be the oppressor: mitski’s music and her u.s. state department father

same shit, different day.

for whatever reason, there’s been a recent revival to discussion of pop musician mitski’s father, john christopher laycock, and his career working for the u.s. government. there are several “sides” to the conversation; some commentary suggests that mitski’s art/career and her dad’s job have little or nothing to do with each other. below, that liberal assumption is challenged.

as one person summarized, “The fact that Mistki has kept so quiet about her parents, as well as the fact that he was a senior level FSO [foreign service officer] in the consulate in Zaire in 1990, and given that every major country uses diplomatic positions as cover for clandestine intelligence operations, I think it was HIGHLY likely he was CIA.” at the time, Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo) was a base of operations for the united states- and apartheid south africa-led war against Angola’s People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) government. those white supremacist states supported the right-wing UNITA’s attempts to unseat the MPLA as part of a wider campaign to undermine, if not outright destroy, anti-colonial movements in Africa.

in a revealing september 2018 interview with the daily show’s trevor noah, mitski explained the philosophy behind her album be the cowboy. here is the partial transcript of the relevant section of the interview:

trevor noah: […] what is the message you’re trying to get out with be the cowboy? what are you trying to get people to do?

mitski miyawaki: well when i say “cowboy”, i don’t mean like the working cowboy of today, i literally mean like the cowboy myth, like the…marlboro commercial cowboy where there’s like a white man leaning on a fence and squinting, or like clint eastwood, you know riding into town, that kind of cowboy. there’s such an arrogance and a freedom to it that is so appealing to me, especially because i’m an asian woman, and i think…i walk into a room and feel like i have to apologize for existing, you know, and…i just sort of, i was so attracted to that idea of freedom and arrogance, and not having to apologize. so, this album, i think its protagonist is someone like me…who feels like they want to channel or embody that energy of a cowboy.

noah: would you say that growing up for yourself culturally, is asian culture the furthest thing from cowboyness? is that like the complete opposite?

miyawaki: yeah, i would say so.

noah: like you’d like kick in the doors and you’d be like “sorry about that”?

miyawaki: yeah, i mean…the idea of the cowboy is so american, because the idea of a man riding into town, wrecking shit, and then walking out like he’s the hero, is just…so…

noah: that’s the way life should be lived! that is the way life — i like that, be the cowboy. i wanna be the cowboy, that sounds like fun. just walk into town, break some shit, and then walk out like “have a good day”

miyawaki: exactly! yeah, be the cowboy.

noah: i wanna be the cowboy in life[…]

why exactly is embodying the genocidal colonizer attitude of the mythic cowboy something mitski finds appealing — and why would she choose to erase the violence that the cowboy myth is built on in her promotion of it? why did mitski reaffirm, rather than challenge or sidestep, the orientalist propaganda of “asian culture” being a generally apologetic or unassertive culture? how far removed is the violence of enforcing anti-black u.s. policy in africa from that of erasing the anti-black violence of the amerikan “frontier”? what is the cowboy — mythic white man or liberal asian woman — to the slave?

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