Monday, December 11, 2006
Time to Roll Out
VIDEO: "Runaway Love" directed by Jessy Terrero
"stuck up in the world on her own, forced to think hell is a place called home"
Ludacris is the guy who wrote "What's Yo Fantasy?" and "Area Codes," gave us such memorable lines as "Move bitch, get out the way!" and "Shake your money maker like somebody 'bought to pay ya" and titled an entire album Red Light District. So it comes as a bit of a surprise that one of the most compelling, truthful and uplifting popular rap songs and videos about women in recent memory comes from Mr. "Pimpin' All Over The World" himself.
Yet that is all the more reason to cherish it. Not since Tupac's iconic "Brenda" have we had such an honest hip-hop portrayal of the experience of women in poverty-stricken America. And it doesn't hurt to have the Queen of Hip-hop, Mary J., in the track to add credibility. But it's also clear that Luda and Mary are not just focusing on a single group of women or girls this time, it isn't just African American women in the ignored margins of the country, it's a deep-rooted critique of the entire culture of our paternalistic society. In the images of hundreds of girls who are connected by this common pain, the artists reveal the far-reaching effects of our horribly lopsided culture.
The first episode tells the tale of "Lisa" who is a nine-year old suffering under the sexual abuse of her mom's angry and disturbed boyfriend, who through his presumable charm and denial is able to avoid the wrath of Lisa's mom. The scene recalls Dorothy Allison's popular novel Bastard Out of Carolina which dealt with similar issues of child-abuse and the long-term effects as such. Yet if we learned anything from that book it's that one cannot so easily blame the mother who allows her child to be sexually exploited by a man whom she loves, especially when it is likely that she herself was abused as a child. It is unfair to expect the same women who are suffering under the cycle of abuse to necessarily step-up and halt it.
The tension of the second incident is deftly created by the image of the 10-year old hiding under the bed as her monstrous step-dad tears her room apart searching for her body. To these men the female body, especially the weak and not fully developed female body, represents an outlet for all the self-doubt and guilt they feel in regards to themselves and in many cases their own treatment of women. In Allison's novel it is the fact that the little girl fears her antagonist stepfather that reminds him of the shame of his actions and his entire life for that matter, and so he blames her and thus justifies his next attack. In taking advantage of her body he assumes the role of predator which he begins to beleive is the only avenue of power for him. This same self-pity, the idea of the “suffering” male is what allows others to forgive him, but this video correctly avoids any notions of pity, we see these men for the selfish beasts that they truly are.
All the men in these scenes are pathetic. From the alcoholic step-dad to the drive-by shooters killing little girls, they are all absorbed in a completely separate masculine world of pride and shame - a world that constantly creates 16 year-old rapists like the boy in the final scene, while it ignores an entire half of the human population that is being strangled under its' grip.
These girls are so young and dealing with so much terror, fear and pain that it makes sense when one turns to drugs and sex to overcome a world that is so cold - but what is it that drives a 16 year-old boy to use and lose an 11 year-old girl so easily? What is it that would allow him to simply move on, literally runaway from his responsibility? The irony of the song title is that the women and young girls are almost never able to runaway, they are the ones stuck in the home, stuck with the baby, and stuck all alone while the conquering man moves on to his next prey.
Mary J. Blige and Ludacris are the literal witnesses to these crimes as they walk through this video, and in a sense they are in recognition of their own responsibility to these problems. For one, in helping to create the hyper-surreal dreamland of women, cars and money, which has grown to signify self-worth among young males in America, Ludacris faces a hypocritical dillema. The continued promotion of women as objects that is a staple of your typical Ludacris track cannot be overlooked just because he does one video where there are no scantily-clad females standing in front of "big-wheeled" cars. It is this type of hyper-masculine ideal that leads to the mindset that allows for male sexual violence.
Yet of course the problem is so much deeper than that. You can't blame Ludacris for an entire history of misogyny, an entire society created on the idea that man is more human than woman, that woman are here simply for the enjoyment of men and that it is the woman's responsibility to be mother and lover to every man that wants her. That's why the rapper sings about running away himself; in the face of such an overwhelmingly painful and deep-seated problem one may feel almost helpless.
Perhaps the most disheartening aspect of the video is the way in which it emphasizes the lack of outlets or solutions for these young girls. Mothers and dolls aren't enough, either are 1-800 numbers, friends or even drugs. There are literally thouasands of flyers posted on street walls. Girls sit out on corners watching lonely cars fly-by. The boys are too caught up in their own self-image creation to really care about their own sisters and friends. Love is certainly not solving the issue. So what is it that we can do?
Is it enough too simply open our eyes to this issue? Not really, for the most part we all already know, like Ludacris himself, that the abuse of women is a part of our society and we do little to stop it - more often than not we help promote and sustain it. But what is perhaps most inspiring about this video is the fact that it comes from such a popular source, it's the type of video that will be seen by millions of young kids around the world, and thus it has the capacity for real change.
And for all his internal contradiction, one has to praise Ludacris for making this sort of song and video. Because as much as we harp on the sexual inequality of the entire rap and hip-hop world, a song of this force probably wouldn't be possible in any other genre. Credibility in hip-hop is all about "truth," how "real" one is to the streets. This video is truth, depicting the horror of these experiences with unflinching honesty. As he stands amidst the rainfall of missing children flyers it's clear that this video is Ludacris and Mary J. Blige's own flyer to the world, in rememberance of every hurt and defeated young girl that has suffered too long. Let's hope Ludacris and his fellow superstar rappers use their credibility towards the spreading of more truth like this in the future, and less of that typical misogynistic "fantasy."
More than anything, though, it's the responsibility of every viewer to take the lessons of this video and not simply brush them off as 5 minutes of entertainment with a good beat. When we say art has the power to enact social change, we mean it, but it only works if people have the same faith in the art. The best way to stop the mistreatment of women in our society is to change the way you and the others around you think about the treatment of women - spread the word.