M.I.A. Driver (Bad Girls music video)

edited February 2012 in Story Games
This spilled over its comments limit in Stuff to Watch so clearly we want to talk more about it!

Plus Zak S. pointed out that my post at the Mule inspired by this video is kinda hard to understand and full of offhand references that are kinda inaccessible unless whoever’s reading tries really hard. Which I regret! So if there are ideas there worth unpacking here's a conversation to do it in. Two that come to mind:

- The landscape we see in this video is the landscape of D&D if we take the default assumption that the world is ancient and littered with the remnants of millennia-old civilizations. Specifically desert should be the most common terrain type because that's what you get when humans practice civilization in what used to be a fertile crescent for a really long time

- The way that MIA gets power from working with and against the strongly gendered elements, such as having her face uncovered, points to a way that players can get juice from the strongly gendered elements in OD&D like fighting-men and the races of Men, Elves, Dwarves, and Hobbits. A great pulp-inspired adventure like Dwimmermount can rorschach these themes for groups that want to explore them by using that language and paying attention to the presence of both male and female characters and depictions in the dungeon. Carcosa goes one better by using a particularly heady strain of pulp to introduce language that can point to race as well gender - is that the race of White Men or Ulfire Men you mean? Note that by the criteria I'm groping toward in The God of Abortion neither of these bugs me as authorial intent or railroading to confront an issue because you can play it straight; Carcosa and The Female Man work for me because they are satisfying when read just at the level of authorial intent I like best: "allow me to entertain us both by exploring interesting stories that might happen to people if they were in a world where cloning was a primary means of reproduction".

Comments

  • Hah, my own intention was to take that in another direction. Because, hey, Maya is an Operator, Maya is a Battlebabe? (these roles are much more about the songs than the fiction in the video).

    But really M.I.A's just doing normal hip hop archtypes here, and maybe looks like LL Cool J as much as anything it's just she stands in deserts and ruins more than most.

    Which led me to think about the connection between the two sets of things, and how when engaging in personal narrative (as opposed to crime genre fiction, as a smart friend pointed out) hip hop is very often about laying out an economy of scarcity and a couple fronts and then What Do You Do.
  • edited February 2012
    Posted By: wrshamiltonWhich led me to think about the connection between the two sets of things, and how when engaging in personal narrative (as opposed to crime genre fiction, as a smart friend pointed out) hip hop is very often about laying out an economy of scarcity and a couple fronts and then What Do You Do.
    Um, wow. That's a pretty cool observation.

    And fairly true! I mean, cyberpunk has a lot of roots in urban hip hop ideas (Neuromancer is riddled with a lot of the same tropes + themes, along with others, for sure). I'm just making up that fairly broad observation, but I see a lot of correlation between the two genres. They both came about at the same time (80s). Post apocalyptic fiction, while it started out in different roots, now has a lot of crossover with cyberpunk.

    There's a few things about M.I.A's video that makes it different than LL Cool J. They're subtle, that's what makes them nifty. She's a woman, #1, and fully clothed. She's not a diva, she's a rapper. It's a very subtle but bold gender role statement, especially in the middle eastern setting. She's not the car racing flag girl either... she's not fetishized. She's the super hero sitting on top of the car. This is clearly her gig. Her fashion is a crossover of American hip-hop and traditional middle eastern garb (sorry, I'm making generalizations about middle eastern culture, cause I'll admit I only know the basics). Symbolically, they also make a point of inserting an Arabian Horseman archetype, and then flashing to the cars, talking about history, culture, and the contemporary relevance of them. It's like they're making fun of the American view of the Middle East as a concept, too, the whole Orientalist self vs other thing.

    I'm not really a fan of M.I.A, she's ridiculous and sensational. The video isn't even all that good. But it was a pretty striking statement, watching that while doing cardio on the elliptical at my hyper-futuristic university gym, listening to a goth/industrial podcast from Canada on my ipod, and realizing I was just kinda taking all this futuristic stuff for granted.
  • edited February 2012
    Posted By: wrshamiltonBut really M.I.A's just doing normal hip hop archtypes here, and maybe looks like LL Cool J as much as anything it's just she stands in deserts and ruins more than most.
    I guess my point is that, just like in OD&D where you can't just be a fighter you have to be a fighting-man, in hip hop being a woman means you can't just be LL Cool J. Once the territory is strongly gendered, there's a lot of potential for getting juice out of crossing the wires even if you're just doing the normal archetypes.

    All this is rorschach stuff, right? What I get out of her choice to use a desert setting is look, she is surrounding herself with women in burkas, here's a shot where she is sitting next to a little boy; neither of them is covering their face, but neither of them has a secure relationship to the patriarchy. Someone else can focus on the fact that she's surrounding herself with ruins in the kind of landscape where her country and most of her audiences' have been fighting a war. Even if that's not the issue that resonates in my mind, or that my group is going to pick up on play, the work is richer for having these overlapping signifiers.

    Likewise you could read lots of hip hop videos as being about class struggle if that's your thing. I guess my points are:

    - I like when a game sets up strong territory; I prefer OD&D to later editions because I can get more juice out of asking "where are the fighting women" and "what does it mean that the ultimate clerical level title is Patriarch."

    - I don't like it when I feel pushed to confront the issues in that territory; I like that the video is fully satisfying as "nice beat and you can dance to it" and "OMG will those cars fall over?" and that you can still read it as just normal hip hop archetypes or as a bunch of other things.

    - Using archetypes and history is a good way to set up strong territory without rubbing the audience's face in it. When SF authors make a point about gender by making up words like "hir" I stub my toe because there's no way I am accustomed to reading that which doesn't confront me with authorial intent. But when OD&D talks about Men and Monsters I can totally be like "oh yeah that's using the same language as Poul Anderson etc. etc." if I don't want to trip out about whether that means women are meant to be in the latter category.
  • I am on board with almost everything you guys said on the subject both before and after my half-thought-out post and did not mean to dismiss either other directions of thought or the importance of M.I.A as a brown woman. Just the topic caused me to think in different directions and it didn't feel like a derail, if it was I apologize!

    But I do think it's important to see that a lot of what M.I.A does is a sort of complex tapestry of identification and appropriation. Her style, both music and fashion, takes as much from like a Caribbean black diaspora tradition by way of London as it does from some of the other things under discussion, although obviously there's a middle eastern focus in "Bad Girls" she isn't herself either middle eastern or muslim.

    And I'm not certain she's not a diva - you hang out with Nicki and Madonna at the Super Bowl and you know - but I agree she's both a rapper and a superhero.

    And to engage with Tavis: I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the distinction of "rubbing the audience's face in it." A lot of the time what goes down easiest is exactly that which has the force of ideology behind it and restricting yourself to things that don't jar you might be dooming yourself to a certain baseline of conservatism. Authors have intents, and it's not clear to me that masking it with enough cultural detritus to make it appear neutral is a virtue.
  • Good stuff! I see your point now, Tavis. I guess, I've never played OD&D, I've just read about it, so my point of reference is more contemporary, sci-fi games. Like Cyberpunk and Apocalypse World. In these worlds, things are less gender binary, so the focus shifts a bit from "why are these women being oppressed" to "what could these women actually be?" Both, I think, are pretty relevant to a lot of women's issues that are coming up, even this week. Like our clear inability to control our own uteruses according to certain bills passed in Alabama (but I digress).

    I really like your observations about the video. I think they're spot on.
  • Oh! I wasn't disagreeing with you, Ryan. Just expanding and talking tangentially, I suppose.
    Posted By: wrshamiltonAnd I'm not certain she's not a diva
    Ah, I should clarify. She doesn't dress like a Diva (no pants standard).
  • It's appropriate to use M.I.A. to talk about OD&D because it is also a complex tapestry of identification and appropriation.

    It is tricky to use the way we respond to a music video to talk about the way we respond to roleplaying game material. The distinction I'm making is that I don't want the author of a RPG text to jar me because it means I then have to have an imaginary conversation with the author when I should instead be having a real conversation with the players. Thus I want the RPG author to put interesting rorschach blots way down at the level of the fiction our characters are exploring in play, and not make it stick up to the point where I have to engage with it and not the things the people who are really present choose to get into that session.

    A music video is different because my response has to be part of an imaginary conversation, we're not hanging out together in the desert. Although that "leave a video response" thing is super interesting - there's some cyberpunk for you right? How nice that I do not have to cross the blood-brain barrier to enjoy it and that the megacorporation trying to push this is more likely to hire lawyers to sue imaginary pirates than mercenaries to shoot real ones; thus I refute the '80s.
  • Posted By: anansigirlLike Cyberpunk and Apocalypse World. In these worlds, things are less gender binary
    I missed out on all the cyberpunk RPGs, but one of the reasons I like AW and get an OD&D vibe from it is that it does feel strongly gendered. Maybe it's the portraits on the playbooks, but if you told me your battlebabe looked like L.L. Cool J I would definitely get some electricity from the difference between that and my expectation.
  • I can't tell you how happy this thread makes me.
  • Me too Joshua!

    Hah! Refute the 80s. That made me lol.
    Posted By: Tavisbut one of the reasons I like AW and get an OD&D vibe from it is that it does feel strongly gendered
    This is really interesting! Maybe there's some nuance here... I could agree AW is very gendered, but not very gender binary. It encourages pushing boundaries, and working outside of predetermined definitions. Which is why your LL Cool J example works so well for it.

    OD&D (from your descriptions and what I know of it), contrarily, IS very gender binary, assuming traditional and conservative gender roles, and leaving it up to the players if they want to interpret that differently. Unless the text is encouraging you to push those, and ask questions about them? Otherwise, why would we, since those traditional and conservative gender roles are still the "norm" in our current sociopolitical climate.
  • edited February 2012
    Posted By: anansigirlI could agree AW is verygendered, but not verygender binary.
    Very, very interesting. I think I agree. There's something about a lot of the playbooks (the Battlebabe being the most obvious, but others too) that has obvious implications for the way the characters perform gender. But then, of course, they all have multiple options (including non-binary ones).

    I also just noticed that there isn't actually a "gender" section of the playbook, it's under "look" (and includes options like "concealed"). Also really cool.
  • edited February 2012
    Posted By: anansigirlOD&D (from your descriptions and what I know of it), contrarily, IS verygender binary, assuming traditional and conservative gender roles, and leaving it up to the players if they want to interpret that differently. Unless the text is encouraging you to push those, and ask questions about them? Otherwise, why would we, since those traditional and conservative gender roles are still the "norm" in our current sociopolitical climate.
    The original RPG text encouraged us to ask questions about gender by showing how to imagine that we were something we weren't. The kind of pushing I want is from Gygax & Arneson's afterword: "everything herein is fantastic, and the best way is to decide how you would like it to be, and then make it just that way!"

    I am glad that there are also bits of content that might inspire some groups who are interested in doing stuff with gender in play - the polymorph spell, girdles of masculinity/femininity - but I like that this isn't foregrounded. The promise of a RPG is that you can do anything you want, which to me involves being left alone to decide what that might be. AW isn't a radical RPG because it encourages pushing boundaries and working outside of predetermined definitions; any RPG ought to do that. People play to find out what happens when they kick down any boundary their characters encounter.

    I don't buy that roleplayers won't question the dominant paradigm unless pushed to do so - remember, the world in which cyberpunk was born was that whole deal where D&D players were under attack for being a threat for traditional and conservative roles. Imagining that things could be different is subversive.

    I will agree that a RPG text written in 1974 reflects a different set of concerns than one from 2010 - and yeah gender binary vs. plurality is one of them, except that OD&D gives you tools like playing an intelligent neuter sword or being reincarnated across gender and species that some groups were probably inspired to use in their own explorations of this issue - but then we're getting close to talking about the experience of reading it and not of using it in play. Part of why I think looking to archetypes to create interesting territory is that people cared about Green Men and wise women a thousand years ago, so making those things your group will talk about during a session will produce interesting results in whichever decade you play.
  • edited February 2012
    Posted By: TavisI don't buy that roleplayers won't question the dominant paradigm unless pushed to do so - remember, the world in which cyberpunk was born was that whole deal where D&D players were under attack for being a threat for traditional and conservative roles. Imagining that things could be different is subversive.

    Part of why I think looking to archetypes to create interesting territory is that people cared about Green Men and wise women a thousand years ago, so making those things your group will talk about during a session will produce interesting results in whichever decade you play.
    These are both pretty cool statements. I'd have to agree. Roleplaying games, no matter what stripe, are entering alternative culture and are under the mainstream radar. Subversive? I think? Is that still true? Probably at least in the way that normative binary gender roles are. So, I'll roll with that.

    This is an age old argument, but the text "everything herein is fantastic, and the best way is to decide how you would like it to be, and then make it just that way!" implies that you do what you want with everything, and doesn't speak specifically to gender in the same way that Apocalypse World literally asks you to engage with sex and gender by making mechanics like "sex moves". You might get to gender questions from the first one, but you have to get to them in the second one. I think that's a pretty strong distinction, and worth pointing out for the sake of our discussion.

    Then again, I like it when the book does the work for me, and says "work with these specific themes!". I like more focused games about specific things.
    Posted By: PeterBBI also just noticed that there isn't actually a "gender" section of the playbook, it's under "look" (and includes options like "concealed"). Also really cool.
    Really, really good point Peter. It's making you think about gender on meta levels, not what you are, but what you look like, or perform.
  • The 1st ed limits on how buff my elf maiden can be do seem to serve mostly as a way to militate against one specific sort of gender transgression.
  • edited February 2012
    Yes, except that you then might want to be like "can I benefit from this tome of puissant exercise if I first polymorph into an elven man?" Imposing boundaries can direct the way in which people transgress as much as concealing them.

    Anyway AD&D is already no longer a half-digested record of creative collaboration among hobbyists. You see lots of very early content explicitly about gender in the Dungeoneer and the City-State and Alarums & Excursions and lots of other places; these are people starting to say "you should use these rules and accept how they talk about gender." It's particularly egregious with Gygax because he becomes a mandarin about not using other texts and can make announcements from such a height.

    Back to the video: is the concept M.I.A. or Diplo or the director or some other member of her circle I am not hip enough to identify? It seems to me that one essence of making exciting stuff in media that are necessarily collaborative is being part of a group that has their own take on things. Dave Arneson gave talks at Gen Con about "My Amazing Gaming Group" and being able to aggregate that kind of creative talent seems to me to be part of a great artist's talent.
  • The only things I can help with is that the director also directed her video where all the ginger kids get murdered and I don't think she hangs out with Diplo anymore. Also she talks about the video some here.
Sign In or Register to comment.