Instead of dealing with anything hard, the article juxtaposes the musician’s wealth with her desire to be an outsider and promote social justice, as though those things were incompatible. I must have missed the part where we don’t want rich people to care about others.

…Instead of examples like these, which could shed light not only on M.I.A.’s effect on politics but also politics’ effect on M.I.A., the article focuses on (mis?)characterizing her lifestyle. She eats French fries? Likes olive bread? Lives in Brentwood? I don’t really care. I’m not compelled by the argument that her greatest political failure is claiming to care about people while being rich.

V.V. Ganeshananthan

Money, it’s a hit
Don’t give me that do goody good bullshit

— Pink Floyd

Friedrich Engels was a rich kid, but Karl Marx was happy to take the money Engels earned while working for his father’s business, along with the royalties from his book, Conditions of the Working Class in England, to survive and write his own somewhat influential works. Clearly, the important question was whether Engels was just slumming to raise his profile though.

Now, I’m not particularly interested in M.I.A. or Sri Lankan politics, and of course there are plenty of ready-made-for-mocking bored dilettantes who think it would be like totally rawkin’ to be a revolutionary guerrilla leader and inspire the masses with their deep thoughts or cool fashions or whatevs. But Hirschberg’s incredibly lazy framework is just as stupid and irritating — a knee-jerk assumption that money inevitably compromises ideals, and a rarely-stated but always-implied notion that personal purity is more important than actions performed. I suppose switching the focus to a vague and ultimately unknowable question about what the subject really feels deep down in their heart of hearts is a way to keep an endless, pointless argument going, a way to give the appearance of transformative action while remaining comfortable and jaded. Mark Ames once acerbically noted how entrenched this mindset is in what passes for a radical left in America:

“Armed with nothing more than a movie camera, Moore shames a corporation into making a moral decision. What’s odd about this sort of engagement, though, is that it avoids the hard work of forming movements that could press for change. No need for that when Michael Moore, with just his camera, microphone, and baseball cap, can come to the rescue.” The envy here is so apparent that it almost makes you cringe. It worked! Oh shit! It’s not supposed to actually work! Leftism is all about academic conferences and papers, not changing policy! It should take 30 or 40 years, not a few weeks or days. That is what is so “odd” – rather than “pressing for change,” Moore actually changed, upsetting the olde guild.

The author of this article, Kevin Mattson, is an American academic, a left-wing Ohio University professor, so you can imagine that his life is excruciatingly dull, his impact on his frat-jock students somewhere between nil and negative-nil, and he doesn’t want to think that somehow, this late in the game, he’s the one who’s gone about it all wrong. Moore makes Mattson and his type look like chumps and frauds – in fact, he threatens their pat jobs as much as the Right because he might flush them out of their campus offices. Mattson even admits so much: “Moore’s defenders will claim I’m jealous because I lack a camera and large audience and my views are consigned to small magazines. I grant the point…I am not against humor (ask my friends). But I am worried about what happens to the vision of the left when it plays on the grounds of the sound-bite society.” Yeah, if we all just set up more committees and publish more obscure articles in more obscure magazines, the Revolution will finally come. Just ask Mattson’s friends, they’ll tell ya.

One of the most common attacks you hear on famous advocates for causes like Moore and Al Gore is that they’re filthy rich, so you can’t trust anything they have to say (and how jarring it is to hear this sentiment from Republicans! I always ask my wingnut relatives, “So, you’d listen to him, then, if he gave all his money and possessions to charity and spent his time holding forth from a park bench, or would you in turn just mock him for being a lunatic?”) But unfortunately, media access and the chance to reach an audience requires money, power and connections, things that tend to be in short supply when you renounce Leviathan and retreat to a hermitage in the wilderness. How often does lasting social change occur without some big money eventually lending support? It’s a pretty story and all, the one about the Noble Proletariat Sustained Only By Purity of Vision and Strength of Heart, but it’s also a fucking myth.