Friday, July 30, 2010

Binge Drinking & Date Rape: Subverted Version of "Say Ahh"

This student-created production is covered under the Fair Use codes US copyright law. Specifically, Section 107 of the current Copyright Act and Section 504(c)(2) cover the educational-basis of this video production. The production is intended to be a transformative remake, aiding in both student and public media literacy.  The use of copyrighted material is in the service of constructing a differing understanding than the original work, which according to Section 110 (1) (2), is to be treated as a new cultural production. This student-production is in no way limited to the protections provided by the Fair Use codes stated above due to the many other sections of the current US Copyright Act, which also include the principles of Fair Use.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Subversive Music Videos: Major Lazer's "Keep It Goin' Louder"

            The lyrics to “Keep It Goin’ Louder” are evocative of many scenes from other hip-hop songs. The song tells a story, from both the male and female perspective, about going to a bar and being captivated by a particularly attractive stranger. If one were to imagine how a music video would illustrate this, the familiar images of hypersexualized women gyrating in next to nothing would probably appear. And, indeed, Major Lazer’s video has four women doing just that. However, the thing that sets “Keep It Goin’ Louder” apart from formulaic, mainstream hip-hop videos is that the women dancing have distorted faces and Rubenesque figures. Using the familiar motif of the “video girl” and altering it in a way that makes the women appear inhuman allows Major Lazer to subvert the message of objectification that usually exists in hip-hop videos.

            The women typify “video girls” are usually black or Latina women that defy in every aspect of their appearance what the average woman looks like. Much like the waif ideal for white women, women of color are presented with an impossible standard of beauty to live up to. Video girls have small waists, large breasts, and even larger behinds. They have long hair, light skin, and wear next to nothing. Their job in the video is to move seductively and nothing more. The presence of these women in music videos commodifies female sexuality and presents unrealistic depictions of sex and beauty. Major Lazer’s video takes this idea and undermines it by presenting disfigured faces that are equally unattainable. The musical duo also feature the bodies of normal to heavy set women, something that would never be seen in a music video, but which is seen every day in real life.

            Perry argues that, “The women [in hip-hop videos] are often portrayed as vacuous, doing nothing but swaying around seductively…extremely rare are any signs of thought, humor, irony, intelligence, anger, or any other emotion” (Dines and Humez 137). This is exactly what happens in Major Lazer’s video. The dancing that takes place in the video is unusually stilted. The women rely on shimmying their breasts and shaking their butts in order to move. They dance “in a two-dimensional fashion, a derivative but unintellectual version of black dance, but more reminiscent of pornographic male sexual fantasy…” (Dines and Humez 137). “Keep It Goin’ Louder” satirizes formulaic hip-hop videos by presenting the same motif, but with disfigured women who depend on hypersexual moves in order to dance.

            Major Lazer’s purpose in making a video that undermines the norm is to illustrate the prescribed nature with which hip-hop videos are produced and to effect change. By challenging messages of objectification, they show other musicians that foregoing stereotypical “video girls” can be just as economically and viable as including them. Thus, if more artists choose to take this path of omitting beautiful and vacuous women from their music videos, it could change the way in which hip-hop videos are made. It could even promote the inclusion of women who represent a more realistic image of beauty into mainstream music videos.

            In “Hip-Hop Honeys and Da Hustlaz: Black Sexualities in the New Hip-Hop Pornography”, Mireille Miller-Young asserts that,  “Through the repetition of deviant practices by multiple individuals, new identities, communities, and politics emerge where seemingly deviant, unconnected behavior can be transformed into conscious acts of resistance that serve as a basis for a mobilized politics of deviance” (285-286). Major Lazer’s subversion of beauty and sexuality in hip-hop videos was effective because it was shocking. It used both ordinary imagery, like the body shapes of the women, and grotesque imagery, like the distortion of their faces, in order to send the message that the scantily clad women seen in mainstream music videos are portrayed as inhuman. The more that depictions of women in hip-hop deviate from what they are now, the more that new definitions of “video girls” will arise and take hold. The presence of women not being degraded in music will redefine the ways in which videos are made.

            “Keep It Goin’ Louder” undermines hypersexualized music video motifs by both taking part in and deviating from them. Major Lazer presents four underdressed women dancing provocatively, as they would in any other video, but they show a more rotund body, which would never be found in any other mainstream hip-hop production. They also deform the faces of the women, making them appear grotesque. This conveys the idea that the objectification of “video girls” is dehumanizing. By challenging the formula with which hip-hop videos are made, Major Lazer allows others to do the same and confront what it means to be a musician in a world of sexism.

Works Cited:

Major Lazer. “Keep It Goin’ Louder.” Guns Don’t Kill People… Lazers Do. Downtown, 2009. Music Video.

Miller-Young, Mireille. "Hip-Hop Honeys and Da Hustlaz: Black Sexualities in the New Hip-Hop Pornography." Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism. 8.1 (2008): 261-292.

Perry, Imani. “Who(se) Am I? The Identity and Image of Women in Hip-Hop.” Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Text- Reader. Eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publication Inc., 2003. 

Friday, July 16, 2010

Constructs of Masculinity and Femininity in 30 Rock

            The episode of 30 Rock, entitled “I Do I Do”, presents several interesting depictions of what it means to be male and what it means to be female. The crux of the show’s plotline stems from the love triangles of three main characters. The ways in which the relationship troubles are resolved provides a strong message about male and female identity along with the ways in which gender roles are switched around and played with in the episode. The language of the program is also indicative of far-reaching cultural and societal views on gender.

            For example, during a wedding reception, when the character of Jack Donahue makes a remark about he and another woman’s relationship being “fate”, his girlfriend Nancy questions whether “they put gay juice in the champagne”. It is at this moment that the gender roles of the two characters are switched. When Jack becomes emotive and espouses a belief in fate, Nancy quickly becomes glib and emotionless. The interaction both parodies the idea that “emotion” is a feminine characteristic and equates male homosexuality with femininity. The latter is an important statement about cultural values in the US. As Newman points out, “Any male high school coach or military drill sergeant knows that the best way to whip his men into an aggressive frenzy is to call them girls” and that “…homophobic name calling is one of the most common modes of bullying and coercion…” (76). Despite the brevity of Jack and Nancy’s interaction, it reveals both important messages about what traits are required to be considered “masculine” in society and how equations with homosexuality are considered an affront to male heterosexuality. 

            The episode also plays with typical notions of gender roles by naming a male character “Carol” and featuring another character as a drag queen. When someone in the show points out that Carol is a “girl’s name” the character of Carol is then left to defend his masculinity by replying that Carol is “a family name”. By having someone question the name, the show reinforces societal gender norms. By having a name that deviates from the norm, Carol must explain himself and reassert his identity as a male.

             In the case of Paul, the drag queen character, the humor is derived both from the over-the-top flamboyance of the actual drag and the fact that Paul is both heterosexual and dating the character of Jenna. Raymond states that, “the humor in these situations is…the fact that the viewers know that the character’s heterosexuality is never in doubt” (Dines and Humez 107). This point is underscored in scenes where Jenna and Paul have serious discussions about the future of their relationship while Paul is in full drag. Paul even explicitly reaffirms his masculinity when he reminds Jenna that he’s the “man in the relationship” while remaining in drag.  By playing with ideas of masculinity and femininity, the characters of Paul and Carol both serve to subvert typical beliefs about sexuality and to reinforce cultural norms.

            Additionally, the dynamics of the characters’ relationships are a powerful insight into masculine and feminine identity. Three of the main characters are involved in love triangles: Jack has feeling for Nancy and Avery; Jenna demands that Paul choose between dressing in drag as her or Cher; and Liz Lemon must choose between her fiancĂ© Wesley and a new man, Carol.  When Jenna sees Paul at a wedding reception, she immediately stops commiserating with Liz about relationship troubles and hurries over to her boyfriend.  When Carol also appears at the same reception, Liz literally jumps a table in order to talk to him. By having the female characters abandon their conversation about “sisterhood” in order to pay attention to men, the show parodies the ridiculousness of the situation while simultaneously reinforcing the notion that being a woman is validated through male acceptance and attention. Only Jack, the male character, does not experience this same situation. In his case, his girlfriend Nancy foregoes her relationship with him because she believes he is truly in love with Avery. After Nancy bids farewell to Jack, Avery appears onscreen to assume the position as Jack’s new girlfriend. By showing Liz and Jenna having such exaggerated and strong reactions to the appearance of their male love interests at the wedding reception, the show asserts that men are commodities that should be coveted. Likewise, the fact that Jack did not have any such reaction when either of his love interests were on screen with him emphasizes the notion that men are the prize and therefore do not have to work for attention from the opposite sex.

            While some of the ways the show played with gender identity were obvious, like with the character in drag, other ways were subtler. When Nancy impugns Jack’s masculinity, she also draws attention to her own masculinity and sends a message about how male homosexuality is viewed as a negative. Furthermore, the way the three main characters behave when their significant others appear on screen is indicative of a gender-based power relationship between couples where the male is dominant. Overall, the episode equates “femininity” with homosexuality and validation through men and reveals that being “masculine” means rejecting emotion and asserting authority in a relationship.

Works Cited:

"I Do I Do". 30 Rock. By Tina Fey. NBC. May 20, 2010.

Newman, David M. Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersection of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007.

Raymond, Diane. “Popular Culture and Queer Representation: A Critical Perspective.” Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Text- Reader. Eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publication Inc., 2003. 

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Link Hunt

Courtney Love: Behind the Music
June 23, 2010
Alyx Vesey

Male Geeks Reclaim Masculinity at the Expense of Female Geeks
June 28, 2010

Iron Butterflies: Women Transforming Themselves and the World
July 8, 2010
Shana Mattson

The Daily Show's Woman Problem
June 23, 2010
Irin Carmon

Why Lesbians Might Object to The Kids are All Right
July 8, 2010
Irin Carmon