Before you read on, a few things need to be made clear. This is not a post about defending Taylor Swift’s move to sue PopFront for defamation. It’s not a defense of stamping out criticism, or—more importantly—defending white nationalist groups for co-opting the lyrics of a pop icon.
What this post is about—most importantly—is what I see as the use of editorial wizardry to shock, horrify, and ride on the coattails of a powerful progressive movement to make ratings, all with bad form.
Stereogum published an article about how Swift’s lawyers are getting ready to sue PopFront for defamation for a recent column decrying Swift as, subtly, a supporter of white nationalism. They can sort that out themselves.
**DISCLAIMER** Please read the entirety of both articles
I read PopFront’s column, which points most clearly to Swift’s new single “Look What You Made Me Do”, and several issues with the reasoning and craft I think need to be called out. In short, PopFront’s article qualifies everything written because the white supremacist movement has co-opted a pop-star’s image and lyrics.
This is just bad reasoning, as any close reader can see there’s no real evidence the writer unveils to qualify this view. If I tried to push this through an editorial review, it would most likely be thrown in the dumps.
It’s in lines like this: “Taylor’s are lyrics that connect with whites that are concerned with what they see as the white dispossession of power.”
What exactly is the author’s qualification for that statement? That racist groups think she is everything they’ve always wanted—a characteristically white, blonde, blue-eyed archetype of the perfect woman? In my mind, that’s like saying tiki torches are racist icons because white nationalists carried them in Charlottesville, or that they symbolize fascism because of their similarity to the Roman fasces.
The author also uses what they know about “white supremacist feelings of displacement” and makes an extremely weak connection to Swift’s lyrics:
“The lyrics validate those who feel that have been wronged, e.g. white people angry about a black president. The chant, “our streets” is similar to saying “you locked me out and threw a feast.” It is about feeling displaced, feeling wronged.
Then further on:
“It is hard to believe that Taylor had no idea that the lyrics of her latest single read like a defense of white privilege and white anger — specifically, white people who feel that they are being left behind as other races and groups start to receive dignity and legally recognized rights. “We will not be replaced” and “I don’t like your kingdom keys” are not different in tone or message.”
I read this as saying anything along the lines of “I will not be ignored” with a little anger thrown in is saying something similar to the white nationalist motto. Again, it’s just, in my opinion, bad form.
The closest the author comes to making any kind of actual connection is in the use of two images. The author writes:
“At one point in the accompanying music video, Taylor lords over an army of models from a podium, akin to what Hitler had in Nazis Germany. The similarities are uncanny and unsettling.”
The author shows a picture of Swift in a dominatrix outfit (from the video) with two cohorts on either side, alongside an image of Adolf Hitler with what appears to be two senior military officers on either side.
To me, even that is shaky, but it seems to be the closest of all these unreliable connections the author was able to make, even still with the only qualifier being that it’s “interesting”.
Along with an explanation of the eugenics movement—with which the author creates connections between Swift’s “conservative image” on a few occasions—PopFront’s article is rife with glaring inconsistencies of reason and deduction.
I think when you boil it all down, this is the author’s main assumption:
“Taylor Swift is seen as an icon for white supremacists and Nazi movements. Thus, she must be one of them.”
My overall point is that we as media producers need to be more responsible in what we put out there. Yes, we have codified free speech in our constitution, and yes, stamping out free speech is a categorically bad thing. But, what does that say about using it irresponsibly?
I’m very interested to hear readers’ thoughts on this. Whether you agree, or disagree, or have something to point out I might have missed, I look forward to your input. Please, leave a comment below.
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