Monday, January 10, 2011

The Monster Under Your Bed: Video Review of Kanye West's "Monster"

A commotion has started on the internet over Kanye West's new video for "Monster," which features Rick Ross, Jay-z and Nicki Minaj. After watching what is a very disturbing video, I also wanted to make a few comments.

The first image that caught my attention was one of the first shots in the video--hanging bodies of white women. Historically speaking, the image reminded me immediately of the lynchings of black men in the South. Often black men were beaten, castrated and/or lynched for doing anything with a white woman: having sex with her, making a pass at her, flirting with her, maybe even staring at her. All one needs to do is look up the story of Emmett Till to know what I am talking about.

So, when I saw that image, two thoughts came to mind: To have that image in 2010 shows how far we come and how much of a risk-taker Kanye is, but also what it could subconsciously mean racially. Black men have been labeled as hyper-sexual and lusting after white women, even willing to rape and kidnap them, and as a result many were lynched for it. Sometimes in those lynching incidents, the white woman did have consensual contact with the black man but once she was caught, she would cry "rape" (think of the Scottsboro Boys).

That image in "Monster" seemed to be somewhat of a subconscious revenge for the depictions of black men as sexual predators and even black people in general as "Monsters." West makes it clear that these women are chasing him (as in the shot where the women's hands are grabbing at him from behind a door), and the only dead or unconscious women in the video are white women.

Besides the racial elements of this video, there are also gender elements. Looking at the video, parts of it could come across as another version of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" or Backstreet Boys' "Everybody" video in which people become or are typical horror movie monsters.

However, "Monster" also alludes to other horror movies, especially psychosexual thrillers/horror films. West's video is misogynistic and objectifying in its portrayal of hanging bodies of women, women held behind a door behind Kanye as if they are caged, women who look unconscious (as if they had been given roofies in their drink) or dead, and a women who has been decapitated and her body cut up. The video makes the rappers appear as serial killers and/or rapists. The women look as if they are controlled by the rappers in the video, waiting for the men to do whatever they want to with them. Just look at the shot where Jay-z is rapping and a woman who looks unconscious lying on the couch behind him.

The imagery in "Monster" is disturbing and promotes violence, especially sexual violence against women. Still, how is it any different from horror movies that do the same in our culture. If we go back to the movie Psycho (1960), the point of horror movies has used violent and disturbing imagery to repress women sexually or scare them into not acting out sexually. Psycho implies that Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) murders Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) because she is morally-loose woman; she has an affair with a married and stole money from her job, so she deserves to die. This theme continues in teen slasher flicks, such as ones where teenagers are sexually loose (ex. having sex in the woods), like Friday the Thirteenth or Nightmare on Elm Street.

Horror is often used to scare audiences from doing certain things or else the punishment is death. Torture porn or torture/psycho-thriller horror movies (ex. Saw) work on a similar idea of punishing someone for being "naughty" or using violence as stimulation. In a world where people are relying more and more on violence to express themselves, "Monster" is no exception.

"Monster" is just reflecting what is going on in our culture as whole. Violence, whether racial, gender or any other social issue, has been part of fabric of American culture. As American as apple pie.

Related articles:

Johnathan Fields' In Defense of Kanye West, That's Mr. "Monster" To You

Donovan X. Ramsey's Kanye's Women Troubles

1 comment:

Johnny Golightly said...

That's what's up! Great piece highlighting the tension of it all and I appreciate the fact you do not dismiss that Kanye may have other things going on in the video besides misogyny!

And thank you for the shout-out! :)