My Big Mouth: Florence + The Machine video whips up cybernetic ‘racism’ storm


Florence + The Machine’s video, No Light No Light, has triggered an online debate over its apparent use of racist imagery – but is this PC gone mad?


By Joel Durston

Florence + The Machine’s new video, No Light No Light, is whipping up a cybernetic storm, with thousands debating its possibly racist imagery.

In the same week as Lynx adverts got banned for supposed misogynistic, sexual advertising, is the reaction to this video an understandable one from an enlightened audience or just the misguided rants of the ‘PC Brigade’? 

The typically melodramatic video features Florence Welsh falling from a skyscraper while under the influence of voodoo practised by a man, seemingly black, presented in greenshade (he is later revealed as Asian). 

In a week and a half on Youtube, there are nearly 1.3 million views, over 500 reactions and over 8,700 comments, many of which protracted debates. 

It has also been criticised for references to Illuminati and Satanism, but most prominently on race matters, such as an on popular race issues blog, Racialicious.

On it, Julia Caron said: “Oh yes, that old trope. Black = evil, white = good. Echoes of British religious imperialism and its violent history of colonization abound. You get the picture. 

“It glorifies the white female central character as representing goodness, all while vilifying the evil dark skinned heathen Other.”

Besides generally thinking those criticising are reading into the video what isn’t there, the real problem with the article is that it implies racism is an objective thing, even more, that it is decided by her – one of the top-rated Youtube comments, by a self-proclaimed black man, unequivocally states it is ‘NOT racist’.

Different people are offended by different things. The writer – and supporters – believes you have to live in a very sheltered world not to find this racist video racist.

But it is a utopian world that believes we can censor in accordance with every person’s political, sexual, religious and racial sensitivities, as some are implying here.

Unfortunately, for a democracy to work, people have to be prepared to be offended a little occasionally, though not downright attacked.

Censorship has also been called for, even granted in other recent cases: Christmas, Wayne Rooney’s vaguely crucifixion-esque Nike advert and Jon Stewart’s gentle satire of English politics.

I do not condone explicit racism by any means, but this video, for example, is not explicitly racist. Florence is not plainly set up as ‘good’, nor the Voodoo artist as a ‘heathen Other’, and nowhere in the lyrics is there an attack on race.

Arguably, the shoe actually is on the other foot; in reaction, one popular comment on NME stated: “[some people] are obsessed with skin colour to a point it’s the first thing they consider. That, to me, makes them more racist than anyone.”

Others echoed this and pointed to the fact that the actor willingly agreed to play the part – a sentiment sarcastically stated by a Wimbledon resident who wished to remain anonymous.

 He said: “Or it could just be a jobbing actor looking for a part in a successful music artist’s video and he thought it could be his big break.”

With hypersensitivity to very small minorities there is a risk people will stop pushing artistic and political boundaries – surely needed to keep people questioning society’s ideas of race.

Also, the criticism arguably implies that ethnic minorities should not be portrayed as villains in art – as ridiculous a notion as whites or any others not playing villains.

Gary Napier, 28, of Raynes Park, said: “What would I say to the accusations of racism? Nah! The fact that he is black and happens to be doing what looks like voodoo is incidental.”

He added that it has a common motif for videos nowadays and it was not his cup of tea.

“I don’t think much thought went into it, but that doesn’t even mean that it’s casual racism or hateful,” he explained.

If people are preoccupied with finding offence in anything they see, there is a chance the term ‘racism’ will become meaningless and we will lose sight of far clearer cases of racism…or racism.

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