Ekphrasis of Sia by Eric Shoemaker

Ekphrasis of Sia

We were shocked one weekend not long ago by the upload and viral spread of a new music video by Sia; a new single, dropped. (Mic, dropped). This video features, in no small way, the violent act of applying rainbows to one’s cheeks, of empathizing with and creating dialogue around and inciting to the “violence of the blank page”¹ those who are victims of social and political acts of war.

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We were shocked one day not long ago by the violent terrorism acted on a bustling nightclub in Florida. This violence (mic, dropped) on a small portion of homosexual and allied individuals in one subset of the country we claim to be a free America was ruthless and quick. In a moment, the vital undercurrents of the United States became vitriol. We were injected with cyanide, and we plastered the dead faces on the covers of magazines.

The world struggled to listen to the cries of homosexuals in Chechnya; Americans variously believed, ignored, or denied the violence happening far off on another continent. Despite several people coming forward to give witness to the torture and abduction they suffered at the hands of Chechnya’s version of the “alt-right,” major media outlets did not cover the atrocity for weeks.

America struggled to absorb the knowledge that Charlottesville was a battle zone, struggled to agree to the facts right beneath our collective nose. Media outlets chose, based on their political affiliation, whether or not to cover the violence of those Fascist terrorists. The president chose not to decry this violence as terrorism, but to say it was enacted on “many sides”.

We struggle to remember acts of violence, though they seep into our blood like that cyanide. We are poisoned, continually, by that cyanide, which becomes a part of our bones, but we forget that it came upon us suddenly, that it was an act of violence, another stroke on an already crowded canvas. We must spend, and have no choice but to spend, the rest of our lives unpeeling, undoing that horrific stroke of violence. We must work to correct the painting that all of us have created.

Uh-oh, running out of breath, but I
Oh, I, I got stamina

Sia’s music video is a piece of popular media, consumed by many around the world. I know this. You know this. But we are, each of us, the individuals in that music video, enjoying ourselves at a club (innocently or no). Have you been to a club? Have you had a beer or a vodka-tonic? Have you been on the dance floor? Do you choose to dance? We all choose to dance or not to dance, and we think this defines us. We then allow the mainstream media to identify us as bags lined up on a once-crowded dance floor limned with disco lighting and smoke.

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Do you choose to dance? If you do, you are creating and perpetuating the cultural stereotype that humans enjoy dancing, are viscerally excited by letting go, enjoy having fun. Do you care? Do you choose to dance? Are you among the milieu? If so, you are forced to make a decision. Do you react to this violence, do you correct the painting, do you apply your own stroke, your voice; do you do that which the United States Constitution would have you do by applying your outspokenness to the canvas of world discussion? Do you dance quietly, in a corner? Do you throw out your love to other victims by subjecting yourself to the pain, the violence, of criticism? To the unrelenting causes of the media? If so, you are making an ethical choice to join the fray. Do you support the police and/or believe in less police violence on Black teenagers? Do you support Black Lives Matter? If you do not, you are making an ethical choice. You may be increasing the belief prevalent in America that inaction is not a choice and is part of the milieu— but it is a choice. Not saying anything is an ethical choice. You are choosing to abstain, to not let your voice be heard; you are enacting violence on a population you choose not to comment on. Be racist, or be a bigot, or be pro-arms, or pro-abortion, or pro-healthcare, but be something. Make the choice to let your voice be heard: no, make the choice to voice.

Don’t give up, I won’t give up
Don’t give up, no no no

It is not, as in bygone eras, a vocal minority who speaks out. You have a Facebook, you’re on Twitter, or you follow people on Instagram. Some of those people are bots. Who cares? You are in this, whether you like it or not. Make the choice to say something, to have an argument with your parents or your neighbor or your best friend; make the choice to be heard.

We live in a volatile era in the history of our country, whether we choose to believe it or not. We live in a time when our words are more misconstrued than before by our electronic distance from one another, by our reliance on text. Do not misapprehend me; I will also be talking to you about this. I will be relying on you to make your own informed decision about action and inaction that I am currently placing before you, on a platter. I will force you to choose. If you turn away, make it for a reason. Say you think I’m a delusional idiot on Twitter. I will applaud your decision. I will say: what a discerning person you are. You will have chosen to follow your ethics. Do not use distance as an excuse to ignore. Sia’ s video is on Youtube. View it. Form an opinion. Are homosexuals backwards? Are refugees not worth protecting? Sure, fine. You said something.

I’m free to be the greatest, I’m alive
I’m free to be the greatest here tonight

Sia is enacting violence on the system by approaching homosexuality as a HUMAN problem. Monkeys can be homosexual, but we choose to ignore (as a whole) that homosexuality is within our nature. Within our genome, perhaps. By crafting a video that focuses on the abhorrent deaths of dozens, dozens of people in a nightclub in Florida, Sia and her team are choosing not to forget. To ingest the cyanide, to let it flood their veins and fuel their spirits. To fuel their ethics. They are choosing to enact violence and choice upon a culture that ignores these tenets, these essential decisions, upon which our America was founded. Do you choose to watch the video? Or does it die in cyberspace? Do you develop your own ethics? Or ignore that you have a decision to make? Do you look to Big Brother for guidance? Do you look within? Do you make a spiritual decision? Are you conscious, America? Find yourselves within the context of human history, and you have a decision to become active and responsive within your community, or to remain silent: an ethical decision. How long is your memory, America?

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(Mic Drop).

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¹ Taken from Anne Bogart, Director of SITI Company.

Featured Image and Stills from “The Greatest” taken from Youtube.

Written by Robert Eric Shoemaker. See more of his work here.

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