Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Scroll down for analysis of Rihanna's 'Hard' music video

And... see here for more analysis of it from Luna17.

Whose gonna run this town?

There have been quite a few interpretations of Jay-Z, Rihanna & Kanye West's music video 'Run this Town.
For the original see here.
For an illuminati/new world order take on it see here.
And for a spoof version about hunting Chris Brown see here.

For my take on it read on....
The Run This Town video shows crowds of people marching with flaming torches, Molotov cocktails being thrown, upturned burning cars and images of Chairman Mao. People are preparing for a riot, their faces covered by bandanas and hoods. There are what look like WTO protesters from across the globe, Mujahideen fighters, anarchists and demonstrators. This could be the G20 riots in Seattle or Genoa or an uprising of landless peasants in Brazil. Instead it’s a Jay Z, Rihanna and Kanye West track.

This song about power with its images of revolution has been released at a timely moment. In this period of massive inequality, economic meltdown and poverty Rihanna echoes the thoughts of many when she sings: “Only thing that's on my mind Is who's gonna run this town tonight...” The question of who runs our streets needs to be asked.

However hopefully people will pay more attention to the images than the words because what comes back from the video is not revolution but a hyped up shopping list of things the people can’t afford, plus a bunch of sexist and homophobic lyrics thrown in for good measure. Symbols of resistance have once again been co-opted, warped and sold back to us to make money for the very people that were being resisted in the first place.

Even though his stylist has dressed him as Subcomandante Marcos, with a personal fortune of a $547million, Jay Z is the richest person in hip hop. Though he spends most of the song rapping about money he is not talking about the redistribution of wealth amongst the poor or the inequality in society but how he wants and is going to get more money. He asks people to “Pledge your allegiance Get y'all fatigues on” but the allegiance is to him – ‘You can call me Cesar’ - and the cause is expanding his bank balance even more.

Rihanna, who made $10million last year, takes centre stage in the video, dressed up in a series of faux revolutionary outfits including a sexist parody of a Black Panther. However the lyrics of the song corner women into being objectified and mere accessories for the men that are going to run the town. Kanye West with his fortune of $32million is the third artist in this track. Squandering his chance to rap about something as meaningful as the imagery of the video Kayne instead tells us about his shoe collection and buying cars. He is a revolutionary that brags about having a police escort and berates people for wearing trainers. Whilst the imagery is inspiring, it’s completely mismatched with the lyrics rather like if Bush and Blair did karaoke to Lowkey’s ‘Long Live Palestine’ track.

Clearly the musical establishment sees demonstrations, riots and resistance as things that will sell their products. Or maybe this is Jay Z’s answer to the growing Revolutionary But Gangsta movement in hip hop. Whichever, this video is a step up from speedboats and bikinis and just because the stars in this video are vacuous doesn’t mean that the people watching it won’t be influenced by the subversive message that the only way to get power is to band together and take it, by force if necessary. Anything that teaches people not to be humble and popularises the idea of collective action can only be a step in the right direction.

Hopefully one day the crowds in the video will Run This Town and we’ll get to watch Kayne West’s shoe collection being redistributed amongst the homeless to be worn or burnt as fuel as people saw fit.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Rihanna - as if empowerment wasn't 'Hard' enough already.

If you haven't already seen the music video for Rihanna's new single 'Hard' you can view it here:

My problems with this video are threefold. Firstly, this video is pure old fashioned misogyny masquerading as empowerment. The second is that the position of female soldiers has been completely distorted – US State Department figures report that one in three women in the US military will be raped or sexually assaulted by her male counterparts. And the third is that riding around on a colonialist expedition with America’s army does not make you ‘hard’ and that war is not something to be glamorised.

It saddens me to see the route that Rihanna has taken with this video, particularly since she has herself recently been the victim of domestic violence by her former partner. It appears that this video is in part a reaction to that period of her life or at least a reaction to the media circus that sprung up around her since. The fact remains that we live in a world where one in six women are raped and even greater numbers suffer abuse – stopping this should be a priority in the world today but it isn’t. It is no wonder therefore that there is still a market for the false empowerment in this video, that the music industry can tell women that sex is the real way to be respected by men. Unless things change more young women will remain both lost, exploited and unempowered.

“Its not for her specific feminine virtue that gives women a place of honour in human society, but the worth of her useful work accomplished for society, the worth of her personality as a human being, as a creative worker, as citizen, thinker or fighter.” So wrote Alexandra Kollantai almost a hundred years ago. Sadly not much has changed in this respect. Women are still valued primarily for how they look. This is not to say that women can not be fighters. They are. Across the world they play their part in conflicts, fighting and dying along side men. And at the other end of the spectrum they take their place on the sporting field, becoming known for their strength, courage and endurance.

But Rihanna is not here in a boxing ring or on the track, what we get in this video is a distortion of physical achievement. Rihanna just has sex as her achievement. Whilst the male soldiers stay fully clothed, Rihanna pole dances in an ammo-dump and rolls around on sandbags smearing her body with mud. How is this going to help any women – soldiers or otherwise – be taken seriously as something other than a sex object? I am not condemning women being overtly sexual, what I take issue with is the way Rihanna is conforming to the idea that the way to express success as a woman is to turn your body into a sexual object and learn sexual techniques to service men. Her only physical achievement in this video is walking through sand in high heels, coupled with parodies of violent male sexual behaviour. Rather than challenge the worst aspects of aggressive masculinity she has taken the stance of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them.”

Many women at the peak of human physical fitness are in the US military. Currently 206,000 women have served the US in the Middle East since March 2003, most of them in Iraq. Some 600 have been wounded, and 104 have died. Their untold story is that one in three of them will suffer either rape or serious sexual assault by her male colleagues and 90% of female soldiers will face sexual harassment. The only thing that could and does make this worse is the miniscule number of attackers that are prosecuted. In 2007 out of 2,200 servicemen investigated for sexual assault, only 181 were prosecuted. More often than not it is the women themselves that are humiliated, blamed, or punished. Female soldiers report their male counterparts in the Middle East stating that they’ve been put there to replace the prostitutes that were freely available in Vietnam. It is this climate that allows rape to be treated like a misdemeanour rather that a major crime.

This music video echoes that assertion. While women in the military continue to be portrayed in such a sexualised way there will be no progress on this front. In addition, Rihanna is damaging women she has nothing in common with. She made $10 million this year, she is not a minimum wage soldier, doing her three years to get to college.

My third complaint comes from the fact that this video glamorises the ‘war on terror’ and portrays it as a ‘hard’ thing to do. Rihanna walks through desert explosions, there is Arabic graffiti on the walls and sandbags stacked up against mountain scenes. Lets be clear, what the US has done in Iraq or Afghanistan is not hard or tough. When histories most powerful super power, in possession of the world largest nuclear arsenal, attacks one of the poorest countries in the world its not being ‘hard’. Far tougher than the generals in the Pentagon are the Afghan fighters in the hills of Tora Bora or the Iraqi resistance in Fallujah.

At one point, whilst standing on a tank Rihanna is shown wearing Mickey Mouse ears. Firstly this makes the idea that Rihanna is a tough soldier look like a joke, how can you be a tough soldier whilst wearing Mickey Mouse ears? Secondly the Mickey Mouse ears are a symbol of US imperialism. Rihanna’s ‘empowerment’ is being a tool of US imperialism, bringing her Mickey Mouse pop music to the desert on the back of a tank.

Being exploited by a government, be it Bush’s or Obama’s is not empowering. Having your humanity and your sanity smashed to pieces because you were made to watch Afghan children have their heads blown apart is not empowerment. Having your legs blown off or losing your best friend because you were forced to walk over landmines is not empowerment. To sexualise this exploitation of both soldiers and the people they kill and to pretend that is empowerment is a disservice to those that have suffered and to everyone fighting for change.