By Ben Tuthill
A lot of incredible things came out of the VMAs this year: The Nicki/Miley feud, the Justin Bieber break-down, the Kanye West stump speech that may end up being one of the most important pop-culture moments of all time… But the only thing that I l still can’t process after all this time is Taylor Swift’s straight-up racist video for Wildest Dreams.
If you haven’t watched this video, watch it now. It’s so racist! Or maybe it’s not, but given the maybe-just-a-little-bit fraught nature of American race politics right now, there’s no way that anyone could have made this video and not expected it to get torn apart by Twitter. Taylor is just barely out of hot water for her implicitly racist comments toward Nicki Minaj. Releasing a video set in Africa, featuring zero Africans, in which she plays a self-obsessed colonialist it’s one of the worst things she could have done.
There are a few possible reasons why Taylor Swift let this happen:
1. She’s a white supremacist.
2. Those 4-chan screenshots from a few years back are real and she’s actually a giant troll.
3. She’s tired of being famous and wants to implode her career.
4. She’s using this as the instigator for one of the most complex PR manipulations in entertainment history, beginning a year-long downward spiral that will result in her publicly admitting that she’s ‘realized her privilege’ and subsequently wallowing in her pious humility.
5. She’s an idiot.
As much as I’d like to believe that this is a maniacal conspiracy, I’m forced to go with option no. 5. This is nothing but one of the biggest PR failures in recent American history. It honestly hurts me to write that. PR accidents happen. Terrible music videos happen. But they never happen to Taylor Swift. Like, ever.
I believe in Taylor’s absolute image control; it’s maybe her most impressive talent. She’s a great songwriter and a pretty good performer, but what’s always blown my mind is her meticulous self-control. Even the best of our generation has at least a few bleak social media moments buried somewhere in their timeline. Taylor has nothing. The only things that she’s let slip through the cracks are the occasional embarrassing photo that she can exploit for her supposed dorky-ness. You can attribute that to lawyers, but I don’t think there’s anything for lawyers to clean up because I really don’t think the mess exists. She’s known since she was a teenager that she was going to be famous. And she’s maintained total self-control and total public purity the entire time.
A mistake, now, at this point, of this magnitude it’s totally inexplicable. I don’t know what to do with this. Are PR machines not the brilliant totalizing structures that I always thought they were? Are music videos just a thing that people toss out willy-nilly, hoping on the off-chance that they please the masses? Are celebrities maybe just people too?
I guess this should come as a relief. Maybe it’s evidence that no one is trying to control me and that the world is actually okay. Maybe Taylor Swift isn’t the embodiment of pure, calculated evil and is actually just a pretty talented girl who likes to make money and pop music.
But I don’t know if I like that, I don’t think I can handle it. This is like the horrible moment in high school when you realize that your arbitrarily chosen nemesis isn’t a psychopath but actually a real, misunderstood person; or when you learn that the cool Marxist girl you’re obsessed with sometimes listens to Mumford and Sons. Either celebrities have to be perfect or the entertainment industry has to be perfectly evil. To think that Taylor’s entire team is just a bunch of everyday losers – interns, people with families, people with hangovers – that’s a horrifying concept. What the heck do I do with my life if devoting all of my energy to celebrity PR is essentially the same thing as following the day-to-day minutiae of the banking industry?
I’d rather believe that all of this is calculated. It has to be. Give her four months and she’ll come out with a Spin interview where she reveals her complicity in systemic racism and hegemonic white supremacism. Maybe she’ll shed a real tear on Jimmy Fallon. She’ll be so, so repentant. It will get millions of clicks. The country will forgive her. In a few years we’ll totally forget about her Nicki Minaj fight. We’ll believe in Taylor Swift. She’ll release a roots-y masterpiece with four or five Kendrick Lamar features. Universal Records will own our souls.
I refuse to believe anything else. Because if that’s not true then I’d have to admit that I pay attention to celebrity politics for the same reasons that everyone else does: because Taylor is pretty and because I like her music. And because I’m tired.