“…the girl figure continues to be colonised, exploited, abused and commodified have perhaps intensified in an ever increasing global girl market, where ‘girl’ becomes synonymous with ‘sex’” (Renold and Ringrose, 2013).
Revised 6:22pm June9, 2014
How to Make Sexual Objectification Sell
You know how to make anything “black” that is sexually reprehensible to most black women palatable and also make it go viral 20 years after it was nearly banned as a rap song on MTV for its language and objectification of black women’s asses? Set it to classical music or perform it with a reputable classical orchestra?
Today, Gawker featured a YouTube video of Sir Mix-a-lot performing his 1992 megahit “Baby Got Back” with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra for the 3rd season of its critically acclaimed Sonic Evolution project, which creates a bridge between the Symphony and Seattle’s storied reputation as launching pad for some of the most creative musicians on the popular music scene. Obviously, their definition of “creativity” is collapsed quite neatly with “commercial saleability”.
Creativity for Sale
I wouldn’t qualify “Baby Got Back” as one of the most creative songs out of the Seattle hip-hop scene, but (and I do mean butt) it did rank second in sales back in 1992 to Whitney Houston’s version of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You“, just for perspective. Whitney’s version, arranged it for an R&B audience with David Foster, is considered one of the greatest songs of all time–both for its creativity and its sales–and the single became Houston’s longest run at number one, smashing her previous record, which was three weeks with 1986’s, “Greatest Love of All.”
I bet if you checked out the numbers of views for all the versions of “Baby Got Back” on YouTube, including “Baby Got Back Sung to the Movies” with over 3 million views, they would all collectively make it the greatest love of all rap songs among online videos. But at what cost?
Sellin’ Steatopygia as Currency
It’s great that Anthony Ray aka Six Mix-a-lot got to share his music with a new audience at the Seattle Symphony, while white women throng from the orchestra seats to be close to big daddy and shake their thang on a night at the symphony. But what impact does this have on black women like me and others who despise the objectification of our body image? It’s like the Hottentot Venus ain’t needed no more but we can still dance to the tune of her subjugation and oppression centuries later. It’s much safer to get all those Beckys from the audience to fill in for us. If black women’s bodies are not hidden in some teddy bear costume while their butts are gettin smacked by white female artists climbed the record charts, then it’s stand ins, wannabes, who absolutely love that song and wanna share it with the world. Meanwhile, black girls twerking in videos are disparaged. In all cases, women ain’t gettin’ paid for their views online or at the orchestra but the quite willing to oblige the audience.
So, your best bet to get views on YouTube would be 1) set it to a live classical orchestra, 2) do a remix or some version of Baby Got Back to remind people how novel that song can be 20 years later, and 3) be sure NOT to include any black women or girls though the whole lyric signifies Sir Mix-a-Lot’s love for the Steatopygia (the high accumulation of fat on and around the buttocks) which had Europeans parade a young African woman named Sara Baartman around in a cage as mass entertainment in the 19th century. Yeah! I know why the caged bird sings!!
A Predictable Canon in D (D is for “Daughters”)
If you wanna be a disc digger about songs that sample classical music, Rap Genius has a collection of YouTube rap videos that sample classical music. Nas did it. He set the rap “(I Know) I Can” to Beethoven’s bagatelle “Für Elise” to make a hit that featured one of his first attempts to deal with misogyny in rap. Why? Because he had a daughter and finally cared. That’s how it always goes, right? Male rappers who swipe credit cards between black women’s asses to get more video views or pour champagne over black female bodies only respect their mama and their daughter and all the other women be damned.
As I write about how neoliberalism–negative implications of globalization and free trade, I’ve been thinking about how YouTube being free comes at a cost to black girls who twerk. I have lots more to say but for now, I hope you’ll share this post to counter, even on a minimal level, the millions of views that this classicized version of sexual objectification will get. It’s not about my getting more views, but I am trying to change the visual and linguistic discourse of YouTube’s gendered media ecology esp. relating to its most explicit rap videos that still exploit black female body imagery to get it’s economic groove on.
On Patriarchal Discourse
By discourse, for those who think that’s academic talk, it simply means “the learned words and language (verbal and non-verbal, musical and non-musical, on-stage, backstage and off stage) we use to exchange of ideas about male and female behavior in public settings like YouTube and social media. We prefer to leave the context of patriarchy (and white privilege), out of the picture like musical chord changes don’t have a key shaping our expression. We’re much better at the tonality when it comes capitalism in genres, spaces and sounds but not so much with patriarchy or sexuality studies. Without dealing with the key we are in, the tonality, we don’t have to analyze how patriarchy in neoliberal capitalism shapes who gets work, who teaches, and what kind of musical, cultural and linguistic or conversational environment gets economic remuneration and which others get less pay or are completely ignored.
Obviously, Six Mix-a-lot and the orchestral conductor are gettin’ paid. Becky and Shaniqua are not.
- What do you think about the video?
- Am I being too sensitive or right on target?
Quote above from:
Emma Renold and Jessica Ringrose. 2013. “Feminisms re-figuring ‘sexualisation’, sexuality and ‘the girl’. Feminist Theory 14(3) 247–254.