Because torture is so sexy

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009 · 29 Comments »

Thank God the music industry is doing its part to de-glamorize violence against women:

russianroulette_5151

That’s the artwork for Rihanna’s new single, “Russian Roulette.” MTV is thrilled by what it calls the “racy” cover, featuring the pop singer’s “provocative barbed wire-wrapped torso.” Racy. Provocative. You know what it reminds me of? Those crime scene photos of women who have been kidnapped and tortured to death, their breasts bitten by barbed wire, dead eyes open in an endless scream. Racy. Provocative.

How fitting that Rihanna, of all people, should be the emissary for this latest hate-note from the patriarchy. “Russian Roulette” is the first track she’s released since being beaten to a bloody pulp by Chris Brown, and people seem determined to find something empowerfuling about it. “Rihanna is the heroine here,” says the LA Times:

“So just pull the trigger,” she tosses off in the cut’s final moments, all swagger and confidence.

Swagger, confidence….what? What the fuck? This isn’t heroism or empowerment or any kind of rising above. It’s just pornography. Rihanna is simply doing what women are told they are supposed to do in response to every situation: make it sexy. Victim of domestic violence? Make it sexy! Breast cancer? Make it sexy! Shopping for a funeral casket? Make it sexy!

I want to move to another planet now.

29 Responses to “Because torture is so sexy”

  1. Alison says:

    This is the sort of thing that Liberal Dude Nation would say is unimportant – that it has no effect on reality, these glamorized images of torture. They would say – how can you care about this when women in other countries have it so much worse! And then they go on to tell cute anecdotes about Thai prostitutes over brunch – I kid you not.

    I recently wrote about this at Femisex…

    http://www.femisex.com/content/sorry-hollywood-violence-against-women-not-hawt

    Michael Moore and other women-hating leftist dudes have been mocking any concerns over our violent media for some time and they are happy to paint you as a right-winged fanatic or a staid Tipper Gore if you protest. But I ask them – Have we studied this fully, (and I mean academically) how violent images influence culture and our actions? How would we feel if we were incessantly looking at glamorized image of black men being tortured? Would that sort of image have any affect on our culture and our actions?

    Duh…

  2. Swannie says:

    Half the Sky lays out an agenda for the world’s women and three major abuses: sex trafficking and forced prostitution; gender-based violence including honor killings and mass rape; maternal mortality, which needlessly claims one woman a minute. We know there are many worthy causes competing for attention in the world. We focus on this one because this kind of oppression feels transcendent – and so does the opportunity. Outsiders can truly make a difference.

    So let us be clear up front: We hope to recruit you to join an incipient movement to emancipate women and fight global poverty by unlocking women’s power as economic catalysts. It is a process that transforms bubbly teenage girls from brothel slaves into successful businesswomen. You can help accelerate change if you’ll just open your heart and join in.

    http://www.halftheskymovement.org/

    If half the people on the planet read HALF THE SKY it wuold change the world … it has changed mine

  3. TheOtherDelphyne says:

    No – no more leaving the planet because of this insanity. Donate your Pantene powered vehicle to those wanting to find water elsewhere or go to those 38 other solar systems and let them hear the last words of “don’t let the atmosphere hit you in the ass on your way out.”

    Barbed wire is NOT sexy. Better to show Rihanna’s face after her ordeal with that maniac.

    Another glass of Chardonnay sounds good around now. Gah.

  4. madamab says:

    You know what this is? It’s punishment by the record industry. Rihanna dared to speak out against her batterer, and now he’s not selling records any more.

    This is the kind of thing that makes me want to cry. I wish Rihanna felt comfortable and yes, POWERFUL enough to say NO to these *ssh0les. “No, I will NOT pose while being waterboarded in a thong!”

    We’ve still got a long way to go.

  5. Violet says:

    Good post over there, Alison.

    This is the sort of thing that Liberal Dude Nation would say is unimportant – that it has no effect on reality, these glamorized images of torture.

    Bullshit. The whole premise — that TV and movies and records and pornography have no effect on reality — is just preposterous. Humans are cultural animals. TV/movies/records/pornography are a means of cultural transmission, just like any other medium or form of communication. Nowadays, in fact, these are our primary means of cultural transmission.

    And everybody knows that. That’s why people object to racist depictions or homophobia or even the absence of positive onscreen role models for minorities. Because all that’s part of our cultural transmission, part of how we share and exchange and teach values and ideas.

    This knowledge mysteriously evaporates, however, when the subject is something dear to one’s heart — like pornography or violence or bimbotastic portrayals of women. Then, magically, the movies and porn are said to exist in some kind of otherworld vacuum: no cultural transmission, no values, no impact whatsoever on the humans consuming. It’s fucking ludicrous.

  6. octogalore says:

    Violet, your 11:45 is a great insight. I haven’t seen that argument come up in the various debates on this topic — that misogynist images don’t exist in a media-vacuum any more than racist or homophobic ones do. I can’t help wondering what our friends at the big “feminist” websites would do with that one. Faced with the prospect of having to argue that a *real* oppression — ie, something other than sexism — is OK to depict, I think we’d see some significant backing down.

    How pathetic, to have to use other oppressions to get Kos kids to get it. I had that happen recently at my place when talking about why Obama’s advisor on Muslim issues was wrong to say sharia = gender justice — had to ask a commenter if he would disagree with me if the issue had been unequal treatment based on race. Somehow that brought his disagreement to a rapid close.

  7. slythwolf says:

    This is what I say: if the liberal dudes want to whine that these images have no effect on reality, let us look at the effect reality has on these images. THIS SHIT COMES FROM SOMEWHERE. IT DOES NOT FALL OUT OF THE SKY. It is ridiculous for anyone to claim that these are “just” images, as if there were any such thing.

    What about this is supposed to be sexy? A woman’s flesh. There it is, at the heart of it, what we are; we are flesh to be used as men see fit. If there are glimpses of a woman’s flesh it does not matter what they are glimpsed through. If it’s fabric or window blinds or rope or barbed wire, it doesn’t matter, a woman’s body = sex. In the patriarchy a woman’s body has the–hah–power to transform anything into sexy. Barbed wire, which is so horrible when we see or even hear of what it does to animals–spooked horses who can’t see it, who cannot be saved because by running into it they have been fatally mutilated–if it’s on a woman’s body it becomes sexy. Anything done to a woman is sexy. The fact of a dick getting hard makes it all okay.

    That is what we’re dealing with. We know it. They know it. And women are only things anyway so who cares what you do to them, who is to say they didn’t love it the whole time. This is why I keep saying, over and over, it is not women’s responsibility to stop this; we are its victims. We are their victims. It is men’s responsibility to stop doing this to us. And I for one will hold them accountable.

    Every man who is not actively working to stop this is complicit.

  8. Nessum says:

    Maybe we’ve all got it wrong and this is really a sign of empowerment! (Snark!)

    Tried to google “barbed wire tattoo female”. Among the many links, I found this:

    For the tough girl who has everything, a barbed wire tattoo might just be the perfect design. To make it a bit more womanly, consider using it like a vine with a red rose or two along its length. Now that is definitely a tough yet sexy design.

  9. yttik says:

    It’s amazing how much violent imagery is allowed to be directed towards women, all disguised as sexy or entertainment or politics. Keith Olbermann just referred to a woman as “a mashed up bag of meat with lipstick on it.” Rihanna tries to sexualize a corpse just drug out of the rive, and the two who hung the Palin effigy last year have decided to slice Carrie Perjean in half for the holidays.

    It’s ironic, we’ve decided as a society that portraying black folks as lawn jockeys, Aunt Jemimas, or as clowns in black face, isn’t very respectful and negatively impacts the way we view people. For some reason we still can’t seem to understand how violent imagery of women might also be a problem.

  10. Alison says:

    Slythwolf wrote:

    THIS SHIT COMES FROM SOMEWHERE. IT DOES NOT FALL OUT OF THE SKY. It is ridiculous for anyone to claim that these are “just” images, as if there were any such thing.

    Yes! And again another – duh to Liberal Dude Nation! These images start with the misogyny in our culture and perpetuate it! It’s so obvious that it kills me that this continues to go on without question! But then again, I am the one that needed to rewatch and reread Violet’s explanation of the Beyonce video to get it. Perhaps by repeating our message over and over again people will eventually get it. I believe this can happen. But we have to have this conversation and it’s not really happening that much in the mainstream now.

    My proactive brain is telling me that women from the various arenas of feminism in and out of the blogosphere need to band together on this issue and conduct orchestrated boycotts and phone call campaigns. Something targeted like once per month. I want Hollywood, the music industry and all other components of the media to FEAR accusations of sexism just as they FEAR accusations of racism.

    This is a huge issue. How do we stop rape if we don’t do anything to correct the culture of rape?

  11. ekittyglendower says:

    How is it that Rhianna’s complicity with the patriarchy can be examined without any disclaimers demanding that Rhiaana not be slut-shamed while McCain’s complicity can not be mentioned because in doing so it may seem like slut shaming?

  12. Swannie says:

    If you added an Aunt Jemima headscarf to that picture it would be an affront , but as it is its “ok” by cuttent music industry and societal norms . How about if we added a male figure of indeterminate race with a whip , would that be ok too ??

  13. vastleft says:

    Guess what’s sexy now? “Public option”!

    http://vastleft.blogspot.com/2009/10/moveons-latest-message-if-you-like.html

  14. blondie says:

    I have never understood how barbed wire + bare flesh (woman’s or man’s, and I’ve seen photos depicting both genders) = sexy. I don’t care if it’s’ really licorice. Barbed wire isn’t made to touch bare skin anymore than steel wool, sandpaper, or acid. I’m not for censorship, but these kinds of photos are ridiculous crap, and I wish the marketplace could zap them out of existence.

  15. SweetSue says:

    This knowledge mysteriously evaporates, however, when the subject is something dear to one’s heart — like pornography or violence or bimbotastic portrayals of women. Then, magically, the movies and porn are said to exist in some kind of otherworld vacuum: no cultural transmission, no values, no impact whatsoever on the humans consuming. It’s fucking ludicrous

    There, you’ve hit it. Anything the dudebros might want to masturbate to-image of Rhianna in barbed wire-is free speech protected by our sacred Bill of Rights.
    Other violent images like depictions of lynchings are obscene and beyond the pale.
    I call it the Fuck stops here syndrome.
    Nothing must thwart the erect phallus. Nothing.

  16. Nessum says:

    Violet my sincere apologies for being ot, but I just wanted to let you know, as I’m sure you can’t possibly keep up with the content on every site in the Blogroll Feed, that the Madam Secretary site, with its claim of being “An obsessive blog about Hillary Clinton”, seems to mostly be obsessive about never missing an opportunity to get a dig in at Hillary Clinton or propagate any stupid rumour about her out there!

  17. Violet says:

    How is it that Rhianna’s complicity with the patriarchy can be examined without any disclaimers demanding that Rhiaana not be slut-shamed while McCain’s complicity can not be mentioned because in doing so it may seem like slut shaming?

    There’s no slut-shaming here. There is a standing disclaimer against slut-shaming on this blog.

    I’m not blaming Rihanna for being a young victim of the patriarchy and having her career managed by Satan, which is what appears to be the case. Rihanna’s cover is a piece of carefully contructed artwork designed for public consumption. I’m examining the message it carries.

    The Meghan McCain thing was a vast public shaming of a woman for having breasts and failing to cover them adequately in a candid photo. I issued several caveats that I did not wish to join in or contribute to the absurd criticism of her for having an actual adult female body.

  18. Official statement from the Smoking Lounge regarding the role of media (including pornography) in the cultural construction and maintenance of sexism and misogyny | Reclusive Leftist says:

    [...] comment in question was deposited by me on the thread attached to this post, the subject of which was Rihanna’s “sexy” impersonation of a barbed-wire torture [...]

  19. gxm17 says:

    I saw this post earlier today and couldn’t even bring myself to read it. madamab, I wish we had a long way to go because on days like this I feel we have nowhere to go.

    We live in a culture where hanging nooses with no one in them is a hate crime but wrapping a (black) woman in barbed wire is sexy. Now, that’s just f’d up. How the hell do we dig ourselves out of this hell hole?

    Great post, great comments. Sorry, I can only contribute my infamous bile, but this sort of shit brings out the misanthrope in me. (As if it needed encouragement.)

  20. octogalore says:

    I think there are multiple distinctions between the Rihanna and Meghan McC situations:

    1) Rihanna’s pose was most-likely dictated by some probably-male boss or organization; Meghan’s was chosen. So critiquing the latter is blaming Meghan, critiquing the former isn’t blaming Rihanna but instead the patriarchy.

    2) The barbed wire pose, with the uncomfortable-looking tight roping around neck and chest and the presence of knives, glamorizes violence towards women. A tank top, however much decolletage is in view, doesn’t.

    3) Neither the post nor comments above slut-shame Rihanna or question the appearance of her body. Portions of the discussion of MMcC, in my view, did the latter.

    4) As the post points out, it is especially tone-deaf to be asked to twist ones mind around the image of Rihanna in a costume that appears like an abusive prison, considering the recent abuse of her by Chris Brown.

  21. Official statement from the Smoking Lounge regarding the role of media (including pornography) in the cultural construction and maintenance of sexism and misogyny | Reclusive Leftist says:

    [...] of which was Rihanna’s “sexy” impersonation of a barbed-wire torture victim. Voilà: Violet [...]

  22. femina says:

    Rihanna released this single for the “shock value”, to show “artistic growth”, to deter anyone from thinking her music, post-Chris beating, was about him.

    This younger generation of women has a different perspective: it’s all about them, their individual success, and the money, especially in the music industry. Looking for supporters of feminist solidarity and ideals there is a waste of time. Then I remind myself of Taylor Swift.

    I listened to “Russian Roulette” and, while I was trying to make sense of the lyrics, I was thinking, she hasn’t seen “The Deer Hunter.”

    (I don’t like the barbed-wire wrapped female image; I’ve become unshockable with the use the patriarchy makes of the female body.)

  23. Adrienne in CA says:

    OT to Nessum at #16

    Yes, I noticed Madame Secretary went off the rails a few days ago with 3 Hillary hit pieces in a row (possibly to celebrate her polling higher than her boss).

    A far better alternative I’ve found is:

    http://secretaryclinton.wordpress.com/

    *****A

  24. anne says:

    Femina that’s just what her PR team have told her to say.

    Read this article about her songwriter NeYo and her producer Chuck Harmony:

    http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1624350/20091021/rihanna.jhtml

    It was their concept, not hers, even if they do give her song-writing credits. Anybody who thinks that record companies let the 21 year old talent make multi-million dollar decisions about brand development and product release, needs to start thinking a bit more carefully.

    The Chris Brown beating is just a PR hook for them to get more coverage for the music.

  25. Ciccina says:

    1. That ridiculous “these images don’t cause violence” etc. argument – gah. If imagery doesn’t influence behavior, why do companies dump so much money into print and television advertising? Oy. Its as stupid as the “oh noes, you can’t censor speech!!!” BS, when it already happens all the time – i.e. Prince, Elvis Costello and others losing the right to use their own names following contract disputes; books that are recalled following copyright infringement; anything, including medical and scientific information, that mentions “abortion”; and so on.

    2. @ gxm17

    We live in a culture where hanging nooses with no one in them is a hate crime but wrapping a (black) woman in barbed wire is sexy.

    Indeed. Though hanging a life-size Sarah Palin doll from a noose on your front lawn is considered good clean Democratic fun in some parts, namely Los Angeles.

    3. To add to the outrage, I love how the “barbed wire” is clearly NOT actual barbed wire, but some plastic prop. Not that there’s any difference, according to the geniuses who created that image (and I blame all the geniuses, including Rihanna). Its like – Barbed Wire: Not So Bad After All (TM).

  26. cellocat says:

    It makes me want to design an ad for cologne, say, featuring a guy with barbed wire wrapped around his nether regions and put it up on uTube and see what people say. “Cologne Barbe – more than skin deep.” Or 2 ads; one with a white man and one with a black man.

  27. femina says:

    anne — I had read the article, “Rihanna May Have Released ‘Russian Roulette’ For ‘Shock Value’, Producer says” and used that title. I think everyone here understands that the music company would have made the production decisions.

  28. anne says:

    So why are you making commentary about Rihanna as if what her record company decides is some reflection on her then Femina? I don’t understand.

    You stated Rihanna released the single. She didn’t, her record company did. What they’ve done is use Chris Brown’s attack on her as a porntastic inspiration for the song and the visuals they are using to promote it.

    Why aren’t you showing feminist solidarity with Rihanna who was attacked by her partner and then exploited by her record company, rather than expecting it to come from her to you? It appears as if she is in a difficult position at the moment, if she’s being persuaded to be trussed up with barbed wire and wear an eye patch that has echos of a black eye.

  29. votermom says:

    I think I was going to make a wonderful, incisive comment but the ad for the coffin melted my brain. Huh?

    I remember barbed wire from childhood. People used it for the top of fencing/walls. Or broken glass if it was a cement wall. It was wire-colored and dull and stiff, not black and shiny and pliable.