This is not to say that Taylor Swift has appropriated the cultural identifiers of other subcultures … (all the time), but contrary to the position of Diane Pecknold, the author, that she is doing something, heretofore, unseen, is to miss the entirety of predatory, capitalist, white supremacy on this continent (or any other, for that matter). It strikes me that Taylor is doing nothing new in the commodification of victimhood. Let’s start with the reason that so many more of us know this q-tip’s name: Kanye West.
I will never forgive him for foisting this woman upon us! If he had handled his own damn, emotional work, we wouldn’t even be talking about this. But nooooo, he had to get drunk and emotionally regurgitate his imposter syndrome, not-so-secret love of Beyoncé and the renting-of-clothes-and-gnashing-of teeth mourning over the fact that she chose Jay-Z over him, in front of god and everybody who was anywhere near the internet that night. Otherwise, Swift would still be toiling in bland-to-middling, skinny girl, pseudo-country music Nashville banishment and we would only hear her name while driving through parts of the country that don’t get NPR and the cell towers are too far away to stream data.
But I digress.
The autopsy on the Fragility of White Women and the Lynching Reflex of white men, as it pertains to the dangerous Black man, has been written and verified. What is interesting is how Swift continued to ride that bull ever since. First with the wilting deprecation of a weak girl child, then with gracious “understanding” and “forgiveness,” then with the halting steps of a budding feminist and now with “righteous” anger. Really Taylor? I mean, the rest of us have settled into the comfortable space encapsulated in sentence “Kanye’s a genius, but that man ain’t right in the head,” and keep it moving. (Though it seems he’s doing better now, according to paparazzi pics. Good for him.)
But we Black, and we earn our checks.
Swift’s public identity now hinges on this one moment, which is why the first two verses of “Look What You Made Me Do” elicit the hardest of eye rolls, because, again, really Taylor? You still talkin’ ‘bout Kanye?! He got two whole babies now!
The reality here is that this time-tested technique of white women pointing to their victimhood (real or imagined) at the hands of a Black man has always worked. The author (and plenty others, for that matter) seems to admire the fact that she has done this, without giving a thought to the very real damage this tactic continues to perpetrate in our communities. Police are out here murdering Kanyes with the complete sanction of local, state and federal governments, the orange leader of this nation is calling for the firing of football players who kneel because of it. She makes a profit.
I want someone to acknowledge that her victimhood is the perpetuation of centuries of radical, racial, racialized and gendered policy and politics that have resulted in the oppression, discrimination and death of Black and brown folks at the hands of white oppressors. If her transformation was truly borne of self-knowledge, Kanye would be another person who wronged her, not a Black man who did. But that’s not profitable, is it?
The author’s point that she has morphed into a “mean girl” is correct, but the author misses the historical predecessors of the trope. Antebellum and Jim Crow “mean girls” got Black men killed. Now, Kanye is not in any real danger of this, but, as the author states, Swift has an audience of social media adept, information illiterate, girls and young women in their formative years. I’d guess that most of them are ignorant of the stereotypes that she is maintaining, their damage and their danger. Furthermore, without critical analysis, they are likely to internalize and act on them too.
Taylor calls upon the powers of racial, gender and sexuality systems of stratification that carry real weight in this society. These characteristics are structured as hierarchies. Such systems require rankings or, the familiar concept of “The Standard” and “The Other.” The scenes in the video with Taylor and The Anxious Gays is as troubling to me as her invocation of the Black Buck. She stomps into a room, whereupon, the lazy gays jump up to fall into formation behind her, after which they reveal uniforms that proclaim their love for her. They are audience objects; Black and brown men who she actually dominates, unlike Kanye. You see, they know their place—cowering behind an alpha white woman.
When my family and I watched this together and the scene with the dancers came up, my daughter said “she has them divided by skin color,” which neither my husband or I had immediately noticed.
Now we all know that in art, there are few things that are truly original, but it would appear that Taylor doesn’t have an original thought about this video, except the part at the end with all of the Taylors. And I bet I can find a similar image, if I looked hard enough. She has images from Beyonce’s work, Robert Plant’s work, Apple and Miley Cyrus. If this isn’t the very definition of appropriation, I don’t know what is.
Maybe next week I’ll wax poetic about how Cardi B kicked Swifty so swiftly from her perch at the Billboard №1 spot. Stay tuned.