Roach in our class reading of “Echoes in the Bones” discussed how performers are thrown into the roles of effigies, often becoming “alternatively ostracized and overvalued.” After bringing up celebrity names such as Kim Kardashian, Angelina Jolie, Tom Hanks, etc., I started thinking about public figures that throw themselves into the roles of effigies and how this differs from what Roach brings up. The first example of this that came into my mind was Beyoncé and her Super Bowl 50 performance.
During her performance, Beyoncé and her backup dancers made a political statement: they dressed in all black, wearing berets and afros, and choreographed dances that drew ties to the Black Panthers– not that I condone militancy against police. Not only this, but Beyoncé performed a new song, “Formation”, that praised black culture, criticized police brutality, supported the Black Lives Matter movement, and reminded viewers of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. During one of the most watched events of the year, where the only divide between people is their team affiliation, Beyoncé used her platform to show that people are suffering, being oppressed, and there are more important conflicts to address. She offered herself up as an effigy so that the American people could remember the inequality, prejudice, and immorality African Americans faced before and during the Civil Right’s era– and today– and change it. This demonstration was not well received.
As Roach said, performers offer themselves as effigies where their bodies are “adored and despised.” I would say that making a political statement during the biggest football game of the year, where some people are only concerned with their team’s score and partying, myself included, shifts the scale to “despise” for some. People don’t want to be bothered by social issues and the inequity of fellow citizens during their football game. They can’t drown out the visual performance in front of them with the crunch of potato chips or cheering for their team, just like they can’t drown out violent social inequity with thoughts and prayers, and they can’t prevent drowning an entire city because of government incompetence; people don’t want to be reminded of this. People like former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani said that Beyoncé’s performance was “outrageous” and many others thought it was distasteful and not the time for protest, including Tomi Lahren who bashed Beyoncé for “politicizing” the Super Bowl. A short disclaimer being, not everyone who watched this performance has this view, some believed Beyoncé’s performance was a necessary reminder for change. For many others, Beyoncé’s statement, and the overarching issues of inequity and violence, had no place at a classic American event; again, people didn’t want to be reminded. For days and weeks afterwards, Beyoncé was simultaneously ostracized and her message was greatly undervalued. I couldn’t help but wonder, was it because she made herself an effigy, rather than being asked to do so? What does it say about a culture when its people cherrypick when it’s an appropriate time to talk about change? Maybe performers as effigies are alternatively ostracized and overvalued, or simultaneously ostracized and undervalued, because people only want to be reminded at certain times and forget at others.