Kanye’s Monster: Sexualizing Violence Against Women

I’m super slow to see music videos or even hear new music.  My radio is always on NPR.

But I recently got wind of Kanye’s (and Jay Z’s and Nicki Minaj’s, and Rick Ross’s, etc.) new Monster video.  Check it out here.  It’s absolutely horrendous – the entire video sexualizes violence against women and animalizes women (rendering them emotional uncontrollably).

Daphne Bramham from Vancouver Sun definitely has it right.  Thanks to Feminist Frequency for sharing the link.  I, for one, am tired of seeing women gang-raped in heroine chic fashion ads, or hearing about how “cool” rappers are for singing about dominating women sexually, or seeing the sexualized violence against women on Nip Tuck or vampire films.  Why do I have to be ok with violence against women just because I want to read a fashion magazine, or listen to rap, or turn on the television?

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Let’s label this depravity for what it is: misogyny

Rapper Kanye West’s monstrous new video is out of the bag, and it’s time to say enough to degradation and victimization of women

What’s entertaining about women in lingerie hanging by their necks on chains? What’s artful about images of drugged, unconscious women about to be sexually assaulted?

Nothing.

It’s misogyny, graphic and simple.

Instead of artistic expression, political and social commentator Zerlina Maxwell described Kanye West’s music video for Monster as “a rape scenario set to a soundtrack.”

Yet that’s not what many commentators are saying about the gruesome and degrading images in the rapper’s video, which has yet to be officially released even though it’s all over the Internet either in full or in part.

West has suggested that the video’s necrophilia and brutality are aimed at generating controversy and sales. Still, there’s a profusion of intellectualizing and rationalizing about the video.

Much of that commentary includes attempts to absolve African-American men from criticism of their misogynist lyrics and the grotesque images of violence perpetrated on white women because of the history of slavery and colonialism.

Among the most inflated and convoluted praise for depravity as art comes from progressives. Salon.com’s

Tracy Clark-Flory deliberately set aside the question of misogyny and wrote that the video “offers a fascinating Rorschach test of our current sexual culture.”

Writing on The Atlantic’s blog, Chris Jackson deflected the question of misogyny saying he couldn’t answer it given all the other examples in popular culture.

Instead he fatuously wrote: “Kanye is like [French Renaissance writer] Montaigne, who said of himself that he doesn’t record being, but passing … The most difficult and most intriguing aspect of Kanye as a rapper is that you never know whether he’s celebrating or satirizing an idea or doing both at the same time.”

However, it’s worth noting that Jackson’s Atlantic colleague Ta-Nehisi Coates disagrees.

Coates described the video as “boring racism, boring sexism that hearkens back to the black power macho of Amiri Baraka and Eldridge Cleaver at their worst … the work of a failed provocateur boorishly brandishing his ancient affects.”

Of course, Jackson was not wrong when he pointed out that degradation of women is nothing new in North American pop culture.

Twenty years ago, high fashion was awash with so-called heroin chic.

In 2005, contestants on the reality TV show America’s Next Top Model were forced to pose as victims of poisoning, drowning, stabbing, electrocution, organ harvesting and other kinds of violence.

The judges’ comments about how beautiful and wonderful the young women looked was almost more chilling than the photos.

Around the same time, shoemaker Jimmy Choo’s print ad showed a dead, white woman lying in a car trunk with legendary music producer Quincy Jones digging her grave in the desert.

Far from breaking new ground, West’s video only sinks to a deeper level of depravity, bringing the mainstream closer to what’s come to be known as torture porn.

It’s part of a growing social tolerance or numbness to violence against women. Kathleen Lahey describes it as “the remapping of male primacy onto contemporary culture.”

Lahey, a Queen’s University professor and expert in law and sexuality, has no doubt West’s video fits the definition of hate speech under Canadian criminal law, which makes it illegal to incite public hatred or advocate genocide of an identifiable group.

Of course, the likelihood of prosecution is infinitesimal: The bleeding of American culture into Canada through old and new media makes it impossible.

In the past, social conservatives have succeeded in banning books, songs and videos and are now trying to censor both Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer.

Of course, they’ve never rushed to battle against misogyny.

Instead, they’ve more often been on the front lines blocking every attempt women make to gain equality.

(Besides, as we saw this week in Canada, sometimes bans are just stupid because laws, rules and regulations and their enforcers are too clumsy to deal with the nuances.)

It’s more laughable than laudatory that 26 years after Dire Straits released Money for Nothing, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council acted on a complaint and banned it because the lyrics include the word “faggot.”

When it comes to misogyny, women have few allies.

Misogyny just doesn’t register with social conservatives or progressives like attacks on other disadvantaged groups do. Imagine the uproar if a white, female “artist” depicted barely clothed, African-American men hanging from chains.

And don’t forget how the words “blood libel” were scarcely out of Sarah Palin’s mouth this week before she was widely (and rightly) excoriated for using a phrase that’s so highly offensive to Jews.

But misogyny as hate speech? It’s barely recognized and even more rarely protested.

There is an online petition seeking to block the commercial release of West’s monstrous video.

Yet regardless of its success, West’s Monster is already out of the bag.

What’s more important is what happens next.

Before we become so inured and desensitized to images of degradation, victimization and abuse of women, we need to say enough.

One way to do it would be to boycott the creators and purveyors of these images whether they are rap singers, television producers or shoemakers.

Because the only other option — tolerance — risks sinking our society more deeply into incivility, violence and inequality.

Here’s the website for the online petition.

dbramham@vancouversun.com

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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