Book a ‘Window Seat’ – see the empress’s new clothes
You say that Poetry isn’t your thing? Is that because immediate images of dead white boys and bookish mousy librarians jump to mind? Or maybe, it’s because you revel in the rigorous pursuit of metered verse and can’t swallow the idea of graffiti or music or photography as poetry. I’ve had students tell me poetry is boring. It’s hard to read, difficult to understand. I’ve had colleagues belabor the details of their attempts to get their students to stop free-styling rhymes and start reading and writing.
My personal favorite: the glazed over look that washes over the faces of people to whom I mention that I’m a poet.
“That’s nice,” they say. Not sure what else to say.
I say, whatever your hang ups might be about poetry it is time to let that wick away.
In case you can’t do that, Erykah Badu, the queen of neo-soul, has done that for you.
On March 13, Badu set the song, ‘Window Seat’ of off her newly released album ‘New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh,’ to visual artistry and metaphor in this video .
The video opens with an audio clip from JFK’s arrival in Dallas the day of his Assassination as Badu pulls into a metered parking spot. A “guerilla cam” shoot ensues as Badu, a Dallas native, walks through Dealey Plaza and very simply strips down to the beautiful bare body she was born with- a body that brought three children into the world. Pedestrians are startled in the background, and you can see one fellow tries to reclaim the clothes Badu is languidly discarding.
There is a brief moment of full nudity then a gunshot and the naked Badu falls to the ground near the ‘grassy knoll’ where John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. Badu embeds the reading of this poem on top of the image of her naked self, slain in the street:
They play it safe.
Are quick to assassinate what they do not understand.
They move in packs,
ingesting more and more fear with every act of hate on one another.
They feel most comfortable in groups, less guilt to swallow.
They are us,
this is what we’ve become,
afraid to respect the individual.
A single person, or event, or circumstance can move one to change,
to love herself,
Erykah Badu, Window Seat Poem [my line breaks transcribed from the video]
It amazes me that people are outraged. Turn on the television if you have one. A computer works too. You can witness the mutilation of the human mind, soul and body. Kate Gosselin. Glenn Beck. The “Saw” movies. Enough said.
Our culture is one that sexualizes nakedness and female form at every given opportunity. Recently, while strolling La Pulga (flea market) in Mission, Texas, I came across a corseted red dress- a really hot number. I might have considered buying one for myself, except that it was made for toddlers. Yep. Sexy, red, corseted dress for a four year old. JonBenét Ramsey may be the most sickening example of this kind of sexualization. ‘More subtle’, but just as disturbing, examples are the legacy ‘pop’ artists like Miley Cirus or Brittney Spears leave for adolescent girls.
Badu isn’t swinging around a pole in strip club and even if she were, she would be doing it for a reason. I suppose, as with all art, that the statement she’s making and the statement her listeners hear might be two very different things. That is [part of] the beauty of poetry, of art: interpretation. It is a gift that the artist and admirer or critic can barter with one another.
For her part, Badu defended her art in this article in The Dallas Morning News by comparing her assassination reenactment to the character assassination one would go through after showing his or her self completely [to the world].
She told Hunter Hawk of Detroit’s HipHop 102.7 FM in an interview on Wednesday that she was protesting to awaken a term called “groupthink.” She says when she falls in the video, she has been symbolically assassinated by ‘groupthink.’
The woman is an incredibly talented musician and poet who also happens to be a savvy business woman. Isn’t that the AmeryKahn way? Even if the artistic concept that she has conveyed with remarkable grace wasn’t poetic, it was still a move of brilliance in terms of publicity upon the release of this, her fifth album. The Los Angeles Times reported that on Monday Badu twittered her intent to hold a not-too-secret concert the following night– yet another demonstration of her genius. There are plenty of naysayers who question Badu’s ethics, sensibility and artistic philosophy. I think the good people of Dallas should be happy they don’t live in Baghdad. Things could be worse.
Ms. Badu and her guerilla camera man did not apply for a permit to film – as though they would have been granted one. Besides, the whole concept involved nakedness in public. She could have created the Plaza and hired extras…but then it wouldn’t be the same interpretation of her work.
Both she and her camera man knew they could have been arrested, but they weren’t. Nobody bothered to call the police. They were too busy looking at the stark naked black woman lying fetal on the curb. At the end of the infamous walk, as Badu bends over to slip off her underwear, a woman in the background isn’t calling 911, she’s snapping a photo, likely sexting a naked Badu booty to all of her friends.
The fact that Erykah Badu chose to enact her own assassination-naked- near the spot where John F. Kennedy was assassinated is the cherry on top. Badu is the cake. We should all think about walking down the street and stripping down to the core of who we are as humans, artists, parents, students, scientists, naturalists, loggers, poets, neighbors, daughters, sons, mathematicians, merchants, friends, whatever…either metaphorically or literally.
Some criticisms have stemmed from the fact that some see this video as besmirching the memory of JFK. Badu tweeted her response, saying she meant no disrespect.
I started to wonder what John F. Kenney would have to say about such cries of disgust.
About a month before he was assassinated, JFK gave a speech at Amherst College on October 22, 1963 that honored poet, Robert Frost. The Atlantic Monthly reported that in the speech, he emphasized the importance of the poet in American society as critic, commentator, and “champion of the individual mind and sensibility.”
With my previous knowledge of Kennedy’s weakness for beautiful woman and his appreciation of the arts, I have no doubt that he might respond with a statement he read that day in the Amherst speech:
“If sometimes our great artists have been the most critical of our society, it is because their sensitivity and their concern for justice, which must motivate any true artist, makes him[or her] aware that our Nation falls short of its highest potential. I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist. If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his [or her] vision wherever it takes him[or her].” [emphasis added].
Posted by Sue Zalokar
[Editor's note: As I was finishing the final edit of this post, I went to Erykah Badu’s site to watch the video one last time. It was here, “Window Seat Reverse” that I discovered where Badu’s brilliance was taking her: to the top of her game, naked or not.
See the video that inspired (and was credited at the start of) Badu’s project: