As an Avril Lavigne fanatic, yesterday was tough. On Monday, Lavigne released the music video for ‘Hello Kitty,’ the worst song on her latest album. It was pretty racist. Okay, it was really racist. And the predictable freight train of chastisement rolled quickly and forcibly through the interwebs on Tuesday. Now it’s Wednesday, and I have nothing to say in defense of Avril.
I mean, the video is genuinely racist. So racist that it’s not racist? I wish. But no. It’s just racist. And although they say all press is good press, it’s difficult to ascertain how this profusion of negative attention will benefit Lavigne. It’s also difficult to ascertain what Avril was going for here. Was she making some sort of political statement by frolicking among a cornucopia of Asian stereotypes? Maybe? Who knows. But with each viewing, I’ve only become increasingly dumbfounded and increasingly impressed by the horror. As a last ditch effort to justify the actions of my knight in shining glitter, I compiled a list of nine things that are less racist than her video. The results were not pretty.
1. Rush Limbaugh — the 63 year-old man who hosts a talk show and gives all conservatives a bad look by regularly likening African American sports figures to thugs and endorsing the term “Halfrican-American.” Limbaugh is decidedly racist, but he is less racist than the ‘Hello Kitty’ music video.
2. Plessy v. Ferguson — the 1896 Supreme Court Case which upheld the legality of racial segregation in public. This is literally the case of racism studied in high schools, but that may change when teachers hear about Avril Lavigne.
3. Julianne Hough’s Halloween costume — the famous actress who wore blackface to dress as a less famous actress at a party. Arguably racist; unarguably less racist than ‘Hello Kitty.’
4. The Office’s ‘Diversity Day’ episode — the collection of scenes wherein Michael Scott applies an assortment of racial stereotypes to the modern workplace. Facially (and farcically) racist, but less so than Avril Lavigne cavorting in a pink cupcake skirt before a row of Asian backup dancers.
5. My Uncle Barry — the man who hasn’t been to a movie theatre since 1997 because “them blacks are too loud in there.” He would probably appreciate Avril’s video.
6. LeBron as King Kong — the Vogue cover which featured LeBron James as a “mad brute” primate and Gisele Bündchen as a classic damsel in distress. This was a sad display of antiquated racism in modern advertising. The ‘Hello Kitty’ video, in contrast, was just sad.
7. Ethnocentrism — the term which describes the concept of judging other cultures based on your own. This is inherently racist, as it requires you to think of your race as superior to others. Of course, Avril’s video is pretty inherently racist as well.
8. Song of the South — the 1946 Disney movie which was so widely rebuked for its racism that Disney stopped selling it in the 1980s. Too racist for Disney, but perhaps not quite racist enough for Avril Lavigne.
9. 1940s propaganda — the series of war advertisements which blatantly urged Americans to view opposing races as inferior. About as racist as it gets. Though, isn’t that what Avril’s doing by mocking Asian culture for three minutes?
We’re quick to label things racist these days. We’re understandably hypersensitive, which, by the way, is a hell of a lot better than being numb to racist propaganda like we were seventy years ago. We’ve come a long way. Today, it’s acceptable to throw racial themes in an audience’s face. Sometimes it can bestow a positive message, like the satire effectuated in The Office ’s ‘Diversity Day.’ Racial satire can highlight racism without making light of stereotypes.
That is not what ‘Hello Kitty’ did. It may have been Avril’s intent, but ultimately, it doesn’t matter. We only care about her intent if we’re her friend. As audience members, our only job is to be influenced by her work of (art?) and to further influence others through the discourse surrounding her (art?). In 2014, no one is being influenced by ‘Hello Kitty.’ It’s racist and stupid and ignorant and worthless. It sucks and it’s terrible, but we don’t have to care about it. Caring about it implies that it matters, and in today’s world, the unintelligible propaganda of ignorant 29 year olds simply does not matter. Does that make it okay? Of course not. No, never. But let’s be thankful we’re not numb to the mass stereotyping intrinsic within the video. Let’s be thankful we can laugh at it. Let’s be thankful that no one’s opinions of Asians are changing, but rather only people’s opinions of Avril Lavigne.
In June, I’ll shamelessly attend an Avril concert. And I’ll shriek like a stereotypical schoolgirl when she sings ‘Complicated’ and ‘Sk8er Boi,’ because I’m not Avril’s friend. I’m merely an audience member who can sing along and enjoy the mostly meaningless lyricism she presents. If and when ‘Hello Kitty’ is performed, I’ll laugh and dance, because the song is stupid and unimportant, and sometimes it’s fun to laugh at dumb things that don’t matter. Now, if I was Avril’s friend — if I did know her on a personal level, and care about the person she is and not just her music — then I would immediately ask what the fuck is going on.