Around the beginning of the year, I was directed to the Industrial Anti-Oppression blog due to an article about the oppressive nature Aesthetic Perfection’s “Inhuman” video. I’m not really interested in the argument presented (I got sick of hearing overprivileged white youths bemoaning the plight of African Americans a good decade and a half ago), but it does bring up an issue that interests me quite heavily.
How concerned should an artist be about the impact of overlaying cultural images?
Let’s back up a moment and look at the video, specifically the offending pigmentation. I get completely what Lil’ Danny Graves is aiming for here: a stark contrast with no room for blurring between. Black and white make for an easy use since most people don’t know that red and green could work just as well and they have the advantage of wide-spread cultural connotations of good and evil. Goth and industrial music very much likes to play around with these extremes, especially since it allows a simplistic deconstruction of good and bad while allying themselves with the “darkness” and outré culture, and Graves appears to be playing around with that cultural archetype.
Strigiform, the author of this article, sees a white person painted black and draws a mental connection to the US history of minstrel shows, wherein people of African heritage (played by white men in “blackface”) would be mocked and ridiculed as clowns or demonized as violent savages. Adding to this, the image of a submissive white woman being overpowered also ties into the publicized idea that black men are all out to rape white women. She sees Daniel using this cultural imagery to attack both African-American men and femininity.
I think it’s pretty clear that Graves did not intend this work as a racist or misogynist attack, but I also think he made a bit of a mistake in not accounting for this overlap of archetypes between the Goth/Industrial culture and US culture. Any piece of art gets its meaning from inside the mind of the person experiencing it and that interaction is necessarily informed by both the culture and experiences of the individual. If the artist wants a specific effect to occur, it is on them to be sure to take any other possible connotations into account.
The worthlessness of authorial intent aside, I’m curious if anyone reading this thinks that Graves should have taken this cultural image into account when making the video (he is from the States, after all), Strigiform should stop being so easily offended when she knows the cultural connotation of the black/white dichotomy in the Goth/Industrial culture (she self identifies as a rivethead, after all) or that both of them should understand that they are dealing with completely different pieces of art?