Violent Fantasies

Zoe Halpert

When we talk about violence, it is almost always violent masculinity. The reality is that men are the ones committing most violent crimes and sexual assaults. However, this rarely comes in discussions about violence. Media coverage tries to be gender neutral by using a vocabulary that masks the fact that these acts skew male. The media talks about “youth violence” and “adolescent angst” when really it’s just boys. Of course, when the girls are the ones being violent, their gender becomes a major aspect of the story. Or, when the perpetrators are people of color, it becomes a race issue. Even the common phrase “violence against women” seems to let men off the hook; it suggests that this violence is just happening to them, and not by someone. This wording makes it a “women’s issue” and leaves men and masculinity out of the conversation.

I found the article “Shooting in the Dark” by Benedict Carey in the science section of the New York Times. The article is from about a year ago and discusses research on the correlation between violent video games and “youth violent crimes.” Yet the article never ventures into a discussion on masculinity. The article opens by talking about “the young men” who are responsible for recent tragedies such as the Columbine shooting, yet never suggests why it was only men. Carey then mentions the “cartoonish machismo” found in video games that children imitate (children, not boys). He talks about “children,” “youths,” “players,” and “people,” but fails to talk about the role of masculinity in the translation of video game violence into real world violence. Here is the link to the article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/12/science/studying-the-effects-of-playing-violent-video-games.html?pagewanted=1

Many people claim that aggression is somehow wired into men, and part of their biology. We are told that it’s their hormones, testosterone, and based in the hunter/gatherer roles of humans thousands of years ago. Boys will be boys. Yet as our previous readings have stressed, gender is a social construction; it is something that we perform as a result of socialization, but not something that we are born with. I thought that Tough Guise 2 meaningfully addresses the prevalence of violence in our culture and how that is linked to the way we socialize boys and men. The reality is, the world is changing. People who are not white, straight, cisgender males are fighting for equality, and that’s threatening to some men. Instead of adapting, these men resist. Of course, we raise men to suck it up, so instead of having a conversation about how they are feeling, they seek another outlet: violence.

Like Tough Guise, Dreamworlds uses an onslaught of disturbing images to make its point. I wonder how effective this shock tactic is. It certainly had an effect on me. By the end of watching Dreamworlds (I even watched it a few days after viewing Tough Guise), I was rather shaken. I felt weak, exposed, vulnerable, and taken advantage of. I guess I haven’t seen that many music videos, but I was horrified by these images, and horrified by the fact that they are considered normal. Music videos, much like advertising, basically get attention by using women’s bodies.

It’s an odd portrayal of women: all these women seem to do is party, wash cars, have sex, and strip. This is hardly realistic. My daily life includes a very small percentage of these particular activities. Women are portrayed as desperate and dependent, and always ravenous for sex. A ubiquitous image is a woman using an object as a phallic symbol, usually by licking it (cue Miley Cyrus licking a hammer in her video for “Wrecking Ball”). For some reason, I always understood that a woman licking lollipops and random objects was supposed to be sexy, but I never realized that this imagery is used to suggest that these women are so desperate for sex that they will use literally anything in the absence of a man.

It’s not just women who are portrayed in a negative light; black men in music videos are often portrayed as drunk, violent, and sexually abusive. Sut Jhally even suggests that these music videos are similar to D. W. Griffith’s white supremacist film “Birth of a Nation.” Ironically, this racist image tends to be determined by the white men who control the media. I think the most important question Jhally poses is, whose story is being told? Music videos tend to show a very specific point of view. Clearly, it is not through women’s eyes. Whose fantasies are these?

Women do not always want sex, and they do not always want to be looked at.  But stalking and sexual harassment are normalized in music videos, and it is even suggested that women like it, through the sexualization of violence. These music videos only add to the culture of entitlement that makes some men believe that they can treat women this way. The videos dehumanize them, turning them into objects. Look at R. Kelly’s recent album Black Panties. On the cover (attached below), R. Kelly holds a practically naked woman and a bow, suggesting that he is playing her like a musical instrument. In other words, the woman might as well be a cello. What I find so disturbing is that this same process of dehumanization is used to justify horrors such as slavery and genocide.

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