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