a distraction from the true art, even.

At the end of the day, Badu's desire to be graphic and McDonough's desire to remain faithful, even in playacting, are not truly two ends of the spectrum. They are actually both at the same end: being true to themselves within their art.

I can respect that, tremendously.

It becomes an issue for me, however, when it invades my life, in a deliberate attempt to shock my morals. Right away I smell the disrespect -- this is someone who finds my principles ridiculous in some way.

That's why I find Badu's actions reprehensible and McDonough's admirable -- not because one fits my morals better than the other or is a shining example to hold up to my kids, but because one doesn't respect my space. At all. And it doesn't want to.

What do you think?

6 comments:

Joy said...

VERY well put! I've been scratching my head too trying to balance the idea of free speech, art, and the invasion into my brain and personal moral beliefs. "Shock art" is what we can call it I guess.

Donna said...

I think Badu's act was less about art and more about a need to be noticed. After all, when was the last time anyone in the media talked about Erykah Badu?

As you noted, McDonough's stance is far more courageous, as it may have hindered some of his career choices.

wheelsonthebus said...

Well, here's the thing. I think nudity is just not that big a deal. I mean, I am a prude in a lot of ways and I do not think children should be sexualized, yet I am fine with them seeing nudity (although not nude adults, as a rule :) So, while I would be horrified if, say, a friend's parent let them see her nude, I don't think I'd be all that bothered if they saw this display. I would probably have some explaining to do, but honestly, that would be a welcome relief from having to explain why everyone walks around wishing them Happy Easter and telling them for the 98th time that there is no Easter bunny and they won't be getting Easter baskets. I find that conversation more uncomfortable...

niobe said...

If I'm considering the stripping-in-public thing purely from a personal point of view -- as in, "how much would it bother *me* to be there with *my* kids?"-- I guess the answer is "not all that much"

But I understand that most people probably feel differently, so I certainly understand(and even mostly agree with) the point you're making about invading public space.

Julie Pippert said...

Emily, I'm perplexed...why would your child seeing a neighbor naked be horrifying to you but a musician stripping naked in a public square be okay? I'm not challenging you on your point, I'm trying to get to a way of understanding it.

As to the Easter (and other overtly Christian mainstream holidays) I can definitely appreciate your challenge and discomfort there.

Niobe, to be honest, I'm not sure whether I am more bothered by the naked or the disrespect, I think the disrespect which is why that's the point I'd address with my kids (also, I'm all about courtesy but not so much judging other morals, kwim). Thanks for taking th epoint -- thanks.

Donna, very strong possibility. i think there's been a lot of "get myself on the news through shock entertainment" and since celebrity news is no longer left on E! but has moved into all news venues, well, broader spectrum to hit. But that's another vent for another day lol.

Joy, thanks, thanks for taking the point and so forth. Shock art -- great description.

Ed T. said...

Julie, I like how you explained this - it fits very well with how I have felt regarding a bunch of this "shock art" stuff (love that term, too). It isn't about *what* they do, as much as their lack of respect for others who feel different. And, all they need do is be transparent (pun sorta intended) with their intentions. That's why I don't mind that play about Jesus as a gay man: it wasn't as if they advertised "The Messiah" or anything like that - you knew what they were going to put on, and if you didn't like it, than don't go to see it. Badu, with her insistence on an "ambush performance", didn't give folks that choice.

The sad thing is that, if children were present, she could end up being a convicted sex offender (just like the guy who did a drunken dance, nekkid, in his front yard one morning.)

~EdT.