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Blame it on the Truffle Fries: M.I.A. vs. The New York Times


What a wild week in news. 133, 000 barrels full of crude oil gush through the Gulf of Mexico in the worst environmental catastrophe in American history, Betty White becomes the last living Golden Girl, and now this truffle flavoured French fry thing? Seems the world can’t get a break.

All debate over the vogue of the now infamous truffle fry aside (thank you Village Voice for digging up the truth on this curiously Bourgeois rendition of America’s favourite side order option), this whole thing does pose a question of ethics and integrity, and I’m not talking about M.I.A. posting Lynn Hirschberg’s phone number to her nearly 114, 000 Twitter followers. Juvenile as that may have been, why should M.I.A. put on her grown up face after Hirschberg so tactfully went into their interview with an agenda. The truffle fries, as trivial as they are, are a symbol of this very scheme.

A few days after putting M.I.A. in the Mariah Carey category for eating them, the truth came out from the accused herself: Hirschberg ordered the fries. Hirschberg decided that M.I.A. would eat the fries, and then suggested she had privileged culinary sophistication for doing so. That’s like giving someone a Louis Vuitton handbag and then calling them pretentious for owning it. What it really is, is dirty journalism, to the extreme that the New York Times ultimately printed a retraction to the article, stating that M.I.A. ‘s words were printed out of context. Anyone who’s written for a high school newspaper will know that this can only result in trouble, but perhaps you can’t blame Hirschberg for trying. In a 1992 interview with Courtney Love, she alleged that Love used heroin while pregnant with Frances Bean, and look at the name she earned herself with that. In the same Vanity Fair article, she summed her Love as a “charismatic opportunist”, and not much more.

At the end of the day, M.I.A. is a celebrity. She earns a pay cheque, albeit an enormous one, for doing what she does, and this includes performing in the early stages of labour on the Grammy Awards, which Hirschberg implied was all style, no substance because she had a midwife standing by. (I’m not sure how being prepared to give birth on one’s exact due date is a thing to be looked down on). If you’re going to call M.I.A. a show off for giving one of the most bad ass performances live television has ever seen, then point that very same finger at any celebrity who has ever worn something outlandish, done something foolish in public or purposefully made themselves more famous by attracting media attention. M.I.A. is a singer (so says the title of the retaliated diss- track she posted on her blog), so does it not make perfect sense for her to have performed on a music awards show? And M.I.A. is wealthy, so does it not make sense for her to wind up at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel from time to time, where I’m almost certain the New York Times arranged for this interview to take place? As an activist, does placing oneself inside the cause they’re fighting against help the cause, or set it back? To raise awareness for whatever cause we believe in – be it seeing the end to a war, reducing poverty or hunger or crime – setting ourselves up within the very sphere that we want to eliminate is just as useless as M.I.A. attempting to speak about Sri Lankan politics to a writer known for her slaughterous celebrity profiling.

No one wakes up wearing zebra print overalls and metallic jumpsuits, but MIA, like any good celebrity, is in the business of getting attention. Hirschberg, on the other hand, makes a living by criticizing other people’s French fries – oddly enough a food item that’s found its way into previous interviews with Sean Penn, Bob Berney and more recently, Megan Fox. What was that about agitprop, again?

Carly Lewis

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