If Students Can Hold Smutty Stars Accountable, Why Can't We?
by Michael King
Music videos these days are filled with images of scantily-clad women either exploiting their sexuality or having it exploited.
Britney Spears, for example, wears a sheer bodystocking with strategically placed rhinestones - along with other suggestive costumes - in her latest video, "Toxic." Beyonce Knowles gyrates through her video for "Naughty Girl." And we won't even begin to talk about Janet Jackson and her "wardrobe malfunction."
Beyond the leading ladies of song, the dancers of music video bump, grind and writhe through one video after another with almost bland regularity. In the video for Nelly's "Tip Drill," the rapper goes so far as to swipe a credit card down the backside of a female dancer.
Misogynistic lyrics abound in popular music from stars who denigrate women with their words. Their music blares from speakers in cars around us on the roads; gyrating bodies for the exclusive purpose of oogling inhabit videos on MTV and BET with increasing frequency.
The saddest part is the tacit accepting silence by the so-called leaders of black America as well as the women who participate in these tawdry exercises in voyeurism.
Thankfully, some enlightened college students have finally had enough.
Nelly - also known as Cornell Haynes Jr. - recently found himself the subject of a demonstration on the campus of Spellman College. He was on the campus to attend a fundraiser for his charity, 4Sho4Kids. Nhe wants to raise awareness of the need for marrow and blood stem cell donors among minorities. His sister, Jackie Donahue, was diagnosed with leukemia.
Students, led by Spellman student government president Asha Jennings, protested the rapper's appearance on campus because of his treatment of women in "Tip Drill" and other songs. The event was cancelled.
Jennings, who was previously the coordinator of the fund drive, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "We care about the cause, and we understand that the need for bone marrow is so great within the minority community. However, we can't continue to support artists and images that exploit our women and put us out there as oversexed, nonintelligent human beings."
Chalena Mack, executive director of 4Sho4Kids, and Juliette Harris, Nelly's publicist with Alliance Management Group, both expressed their disappointment with regard to the protest.
"To cancel [the drive] because of this issue is a shame," said Harris. "And to put him in this position is not right. There's a work image, and then there's a human being who loves his sister and is trying to do a good thing."
There's no question Nelly loves his sister, but would he want to see her perform in one of his videos?
More than 500 students from Spellman - and all-women's college - and neighboring all-male Morehouse College (both historically black schools) attended a forum to discuss rap lyrics, videos and the exploitation of women in musical culture. Jennings and others encouraged people to write letters to musicians explaining their opposition to the current musical status quo and to stop buying offending artists' CDs and watching their videos.
Jennings understands Nelly's appearance at Spellman was to raise money for a good cause, but she nonetheless felt his video was the straw that broke the camel's back.
"The last thing we wanted was for the drive not to happen, but to expect it to go on without any controversy was not realistic," Jennings said.
At last, people are finally getting tired of women being portrayed as mere pieces of meat meant for the sexual gratification of men.
I would make one more suggestion to Jennings and the other students. Don't just go after the artists. Go after the companies that create those images and profit from them. Make sure the women who appear in those videos also share in the blame. Their willing participation helps to re-enforce the negative stereotypes that are put there as tacit reality in urban America.
The borderline pornographic images present in many of today's music videos and in music generally must be removed if not for our sake, then for our children's.
Michael King is a member of the National Advisory Council of the African-American leadership network Project 21 and a freelance writer and Internet consultant in Atlanta, Georgia. Comments may be sent to [email protected].
Published May 2004 by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.
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