national identity

Provocation vs. representation - A response to uncritical press on Rammstein's "Deutschland"

So even though there was quite a wave of responses to Rammstein’s music video for their song “Deutschland,” which dropped back at the end of March, I was surprised by how little of it addressed the casting of a black German actress as a key figure in the video. I was excited to read the piece about the video and the band in general in last week’s New Yorker, but was honestly taken aback that they too kept silent on this important part of the discussion regarding German national identity. I therefore wrote and submitted this letter, which I don’t anticipate will be published and am thus simply putting out to the world here on my blog.

I was surprised by Amanda Petrusich’s choice not to mention Rammstein’s casting of the black German actress Ruby Commey as Germania in her piece “Hardcore History: Rammstein’s Heavy and Cathartic Camp.” By omitting discussion of Commey’s prominent role in the music video for “Deutschland,” Petrusich is perpetuating the problematic myth of a postracial Europe, even as she describes the video as demanding that we “not look away from any of this.” It is unclear why Rammstein chose to portray Germania as a young black woman, yet if the intent was to represent the lived realities of the millions of Germans of color, the video failed utterly. As is generally the case in textbooks, politics, and pop culture, German colonialism was skipped over (unlike in Rammstein’s horrifying video for “Ausländer” released this week, in which the band members act as colonizers of an unnamed tribe of topless, submissive women), as was the rebuilding of post-war Germany by primarily southern European and Turkish guest workers, or the fact that one in three children today has at least one foreign-born parent. As one of the most famous German bands of our time, Rammstein puts forth a particular image of Germany to the world. It matters what this image is, and it matters how it is discussed. Rammstein’s choice to cast Commey did little to push against the racialized, exclusionary narrative of German national identity, as provocation is not the same as representation, and Petrusich’s piece sadly failed to acknowledge this.