Tag Archives: Hip Hop

Did Manet invent the Video Vixen?

Mhm after WordPress told me that completing my fifth post symbolizes an important benchmark in the blogosphere (me thinks Jonathan Sterne’s blogging 101 that “Like restaurants, most new blogs fail within a few months”), I was already afraid that I may be starting to run out of steam this week. After frenetically pondering over possible blog topics, something finally crossed my path today that might be worth exploring a bit: let’s talk about the objectification of women – booom.

Now for Critical Media and Gender Women Sexuality Studies scholars – yeah those are the ones that proudly call themselves feminist, or as Ricky boy would say “The radical feminists succeeded in undermining the traditional family and convincing women that professional accomplishments are the key to happiness” – the objectification of women through the male gaze (I somewhat talked about this in the Gaga post) is really nothing new and exciting.

In my own research, for example, I’ve mainly engaged with this topic through looking at the degradation of females in Hip-Hop videos, specifically the emergence and portrayals of the “video-vixen;” A video vixen as defined by urbandictionary.com is “Not to be confused with the video ho, the video vixen is a woman of a different and astonishing nature. A video vixen is not thought to be easily attainable even though her skin bearing appearance may lead one to assume otherwise. Video vixens are known to cause premature ejaculation. See Maya” (one may assume this definition was written by a male?). You may take a look at one of those “problematic pieces” by accessing Gucci Mane’s latest song: “I’m in love with a white girl”

However, what some of you may not be aware of is that the objectification of women actually dates way back prior to the internet, soft-porn music videos, camcorders, and photography to colonial times and French impressionism – wait what?!

Let’s explore this idea a little more thoroughly. In the context of my African American Studies class, I’ve lately been reading a lot about the double colonization of African women, firstly by white colonialism, and secondly by black masculinity. O’Brien (2001) notes, women are placed “at the bottom of a hierarchy of value through the gendered response by the black man to his own racial oppression” (p. 100). Those two oppressions are thus irrevocably intertwined: the more feminized the black man is by white men, the more he is made inferior, and the more he needs to re-assert his masculinity and superiority over the black woman.

Hence, what Western women consider to be feminism is actually much different from what many African women aspire to. Over the past three decades many scholars of the “third world” have actually created their own version and concepts of feminism, described by such terms as “womanism” coined by AliceWalker, or STIWANISM (social transformation including women in Africa) coined by Nigerian scholar Molara Ogundipe-Leslie to provide an understanding of feminism in the African context.

So how can we trace the origins of female objectification? You may have come across the name Sara (Saartje) Baartman before. Born in 1789 in the Eastern Cape of present-day South Africa, Sara migrated to an area near Cape Town, where she was a farmer’s slave until she was bought by William Dunlop, a doctor on a British ship. At age 20, Saartje headed for London with Dr. Dunlop where, it was agreed, that they would get rich by displaying her body to Europeans, catering to Europeans’ sexual fascination with aboriginal peoples.

When Sara left the shores of Africa, little did she know that she would fuel the racist notions of black inferiority and black female sexuality in Europe. Dubbed “The Hottentot Venus,” she was exhibited as a freak and, in the process, juxtaposed against white ideals of superiority and sexuality. Prancing in the nude, with her jutting posterior and extraordinary genitals, she provided the foundation for racist and pseudo-scientific theories regarding black inferiority and black female sexuality. Due to agitation by anti-slavery advocates, she was later taken to Paris. Saartje’s predicament embodied issues of racism, sexism and colonialism.

After years of prostitution and poverty, she died in 1816 only to have George Cuvier, Napoleon’s surgeon-general, cast her body dissected in wax and articulate her skeleton. Her organs, including her genitals and brains, were preserved in bottles of formaldehyde. Her remains were displayed at the Musée de L’Homme in Paris until 1974. In May 2002, her remains were finally brought home to South Africa after nearly 200 years of humiliation and abuse. I don’t think there’s another example that is as stark in objectifying women …

However, we should not simply see this as a black-white dichotomy when it comes to objectifying women. Being a vivid lover of French impressionism (yes, I’m one of those kids that have been dragged into the “high temples of art” at an early age by their parents in order to get “cultured”) it may come as a surprise to you that painters like Édourard Manet were just as equally engaging in objectifying white women in the mid 19th century. In particular Manet’s painting “Le déjeuner sur l’herbe“ (Luncheon on the Grass) is exemplary here.

And Manet doesn’t stand alone, the next time you visit the Art Institute of Chicago or D.C.’s National Gallery of Art take a second look at paintings from Degas, Monet, Renoir, Cézanne, Gauguin and the likes. After all, “Vixens” existed long before they made it into Hip-Hop videos.

But hey if you’re tired of your current grad school, college student life, or your job, and need a change AmericanBeauty.com will give you hands-on advice on how to become a video-vixen, check it out! 😉

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A “New Day” for Hip-Hop Fatherhood?

So, being an avid Hip-Hop [and music] fan (which might come to a surprise for some of y’all), I could not resist investing (yes, I actually bought the CD on Amazon and I only do that for selective products) into the latest Jay-Z and Kanye album entitled “Watch the Throne.”

I know what you probably think right, ahh just another one of those white girls diggin’ some beats – but my love for the “ghetto” music actually dates way back to my “unruly” teenager days (I hope my sarcasm is somewhat apparent here). And I owe Hip Hop a lot – believe it or not it helped me, for example, to “master” English (yes, and add a great repertoire of all these derogatory terms and cuss words to my vocabulary). And because I love it so much and have a totally irrational (?) relationship to it, I made one promise – I would never academically approach and write about it.

Well, I’m somewhat breaking this rule today because I was really “intrigued” by one particular song on “Watch the Throne” called “New Day,” which has Jay and Kanye talking and passing on values to their future children (if you’re a follower of the tabloids then you know that Miss Ivy Blue Carter has made it into this world shortly after New Year’s, although she shut down half the birth unit of the New York Hospital much to the dismay of other parents).

Now “New Day” is not of extraordinary lyrical mastery but the beat (produced by WuTang’s own RZA) is great and the song speaks to the important issue of African American fatherhood – the construction of (hegemonic) masculinities as academia would call it. So here are some of my thoughts on this song with a bit of theory back drop.

First off, to fulfill my academic duty here, let’s briefly reconsider African American fatherhood from a Critical Media Studies perspective.  I don’t think anyone would disagree that images of Blacks in the media historically have remained largely invisible, marginalized to the point of insignificance, or been limited to specific stereotypes. Oftentimes powerful media images, if interpreted within the preferred reading, work to strengthen the justification of a general societal fear of Black men and portray African American females as angry, raging “welfare queens.” Hence, what was/is strikingly absent are any substantial images that signify Black masculinity in a positive, healthy, or productive manner. Now, admittedly Hip Hop hasn’t done much either to actively try to “change” this negative image.

However, leaving the Cosby days behind, in recent years two Black families on reality television shows appeared, which similar to Jay and Kanye’s “New Day” may provide us with another platform for examining constructions of Black fatherhood. In Run’s House, we can see Joseph Simmons (Rev. Run) of Run.DMC presiding over discussions about education, empty nesting and child anger management together with his wife Justine and their five children. Here’s a trailer from Season 4.

Snoop Dogg’s (Calvin Broadus) Father Hood presents the West Coast rapper literally as a “father from the hood.” His show clearly is a somewhat antitypical representation of family life, given that  obscene language, references to illegal drugs, and memories of confrontations with the law are all very much present.

Interestingly, both Simmons and Broadus state that their portrayals are stimulated by wanting to show a positive familial side of rap music. Depicting Run and Snoop as black fathers present in the home and engaging with their children, can clearly be seen as an attempt to remediate some White stereotypes of absent African American fathers. What is strikingly absent, however, is any discussion of racism, economic distress, or other societal barriers. Instead, both build their plots around family success, humor, and harmony.

But back to “New Day,” which is a little more outspoken here as Kanye touches on what it means to be black in America and have an “ego” (some of you might remember his Katrina-rant: “George W. Bush doesn’t care about black people” ) and humorously with a lot of truth raps that “I mean I might even make him be Republican, so everybody know he love white people.” What a great verse if you consider current GOP primaries …

Much like Run and Snoop, Kanye  goes on to give his son some good advice on finding that special girl by never letting him “leave his college girlfriend” and not getting “caught up with the groupies in the whirlwind” and never ever “let him hit a strip club, I learned the hard way, that ain’t the place to get love” – sounds like he’s speaking from experience here …  Kanye also seems well aware of the pressures African American females are facing referring that “And I’ll never let his mom move to LA; Knowin’ she couldn’t take the pressure now we all pray.”

Similarly, Jay-Z takes a moment to reflect on his own father’s absence throughout his childhood and how he plans on being a better parent even

If the day comes I only see him on the weekend
I just pray we was in love on the night that we conceived him
Promise to never leave him even if his mama tweakin’
Cause my dad left me and I promise never repeat him

Super prevalent in this song is also an upward mobility theme, as both Jay and Kanye emphasize how important it is for them to make sure that their children “have an easy life, not like Yeezy life; Just want him to be someone people like; Don’t want him to be hated all the time, judged; Don’t be like your daddy that would never budge.”

Snoop, Run, Jay and Kanye clearly enjoy profitable careers confirming Jhally and Lewis’ (1992) concept of “enlightened racism” – reinforcing the notion of social mobility by achieving “the upper echelons of the middle class.” One of the core elements of enlightened racism is acceptance of the desirability and accessibility of the (myth) of the American Dream, which rests within the assumption of equal opportunity; what is left un-interrogated though is how opportunity is largely negotiated through socioeconomic status. After all, we’re dealing with the Black 1% (I highly recommend a great post from Mark Anthony Neal on “What’s the Deal with Russell Simmons? Deconstructing the Black 1%”)

Jay also reflects on the issues of celebrity stardom: “Sorry junior, I already ruined ya; Cause you ain’t even alive, paparazzi pursuin’ ya; Sins of a father make your life ten times harder.” It’s really interesting to me to hear how both are very determined to pass on values to their kids to lead them on a “righteous” path:

Teach ya good values so you cherish it
Took me 26 years to find my path
My only job is cut the time in half
So at 13 we’ll have our first drink together
Black bar mitzvahs, mazel tov, mogul talk
Look a man dead in his eyes so he know you talk truth
When you speak it, give your word, keep it

Now lastly, one thing that sticks out though, of course is a very gendered discourse here since they are only talking about their future sons – where them girls at?! – which brings up back to accusations that Hip-Hop is chauvinistic, misogynist, and perpetuating patriarchal structures … and it sure is.

However, I think the value from this particular song stems more from these artists critically reflecting on their own absent fathers and how they picture themselves to raise their children.  I’m sure Ivy Blue probably has Papa Jay already totally (w)rap(p)ed around her finger …  nonetheless, what is undoubtedly gained from these “alternative” and “different” depictions are different insights into the construction of African American masculinities and fatherhood.

A nice live version from Montreal in November may be accessed here.

If you want to read an “academic” piece African American/Hip-Hop fatherhood, I’d recommend Smith’s “Critiquing reality-based televisual Black fatherhood: A critical analysis of Run’s House and Snoop Dogg’s Father Hood.” Critical Studies in Media Communication, 25(4), 393-412. doi:10.1080/15295030802328020

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