There’s been some controversy recently about Erykah Badu’s video for her single “Window Seat”, which features the singer as she emerges from a vehicle and strolls through Dallas, gradually shedding her clothing until she is completely nude. From the point that she loses her shirt, the word “evolving” is prominently displayed across her back. Once she is completely devoid of clothing, she collapses at the sound of a gunshot, in the area near where President John Kennedy was assassinated. On the ground where she falls, the word “groupthink” seems to bleed out of her head (the gunshot and the word, of course, were added post-production). If you’re one of the few people who haven’t seen it, you can watch the video here (go ahead, it won’t kill you):
As she lies on the ground, the word “groupthink” is shouted, and then Badu’s voice is heard: “They who play it safe are quick to assassinate what they don’t understand. They move in packs, ingesting more and more fear with every act of hate on one another. They feel more comfortable in groups, less guilt to swallow. They are us. This is what we have become, afraid to respect the individual.”
The singer’s piece of performance art seems to have succeeded in what appears to have been one of its goals: to create a story on which the news media at large would be unable to resist reporting in such a way as to drive public opinion. Most major news reports are focusing on the simple facts that Badu was naked in a public place with people (including children) present. The intent of the message, along with most other relevent details, is going largely unreported.
Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines groupthink as “a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics.” We are conforming to group values and ethics if we immediately jump to the conclusion that Badu was wrong to be nude in public, or even that she was wrong to do so with children present. It would be hard to argue that there was any harm done by the performance. I doubt that anyone present was traumatized. If that’s the case, then why was the performance automatically “wrong”?
That’s not to say that it wasn’t; rather it’s a reminder that in order to be individuals we have to think things through on an individual basis. If you’ve chosen to adopt the beliefs of a religion or a political party simply because your family or friends hold those beliefs, then you’re engaging in groupthink. If you spread rumors without checking to determine their veracity, you’re promoting groupthink. We all do it; the point is that we need to be conscious of that fact, so that our awareness will at least result in our doing it less. We have to analyze the choices we make, and try to make sure that we’re doing things — and believing things — for a reason. That is how we will continue growing, and evolving, as individuals.