Music Features

M.I.A. and MBE: When Rap's Bad Girl Joins the Order of the British Empire

The controversial British rapper rose to fame in the shadows of the Sri Lankan Civil War. Does this accolade go against what she stands for?

This week, Maya Arulpragasam—the British rapper best known as M.I.A.—received her MBE (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) from Prince William.

The MBE is awarded to Brits who have made major contributions to the arts, welfare organizations, and public service; previous recipients include Adele, Jackie Chan, and Ringo Starr. Though it's a coveted accolade, M.I.A. feels like a slightly ironic choice for the award.

The ribbon given to M.I.A. was sewn by her mother, Kala Pragasam, a refugee from Sri Lanka who began working for the Queen in 1986. At the time, jobs like making those ribbons was one of the few positions women who didn't speak English could hold (M.I.A. described it as the "classiest minimum wage job ever").

Despite the familial ties, M.I.A. accepting an MBE seems to conflict with her outspoken stances on world politics. After the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War in 2009, she criticized the BBC for downplaying the number of casualties. Her infamous 2010 video for "Born Free" graphically depicted a genocide of red-haired people, inspired by the real-life extrajudicial killing of Tamil males by the Sri Lankan Army. In 2012, she got into a Twitter argument with TV news personality Anderson Cooper after his blog inaccurately suggested she supported terrorism; the blog was hardly the first instance she was accused of being pro-terrorism, and it certainly wasn't the last. Throughout her career, she's had numerous spats with a number news outlets.

M.I.A. - Born Free

Although the British Empire is now extinct, the Order of the British Empire has been criticized for the connections their name implies. In 1969, as part of his peace protests, John Lennon famously returned his MBE (30 years later, M.I.A. cited Lennon and suggested Obama should've done the same with his Nobel Peace Prize). In the 20th century, the British Empire was responsible for countless deaths due to famine, concentration camps, massacres, and more. Direct ties between that cruelty and the modern day Most Excellent Order of the British Empire are difficult to parse, but arguably, there's still a relation between them.

Even the record label M.I.A. founded, N.E.E.T., pulls its name from an acronym often used to describe impoverished people in Britain—"Not in Education, Employment, or Training"—a symbolic nod to her destitute, refugee roots. Just a month ago, she tweeted what seemed to be her own analysis of how England functions: "I will think only rich pretty people deserve to live...This is England now. F--k u you peasents. [sic]" Doesn't accepting an MBE clash with her opposition to class disparity? Does participating in these antiquated (and arguably arbitrary) traditions strip M.I.A. of her ruthless edge?

inspirational high school football video

We’re going to totally generalize here—and, yes, we realize not everybody fits the stereotype.

But, your reaction to this video will likely show how British, or how American you are.

The video is from 2014, and it’s a TWC News Austin interview with East View High School football player Apollos Hester.

Hester gave a rousing and impassioned speech just minutes after his team, The Patriots, won an unexpected victory against rival team, Vandegrift, by one point.

Not surprisingly, Hester is super psyched and pumped up by the victory—his joy and positivity are brimming over.

The news station call the interview “one of the most inspiring interviews we have ever captured”—and it’s easy to see why.

Now, we’re going to go out on a limb here, and guess that:

If you’re American: you will feel like you can do ANYTHING after watching this!

If you’re British: you will love this kid’s spirit and passion, but will feel vaguely uncomfortable and just a little embarrassed by all the joy and enthusiasm….. because, it's... very not British...and so very American.

Watch the video and see for yourself.

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wanksy pothole penis artist

Move over Banksy, there’s a hot new graffiti artist out there—and he’s using his skills to help make roads safer.

Meet Wanksy, a masked crusader who’s highlighting the state of Britain’s roads by painting giant penises around the potholes that plague the nation’s motorists and cyclists.

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Ramsbottom penises wanksy pothole penis artist

The professional artist—who also works in construction—first surfaced last year, leaving his mark on the potholes of Bury and Ramsbottom—near his hometown of Manchester

Wanksy uses a chalk based marker, which fades away within a two week period—but it’s often removed quicker, as horrified officials rush to cover-up the giant penises.

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48-hour fill-in wanksy pothole penis artist

Wanksy’s M.O. has proven pretty effective, with many of the potholes being filled within 48 hours of the penises springing up.

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The road artist explains the motivation behind his unusual choice of canvas and subject matter, on his website:

Potholes are dangerous. Not only do they wreck vehicles, cause accidents they also injure cyclists and are a danger to pedestrians.

I highlight dangerous potholes by turning them into temporary works of art, making them more visible and prompting the council to repair them.

The council are not too happy, but all my work is created using non-permanent, chalk based line marker, the same type the council use when doing repairs.

The problem is that despite each and every vehicle owner in the land paying road tax, fuel tax and council tax, that money does not seem to be being spent on our roads, or at least not effectively.

I understand the council are stretched and may not have time to highlight big potholes with yellow paint, 
but luckily, I do :-)

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Positive reaction wanksy pothole penis artist

He goes on to explain how his work generally provokes a positive reaction from the public, and explains how his road art is helping people.

Do I think my art is offensive? No. I am a qualified artist, the naked body and its anatomy are commonplace in art.

The drawings themselves are cartoons, not photographs. Art should provoke a reaction and these pieces do that, generally a positive one.

Potholes are very hard to see you tend to forget about them until it’s too late.

But draw a big yellow willy round it, you can’t help but notice them and hopefully avoid it too, saving the vehicle from damage or the rider from injury.

Usually the council will either notice it, or it actually gets reported and then gets repaired. 
Happy days.

If there were no potholes I wouldn’t draw on anything...
The road is my canvas.

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Wanksy explained his motivation further, in an interview with the Manchester Evening News—vowing to take his artistic crusade further afield as needs must.

The roads of Manchester are in an appalling state, especially around Bury. I have cyclist friends who have been hospitalized.

They damage vehicles. Sometimes it’s hard to know which pothole caused the damage because there are so many.

When I’ve finished in Ramsbottom, I’ll move on to the rest of Manchester.

I wanted to attract attention to the pothole and make it memorable. Nothing seemed to do this better than a giant comedy phallus.

It’s also speedy, I don’t want to be in the road for a long time. It seems to have become my signature.

I just want to make people smile and draw attention to the problem. It seems to be working, judging from the Facebook fan page.

Not surprisingly however, when it comes to local council members, the smiles are few and far between.

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A spokesperson for Bury council bitched to the Daily Telegraph about the “stupid” and “incredibly insulting”  road artist, during an interview last April.

The actions of this individual are not only stupid but incredibly insulting to local residents.

Has this person, for just one second, considered how families with young children must feel when they are confronted with these obscene symbols as they walk to school?

Not only is this vandalism, but it’s also counter-productive.

Every penny that we have to spend cleaning off this graffiti is a penny less that we have to spend on actually repairing the potholes.

We urge the perpetrator to stop defacing the roads immediately, and ask anyone who sees this sort of criminal damage being carried out to report it to the police and the council.

Yeah, whatever Councillor Buzzkill—how about you guys just do your job in the first fucking place, and repair the roads BEFORE they have to be adorned with giant penises?

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Meanwhile, after taking a brief penis painting sojourn, Wanksy is back in action once again—in pretty spectacular fashion.

Helping rid the road of pothole dangers one glorious graffiti cock at a time.

Check out Wanksy’s Facebook page here and go to his website to learn more about the artist's mission and to see his work

For more entertainment, music and pop culture updates and news, follow Max Page on Twitter