De/Formation: The Beyoncé “Controversy” That Wasn’t

Beyoncé as a Black Power diva?

Are you on drugs?

It’s a fantasy, a hallucination brought on by four decades of reactionary, right-wing white paranoia. Notwithstanding the Afro-wigs, black leather jackets, clinched fists and cleverly coded lyrics, Beyonce was still Beyonce, blonde conk, jezebel act and all. Nobody was hurt, no race riots raged in the streets, and after a happy time watching the festivities and the game people gathered up their things and went home, unmolested. It was just another day in the history of the planet.

Halftime
BELIEVE IN LOVE: Just a lot of money wasted that should have gone into fixing Flint’s water problem!!

 

Meanwhile, in Ankara, in Damascus, Ukraine and other places, people are still being blown to bits. And ORDINARY Black lives still don’t matter to anyone else in the world, not even to ordinary Blacks.

Overall, I thought the entire spectacle to be rather sad. It was sad to see all those people squealing in delight over Coldplay and their sappy, kitschy sub-70s shit. (The Asian violinists, and the ass-clowns jumping around the lit-up stage did not help much, either.) Actually, it was all a supreme embarrassment. While the alt-right was shitting bricks over clenched fists and “black lives matter” (as if they don’t), the real controversy–concerning the obscene amounts of money that went into this colorful, overblown orgy of musical mediocrity–went unreported. Bruno Mars tried in vain to do what Michael Jackson did 25 years ago, forgetting that Michael was already an overproduced hack by 1991. Beyonce’s music was more robotic and soulless than most techno. Sadly, no boos were audible among the audience’s wild, enthusiastic screams.

However, Bruno and Coldplay’s mediocrities took a back-seat to Beyonce’s carefully choreographed spectacle. The self-righteous Right was outraged. A Southern sheriff, Robert Arnold of Tennessee, babbled somewhat incoherently about “senseless killing(s)” of “seven deputies” (of course, not a word about the outrageous number of cop killings and beatings of unarmed suspects these days, largely but not entirely black). Johnathan Thompson, another imbecile tied up in American Law Enforcement (specifically the National Sheriffs’ Association, yet another NSA, of which Mr. Thompson is the Executive Director), likened Beyonce’s performance to “yelling fire in a crowded theater.” “Art is one thing, but yelling fire in a crowded theater is an entirely different one,” he continued.

Mr. Thompson pretends to believe that the Super Bowl performance was “inciting bad behavior”–rhetoric which echoes the old anti-communist hysteria of the fifties and the anti-nigger hysteria of the post-Reconstruction period. According to the Washington Post:

He and others take issue with the imagery in the “Formation” video and Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance of the song.

The video opens with the singer standing atop a half-submerged New Orleans police cruiser, a recurring image throughout. Other related symbols periodically flash on screen: Sirens; a jacket that says “POLICE” on it; graffiti that reads “stop shooting us.”

At one point, a hooded boy dances in front of a line of riot gear-clad officers who later join him in raising their hands — an apparent allusion to Michael Brown, who some initially believed had his hands up to surrender when he was shot dead by a police officer. (That version of events was later challenged by federal authorities.)

At the end of the video, the police cruiser fully submerges in the water, taking Beyoncé with it.

In her Super Bowl show, Beyoncé and her back-up dancers wore costumes reminiscent of the Black Panther Party, whose members projected black empowerment and sometimes committed violent acts during the Civil Rights era. The dancers at one point formed an “X” with their bodies, a possible allusion to Malcolm X.

Yeah. And?

So what?

Many in the alt-right Establishment went ballistic–another sad, stupid case of much doodoo over nothing. Tomi Lahren, a blonde, right-wing bimbo incapable of thinking her way through a water closet, nevertheless gave her “final thoughts” on Beyonce’s half-time show. “What is the political message here?” she screeched in a rapid-fire nasal Valley-Girl whine. “What is it that they are trying to convey here? A salute to what? A group that used violence and intimidation to advance not racial equality but an overthrow of white domination?”

“First it was hands up, don’t shoot.Then it was burning down buildings and looting drug stores, all the way to #OscarSoWhite. And now, even the Super Bowl halftime show has become a way to politicize and advance the notion that black lives matter more.”

Oh, really, Tomi? Why not just scrap all the breathlessly hyperbolic rhetoric and just call them niggers? It would save you a lot of energy, darling.

*

Of course, all this foolishness merely underscores an earlier point I have made, concerning thug rappers, and black entertainers in general: they are not a threat to the sensibilities of White Middle America. Even in the case of Beyonce the “threat” is entirely make-believe. Beyonce is the Music Establishment lodged in two big buttcheeks. There’s not much to her “song” melodically speaking; it’s just another pop-rap single that sounds remarkably like any other pop-rap single that has been churned out by the entertainment elite for the past 10 years. Lyrically speaking it isn’t much to talk about, either:

Y’all haters corny with that illuminati mess
Paparazzi, catch my fly, and my cocky fresh
I’m so reckless when I rock my Givenchy dress (stylin’)
I’m so possessive so I rock his Roc necklaces
My daddy Alabama, Momma Louisiana
You mix that negro with that Creole make a Texas bama
I like my baby heir with baby hair and afros
I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils
Earned all this money but they never take the country out me
I got a hot sauce in my bag, swag

[Chorus: Beyoncé]
I see it, I want it, I stunt, yellow-bone it
I dream it, I work hard, I grind ’til I own it
I twirl on them haters, albino alligators
El Camino with the seat low, sippin’ Cuervo with no chaser
Sometimes I go off (I go off), I go hard (I go hard)
Get what’s mine (take what’s mine), I’m a star (I’m a star)
Cause I slay (slay), I slay (hey), I slay (okay), I slay (okay)
All day (okay), I slay (okay), I slay (okay), I slay (okay)
We gon’ slay (slay), gon’ slay (okay), we slay (okay), I slay (okay)
I slay (okay), okay (okay), I slay (okay), okay, okay, okay, okay
Okay, okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation, cause I slay
Okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation, cause I slay
Prove to me you got some coordination, cause I slay
Slay trick, or you get eliminated

[Verse: Beyoncé]
When he fuck me good I take his ass to Red Lobster, cause I slay
When he fuck me good I take his ass to Red Lobster, cause I slay
If he hit it right, I might take him on a flight on my chopper, cause I slay
Drop him off at the mall, let him buy some J’s, let him shop up, cause I slay
I might get your song played on the radio station, cause I slay
I might get your song played on the radio station, cause I slay
You just might be a black Bill Gates in the making, cause I slay
I just might be a black Bill Gates in the making

To my ears it’s about as “incendiary” as the fucking Darktown Strutter’s Ball. Compared with James Brown’s “Say it Loud,” or The Impressions’ “We’re a Winner,” or most of Gil-Scott Heron’s albums, or Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddamn,” or Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane,” or Frank Zappa’s “Trouble Every Day” or Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” or the Isley Brother’s “Fight the Power” or Waller and Razaf’s “Black and Blue” or Randy Newman’s “Rednecks” or even, God forbid, “Darktown is Out Tonight” by Will Marion Cook, “Formation” is mild stuff indeed. If there is anything offensive about “Formation,” it’s the vulgar narcissism, and the shamelessly crass materialism underscoring its supposedly “militant” message. Even the repetitive use of the word “slay” is certainly not in reference to killing white cops.

And no, the Black Panthers were not trying to shoot innocent white girls down in the streets for kicks. Just ask Beverly Axelrod, if she’s still alive.*

blaze_beyonce_160210a-800x430
Tomi Lahrer: “Don’t you ram your BLACK {dick} ideology down my throat!!”

But yes, darling, you are on drugs. Or totally insane.

Yet the song raised eyebrows among establishment folk for a reason. Here was one of their people, their negroes, admitting that–their obsessive materialism notwithstanding–they actually are proud of being black; that they actually do think (every now and then) about African American history, and dwell on the implications of that history; that they
have memories; that they did not, horror of horrors, forget about what happened in Katrina 11 years ago and, above all, they really are angry about unarmed blacks being gunned down in the streets by crazed cops. This last fact is among the most troubling to the weak stomachs of The American Establishment. This “black anger”–which, after all, is merely human anger–was not supposed to exist among the likes of somebody like Beyonce. The Beyonces of the world were supposed to be eternally “Happy” like Pharrell Williams supposedly is–happy, with hundreds of millions of dollars, Mc Mansions, Bentleys, helicopters and Gucci bags up the wing-wang.

Maybe I’m completely full of shit, but I suspect those hundreds of millions in the hands of the Carters (and others like them) was hush money to keep these elite “shines” from

3a059643c129a8516cd3d66110bbcbe6
The Black Panther’s Free Breakfast for Children program in Oakland, 1969

thinking too much–thinking, that is, about their identity, about their history, about what it is to be human. I know that sounds strange in conjunction with American pop singers, since none of them appear to be even remotely human in the eyes of thinking people. However, they are human beings, unbelievable as it sounds. They really are not just marionettes on strings that dance to our auto-tune. They may be be “happy” darkies in the eyes of the world but they are not that happy.”Treade a worme on the tayle, and it must turne agayne,” wrote John Heywood in 1546.

And as the world turns, many of these black, brown and red worms–most far poorer than the Carters or the Cosbys or the Obamas, most buried deep in the ground since 1546 and before–have begun to turn their rubbery necks upward and see just who it is that keeps them submerged. And they do not like it, they are not “happy” about it. They aren’t supposed to be “happy” having a cop’s boot on their necks.

*Beverly Axelrod died in 2002.

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