Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Aesthetic and Actual Misogyny: Kanye West's video, "Monster", is Mass-producing and glamourising Misogyny. (And why don't whites see the racist-misogyny in the video?)

Kanye West sparks controversy with 'violent' Monster video

DateDecember 31, 2010
Picture
US rapper Kanye West has sparked controversy with dead models hanging from nooses around their necks and dismembered heads in his leaked video for Monster. The video for Monster, which leaked online yesterday, also shows West in bed with a couple of apparently dead models, while he positions their hands to touch one another. In another scene a woman is seen dragging a dead male model across the floor. The video features appearances from Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross and Bon Iver. The 33-year-old rapper also shows off his shiny teeth in the clip. [source for text and photo above is *here*]

It's not new news. But as I steer clear of most overtly misogynist popular music, I haven't encountered Kanye West's somewhat recent video.

The line between visual depictions of overt woman-hating in pornography made by rich white pimps for procuring men's consumption, and visual depictions of woman-hating found outside of that industry, is blurred to the point of being aesthetically non-existent. And if misogyny were only a matter of aesthetics, we'd be in better shape. But no aesthetic that is misogynist or racist is only aesthetic. It's also economic, social, structural, actual: lived out against the bodies and minds of real people.

No Black woman I know supports, encourages, or apologises for Black men's misogyny--whether culturally or commercially produced--including when funded by white rich men who own most of the companies that mass distribute misogyny--not just Black men's. In Beyond Beats and Rhymes, Byron Hurt does a very good job, imo, of locating where African American men's misogyny comes from: it comes from society. And dominant/controlling society in the US belongs to the White Het Man. So let's not forget that. And, as I see (and hear about it), African American men's misogyny is damaging, degrading, and dehumanising to women across race, but particularly to African American women.

I try not to reproduce and mass distribute misogyny--even from my blog when critiquing it. So I'll just link to the video, titled Monster, *here*. White men want to believe Black men are monsters, while Black women have to endure too much racist-misogynist monstrosity from Black men, Brown men, and white men, and, tragically, from white women who call themselves "radical" too. There's very little difference, in my experience, between the denial or defensiveness of white women's racism against women and men of color and men of color's misogyny against women of color and white women.

When I searched for feminist critiques about this online, I knew that if I found some by white women they'd likely be racist in some way. Here's an example from Tennessee Guerilla Women; in their writings about who they are, they appear to be white. Here's an example of white women's speech:

Tennessee Guerilla Women are working to mobilize a very large
state-wide internet-based community of politically active women
who are committed to achieving the following goals:
  • Equal and full opportunity for all
    regardless of sex, gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, religion, ability, marital status, or age.
  • The full range of reproductive choices
    from legal abortion to bearing healthy children.
  • Generous social support
    for the most vulnerable among us, especially poor mothers and children.
Not mentioning forced sterilisation is one clue the women are white. Not noting that the most vulnerable women are not only poor, but Black, Brown, and Indigenous, is another clue. Given that American Indian women are raped more than groups of more privileged women in the US (one in three, compared to, for example, one in four white women), how are they not more vulnerable, even if you only measure vulnerability in terms of who gets raped?

Here's more typical white women's speech, from [white] TNGuerillaWomen, on the West video:
If a woman depicted black men in a similar fashion, she'd be lucky to retain her life, never mind her career. But misogyny ain't hate speech in a woman-hating culture. The depraved so-called men in this woman-hating video are Kanye West, Rick Ross and Jay-Z[.] [source: *here*]
Um. Women? Which women? Do they mean WHITE women? Because plenty of WHITE women produce and distribute racist images of Black men and of Black women, and they get away with it all the time--including by retaining their lives. Institutionalised racism in media produced by white women and men is conveniently invisibilised in such a comment. So the comment reads as truly fucked up and white supremacist to me. Racist speech isn't hate speech either in a white supremacist society, in case that collective of bloggers and activists haven't noticed. And if the speech is both racist and misogynist--well, forget anyone who is white or male seeing that as hatefully BOTH racist and misogynistic; typically, white women only see the misogyny, and men of color only see the racism.

The people in US society who are murdered and imprisoned most disproportionately are not white men or white women with any economic power. The most imprisoned and invisibly murdered people are poor, are women across race, are trans, and are men who are not white.

Also from that site, though, is this:
From the 'Petition to Prevent the Official Release of Kanye West's Women-Hating-Monster-Video:'

Dead women, clad in lingerie, hang by chains around their necks. West makes sexual moves toward dead or drugged women propped up in a bed. A naked dead or drugged woman lays sprawled on a sofa.

The victims in this video are clearly women. Only women. And the men, Kanye West, Rick Ross, and Jay-Z are far from bothered by the female corpses. They seem to enjoy being surrounded by lifeless female bodies, apparent victims of a serial killing.

We call on Universal Music Group and MTV to combat violence against women by refusing to support, promote, and/or give airtime to West's "Monster" video. Please add your name to the petition.
Beyond that protest, also from the blogosphere, there are these discussions:

Champagne Lady has posted this:  Representations of Women in Kanye West’s video for “Monster”.

Post Bourgie posted this, titled:  "Rant-ish? On Kanye’s ‘Monster’". Analysis and observations typically ignored by whites are these, from Post Bourgie:
The dichotimization of women as it pertains to race;  in the video, white women are predominantly locked into roles of subordination to the point of gruesome lifelessness while black women are cast as aggressive, angry  and threatening sexual beasts.
Nicki Minaj’s scenes are mild compared to rest because  A) they have no corpses of any kind and B) the self-interrogation part can be seen as “edgy” and “different.” But, that would be too kind. What sort of internal conflict can be that deep if the two versions of yourself that are having issues with one another — dominatrix Nicki versus barbie Nickie —  are also ones that readily appeal to male-fantasies?
Supporting those observations are these by Latoya Peterson at Racialicious, in a post titled, "Black Monsters/White Corpses: Kanye’s Racialized Gender Politics":
In some ways, the conversation around dead women in Kanye’s video reminds me of the conversations that happen around feminism and black women. The reality of black women is assumed to be exactly the same as white women – if it is mentioned at all. The fact that the majority of the women pictured lying dead where white, while black women are all part of the monster crew is generally not mentioned.
So, I’m not surprised that no one has looked at the very specific positioning of white women in the video as opposed to black women, which dives deeply into the history and construction of black women as beast-like and fearsome, the sexualization of violence, and how the video is a win for both normalized misogyny and upholding the ideals of white supremacy.
But back to you Kayne: please cut the CRAP. ASAP. Just because you're making social commentary doesn't give you license to promote the dehumanisation of and violence against women--of all colors. And please call out the racist-misogyny of the men all around you. Because if you don't, you leave it to Black women, disproportionately, to do so. And that's also really fucked up.


2 comments:

Dark Daughta said...

I've never understood this rapper to be doing anything even remotely related to social commentary. He's a narcissist and a child of the pop culture obsessed phase of hip-hop. I saw the video a while back and was horrified by the imagery and I'm a horror fan. I think that the analysis of the last blogger was bang on. What has happened in the video (directed/conceived by who?) is about racism and misogyny combined, not just about white wimmin's bodies but also about Black wimmin as animals. We're always animals. And you're right to look at what a lot of white amerikkkan feminists are writing both in general but also specifically about this video with a jaundiced gaze. It really is just about them and their safety and their comfort and their concept of what is political. So, it's just the bits about the dead (defined as beautiful and to be envied) white wimmin that concerns them. What happens to Black wimmin in the videos where we move from gutter sex object/video girls to monsters isn't a stretch at all. That's the part they understand and agree with.

Julian Real said...

Thanks, Dark Daughta, as always.

Your voice is much appreciated around these parts of cyber-town. :)

The director is a Brit. Here's Wikipedia's info about him. Name: Jake Nava. He's worked with a lot of pop artists:

Jake Nava is an English music video, advertising and feature film director. He grew up in Hackney, London, England and attended the University of Westminster before moving to the United States.[1]

Nava has worked with diverse artists such as Beyoncé, Destiny's Child, Britney Spears, Lisa Maffia, Shakira, Utada, Usher, Lindsay Lohan, Pink, Robbie Williams, George Michael, System of a Down, Mariah Carey, Leona Lewis, James Blunt, Mis-Teeq, The Rolling Stones, Brandy, Enrique Iglesias, Ciara, Atomic Kitten, Dido, Natalie Imbruglia, Kylie Minogue. He is a voting member of NARAS.[2]

Nava has also directed commercials for many companies including HSBC, Revlon, Armani, Rimmel, Puma, Clinique, L'Oreal, Schwarzkopf and many more. Many of these ads have included appearances by Beyoncé, Kate Moss, Jessica Alba, Halle Berry, and Maria Sharapova.[3]

Nava has been nominated for notable awards, among them a MOBO Awards for Best Video, an MTV Video Music Award for Best Director, as well as a BET award.[4] Nava also won a MVPA honor for his 2003 music video for Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love" in the category of Best R&B Video.[5][6]

He has received several mentions for his music videos. For example, the music magazine Rolling Stone named his music video for Britney Spears' "My Prerogative", the Best Music Video from 2004. Also, several of his music videos including Beyoncé's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" and "Crazy in Love" have made it to position #1 in the most downloaded music videos on iTunes.


There's a blurb online about the video being out in "Director's Cut" format. *Here's* the link, from Dope Files. Kimberley Baxter wrote:

[T]he video (accompanied by a twitter log) does include a few slightly shocking scenes and things, as I mentioned before. But the kicker is, it also includes a lot of gender-bending scenes where the women are dragging mens’ dead bodies around and eating them, and all that stuff. It begs the question: why weren’t these included in the original release of the video? Maybe because they were a little too bloody and gruesome? And if they had indeed been included, would there still be as much anger thrown at it? To me, it makes the clip quite a bit more “equal opportunity.” It’s not just the women being eaten and mutilated anymore, altough there are lots more woman than men–the men are being eaten and drag[g]ed and beheaded too.

What do you think? Was there any point at all in releasing this video, or is it still relevant 6 months later?


Here's my reply:

It's still f*cked up as hell. Racist misogyny isn't cool. Equal opportunity dehumanisation isn't cool either--it's still the women who get turned into monstrous things for whites to fear, and dead things for men to play with.