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Taylor Swift’s new video: an Orientalist cliché

ByAmber Stevenson

Sep 15, 2015

Taylor Swift’s recently released music video that accompanies her latest single, ‘Wildest Dreams’ off her album 1989 has drawn controversy for its supposed ‘whitewashing’ of Africa. The video features Swift as Marjorie Finn and Scott Eastwood as Robert Kingsley, two lovers starring together in a 1950s era film, tracing their romance and its collapse. Romantic kisses in jodhpurs and panning shots of the two flying across an unspecified savannah are cut with Swift chilling next to a giraffe and a lion, as ones does. These and the rose tinted cinematography seem to have been intended to pair with the nostalgic tone of the lyrics, “say you’ll see me again; even if it’s just in your wildest dreams,” instead are more reminiscent of the one of the most shameful parts of European history. Nico Lang of the Daily Dot commented that it “the video wants to have its old-school Hollywood romance but ends up eating some old-school Hollywood racism, too,” and Lauren Duca of the Huffington Post has argued it “channels wild colonialism.”

The colonial gaze is strong throughout the entire video, reinforcing many Western assumptions and misrepresentations of the continent that pervaded during the era of empire and to some extent still pervade today. Firstly, from the video, one could assume that there were only white people in Africa, as it features only two black cast members in incredibly minor roles. Its director, Joseph Khan, has responded to this criticism saying that it was produced by a black woman and edited by a black man, but this does not change the visual reality that is presents of a white colonial ideal of Africa. Also, despite Africa being comprised of fifty four countries, it would be impossible to distinguish which one of these Swift and her crew were frolicking in as the scenery has no recognisable features and looks more like the setting of The Lion King than anything else. In three minutes the video manages to show the entire continent of Africa as a giant safari park. Defenders of the piece have argued that it is not the responsibility of a pop singer to represent all the realities of Africa in her music, which is a true statement, but she should probably also not be perpetuating damaging stereo-types.

Unlike some of her peers such as Miley Cyrus, Swift has done her utmost throughout her career to avoid anything controversial and has never strayed from her clean cut image of a middle aged woman trapped in a twenty something year old body, and certainly no malicious intent seems to have been intended from the video. This is not the first time, however, that she has been ignorant of cultures outside of the wealthy white bubble in which she resides. The video for ‘Shake It Off’ was also slammed for its perpetuation of black stereotypes as it features Swift observing with confusion twerking black women. Which makes it all the more surprising that she would release another video with similar implications, but the distorted image of Africa and the colonial era which she seemingly glamourises and romanticises with loving gazes as her and her lover fly across their personal empire is highly inappropriate and insensitive. The horrible realities of that era for Africans should not be ignored and dismissed at the expense of a cutesy music video that plays on the title of a pop star’s latest single.

Image:Candy C. G.

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