Mar 09

Complex Semiotics of Music Videos, Pt. Zzzzzz

FT/17 comments • 1,136 views

Music videos: what a pile of shit, eh? Well, not always, obviously but more often than not they’re a cheap set of cliches thrown together for a song that’s not that far off that description and generally rubbish and boring, the only distractions being that someone might be writhing around sexily somewhere in the background.

There’s not a lot I could say about them that hasn’t been said before, particularly in terms of gender politics and yet sometimes, whilst I’m lying prone on my parents’ settee wondering why this time of the morning has to exist and watching 4Music, I’m gripped by an urge to rage and by about 11pm this rage occasionally takes on textual shape and form.

The particular music video cliche or staple or whatever bothering me currently is female violence. I was watching the devilishly attractive video to Taking Back My Love’ by Lovely Enrique and the equally Lovely Ciara and was surprised by how actually physically violent he gets there. Not because I was all ‘noez omgz this is glamourising domestic violence’ because Enrique looks like far too much of a wet cloth for that but because I was surprised there was actually a man trashing shit in a video for once. Not that Ciara doesn’t trash equal or greater quantities but we’ll get back to that later.

Let’s get conspiracy-theory based about this for a second: what if there was this huge, international industry known as “music” and this was largely male-dominated in its upper echelons? What if there was a wave of female artists, often particularly fiercely determined owing to the male-dominated nature of the industry, who gradually evolved a sort of ‘angry girl’ collective persona which subsequently began to personify “strong female” as far as sappy idiots commentating on the industry were concerned? What if these sappy idiots, in collaboration with the upper echelons of the industry itself, then all agreed that what looked strong in females was commiting acts of violence or threatened violence (eg: vase-chucking) against or towards males in music videos because this “showed that they wouldn’t take it lying down?”

Well what a fucking awesome coup that would be, supposing you were some kind of massive chauvinist. Now, I don’t necessarily believe in that conspiracy theory (I think there were some opportunistic females or at least managers who began the ‘women as underdogs in the music industry particularly in guitar music’ myth and that it was a wonderful marketing tool for them that’s useful for other opportunistic females and managers to maintain, for a start) but what is very evident to both myself and (I presume) everyone else is that it is absolutely not ok to glamourise attacking people and their property as “empowering.”

As Nietzsche would have it, it is very empowering. The exertion of your will over stuff and other people; great way to spend an afternoon, I’m sure. The point is, though: why is it ok for Kelly Clarkson to do this and Avril Lavigne to do this and Ciara to throw paint over Enrique’s car and for a thousand other music videos where women hit, shove, slap or taunt men (especially the ones where some poor bloke ends up tied up and beaten, which I can’t remember any of off the top of my head but there definitely are quite a few) when it would absolutely not be ok for it to be the other way around?

Why, of course, that’s female empowerment. Anyway, women hitting men doesn’t count does it because men are big and strong and won’t mind. And you can wreck men’s shit because they have well-paid jobs, unlike women, so can afford to replace it. And you can glamourise all this because …oooh, I don’t know, maybe it sells?

People will say ‘OOH BUT THERE IS APPALLING VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN’ and they will be right. Yes, yes there is. I have a degree in that sort of thing, I know this very well. That doesn’t actually make violence against men ok, though; it’s just an assbackwards idea that gratuitous aggression portrayed as insignificant could make you seem more able to stand up to anything. Women committing violence being accepted as “not serious” merely accentuates a perceived gender gap in srs bsns and turns the whole thing into bullshit.

I’m about 5’10” and used to heft books around for a living; if I really punched (as opposed to jokey on-the-arm sort of punches that most friends exchange when someone kills someone else for the 45th time on Halo 3 or whatever) most men I know it would probably hurt them a lot. It would not be at all funny and it would not be at all ok. Equally, it would not be at all funny or at all ok if I was 4’8″ and weighed 5st. It’s just not fucking funny. It’s certainly not empowering to suggest that it is, either.


  1. 1
    piratemoggy on 31 Mar 2009 #

    Incidentally I would like to clarify that I am merely grumpy at the videos themselves and in no way dissing the amazing efforts of, in particular, the lovely Kat Stevens in analysing music videos. There are many people who do a sterling job of watching these things and taking the piss out of them and may they continue for a very long time.

  2. 2
    Kat but logged out innit on 31 Mar 2009 #

    some poor bloke ends up tied up and beaten

    Ah you mean like Phixx: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TlhM05XNzhM

    (ta by the way! That video-scoffing website again: The Vids Are Alright)

  3. 3
    Martin Skidmore on 31 Mar 2009 #

    The excuse or reason in a lot of these is women responding to mistreatment of some kind, and women get to fight back rather than cave. I know that often is a feeble excuse to show what you are complaining about, and you are right. One other point is the social-historical context: women abusing men does not come with a weight of historical oppression and violence and rape in the way that the flip of that does.

    This doesn’t mean I think it’s a good thing, or even generally excusable, but I am far less troubled by it than I would be by violence against women. That’s something I know a lot about too, and it is worth noting that among all the horrific stories of abuse by men against women, it does occasionally go the other way round. I can’t imagine this kind of imagery does anything much to ameliorate the former (I could hope that it might, occasionally, but I don’t feel it’s likely to achieve a lot), and it may make the latter problem worse.

  4. 4

    also isn’t some of the reason is that some male viewers find feisty fighty women super-hott? (sub-dom dynamic doesn’t refute anything anyone’s said so far, but it does complicate it a bit)

  5. 5
    Lisekit on 31 Mar 2009 #

    Ah, Kat spotted already that the video you were clearly indicating was Phixx! But really, that’s just too queer* for words.

    *I mean queer as in queer theory, innit.

  6. 6
    piratemoggy on 1 Apr 2009 #

    Kat- I think I meant the video to Louise’s version of ‘Stuck In The Middle With You,’ that plays off that resevoir dogs scene. Although there’s plenty of videos that do something similar; the most recent proper shocker was the ‘No Can Do’ vid by the Sugababes.

    dubdobdee- Yes but women also find sub-dom relationships really hot, possibly to an even greater “accepted” degree than men & strong, feisty menfolk aren’t exactly off the aesthetic menu, as a rule. That’s why we like it when Zac Efron jumps on cars and gets all assertive about going to drama school.

    Martin- Yes, I agree that’s the excuse that’s used & good call on the female-to-male domestic (or otherwise) violence; there’s a lot of it that goes on, to my knowledge and it’s probably actually something that ought to have a lot more said about it. I think I particularly dislike the idea that the fact some women have been abused gives other females a sense of entitlement to beat men; that’s a very dangerous idea, as you say. :/

  7. 7

    sorry i wrote my post very late and unclearly — what i was wondering is that Wild Wimminz may ALSO be a male-gaze outshoot (rather than a compensatory riot girrl thingy)

    so that what’s actually goin on is echoes and responses within the closed sphere of difft trends and fashions in male sexual stance… (just as jackass new laddism is more a reaction against nu-man “sensitivity”, rather than an actual engagement with and response to any species of feminism?)

  8. 8
    vinylscot on 1 Apr 2009 #

    “Feisty” is one of the most overused words of our times. Almost any female describing herself will use that word.

    I wonder how many of them realise it’s actual meaning, according to thefreedictionary online, is “like a a nervous belligerent little mongrel dog” Some may say that’s rather apt in many cases; I wouldn’t dare.

  9. 9
    vinylscot on 1 Apr 2009 #

    Media portrayal of violence between the sexes is a highly problematic subject, as I’m sure you are all aware. For many years now, it has been OK to portray f on m violence, as there is a tacit understanding that males can’t complain because “they started it” – a facile argument, but much of the discourse around this subject is disturbingly facile.

    A number of years ago, a Scottish women’s charity ran a deeply offensive poster campaign accusing all males of being wife-beaters. It carried a tag-line along the lines of “Men, when will YOU learn?”, and was straight from the “All men are bastards” stable of subtlety. Suggesting that ALL men were up to such despicable behaviour was a low, dirty stunt, and undoubtedly lost the organisation (but not the cause) some support.

  10. 10
    Pete Baran on 1 Apr 2009 #

    Same issue discuss regarding a sequence in last weeks Justice League Of America comic where a female comic character (and deadly martial artist no less) punches her husband becuase he embarrassed her!

  11. 11
    Matthew on 1 Apr 2009 #

    It’s not just music videos, is it – you have 7 seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and almost everything Joss Whedon has put his name to since) in which women get supernaturally empowered to kick the crap out of mostly male things, and every male character is emasculated in one way or another (soul, chip in the head, being an English librarian). Just been watching some refreshingly un-PC 70s movies, e.g, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, and I have to say, I wouldn’t mind the pendulum swinging back in the direction of men and women being EQUALLY entitled to diss, bicker with and get one over one another for a change.

  12. 12
    koganbot on 2 Apr 2009 #

    (Parenthetical comment to the effect that Piratemoggy is a huge Miranda Lambert fan.)

  13. 13
    koganbot on 2 Apr 2009 #

    (To revise my previous post, here’s a parenthetical comment to the effect that Piratemoggy is a huge fan of the extremely HOT Miranda Lambert.)

  14. 14
    Martin Skidmore on 2 Apr 2009 #

    The JLA issue is not the same thing: these are characters who hit and get hit, often through brick walls, every day. It’s their profession. I’m not saying that makes it okay, but that context does change how much meaning we should attach to one punch.

    As for Buffy, that is heroes vs villains, so again not remotely the same thing. There is no point in bringing in a woman beating up a male vampire here. And there is no sense in which Angel’s soul emasculated him.

  15. 15
    Pete on 2 Apr 2009 #

    The JLA issue is worth considering when compared to the infamous Hank Pym wifebeater scenario. But yes, clearly comics characters do tend to relate a bit more physically than normal people.

  16. 16
    Martin Skidmore on 2 Apr 2009 #

    Well I never saw that period of Hank Pym, unless we count the Ultimates, which I imagine we aren’t. Still, there is a difference there: Black Canary and Green Arrow both punch quite a lot, the Wasp doesn’t. The difference in fist-fighting abilities is far greater. (I am not trying to defend the BC-GA bit, by the way – I’ve not seen it, but it sounds bad.)

  17. 17
    Trudy on 7 May 2011 #

    You’re a real deep tikhner. Thanks for sharing.

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)


Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page