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 ).

Light Is Right? — Beauty At Face Value

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Pond’s White Beauty Skin Lotion was advertised as a five-part commercial “mini-series” a few years ago in India.  Episode one of the mini-series featured Bollywood stars Saif Ali Khan (the male lead), Priyanka Chopra (the female lead) and Neha Dhupia.  The commercial sets up a storyline where Khan leaves a darker, or “dusky-skinned” woman (Chopra) for a more fair-skinned woman (portrayed by Dhupia).  It is implied that Khan has chosen Dhupia over Chopra due to Dhupia’s lighter complexion.  Chopra, who still loves Khan, then decides to use Pond’s White Beauty lotion in order to lighten her skin tone, and thus, win back the love of her life and live happily ever after.

Although this commercial is arguably laughable and ridiculous, it does raise a handful of problematic issues.  Most conspicuously, Pond’s White Beauty advertisement promotes the notion that by bleaching, lightening, or altering your skin complexion, it will ultimately grant you happiness, success, beauty, and the love and attention from the man of your dreams.  Viewers can extract this concept that is being portrayed in the commercial from the substantial contrasts shown between the two female characters’ lives.  The “dusky-skinned” character is depicted to be unsatisfied with her life, lonely, unhappy, yearning for Khan’s love, and holds a mediocre job as a flower-shop keeper.  On the other hand, the fair-skinned character is shown to be a successful and happy celebrity, who is engaged to marry Khan.  All the while, the main difference between these two female characters (both being cis-gendered, able-bodied, slim, and attractive individuals) is their complexion.  This enforces the idea that your skin color holds great importance in your life if you want to succeed and be happy.   

Moreover, the fact that the two women are “fighting” for the adoration of a man in order to be satisfied with their lives is problematic on its own.  This essentially imprints a notion where you need the attention and love from another being in order for you to be content.  As well, the ad enforces the idea that for you to be loved by another person you need to change your appearance to that person’s particular liking, otherwise you will be pushed aside and forgotten.  All of these concepts being enforced within the ad create an adverse and distorted mindset for its viewers, which ultimately lead to many repercussions (i.e., viewers—especially those who are young and impressionable— being lead to believe they need to change their physical traits to specific “standards”, etc.)

While Pond’s is part of a multinational company, Unilever, this particular White Beauty campaign and commercial series was only broadcasted in India.  The reason behind this action is most likely a marketing tactic employed by Unilever with the intentions of taking advantage of India’s obsession with fair skin.

India’s obsession with light complexion is not a new fad; rather, it is something that holds historical and cultural roots, which can be traced back to the caste system.  In India, the caste system is a system of social stratification, where people were classified into different groups and classes based on socio-economic factors.  Essentially, individuals classified as a “low class” citizen often had a darker complexion (partially due to working in outdoor environments) than compared to the complexions of “high class” citizens.  The inherent implication is that if you had fair skin, you are in some way superior to those around you.

Moreover, as arranged marriages have been a common phenomena in India’s culture, citizens are also bombarded by matrimonial ads with sayings like, “…seeking for beautiful, tall, fair girl…”  With media and culture enforcing this ideology of the significance of a fair skin, it is inevitable for a large proportion of the population to equate fair complexion with success, beauty, happiness, and prime social status.

However, this obsession for a certain complexion is not segregated to just India.  For example, in North America, it has become quite popular for people to intentionally darken their skin (i.e., tanning, tanning salons, spray tans, etc.).  This may be explained by the social impression that people who are tanned are probably financially well off, thus, enabling them to go on exotic vacations across the globe.

In regards to White Beauty’s objective, the target audience for this advertisement is evidently the citizens of India, which is predominately populated by individuals of Indian nationality.  While the commercial does use Indian stars, the actresses are best described as a stereotypical white beauty—tall, slim, smooth and silky hair, etc.—which enforces the concept of Eurocentric beauty.  This is problematic as it sets up a specific physique that defines what beauty is.  Moreover, this physique is something that many women, let alone Indian women, can attain (i.e., tall, slim, silky and smooth hair, wide eyes, etc.). 

Mass marketing of such images and ideologies results in a pretense that satisfying the social construct of white beauty will enable women to feel empowered and socially accepted.  However, advertising such message is not met without the consequences that fair skin does not equate to success and beauty.  Instead of encouraging women to accept their body in its natural state, the white beauty campaign manipulates women to accept that complexion lightening beauty products will correct the perception of beauty.  This is something we should not be promoting. 

Ultimately, large corporations like Unilever have tapped into the understanding of the sensitivity of the female psyche. With this understanding brings Unilever the power of influencing a group of malleable, and perhaps vulnerable, women to buy into a socially constructed problem and to increase the corporation’s revenues and market exposure. The combination of manipulation in advertising and the socially accepted perception of beauty have resulted in cyclical challenges for women to accept themselves at face value. Through recognizing that physical enhancements and embellishments will only eradicate the symptoms of perceived beauty, women must be cognitive that the underlying messages of advertisements taps into their insecurities so that corporations can profit while providing a superficial solution. 

 

Ad Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xcTMZhoLpRI

G.B.F.: Satire With A Twist

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G.B.F. (a.k.a., Gay Best Friend) is a 2013 teen comedy written by George Northy and directed by Darren Stein.  G.B.F. stars Michael J. Willet, Paul Iacono, Sasha Pieterse (Pretty Little Liars), and several other notable actors (Evanna Lynch, Megan Mullally, Natasha Lyonne).  Although G.B.F. was targeted at teen audiences, the film received an R rating from the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) film-rating system for sexual references.

G.B.F. revolves around closeted best friends Tanner Daniels (Michael J. Willet) and Brent Van Camp (Paul Iacono).  The duo attend a large suburban high school, where no student is openly gay.  One day, introverted, nerdy and unfashionable Tanner Daniels is accidentally outed to the student body.  Concurrently, the “Clique Queens” of North Gateway High, Fawcett (Sasha Pieterse), Caprice (Xosha Roquemore) and ‘Shley (Andrea Bowen), have been out on the prowl searching for this years latest “must-have teen girl accessory”—a G.B.F.  Social warfare erupts within the walls of Gateway High, as the Queens fight for social supremacy through acquiring their “very own gay”.  The Queens give Tanner a full makeover and attitude, while providing him with complete social protection.  Soaking in his newfound attention and popularity, Tanner [almost] ends up neglecting all of his true friends—including the spotlight seeking Brent. 

Aiming to drag homosexuality out of the margins of teen comedy and into the pubic-eye, G.B.F. is a mash-up of Mean Girls and Clueless, with a dash of Glee (minus the song and dance).  While Stein’s film may appear to be a throwaway teenage drama, the essence of its narrative is to open conversations amongst young people, in regards to the negative impacts of stereotypes, acceptance of those who may be different from yourself, and the investment of time and interest in the lives of teenagers.  By creating a film that focuses its attention on teenage appeal, Stein and his crew have created a welcoming project, which will [hopefully] evoke more thoughtful contemplation of these subjects among those individuals who see the film.

While G.B.F. holds good intentions, portrays crucial social themes, and offers an admirable message of tolerance, the film does have some downfalls.  Tanner, our protagonist, is portrayed as a conventionally attractive white male from a family of stable socioeconomic status.  The same goes for Tanner’s best friend, Brent.  For Tanner [and Brent], being outed resulted in good fortunes: instantaneous acceptance from their families, friends and community (with the exception of McKenzie Price), higher social status at school, influx in romantic relationships, etc.  Ultimately, being one of the few openly gay students in their school changed their lives for the better.  However, this is obviously not the case for many queer individuals—especially if you do not fall under this specific character category.  How would the story been different if our protagonist was a queer individual of color, differently abled, and not conventionally attractive?  The situation probably would not have gone so smoothly, instead, go against our new protagonist.  In a way, G.B.F. has glamorized the idea of being gay—so long as you are an attractive white male with a perfect physique.  Moreover, the characters and overall setting of the film is composed entirely of white, able-bodied individuals, all with a stable socioeconomic status.  Caprice (Roquemore), the “Queen of Drama”, is the only individual of color, and is portrayed as a sassy, glamorous and pompous African-American.  Are we shocked that our only sassy and snarky Caprice is African-American, and not an individual of another race?  Not at all—after all, if we want to incorporate a sassy female character, it best be played by a haughty African-American woman, right?  This perpetuates the stereotype that African-American women are just generally vivacious and attitude-packed beings.  Alternatively, McKenzie Price (Lynch) is one of the head religious good-girls and is portrayed as a preppy, know-it-all, uptight and close-minded Mormon.  McKenzie makes it very clear where she stands on homosexuality, as she ultimately instigates the banishment of same-sex couples from Gateway High’s prom.  At the end of the film, McKenzie is the only character that does not undergo any character change or growth, while all the other characters face drastic transformations and developments.  This portrayal of McKenzie propagates and reinforces the idea that religious individuals are often extremists, who are unwilling [or unable] to change their mindsets. 

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Overall, G.B.F. does pull its end of the weight.  Stein manages to set-up the storyline quite nicely, with Tanner being outed perfectly in conjunction with the recent G.B.F. fad, while Northy succeeds in pulling the story through, via a controversy over queer couples attending the school prom, which resulted in a climatic rivalry prom brawl.  Moreover, Willet, Pieterse, and Mullally give charming performances, making it impossible to watch G.B.F. and not leave the theatre without feeling a sense of cordiality with its characters and themes.  This was most striking when Fawcett, the ultimate beauty and queen bee every teenage girl “aspires to be”, cautiously and bashfully confesses to Tanner of her “mad chemistry skills” and shyly offers to help Tanner out with his chemistry troubles.  At this point, we also see Tanner finally step up as a character, as he provides solace and encouragement towards Fawcett, telling her to embrace her knowledge, and not to be ashamed of it. 

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The bottom line?  The satire and underlying messages which pierce through G.B.F.’s overall silliness and witty one-liners makes this teen comedy a refreshing film to go check out.  Plus, Stein and crew have managed to work in a tacky, yet appropriately fit soundtrack, costume and set design.  As for MPAA’s R rating—the most sexual or explicit action you can expect to see is some light kissing and topless teen boys showing off their toned bodies (go figure).