Arcade Fire’s “We Exist”, but is Transgender being portrayed correctly?

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I first heard Arcade Fire from the Hunger Games Soundtrack with their soldier-like marching track named “Abraham’s Daughter” however; the Canadian band first came to prominence in 2002 with their debut album Funeral. Their latest track “We Exist” has hit the headlines for its music video, featuring Andrew Garfield, which attempts to show someone attempting to come to terms with their self-identified gender as well as the difficulties they face for being a transgender in a society which does not truly understand it and is therefore out of the cultural norm. The video could not have been released at a better time in Europe than when it was due to the celebration of the drag queen Conchita Wurst’s victory in winning the 2014 Denmark Eurovision title.

Andrew Garfield is a British actor with a dual citizenship with the United States and is most known from his role as Peter Parker in the Amazing Spider-Man franchise – it is no surprise for Garfield to accept a role in playing a transgender woman as he has already expressed his support for the legalisation of same-sex marriage and starred in a gay marriage-themed play in 2006 called Beautiful Thing having commented in The Times in 2013 that “There is no argument against equality. How can anyone argue against compassion and understanding?”. Although transgender is sometimes confused with someone’s sexual orientation, it is not the same.  Transgender is the state of one’s gender identity rather than which gender they prefer to be in a relationship with, it is these common misconceptions which suggest why transsexuals and transgenders alike are not fully understood by the people around them. However, is music videos the answer to informing the mass public? Are there portrayals of transgenders as positive as someone who is not transgender believes they are? In order to discuss this I will be calling Garfield’s character by the gender they identify with; female.

Although the music video begins promising with Garfield shaving his hair off looking apprehensive to how they might be perceived for what she is about to do and changing into women’s clothes where she begins to smile yet still changing clothes a number of times due to the worry about how people will react. More so, the scene whereby she is watched by everyone in the bar as she enters adds symbolic imagery to the video about always feeling stared at before she is harassed by a group of drunken men where Garfield is beaten. This all presents a worryingly realistic “story of a young person’s struggle with gender identity” as Arcade Fire has claimed. Afterwards however, the video takes an  unexpected turn in adding some fairly tacky and stereotypical ‘bears’ as back up dancers which adds a form of surrealism that makes the video lose its grasp on presenting a serious social issue.

Although any free market corporation such as the music business can be argued to be in it simply for profit and just wants to hit a niche audiences such as the transgender community, by using a fairly known actor such as Andrew Garfield who does not identify himself as transgender to dress up as a woman and act the part well has added mediated attention to the issue at hand. In fact, it has gotten people such as myself to write about the social anxieties installed upon transgender lives as well as gotten it into everyday conversation. So, whether or not Arcade Fire did it for the niche market revenue does not fully matter as music videos such as “We Exist” can be applauded for helping a large proportion of the public to actually find out what being transgender means and in doing so allow transgender to exist without fear.

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