The word “terrorist” pops up seven times in Lynn Hirschberg’s New York Times profile of M.I.A. Within the context of the article, “terrorist” appeared to be something of a default word for M.I.A.: whereas others fill spaces in their sentences with “um” and “like,” M.I.A.’s consistent re-hashing of the term made it seem weightless. Later in the article, M.I.A. dreams up the idea of a Big Brother-style stage show:
“I want to be like the government,” Maya said. “It could be interesting.”
It goes without saying that Ahilan Kadirgamar of the Sri Lanka Democracy Forum probably understands the essence of M.I.A. best:
“Maya is a talented artist,” Kadirgamar told me, echoing the sentiments of others, “but she only made the situation worse. What happened in Sri Lanka was not a genocide. To not be honest about that or the Tigers does more damage than good. When Maya does a polarizing interview, it doesn’t help the cause of justice.”
M.I.A. caused quite a stir when she tweeted a brief message and phone number a couple days after the article went online:
CALL ME IF YOU WANNA TALK TO ME ABOUT THE N Y T TRUTH ISSUE, ill b taking calls all day bitches
The number provided on Twitter does not belong to M.I.A. It belongs to Hirschberg.
Which sort of underlines Kadirgamar’s point. Or rather, an idea he didn’t necessarily verbalize. By boiling down complicated issues to a simplistic point, it doesn’t do any justice to a subject as complex as the political situation in Sri Lanka – no matter what “side” you’re on. By forcefully defining oneself in such direct terms, it can be crippling to growth and change.
All of which can be read as an understanding of what M.I.A. is dealing with right now. Though she speaks loudly, she’s clearly just as confused as anyone else. As the Times profile shows, she’s profoundly human. She’s a walking contradiction, leaning two ways at once, which is something anyone else can relate to. And her childish reaction to the article not only displays the strength of the source’s veracity, but shows she’s more complicated than the artfully-crafted pop image she’s created.
Which could be good for M.I.A. in the long run. Talking in terms of “terrorism” and “genocide” without any real potency can be debilitating if there’s not some balance to it – some human emotional center that shows perspective, or shows positives and negatives. Perhaps that’s why her newest music hasn’t been as well received as her old work: it diverges from her carefully-crafted image, and when so many people expect “Paper Planes 2,” some feathers are going to get ruffled.
M.I.A.’s reactions are the telltale sign of actual depth that detractors say is missing from her work. Her perspective is skewed, but hey, her life doesn’t exactly fit on a specific track. The contradictions of glamor and authenticity Hirschberg illustrated in M.I.A.’s daily existence – and the psychological affect of these factors – make me respect her a little more for some odd reason.
Sure, M.I.A.’s reaction to the Times piece was terribly unethical. But, in that, it reveals another side to her complex face. Otherwise, if we’re forced to take her blather of “terrorist” at face level, we’d just have another “Joe the Plumber” on our hands.