Monthly Archives: January 2012

Race and Power in Madonnna’s “Human Nature”

This is a cross-post from mah Tumblr (which you should be following if you want to get bite-size feminsty, social justicey goodness from me on the regular).

Andreas and I watched Madonna’s “Human Nature” video together last night because we wanted to listen to the song. I’ve seen this video a bunch of times, but this time around I noticed some interesting stuff going on with race.

Background: Human Nature is a song all about how sex, sexual urges, fantasies, etc. all that sexy stuff is natural and you shouldn’t be ashamed of it, yada yada. The video has lots of leather and BDSM imagery. On to the analysis:

First of all, Madge has dark cornrows, a traditionally African hairstyle, throughout the video:

Rockin the white-girl braids

The intent is obviously to make her look more severe and aggressive (because POC are totally aggressive, amirite?). Another thing going on in this video is the “artistic choice” to have her extremely pale skin and the white background contrast with both the black leather and the skin tones of the people around her (be they POC or just tanner-than-her white people; everyone in this video is a shade or two darker than Madonna):

Madonna as the blazing white center of everything

But then things get even more weirdly, racially suggestive. At one point, Madonna is tied to a chair, being ravished by two men. Their physical placement is below her, but she still isn’t a place of sexual aggression or power, which is made especially obvious when one of the men pushes the shit out of her head and she looks pretty pissed about it.

Aggressive women get their shit tied up and dominated

The issue here isn’t about how consensual the act is. Everything in this video is implied to be consensual because the song is about fantasies and sexual kinks. But here’s where it gets… fishy. In the very next scene Madonna is the sexual aggressor. Her cornrows are now less “aggressive”-looking and poof out in the back in sort of a faux-Fro, still a less “ethnic” looking hairstyle than the previous one. She’s dominating the one clearly Black woman in the video. There are two women in the video other than Madonna, and both are darker than her, but with the one who gets tied up and dominated by Madonna, it’s immediately obvious that she’s a Black woman.

Not to mention the way that the WOC is tied up is much more uncomfortable and exposed

WOC as furniture for Madonna to lean on

This part really does seem to go on and on

LOL, I love representing white superiority! Having a black sex servant is AWESOME and HILARIOUS

So now I’m sitting here thinking about the implications of these “artistic” choices. It’s hard to believe that they chose the Black woman to be tied up and dominated by the lily-white Madonna by accident or coincidence. Even if the thought process was “it goes along with the choice to contrast skin tones and scenery,” that’s still problematic. And the more I think about it, the weirder and ickier it seems: when Madonna is ethnic and aggressive with her white-girl cornrows, she’s dominated by men. But when she looks less aggressive and threatening, when she’s smiling and laughing, she gets to dominate another woman, a WOC.

There’s fucked-up power shit going on here: men who are darker than Madonna, but not Black or extremely dark men, dominate women—even aggressive women. And white women—even non-aggressive, cutesy women who carry little dogs with their whips—dominate Black women.

Also, it’s fundamentally problematic to have a room full of darker-skinned people and have the center of all of their sexual desire be a blindingly pale white woman.

Bish needs some vitamin D, in a motherfucking hurry.

WTF, Madonna. You got some weird racial shit going on in this video.

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Link Dump: #57

This kitty participates in a classic cat scare, midway through Friday the 13th: A New Beginning. Jumping around, knocking down pans in a small diner, distracting us before the real danger arrives. Thanks for that, kitty. This week, we’ve got a treasure trove of links, every one of them a goodie. Enjoy!

Finally, we have a pair of baffling search terms: “film eurotic la madre con la sou fill,” which seems like a jumble of 2-3 languages with the word “erotic” misspelled, and “brazil pussy sex with animels,” which I assume was written by someone with minimal knowledge of Brazil. With by own minimal knowledge, I will point out that Brazil is not known for its pussy sex with animels. Harmful stereotypes, people.

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Gotta Rate ‘Em All: Part 4

[Author’s note: This is the continuation of my series in which I carefully research and review the themes of every Pokémon season, in chronological order.]

Season 7:  Pokémon Advanced Challenge (This Dream)

Lyrics: Rolfe and Siegler.  This one takes an interesting perspective compared to what we’ve heard before, since the lyrics essentially amount to “The Pokémon TV show will be around for ALL ETERNITY.” The rhyming is fine, but the choice to insert the phrase “Advanced Challenge!” after “We will rise to meet the challenge every time” seems redundant.  Couldn’t the line have been “We’ll meet the ADVANCED CHALLENGE every time”?  WHAT HAPPENED TO THE LYRICAL SOPHISTICATION OF SEASON 6????

Delivery: First of all, Rolfe (or someone, maybe Loeffler) changed the three note PO-KÉ-MON sign off, which boggles my mind.  It sounds like the opening to a Power Rangers commercial.  Why change the most iconic part of the intro?  The tune itself is pretty boring, and that final “PO-KÉ-MON” seems really badly glued on (although that may be more the editor’s fault than the performer’s).

Other: This one is definitely Rolfe’s weakest.  That’s saying something, though, because Rolfe’s weakest is still a pretty strong opening for Pokémon.

Rank: 8/14

Season 8:  Pokémon Advanced Battle (Unbeatable)

Lyrics: Rolfe and Siegler. Pretty good! This is probably what Ash hears in his head all day long. The rhymes are solid, and the lyrics, while arrogant, make sense. I don’t know if I’d call Ash’s journey an “endless highway,” but that’s pedantic. “Advanced Battle is the ultimate test!” is a pretty great integration of the show’s name, so that’s nicely done. It’s interesting how the lyrics will at some points sound as if Ash is singing them, and then back out and deliver the meta-information that this season of Pokémon is called “Advanced Battle.” Am I thinking too hard about this? I don’t know anymore.

Delivery: Here’s the Rolfe I know and love! Catchy, starts with a great hook, and keeps up the pace. The only thing I don’t like is when he crams in, “Pokémon/Advanced Battle!” but it’s not as jarring as it could be. A great final effort from David Rolfe! And, as I noted before, he has certainly moved up in the world since his Pokémon days.

Other: This one is probably one of the strongest intros, just in terms of memorability and catchiness. This one was on TV long after I stopped watching Pokémon, but if I heard it playing it would certainly pique my interest. And then I’d realize I’ve been tricked into watching Pokémon and feel resentful, but at least the intro is alright.

Rank: 4/14

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12 Blind Spots for 2012

A couple months ago, Ryan at The Matinee announced his “2012 Blind Spot Series,” a communal attempt to fill in some viewing gaps. I only recently found out about it, but I’m totally on board; any excuse to broaden your horizons, right? So I generated a list of 12 movies I’ve been meaning to see “forever,” but haven’t quite gotten around to watching. They are:

  • Les Vampires (1915-16). I’ve seen the first couple chapters of Louis Feuillade’s groundbreaking 6 1/2 hour serial, but this time I’m going the whole way. If I can watch all of Sátántangó, then I can make it through this.
  • Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler (1922). Again, the reason I haven’t seen this yet is simply “it’s really goddamn long.” But this is early Fritz Lang, so I’ll make the time commitment. (And like Les Vampires, this sounds like a really epic crime thriller. Should be fun.)
  • Jezebel (1938). Bette Davis Henry Fonda William Wyler??! Why haven’t I seen this yet?
  • Black Narcissus (1947). I haven’t seen this yet only because I really want to watch it on a big screen. With any luck, I’ll commandeer a theater and finally get my hysterical nun fix.
  • Viaggio in Italia (1954). As with Jezebel, the answer here is extremely straightforward: Bergman Sanders Rossellini, let’s do this thing.
  • Rocco and His Brothers (1960). I’ve slowly been getting into Visconti, so why not make this my next stop? Besides, Alain Delon is one of the most attractive men who has ever lived, and that’s enough of a draw for me.
  • Dr. Zhivago (1965). To be honest, I’m a little nervous about this one. I’m a fan of Lawrence of Arabia and the cast looks excitingly eclectic, but plot-heavy literary adaptations were a dime a dozen in the ’60s (and often very bad). But who knows. I’ll give it a go.
  • The Tin Drum (1979). I’ve been informed that I actually have seen this controversial movie… when I was 3-4 years old. However, I’d like to see it as a mature adult, specifically one who loves the New German Cinema.
  • The Thin Blue Line (1988). I’ve heard praises like “best documentary ever” tossed at this before, so I’m game. I loved The Fog of War and Tabloid, so my expectations are pretty high.
  • When Harry Met Sally (1989). OK, this isn’t really my kind of movie, but who knows? I might like it. I like a lot of stuff.
  • Twelve Monkeys (1995). Terry Gilliam remade La Jetée as feature-length? Try and stop me.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001). I saw the latter two, and I’m a completist when it comes to trilogies. (Which reminds me, The World of Apu and The Idiots should really be on this list, too.) I guess it can prepare me for the upcoming Hobbit fever, too.

Any recommendations about where to start?

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Oscar Contenders Round-up

Oscar nominations drop in less than a week. Yes, awards season is heavy upon us, with all its implicit fun and horror! I’ve already reviewed three big Oscar players—The Tree of Life (love), The Help (hate), and Midnight in Paris (eh)—but have yet to touch on the season’s other talked-about titles. The following is my attempt to rectify that:

The Artist. I was delighted by the cuteness and chemistry of Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, who give a spry pair of performances attuned to the film’s silence. And writer/director Michel Hazanavicius has an eye for visual gags, which dot the film: the dancing legs, the take-after-take courtship, the ascension of Peppy’s name, etc., etc. But The Artist never really coheres, coming across more as a set-piece variety hour than a fleshed-out feature film. Its tragedies, when they arrive, don’t stick—Dujardin’s alcoholism and depression always seem to have a wry smile lurking beneath them, and a climactic suicide attempt is punctuated by a joke. The film’s story is all but an afterthought, schematically stitching Singin’ in the Rain onto A Star Is Born.

Guillaume Schiffman’s gleaming photography gorgeously invokes the memory of “classical Hollywood,” but to what end? The film never really gets beyond the shock of its own retro-novelty, preferring to be vaguely about the idea of “silent movies” rather than any historically real silent cinema.* (This meta-silence explains its “Dream Factory” Hollywood setting, which could’ve been constructed from issues of Photoplay.) When it does make concrete allusions (to Citizen Kane and, infamously, Vertigo), they’re hollow and don’t fit their contexts. The Artist suggests the gist of silent movies (i.e., “they didn’t talk”) but doesn’t follow through; it’s very limited in outlook and execution. Kudos, certainly, to Hazanavicius and company for merely making a functional latter-day silent movie. I just wish they’d made more than a broad pastiche that teeters toward “They don’t make ’em like they used to!” pandering. Well, at least the dog’s cute.

*Hazanavicius himself seems strangely misinformed about 1920s filmmaking. In one interview, he claimed that under the Hays Code, “People don’t kiss, there isn’t any kissing in my movie, the dancing scenes are the love scenes.” I’m really curious where he got the impression that no kissing signifies “an American way to tell a story.”

Next: Hugo, The Descendants, War Horse, and Moneyball.

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Gotta Rate ‘Em All: Part 3

[Author’s note: This is the continuation of my series in which I carefully research and review the themes of every Pokémon season, in chronological order.  Read about Seasons 1 and 2 here!]

Season 5:  Pokémon Master Quest (Believe in Me)

Lyrics: Written by David Rolfe and John Siegler. The rhyming in this intro is very nicely done. Consistent structure, and a couple slant rhymes, although nothing egregious. If dream/believe is the only not-quite-kosher rhyme in a Pokémon intro, then we’re doing very well. Nice going, Rolfe.

Delivery: This intro has almost the same melody as the second part of season 4’s intro. You can check for yourself; the “born to be a winner!” part from the season 4 intro would fit pretty seamlessly into this song. I consider that a nice touch, since it gives the intros some continuity. What’s more, there’s absolutely no shouting of the word “Pokémon” through megaphones, and no pseudo-hip hop, so that’s a good intro as far as I’m concerned. Simple tune, but very memorable. Nice generic guitar, too.  (Compliments for Pokémon songs tend to be the mildest of compliments.)

Other: That’s 2 for 2, Rolfe.  Let’s see how you do going into season 6.

Rank: 3/14

Season 6: Pokémon Advanced (I Wanna Be a Hero)

Lyrics: Rolfe and Siegler again. This is the first season that came out for the Gameboy Advance games, and the lyrics are pretty excited to remind you about it. Lots of obvious reference to the series at the end, but there’s a sneaky additional reminder when Rolfe sings, “I’ve ADVANCED so far / And still there’s always more to come.” Nice. Really great rhyming in this one; I didn’t see anything that bothered me.

Delivery: The return of the funky Pokémon intro! Rolfe uses the same technique that he did in season 4, with a fast opening that leads into a more repetitive, catchy segment. And did you catch that autotune? It’s a little out of place, but it’s much better than some dude shouting “POKÉMON!” in the background.

Other: I wouldn’t call this as good as the intros for seasons 4 and 5, but it’s still a solid intro. I feel like it loses a little steam when he has to start telling you what season it is again and again, but at least the concept of Pokémon Advanced is well-integrated into the song itself.

Rank: 6/14

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Link Dump: #56

This week’s kitty is from Cindy Sherman’s first (and only) feature film, Office Killer. The film itself was pretty disappointing—a half-baked story that wasted a bunch of great actresses—but hey, at least it had a cute kitty! And now, a smattering of links:

As for search terms: we had the rejected Jules Verne title “journey in the pussy,” the question-without-an-answer “what disney movie did they say vagina?”, and the excellent statement “writing things make me angry.” Writing things make me angry, too.

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