The NFL Are Trying To Censor The World's Most Important Pop Star

They're demanding $1.5 million from M.I.A after the singer infamously flipped the "middle-finger" at the Superbowl.

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20 September 2013, 3:53pm

Each year, at the beginning of February, Britons gather in pubs and lounges and pretend to give a shit about another sport that involves a football. It’s all part of the NFL Superbowl, a worldwide-televised event that gives people a justified reason to stay up until 5AM drinking imported beer and eating hot dogs.

The main reason everyone outside of America watches the Superbowl is the half-time show. In past years we’ve seen Beyonce (feat Destiny's Child), The Who, and Janet Jackson’s nipples. Almost every Superbowl is watched by millions of people, but according to Nielsen ratings, the Super Bowl XLVI halftime show remains the most-watched halftime show in history, with over 114 million people tuning in. This show, which was watched by almost as many people as the combined populations of Australia, England and France, featured a performance by MIA. It was great mostly because more than any other pop star, MIA is deserving of such a wide audience. But also because during her performance, MIA did what artists should do, which is speaking their mind. In this case, Maya flipped the bird, while mouthing, “I don’t give a shit”.

Apparently though, the NFL does give a shit. The Hollywood Reporter writes that since March 13, 2012, MIA has been embroiled in a secret legal battle with the league who are demanding $1.5m for an alleged breach of contract and tarnishing the NFL’s goodwill and reputation.

Let’s take a second to quickly click through video evidence of the NFL’s goodwill and reputation.

this:

and this:

And, in case you need more evidence of the good nature of the NFL, let’s remember the time that Cincinnati Bengals Adam “Pacman” Jones was arrested for a myriad of crimes including disorderly conduct, vandalism, drug possession, obstruction of justice, coercion, battery and threat to life. Or Aaron Hernandez, who was charged with first-degree murder. Oh, and, if you missed it, like almost everything in sport, the NFL is steeped in corruption.

Examples, like those above, make the NFL’s claimed reputation for wholesomeness seem like a bad joke. Instead, more than anything, it makes their legal battle with MIA seem not just ridiculous, but another attempt from a corporation in the censoring and shutting down of one of music’s most exciting, polarising, and important figures.

MIA’s importance as a cultural figure cannot be denied or argued. Unlike other self-proclaimed political artists, who claim to have an agenda beyond releasing tracks with a message that’s forgotten as soon as they’ve cashed their cheque, MIA is actively involved in humanitarian issues.

In 2010, her video for “Born Free” was banned from YouTube. While many dismissed it as simply being a grotesque clip of a cherub-looking little ginger kid being shot in the head, it was a piece of cinematic brilliance, highlighting ethnic cleansing through a not-so-subtle guise that common people with little understanding of the issue, should understand; the culling of the red-haired minority in place of the culling of the ethnic minority. The subsequent banning of the video, while worse things exist on the site - like real people getting their heads chopped off - like the Superbowl, this pointed toward censorship of an artist.

Each thing that MIA does has reasoning, or a message. Her video for “Bad Girls”, is a fundamentally empowering and unabashed critique of Saudi Arabia's well-known ban against women driving. “Bring The Noize”, which was released earlier this year, with its statement of “it’s not me and you, it’s the fucking banks”, was a pertinent statement in our current political climate of (in her own words) “having to deal with the concept of freedom in more ways than one”. While, in January 2009, as the civil war in Sri Lanka was raging, MIA referred to the situation as a “genocide”. “I wasn’t trying to be like Bono,” Maya told the NY Times. “He’s not from Africa — I’m from there. I’m tired of pop stars who say, ‘Give peace a chance.’ I’d rather say, ‘Give war a chance.’ The whole point of going to the Grammys was to say, ‘Hey, 50,000 people are gonna die next month, and here’s your opportunity to help.’ And no one did.”

Her list of social activism involvement is too long to list – condemning the treatment of the Tamil people by the Sri Lankan government, China’s detrimental influence in the UN, and addressing of the conflicts and oppression of Palestinians and African Americans, to name a few - is a whole other article altogether. Some argue that her art lacks a deep political message, while others allege that MIA has an unsophisticated understanding of politics. But however you feel, her determination cannot be ignored. As Zach Baron wrote in the Village Voice in 2009, her courage in “putting her success and fame on the line to use every opportunity and avenue possible to remind Americans and people around the globe of conflict” is pretty much the most admirable thing going in pop music.

When the NFL invited MIA to perform on their Superbowl halftime show, they were assumedly aware of this fact. It’s well known that the NFL halftime performers are not paid in cash, like interns, they are compensated with exposure. And while Maya didn’t hijack the performance to promote a political agenda, it would be safe to assume that her opting to stick her finger up at the camera wasn’t a immature grasp for attention – as the NFL suggests – but rather, when caught up in the moment, a way of conveying to the largest audience possible, that yes, she “[doesn’t] give a shit”. At least not about a sporting event that grosses over $150 million while her own people are suffering as the rest of the world turns a blind eye.

The Hollywood Reporter states that MIA “refus[ed] to take responsibility or apologise for her actions which were broadcast worldwide”. And, she shouldn’t have to. Wrestlers swear on daytime TV. There are things happening across the globe that are far more offensive than a thousand year old gesture made with your impudent finger. If the NFL had more than a shred of decency, they would be donating money toward helping stop these offenses, rather than, as MIA’s lawyer puts it, 28 rich NFL owners crushing a “brown, outspoken young lady”.

It’s dangerous to state, but by the deliberate inclusion of the term “brown” it’s as if King is pointing toward the racist tendencies that MIA has battled throughout her career. In the trailer for her documentary, which, like her album, has been delayed by her record label, a KROQ DJ suggests that each time they play an MIA track they receive “frantic emails from people who say that MIA is a terrorist”.

MIA is not a terrorist. MIA is not a threat to you. MIA is a threat toward corporations. Not just the NFL, but the US government, and any other global power that refuses to do the job that we’ve trusted them to do. And for that, we should be supporting her.

Anyone who wants to help bolster MIA’s defense against the NFL are encouraged to do so, by emailing NFL@khpblaw.com.

Follow Ryan on Twitter @RyanBassil

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