Are celebrities becoming our new political idols?
“Okay ladies now let’s get in formation”
Illustration: Laura Costard
Beyoncé recently released a song called Formation (it is locked on Youtube, which means it can only be viewed if someone gives you the link, so here I am, gracing you with it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrCHz1gwzTo) The song is an upbeat, trap anthem in which Beyonce tells ladies to get in formation, that is, to get on her boss level. An independent musician, feminist, mother, human rights activist, Beyoncé has an enormous following and is admired for her music and videos in which she reclaims her body and art from the white male music industry. Dur-ing the Ferguson demonstrations, Beyoncé and her husband Jay Z quietly bailed out many of those arrested, paid for lawyers and donated to the BlackLivesMatter campaign. Months later, she released this anthem, a celebration of her black heritage, her success as a working female artist and mother.
The song and video, in which Beyoncé explores her identity as black and a woman, sees Be-yoncé’s feminism exemplified in her earlier records (Flawless being the most pertinent example of her feminist politics translated into a song) transform to an intersectional stance; she is exploring specifically her experience as a black woman. (And yes, racism can be gendered just as much as sexism can be racial.) This is crucial in the age of the BlackLivesMatter movement, where people (especially women) are victims of abuse and are being murdered by the same people who are em-ployed by the state to protect them. Beyoncé’s references to this stand tall in her video, where the words ‘STOP SHOOTING US’ are sprayed on the wall, and she sits on top of a New Orleans Po-lice Department car while it sinks, symbolic perhaps, of the state’s failure to protect and rebuild the communities destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
In the twenty-first century, our leading feminist thinkers do not provide the intersectionality and re-latability that our pop figures do. Germaine Greer, who just last year presented transphobic com-ments in an interview, and Gloria Steinem suggesting that female supporters of Bernie Sanders are doing so to impress boys both represent far from perfect feminist idols for young feminists to look up to. Beyoncé presents her feminism as something integral to her identity as an independent black woman, and she is asking her fans to celebrate and empower the facets of her identity that others try to disempower. Beyoncé makes the perfect example for artists and those with influence to make their work and identity politically charged in order to empower those who, as a result of a society that favours cisgendered white males, feel disregarded and misrepresented.
Perhaps, in the post-modern condition, politicians and celebrities become intertwined and those popular with mass audiences have more influence than those in positions of power. Beyoncé uses her influence as an artist, role model and political figure to show women that each of their lives and experiences matter. She uses her platform as a multiplatinum best-selling artist to put her con-cerns, and those of under-represented groups towards the listeners of her music. Feminism, for which has served middle-class educated white women for so long, is slowly being reinvented in the public sphere as something accessible and serving to women of all intersects.
NB: Before anyone says “Beyoncé cannot be a feminist because she wears her underwear on stage,” realise that you can be a feminist wearing anything (in fact the point of feminism is for femme-folk worldwide to have control of their bodies, what they do with them and what they chose to wear/not wear.)