How convenient to caricature someone whose work you oppose by reducing them to a cartoon parody. Like I haven’t had enough Helen Lovejoy clichés to last a lifetime? Oh, and look, another media studies academic watching The Simpsons. Are we impressed yet?
Where Stephen Harrington sees “a graphic critique of post-feminist female sexuality”, I see Kanye West holding a woman’s decapitated head. Where those like Harrington see ambiguous, complicated narrative and linear narrative fantasy, I see semi-naked dead women swinging from ropes around their necks.
When I see Rick Ross in the ‘Behind the scenes’ You Tube clip tucking into a plate of raw meat before a spreadeagled dead woman on the table, I see the brutalization and degradation of female sexuality. I don’t think ‘Oh, check out that satire’.
King Kanye has produced a carnage of female corpses, brutality and eroticized violence: torture porn. I agree with Zerlina Maxwell who described it as ‘a rape scenario set to a soundtrack’.
And Ta-Nehisi Coates has asked, what if John Mayer decided to cut a video with dead black women strewn about?
But of course my readings are to be dismissed. Because Harrington is a MEDIA AUTHORITY and he knows best.
Harrington’s dismissal of media interpretations other than his own as invalid, wrong, or hysterical is to buy into a predictable stereotype designed to dismiss women and their readings of culture. Only those like himself can coolly and rationally respond to culture. The rest are to be condescendingly dismissed.
Telling women who read oppression and offense into cultural representations that “they are reading it wrong” is to delegitimize their cultural interactions and ignore their perspectives.
Sharon Haywood from Argentina and I started a petition sponsored by Collective Shout, Adios Barbie, the Coalition Against Trafficking Australia and CATWA International, and Media Watch (U.S) calling on Universal Music Group to withdraw the video. That petition is hosted on two well respect global sites for activists: Care2 and Change.org. So far 10,000 have signed.
We believe that the mainstreaming of videos like this increases desensitized and callous attitudes toward violence against women. Women are reduced to sex-doll like playthings. They are slaves and bitches who can service a man’s sexual needs, even when dead. Men are brutal and dominant, and have no empathy for women.
We hoped to challenge the view that women’s pain and suffering is perfect fodder for entertainment.
…I teach [in the ‘hood’] in a very rough zip code. This crap is the ONLY music these kids listen to, so it has everything to do with violence against women because it forms their opinions.
… I have to hear the high school boy say “b–ches are only good for three things, f—ing, cooking, and cleaning.” I have to hear the high school girls…explain how you know a boy really loves you if he hits you.
Rappers…promote the ideas that the measure of a man is how many b–ches he can f—, or how much violence he can do, and that women’s only value is what’s between their legs, and as a punching bag. And that harms women and men.
Those kids just don’t seem to understand that misogynist rap videos are just graphic critiques of post-feminist [read anti-feminist] culture.
While not specifically naming West, international recording artist Moby may as well have in this article from 2005. Moby asks why racism is seen as bad but misogyny seen as cool. To those creating music which glamourises misogyny he writes: “you have blood on your hands, and you should be deeply, deeply troubled at the culture that you’ve helped to create”.
Sex is a ‘source of negativity and fear’ for so many women and girls. Yes. But it’s not the fault of my colleagues and I. West’s video is one great big dog whistle to all the women and girls who’ve had to put up with abusive sexuality that their pain is just good fun and entertainment. And it’s a dog whistle to men who choose to be perpetrators as well.
I talk to a lot of girls every year. They tell meabout being dis-empowered by pornified imagery which conveys their power lies in their ability to pleasure men on demand. They say boys are acting in more sexually aggressive ways towards them. They share stories of coerced sex, unwanted hookups, pressure to provide oral sex at parties and to send naked images. These stories come from girls as young as 11 and 12.
The sexualisation of murdered women on CSI doesn’t make West’s video any better. Just because we haven’t listed every last example of media sexualisation of female destruction, doesn’t mean we don’t see it elsewhere. We just choose our battles, and we’ve identified West’s video as a significant watershed in the de-humanisation of women.
Harrington can keep watching The Simpsons and I’ll keep working with my friends around the world to try to make things better for real women.
Two young women dead thanks to the fetishisation of female body parts
British woman Claudia Aderotimi was only 20 when she died last week after travelling to the US for a procedure to give her a bigger ‘booty’. She paid more than £1000 ($1600 AUD) for silicone injections to give her the look she thought would help score a part in music video clips. She’d auditioned before, and failed.
The practitioner used industrial silicone. Think sealant designed for plumbing kitchens and bathrooms. This noxious substance was injected into a vein, in error.
Claudia Aderotimi flew to Philadelphia for a cut-rate bottom enhancement in a hotel near the airport in an effort to conform to pornified ideals of women’s backsides, increasingly featured in music video clips.
The silicone injection was apparently a ‘top-up’ to a procedure carried out last November. It was arranged online and performed by a practitioner believe to be lacking qualifications.
Last Monday she developed chest pains and was taken to hospital where she died 24 hours later from a suspected a blood clot in the lung believe to be caused by the silicone entering her bloodstream.
It’s not the first time women have been harmed from the use of cheap industrial silicone. Here’s a report about how other women were made gravely ill as a result.
Susannah Frankel observes that we fetishise the female form and then condemn the wish to improve it. She writes:
Of course, anyone with more than a passing interest in body image will know that the roundness of rump that Aderotimi aspired to is no more easily achievable than the ideal of extreme slenderness that is still more widely upheld by the media – unless, of course, one is born in possession of either. Times may be changing – it is reported that buttock implants are almost as much in demand as breast augmentation – but the emotional impulse that lies beneath the desire to change one’s body in any shape or form remains the same. And so, after years of women the world over wondering “does my bum look big in this?”, will they now be asking: “Does it look big enough?” And if anyone were ever likely to miss the cruel irony that lies at the heart of this, then Aderotimi’s story has driven it home.
But some women shouldn’t have bums at all
But of course it has to be the right kind of ‘big’ – not the ‘wrong’ kind used by the weight-loss industry to shame women into buying its products. Have a look at this add (left) seen in a Melbourne shopping mall last week (thank to Catherine Manning for forwarding).
“No hips or butts”
Apparently OptiSlim’s meal replacements will magically transform the woman on the left into the woman on the right and give her that nice, tight, pert, rounded backside so necessary to be an acceptable woman and to complete and utter happiness in life.
While OptiSlim doesn’t involve knives or needles, the female body is still broken down into problematic parts (hips, butts) which need to be transformed.
Carolin dead after sixth breast enlargement: male fans pay tribute – to her breasts.
Claudia’s death came after another woman of similar age also had her life cut short while trying to super-size her breasts. German porn actress Carolin Berger, better known as ‘Sexy Cora’, dead at 23.
Carolin Berger, who weighed a mere 46 kilos, wanted to fill a size 34G cup. During the operation by two US surgeons (do these people ever say no?) she suffered a brain hemorrhage and was put into an induced coma where she lay for nine days before dying. Sky News reported:
She went under the knife for the last time at the Alster Clinic and was having 800g (28oz) of silicon injected into each breast. But her heart stopped beating during the operation. She suffered brain damage and was put into an induced coma. Cora’s husband Tim Wosnitza remarked, “The doctors told me that she wouldn’t make it. The brain damage was too big.”
Basically every mainstream headline about her death involves the words ‘porn star’ or ‘sexy’, and few use her non-porn-industry name. A couple examples: “‘Sexy Cora’ Dead: Porn Star Dies After Sixth Breast Operation” . . . “Porn Star Dead After Breast Surgery”
She cites a post on a forum eulogising ‘Sexy Cora’ for dying in the line of duty:
She’s a hero. She died doing something awesome to an extent that most people wouldn’t dream of. She’s like a cop that died saving a bus full of babies and puppies by pushing it through the wall of a burning building.
Her death is a tragedy because it lessens the pool of new pornographic images of women with grotesque silicone mounds where there natural breasts once were, for men like him to enjoy.
Porn stars are not human beings, they are a brand of consumer sex receptacle. Thus are the dimensions of Berger’s breasts, both pre- and post-op, more germane to the announcement of her death than, apparently, the detail… that her surgeon-butchers are now up on negligent homicide charges. To find out about that, you have to go to CBS News’ lurid true crime website, where Berger’s humanity is of little importance compared to her value as a sensationalized dead TV slut. If you doubt this, you have only to observe the 38-page wealth of “Sexy Cora” images available in a CBS online photo gallery, and compare it to the amount of CBS discourse relating to Berger as a human person (barely any), or to the instances of broader CBS discussion of the murderous effects of institutionalized misogyny on the quest for human enlightenment (zilch-o).
She says Carolin died because of “rigorous adherence to deeply internalized pornographic beauty standards.”
Claudia and Carolin were real women whose lives were needlessly sacrificied in pursuit of a goal inspired by pornographic fantasises about what constitues a sexy woman. But all women and girls are harmed by the message that they are in need of repair, a message becoming so loud that in the end they think of their whole bodies as deformed and in need to correction.
I’ll take mine dead, thanks. Horror porn is not ironic.
[Trigger warning for victims of violence]
When you look at this image, what do you see? An ambigious, complicated narrative? A post-modern analysis of culture? A man who loves his mothers and sistas?
And what about this one? Do you see poetic form? Linear narrative fantasy?
How about this? Satire? Irony? A work of art?
These are the kinds of descriptions being employed to justify Kanye West’s Monster video clip, lyrics and general body of work. (You can find some of this analysis here and here).
When I see these images, I see violence against women. I see glamourised misogyny and eroticised violence. I don’t see Kanye’s carnival of carnage as an art form or as post-modern cultural commentary.
These images and more are available on-line (leaked version, no, I’m not providing the link) and coming to a TV screen near you when Kanye West’s almost 18-minute Monster video clip is officially released at any time.
Here’s another image.
That last one is from a ‘Behind the scenes’ You Tube clip. That’s Rick Ross by the way, tucking into a plate of raw meat while taking in the view of a spreadeagled dead woman on the table. Looks like those rappers had a blast making the Monster vid. I tried hard to see the satire but couldn’t find it.
Monster is a track on Kanye’s new album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy which went platinum yesterday. His fans are calling him the best rap artist in history and a “genius.”
King Kanye has produced a carnage of female corpses, brutality, death. It is horror porn.
The Monster video depicts scenes of a murderous rampage with most of the dead being women. Dead women in lingerie swing from chains around their necks. Naked female corpses adorn the furniture. Two other female bodies are joined by West in bed. He kisses one. There are overtones of necrophilia.
Having viewed the preview and the behind the scenes clip, (which I first wrote on ABC The Drum/Unleashed) , I had wondered whether the full length version could possibly be more chilling. It is. There is the decapitated woman’s head scene (above). Nicki Minaj is a sword wielding dominatrix, terrorising her (at times) hooded female tulle-attired victim (Minaj doubles as both). Nothing like a bit of women-on-women violence to liven things up.
One exception to the dead-bitches-are-the-best theme is what appears to be a young boy being devoured by two female-like creatures. Of course this is to be condemned also.
The album’s one million sales will no doubt drive even more interest in the Monster video. Which makes the petition we have going against it even more important.
Universal Shame: Act to prevent the release of this monstrous video
Sharon Haywood and I started a petition sponsored by Adios Barbie, Collective Shout, and the Coalition Against Trafficking Australia, (since also sponsored by Coalition Against Trafficking International and Media Watch) calling on Universal Music Group to withdraw the video.
The petition is directed to CEO/Chairman of Universal Music Group Doug Morris (email@example.com) and CEO of MTV Judy McGrath. (firstname.lastname@example.org). It can be found here . (You can also read an interview with Sharon Haywood about the campaign, at this link ).
We believe that the mainstreaming of videos like this increases desensitized and callous attitudes toward violence against women. Young people are seeing images and absorbing harmful messages which glamorise misogyny and brutalise women. Women are reduced to sex-doll like playthings. The Monster video conveys a message that women are slaves and bitches who can service a man’s sexual needs, even when they are dead. Men are brutal and dominant, and have no empathy for women. Men enjoy dead women as sex and entertainment.
We decided to run this campaign because we wanted to challenge the status quo – the increasingly common view that women’s pain and suffering is perfect for entertainment.
We believe West’s work will contribute to a culture that is already dangerous for women and girls. West just paid $200,000 for a custom- made watch made with his face on it . Think what that could do to address violence against women. Violence against women we believe his work is contributing to.
Bitches are only good for three things
Violent lyrics, combined with brutal visuals, are socialising young people and helping form their view on relationships and sexuality. Monica R, commenting on the Care2 petition site, wrote on the weekend:
…I am in the hood Monday through Friday. I teach there, in a very rough zip code. This crap is the ONLY music these kids listen to, so it has everything to do with violence against women because it forms their opinions.
OK, it’s just a video to you. But I have to hear the high school boy say “b–ches are only good for three things, f—ing, cooking, and cleaning.” I have to hear the high school girls refer to each other (their FRIENDS) as “b–ch” and “ho”, and hear them explain how you know a boy really loves you if he hits you.
I’d love it if rappers would come clean about their college degrees, but instead they pretend to be “hood” while living a wealthy lifestyle. They promote the ideas that the measure of a man is how many b–ches he can f—, or how much violence he can do, and that women’s only value is what’s between their legs, and as a punching bag. And that harms women and men.
You have blood on your hands, and you should be deeply, deeply troubled at the culture that you’ve helped to create.
While not specifically naming West, international recording artist Moby may as well have in this article from 2005.
In it, Moby asks why is racism seen as bad but misogyny seen as cool? He says anyone creating or promoting music which glamourises misogyny should be ashamed: “you have blood on your hands, and you should be deeply, deeply troubled at the culture that you’ve helped to create”.
i’d like to write about misogyny. a few years ago when the prodigy released ‘smack my bitch up’ i spoke up and criticised the song for being overtly misogynystic and irresponsible. i was in turn criticised on radio for ‘being too uptight’ and not being relaxed enough to appreciate the ‘humor’ in misogyny.
then 5 years ago i spoke up about the pernicious and pervasive spread of misogyny in popular culture, and again i was crticised for making a big issue out of something that no one else seemed to care about.
i respect the prodigy and i respect eminem as talented and relevant musicians, but i spoke up because i found the misogynystic content of their lyrics(among many others) to be deeply offensive. even if they themselves are not misogynysts
i found it irresponsible that they, and many others, would release music that glamourized misogyny.
2 months after ‘smack my bitch up’ was released i went to visit a friend of mine who was in hospital after being beaten by her boyfriend. she had brain damage and multiple fractures due to his pushing her down a flight of concrete stairs.
misogyny is not funny. it is not a joke. and it should not be treated lightly.
and now we find out that a british man who is obsessed with eminem killed a woman with a metal baseball bat
and stuffed her body into a suitcase.
am i being ‘too uptight’ for not seeing the humor in this?
Bob Herbert in an article titled ‘Women at Risk’ in the New York Times in 2009, made this point:
We have become so accustomed to living in a society saturated with misogyny that the barbaric treatment of women and girls has come to be more or less expected.
We profess to being shocked at one or another of these outlandish crimes, but the shock wears off quickly in an environment in which the rape, murder and humiliation of females is not only a staple of the news, but an important cornerstone of the nation’s entertainment. Read full article here
Let Universal and MTV know that the victimization of women as a valid form of entertainment is never acceptable and the video needs to be withdrawn. Kanye West and his management should also apologise.
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