(SR) # No Church in the Wild

The 7th single from the collaborative album of Jay-Z and Kanye West, Watch the Throne (2011) was released in May, 2012, soon to be followed by the music video of Romain Gavras. Undoubtedly, the fruit of this collaboration is at first sight impressive: a furious mob clashing with riot control squads, molotov cocktails juxtaposed to fireworks, and violent scenes unfolding under the silent gaze of the statues (symbols – or just remnants?- of a glorious past). All in all, the video is set in an epic yet decadent ambient, resulting ambiguous and misleading. While filmed in Prague, the mob principally fits the “benefits looters wearing hoods” description of the 2011 British riots. The film explicitly capitalizes on the aesthetics of the revolt, even if the song has nothing to do with the occupy movements that burst successively across the globe.

Coke on her black skin
Make a stripe like a zebra, I call that jungle fever
You will not control the threesome
Just roll the weed up until I get me some

The lyrics pronounced by the characteristic Kanye West “auto-tune” voice effect do not fit the image. And the song goes on, juxtaposing love, sex, monogamy, religious dogmas and philosophical concepts. Several things get conflated here, and most of them have little – if anything – to do with the undergoing and escalating social unrest.

Surprisingly (?), the video instead of featuring a fast-car-wet T-shirt aesthetics turns to one of the hot issues of our society. Romain Gavras draws on the aestheticization of the violence that overwhelms social protests, offering us slow motion high adrenaline scenes, a recipe he had previously staged in boxing rings or the Arab desert. Compared to the M.I.A “Born Free” clip, however, “No Church in the Wild” has an ambiguous narration. While the former portrays the suppressive methods of an authoritative state – in that case U.S. – the latter stages a fight where both sides clash “for the shake of it”, principally driven by high dose of testosterone.

While certainly this can be the case of several rioters and looters, revolt’s narrations or representations cannot be simplified to a sport or a fight transmission. These are complex phenomena that bind to our political and social structures and therefore need to be examined thoroughly and critically. The recent Greek protests, for example, have witnessed bullying operations by parastatal mechanisms and fascist groups – surviving to date since the devastating civil war (1946-49) – that mislead (in real time – no camera tricks played) and discredit (in media time) the essence of the social demands in question.

In 1969, Costas Gavras (Romain’s father) directed the acclaimed film Z, a political thriller presenting a thinly fictionalized account of the events surrounding the assassination of leftist Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis, in 1963. Z stood for the popular slogan Ζει, meaning “he (Lambrakis) lives.” In an open confrontation with the Greek military junta (1967-1974), Z – featuring the soundtrack of Mikis Theodorakis – read in its credits’ disclaimer: “Any resemblance to real events, to persons living or dead, is not accidental. It is INTENTIONAL.”

Many things have changed since the 1960s and Z, besides the first name of the director. Nevertheless, this example clearly insinuates a shift in the representation of riots and social unrest, in favor of the spectacle. Events and symbols have a firm grip on social imaginary and are therefore used according to the objectives of every director.[1] The only hint left by Romain Gavras in “No Church in the Wild” is the ΕΛ.ΑΣ (the Greek police) logo that decorates the riot control uniforms. Impressionism and opportunism, however, do not generate debate, only comfortable numbness.

Read: The Funambulist “Aesthetization of Violence + Capitalization on the Revolt Imaginary. Yet an Interesting Problem to Question”

Listen: Gil Scott-Heron “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”


[1] Costas Gavra’s “Parthenon” short movie, commissioned by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, did not spare criticism on the Orthodox Church, depicting black glad Christian’s defacing the Parthenon sculptures in (apparently) A.D. 438. A censured version of the clip was projected at the inauguration of the New Acropolis Museum.

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