On today’s episode of Fox & Friends, a bunch of white people gathered to, among things, lambast Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance via the kind of partial assessment and narrow interpretation that’s crucial to the conservative critical rubric. One of these white people was former mayor of New York and failed Presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani.
Setting up the outrage, Friends host and friend to some Brian Kilmeade proclaimed that he “couldn’t really make out what Beyoncé was saying” during her performance of her new single “Formation.” He then doubled down: “The song, the lyrics, which I couldn’t make out a syllable, were basically telling cops to stop shooting blacks.”
If Kilmeade “couldn’t make out a syllable,” he may not be the authority on what this song is about. Actually, whitey, the lyrics are basically about Beyoncé describing (and correcting misconceptions about) her culture, AND what she loves about it and about being a black woman, which evidently is a different worldview than that of the white people on the show and thus, I guess, potentially intimidating. Don’t ignore Kilmeade’s implication that Beyoncé talks funny and can’t express herself adequately. The ignorance there is not just willful, it’s hypocritical, as Kilmeade exhibits the kind of thoughtlessness he’s accusing Beyoncé of.
Giuliani later joined the panel to smart at the very existence of a halftime show, like it’s something new or not the tremendous revenue and discourse-generator that it is. “I don’t even know why we have this,” he said. “This is football not Hollywood.” Then he turned his ire to Beyoncé and her backup dancers who wore afros, berets, and leather in the style of Black Panthers.
I thought it was really outrageous that she used it as a platform to attack police officers—the people who protect her and protect us and keep us alive, and what we should be doing in the African American community and all communities is build up respect for police officers. And focus on the fact that when something does go wrong, OK, well, we’ll work on that. But the vast majority of police officers risk their lives to keep us safe.
Beyoncé’s performance provided, among other things, an alternative to the blasé, “OK, well, we’ll work on that,” reaction to the police’s routine destruction of unarmed black bodies. Beyoncé’s performance asserted that, “OK, well, we’ll work on that,” is not enough. On a global platform in front of well over 100 million people, Beyoncé stole the show while rhapsodizing blackness in lyrics like, “I like my baby hair, with baby hair and afros / I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils.” At a time when pop stars are so media trained and seemingly willing to say so little, Beyoncé said enough to make heads explode.
Giuliani understands this to an extent, he’s just the ideological opposition who seems to think that any critique of the police is inappropriate. He furthermore has no interest in the things Beyoncé is saying about herself, her culture and mobilizing black people, for whom disparity is a blatant fact of life that white people can conveniently choose to ignore. He’s not really engaging with the work, just exploiting a portion of it to use as a talking point.
This is a political position and she’s probably going to take advantage of it. You’re talking to middle America when you have the Super Bowl. So if you’re going to have entertainment, let’s have decent, wholesome entertainment. And not use it as a platform to attack the people who put their lives at risk just to save us.
The use of the word “wholesome” is particularly chafing—though Giuliani uses it in the context of Beyoncé’s politics, that descriptor is generally reserved for G-rated asexuality. Beyoncé’s matter-of-fact sexuality exhibited during the halftime show, her agency over her body down to the tightly choreographed millimeter, makes it so that she has no business being this white man’s idea of “wholesome.” She explicitly and intentionally occupies a different cultural space. Is her body too bootylicious for ya, Rudy?
Increasingly, Beyoncé is a figure that white people selectively scorn to illustrate what’s wrong with culture. Take Mike Huckabee’s tone-deaf reading of what she should be doing with her career, or Annie Lennox’s inane assertion that “twerking isn’t feminism,” as if Beyoncé can easily be distilled down to a sexually explicit song or a dance to which she has devoted an infinitesimal portion of her movement. When people focus on minutiae, they negate their point as they make it immediately apparent that Beyoncé offers simply too much for them to grasp.
It’s so telling that her performance and militancy (so subtle it was silently presented in the form of costumes, an X formation, and a sign calling for “Justice 4 Mario Woods”) is intimidating. It’s, in fact, telling in the same manner as white people’s discomfort with the words “Black Lives Matter”—a simple and self-evident concept that nonetheless troubles people with the conflicting worldview that black lives, in fact, don’t matter. Those people are wrong, the white people on Fox & Friends are wrong, and their openly ignorant and selective discussion about it only underscores Beyoncé’s rightness. These people are shook and there’s more shaking to come.
Note: This story originally identified Steve Doocy as the Fox & Friends host who “couldn’t really make out what Beyoncé was saying,” but upon further review, it was Brian Kilmeade who said that.