This Is a Photograph of Me
Margaret Atwood, 1939
It was taken some time ago.
At first it seems to be
print: blurred lines and grey flecks
blended with the paper;
then, as you scan
it, you see in the left-hand corner
a thing that is like a branch: part of a tree
(balsam or spruce) emerging
and, to the right, halfway up
what ought to be a gentle
slope, a small frame house.
In the background there is a lake,
and beyond that, some low hills.
(The photograph was taken
the day after I drowned.
I am in the lake, in the center
of the picture, just under the surface.
It is difficult to say where
precisely, or to say
how large or small I am:
the effect of water
on light is a distortion
but if you look long enough,
you will be able to see me.)
Haters Gonna Hate: In Defense of Taylor Swift’s music video for “Shake it Off” directed by Mark Romanek
On Monday, Taylor Swift dropped her latest video for her single,”Shake It Off” (off her upcoming album 1989). The video features Swift in fish-out-of-water scenarios, mainly that of various forms of dance teams.
As directed by Mark Romanek (who also directed this and this and this), this deceptively simple yet strikingly visual music video is at once an homage to all forms of dance and movement, as well as a deconstruction of pop music video cliches. You can read a NY Times Dance Critic’s thoughts here.
I thought I would extrapolate further on the visual imagery of the video a bit since Swift’s video is kind of masterpiece because it is a lot of things: it deconstructs a lot of the cliches of other music videos in pop culture, it is a celebration of many forms of dance and movement, it highlights Swift’s transformation from country to full blown pop without losing her awkwardness (she’s still only like 23), and the ending of the video, which I think is really quite beautiful, places a diverse (people of color, body types) group of people into the frame and lets everyone shake it off ie. let go of the negativity that pollutes our society.
Swift does not fit into Martha Graham movement pieces (take notice of the diverse group of dancers poised triumphantly on a level above Swift).
Swift is no Lady Gaga (but is Lady Gaga even Lady Gaga anymore?).
Swift does not fit into ballet (notice the graceful dancers while Swift in the center strikes a playfully clumsy pose).
Swift is no Toni Basil-esque cheerleader (this shot shows Swift being launched into the air but it doesn’t cut to her falling, tracking her ascent into pop stardom).
The end of the video contains portrait shots of all types of human beings shaking it off, including people of color and people with various body types. It’s a celebration of what makes us different and human rather than ignoring them or exploiting them.
Indeed, the message of the music video is that the haters are gonna hate, but you just have to keep moving, keep progressing, shaking off those negative messages and images in order to advance as a community, as a culture.
Plus the music is infectiously poppy and fun.
There’s plenty of other racist things in the media to call out but Taylor Swift is actually trying to promote a positive message, a sense of harmony, and here is actually a white pop artist putting people of color at the front and center and giving them a spotlight to shake the kinds of negative messages off that artists like Earl Sweatshirt is trying to do. I think if Earl Sweatshirt actually watched Swift’s video, he would see this, rather than irresponsibly calling Swift’s video racist without actually engaging with it.
Suicide Note by Janice Mirikitani
How many notes written …
ink smeared like birdprints in snow.
not good enough not pretty enough not smart enough
dear mother and father.
for disappointing you.
I’ve worked very hard,
not good enough
harder, perhaps to please you.
If only I were a son, shoulders broad
as the sunset threading through pine,
I would see the light in my mother’s
eyes, or the golden pride reflected
in my father’s dream
of my wide, male hands worthy of work
I would swagger through life
muscled and bold and assured,
drawing praises to me
like currents in the bed of wind, virile
not good enough not strong enough not good enough
Tasks do not come easily.
Each failure, a glacier.
Each disapproval, a bootprint.
ice above my river.
So I have worked hard.
not good enough.
My sacrifice I will drop
bone by bone, perched
on the ledge of my womanhood,
fragile as wings.
not strong enough
It is snowing steadily
surely not good weather
for flying - this sparrow
sillied and dizzied by the wind
on the edge.
not smart enough.
I make this ledge my altar
to offer penance.
This air will not hold me,
the snow burdens my crippled wings,
my tears drop like bitter cloth
softly into the gutter below.
not good enough not strong enough not smart enough
Choices thin as shaved
ice. Notes shredded
drift like snow
on my broken body,
covers me like whispers
Perhaps when they find me
they will bury
my bird bones beneath
a sturdy pine
and scatter my feathers like
over this white and cold and silent
breast of earth.