There have been many arguments about Beyoncé’s halftime performance since it took place about a few weeks ago. Some groups have claimed that it was anti-police, that Beyoncé supports a hate group, or that the show itself had no place being at the Super Bowl whatsoever. Some people have even claimed that Beyoncé is racist and that they are personally offended by her show. A group of particularly offended viewers even started a campaign to protest at the NFL headquarters, while the folks over at SNL dramatized these ridiculous reactions. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but it is possible for your opinion to just be wrong, especially if it’s based on a lack of understanding or incorrect information. This has been the case with the Beyoncé performance, and the key ingredient that has led to all of the so-called “controversy” over the dance number is the lack of analytical context.
As most people with a high school level education know, context is important for fully understanding any sort of text or media. M. Night Shyamalan didn’t make a bunch of random objects red in The Sixth Sense because he just really enjoys that color; he did it to send a signal of danger to the audience at those moments in the film. Understanding the context of when something was created can also shed light on the text being analyzed. It’s hard to see why something like The Birth of a Nation was ever successful given our modern viewing of it, but looking at it in the context of its release date in 1915, and understanding the social sphere and technological age of that time helps put it into perspective. This is why context is especially important for Beyoncé’s performance; it is jam packed with symbolism that one might not understand unless they view it in the right light. That’s what this article is for: to condense these points of miscommunication between the text and the audience by putting them into the context that they should be viewed in, rather than whatever perspective the offended individual was looking at it with. So, if you found yourself thinking any of the following things or agreeing with them on Facebook, here’s what you might be missing from your understanding and how to correct this thought process before you misinterpret some other future pop cultural event:
1. “She’s supporting The Black Panther Party, which was a HATE GROUP. That’s basically the same thing as a white dude wearing a KKK outfit on stage!”
The main issue with this logic is the correlation between the KKK and the Black Panther Party. Many people link the two together solely for their inclinations toward violence and racially specific inceptions, but putting the two groups into the historical context of their times can easily correct this comparison. As most people know, the KKK is a group that originally formed in the mid-1860’s and has since had a few different revivals, all of which worked toward accomplishing the goal of a white America, through any means necessary in most cases. The Black Panther party formed in 1966 to help maintain safety in black neighborhoods during a time when police harassment was even more prevalent and dangerous than it is today. The Black Panther Party also helped to revive and instill a sense of power within a community that didn’t have a lot at the time. So, historically speaking, one of these groups formed to maintain domination of a social sphere that was just beginning to seek equality, using such methods as assassination, lynching, and terrorism. The other group formed in opposition to this same sort of racial harassment and terrorism that still continued into that decade, in order to continue the fight for equality that began 100 years prior. So no, these two groups are not “basically the same.” They did share similar qualities; the KKK has given out food to school children in more modern times and some Black Panthers did commit horrible acts of violence, but the motivations for the two groups could not be more different. Their reason for existing and the roles they played contextually within their respective periods of operation are entirely opposite to one another, with one fighting for dominance over one race while the other fought for equality with the other.
Now, with this base understanding of the two groups, one could also look at what Beyoncé did in her performance through a symbolic lens to put these ideas in the context of a show happening in the year 2016. Looking back on The Black Panther Party, regardless of your opinion of them, one can see that at the very least they stood for outspoken action in order to create change in an unequal socio-political environment. They were bold, unafraid, and passionate about what they stood for. By donning outfits similar to this group, Beyoncé is encouraging all of her black viewers to adopt this mentality; to be strong, stand up for what you believe in, and take action to create the change you want to see. She’s not saying, “everyone do exactly what The Black Panthers did and patrol the police with guns and resort to murder if you have to.” She’s simply saying that enough is enough, and now is the time to stand up together. By looking at her wardrobe with symbolism in mind and by looking at the people she’s trying to embody with the correct context, it becomes clear that she wasn’t trying to aggressively attack white America, as some people might have thought. The empowerment of the black community is not an attack on anyone else.
2. “Her performance was so anti-police! I can’t believe she’s going against the same police force that’s there protecting her.”
If this conclusion was drawn from her representation of The Black Panther Party, please see the above response to part 1 of this article. Again, black empowerment does not equate to anti-police force. Similarly, anti-police brutality does not equate to anti-police force. You can still appreciate an aspect of society while simultaneously critiquing it. Nothing is perfect. Most people can see that there has always been a problem of police brutality with minorities in this country, and now people are trying to do something about it. That doesn’t mean that everyone in this movement is against every police officer that’s out there. By equating that the anti-police brutality movement is the same thing as being anti-police force, you are the one associating all police with police brutality through your inability to find a distinction between the two. They are in fact different, and you can support the police while also critiquing the problematic points within the system.
Her dancing might have also been what spurred the anti-police sentiment for you as an audience member. Beyoncé’s dance moves were forceful, with her beginning by taking firm steps toward the viewer, pausing punctually, and widening her stance to continue dancing. In fact, much of the performance involves these three themes. Her and her dancers repeatedly sway toward the audience and gradually move closer to the camera, encompassing more of the audience’s sphere. Their punctuated movements usually involve an outburst of energy directly at the camera, whether it be arms thrusting out at the audience suddenly or butts twerking at whoever’s watching. Other moments of dance, while not being overly dramatic or intricate, are marked with a distinct confidence and presence that comes from the wide stance that the dancers take. By widening one’s stance, each dancer is able to take up more space and command more power from her presence. The inclusion of natural, long hair in the performance works to this same effect, making the statement that as a black woman, you are allowed to take up space and command the power that you deserve. Some viewers took these advances, aggressive and direct movements, and power stances to be an attack directly toward them. You might’ve been watching and thought, “Wow, why is Beyoncé mad at me, I didn’t do anything,” and you wouldn’t be alone. The thing is though, that her aggression isn’t directed at any audience member in particular. She expressed a collective and shared anger that has been failing the black community for many years now; a frustration that has been boiling to the surface for quite some time now. It’s absolutely necessary to view the performance within the context of the #blacklivesmatter movement rather than through the limited perspective of your own personal lens.
So, context helps us understand the whole picture. It’s what lets you know that Beyoncé is not trying to restart the Black Panther Party or thrust her hips into your face to obliterate every white person at home watching. Rather than focusing on the performance through your own very limited goggles, you should have been watching and trying to understand it in terms of the bigger picture. If you’d done this, then you might’ve been able to pick up on the actual themes present in the number, which revolved more accurately around unity in the black community, urge for action, and black empowerment and pride. Instead, you chose to keep your goggles on and felt threatened and offended by something that wasn’t about you. You might not have even known that you could take your goggles off. After reading this article, I do hope that you now understand that that is a possibility and that you start taking them off a little more often. Then we can all get on the same page without creating controversy where there is none, and continue to enjoy the cultural icon that is Beyoncé.
By JULIA REAM / Staff Writer