We Exist
May 16, 2014 8:30 AM   Subscribe

Current Spiderman Andrew Garfield is a different type of hero in the video for Arcade Fire's "We Exist", which examines transphobia and acceptance.
posted by hippybear (49 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
posted by signal at 8:47 AM on May 16, 2014 [10 favorites]

The Amazing.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:50 AM on May 16, 2014

I don't think this "examines transphobia and acceptance" but rather makes an egregious spectacle of the kinds of violence trans feminine people experience on a day to day basis. And the victim, here, is again played by a beautiful white, cis man. No thanks. If you'd like, you could revisit the conversations that were taking place after Jared Leto's performance.
posted by makethemost at 9:10 AM on May 16, 2014 [9 favorites]

Hey, what do you want? Here's a rather famous actor and a rather famous band who are taking something which is experienced regularly by a marginalized group and depicting it in a way which is likely to be seen by a lot of people who otherwise would never be confronted by this sort of real thing which is being fictionalized for this music video.

It's a way to bring issues into public consciousness which otherwise remain on the margins.

Tom Hanks put a public face on HIV/AIDS. He is neither gay nor infected with the virus. That was a really major step forward in the collective consciousness. This is certainly not as major a work as Philedelphia, but it is a small something which will raise awareness.

What exactly is the bar you have set for acceptable when it comes to addressing these issues? And how do you expect that bar to ever be actually met in this age of mass media?

IMO, every small depiction of the hell oppressed, invisible minorities live with is a victory. I'm not sure exactly what your standards are, but they are certainly not welcoming of straight allies, and that is a problem.
posted by hippybear at 9:30 AM on May 16, 2014 [23 favorites]

Metafilter: No thanks.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 10:00 AM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think the negative reaction here could be an example of the perfect as the enemy of the good.

Strive for perfection, but be happy with good progress, because it's better than where we were yesterday. If you will only accept perfection, the potential for any progress is much lower.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:06 AM on May 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have a simple answer to the question of what I want: representations that aren't harmful to trans people, or contribute to the idea that trans women are simply men in dresses. For what it's worth, I'm a trans woman. And if my standards aren't welcoming of certain "straight" allies (and I'm not sure what sexuality has to do with gender), then those aren't allies that are really worth having, IMO.
posted by makethemost at 10:37 AM on May 16, 2014 [7 favorites]

Oops - tabbed away, posted prematurely.

So, yeah... my 'splain here is that I don't think I get what this is doing. I mean, the song is about a young man coming out as gay to his father, right? Then the video is sort of off to one side of that - it's this quite abstract account of somebody who is maybe transgender, and who is maybe beaten unconscious in a bar and imagines themself reborn or redeemed by... being on stage at an Arcade Fire set at Coachella? Or who recreates reality in their own image by force of will, I guess.

I don't think rock videos have to communicate coherent messages - but I also don't feel, personally, like this one does, particularly. Is there a narrative of acceptance, or is it a set of striking images? Like, on one level David Bowie being his own backing singers in the video for Boys Keep Swinging is progressive, but it's not actually narrative, if you get what I mean.
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:01 AM on May 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Mixed feelings about this.

The dance sequence after the video abandons realism, however, is fabulous and I am unambiguously in favor of it.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 11:12 AM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I understand "perfect is the enemy of good" and the people responsible for this video seem to have the best intentions. But anti-trans forces love to use the "men in dresses" false narrative, and it bugs me that this video does nothing to dispel it. I'd be a lot less critical if they used a cis-actress instead of a cis-actor to portray the trans* character, becuase it would reinforce the idea that a trans-woman is a woman.

And why does Garfield the actor seem like such a thoughtful, genuinely nice guy, but his Spider-Man portrayal is such a jerk?
posted by Fiberoptic Zebroid and The Hypnagogic Jerks at 11:15 AM on May 16, 2014 [5 favorites]

Hey, what do you want?

Just...not a cis person? It really doesn't seem like asking for the moon.
posted by Beardman at 11:22 AM on May 16, 2014 [10 favorites]

I'm not sure exactly what your standards are, but they are certainly not welcoming of straight allies, and that is a problem.

To expand a little on why makethemost might be unimpressed by this comment: there's a history of "allies" doing not-particularly-helpful or even outright-harmful things for and to our community, and then hitting back with "but we're trying to HELP you, why are you so ungrateful" when we point this out to them. We're not required to be "welcoming" to people who claim to be allies when they're actually being unhelpful, and saying that we are is only a short step from a tone argument.
posted by dorque at 11:33 AM on May 16, 2014 [8 favorites]

Andrew Garfield was just in the #1 movie in the US. Is there a non-cis person that would generate the same audience for the video and is the video so repugnant that any awareness it may generate is unwanted? I would think that it's the small, imperfect steps like this video that can bring trans* awareness out to society at large, but it's going to be a long, slow process to fine-tune that message into the one some are hoping for here.
posted by FreezBoy at 11:51 AM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

As a trans woman, I'm really of two minds regarding this.

On one hand, yeah it's great that the message is getting out there, and to be fair it seems the story is about someone who is transgendered (or at least is experimenting) going out for the first time which could explain why they wanted to use a cis-male who has not been affected by hormones at all. Having a big name like Andrew Garfield helps as well.

On the other hand, it's 2014. I'm not sure it's fair to compare 21 years ago (Philadelphia came out in 1993) and today. It's not like there is a dearth of transgendered actors and actresses out there. Heck, we've had at least a couple of megathreads regarding Laverne Cox. That's just one.

Not to mention that we also keep seeing the same tropes regarding being transgendered over and over again. Other than the dance sequence maybe, it just comes off as, I hate to say it, trite. Transgendered people have to deal with all kinds of things besides just being beaten up.
posted by BecauseIHadFiveDollars at 11:54 AM on May 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

I can't help but compare this to blackface. Using a cis actor to portray a trans* narrative. It seems at best appropriative, regardless of the intent or the message or the takeaway. It wouldn't become any less objectionable if blackface performances were about civil rights issues, I don't think.
posted by calebegg at 12:01 PM on May 16, 2014

I can't help but compare this to blackface. Using a cis actor to portray a trans* narrative. It seems at best appropriative, regardless of the intent or the message or the takeaway. It wouldn't become any less objectionable if blackface performances were about civil rights issues, I don't think.

Blackface has a deeply hurtful and disturbing history that's trivialized by ridiculous comparisons like this.
posted by eugenen at 12:05 PM on May 16, 2014 [13 favorites]

If anything, and as much as the idiotic narrative of the trans community pushing away useful allies has gained traction here lately, the video is actually an example of the bad masquerading as the good, with the perfect not even remotely on the table. And the negative reaction here is far more muted than it warrants.

Seriously, look again at what is actually being depicted. Isolated, solitary character, played by cis man, dresses (with attendant lingering shots of bra, wig, makeup), goes out, longs for and responds to presumed sexual interest from rural good ol' boy. Is consequently assaulted, probably murdered. She passes through a dream-world where men resembling her assailants perform feminine dance moves. She joins in. Suddenly she's better-dressed, her makeup is neater, she has a nicer wig, she's on stage with the fucking band and everyone is cheering for her. She's a superhero.

Beauty, happiness, acceptance only in death (or, I guess, possibly tramatic head injury). This is Wanda from Sandman all over again; it's any number of bullshit stories cis people tell each other about how trans women are our clothes, our makeup, our desperate, pathetic attempts to be real. How we're men playing dress-up. How we have no agency to redeem ourselves in life, how our murders are beautiful tragedies and the contradiction of our lives is that only then can we truly be ourselves.

These stories have been told and re-told among well-meaning cis allies for decades, and met with no shortage of self-satisfied back-patting about how brave and how good the creators were to reach out and 'help'. I don't see that raising awareness of an ill-informed caricature has helped us one bit. Did inaccurate, stereotyped depictions of gay men do good, just through being representation, or did they do harm? As far as I'm concerned all that this sort of allyship achieves is reinforcing damaging, toxic tropes, while passing around the Good Liberal cookies and screaming when we dare object.

It seems to be the chorus on Mefi lately that allies will stop trying at all if we criticise them too much, and that that's terrible. In this case, I would honestly rather the Arcade Fire and Andrew Garfield hadn't tried, because in the diffuse, subtle ways any cultural artifact can do harm or good, I strongly suspect this video has made our lives slightly worse.
posted by emmtee at 12:21 PM on May 16, 2014 [30 favorites]

I think there are a couple of interesting things about Philadelphia. One is that, although Tom Hanks isn't gay, Ron Nyswaner, the screenwriter, is, and was (and to the best of my knowledge is) an advocate and activist for HIV/AIDS awareness. So, on the one hand there's someone there who is definitely doing the work.

On the other hand, the family of Geoffrey Bowers, an HIV-positive attorney who sued his firm for wrongful dismissal, sued the makers of the film for appropriating his story, and (they claimed) using details gleaned from interviews with them for an abandoned biopic in the story of Philadelphia.

So... yeah. I think Philadelphia has some interesting and contradictory elements about representation and appropriation, which might be relevant here.
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:28 PM on May 16, 2014

Andrew Garfield was just in the #1 movie in the US. Is there a non-cis person that would generate the same audience for the video

Speaking just to the issue of casting (not emmtee's more important points about the narrative itself), I'd imagine that a statementy video by a band like Arcade Fire would get as much attention, or nearly as much, by casting an unknown in the role. You don't need to be a star to get eyeballs on such a video; being in such a video makes you a star.
posted by Beardman at 12:31 PM on May 16, 2014

I do feel like I have seen some of these images in other videos before (Xtina's Beautiful) and I understand trans women are saying they are hurtful. Can anyone suggest a music video that would be helpful? I think someone upthread suggested a trans man instead of a trans woman, and something featuring non-CIS actors/actresses. But, like, what would they be doing? Would it be more helpful to show trans people just going about their lives in situations where they are not discriminated against or hurt, or is it more that it would be better to show other instances of discrimination that are not this troped and sort of lurid?
posted by onlyconnect at 12:35 PM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Can anyone suggest a music video that would be helpful?

One place to start could be just about anything off of Against Me!'s release Transgender Dysphoria Blues!, if only for the reason that it's music and videos about being trans, as told by a transwoman (singer/guitarist/songwriter Laura Jane Grace) rather than as told by Arcade Fire.
posted by entropone at 12:43 PM on May 16, 2014 [6 favorites]

onlyconnect: "Would it be more helpful to show trans people just going about their lives in situations where they are not discriminated against or hurt, or is it more that it would be better to show other instances of discrimination that are not this troped and lurid?"

I think as long as you involve trans people in the process, and try to be aware of the history of how we've been depicted, either is totally fine. The bad stuff creeps in when allies are informing allies about what they assume our lives are like, what helps us and what does us harm, and actually shouting us down when we try to correct them.

I mean, I do think a lot of good could be done by simply committing to include trans people in all your music videos as backup dancers, actors, playing characters, etc, rather than by trying to deliver clanging moral messages. Just have a trans woman play the goddamned love interest, or the waitress or the rival or the CEO or whatever the hell. Have the arty shots of people meeting be two trans men, or a trans guy and trans woman, I don't know. Just keep including us, across the spectrum of presentations and appearances. Present us as people who belong in society, not walking tragedies in the making.

On the other hand I'm certainly not saying stories about trans people shouldn't depict violence - it absolutely is the reality of daily life for a lot of us - but the only-truly-beautiful-in-death crap needs to go. You want to show us being killed, show it as the vile, devastating thing it is for our loved ones and families, show the ways it's encouraged and justified socially, show the shitty trans-panic defences and high-fiving that follow. Show the fear. Pushing the assault off onto some rural guys is a shitty move, too, in that it points the finger away from the audience and toward a convenient Other. I'd be a lot more impressed by a video that showed abuse coming from and being encouraged by a bunch of young, affluent Arcade Fire fans.
posted by emmtee at 1:54 PM on May 16, 2014 [5 favorites]

Aren't the Mutants of X-Men Marvel's definitive statement on "otherness" and discrimination? Of course, original intents are going to be watered down in "the movie version", especially one from a studio that doesn't own Marvel.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:03 PM on May 16, 2014

I feel dumb because the message of the video is literally flashing in big capital letters, yet I still don't really get parts of it, like what the male-bodied dancers are meant to evoke. Also, I agree that this story would be more worthwhile if it numbered among many different stories about trans people. The Spider-Man connection makes me think, trans people aren't there to be Uncle Ben, victimized to teach someone else a lesson in every rehashed story.

One more thing: while I thought Andrew Garfield's performance was convincing and the video's trans narrative was clear, the press around this video often calls his character "gay" or "a cross-dresser" or "in drag." Is this cluelessness, prejudice, confusion? Or is that a valid interpretation of the video that I'm just not seeing? Either way, it convinces me that I made a wrong assumption in thinking that Garfield's performance was good enough to transcend the anti-trans "men in dresses" image mentioned upthread.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 3:08 PM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am routinely stunned at the readiness of so many people to condemn their allies for being who they are.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 5:05 PM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am routinely stunned at the readiness of so many people to condemn their allies for being who they are.

The Arcade Fire?
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:37 PM on May 16, 2014

A much better new video by a different Canadian band, PUP:
posted by Marquis at 5:59 PM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ugh, on re-reading my first comment in this thread, it looks a little as if I'm saying that the trans community is idiotically pushing away useful allies. Hopefully it's fairly obvious that is the opposite of what I intended.

I've also come to the conclusion that if the trans afterlife is an Arcade Fire show at Coachella, I am getting fucking serious about eating healthy and exercising. Life has never seemed more precious.
posted by emmtee at 6:02 PM on May 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think as long as you involve trans people in the process, and try to be aware of the history of how we've been depicted, either is totally fine.

"Nothing about us without us" is a catchy, protest-march-friendly phrase that I'm particularly fond of.

To me, this is kind of like when Joss Whedon killed Tara. A great, existential howl went up from lesbians everywhere, and lesbian-friendly people were like "But he kills everyone in some way! Everyone loses someone they love! That's the point!" and we were like YES BUT for decades and decades pretty much the only way lesbian stories ever ended was with one of them dead and the other married to a man. It gets really fucking old.

I understand how if you've never heard these stories before, it's all new and interesting. If they're the only stories you've ever heard told about your life, you're over it, no matter how good the music or the editing or the production values.

I still don't know exactly what it's About, but I know I prefer Sing Me Spanish Techno from the New Pornographers because it subverts the expected narrative and it looks like everyone is happy or at least doesn't get killed at the end.
posted by rtha at 6:14 PM on May 16, 2014 [7 favorites]

I came into this thread thinking "whoa this is cool and a good step"
I left thinking "Oh. Shit..... yeah. ...Yeah, good points."


Guys/gals/* between us (musicians, video people, artists, writers) we could probably produce an original song/music video or three that are actually helpful. Why are we not doing more creative collaborations with all the talent and intellect here?

(I'm too shy to ask Greg Nog to work on a combined visual novel / album with me)
posted by jake at 7:06 PM on May 16, 2014

I came into this thread thinking "whoa this is cool and a good step"
I left thinking "Oh. Shit..... yeah. ...Yeah, good points."

Something I've wondered about for a long time - I love Metafilter and I love discussion, but I see a few options:

1. Thinking things are cool and having no one contradict that.
2. Thinking things are cool but always crashing back down to earth when someone explains all the things you didn't think of.
3. Just assuming everything sucks all the time.

This comment has nothing to do with this video, or this thread. It's a broader question to myself. Do I need more #2 and #3 in my life? Or maybe I could seek more #1? Would that be bad?
posted by jragon at 9:20 PM on May 16, 2014

Normally when people start arguing about issues of representation and whatever-face, I have to kind of sit on the sidelines or venture in knowing that this is Not About Me and I have to be very careful. But I'm trans, so I can just go crashing right into this one and not really give a flip about offending anybody. Whee! This is actually About Me! (Well, not JUST me, of course. But me, too.)

I liked it, and I am baffled and kind of annoyed to hear people complaining that the video depicts a character who is somehow not trans enough. To call the character a cross-dresser or a man in a dress is kind of an insult to every trans person who has never been on hormones or had SRS. (In the interests of avoiding an awkward pronoun dance, I'm making some assumptions and referring to the character as she.) All we know of the character is that until tonight she has apparently presented as male, and this seems to be her first time getting dressed and venturing out into the world. I think we linger on the bra and stuff because this is a HUGE moment for her, she is terrified and excited and the clothes and wig represents a lot of things for her.

Yes, I'd like to see more trans actors getting work. But for this part, I think Garfield was a perfectly valid choice. He looks like this character would look, and he did a credible job projecting this character's feelings. His presence is gonna help get this thing a lot of attention. Maybe people should relax already.

I thought the ending was moving but also problematic, in the sense that it's pretty awkward to present your band as heaven. The character gets killed in the bar, and in her dying moments she sees her assailants as butch-queeny go-go boys who part the curtains and escort her to the afterlife. That works for me. But then heaven is an Arcade Fire concert? I mean, I like the band, and dancing onstage at a big rock show might well be how I'd want to spend eternity.

But still... She died and went to Arcade Fire. Weird.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:17 AM on May 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

Meet David Wilson, the director. (The 9m video is interesting to watch.)

Full credits for the video.
posted by hippybear at 3:17 AM on May 17, 2014

I do find it interesting that in everything I've read about this video, it is only here on MetaFilter that I've seen anyone suggest that Garfield's character is beaten to death.
posted by hippybear at 3:18 AM on May 17, 2014

[A couple of comments deleted. Note: Help maintain a healthy, respectful discussion by focusing comments on the issues, topics, and facts at hand—not at other members of the site.]
posted by taz (staff) at 3:46 AM on May 17, 2014

Okey dokey, taz. Then I'll just re-quote what Our Lady J said about this and leave it at that. I think that deserves to stand, and I'm sure you agree.

"I'm so proud of Andrew Garfield's performance in Arcade Fire's new video for We Exist! I coached him as he played a young person publicly exploring their femininity for the first time."
posted by Decani at 4:26 AM on May 17, 2014

I just watched the video again, and I realized this kid could have been me. I have been the fumbly, confused kid vamping in front of the mirror, and I have gone to the wrong bars in a bad wig, and danced with the wrong guys because I was scared not to and because I was flattered by the attention. I've never been bashed, thank goodness, but everything up until then happened to me.

You wanna tell me I don't exist?
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:48 AM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't think any individual's existence is exactly the issue under discussion. Rather, it's that one trans narrative exists disproportionately in representations of the trans experience in cis media - that of the tragic trans person. In many ways, this can be likened to the narrative trope of the tragic mulatto - someone who is caught between worlds, and whose inability to fit into the world leads to their destruction. (qv "I am not your tragic trans narrative").

Wanda in The Sandman is an example of this given further up this thread - a trans woman who is specifically and mystically excluded from the status of woman, and then killed, but who gets to be the princess in death she did not get to be in life. Tina Brandon/Brandon Teena in "Boys Don't Cry" is another. Maria Roman, a trans actress, specifically wished that she got roles in which she could play a non-tragic trans person, in reference to her role in "Remember Me in Red", in which she played a woman whose trans status and death drove the narrative - in a very obvious example of the "beautified by death" trope, the character's parents want to bury her dressed in male clothing, her friends in her actual clothing. Then there's Jared Leto in "Dallas Buyers' Club", of course, which is kind of recent and raw...

So, yeah. This thread is kind of a car crash, but I don't think its crashiness has involved assertions that these stories have no basis in fact - more that (primarily cisgender) people addressing the trans experience tend to focus on this one narrative to the exclusion of others.
posted by running order squabble fest at 10:38 AM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

You could still keep the general flow of the story, Andrew Garfield included, and not have anyone die - she's worried about presenting as female for the first time! Agh, she senses danger! Oh but wait - these people are friendly! She gets to the concert and has a great time. Kind of like the Spanish Techno video rtha linked to.
posted by divabat at 11:30 AM on May 17, 2014

I don't think its crashiness has involved assertions that these stories have no basis in fact - more that (primarily cisgender) people addressing the trans experience tend to focus on this one narrative to the exclusion of others.

This is where, for me, this entire discussion starts to get interesting.

I won't claim to be a scholar of the topic or anything, but I have spent quite a bit of time looking at depictions of gay men in media across the decades. (I know this video and this thread isn't about gay men, but bear with me.)

The trend, as far as I can tell, when it comes to media depictions of marginalized, non-race-based groups seems to be thus: invisible, perhaps threatening shadowy corrupters; comic, degrading figures of ridicule; tragic figures of curiosity and otherness and perhaps sympathy; comic, insightful (but probably still degrading) figures of ridicule; tragic figures of sympathy and otherness; helpful outsider (equivalent to the magic negro); figure of empathetic identification, usually tragic; figure of empathetic identification, not tragic; outsider but part of life and somehow useful; outsider but accepted; normalized and part of the landscape.

This is a hugely over-generalized sweep of what I've seen across the last 40 years of depictions of gay men in the media, and it certainly is not as linear as all that, but taken as an overview of the trend, I think it's pretty accurate.

Depictions of transpersons are, sadly, still rather early in this evolution in the media. Not being trans myself, I'm sure I will get some "schooling" for stating this, but I thought that To Wong Foo was a pretty bold step forward in the depiction in the media. Likewise, Liev Schreiber's character in Taking Woodstock.

Really, I'm not sure the media's depiction of gay men would be any further evolved at this point if it were not for the Matthew Shepard incident. That tragic murder somehow created a "this could be my son/daughter/friend/child of a friend" narrative in the collective consciousness and pushed the cause of equality forward much more quickly than perhaps simple social evolution and media depictions alone ever could have.

I'm certainly not in favor of anyone being murdered as some sort of martyr to advance the cultural evolution of society at large when it comes to acceptance of any group. Do not misinterpret my words to contain that sentiment, because it is entirely false.

I do hope that media depictions, and parallel cultural evolution, will continue to move toward transpersons being normalized, taking a path which contains fewer and fewer hurtful depictions and more and more life-affirming ones.

But, looking at the situation rather frankly, the transperson in today's culture and in today's media is still much more toward the beginning of the arc than toward the end. I had thought this video went a bit of the way toward pushing the needle forward. Some think I was wrong to think that. I don't think I was.
posted by hippybear at 11:32 AM on May 17, 2014

in the diffuse, subtle ways any cultural artifact can do harm or good, I strongly suspect this video has made our lives slightly worse

Not my lives. This video? Yeah, that was me in British Columbia, Canada in 2004. Loggers, country bars, trans living and being a rockstar. So I moved to Montreal—as Surely Mongog (I even got a shout-out on Mefi, now leading to a broken link but here)—and caught up with Arcade Fire from my then ex-girlfriend, SPIN editor Sia Michel.

Now its 2014, only 10 years later, and the whole thing plays as a music video. Sweet.

Glad to know the whole thing was worth more than a dream.

PS Andrew Garfield nails it. Now I'm even going to go see Amazing Spiderman 2.
posted by Mike Mongo at 10:36 PM on May 17, 2014

Ursula Hitler: "You wanna tell me I don't exist?"

The bare description of events in the video (at least, the non-metaphysical bit) could almost have been from my mid-teens. Begged, borrowed and stolen clothes, crap makeup, cheap wig, going out and messing around with guys and yes, in my case getting the shit kicked out of me on more than one occasion. And I still wasn't my clothes, wasn't my makeup, wasn't the process of applying femininity to my male-assigned body. People who saw and depicted me as nothing more than that were providing the opposite of allyship. Choosing to focus on those things in telling any version of that story still reinforces all the same vicious old tropes, and those impact the life of every visible trans woman, whether she acknowledges it or not. And I'll say this - I could have been killed any number of times, looking back, and my life still wouldn't have been this story of the tragic trans victim who finds beauty and acceptance in death. I would not have been Wanda waving happily in the cisnormative body she could never have in life. I would not be Andrew Garfield's character given a nice white dress and an hour with a stylist through the magic of a boot to the head.

I can't help thinking about the effect a diet of these 'inevitable tragedy in life, beauty in death' stories has on trans kids and young adults just getting to grips with themselves. That part honestly scares me, and even absent the rest would be grounds for serious reservations about this.

It's interesting that Our Lady J was fairly vocal in criticising Dallas Buyers' Club, if I remember rightly, when I'd say that and the Arcade Fire video share a lot of the same problems. Based on the interviews I've read she and I have a number of pretty fundamental disconnects on the things that do trans women good and harm, though, so I shouldn't be surprised we'd see this video completely differently.
posted by emmtee at 12:58 AM on May 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

This may be the relevant quote about DBC from Our Lady J:
I think cisgender [non-transgender] actors portraying trans roles has been beneficial to an extent. But I think that the time has come where we need to only cast trans actors in trans roles for now, because when we cast a cisgender actor in a trans role it gives a message of invisibility towards trans people. I don’t see myself on the big screen anywhere. I never did as a child. And that’s how we identify growing up in the modern age –- we see ourselves through movies and TV and art. And when we don’t see ourselves, because we are different bodied, it’s not just about acting.

Gender and sexuality are different –- it’s not about acting gay or acting straight. Our bodies are physically different, for the most part. I don’t want to generalize and box anyone in but a lot of transgender women do alter their bodies. I have spent a hell of a lot of time and energy and money altering my body to become more female and when I see an actor portraying a transgender woman, I don’t see myself in that and I know a lot of my sisters don’t as well.

And there are trans women who don’t alter their bodies and that’s fine. But I feel like if they’re going to go to the extent that they did with “Dallas Buyers Club” and say that was a transgender role, then they should have had a self-identified transgender woman playing it. If it was more of a genderqueer or a man who was questioning his gender identity, then that would have been another thing. All the press releases said it was a transgender woman. So I think it miseducates the audience and also makes young trans people feel invisible at the same time.
That's from an interview with Noah Michelson, editor of Huffpost's Gay section.
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:49 AM on May 18, 2014

Most of my problems with the video have already been stated eloquently by various people, especially emmtee. I only want to add that I generally think aestheticizing violence needs to be done really carefully. Would we be praising this video if it was someone passing for white, turns out to be black, gets beaten up, and ends up at Coachella?

Also, I do think the comparisons to blackface are valid and not trivializing. I wouldn't be surprised if 50 years from now, the comparisons would be more often made with the hindsight of history, given how depictions of trans people at the moment still consist largely of well-worn stereotypes depicted by people whose bodies are not what trans bodies actually look like. This is different from straight actors playing gay roles because there are no visible differences between straight and gay bodies.

Even in this video that depicts a male-bodied, pre-everything person, it's still pretty far-fetched that such a person could have been mistaken for a cis-woman in that context. If they were going to cast a cis actor, at least cast one who could feasibly fit the role regardless of whether or not he's a superstar.
posted by mandonlym at 7:47 PM on May 18, 2014

My reactions:
Hey, that was an awesome video for a great song, now let's go check the comments!
posted by Theta States at 1:40 PM on May 20, 2014

emmtee: This is Wanda from Sandman all over again

SERIOUSLY. *finger snaps*

BTW: why is your account disabled?
posted by Theta States at 1:47 PM on May 20, 2014

Shit. emmtee, hope you're just taking a "cuz life things" break. Please do come back.
posted by rtha at 5:37 PM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hey I see the Guardian linked to emmtee's comment up there in an article. And, :( emmtee's account is disabled
posted by bleep-blop at 4:00 PM on June 11, 2014

I'm slow.
posted by bleep-blop at 4:01 PM on June 11, 2014

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