Jay Z and Kanye West’s picture of violence



Watching the new Jay Z and Kanye West video, this quote from one of my favorite teen movies, Clueless, popped into my head.

“So, okay,” chirps Alicia Silverstone as Cher Horowitz, “the attorney general says that there’s too much violence on TV and that should stop. But even if you took out all the violence on shows, you could still see the news. So until mankind is peaceful enough not to have violence on the news, there’s no point in taking it out of shows that need it for entertainment value.”

Romain Gavras’ video for No Church In The Wild certainly employs violence for entertainment. In fact, the last time I had as strong a reaction to a video was when I saw Born Free by MIA, which was also directed by Favras. While the MIA video portrayed a bizarre system of racist profiling against redheads, No Church shows angry mobs in various tackles with the authorities.

The images of riots and mass violence in this video bear striking resemblance to the footage we all sat watching last summer as demonstrations took hold of the streets of Cairo. I have watched the video many times. I am drawn to it in some voyeuristic way. It’s not often that we are privy to images as wild and unhinged as these.

While there is something incredibly satisfying about the slow motion shots of police cars burning, isn’t this a bit irresponsible? Maybe it’s the timing of the release of this video, or maybe it’s just the extreme nature of the shots that gives me a moment’s pause.

In some way I feel that Jay Z and Kanye West, two incredibly talented and rich artists, have capitalized on some serious distress. By using these images in this way, they de-contextualize them, using them only for their impact while subtracting their purpose.

Who are these riots against? Who are they for? It doesn’t really seem to matter. The thing that counts here is that the video has tapped into an international rage that seems to grow fierier every day.

It is true that this violence exists in the news. And maybe because of that, it shouldn’t just be copied to give meaning to a catchy tune.