” I cringe whenever I hear M.I.A.’s Paper Planes played in a public place. It’s not because I hate the piece; on the contrary, my sister and I made it all the way New York City two years ago to see her perform. I just can’t stand the fact that no one seems to know-or care-what the point of the song is.””
I cringe whenever I hear M.I.A.’s Paper Planes played in a public place.
It’s not because I hate the piece; on the contrary, my sister and I made it all the way New York City two years ago to see her perform.
I just can’t stand the fact that no one seems to know-or care-what the point of the song is. Perhaps it’s just the fact that most popular songs really don’t mean anything at all, but I think it’s terrible that not many question it.
That’s why I was disappointed at first to hear it in Danny Boyle’s new Academy Award nominated film, Slumdog Millionaire.
How dare they exploit the song even further, I thought-the producers had to be at least somewhat familiar with M.I.A.’s message. And all they did was show two little boys sitting on a train.
If you’ve seen Slumdog Millionaire (this isn’t a movie review, but if you haven’t, you should), you’re probably aware that the scene follows a violent chase scene of two young boys becoming, for the second time in their horrific lives, homeless refugees.
As I watched the pathetic outlines of the two starving children, I realized that the calm, cool melody wasn’t being exploited-rather, it was nearly symbolic of all the trouble in Sri Lanka.
To give some background information, there has been a twenty-five year war going on in Sri Lanka between the two major races-the Tamil minority and the Sinhalese majority.
The Tamils want their own country; the Sinhalese want Sri Lanka to stay the way it is.
You’ve probably heard some allusion to Sri Lanka in the news-perhaps of the terrible Tamil Tigers and their suicide bombings, or the Sinhalese government’s honorable struggle to create peace.
When I was in Sri Lanka in January 2006, however, the innocent government arrested hundreds of young men, including our driver.
We loved Gobi-and we also needed a ride to the beach-so my father went to the jail to figure out what happened.
They explained that all the Tamil boys in a certain area had been arrested that day because they were suspected of being Tamil Tigers.
Because they were Tamil. My dad assured them that Gobi was not, in fact, a Tiger, but our driver, and the Americans needed to go to the beach.
The very nice soldiers let him go.
The rest, however, weren’t so lucky.
They’re dead. And either labeled by the government to the Western media as Tamil Tigers, or worse, wiped out, since Tamils aren’t counted in the census. They just don’t exist anymore.
How many? M.I.A. cries in her song, Boyz.
How many will be dead before the end of this war, how many will never experience a real life?
Already three hundred people have been killed this week, and the government announced today that 350,000 more Tamils trapped on the front lines would be murdered if they didn’t go to the safe zone.
Ironically enough, it has also been bombed and has no access to humanitarian aid of any kind.
Ah, it’s all making sense now-the gunshot sounds in the chorus of Paper Planes.
And the paper planes themselves?
We make our own visas, M.I.A. told The Daily Beast. A paper plane is the visa itself. (It’s nearly necessary to forge a visa to leave the country during this war.)
So in the end, maybe the song is a sign of hope; Jamal the slumdog certainly received his paper plane.
The Tamil civilians, however, are going to need a little bit more than a bunch of drunk kids in a bar singing Paper Planes and the skewed views of the media to even keep their lives- paper planes.
M.I.A. recently cited herself as a western voice for the Tamils in a PBS interview.
Maybe I can’t reach the entire west, but I’m attempting to be the University of Akron voice, at least.