Friday, September 18, 2009

use racially coded jungle settings to promote world peace

And now, some Friday music.

Have you heard of Sir Ivan? He's a well-intentioned performer of techno music with an interesting background (see below).

I really wonder just what Sir Ivan was thinking when he made the following music video. He appears here in his getup as "Peaceman" (complete with billowing cape), who springs into action to spread world peace by, um . . . getting tribal Africans to stop fighting and start loving?

Will this tired setup of individualized white performers backed by anonymous black people, in jungles and other settings, ever die?

At least when the California Milk Processor Board made a video like this to promote milk, they seemed to be parodying such racist, colonialist configurations (but then, maybe not).

"Sir Ivan" is the creation of a U.S. citizen named Ivan Wilzig. According to Wikipedia,

"Sir" Ivan L. Wilzig (born c. 1956) or Peaceman is a musician who is best known for techno remixes of 1960s songs such as "Imagine" and "San Francisco". He is also founder of the nonprofit Peaceman Foundation. . . . Wilzig is the son of the late Siegbert (Siggi) Wilzig, who as a penniless German Holocaust survivor earned a fortune through finance. 59 of Ivan Wilzig's relatives were killed during the Holocaust. Ivan was born in Newark and grew up in Clifton, New Jersey as the oldest of the Wilzig children. . . .

He and his brother, Alan Wilzig, assisted his father in running the Trust Company Bank of New Jersey. Most of Ivan Wilzig's work at the bank was in public relations and marketing; he tried one year as a corporate lawyer but hated it. In 2000 "Sir Ivan" abandoned his banking career to begin a career in music.

According to Sir Ivan's web site, he also established The Peaceman Foundation,

a private foundation which supports an array of charities dedicated to fighting Hate Crimes and treating the victims of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Sir Ivan is donating 100 percent of his recording artist net profits from his album to his Peaceman Foundation. To further promote peace through his music and foundation, Sir Ivan always performs in peace capes, which has earned him the title “PEACEMAN,” the rock star superhero fighting for peace.

These efforts seem noble, and Sir Ivan's music has apparently acquired a fair number of fans, so charity funds are presumably reaching some people who could use them. Nevertheless, this video for his version of "Kumbaya" needs to be called out. Its arrangement of one white body and a lot of black bodies revives, as if from a collective white unconscious, a fantasized, paternalistic relationship. This is an old dream, a fantasy about superior white men who bestow their benevolence upon inferior, primitive, alternately childish and hypersexualized African "natives."

The problems with this fantasy are, of course, multiple and complex. The presumptuous white supremacy that has helped to justify several centuries of suffering and resource-plundering remains within the collective white psyche. This lingering presumption provides white people, even those with the best, most "charitable" intentions, with ready-made narrative structures. These narratives place white individuals at the center, and non-white, non-Western people at their service. Even today, as Sir Ivan and his Peace cape demonstrate, inserting oneself into such a narrative structure tends to produce little more than self-aggrandizing displays of white Western oblivion, arrogance, and ultimately, abuse.

However sincere Sir Ivan's philanthropic efforts may be, he does Africans (and other colonialized people) no favors with this portrayal of both them, and of himself in relation to them.


  1. yeah.. the video is overdone with the tired, cliched "White Male Savior" theme... however, that is good he's donating all his money to help a noble cause.

    I guess I really can't hate on him.

  2. I've watched the video a couple of times now and I'm not seeing any white people in it doing all the evil things described in the post. I see a Jewish guy, but no white guys.

  3. On a serious note, I wonder if this guy's experience as a member of a Jewish family that suffered through the Holocaust is inspiring him to comment on African political violence (Rwanda, Somalia, Darfur, Nigeria, Congo, Zimbabwe etc.)?

  4. OMG, that video is so racist. It's like so many different kinds of wrong rolled into one.

    Good analysis.

  5. @Vick said... "I see a Jewish guy, but no white guys."

    Are you really that stupid? Jewish guys ARE white guys. It's like saying, I don't see any birds only penguins.

  6. Additional messages that I'm seeing in the video in addition to the "White Male Saviour":

    Black men and/or people from Africa are inherently violent.

    Africans are primitive, black, and male. (Until the Westerner intervenes, and then up pop the women--where were they hiding?)

    and it's OK to objectify these women if it's in the name of peace!

    Don't get me started on the dancing.

  7. The i mage he is portraying in the video is a little old.
    Its time the world moved on from this

  8. Great post, but I think creating "fantasized, paternalistic relationships" is simply stuff western people do -- whether or not they're white. For example, this video reminds me of Alicia Keys "Superwoman" video. One of the characters is identified simply on her website as "the African" one of five women who is "super" (in this case because she has to go for miles to get water for her family.) I'm sure Alicia means well, but I don't like that all the continent's women (who in real life play a diversity of roles from Guinean judges, Yoruba market women, Sowo congresswomen, etc. ) get reduced to one stereotype "the African," and I also don't like the trope of the African American woman speaking for the African woman who is rendered as what African female scholar Oyeronke Oyewumi calls (not referring to this video) "this bestial imagery using the depiction of the beast of burden arguably, the dominant image of the African woman today. Elsewhere, I have argued that the belabored image of the overworked African woman complements the image of African men as lazy and indolent in traditional Africanist discourse."

  9. Wow. I didn't know they made a video during the Scramble for Africa. It smacks of the justification for colonization.

  10. Seriously what the hell stop over analyzing, It is a video about Peace. Not about "White Male Savior" This is Peaceman not some new age rendition of Rudyard Kiplinger poem "White Man's Burden"

  11. Vick,

    Jewish people certainly have their own set of issues that they're up against, but for all intents and purposes, in the United States, Jewish men are white. Absolutely white. Power white.

  12. Power White how fucking dare you claim that The Wilzigs are Power White, His father Siggi if you brats did your homework was the only Jewish Banker brave enough to stand up against the Federal Reserve and the Power Whites who were bothered at the success of this hard working Jewish American Family. For you to claim that Jewish Americans are part of the WASP Elite is preposterous.

    You are all Wrong in your assumptions of Jewish Identity and the meaning of this video (Julia, Macon'D and Jillian)

  13. I don't think anyone here is claiming the Wilzig's are "power white" (though it is true that Jews in America who look white have become white). My claim is that the video itself is a sad recreation of white colonialism that objectifies and primitivizes (if that's a word) black bodies. Also, take another look at lysse's comment above mine.

    Do you see the difference, from what you think is being said here?

  14. @Baby's Breath:

    Good point. What you said reminds me of USA for Africa - We Are The World with many African American artists, including Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie.

  15. Personally, I'm shaking my head at the irony of seeing a jewish guy, who is likely significantly motivated by the Holocaust, getting attacked by a pack of strident PC types for being a racist.

    I think it would be interesting to hear from the Peaceman, Mr. Wilzig, himself, and hear his defense of his work. Perhaps someone should let him know his vid is "being called out" for racism over here and invite him to respond. After all, what's the point in "calling it out" if the author of the work doesn't even know he's being "called out?"

  16. So Jewish people can't be racist? Good motivations mean you can't be racist? Racism can be dismissed as being pc?

  17. Just b/c he's a Jewish person who has done good things does not mean he isn't capable of racist behavior--which he clearly is.

  18. It's almost amusing. Some (most) white people really don't see how this video is racist.

  19. Well this is an interesting issue:

    Is this video racist? Perhaps, perhaps not.

    Many people have defined racism to me as a discriminatory action (discrimination is the action of drawing distinctions between two groups) forced upon a group by another possessing more power.

    This is why things like affirmative action are not classified as racist - they are designed to raise the power of a group that lacks it. According to this definition, any program that draws distinctions (therefore being discriminatory) can not be racist unless designed to aid a group holding the majority of the power.

    So, this video is ONLY racist if "peaceman" can be tied into a group that holds "all of the power". While it may be debatable in some paranoid circles to declare Jews a "majority power" in America would be farcical to the level of Henry Ford's rantings on Zionism. Therefore, by the accepted definition of racism, as only possibly preformed by a majority power, to define this man as white, and not Jewish, is very, very important.

    Are jews white? That depends on defining white, which to some is broad, and some is not. To some people a black man wearing a turtleneck (Star Trek) is "white". To others anyone lacking blue eyes and blond hair is black.

    But to answer the short questions:

    Is this video potentially offensive? Yes.

    Does it draw an uncomfortable dichotomy? Yes.

    Is it difficult to watch due to the obvious comparison between blacks, and animals? Yes.

    Is this going to seriously damage the psyche of anyone, black, white or green? No.

    Should anyone care about, or belittle, the tired rantings of an old man just wanting peace? No.

  20. I'm not sure where this belongs*, but: has anyone else seen this Miley Cyrus video? Painful. And not just 'cause it's, well, Miley Cyrus.

    * There was also a thread somewhere about performing in front of anonymous Asians, although in this case it would probably have to be anonymous POC.


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