Nicki Minaj, noted twerker and the music-industrial force behind the most recent advancement in the bootyfication of America, released the animated lyric video for her single “Only” over the weekend. The internet promptly spontaneously combusted in an acute fit of indignation. There’s been much hand-wringing and pearl-clutching over the video’s content which, let’s all just be totally honest here for a second, is absolutely referential of World War II-era Nazism.
Media outlets covering the fracas are using terms like accuse to describe how “critics” are painting the video in the same way they use a loaded word like alleged when conveying crime stories – like director Jeff Osborne’s use of Nazi imagery hasn’t been proven. And good on you, media, for sticking to one of your few remaining standards. It’s like reinforcing the presumption of innocence before guilt within our justice system (wow, did I really just offer that as a serious example? Discourse regarding the American prison-industrial complex and its endemic, latent racism aside, I guess it works as a more conceptual argument). But my diatribes aren’t beholden to that rule. No, folks, that’s unequivocally, incontrovertibly Nazi imagery. Yes, the Nazis’ symbolic eagle has been replaced atop a Reichstag-like building by a twerking Nicki Minaj gargoyle, but the clip is surely, to quote Gawker, reminiscent of “Reifenstahl-esque long shots.”
The video portrays various members of Young Money as participants in the Third Reich, which, when you think about it, is actually pretty hilarious in a tragicomically absurd sort of way. I mean, can you imagine Lil Wayne as Goebbels? I’m in fits just thinking about it. And Chris Brown is clad in an officer’s uniform with the accoutrements redesigned in Young Money’s graven image. Drake is there, too, dressed as a bishop – I’m probably reading way too far into this, but how great would it be if that were a nod to the last Pope, the venerable Benedict XVI?
All irony of portraying people of color and Jewish descent (Aubrey Graham was a Bar Mitzvah boy, once upon a time) as Nazis in a musical cartoon clip released on the 76th anniversary of Kristallnacht aside, I think the public – especially marginalized groups, especially Jews – has a right to its outrage, but not because of the purposeful use of visuals referencing Nazi Germany. No, I’m not offended because I’m Jewish. I’m incensed because Minaj’s management team, production team, label, and director, along with everyone else whose hands this abhorrence passed through at Young Money and Universal Records, absolutely knew how uncouth this move was and went ahead anyway, perpetuating a cycle of outrage and backlash that’s making it so difficult to be pissed off about legitimate issues, these days.
This instance is simply the latest chapter in a boy-cries-wolf cyclical narrative: someone wanting of attention does something reprehensible, be it ubiquitously denounced or condemned by merely one marginalized-but-social-media-wielding swath of humanity -nonetheless, it is picked up by the media at large, and the story spreads, the viral momentum eventually reaching a head, be it six hours or six months from the story’s inception. At this point in our narrative, the party responsible for whatever odious thing was done are usually forced to kowtow to social pressure and offer an apology, the sincerity of which is always questionable; that, or these people tend to double down and further entrench themselves in their positions.
Either way, their de-facto goal has been accomplished: they’ve garnered interest and attention; does it matter if it’s negative or positive? We’ve already expended our collective outrage and fixed our gaze on the issue at hand, and will most likely continue to do so for some time. We’re thusly left in a refractory period for our anger, our offense, leaving us less attentive to issues of, well, actual importance. Essentially, riling people up like this all the damn time both creates a stream of noise that drowns out the “important” issues and numbs us to them when we actually do notice them. And the “important” issue, here, seems not to be that Nicki Minaj released a video containing obvious nods to Nazi imagery; it’s that someone, or, more likely, a group of people, allowed this to happen.
I originally thought, because I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt in cases like these (I guess the media and I have that in common, though our justice system might not hold with us): “How did nobody do their due diligence on this? How did no one stop and say, ‘wait, maybe we SHOULDN’T release a video chock-full of Nazi-allusive imagery on the 76th anniversary of Kristallnacht. Maybe that would be a bad call.’?”
What’s scarier than the idea of such obliviousness, though, is the idea that such an affront to common sensibility got past an ostensibly huge slew of music-industry folk and was deemed acceptable for public consumption. Perhaps some of these people gave “Only” the green light because they wanted to remain in lockstep with their colleagues. Maybe – and I’m just playing devil’s advocate in the extreme, here – the corporate climate at places like Universal and Young Money has become such that those who don’t get with the program have cause to fear for the security of their jobs.
However, maybe this whole situation is a bit more pernicious. It seems more likely that the marketing team responsible for Minaj dreamed this whole little venture up in conjunction with Jeff Osborne, knowing full well what kind of controversial splash the video would make. Sounds just a little more frightening, doesn’t it?
Now, I’m all for free speech, so I can not entirely condemn this video, even though, as a Jew, as someone whose relatives were murdered in their villages and in concentration camps across Europe during WWII, I absolutely maintain my right to wring my hands as much as I see fit. But I’m more offended at the trite presumptiveness of this video than the actual imagery contained therein – I’m more offended at the notion that this was given the green light by a cadre of idiots who shot-called and predicted this cycle of immediate offense, media backlash, and resultant YouTube views. And really, by even giving this video mention, I’m perpetuating this cycle. I’m offended by the baldness, the deliberateness, of this gesture because stunts like these cheapen music on the whole and take away from serious and necessary discourse regarding the continued pervasiveness of bigotry worldwide.
And you know what you’re supposed to do in the face of such blatant disrespect (and, believe me, such a move is wholly disrespectful to you, me, and anybody else who considers themselves to maintain a modicum of sociopolitical awareness or, at the very least, pays attention to the news)? You’re supposed to ignore the source. Like you would a bully. Because that’s just what the music industry is in this context: it’s an antagonist playing with our collective sense of right and wrong, using it to drive the popularity of someone whose recent singles have been about little aside from the verity of her posterior and the admiration said butt earns ‘round the globe. Nicki Minaj’s video should neither have been celebrated, nor met with condemnation. It should’ve been ignored. Last I heard, though, Nicki’s “work” is still trending, meaning the big machine behind this latest slight at decency has all but won.