Trying to Make Themselves Relevant by Using Women's Bodies

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Somehow I missed the fact that the Strokes' first album, Is This It (is this WHAT?), had two different covers, one for the open-minded people across the ocean, and one for the prudes on the west side of the Atlantic.... You know, Americans, who are either Christians or feminists. The former object to anything that might arouse someone, and the latter object to the objectification of women and their bodies.

I found an image of the British cover because the Guardian has named the album the fourth best album of the current decade. I personally found the album boring and forgettable when I encountered it with the prudish American cover, but I will certainly remember it from now on. And I won't be listening to the Strokes ever again.

After reading that article, I clicked on a link to a story about Adam Lambert and what was or wasn't wrong with his kissing a guy during his performance at the American Music Awards. (Side note: I didn't think there was anything wrong with the kiss, and I agree with this assessment about the offensive nature of some of the reporting on it.) To summarize: nothing wrong with men kissing men; why isn't anyone questioning larger issues in the performance, including the fact that

Lambert's idea of sex is imbued with aggression. It is forceful and sneering and has no issue with holding someone down until they acquiesce. What depresses me is that the 27-year-old singer is just the latest pop star for whom sexuality and violence have become entwined.... The message being played out again and again, most recently in Lambert's case, is that sex is aggressive. It is about a dominator and a victim, not two willing participants, and more often than not it's the women who find themselves in the position of being held down and jumped on.

You might think it's a stretch to go from a gay male kiss to violence against women in that passage, but if you read the article, the transition is there. And it's certainly accurate, I think, to point out that depictions of straight sex in music videos are typically "forceful and sneering and [have] no issue with holding someone down until they acquiesce."

It's not like I have somehow missed the violence directed against women in popular music. I remember being at the Foxhead in Iowa City one night in the mid 90s and watching a table full of guys sing along with gleeful enthusiasm to Jimi Hendrix's cover of "Hey Joe"--how those men enjoyed singing about murdering a woman! More recently, I told a friend that I could not listen to the band the Decemberists because their album The Crane's Wife had too many songs on it about murdering women. I have discussed the wider phenomenon in my classes.

But I haven't watched many videos lately, nor have I thought recently in any systematic way about the exploitation and degradation of women in pop music. So the clips I include below from a documentary about that topic have disturbed the relative complacency I've allowed to develop on the topic. Truth be told, I'm pretty fucking upset right now.

The title of my entry is a statement from the first clip about the Rolling Stones--the implication being that their work is no longer musically relevant, so they try to make it culturally relevant by producing the same kind of videos everyone else does, because

Showing women as dancers, or just around the artists, is perhaps the most frequent convention that is used across all genres. Whether it is rock music, or country music, or pop, or hip hop, the presence of female bodies has become one of the easy solutions found by the creators of music videos to the problem of how to both get attention, and how to tell a compelling story that connects the music to visually arresting images.

I don't know what else to say. I haven't blogged in weeks because I've been horrifically busy and I really shouldn't be blogging now; I have a deadline Monday and I'm not as close to meeting it as I would like. But I had to say something about this, and offer more commentary than the line or two I would include if I posted this on my Facebook page.

eta: I am slowly making my way through all the various segments of this documentary. It gets more and more upsetting. I just watched this bit

and thought about posting it as a response to this discussion on By Comment Consent about New Moon and the "double standard" we're somehow witnessing as women swoon over the incredibly hot actor who plays Jacob Black. OMG, some of the BCC crowd crows! Women experience lust too! And if it's OK for women to acknowledge that they find male bodies attractive, then there shouldn't be any criticism of men enjoying women's bodies!

Well, as a subsequent clip discusses, the problem is that women (not just A WOMAN) are too often reduced to NOTHING but sex objects, really nothing but genitals, plus enough flesh to make the genitals easy to grab. It's not that they're occasionally objects of lust, it's that they're never anything else. I don't think that's happening yet to Jacob or the actor who plays him--or to men in general.

The documentary also argues (at the end of part three) that the real problem in our culture is not that there is too much discussion of sex, but that there is too little, in that all virtually all depictions of sex in our culture are from the point of view and for the titillation of straight men. This is one of the few defenses I'll make of Twilight: if it gets us talking about female desire and a broader notion of female sexuality, I'll be glad it came along. So far I haven't seen that happening; all I've seen is adult women being chided and derided for being so perverse and insatiable that they somehow find a well-muscled, healthy young man sexually appealing, and adolescent girls being criticized for not realizing that movies and narratives marketed to them are actually crap.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on November 27, 2009 7:14 AM.

Female Soldiers in the NY Times was the previous entry in this blog.

Comparing the People Who See Everyone Else as Gentiles is the next entry in this blog.

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