The Wednesday Weigh-In: Creative destruction edition

In the video for their first single off the new album “Watch the Throne”, Kanye and Jay-Z take a $350,000 car and cut it to pieces. Then they plop some models in the back and go joy-riding.

The car was on display in New York City this past weekend, and a few friends of mine went to see the thing. They said it was cool to look at (no touching allowed), but I’m more interested in another aspect of the well-received video: the last frame, which declares “The vehicle used in this video will be offered up for auction. Proceeds will be donated towards the East African drought disaster.”

The bidding is rumored to start at $280,000. Is this a creative act charity or one of senseless destruction? This week’s weigh-in centers around creation and destruction:

What do you think of Jay and Ye’s ploy to raise money for the famine in Somalia? And has there ever been a time in your life when you justified destroying something valuable to create something even better?

Disclaimer: While I enjoyed this video, I recognize that there are aspects both of the video and of Jay-Z and Kanye West’s collective bodies of work that are problematic, including the fact that the only women in the video are models giggling in the backseat. My intention with this post is to focus on YOUR opinions about charity, creation and destruction, and not necessarily to rehash is-it-or-isn’t-it-sexist arguments.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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  • nazza

    Destruction, even for a good cause, can quickly become hedonism. I think the intention of this act is motivated by best intentions, but beyond the symbolism, I’m not sure of the ultimate gain.

    Will this motivate other people to destroy expensive products for the sake of making a statement? One never seems to know what will strike a chord until it happens. But it does at least produce something positive for the less fortunate.

  • willow33

    I think it is great that these two are making an effort to raise money for the famine in Somalia. But at the same time, I have noticed that celebrities tend to give in very public, extravagant ways. The idea is clever, but they also could have just given funds directly.

  • Jay

    How about taking the $350,000 for the car plus the cost of producing the video and giving all the money to Somalia? Then don’t make the video at all, but do something productive to make the world a better place. That would be my suggestion.

    • James

      Your comment troubles me, in that seems to me to presuppose a differentiation between “art” and “something productive to make the world a better place”—and implies (to me anyway) that artistic endeavors are an improper use of time and money that by rights should go to “productive” endeavors. It implies to me that you think Jay-Z and Kanye are wasting time, energy, and money by doing what they (by all accounts) want to do—making music and music videos—and that instead of doing what they want to do with their time, energy, and money, they should be devoting them to those things you deem “productive.”

      Let’s sidestep, for the moment, the debate over whether or not you think a music video from Jay-Z and Kanye West is “art”—because, of course, our categories for what aesthetic experiences constitute “art” (as opposed to “entertainment”) are bound up in culturally, racially, socioeconomically, and sexually loaded texts—by moving to metaphors that are more firmly in the realm of what most people would suggest are worthy artistic endeavors: would you suggest that a filmmaker like Kathryn Bigelow should stop spending time and money making films, or that a visual artist like Banksy stop spending time and money creating art, and instead devote that time and money to an endeavor you deem to be “something productive”?

  • thomas-macaulay-millar

    I’ll open with a quote I’ve been using so long that I can’t even remember where I got it to attribute it: “the last real biker act left is to butcher a classic; just cut it up and ride it like it was yesterday.”

    Lori, I appreciate the comment that both these artists have controversial and problematic bodies of work, and I’m neither a maven on Kanye or on Jay-Z, so I won’t attempt to analyze anything beyond the video itself.

    What I see are two artists making music in a style that perfected the repurposing of existing art into new and very different forms, and the song itself is repurposing older R&B. And they illustrate it by repurposing a car into another kind of car.

    First, just on the face of it, it’s hard to call that senseless destruction. They’re taking a luxury car and making it into a highly modified drifting hot rod. One could make aesthetic arguments for or against that, but ultimately that’s just a preference. Showroom original muscle car or low rider? Vintage Harley or chopper? Maybach or Jay-Z custom? Preference is only an expression of taste.

    But taste itself is often values speaking. The Maybach is made for the very wealthy, by a design team of professionals employed by a large corporation, and it reflects a lot of prevailing notions about luxury that are culture-bound. (And it matters to me that it’s not a classic. Fifty years on, it’s probably a classic and there are probably ten left, and that makes the modification a more serious issue. If this was one of five prewar Bugattis or a one-off Deusenberg, well, I think it would be hard to watch.) Expressing the view that the original is sacrosanct may be an expression of approval for what it represents, and disapproval of what they made with it. And I think that, for specifically black folks, specifically in America, to take a designed luxury item and modify it to tastes that suit them but do not suit the original makers or market is … a political act. And it’s not an act done primarily by big corporations or design teams, who follow and do not lead what gets done on the street. Customized vehicle design is and always has been led by artists, hobbyists and small-scale entrepreneurs catering to much more personal tastes. So I think this is no more a misuse of an existing object than to lower the suspension and roof of a Lexus, paint a religious mural on an Impala or bolt a springer front end to a Big Twin, each of which is a valid statement in and of itself.

    • James

      Just wanted to say that I think that’s a great comment…. not only for your reading of the video, but also because I agree that I couldn’t watch the video if they did this to a Duesy.

  • Rachel

    This has been an interesting one to think about. I would say that there are times in a personal life when destruction is necessary for growth (for example, getting help with a drug addiction so you can hold a job). But in regards to publicity stunts like this I don’t think destruction is a good thing. As other people have said, they could just as easily not spent a ton of money to produce the music video and just given it directly to an organization that is helping in Somalia. The same with other celebrities that seem to have cash to burn.

  • Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    “Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction” – Pablo Picasso

    They destroyed–or perhaps re-imagined in a “Mad Max” fashion as the MTV article says–an inanimate object, a car–and they want to help feed people in a famine with it? Alleviate human misery? I just can’t find a problem with this.

    Art has been done in the past that has toyed with ideas of destruction and entropy and transformation. Are Kanye and Jay-Z in the same vein as Niki de Saint Phalle, the Dadaists, the Vienna Aktionists? I don’t know if I’m qualified to say, though then again maybe my opinion is a valid as the next observer of them. Can things be transformed without first there being some destruction, at the very least of an outmoded idea or attitude?

    • Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

      Another thought I’d like to add–though the car in the video does get restructured and altered, it still runs. In a way this could be interpreted as a statement on resilience and survival.

  • thomas-macaulay-millar

    Seriously, I’m going to reiterate more clearly my rejection of the word “destruction.” The thing they created out of the thing they started with is still a car, it still works, it still drives. They didn’t blow it up or smash it to smithereens, they heavily modified it. Calling their modifications destruction is a value statement.

  • Dan C

    It’s definitely publicity. (According to Google, thousands of bloggers have posted stories about the auction.)

    But, really, does it matter? I think it’s great.

    Like the song. Like the video. Like the car.

  • Vida

    Maybe I’m missing something or maybe I’m just not as deep as the rest of yall… but so what if they took an expensive car and chopped it up to make another car? and as far as it going to charity. I mean… it’s obviously a publicity stunt… but then again it could have just as easily stayed in Kanye’s or Jayz’s garage. It’s hard for me to answer your question seeing how your example seems pretty irrelevant to what you’re asking… so I’m not even sure how to answer.

  • Critter

    A $350,000 car shouldn’t exist in a world where children go hungry.