First of all, I’m going to begin by saying that I, personally, do not think the video portrays paedophilia of any sort. I interpreted the dance between 28-year old Shia LeBeouf and 12-year old Maddie Ziegler as a performance of variety. At first, I thought it demonstrated the often hard misunderstandings between father and daughter as they grow older and grow further apart, and then I thought about the ‘inner child’ idea and how as adults we’re expected to conform and act a certain way whilst our imaginative creativity and ‘sillyness’ is repressed. I then read someone else’s interpretation somewhere online that the cage is an embodiment of the mind and mental illness, perhaps personifying the dancers as the conscience, one ‘damaged’ and unable to escape its own imprisonment. Life beyond the bars seem unreachable, although Maddie gets through them in the end, leaving behind Shia who can’t fit through. I then thought about the struggles of communication, how people with mental illnesses can feel isolated and unable to really talk to anyone. Even the lyrics reflect this isolation as Sia sings “I’ll trust no one” and speaks about a “war”. Perhaps, even the two dancers represent trying to engage with one another. When Shia tries to approach Maddie, she snaps at him and he is taken back, tapping his heart perhaps for being too eager and punishing himself for trying to relate to someone. He imitates her, crawling on the floor, like trying to act ‘normal’ in society where you feel you’re the abnormal. Then Maddie chases after him, perhaps as a figure trying to ‘break through’ and talk to him again, both responsible for their miscommunications to each other as they try to patch up their bond back and forth like the shuttle-cock of a badminton match. Even so, it’s a beautiful performance that I thoroughly enjoyed watching over and over again.
Nevertheless, these interpretations could all be true, after all it’s how you interpret the video yourself, (despite Sia saying that the two actors are one person, playing opposing “‘Sia’ self states”.) Nevertheless, I think that is what is so great about the video and art itself. It should be open to interpretation and debate.
A lot of people have been criticised for blaming the video for ‘triggering’ survivors of child molestation and abuse. In a backlash, many people cried out that the video “CLEARLY” shows a fatherly-daughter bond and while I don’t think people ought to have complained about the video, I don’t think their interpretations should be dismissed as narrow-minded and over sexualised either.
Whilst our society DOES sexualise pretty much anything, it’s then clear (and sort of disturbing) that the video could portray paedophilia to some people. The feral and animalistic dancing between the child and Shia could be interpreted as the ‘grooming’ between a man and child. In opposition to this, people of the art world cried out that they’re “missing the point” or are too small-minded in their pitiful sexualisation of the world that how COULD they even think it’s about paedophilia.
I really don’t think this video falls under the offensive and disturbing as the video and message say, behind Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” That was not art. That demonstrated and encouraged ‘rape culture’ that’s so at large in our society today. It condoned the mistreatment of women being “too drunk” to say no, or yes, or anything to sex, thus equalling in Thicke’s mind as “consent.” Comparing it to Sia’s video then, even if the video was about paedophilia, it is not ‘encouraging’ it or making crude jokes. (“What rhymes with hug me?”)
However, crucially, I think people are forgetting that this is a piece of art. It’s supposed to make you feel uncomfortable or comforted in a world that’s often so cold. It’s a performance above anything else and clearly “no one was harmed in the making of this video” but people are choosing to be offended by it. Obviously, we should protect those who have sadly been abused or mistreated in their lives, but we also shouldn’t censor anything that shows the dark side of our society. I’m disappointed that Sia apologised for the video, dividing viewers into ‘good’ vs ‘evil’ interpreters. I only need to scroll down my Facebook to see someone shaming along the lines of, “what’s WRONG with our society – the people who think this is sexualised or portray peadophila are MESSED UP!!!”
These people annoy me the most above all because they’re criticising people being small-minded, whilst being small-minded themselves. I don’t see the paedophilia links myself, but I can see how some people can. The flesh coloured suits, the man and child interaction, its ‘innocent’ playfulness that turns ugly, Shia ‘crawling over’ and towards her… It’s not hard to see that some people do see it this way, although it could also be a fatherly-daughter love and relationship, or any of the other interpretations I mentioned before.
The point being, we shouldn’t dismiss art so easily. It represents a wider image, sometimes politically and culturally, as art crucially awakens feelings inside of us that we sometimes aren’t even aware of. By defending Sia’s video and slating those who interpreted it differently to us, we are saying that art is only valuable if it doesn’t offend us. That art shouldn’t move or affect us in the way that it should. Art should only be things that we like seeing and hearing about. Art should be censored.
And I think that’s a very dull way of looking at things indeed.