Borders Favorite 



Feb 17 2016



The video for “Borders,” a song off MIA's album Matahdatah, features images recalling all sorts of migrations from the developing world—there are people crossing deserts, fences, and bodies of water. Though much of M.I.A.’s work has been about women and children, this video is filled with brown men: the ultimate bogeyman for many in the West, stereotyped as terrorists, criminals, and job-takers.

There are shots of the men’s faces, clear reminders of their individual humanity. But for the most part, M.I.A. (who directed the video) is interested in them as a mass. She has them climb a fence and spell out “LIFE.” She has them lay on their backs on the roof of a jampacked ship, silent and bored-seeming. She has them form into a human sculpture in the image of a boat. As one point, their watercraft crowd like an armada.

It’s another classically M.I.A. move: She’s playing with pop tropes and schoolyard repetition in order to cause a confrontation. After the first verse’s litany of world problems, she starts asking “what’s up with that?” about pop slang: “queen,” “slaying it,” “being bae,” “making money.” Most explosively, perhaps, is “love wins: What’s up with that?”—the subtext being that America’s favorite gay-rights slogan could be applied to a much wider array of issues around the world but isn’t. She’s essentially indulging in what my colleague Megan Garber labeled “attention policing.” But instead of chastising those who gleefully debate the color of a dress but not what to do about global warming, or those who mourned Paris but not Beirut, she’s highlighting the gaps in liberal-leaning pop culture’s preaching of acceptance, empowerment, and humanism. As she rapped in 2013’s “ATENTion,” another song about refugees (the title’s capitalization references tents), “my intent is to let you know what’s important.”

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