M.I.A. v. NYTimes: Who’s Right?

By Daisy Hernandez May 28, 2010

Rapper M.I.A. tweeted off yesterday at New York Times Magazine writer Lynn Hirschberg, apparently in retribution for a profile published this week suggesting the rapper’s naive about politics and more interested in the spectacle than the struggle. In a nod to old high school ploys of calling and hanging up, M.I.A. announced to her 100,000-plus Twitter followers "CALL ME IF YOU WANNA TALK TO ME ABOUT THE N Y T TRUTH ISSUE" — but listed Hirschberg’s phone number instead. M.I.A.’s response was impulsive and childish, but the profile itself is largely catty in a 1970s feminist way. Hirschberg (well-known for a profile she penned alleging that Courtney Love had used drugs knowing she was pregnant, a claim Love still denies) thinks M.I.A., whose real name is Maya Arulpragasam, can’t own a house in uber-white Brentwood and care about social justice. She also accuses Maya of buying street cred by referencing her dad’s political involvement with a Sri Lankan group that preceded the now famous Tamil Tigers. But it’s not clear how much of that has ever been Maya or the press. The only evidence Hirschberg gives for this kind of appropriation is that the rapper named her first album after her father (the second was named after her mom) and that she supports the rebel group who was defeated last year by the Sri Lankan government. That doesn’t quite add up to using and abusing daddy’s political struggle for a record deal. In her reporting, Hirschberg tracks down a political expert who’s annoyed that Maya called the bloody conflict in Sri Lanka a “genocide,” but she fails to mention that the UN is putting pressure on the government to account for the almost 12,000 people that families say went missing during the last years of the almost 30-year-old conflict. Was it genocide? The jury’s still out on that but it’s rather odd to not mention that the UN is asking questions. Hirschberg does make one good point: Maya’s Born Free video in which a child is shot in in the head missed making the kind of political statement the rapper was hoping for. YouTube yanked the video, music critics concurred and Maya threw a fit (again on Twitter). Hirschberg’s profile confirms the impression people already have of Maya: she created her musical success by drawing on elements of the crazy world she grew up in, a world fractured by armed conflict and race issues. If she’s exploiting that experience, Hirschberg doesn’t make a compelling case. Image by Danepstein