Close the Borders: DAVE REEVES column from ARTHUR MAGAZINE No. 22

“Do the Math” column by Dave Reeves
originally published in Arthur Magazine No. 22 (May 02006)

Close the Borders

Masses teem at the border demanding to be exploited. The Christian nature of America obliges us to take our “border brothers” in after running them through a rigorous desert obstacle course to cull out the weak. The surviving braceros go on to make up the disenfranchised worker caste which the civil rights movement strove so hard to eradicate. “We shall overcome” has been overwhelmed.

Big business loves undocumented Latinos. They take less pay to work harder at jobs that black people won’t do, they can’t vote, and believe in a book which was written to comfort slaves called “the Bible.”

Sense dictates that burgeoning populations should be checked with birth control, but the Bible won’t allow it. Companies no longer pay well or offer benefits because it the bible says that believers must have unprotected sex, pick up serpents and speak in tongues. God has (intelligently) designed a situation where his true believers hope to be conscripted for a pittance into a foreign and hostile country.

Latinos leave their homeland because their country’s infrastructure is undeveloped due to the fact that a majority of their nation’s business is off the books. Mexican drug trade rakes in between 27 and 32 billion dollars a year, while the national oil industry, Pemex, brings in only 7 to 8 billion. Pemex tax pays for El Presidente and his entourage. Untaxed drug profits manifest into typical cheap money detritus: flashy cars, shitty bars and corpses in Tijuana wearing Dolce and Gabbana.

This vast economy of underground drug money sustains a system so corrupt that only a revolution can wipe it away. But the Great Overdue Mexican Revolution is deferred with every Mexican who flees to America to wash dishes.

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Interview with M.I.A. from ARTHUR No. 16 (May 2005)

Originally published in Arthur No. 16

BOMP POP
Born in war-torn Sri Lanka and bred in London, rising star M.I.A.’s pop instincts, radical consciousness and proudly pan-ghetto sound have no easy origin. As the defiant singer/MC explains to Piotr Orlov, it’s both where she’s from and where she’s at. Cover photo by W.T. Nelson.

“The mask is the face.” – Susan Sontag, “On Style”

“I don’t have a side, I’m spread out but I’m a mile wide/I got brown skin but I’m a west Londoner, educated but a refugee” – M.I.A., “MIA”

What, if anything, do we look for in a “pop” star worth supporting? Or more to the point, what are we willing to put up with, besides some gratuitous chart-topping populism and the 15-minutes of media-saturated intrigue, of course? Do we have any right expecting pop stars—not to be confused with musical artists whom luck, trends, circumstance or one great tune propels towards the mainstream—to influence a greater cultural conversation? Pop is, after all, the most powerful global transmitter of ideas in the information age, receiving over the past fifty years equal credit for the democratic tilt of history (Ted Turner’s comment that Western cultural export helped bring down the Berlin Wall) and civilization’s moral decline (Elvis, Madonna, Gangsta Rap, et al.). So, what effect can be brought about by a beautiful young woman whose looks and dance moves, globally minded outlook, state-of-the-art sonics, and spirited attitude recall any number of recent kiddie-pop models—yet whose life experience is based not on driving-towards-stardom dreams and Mickey Mouse Club auditions, but a mix of Third World civil war fatigue and immigrant struggles, Western art-school opportunity and hip-hop generation rebellion, independent experience and mod cons?

Meet Maya Arulpragasam, a 28-year-old Sri Lanka-reared, London-educated singer/MC with the stage-name M.I.A., who is approaching her pregnant pop moment, that inexplicable period when a confluence of fates—real and manufactured, critical and social, art and market—align to create sensations, and, at times, freak cultural anomalies and paradigm shifts. Since late 2003, she’s released a steady stream of dancehall-meets-hip-hop-meets-pop singles (“Galang” and “Sunshowers” being the most prominent) and one mix-tape (“Piracy Funds Terrorism, Vol. 1,” co-produced by Philly DJ wunderkind Diplo), blowing up via underground and Internet delivery systems (MP3 bloggers adore her), setting record companies frothing trying to pick up the rights to her debut album, Arular. (One succeeded: The album has just been released by the indie XL, but will soon be worked by Interscope.)

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