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.