Musing the muse

When Lucien Freud’s painting Benefits Supervisor Sleeping was sold last week for £17.2m arts columns nationwide began murmuring about capitalism, commodity culture and – crucially – the role of the artist’s muse. Indeed, as the writer Joanna Moorhead points out, the silent, subservient, selfless (and almost without exception female) muse is an uncomfortable concept for today’s society. It was, therefore, reassuring to hear Freud’s model Sue Tilley speaking for herself. However other arts news this week suggests that the shadow of the muse is not confined to an outdated concept. Chloe Garner’s campaign for a female Poet Laureate serves as quiet reminder that the master in masterpiece is not incidental. Garner, the director of the Ledbury Poetry Festival, has done much to draw attention to the fact that the prestigious position has, since its creation in 1668, never been held by a woman. In a letter to the Queen and Gordon Brown Garner stated: "Nothing in the rules actually debars women and there are many splendid female poets from all generations writing and performing in Britain today."

Exhibitions in Manchester and Sydney have, albeit for very different reasons, prompted heated debate this week about issues of privacy and cultural censorship. Manchester Museum’s decision to shroud its collection of Eygptian mummies was announced at the same time that police in Australia censored a http://livenews.com.au/Articles/2008/05/22/Photo_exhibition_...">photography exhibition on account of its ‘unacceptable’ content. Bill Henson's photographs of naked teenagers have been condemned as an assault on children’s privacy and his exhibition has been temporarily closed amid concerns about child pornography. Meanwhile Manchester Museum’s actions to cover the remains of three unwrapped mummies has ignited a discussion about ethical curation and whether it is respectful to display the dead. The decisions of both institutions have forced artists, curators and the public to question where the boundaries between the observer and the observed should lie.

Spike Lee also ruffled feathers this week after criticising the absence of black actors in two of Clint Eastwood’s Second World War films. Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima present the 1945 Battle of Iwo Jima from American and Japanese perspectives respectively. Lee, an African-American director known for his films Malcolm X and Do the Right Thing made his observation whilst attending a press conference at Cannes to promote his new film Miracle St Anna. He commented: “There were many African-Americans who survived that war and who were upset at Clint for not having one [in the films]. That was his version: the negro soldier did not exist. I have a different version.” Lee further claimed that Eastwood had been informed that around 8% of the soldiers who fought in the battle were black but had chosen not to represent this in his portrayal. Miracle St Anna will tell the story of the all-black 92nd Buffalo Division, which fought the Germans in Italy.

Producers in Broadway have announced that they are planning a musical to celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela. Based on the memoirs of his daughter Zindzi Mandela it will tell the story of his struggle against apartheid and his twenty seven years in prison. Countering various misgivings about the choice of genre Zindzi said "freedom songs were so important to the morale of the people, so it's natural for the story to be told with music." However, whilst the battle against apartheid is being celebrated in Broadway John Pilger's report for The New Statesman describes how South Africa continues to struggle.

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Katy Perry’s new song is not so much Chained to the Rhythm as Chained to a Black Mirror episode

The video for “Chained to the Rhythm” is overwhelmingly pastel and batshit crazy. Watch out, this satire is sharp!

If you’ve tuned into the radio in the last month, you might have heard Katy Perry’s new song, “Chained to the Rhythm”, a blandly hypnotic single that’s quietly, creepingly irresistible.

If you’re a really attuned listener, you might have noticed that the lyrics of this song explore that very same atmosphere. “Are we crazy?” Perry sings, “Living our lives through a lens?”

Trapped in our white picket fence
Like ornaments
So comfortable, we’re living in a bubble, bubble
So comfortable, we cannot see the trouble, trouble
Aren’t you lonely?
Up there in utopia
Where nothing will ever be enough
Happily numb

The chorus muses that we all “think we’re free” but are, in fact, “stumbling around like a wasted zombie, yeah.” It’s a swipe (hehe) at social media, Instagram culture, online dating, whatever. As we all know, modern technology is Bad, people who take photos aren’t enjoying the moment, and glimpses other people’s Perfect Lives leave us lonely and empty. Kids these days just don’t feel anything any more!!!

The video for this new song was released today, and it’s set in a (get this) METAPHORICAL AMUSEMENT PARK. Not since Banky’s Dismaland have we seen such cutting satire of modern life. Walk with me, through Katy Perry’s OBLIVIA.

Yes, the park is literally called Oblivia. Get it? It sounds fun but it’s about oblivion, the state of being unaware or unconscious, i.e. the state we’re all living in, all the time, because phones. (I also personally hope it’s a nod to Staffordshire’s own Oblivion, but cannot confirm if Katy Perry has ever been on the Alton Towers classic steel roller coaster.)

The symbol of the park is a spaced-out gerbil thing, because, aren’t we all caged little hairy beings in our own hamster wheels?! Can’t someone get us off this never-ending rat race?!

We follow Katy as she explores the park – her wide eyes take in every ride, while her peers are unable to look past the giant iPads pressed against their noses.


You, a mindless drone: *takes selfies with an iPad*
Katy Perry, a smart, engaged person: *looks around with actual human eyes, stops to smell the roses*

She walks past rides, and stops to smell the roses – and the pastel-perfect world is injected with a dose of bright red reality when she pricks her finger on a thorn. Cause that’s what life really is, kids! Risk! At least she FEELS SOMETHING.


More like the not-so-great American Dream, am I right?!

So Katy (wait, “Rose”, apparently) takes her seat on her first ride – the LOVE ME ride. Heteronormative couples take their seats against either a blue heart or a pink one, before being whizzed through a tunnel of Facebook reaction icons.

Is this a comment on social media sexism, or a hint that Rose is just too damn human for your validation station? Who knows! All we can say for sure is that Katy Perry has definitely seen the Black Mirror episode “Nosedive”:

Now, we see a whole bunch of other rides.


Wait time: um, forever, because the human condition is now one of permanent stasis and unsatisfied desires, duh.

No Place Like Home is decorated with travel stamps and catapults two of the only black people in the video out of the park. A searing comment on anti-immigrant rhetoric/racism? Uh, maybe?

Meanwhile, Bombs Away shoots you around like you’re in a nuclear missile.


War: also bad.

Then everyone goes and takes a long drink of fire water (?!?!) at Inferno H2O (?!?!) which is also a gas station. Is this about polluted water or petrol companies or… drugs? Or are we just so commercialised even fire and water are paid-for privileges? I literally don’t know.

Anyway, Now it’s time for the NUCLEAR FAMILY SHOW, in 3D, no less. Rose is last to put her glasses on because, guess what? She’s not a robot. The show includes your typical 1950s family ironing and shit, while hamsters on wheels run on the TV. Then we see people in the rest of theme park running on similar wheels. Watch out! That satire is sharp.

Skip Marley appears on the TV with his message of “break down the walls to connect, inspire”, but no one seems to notice accept Rose, and soon becomes trapped in their dance of distraction.


Rose despairs amidst the choreography of compliance.

Wow, if that didn’t make you think, are you even human? Truly?

In many ways – this is the Platonic ideal of Katy Perry videos: overwhelmingly pastel, batshit crazy, the campest of camp, yet somehow walking the fine line between self-ridicule and terrifying sincerity. It might be totally stupid, but it’s somehow still irresistible.

But then I would say that. I’m a mindless drone, stumbling around like a wasted zombie, injecting pop culture like a prescription sedative.

I’m chained…………. to the rhythm.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.