Friday, July 23, 2010

Blog Post 2: Janelle Walks on a Tightrope of Feminism

Janelle Monàe is a blossoming artist that promotes the feminist movement. Her style weaves in hip-hop with blues, and also adding some techno flair in the background. She believes that music may be able to change the way that the audience perceives her culture into a positive movement. Her feminism is conveyed in her video of her song, “Tightrope.” Monàe’s video utilizes its imagery to subvert normative hip-hop videos in the setting of the video, in the way she dances, and in her style of dress.
The setting of the music video takes place in an asylum called “the Palace of the Dogs”. This can be interpreted as the social institution of patriarchy or masculinity since  “Dogs” may be referenced as a symbol of masculinity. As the video suggests, Monàe is a patient in the asylum. However, she is seen sneaking out of her room to participate in dancing, an activity that is “long been forbidden for its subversive effects on the residents and its tendency to lead to illegal magical practices” (Tightrope). Therefore, her intentions to undermine the asylum’s regulations can be seen as her effort to break away from the trends of contemporary hip-hop videos that are “objectifying and subjugating black women in hip-hop music videos, and their potentially damaging social impact” (Perry 136).  In other words, she attempts to overthrow the misogynistic image of black women in hip-hop videos and try to advance the perception of them in a positive light.
As previously mentioned, Monàe dances in this video, a common theme in many hip-hop videos. Her dancing constitutes of a lot of footwork, similar to that of the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. Her dancing portrays an artistic form of expression that exudes energy and soul. It does not portray signs of being sexual at all. Her dancing portrays an artistic form of expression that exudes energy.
Because Monàe’s movement does not portray pornographic imagery, it subverts the popularized notion that music video girls are used for their sexuality. In her essay, Perry observed that in popular music videos that “even the manner in which the women dance is a signal of cultural destruction” and continues to say that “the women who appear in these videos are usually dancing in a two-dimensional fashion, a derivative but unintellectual version of black dance, more reminiscent of symbols of pornographic male sexual fantasy” (137).  However, Monàe dances in a sophisticated way which is not even remotely close to what Perry observed in music videos that demeans black women.
Not only does Monàe dance in a sophisticated manner, her dress is sophisticated also. In the video, Monàe does not dress in the typical hip-hop video “hussy” style. She does not wear scantily clad clothing while showing off her buxom and curvaceous body. Monàe dons a fitted tuxedo similar to those of the male characters somewhat symbolizing equality between them. Even the other women in the video do not go along with the norms of contemporary hip-hop videos.
Dressing like that conceives a counter-hegemonic notion.  As Miller-Young points out, “hip-hop artists or entertainers have been the principal location for a growing pornographic sensibility that functions to market black bodies, aesthetics, and culture to a global consumer audience” (262). Her dress does not promote any pornographic imagery that succumbs to the global consumer audience. Therefore, she further subverts popular ideologies.
In conclusion, by producing imagery that subverts the persuasive influences of the negative media in her video she promotes a healthy image and portrayal of black women.  Her sophisticated nature deters any representation of hegemony. She is focused on working to change the music industry through her work. Janelle Monàe definitely utilizes her talents in a positive way.

Miller-Young, Mireille. "Hip-Hop Honeys and the Hustlaz: Black Sexualities in the New Hip-Hop Pornography". Smith College, 2008.  
Perry, Imani. "Who(se) Am I? The Identity and Image of Women in Hip-Hop." Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Ed. Dines and Humez. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, Inc., 2003.
"Tightrope." Per. Janelle Monàe. Music Video. 2010.