Racism, Sexism and Music Videos

by Pauline Musoke @ThePauzi

We are currently living in an intense environment of popular culture dominated by music videos, which are focused on traditional images of gender, sexuality, race and ethnicity. Music videos may have changed over the course of modern history, but have certainly grown to be bigger, bolder, some would say sexier and more controversial. The reason for finding music videos problematic may be because of the unrealistic images of the human body and the messages that are being portrayed and sold by major music industries.

Music is one of the major things that connects the people of Bristol, both within and beyond the city. It allows people to feel a rainbow of emotions and express themselves in countless ways. Music can take us on a trip down memory lane, it can give us a sense of total freedom during the private moments when we dance around in our underwear and for some, music is their lifeline. However, much of the popular music produced today is accompanied with videos that present distorted images of sexuality and objectify women’s bodies. This is particularly the case of Black women’s bodies which are often exotified, have their behinds’ fetishized and are continuously limited of their autonomy because of their race, ethnicity, class and gender.

music-notes-15781-1920x1200Music videos for commercial pop music are dominated by idioms of Black youth and working class culture. This distinctive and very lucrative portion of the music industry was articulated in the late 1970s and early 1980s with hip-hop culture but gained momentum in the 1990s, which saw the mass mainstreaming of music videos – not exclusive to hip-hop culture, but also found in genres of teen pop, punk, metal and indie.
It would now be appropriate to list some of the recent and previous artists who are featured in popular music videos that reproduce the stereotypical controlling images of (Black) womanhood and the idea of macho, yet glossy and groomed masculinity. I am confident that you can name three artists as a minimum – such as Rihanna, Nelly and Miley Cyrus.

If one were to pay closer attention and spend time dissecting such music videos, you will find that women’s bodies are being emphasised, chopped up, twisted and modified to live up to the dominated images of what has been constructed as attractive. These music videos are often one-dimensional. Women are active in a decorative manner with almost no existence of sexual diversity – this is the case for both the leading and background entertainers. Also, women often act as subordinate male sponsors whose sole purpose is to sexually pleasure and entertain the opposite sex.

The images presented in music videos are familiar to most of us and we also see them across other forms of visual entertainment such as films, television series and games. However, commercial music videos represent one of the most popular forms of entertainment that can also have profound implications for young people, who are the primary audience. Continuously being exposed to hyper-sexualised images can lead to (young) people exacerbating gender oppression and antagonism in relationships. In addition, becoming increasingly accepting of interpersonal violence against women, supporting rape culture and stereotypical gender role attitudes.

Criticising the music industry is not to deny the fact that in some cases, female artists use the realm of popular culture and performance for the purpose of social commentary, in order to respond and resist the controlling images of women. Not to acknowledge that contemporary commercial music videos are a larger social and political problem is risky and troublesome. On the other hand, it is understandable that some turn a blind eye to this, because of the amount of sexist and racist material that we are exposed to daily. At some point, all of this becomes white noise – noise that clearly has a much darker side to it.

Rewind&Reframe is a project run by a group of young people who see the severity in music videos and the damaging images that are being produced and re-produced without major questioning. This group have taken on the task of holding the music industry and stakeholders of visual entertainment accountable by addressing them and other social and political decision-makers. We hope to empower and encourage other young people, who may have similar concerns, to speak out and question what you see. If you see this too and feel that you can relate, I welcome and encourage you to support the movement.

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