Grace Asiegbu’s Young Voices column, titled “Like it or not, celebs can be role models,” raises an important point about how individuals, particularly young people, interact with the media.
Grace opines that people are influenced by Rhianna’s position of power, even though Rhianna did not sign up to be a role model.
Not limited to celebrity persona, this point rings especially true in the case of music videos’ influence on power, sex and gender.
Adding to her bad girl image, Rhianna’s music video “S&M” was released in early 2011. In it, she is willingly plastic-wrapped to a wall as she holds a mock news conference to reporters who have been bound and gagged. Also in the video, Rhianna is hogtied during the part in the song in which she repeats “I like it.”
Yet, amidst the dominatrix scenes, the impression remains that Rhianna, a woman, is in charge of the twisted sexual situations.
Much more frequently, women in music videos are not in charge of their situations; they exist as an object for the male gaze and manipulation.
Nelly’s music video “Hot in Herre” (sic) is a perfect example of this. The song’s lyrics leading up to the chorus include Nelly telling an attractive woman, “Get on the dance floor. Give that man what he’s asking for.” Seconds later, the girls comply in the chorus. After Nelly orders them to take off their clothes, they respond, “I am getting so hot, I’m gonna take my clothes off.” As the music video progresses, women grab their breasts and continue to undress.
These actions are suggestive; they suggest women willingly do whatever men want them to do. Even though they speak in these videos, the women barely have a voice. They only acquiesce.
These depictions of power and sex would not be so horrifying if they stayed on the screen. Music videos are a part of the cultural education that teaches men how to behave sexually around women.
In his video essay, “Dreamworlds,” Sut Jhally connects the behavior in music videos to the violent, sexual acts committed at the 2000 Puerto Rican Pride Parade in New York. During the parade, men grabbed at women’s breasts and buttocks, splashed water at them and ripped their clothes off.
Many of these actions appear in the music videos, but with one crucial difference. In the music videos, the women appear to crave such a reaction from the men. In real life, however, the women wanted nothing more than to escape.
Music videos as cultural educators fail at teaching us proper ways of relating to sex and gender.