The Audacity of Erykah Badu

The "Window Seat" video is controversial, but don't call it art.

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Because by this time next week the world will have moved on from the Erykah Badu controversy, let me say a little sumthin' sumthin' about Ms. Badu's striptease in Dealey Plaza, where John F. Kennedy bought it 47 years ago.

Let me make it clear from the jump.  I am not a prude, puritan or someone with a hang-up about nudity. I do not hate black women or consider myself some sort of social conservative. 

It just seems like if you're not applauding the audacity of Erykah Badu's bare-it-all video, "Window Seat," you're going to be branded as some sort of slob who doesn't recognize art when it's standing there in front of your eyes.


If you're a fan of Ms. Badu, good for you, but there is nothing remotely artistic about getting naked in front of unsuspecting strangers, including children.   An artist's right to express their art does not trump community standards of decency.

It's not art. It's crass commerce. She's got a new album out and now she has people talking about her. Andres Serrano took a leak in a jar, dropped a crucifix in it, snapped a photo of it, dubbed it "Piss Christ" and drove Jesse Helms nuts.

Pushing the envelope? Confronting and challenging society's mores? Artistic expression? Sure. But there are limits to pushing, confronting, challenging and expression. All of those things can be done in public with your clothes on and without deciding for yourself what children should or should not see.

What in the world is even remotely "artistic" about stripping down to your birthday suit in public and giving unsuspecting daddies, mommies and kiddies a nice long look at your humps and lady lumps?  Where's the next video going to be shot?  On an elementary school's playground during recess?  Artistry does not require walking around butt naked.


About the only thing that didn't work according to plan were Badu's hope she would be arrested on the spot (the video director brought the bail money since Badu didn't have any pockets). Because if she had been arrested, the publicity machine would have been goosed a thousand-fold.  The news channels would have gone nuts repeatedly showing some big, burly cop making a nude black woman/hip-hop star do a perp walk with her pixilated T&A hanging out.

(Apparently, the Dallas Police Department can be counted among the unwashed masses; they decided to issue a disorderly conduct citation to Ms. Badu.   Don't they have an appreciation for guerrilla film making and an artist using the public square as her canvas?)

Yeah, I could see Erykah working here. This is cool, but where's the po-po? I'm missing a chance to be all over cable and Entertainment Tonight being interviewed over how I suffered for my art.

Art?
What an abused word.  When nothing can be judged lest one be dubbed a knuckled-dragging slob, anything can be called "art." By that extremely loose standard any lounge singer torturing the Great American Songbook in a half-empty bar on Friday night can claim they're an "artist." Those poor bastards who get bounced from American Idol can walk away muttering, "Philistines. You can't recognize true artistry when you're in the presence of it."

Like "genius," the word "artist" is applied far too casually to people who are undeserving of the title. There's a difference between popularity and artistry and we need to recognize the difference.   When you strip away (no pun intended) all the pretentious hype, what's revealed is a mid-list musician engaging in cheap theatrics to generate some buzz for her new album.  Mission accomplished. 

This is a capitalist country and no one can fault Badu for trying to move product.  Just don't try to sell me this notion that this display of exhibitionism struck a blow for an artist's vision, integrity and willingness to flaunt social conventions, because that's just perpetratin'.

I wonder if all the folks applauding Badu's naked stroll through the place where JFK's brains were splattered over his wife's pink outfit would feel the same way had she chosen Dr. King's memorial in Atlanta instead?  

As for Erykah Badu, what's so brave or avant-garde about walking around and getting naked to the shock and awe of the rubes? For five bucks and a bottle of Boone's Farm, I could go downtown and find a homeless bag lady to do the same thing.

Jeff Winbush is the former editor of The Columbus Post newspaper and a freelance journalist.  His blog, The Domino Theory, can be found on his Web site.

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