Friday, April 06, 2007

Fear of the Hood: Dizzee Rascal "Sirens"

Surely the most powerful social commentary to come from a music video in quite some time...

Dizzee Rascal "Sirens"

dir. by W.I.Z.

There is an ongoing debate in the UK over so-called "anti-social youth" who are identified by their penchant for wearing "hoodies." Many public places, such as shopping centers and pubs, have banned hooded customers from entering their establishments. The case is made that gang-bangers and criminally minded kids prefer hoods, primarily because they conceal faces and make it harder for witnesses to identify them later. But most adolescents argue that "hoodies" are simply comfortable and fashionable attire, and that it's unfair to punish the whole for the actions of a few. Thus the "hoodie" has become a symbol of the cultural divide between the older and younger citizens of England.

W.I.Z.'s music video for Dizzee Rascal's "Sirens" is loaded with vibrant imagery, but one of its most quietly potent ideas centers around Dizzee's choice of attire. The hooded jacket he wears (and is forced to remove) is about more than a conflict between young and old though, it's the fear of the unknown itself. It's about those in power being afraid of "difference," of what they don't understand and can't see. And it's about exploiting those in a weaker position without concern for the long-term effects it has on society at-large.

Then of course there is the monumental foxhunt, which heightens the power of the video with piercing surrealistic metaphors. The uniform of choice for these men and women is the same tight red coats hunters in England have been wearing for centuries, an equally loaded symbol of status and class. These "sportsmen" break down Dizzee's door as he casually works on music with his brother (or son). Remember that the video begins with peaceful silence, there is no sign of any "anti-social" youth out for havoc in the night until the hunters lure the "fox" out of its hole.

W.I.Z. constructs every frame with an obsessive attention to detail. Dizzee walks by a wall spray-painted "only cowards steal from the poor." Later the galloping horses pass a yellow sign that reads "Smile! You're on CCTV" - implicating the government in this witch hunt. And when Dizzee reaches out to a woman for help, she turns him away while we notice a "Neighborhood Watch" sticker on her window. The look in her eyes is an assumption of guilt - a hooded black man turns up at her window asking for help (even if she knows who he is) and she has no intention of letting him in.

Race is of course a major factor in this equation. What is really hidden under that hood is Dizzee's black skin, his dark unknown face. When he removes his coat the director cuts to a shot of a women sensually admiring his body, and it isn't just about the sexualization of the black man's physical form. It's the power gained from reducing a human to a literal slab of meat - the thrill of seeing your intense fear thrown out in the open, vulnerable and weak. A type of blood lust.

It was common practice to rub the blood of the captured fox on the cheeks and forehead of the newest member of the hunt. Thus the cycle of discrimination and class mentality is easily passed along to the next generation. Yet on the other side Dizzee's young friend also witnesses the absurdity of the scene, and is now destined to be one of those "anti-social" youths. Dizzee is paranoid about "the sirens coming" precisely because he knows he is a target of law enforcement by default, the hood is almost a necessity.

But this cycle of fear and difference originates in higher and older places than the London city police. The young lady who receives the celebratory blood on her face is wearing a necklace with a small gold replica of the Queen's crown. Foxhunting itself is believed to be an off-shoot of the "royal" game of stag-hunting, which the Queen herself still plays to this day (thanks for that Helen Mirren). What greater symbol of the continued influence of class divisions on British society than the still (uselessly) present Royal Family?

On one of the horses that chase the black Dizzee Rascal down the street, W.I.Z. zooms in on a bundle of rope hanging from the white rider's saddle. We may not want to remember what upper class fear of difference and exploitation of the weak has led to in the past, but it's no coincidence the head of a foxhunting group carries the chilling title of "master." It's the most subtle and daring statement in a video chock full of them.


Anonymous said...

"which hunt"? where wolf? ;-)

Anonymous said...

thanks for pointing that out progosk. it's been a long week. and you're probably right about the werewolves thing, with the full moon and all, i just couldn't fit it in.

a said...

Why do black kids feel the need to wear a baseball cap and then a hoodie? even when its hot? Why?

Anonymous said...

great analysis - astute and revealing.

Anonymous said...

whoa, an eye-opener analysis indeed. I wonder how it relates to the song itself. Got the lyrics?

Anonymous said...

i dislike the song...but the video is ok. but we all know...when you see someone wearing a hoody and a cap, they are out for trouble..end of

Anonymous said...

Ah, yes, good analysis. However, in the song itself Dizzee refers to trying to find drugs 'looking for something to eat ... that shit that if you're caught you'll be easily arrested', and that the police were coming to talk to him about a fight 'took me to the station - 8:30 - from a fight that I had recently', and also to mugging 'show me what you got, better give it up quickly, lay 'em on dey back if they chat back swiftly', and even to 'snitching', meaning that arrest is probably something he deserves.

However, the repetition of 'I break the law, I will never change', implies that the fact that he would probably be seen as a criminal and suffer the stigma of it anyway, and that because the police/public/upper class believe he cannot change due to his race/background, he has come to believe this and has decided that he will not change. He could also be referring to the developing culture of being proud of criminal activity.

I haven't put that very well, but I'm presuming you'll know what I mean anyway.

Anonymous said...

good lord man. That's deep. Keep it up, you just got my first subscription lol.

Anonymous said...

This is a brilliant video, and it's also a great song. But the sound of Dizzee shouting about breaking the law has to lie ambiguously between social commentary and just acting like a rudeboy. Not good enough.

Framescourer said...

Incidentally, further to your identification of the symbolic details scattered about the video, we see a sign at one point naming the housing block as the 'Orgreave Estate'. Orgreave was the site of a classic establishment/working class confrontation at the height of the miners' strikes of the early 1980s:

Anonymous said...

here the lyrics:

CHORUS : blurt when you hear the sirens coming, i can hear the sirens coming, better run when you hear the sirens coming, i can hear the sirens coming

VERSE 1: 1 to the 2 to the 3 to the 4, limehouse police knocking at ma door , 12 black boots on ma bedroom floor,what they want with rascal im not sure, took me to the station eight thirty for a fight i had recently, say they got me on cctv, and the black boyz told on me, cant understand why these boyz keep snitchin, cant understand why these boyz keep bitchin, now im hot tempered feel like switchin, cant stand still trigger finger itching, gotta stay calm, gotta keep ma cool, if i go jail ill be a dam fool, gotta rise up gotta stand up tall, cant let them see the end of dizzee rascal

CHORUS X 2 : blurt when you hear the sirens coming,i can hear the sirens coming, better run when you hear the sirens coming, i can hear the sirens coming

yo man, lets take it bak to the old skool story telling sh*t, get me!

VERSE 2: 1 day i was with ma breddrin Aido roaming the street, on the main road hungry looking for summin 2 eat, not no burger and chips itz easy digested, its the sh*t that if your caught ur be easily arrested, we was on a robbing spree, i forgot to mention Clayton was this bredda rolling with us he was scared and it was blatant he was prang,back to the story aida spotted a man, straight ahead of us in the distance with his wifey holdin' hands, so we followed them into this little alleyway into the flats, when we thought the time was perfect we cracked up an we attacked, I took the first swing, unexpected causing panic, we was ruthless causing agony in public it was tragic, me an aida lost the plot, acting like we were from hell, beat the bredda to the floor, beat his wifey up aswell, Clayton stood back, shaken wishin that he never came, then from out of nowhere was alicia screamin out my name, shes at my school, she saw it all, and she cryin, and to make it worse i'm hearin sirens, i aint even tryna hide, blud when you hear the sirens coming,i can hear the sirens coming, better run when you hear the sirens coming, i can hear the sirens coming.

I break the law i will never change
step into ma soul get your whole face rearranged

Anonymous said...

Funny to think of all the white, middle class, liberals who actually like this n****r anthem, getting mugged by the likes of 'Rascal'.......hilarious!

Anonymous said...

Funny to think that you have nothing better to do than to watch videos made by people that are more successful in life than you and then to talk shit about it to make yourself feel better... definitely gave me a laugh. Wish you were the one being hunted you ignorant racist.

Depth of Focus Videographies: Radiohead / Bjork / Michael Jackson / Bowie