Opinion: the controversy of Arcade Fire’s ‘We Exist’


Google Arcade Fire’s newest single ‘We Exist’ and you’ll find that out of the first six results, not one is a link to the video. The second result is, at the time of writing this, a link to the lyrics; the other five, articles talking about the controversy surrounding the video.

I do feel a little annoyed at myself for adding to this by writing about it, but I feel that an article in defence of Arcade Fire’s decision to cast Andrew Garfield from a student publication is needed. Simply because I believe that their decision was right. Or at least, to cast a prominent young actor was.

Andrew Garfield represents, for many young children, a superhero. His involvement in the multi-million dollar rebooted franchise of Spiderman makes him someone who will be recognised around the globe. His performances have been breathtaking at times, and his ability to step up to the mark and play a young man wrestling with himself, deciding to do what feels right and venture out into the world as a woman, is in my opinion admirable. Yes, it’s only for one video, but admirable nonetheless.

Now, the real controversy isn’t to do with his cross-dressing alter ego in this video, but the fact that Arcade Fire chose to cast a cis man instead of a transgender woman. I agree, it would have been better had they chosen to cast a trans woman as the lead, but this would have made things that much harder. There’s a criminal under-representation of transgender men and women in the media and throughout the framework of ‘celebrity’. Had Arcade Fire chosen to cast a relatively unknown person, there may have been a backlash anyway, whether trans or not. This would have been due to the fact that the song, as Win Butler has stated, happens to be about a young gay man coming out to his father, not about cross-dressing, or being transgender.

If you consider at the lyrics, you can see how difficult coming out to a father can be. I don’t know myself if any member of Arcade Fire has been through this, and I myself have not, so I can only imagine how hard it must be. But we need to remember that transgender men and women don’t have to be gay. Men and women who dress in other genders’ clothing aren’t necessarily gay, they’re simply showing the world who they are, or who they would like to be.

Butler has said in an interview that Arcade Fire spent time in Jamaica when writing their newest album, and saw how homosexuality was condemned in that society. With the current global struggle against anti-gay laws, not only is this song current in terms of popular culture, but it’s current politically as well.

So why are we slating a band whose intentions are to highlight the strength some of us have within to say ‘hello, this is me, and I’m not going to change for you’, whilst showing the violence which people go through on a day to day basis at the hands of, dare I say it, ignorant people?

It’s not in my nature to say that any one person’s view is wrong if it is in defence of their rights as a human being, but I do feel that Arcade Fire haven’t done anything wrong here. The controversy has helped to bring the issue to the forefront of the music industry, even if for only a moment.

I know that I haven’t begun to touch upon the entire subject or controversy, and I apologise for that, but I’m just one person, adding to a growing debate. What do you think about the video and the casting of Andrew Garfield? Comment below with your ideas.


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