Thursday, October 19, 2006

Paris Hilton and More Feminism

VIDEO: "Stars Are Blind" Paris Hilton

They banned this video in India for it’s rampant sexuality. This comes as no surprise to anyone who knows anything about Paris Hilton and her previous “videos.”

“Stars Are Blind” is directed by Chris Applebaum, and from the opening shot it’s referencing 1991’s “Wicked Games” by Chris Isaak, a video that raised similar objections when it first aired. The two videos share shots of water rushing and bodies rubbing, not to mention uniquely bad singers.

But they also share a huge emphasis on female anatomy over male anatomy, choosing to highlight Ms. Hilton and model Helena Christensen over their male counterparts. It’s nothing new to point out the rampant misogyny in pop music, particularly in music videos, but there’s a more interesting question lingering here.

In Isaak’s piece Christensen shows a bit more skin than Paris, but neither is ever fully nude, rather they strut and stare in a sexual manner. Can you imagine the equivalent male poses? Chris Isaak barely takes off his shirt here, and while Paris’ counterpart is definitely meant to be eye candy, he doesn’t move around or touch himself provocatively - and the camera almost always lingers on Paris anyway. Michael Jackson grabbed his crouch emphatically for over 20 years on MTV, and while it angered a few, none of his videos are really considered “too sexy,” but rather somewhat disturbing. Can a guy even be sexy?

Some may remember the D’Angelo video, “Untitled (How Does It Feel),” a few years back where the camera grazed over his completely naked body as he sung soulfully. But D’Angelo is not exactly the same as Paris Hilton. He was a great singer who used his body to compliment a particular songs sexual force, and even then he barely moves throughout the video. And the fact that the camera simply pans over his body as he stands there actually gives him a sort of power; you are forced to hear the lyrics - whereas a dancing Paris seems somewhere closer to a stripper. In fact, “Stars are Blind” is a fairly innocent love song with some playful coded references, but it doesn’t have to be about sex, we just expect as much from Paris Hilton. The reality is, there is no male equivalent in music to Paris.

But does this mean women like Paris or Fergie are being forced into portraying themselves in a certain manner in order to attain a level of success? Probably, and honestly no one can blame Paris Hilton for capitalizing on an opportunity. But what is far more disheartening is the fact that in making a video that references the sexuality of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Games” the director and Hilton did not choose to reverse the angle. Since the days of Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and the Narrative Cinema,” published in 1975, we’ve been fully aware of the male gaze in cinema, but it is clear that not much has changed.

The music industry is still run by heterosexual men and their desires. Christina Aguilera and others have recognized this, and even come out against it, and yet they are still forced to sell their own work based on their bodies. A song like “Ain’t No Other Man” would have been prime for spotlighting a male figure, but it becomes yet another female strut-fest. Isaak and so many other males (particularly in hip-hop) have made videos that are primarily about showing off women, but how many women are making videos that show off men, where are the male video “honeys”? And while there is an unbelievable amount of objectification and dehumanization of females in many music videos, female displays of sexuality should not be banned. Instead one just wishes that someone in the music industry, male or female, would have the guts to do the same with men.

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Depth of Focus Videographies: Radiohead / Bjork / Michael Jackson / Bowie