By Sharon Haywood, Co-Editor
It’s official folks, and you heard it here first: MTV and VH1 will not air Kanye West’s “Monster” video. Jeannie Kedas of MTV Networks, which also controls VH1, has recently confirmed that neither channel “has plans to air the video.” Kedas cited MTV’s voluntary standards department as a guiding force in their choice, but you can bet that our collective online movement against the official release of “Monster” also had something to do with MTV’s principled decision.
When I first watched the leaked clips of “Monster” I was so infuriated and disturbed that I couldn’t just say, “That’s an incredibly offensive and misogynistic music video. Wow, artists are really pushing the limits, aren’t they?” and get on with my day. In the past, there have been countless media messages that have riled me up, but never have I been so affected than after watching those unofficial clips for the first time. My stomach turned as I took in images of nearly naked dead women hanging from chains, a contorted dead woman splayed on a couch wearing nothing but red stilettos, and two dead woman propped up in bed being maneuvered like playthings by Kanye himself. Oh yeah, don’t forget Kanye gripping the hair of a woman’s severed head. I couldn’t just sit by and tweet how P O’ed I was. I’m so glad I didn’t.
In January, I paired up with author and activist Melinda Tankard Reist to create a petition targeted at MTV and Universal Music Group (UMG) to prevent the mass release of these misogynistic images being touted as art. With the support of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Australia, Collective Shout, Amanda Kloer of Change.org, Samer Rabadi of the Petition Site by Care2.com, and my colleague, co-editor/founder of Adios Barbie Pia Guerrero, we circulated two petitions, where we were met with your overwhelming support of over 21,000 signatures. In late February, as the number of signatures continued to climb, I communicated with Kedas who informed me that the network “would not air the current version,” a success that we shared on our Facebook page. MTV followed up shortly thereafter to clear away rumors of a “Monster” ban. They posted this statement on their website:
“The video was submitted to MTV, but it wasn’t banned; rather, edits were requested based on the channel’s decency standards.
MTV has not banned Kanye West’s ‘Monster’ video,” the network said in a statement to MTV News. “We have been in constant communication with the label regarding this matter. However, we are still awaiting the edits we requested in order for the video to be suitable for broadcast.”
So, we waited and continued to speak out against the use of eroticized violence as mainstream viewing. On June 5th, the official release of the long-awaited version of “Monster” appeared online. The only thing that was strikingly different from the leaked clips was the disclaimer at the beginning of the video: “The following content is in no way to be interpreted as misogynistic or negative towards any groups of people. It is an art piece and shall be taken as such.” It might as well have read: “Warning: The following content may cause physical and emotional upset such as nausea and seething anger” because the final cut still contained the same sexually violent images that sparked our activism in the first place. It’s obvious that the inclusion of a disclaimer tells us that someone at Def Jam, UMG, or even West himself is paying attention to our protest. Note to artists and producers: A disclaimer does not erase nor excuse misogynistic content.
We want to publicly acknowledge and applaud MTV Networks for choosing not to air “Monster.” We congratulate MTV for reinforcing the fact that violence against women, even if couched in a horror-film format, should never be used as a way to engage and entertain viewers, many of who are under the age of 18. We need you to let others know that MTV is acting as a leader by recognizing that eroticized violence in no way, shape, or form, is entertainment. (Here’s their Facebook page. Like ‘em.)
And what about UMG, the other target of our petitions? Despite my many attempts to procure an official statement, UMG has nothing to say on the record. Some may argue that UMG shouldn’t be held accountable, as the company is not responsible for the creation of West’s content; the artist’s own record company Def Jam assumes that role. Instead, UMG focuses solely on distribution (as is indicated in the copyright at the end of “Monster”). Thanks to MTV, there aren’t many distribution options left for the video. (Here’s MTV’s Twitter handle. Thank them personally. I have.)
It’s high time that media big guns, like UMG follow MTV’s lead and recognize that profits can still be gained by taking a socially responsible stand—not in spite of doing so, but because of it. As your support has shown, there are a growing number of consumers who give more than a damn about what choices are offered to them as entertainment. Corporate bigwigs need to also realize that our work is not yet done. Far from it. Our petitions did not target the music industry as a whole but instead we focused on a single video as taking one step toward positive change. As Change.org says,
“We believe that building momentum for social change globally means empowering citizen activists locally — and that the influence of a local victory is always much larger than the change it immediately achieves.”
The sum of many small victories means notable social change. We know that the video’s lack of distribution will not eliminate the presence of misogyny in the music industry. But at least we know we’re moving in the right direction. We’ve been heard. And we’re fairly sure that the music industry will continue to listen.
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Read the text of our petition that was distributed by The Petition Site and Change.org.
Check out Pia Guerrero’s “Deconstructing Kanye’s ‘Monster'” published a week after our petition went live.
Samer Rabadi of The Petition Site interviews Sharon Haywood shortly after the petition launch.