Home Features Columnists The good, the bad and the ugly: Viktoria Modesta

The good, the bad and the ugly: Viktoria Modesta

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Channel 4 clearly mean business with their latest protégé. Forking out £200,000 to have her featured in the X Factor final ad-break and having invested in a high-budget music video, Viktoria Modesta, dubbed ‘the amputee pop star’, became a new musical sensation over the course of a weekend. On Friday, her music video ‘Prototype’ surfaced online; over 3,000,000 views on the C4 site, a primetime TV Showcase, and 24 hours later, a star was born.

Following the first viewing of her ‘Prototype’ video I was torn, unable to grasp how I felt, or at the very least should have felt, about it. How did I feel about the idea of physical disability being utilised as a point of ‘taboo’ to generate a media explosion? It all just seemed a little bit too much like the next pop star attempting to out-GaGa Lady Gaga, and reach next level provocateur status.

It was only after very brief reflection that I became quite embarrassed, and even ashamed. The very attitude I had resorted to in those sentiments is exactly what is being challenged by this artist. How, subconsciously, disability is viewed very negatively within our society.

As Viktoria appropriately proclaims mid-way through her video ‘Are you ready because we’re going on a guilt-trip,’ it becomes all too clear that every minute detail of her video has been constructed to the nth degree. ‘Guilt’ is definitely a word that could be used to describe how I felt having allowed myself to be susceptible to the very attitude Viktoria was refuting. But this is not a consciously negative attitude which society maintains but one that we perpetuate all the same.

Modesta alongside those who want to suppress her Image: Viktoria Modesta via Facebook
Modesta alongside those who want to suppress her
Image: Viktoria Modesta via Facebook

The scene which directly follows this line, comprising of a fascist and authoritative institution attempting to oppress Viktoria’s establishing herself as a role model, provokes direct association with the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime. Initially a disturbing allusion to the mass genocide and persecution of discriminated minorities, and a reminder of having myself looked onto a pile of prosthetic limbs cast off by the Nazis in Auschwitz: a harrowing image to allude to in a music video, and although it initially seemed sensationalist, it is not all too inaccurate when considered in relation to modern day concepts of perfection which are amplified by the media and in celebrity culture. When Viktoria sings, ‘Assemble me piece by piece, strip away the incomplete, the model of the future,’ the current normalities of Photoshop and plastic surgery spring to mind.

Perhaps the most striking narrative in ‘Prototype’ is Viktoria’s embodiment of a cartoon television hero, equipped of course with her prosthetic limb, and how a mother attempts to shield her child from the obscenity the ‘imperfection’ of her disability presents, which contrastingly Viktoria finds empowerment in. The lack of even remotely imperfect role models is what is most destructive about the media today; only those who fulfil the present archetype of what it is to be beautiful and successful are celebrated. Difference and imperfection are viewed as wrong, even intolerable, which of course we all know is not reflective of the inherent diversity of society.

As we saw in 2012 at the Paralympics, to classify disability as a weakness is a foolish underestimation: it is in fact invaluable to our society. Yet conversely, society’s response to this triumphing in disability was underwhelming. The opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics were watched in Britain by an average audience of 24.46 million and 23.2 million, whilst the respective Paralympic ceremonies (Viktoria herself performed during the closing ceremony) were only viewed by 7.6 and 7.7 million. This prompts something of a reflection on a refusal to acknowledge imperfection in the same way as we do an embodiment of the absolute ‘biggest and best’. For me it is the determination of athletes that is the most inspiring aspect of the Olympics, and thus the overcoming of the hardships and challenges of physical disability is comparatively, perhaps even more, admirable than the able bodied.

But what I loved most about the video is that there was absolutely no room for pity. Why should there be? Her leg is evidently no obstacle. Undeniably, Viktoria’s melodic declaration that ‘I ain’t restricted by your method, I’m not another project, I’m just messing with your logic, I’m progressive, not aggressive, stop limiting yourself with your ambition,’ promotes a truly progressive and healthy outlook. The notion that ‘we’re limitless not confined,’ as ideals of beauty dictate, juxtaposed with Viktoria’s chanting of ‘I’m the prototype’ with fierce authority, provokes recognition of every one of us being prototypes and that a final article of human perfection does not exist.

Viktoria Modesta: the living embodiment of 'born risky?'
Viktoria Modesta: the living embodiment of ‘born risky?’ Image: Viktoria Modesta via Facebook

The use of her prosthetic limb within the video is pivotal, and unapologetic. It is the ultimate fashion statement, if only slightly more eccentric than that made by other modern pop divas. But more refreshing still is that her agenda extends beyond simply the attainment of notoriety. She aims to change how we view disability, and for me she definitely succeeds. What at first seemed like a simple case of pimp-my-prosthetic-limb is unquestionably deeply empowering and inspiring. The presence of her leg is so overwhelming that you almost forget it’s there. The video really is sass-central, the song is brilliant, edgy, innovative, in fact it has even got to the point where I am little bit infatuated. Viktoria couldn’t look and sound more like a pop star, even with the token sexuality.

As the video closes a caption reads ‘Some of us were born to be different; some of us were born to take risks,’ a sentiment which I personally interpret to mean that some people live, embrace and embody their difference, even capitalise on it, whilst others suppress it in order to conform to society.

Zak Mahinfar

If you missed Zak Mahinfar’s last column on the girl who rejected Kim Kardashian’s adoption proposal, you can find it here. You can also find all our other Features columns here. 

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