Last week we posted a petition calling to stop the official release of Kanye West’s “Monster” video for its eroticized depictions of death and extreme violence against women. Since then news of the video and our petition to MTV and Universal Music has gained momentum causing bloggers and commentators to weigh in across the web. We have received enormous support for our efforts, but we have also, as expected, gotten some criticism. While some believe we are reacting too strongly and naively trying to censor free speech, others believe Kanye is making an artistic statement about racism and the Black man’s experience.
From our blog Elizabeth Welsh comments,
“I think the video is much more about criticizing constructions of black masculinity (black men as monsters/hyper violent) than it is a depiction of senseless violence against women. Note that most of dead women are white.”
This could very well be Kanye’s point. In the video the limp bodies of dead white women hang from chains, their dangling silouettes echoing the strange fruit of lynched Black male bodies that once hung from trees–Black bodies that served to warn other Black men to stay in their place for a mere glance at a white woman would land them in the same position.
Is this Kanye’s way of showing that the Black man has “arrived” to power and can–and presumably will–physically dominate white women, just like the Mandingo stereotype white slave owners created? Is he saying I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t, so here I’m gonna give you the “monster” that you expect of me anyway? If this video were shown in a gallery where art critics and theorists could bring a background of history and art to inform their analysis, I’d consider some other meaning. But this video is aimed at young people.
According to MTV cable network profile:
Young adults turn to MTV to get the answers. From fashion, lifestyle and sports to attitudes, politics and trends, only MTV offers what’s consistently fresh, honest and groundbreaking…MTV is their source, confidante, sounding board, partner and much more.
Just as women and girls are confined by the media’s singular ideal of beauty and gender, Black men and boys are imprisoned (literally and figuratively) by the violent, hypersexualized notion of masculinity. An ideal where masculinity lives as a thug, rapist, murderer and savage.
Both these depictions of sexuality in the video center around violence and impact how young people not only view each other, but how they view themselves. Whatever Kanye’s point, he fails miserably to move the conversation around race forward. We believe it is up to the public to demand more frequent, accurate and diverse representations of women and men of all races and backgrounds. Today, on Martin Luther King’s birthday, I wish I could say that one of the most successful Black artists of our time positively contributed to African Americans being judged by the content of their character not by the color of their skin.
Read how our petition made an impact: A Monster Success!