Tuesday, May 27, 2008

This still pisses me off










I was subjected to C4 this evening since my flatmate was channel surfing while watching (gak) America's Most Smartest Model. After a few bilious minutes of various network travesties, the new song from Maroon 5 and Rihanna (If I never see your face again) came on like a bad trip. It's a bland and oven-ready kind of a deal, no surprises, but the video really made me twitch. There's something uniquely annoying about the configuration of white guy with stubble staring into the camera as "ethic"/black girl writhes in femme-fatale garb in front of him on a sofa, on a couch, on a bed, while standing and while seated at one end of a long table, alternately making eye-contact and then looking away. Even better - the song appears to be an explicit paen to casual sex. Thematically tight. What could I possibly have to complain about?

I had such a reaction I went to youtube for a second look. On further consideration, all the usual culprits raised their heads.

Adam Levine (Mr Stubble) tends not to look at Rihanna much and instead eyeballs the camera directly. For me the general effect of this is to convey that Rihanna is somehow something he's imagining - he is "real" because he engages the watching audience - performing for us- while Rihanna is more contained in the mis-en-scene. She only once looks directly into the camera so her performance is almost exclusively for Mr Stubble - he is all she's aware of. Stubble remains master of the domain.

Rihanna does gets to look at Stubble actively, constructing him as an object of sexual desire, a place usually occupied by a woman, and also gets to be the looker - a place usually occupied by a man. However when she addresses her look to Stubble she constantly looks away again, as if inviting his return gaze - it's only when she gets it that she looks at him continuously. Her outfits and behaviour strongly connote the femme fatale - women who get to look and be actively seductive also but are, at least in Hollywood, usually ultimately punished for this destablisation of the gender order. And in fact at the end of the song Mr Stubble grabs the back of her neck and bends her head backwards with more than a suggestion of impending violence.

The MSM can sometimes feels like an ever tightening noose of gender construction from which there is no escape - and tonight is one of those occasions. The tropes described above are old-school Hollywood. Heterosexual gender relations and identities are constantly iterating, evolving memes that never become any less constrictive. It's business as usual, except that femininity is getting younger, tauter, and less lined and it's now uncontraversial for a white guy to openly acknowledge that he wants to fuck a black girl 10 years his junior.

Sigh.

12 comments:

Andrew is getting fit said...

it's now uncontraversial for a white guy to openly acknowledge that he wants to fuck a black girl 10 years his junior

This is social progress. :)

Helen said...

Hey there, just came over from "In a strange land". Great post.

Lyn said...

Andrew - I'm telling Sally.

Helen - thanks! I just had a look at your blog and it looks as if it would reward some detailed exploration. Shame I'm at work....

Anonymous said...

Yeah it's horrible, but there's no level to which music videos won't stoop. They zoom from the most base moronic, uninteresting sexual level, and firmly plant themselves there for three minutes.

Really, the video is an opportunity to sell a sort of marketing idea, and the song is the vehicle by which one can be reminded of it repeatedly throught the day, a sort of soundtrack of inhumanity.

The white boy/exotic woman thing IS particularly prominent ever since Austin Powers, I guess, though there are earlier prototypes - See Ms Carey's "Touch my Body"

Rhianna at least has some stubble to "attract".

Perhaps, there's some irony, but how much can you take before you're just sick?

Lyn said...

In answer to that final question, anonymous, I really don't know.

Rihanna doesn't seem to have stubble anywhere (err) but perhaps I've missed your point.

Anonymous said...

More likely I missed the point. What meant is that I've noticed this hideous thematic "Woman dances for nerdy boy" thing, and that Rhianna at least had someone she might find attractive in her vid (never seen it).

However, the Maroon 5 thing worries me even more - couldn't they just go away after their one hit? Why inflict even more pain?

Lyn said...

Ok - that makes sense. I've never minded nerdy, although nerdy has frequently minded me, but I suppose the point is really that attractive women are frequently shown to be delighted to get any male attention at all, regardless of who it's from.

Maroon 5 are bland. And kind of all about Adam Levine's ego. It's an indictment of humanity itself that they enjoy this much popularity.

Anonymous said...

You'll always see debauchery when watching C4.

Perhaps I missed something, but what do their races have to do with it?

Lyn said...

I guess all I meant was it used to be unacceptable to show or imply a sexual relationship between a white and a black person on TV or in cinema - so we could view this as social progression, but what's socially progressive about a gendered relationship which is such a cliche? It's not a very structured or stringently thought-out concept I'll admit.

stilltruckin said...

Wait, people actually watch C4?

And yeah, I don't think much of "social progress" when it just means we objectify lots of different people in the same ways as before.

If music videos have to be highly sexualised, can we at least treat the people in them as people? Have them make eye-contact with each other? Laugh and cry? That sort of thing?

People rubbing against each other/inanimate objects to be sexually objectified is all sorts of old, and all sorts of uncool.

Lyn said...

Stilltruckin - I know....if you set aside aside an analysis that examines how the video re-heats a cinematic set of cliches, the visual narrative is even more uninteresting - my god - how many times do we want to see this particular set of tropes? I can feel myself getting stupider every time....

Anonymous said...

I have a problem with every single one of Rhianna's music videos that I have seen. I don't need to see her in her underwear, writhing around on her bed, body painted holding an umbrella-eh-eh-eh-eh etc etc.

If there was a modicum of artistic merit or social commentary, then perhaps I could see some validity to it, but all I see is a girl who is being manipulated into an image.

MG