A “Happy” Space of Resistance

Link to Pharrell’s “Happy” Music Video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6Sxv-sUYtM

 

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In the grand scheme of entertainment, music videos are still in its early infancy stages.  Music videos were popularized in the early 1980’s by the television station, MTV.  Despite its novelty, this form of entertainment has impacted our society both culturally and socially quite substantially.  With today’s innovations and technological advancements (i.e., smartphones, tablets, YouTube, Vevo, etc.), viewing and streaming videos, and the like, has become rather accessible and convenient.  Moreover, music videos have become a pervasive form of media, which can be used to promote offensive stereotypes and negative images, or serve the public in a beneficial manner, such as a space of resistance for hegemonic views.

Pharrell Williams, a mainstream, American hip-hop and R&B artist does exactly the latter in his 2013 music video for is hit single, “Happy”.  Pharrell successfully uses his music video for “Happy” as a space of resistance towards hegemonic views of bodies (i.e., body types, forms, abilities, etc.), which are often represented in exclusive ways in mainstream mediaand, especially in music videos of hip-hop and R&B artists.

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Throughout the music video, viewers can see that the individuals being portrayed in the production all have different body shapes, sizes, physiques, abilities, and are at different stages in life.  For example, near the beginning of the video, we see a young child dancing, moving onto a larger sized man dancing in the streets, followed by a smaller framed man busting some not-so-smooth moves, and eventually followed by a differently abled woman who is cheerfully singing along in her wheelchair.  Furthermore, all of these different individuals are presented in a positive light and manner; everyone is happily singing, dancing, and goofing around.  None of the characters are presented in ways which represent negative connotations or are being used to evoke empathy from the audience—they are all simply happy with life.

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On the other hand, most mainstream artists often produce music videos which replicate the ideals of lean, athletic, able-bodied, conventionally attractive, masculine men, and or, feminine women.  Essentially, all the actors, actresses, dancers, back-up characters, etc., that are used in mainstream music videos are homogenous and fall under those specific criteria (as spoken of in Lecture 10).  For example, Maejor Ali’s music video for his song “Lolly”: every single individual portrayed in the video fit those above criteria.  Or alternatively, Pitbull’s “Timber” music video have actors and actresses who embodies a physical replicate of those criteria and of each other, only with a few minor differences (i.e., hairstyle).  Moreover, a quick search on any mainstream artist, regardless of the music genre, will show music videos that have selected characters that possess the physical characteristics and physiques of the ideal man or woman.  That is, they all fall under this homogenized representation of the human body and form.  Furthermore, when individuals with a different physical ability or trait are presented in mainstream videos, they are often depicted in a negative or disconcerting manner (i.e., they are portrayed as the victim, or the bad guy, etc.).

These shots of beautifying the human form through song and dance is an act for individuals to explore and claim their own bodies and the spaces around them.  The act is both liberating and affirming that it can be presented by everyone.  “Happy” encourages and enables the masses to be connected to this form of art.  The producers have chosen to cast individuals of all sizes, shapes, abilities, gender, race, age, etc., and did not choose to re-affirm the white, attractive, able-bodied, cis-gender male or cis-gender female, like every other mainstream North American media production.

Moreover, individuals are represented from different social classes, backgrounds and up-bringing’s are presented in Pharrell’s video.  For example, viewers can visualize the experiences of individuals who come from different working environments, street scenes, school environments, church, suburbia, neighborhoods and the interior of lavish buildings.  Pharrell presents these settings in a way for viewers to draw similarities and differences relative to the average viewer.  In contrast, the settings typically used for hip-hop and R&B music videos usually take place in a bar, club, extravagant mansion, yacht, or some other form of high-ended environment.  All of these extravagant scenarios and settingsare not particularly relatable for the majority of the videos’ target audience.

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Furthermore, money and sex are often used collectively to objectify women, as hip-hop and R&B music videos often display minimally clothed women, with their male counter-part throwing money, or other materialistic goods at them.  Oftentimes, women are simply paraded around as sexually desirable objects, being represented as this one-dimensional cutout character with no real role in the music video.  However, none of this objectification is represented in “Happy”.  In fact, near the end of the video, you clearly see a young woman, who is dressed in baggy, “tom-boy-ish” clothing dancing in front of a truck.

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Ultimately, Pharrell successfully used his “Happy” music video as a space of resistance by being able to re-affirm and help make marginalized bodies of different shapes, sizes, abilities, forms, ages, etc., visible under the mainstream radar, while presenting these bodies in an optimistic, lively and positive perspective.  As well, “Happy” is a nice contrast to the typical mainstream music videos we are bombarded with, where artists often present and enforce particular hegemonic representations of individuals and views of race, gender, bodies, etc.  Overall, this music video is a nice step forward towards creating a better and more realistic representation of the human body in our ever prevalent and influential mainstream media.

(However, with this all in mind, it is important to mention that this is just one of the many music videos by Pharrell—some of his other videos do play into, and promote these hegemonic views of gender, race, and body, i.e his music video for his song “Frontin’”.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srOfv5r7LGU ).

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Cultural Hegemony: Islamophobia

Many beliefs held by the people of westernised societies have been questionable and imposing these ideas on people through media plays on the idea of ‘cultural hegemony’.  Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci described cultural hegemony as “the spontaneous consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group; this consent is historically caused by the prestige (and consequent confidence) which the dominant group enjoys because of its position and function in the world of production”(Lears: 568). The fact is western cultural influence in media is affecting how we view other portions of the world. Examples can be found in the many stereotypes, prejudiced comments and blatant ignorance for the genuine image of certain ethnic and racial groups.

Examples of this can be found in a recent phenomenon that goes by the name of islamaphobia. Before September 11th, 2001 it was not a term that had been used before. Due to the events involving the so called “War on Terror” George Bush started there rose a stigma revolving around the Middle East and it began affecting the lives of certain people of Arabic descent in the United States and even in Canada. Contemporary media did not aid the attacks on these people by using it as an opportunity to make countless parodies and jokes towards people who wore turbans or anything on their head besides a ballcap. What many people don’t understand is that not only the people of the Islam religion port headwear. Sikhs wear a version of a turban named a ‘dastar’, people of the muslim religion wear them as well. But due to the hegemonic views of the western populations they just all categorize them as “Arabs”

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The motion picture “The Dictator” contains countless racial, ethnic, class and gender based stereotypes that no matter how ridiculous area good example of how the media is poking fun at a people whose reputation has been tarnished by incidents that were performed by extremists. In the clip below it demonstrates a cultural stereotype from the movie that Americans are all islamaphobes.

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This American Anti-Islamic stigma has moved its way into the schooling system and is turning into a unique form of bullying. With cases of verbal and physical abuse popping up across the United States it is inherent that the racial and cultural hegemonic views change in the following article it gives a few examples of children as young as elementary school being bullied for being associated with the Arabic culture. These views come as a result to the rising stereotypes being expressed through the media.

http://muslimmatters.org/2011/12/13/muslims-in-america-when-bullying-meets-religion/

Another example that was brought to my attention by Professor Jane Tolmie was Jeff Dunham, a skilled ventriloquist, and his act of Ahmed the Dead Terrorist. This comedy routine makes fun of the Muslim extremists and the religion in general, making comments on their approach to gender, other races and towards western culture. This demonstrates another example of contemporary media and their ignorance toward diversity of culture. The video on YouTube has over 5 million views and the following performances have brought in up to 20 million views. This means that millions of people are subject to this stereotyping and the image being portrayed is extremely negative. The mass societal views of the Islamic community have been tainted by shows such as this.

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The cultural hegemony that is being held up by these expressions of arrogance towards people of Arabic descent is just one example of the mindless influences of western beliefs on populations. Even the term the “middle-east” is derived from inferring we are the centre. If one were to make a parody movie on slavery in the U.S. or the holocaust it would be immediately discredited due to the fact that they are tabooed by their cruelty. Cultural hegemony can be way to open a populations eyes to an issue that is plaguing contemporary society.

 

Lears, T.J. Jackson. “The Concept of Cultural Hegemony: Problems and Possibilities.” The American Historical Review 90 (): 568. Print.

Cultural Hegemony: The Office

Cultural hegemony is a term and concept that has been created by the Italian Marxist Gramsci. In his terms, hegemony is considered to be the means of success of the dominant classes in portraying their own definition of reality and their perspective of the world – one which should be accepted by other classes.

NBC network’s The Office is definitely a show that a lot of youth watch nowadays or well, used to at the least. Some people are amused by the show’s style of humour, however many are not so entertained. Personally, I find that the style of humour in this particular show is used to depict hegemonic relationships and stereotypes that exist in modern culture. Thus, for this specific reason, I will attempt to apply and analyze the theme of cultural hegemony to The Office.

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The Office is a documentary that mockingly looks into the humorous and somewhat realistic daily occurrences of the typical office life. Furthermore, I personally find that The Office is able to surface certain issues and stereotypes that exist in the workplace and society. The show mainly focuses on the delusional branch manager, Michael Scott. He believes that he is not only the best manager but also the coolest one there could be. Personally, I believe the directors of the show purposely made Michael Scott to represent the repressed hegemonic social issues in society.

The Office emphasizes how hegemonic concepts about gender, race, homophobia, and sexuality exist in society and culture today and it highlights the oppression that individuals place on those particular views. I find that Michael’s character symbolizes a physical representation of oppressive topics in our society. His character, as aforementioned, is oblivious to the fact that he represents such views, which one could say shows how our society has a tendency to operate. The audience definitely feels outraged due to many comments he makes, but personally, I think he is just putting a voice to the several stereotypes that exist in culture. As I mentioned above, many people do not like or are not entertained by the show due to the script Michael has been given and the situations that he creates. However, completely understanding these hegemonic situations are represented in extreme cases, I still think it creates an accurate indicator of the stereotypes existent in culture.

In particular, there is definitely evidence of a dominant class system in the show and this is apparent whenever Michael illustrates an unenthusiastic view of his employees that work in the loading dock versus those who work in the actual office. Another example of hegemony would be explicitly shown in the episode “Diversity Day.” In this episode, Michael has good intentions and wants to educate his employees about diversity though the use of stereotypes. Each staff member was given a card to place on his or her forehead and there was a particular ethnicity written on the card, such as Chinese or African. Then, Michael had the employees pair up so that they could proceed and make stereotypical comments to each other based on the ethnicity on the card.

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Here is a youtube link from the episode “Diversity Day” where Michael unknowingly mocks the Muslim race:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ipEflG4lxc

In this particular scene, Michael is seen to be mocking the language and the dialect of the Muslim race as he confronts and speaks to the Muslim female with an accent.. As aforementioned, the audience can see the hegemonic message of race in society and sheds a light on racial stereotypes. Furthermore, it indicates how racial minorities are depicted within today’s society and culture. Ultimately, this episode brings awareness to all the stereotypes present in today’s culture and how minority groups are ranked low in respect to cultural hierarchy.

An additional example of how Michael is a representation of culture hegemony is when he attempts to be politically correct but is ultimately offensive. In one episode, Michael asked one of his employees, Oscar, what his ethnic background is and after hearing the response, he asked: “Is there a term besides Mexican you prefer? Something that is less offensive?” This type of racial stereotype is often used to increase the social standing of one specific culture/group of people and in particular, this racial stereotype indicates how prevalent such comments are in our modern culture.

In general, aside from cultural aspects of hegemony, there is also definite evidence of hierarchy and gender stereotyping in the episodes, as discussed by Jane Tolmie in Genders 125 at Queen’s University. Throughout the show, men are seen to be aggressive salesmen who control the office; whereas the women are seen to be passive and more so, in the supporting role. For example, the receptionist, Pam, supports the salesmen and Kelly is seen to be ‘marriage-crazy.’ Furthermore, Jan was Michael’s boss in the very beginning of the show’s production. She was definitely in the superior position but eventually lost her job after she seduced Michael. Thus, it can be said that The Office seems to put men higher on the scale according to hegemonic hierarchy.

So, though these stereotypes and hegemonic messages persist throughout the show, there could potentially be a positive impact on society. During many of Michael’s inappropriate cultural/racist comments, the other employees are seen to be rolling their eyes, mocking him, or even just dismissing what he states. For that reason, the audience/viewers could potentially be made aware of their own actions and how they are a part of these societal and cultural stereotypes.

Goldberg, Michael. Hegemony. University of Washington. 2004. Web. faculty.washington.edu/mlg/courses/definitions/hegemony.html

 

Disney’s Mulan

 

 

 

 

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Disney’s “Mulan” was released in 1998 and remains as one of Disney’s classic children’s movies. Mulan takes place in Imperial China during the invasion of the Huns over the recently constructed Great Wall. The movie follows the journey of Fa Mulan, the only child of a respected war hero. During the initial invasions, Mulan is struggling to bring honour to her father and family, by becoming a respectable woman who will soon find a husband. After failing yet again at fitting into society’s cookie cut out of a perfect Chinese woman, Mulan returns home to soon find that the Emperor has released letters of conscription to each family. Since Mulan is the only child in the Fa family, and female, her father is forced to enlist in the war. However, he is injured from his first time serving and as a result is weak and requires a cane to walk. Therefore, in order to save her father, Mulan changes her appearance by cutting her hair off and sets off to fight for China in her father’s place. The story thus follows Mulan’s struggles of being a woman in a man’s world, leading to her ultimate triumph of being the one to save the Emperor, and China, from the Huns.

The basis of Mulan’s story revolves around one the largest forms of cultural hegemony, and one that is still predominately seen in the East today. This cultural hegemony is the equality struggle between men and women. From the beginning of the movie, gender roles are very clearly distinguished. Although this further enhances Mulan’s ultimate triumph, it negatively feeds into the cultural hegemony of the movie.
mulan tight waist
Mulan’s character is introduced as being a failure to her family up to this point in her life. The first scene shows Mulan studying for her meeting with the town’s matchmaker. In order for Mulan to bring honour to her family, she must do well on this interview so that she will be married to a respectable man. As Mulan goes over the qualities a woman should have she recites: “quiet, graceful, delicate, polite, poise, punctual.” This is an example of pop culture’s stereotype for how a woman should behave. To further this stereotype, as she is being prepared for her interview the workers sing to her: “men want girls with good taste, calm, obedient, who work fast past, with good breeding and a tiny waste…you’ll bring honour to us all.” As the workers dress Mulan they pull her belt tight, clearly making Mulan uncomfortable, but emphasizing her petite figure. We watched a part of Jean Kilbourne’s “Killing Us Softly” in lecture four, and discussed the way pop culture and the media discuss body image. With regards to Mulan, it is clear that the importance lies on her physical qualities and essentially what she will be able to offer a husband. The comments on Mulan’s size however, do not end there. When Mulan meets the matchmaker, the first thing she says while evaluating her is “too skinny, not good for bearing sons.” Not only does this completely objectify Mulan as a baby-making machine, but also the importance of the message is once again brought back to Mulan’s physical qualities. Jean Kilbourne explains how in the eyes of the media we are never good enough. This holds to be true in the portrayal of Mulan. First she is told to be skinny and then put down as being too skinny. The message being sent to young children, and young girls for that matter is completely absurd. Rather than enforcing body image as a positive aspect, this movie tells children who are in the stage of developing self-image that they will never be good enough.
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The cultural hegemony in Mulan is depicted through the idea of honour. By Mulan being a female, any of her actions that are not considered culturally acceptable automatically bestow dishonor on her father. When Mulan interrupts the conscription announcement in her first attempt to save her father, the Emperor’s assistant tells Mulan’s father: “you would do well to teach your daughter to hold her tongue in a man’s presence.” Mulan is constantly told that she must learn her place, even by her father, who although loves Mulan, is still embarrassed by her actions. As a female, Mulan will never have the same social power or respect as a man. This can also be seen when Mulan is revealed to her fellow soldiers and captain as being a woman. Although Mulan saved the entire team and was even wounded in the process, as soon as she is revealed to be a female all respect for her is lost. The captain was in fact supposed to kill Mulan for her actions, causing “high treason! Ultimate dishonor!” However, he spares her life since she just saved his. Nevertheless, Mulan loses all credit for her brave actions that saved the Imperial army. Thankfully, her honour is restored in the end of the movie when she saves the Emperor (as a female) alongside her fellow soldiers.
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At one point, Mulan makes her fellow soldiers dress up as women to distract the guards. When the guards see them they mutter “concubines” to each other. Ironically, concubines in Imperial China were women contracted to men as secondary wives. These women had lower social status and rights, thus, another depiction of woman as a secondary class to men.
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In lecture five we discussed the novels “50 Shades of Grey” and “Twilight” and examined common qualities between the two. Mulan also follows these characteristics. For example, characteristics of the males are dominance, competitiveness, and physical prowess. In contrast, Mulan is self-sacrificing, clumsy, empathetic, and has anxiety about her beauty. Overall, Mulan, like the books analyzed in lecture, ends with a happy marriage and peace.
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Rapping For Equality – “Fight The Power”

Hegemony can be described as the ideological dominant social group or class within society. Gwyn Williams explains hegemony as “an order in which a certain way of life and thought is dominant, in which one concept of reality is diffused throughout society, in all its institutional and private manifestations, informing with its spirit all tastes, morality, customs, religious and political principles, and all social relations, particularly in their intellectual and moral connotations” (Femia 1975).

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Gramsci explains further that, “hegemony is the spontaneous consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group” (Crehan 2002: 102). In other words, hegemony is the most accepted and mainstream values, customs, etc. that are accepted as normal within society. In addition, these ideas are rarely challenged, making them more dominant. According to Gramsci, elites try to manufacture consent to their policies by promoting specific values and messages in the media favourable to their interests. As seen in many lectures throughout this semester, popular culture tends to be biased toward the wealthy, straight, able-bodied, white, males.

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Rap music is historically known as a form of counter-hegemony. Rap music originated mainly out of young, inner city, working class and poor black males. Professor Tolmie states, “hip hop started in the New York City streets specifically the Bronx in the 1970’s” (March 18, 2014). Rap music can be considered critical and challenging of the traditional institutions. It should be understood as a mass mediated criticism of the dominant ideology of racism within the Western power structure. Much of rap music rejects dominant ideological assumptions. Tolmie explains rap music as an “anti-establishment outlet for those speaking ‘to’ and ‘for’ disempowered and disenfranchised urban youth” (March 18, 2014). Public Enemy is one example that is critical of the white power structure and its portrayal of the Western system as fair and meritocratic.

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Jack Moore analyzes Public Enemy’s song “Fight the Power” and states,

While the song was hardly rap’s first assault on the establishment, it was a particularly explosive one. After witnessing their track get trashed by the music industry machinery, the group relocated their countercultural manifesto to the streets. Bootlegged live recordings of the track surfaced in metropolitan areas, and Public Enemy performed nearly nonstop throughout the boroughs of New York City to relay their militant message. Although the track was kept off the air because of its foul language and inflammatory political themes, record sales shot through the roof. “Fight the Power” became an anthem of urban black discontent, for better or worse (189).

ImageThe music video starts off by demonstrating ‘The March on Washington’ in 1963. It was a civil rights demonstration by several groups to fight for racial equality. The “demands of the marcher were the passage of meaningful civil rights legislation; the elimination of racial segregation in public schools; protection for demonstrators against police brutality; a major public-works program to provide jobs; the passage of a law prohibiting racial discrimination in public and private hiring; a $2 an hour minimum wage; and self-government for the District of Columbia, which had a black majority” (Ross 2007).

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The introduction to the song paves the way. The whole song discusses racism that still occurs within society. It provokes another revolution to fight against racism instead of passively consenting. Each verse says something special. In verse one they rap,

Got to give us what we want

Gotta give us what we need

Our freedom of speech is freedom or death

Freedom or death relates back to the suffrage movement. Emmeline Pankhurst gave a speech declaring the women suffrage movement determination to fight to the death. In other words, it signifies fighting until they receive equal rights such as freedom of speech, or until they die. Either way, they will not stop fighting.

In verse two they rap,

To revolutionize make a change nothing’s strange

People, people we are the same

No we’re not the same

Cause we don’t know the game

What we need is awareness, we can’t get careless

The idea of the game here, is the fixed rules established by those in power to keep the black and white, rich and poor, abled and disabled, etc. separated. In addition, they are saying that instead of passively consenting to the power by stating everything is fine, black citizens must acknowledge racism and take strides to eliminate it themselves.

In verse three they rap,

Don’t worry be happy

Was a number one jam

Damn if I say it you can slap me right here

This message mocks Bobby McFerrin’s massive 1988 hit “Don’t Worry Be Happy.” They do so because they do not feel it acknowledge the state of the world, such as the inequalities that black citizens receive. The dominant structures that are in place make it easier for a certain kind of individual (white, straight, ablebodied, male) to be happy and a lot harder for other individuals such as black citizens to be happy. Ultimately it ignores cultural and social inequalities.

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However, rap music today can be depicted as sending the wrong message. Much of rap music in contemporary society is considered misogynistic. This is extremely unfortunate that such a powerful counter-hegemonic structure has transformed into supporting the dominant.

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Though, this may bring out another type of counter-hegemonic in the future. Hopefully, people will return to the message of Public Enemy, and “fight the power.” Although rap music can be viewed as changed, many people still admire Public Enemy for bringing awareness and creating entertaining music. They used popular culture and entertainment to create awareness and change structural problems within society. Although issues of racism still exist, hopefully new forms of resistance will learn from Public Enemy and eventually minimize and eliminate structural inequality altogether.

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Chuck D., founder of Public Enemy says, “my job is to write shocking lyrics that will wake people up” (189).

References

Crehan, Kate. 2002. Gramsci, Culture and Anthropology. Berkely and Los Angeles,California: University of California Press.

FEMIA, & Femia, (1975). Hegemony and consciousness in the thought of Antonio Gramsci. Political Studies, 23(1), 29.

Moore, Jake. “Doin’ It Right.” Retrieved April 13, 2014 (http://www.nyu.edu/cas/ewp/mooresad10.pdf).

Ross, Schmuel. 2007. “Civil Rights March on Washington.” Infoplease. Retrieved April 13, 2014 (http://www.infoplease.com/spot/marchonwashington.html).

 

Talk Fetish to Me.

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I think it is fair to say that hip hop has been a powerful space of resistance. It often allows artists to exercise their agency by creating discourse around issues of race and class difference. From the pioneers like Tupac to more modern artists like Lupe Fiasco, storytelling through rap exposes stories that may be relatable and comforting to those in similar situations while drawing attention and informing others who are not. Either way, the critiquing of larger social constructs and their lasting effects through this art is a gateway to discussion that reaches a wide range of people.

That being said, it is no secret that this genre also has a pretty bad track record for reinforcing violent, misogynistic, homophobic and capitalistic values. On a whole, it seems that we as a society have gotten better at recognizing problematic lyrics and calling them out publicly. May I present exhibit A. But let’s not congratulate ourselves just yet. I’ve noticed a common theme in rap that tends to be silently accepted and it is time for that to stop. I first heard it from Craig David in the lyric “what’s your flava?” Drake played off the same metaphor with the line “I get girls all different flavours”. The self-proclaimed “Mr. World-Wide” Pit Bull makes light of some controversial cultural stereotypes in the song International Love. Example: In Lebanon, yeah the women are bomb. Down in D.R. they’re looking for visas, I ain’t talking credit cards if you know what I mean. And most recently and certainly most explicitly, Jason Derulo’s extremely popular “club anthem” Talk Dirty to Me is really more like the anthem of sex tourism.

So why doesn’t the fetishization of racialized bodies cause a stir?

It’s the values instilled in our culture. We automatically assume “Isn’t being the object of desire a good thing? You are novel. You are different. You are exotic.” It’s hard to hear that word and not get the mental image of dancing around on a tropical beach like Prianka Chopra. Thus, coloured women in media are inclined to use their sexualization to their advantage – as Prianka Chopra did in her ironically titled single, Exotic.

Awh yeah that’s me – exotic. I was practically raised under a palm tree.

By failing to address the issue and simply taking it as a “compliment”, we aren’t challenging what is wrong with the system – we are reinforcing it. White colonial patriarchy was based on the notion that female coloured bodies are wild, animalistic, sex objects to be tamed. Nothing is said of talent or ability or intelligence in fetishization but if we look to Orientalism and how the two concepts intersect we see that the attention won by skin colour comes at the price of being categorized with the assumption that each group of coloured people “belong” to some less civilized, far-off land. Each coloured body remains bound to numerous false beliefs about a homogenized culture, language, religion and appearance. All this is deduced unconsciously and without consideration of birth place, nationality and personal identification preferences; elements that make identity more complex since the rise in globalization and migration. Contrastingly, white bodies have the privilege of defining their own identity without others questioning or coercing them into categories. See what I mean? This insistence to define coloured people as the “other” creates an unnecessary divide and encourages racial prejudices and discrimination to persist.

Jason Derulo’s song is just one example in an ongoing pattern in the way foreign-looking bodies are portrayed. As a black man himself, one might think this artist would be more conscious or sensitive to isolating race as a defining feature but it seems that the sexual appeal society has “awarded” race makes it seem okay. In saying that “Your booty don’t need explaining, all I really need to understand is when you talk dirty to me” there is an undeniable lack of respect for (and possible lack of verbal consent from) the voice of the women he is singing about. It is dehumanizing in the fullest because what makes us human is our ability to communicate our thoughts and feelings. Disregard for a person’s humanity in extreme cases may cause inhumane treatment to seem tolerable. Sex tourism as I mentioned earlier is the practice of travelling with the purpose of having sex with local prostitutes where legal restriction is not as heavy. Sex tourists may not be well informed when engaging in these practices so they could be putting themselves and sex workers in danger of financing human trafficking. I’m sure this is not what Jason Derulo was thinking when he recorded this song but it’s important to challenge the artists of popular culture to recognize the implications of what they produce.

Currently, products exploiting Orientalism and racial stereotypes can be found in popular culture everywhere. (Allow me to point your attention here.) A heightened consciousness and deconstruction of Orientalism could free us of harmful and unattainable expectations. It would mean to have greater control over the way we present ourself to others. It would mean being allowed and expected to look, think and act differently from what society assumes of our ancestors.

Now I ask that we bear this in mind; it’s not feminism until you’re fighting for the equal treatment of everyone. In this case, that means acknowledging the intersections of gender and race. If we can listen to controversial songs (like Blurred Lines) and argue that girls aren’t just objects to be claimed, shouldn’t we be able to recognize that coloured girls aren’t just stamps to be collected?

azn

“TTFN Ta Ta For Now!”

― A.A. Milne

Kristafurrobin

Beauty For All? Not Buying It.

The beauty industry has been selling the notions of desirability, youthfulness and “perfection” for as long as it has been around. But now get excited because L’Oreal has decided that the hegemonic reign of young, white beauty is no more. That’s right. Now, thanks to the #BeautyForAll campaign, slim, able-bodied, cis-gendered people of all ages and complexions can be considered beautiful…as long as they still adhere to traditional quips like clear skin and symmetrical features that we already categorize as beautiful.

This ad claims that at L’Oreal, they believe in the power of beauty. I definitely see truth to this statement but I challenge who holds the power. Who holds the power to determine what is beautiful? Who holds the power to control whether they are seen as beautiful? While there is an illusion that consumers can choose to buy products and manipulate their appearance, it is ultimately the cosmetic companies who tell consumers what they want to buy. Jean Kilbourne’s Killing Us Softly 4 summarizes this idea nicely in the quote “ads sell more than products. They sell values. They sell images. They sell concepts of love, of sexuality, of success. And perhaps most important, of normalcy.”

The 2 minute clip specifically makes an effort to include stories of characters’ lifestyles and relate them back to the so called power-of-beauty. But I think the term beauty is being misused here. It’s problematic to accredit beauty as the sole source of success for each character. If feeling beautiful is synonymous to a content, confident perception of yourself – I am all for that. However the current monopoly over beauty is not conducive to building an internal feeling of beauty. Instead, it is made to work from the outside in. Change your appearance externally and you will feel better internally. But what happens when people realize that makeup cannot change you? The way beauty effects each character in this ad also shows some interesting trends to note. Beauty for women relates to romance (presumably with a man), weddings and motherhood. Contrastingly, for the two male characters, beauty is about moving up in power or seeing a woman as a literal object of desire. These mini narratives on each character are meant to strike our emotions as viewers but I can’t get over why the person beauty can help be the “chosen one” had to be Pierre, the one white male in the over-exhausted powerful businessman image. I’m confused as to why little Carolina is taught so young that for her to have a good first impression at school she must conform to be beautiful, a struggle that girls continue to face all their lives, especially as youth slips away. Then Paolo and Louise remind us that old age need not be celebrated in its own right for enduring and growing wiser but rather the most important goal is really “to feel twenty again.”

To speak on the inclusion of cross-cultural actors, I say thank you L’Oreal for trying to be diverse. It’s nice of you to decide to share beauty with the less fortunate Eastern World. Unfortunately I fear your depictions are unrealistic as the Asian, African, South American and South Asian people you are supposedly targeting in your commercial likely live in cities that look more similar to the urban backdrop than the exotic landscapes that were chosen for filming. Sorry to disappoint. It is a common misconception that people of colour each have a distinct homogenous culture to which they belong. Through all the reinforcements of this belief, it has become hard for the public to separate individuals from the background we are stereotypically inclined to imagine them in. For example, the Asian woman in the serene forest or the Indian people surrounded by golden temples dressed in bright fabrics. What can we notice about the white characters? There was no distinctive background they had to match. Each white character seemed to have their own distinct identity, undefined by their skin – a freedom not enjoyed so readily by people of colour. There were also no repeats. By this I mean in the one advertisement, there we several distinct “normal” white characters but no repeats of any “other” race. The idea of East vs. West is simply put from the very start. “Where ever you are from; here or there.” This statement while meant to unify two groups only reinforces the imagined belief that there are two separate groups.

I believe in beauty for all.
But unlike L’Oreal, I don’t believe it needs to be offered in a package.
I believe in reminding all people of the natural beauty they already possess.
That is where the real power of beauty lies.

 

“A little Consideration, a little Thought for Others, makes all the difference.”

― A.A. Milne

 

Kristafurrobin