Dominant vs. Oppositional [Music Videos]

In the book, Practices of Looking: an Introduction to Visual Culture, Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright write “Through looking we negotiate social relationships and meanings. Looking is a practice much like speaking, writing, or signing. Looking involves learning to interpret and, like other practices, looking involves relationships of power.” The relationships of power could be the division of power between male and female in music videos. Today, many of the music videos portray women as the passive subjects while men as the active subjects; thus, empowering males over females. Such state was reached since many of the music videos are captured through the heterosexual male perspective, resulting in the male gaze. On the other hand, there are music videos that follows the oppositional gaze by redefining the role of male and female subjects in the video to oppose the dominant gaze. In the music video “Run The World (Girls)” by Beyonce, the dominant gaze is used; while in the music video “Take A Bow” by Rihanna, the oppositional gaze is used.

“Run The World (Girls)” by Beyonce is song that calls for women empowerment through it’s lyrics; however, if one were to critically analyze the music video, they would realize how the video emphasizes the heterosexual male perception of the female body. Thus, influencing the viewers to accept the scopophilic male gaze. The introduction of the video shows a strong contrast between the women and men; through their positions and outfits. The women, who are mostly women of color, are dressed in corsets, garters and stockings; while Beyonce is seen wearing exotic outfits where gold headdress and dark eye make-up are highly stressed in the look, as she stands in the center in a sexual, unnatural position. Contrary, the men in the video are fully clothed, at times wearing riot police uniforms, and standing in a very serious, manly postures. The music video is filled with various scenes where the women are dancing sexually by sliding their legs open, tossing their hair and undulating their hips towards the audience. In one scene, Beyonce says “you’ll do anything for me” as she and the women are dancing while the men are standing and watching these women display their sexuality. Thus, Beyonce is implying that in order for women to run the world, they need to depend on their body as a way to provide the men with sexual promises in order for the men to do “anything” for the women. Furthermore, the way the camera is shooting the music video adds to the males gaze. Many times, the camera practices between the legs shot on Beyonce, such a shot is highly sexualized as it dehumanizes Beyonce through the use of fragmentation. In addition, the camera is always shooting from the men’s perspective, meaning that the position of the camera is placed on the men’s side in the video; thus, causing the audience to view the dancers from the men’s perspective who are watching them. Consequently, this places the women in the video, including beyonce, in a submissive position. As a result, the music video is disempowering women by sending out the message that women who desire to run the world must be confident about displaying their bodies as it is the only way to reach power.

Bell hooks introduced the idea of “oppositional gaze” for black women where she encouraged them to actively critique their stereotypical representation in the film industry. Today, black women are represented in music videos as sexual objects from a heterosexual male perspective; creating the dominant gaze. However, Rihanna’s music video “Take A Bow”, challenges that dominant gaze by placing Rihanna in the assertive position, while the male subject in the submissive position; thus, changing the dominant roles of male and female in music videos. The camera focuses on Rihanna’s face throughout the music video; thus, dismissing the sexually dominant shots that focuses on the female body parts rather than the face. In addition, there are many shots where the male subject is being shot from above; thus, emphasizing Rihanna’s (who is a female) superiority in the video. In other times, the camera shoots the male subject from Rihanna’s perspective, further placing the subject into a submissive position. In addition, Rihanna is the one who starts the violence in the video by burning the male subject belongings, while the male subject struggles to set off the fire. Such a scene is definitely opposes the dominant idea where men are the ones who are violent, while women are the passive objects. Thus, such a video confirms the oppositional gaze idea of Bell Hooks by having the video shot from a female perspective; which dismisses the stereotypical roles of black women in music video. Consequently, this video empowers black women as they portray them in a nonsexual nor dehumanizing perspective.

In conclusion, the constructive observer is the one who determines whether the gaze that will be portrayed in music videos falls under the dominant gaze or the oppositional gaze.

[Ahh..I miss my Popular Culture Class!]


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