KanYe West, Melinda Tankard Reist, and the control of the representation of desire.

26 Feb

by Lucero Design via flickr

At Melinda Tankard Reist’s website underwear manufacturer Victoria’s Secret is under attack, two hapless tools from the Gold Coast trying to sell real estate using a woman in her undies are copping it, and oh no! Not that, still! Yes, the KanYe West Monster video clip, months after we all got into that epic tussle at the Drum, is still absorbing the Tank’s attention.

Last week MTR was described by Stephen Harrington at the Punch as “Australia’s Helen Lovejoy,” for her complaints about this video clip, as well as the “what about the children” rhetoric she invokes as an argument against just about everything.

(For those not familiar with the Simpsons, Helen Lovejoy is the ultra conservative wife of the local Christian minister whose catchcry is “But what about the children!”)

Melinda pours retributory scorn on Harrington here. The West video is, she claims, a “significant watershed in the de-humanisation of women.”

That’s a bit hyperbolic, in my opinion, given the on going, grave, and global abuses of women’s human rights that certainly do de-humanise those groups subjected to them.

The psychotherapists’ interpretations

At New Matilda, psychotherapist Zoe Krupke interprets the video clip from her professional perspective, and explains that violence such as is portrayed therein can be a consequence of “denial of personal weakness and fragility,” resulting in projection of these qualities onto others, in this case the strung-up, zombiefied and helpless women.

In other words, controlling others through violence allows the perpetrator to bury feelings of inadequacy and vulnerability, and replace them with an illusion of power.

All of which is true enough, but if you read the lyrics it’s clear that they are about nothing but West’s feelings of personal weakness and fragility; rage at perceived exploitation by the music industry, and women, rage at his admitted inability to behave in any way other than monstrous; identification with other monster figures, and a pathetic plea for someone to love him.

by Maximillian Dinslage via flickr

None of which are expressed in ways that are likely to get him any of the things he seeks, but rather are an explosion of fury, frustration, and self-mockery.

I’m a monster
no good blood-sucker
everybody know I’m a
muthaf*cking monster
None of you n*ggas know the carnage I’ve seen
I still hear fiends scream in my dream…

And so on. The thoughts and feelings of a disturbed being, a rapper having a laugh, or both, depending on your perspective.

Feminists aren’t the only ones with opinions

You've Been Dickrolled. by David Jackmanson via flickr


What is certain (I’m sorry, at this point I can’t help myself, the only certainty is the certainty of uncertainty, thank you so much for the philosophical insight, Tony the Tool, another of the known unknown unknowns littering the political landscape, and pictured here damn near naked) is that while a feminist analysis of the work is worthwhile, it’s far from being the only possible analysis. The video and lyrics are complex, with racial references as well as those mentioned above, and to attempt to have it censored because it “dehumanises” women is, in my opinion, the kind of sadly unimaginative reaction we’ve come to expect from some media feminists these days.

What the video clip certainly is: the concretisation of one rapper’s subjective vision of his world. If it weren’t as popular as it is, there would be no need for further discussion. But it is tremendously popular, (listed in Rolling Stone’s best 30 albums of 2010) and has received critical acclaim from that magazine’s  informed commentators

These accolades suggest West’s Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasies strike a chord, so to speak with millions of others. It may not be the kind of chord MTR wants struck, whatever that is, and I can’t figure that out. What do these women want? Nevertheless, it’s popularity alone makes it culturally significant, and worthy of examination.

Not that I’m suggesting popularity is the only criterium for cultural significance because clearly it isn’t. The bizarre and complex vision represented in this piece lifts it out of the mundane.

It isn’t everybody’s vision of the world. Then again, neither is a man nailed to a cross, blood seeping out of his wounds and a hole pierced in his side everybody’s vision of a healthy religious experience. John the Baptist’s bloody head on a silver platter doesn’t cut it as inspiring religious commentary for all of us either.

I have a strong visceral response against most moves to censor. No matter what you think of the aesthetic quality or otherwise of the KanYe West video, it is the expression of an artist’s vision.  Are we to live in a world bereft of all dark and difficult imagery? Are we to censor all representations of emotions and passions because they make some people uncomfortable?

Cindy and that sexy thong. by Dave Lee via flickr


When women choose to earn their living from their bodies

Women who model for Victoria’s Secret do so of their own free will, and are well paid for their work. Likewise the women who appeared in the West clip as simulated corpses and zombies.

The luscious woman in the Gold Coast real estate agents’ ad was also, presumably, paid for her work. Many women with lovely bodies enjoy using them as a source of income. Many other women and men enjoy looking at those bodies. Is this really “objectifying” women? Or is it merely admiring, and maybe sometimes envying their beauty?

I’m not likely to meet any of them. They are likely to remain only one-dimensional images to me. So why do I have any responsibility at all to see them as anything else? Why is it wrong for me to take pleasure their beauty? How am I offending them?

If I were to treat the women and men around me as one dimensional, then I would be objectifying and insulting them. But like most people, I know the difference between an image and a fully fleshed human being.

There are some who try to make the people in their lives more closely resemble a one-dimensional image they’ve seen on screen or in a magazine. Their problems, and the problems of their partners, won’t be solved by banning the images. I’d suggest their difficulties are deep, and if no images are available they’ll manifest in some other equally unfortunate way.

The desire to be desired

The desire to be desired is a normal human need. Practically everyone at some time wants, indeed needs, to bathe in the glow of somebody’s desiring gaze. But desire and its expression and representation are intensely personal matters. Lacy panties or cottontails, stilettos or bare feet, cleavage or buttoned up modesty – there’s a place for everything, but not in the world of Melinda Tankard Reist. In that world there’s only one possibility for the expression and representation of desire, and that’s hers.

Baffled by her negativity, I’m as yet entirely unable to ascertain what her vision actually consists of. Though she unrelentingly castigates us for our unhealthily fetishistic and voyeuristic gaze, I’ve never once heard MTR give an example of how she thinks female sexuality ought to be represented and expressed.

We should pretend we aren’t sexual beings, and deny that we love to look at each other, even though much of the time society requires us to do that with a furtive gaze?

We should pretend that erotic zones are not of intense interest to us, starting when we emerge from the latency period laughing ourselves silly at jokes about underpants?

If every publicly revealed body is an exploited and objectified body, are we all to cover up to protect ourselves from a gaze that MTR would have us believe can only be interpreted as exploitative and objectifying?

The battle for the control of the representation of desire

by Breezer, via flickr


MTR is fighting a two fronted battle for  the right to determine not only what we should look at, but how we should look at it. She wants to be inside our heads, telling us how to see things. Where she see exploitation, so must we.

She wants to control the representation and expression of human desire. She wants to control the interpretation of the gaze.

MTR seeks to superimpose her moral vision upon everyone else, a vision that cannot allow the possibility of a benign desiring gaze, a vision that insists the desiring gaze is always dangerous, unless it is confined to encounters between to consenting adults (preferably married) in the privacy of their own homes. Once desire is provoked outside of the marriage bed, her thinking goes, it must inevitably result in damage of some kind. I have long suspected this to be at the heart of MTR’s crusades. Now she’s proved it, by taking on Victoria’s Secret.

In her vision, the free flow of desire in the world, far from being a driving creative force, is miserably reduced to a threat to women.

This is why MTR does not offer her vision of an acceptable public representation of female sexuality. There isn’t one in her moral framework.

In this, she’s a bit like the followers of Sharia law.

But feminists fought for freedom

MTR and her followers justify their desire to impose their desire, by dressing their arguments up as feminist rhetoric, and indeed there are some conjunctions.

But feminists fought for freedom. If a woman chooses to use her body to earn her living then it’s nobody’s business but hers. Melinda Tankard Reist makes an unfortunate conflation between free choice and exploitation. That exploitation and abuse of women exists is not at issue. However, it does nobody any good to confuse the two, and in the process attempt to shame women who are making a free choice, and attempt to deprive them of that right. That’s an anti feminist move, in my book.

The argument that we’re brainwashed to think we must do our best to look like underwear models or we’re inadequate, holds some water. There’s a great deal to critique in fashion magazines that manipulate insecurities in order to get us to go out and buy something to address those perceived failings.

On the other hand, one of MTR’s fellow campaigners, journalist and researcher Nina Funnell, whose tirade against the KanYe West video can be read here recently took part in a Cosmopolitan (October 2010) competition to find the year’s most influential woman. All the competitors were young, and had the Cosmo look, including killer heels, and sexy masks. There were obviously initial selection criteria that had everything to do with the contestant’s physical appearance. Only after those requirements were met, were the women’s career and personal achievements considered.

There were no older women in the contest, baffling, given that older women are often excellent mentors and influential figures.

In my book, an outrageous and insidious abuse and objectification of women right on our doorstep, sending the message that how you look matters much more than what you do and are, from a magazine read by thousands of young Australian women. Yet not a  murmur was raised in the MTR camp.

To wrap it up…

The Gold Coast tools are pretty funny, I thought when I watched their video clip on Melinda’s website. Their ad is so over the top as to be bordering on a spoof of using sex to sell. It wouldn’t make me want to buy their penthouse, so in that sense it’s an advertising failure.

Corset, Paris 1902. Unknown via Wikimedia

Corset, Paris 1902. Unknown, via Wikimedia

As for Victoria’s Secret well, good luck with that one. While the sight of stunning women in lacy thongs and balconette bras might not be everyone’s idea of beautiful or sexy, it is currently a dominant cultural expression of those qualities. Once the sight of an ankle did it for us, and who can forget the practically (in my opinion) only good bit in Jane Campion’s The Piano, when Harvey Keitel caressed Holly Hunter’s leg through a hole in her stocking? Aaaargh, the recollection can make me shiver with delight even now.

15 Responses to “KanYe West, Melinda Tankard Reist, and the control of the representation of desire.”

  1. PAUL WALTER February 26, 2011 at 11:54 am #

    Blowed if I know what above is all about. Firstly can’t find this Kanye
    Wests video/videos, if that’s what they are still called these days- some thing about copyright and the USA.
    He’s a rapper, yes?
    Sorry, I grew up in an era spanning Ray Charles through to which ever black guy or woman did the last really good soul or rock song, abandoning ship after rap became dominant.
    Apparently he does a picture of himself holding a womans head, does gratuitous lyrics and songs and is self publicising to to a fault.
    And it’s all to do with the chaos of broken down US society, since the time of incipient rustbeltery smashed the blue collars out of work and back down to the bottom of the heap ?
    A whole generation redundant in the USA, as with elsewhere. The Kiwi movie “Once Were Warriors” did a good take on the underlying problem in an enzed context, since the problem is global not just confined to the American rust belt.
    Surplus unemployed,consequently badly socialised and over compensating males robbed of the ability to gain self respect through work and traditional breadwinner roles, caught up n the fantasy world of American culture with manhood expressed through violence, like in the movies.
    As to Reist and knicker ads, the truth came out in the comment about masturbation.

    That’s what REALLY kills people like MTR- the thought that some one might be going one up, getting a freebie, going rent free and it DOES stink of dog in the manger and priggishness. Some conservative women are soooo Nurse Ratched; repressed and repressive and you hope a good time comes their way, if that’s the problem, and they can finally let go and chill out also.


    • Jennifer Wilson February 26, 2011 at 8:08 pm #

      Yes, the video clip has disappeared – it was originally a 30 second “teaser” then the whole thing was up for a nanosecond, but since it’s been formally released I guess copyright kicked in.

      As to MTR et al – they can do/think what they like, but this compulsion to force their views on everyone else! It’s some kind of syndrome, must do some research on it, see if there’s treatment, maybe it’s in the new DSM!


  2. Matthew February 26, 2011 at 11:18 pm #

    Paul, the Geto Boys were writing about cutting up women and serial murder in songs like “Assassins” and “Mind of a Lunatic” 20+ years ago, so this not a new thing in hip-hop culture. They may not have sold as many albums as West (they’ve had one platinum album and two gold in the US), but they were pretty influential. Lyrically Mr West is a bit of cream puff compared to them. I think hip hop is a real reflector of mental health and attitudes in black neighbourhoods in the US and pretty much has been since “The Message” was released. Nothing has improved in over 30 years.

    Anyway, old MTR… The Nina Funnell thing is quite amusing, as on her blog she’s getting stuck into Lea Michele from Glee because she did a cover for Cosmo where she showed a bit of cleavage. Obviously it’s OK when one of cohorts does it, but not for Lea. MTR even has a link to some video of her frothing at the mouth on the Morning Show. Hilariously host David Campbell pointed out to MTR that Lea is 26 and an actress, not some schoolgirl as MTR was trying to make out she was.

    The obsession with pop culture is strange when viewed on the surface. Of course when you look at the background, it all becomes clear. I can respect the Australian Christian Lobby because they’re upfront about what they do. I can never respect MTR because she hides everything about her past and denies it when it’s brought up.

    BTW, she’s got a new book coming out; http://www.spinifexpress.com.au/Bookstore/book/id=217/ Ah, she loves her porn. Abigail Bray is another fruitcake. She confuses BDSM with child porn (http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=9344 Note that at the time of publication her experiment could NOT be replicated) and is anti-Kinsey.


    • Jennifer Wilson February 27, 2011 at 1:28 am #

      Hi Matthew, do you have the link to Nina’s blog with the Glee thing?



    • condemned.org July 15, 2011 at 1:59 am #

      it wasn’t a scientific experiment, for gods sake, and the website vanished because it was reported to some white hat hackers… technically it was cp which is why cp hackers took it down…


  3. Jennifer Wilson February 27, 2011 at 2:24 am #

    Ok, just found it – wow! talk about hypocrisy!

    Its amazing!


  4. PAUL WALTER February 27, 2011 at 7:15 am #

    Matthew, its true each new generation has to wade its way thru commercial bs to find underlying substance and authenticity, usually found in underground or indie subcultures. Congrats for sifting effectively enough to clearthe wheat from the chaff. No gain without pain.


  5. PAUL WALTER February 27, 2011 at 7:41 am #

    After thought- rereading the psychotherapists critique was more invaluable than I recognised at the time. Thee robotisation of females from this subculture was some thing on the periphery, but Ive seen it all first hand as someone coming from the industrial age dormitary suburb of Eiizabeth, in SA where, as Matthew says, deindustrialisation and welfare dumping have produced a bizarre social mutation indeed after nearly two generations.
    The big lie, with Reist is that this is somehow a process beginning now, disturbing a hirthoe timeless tranquillity that is implicitly proposed as having existed previously.
    No, tabloid culture has been about for a long time and carried in the pages of Fairfax and co. But to admit its a longterm problem involving vested interests would be to point thefinger also at exploitative, prurient tabloid media and these are the people who pay Reist for titillating, emotional article s that use the talk of sex, masked in solemnity, to sell newspapers.
    The historian Hobsbawm talked of the Death of Memory as to crass revisionism and I find the MTM style of journalism paradigmatic of what the thing is really about- a dark underbelly masked by concern.


  6. Anonymous March 4, 2011 at 1:09 am #

    A small, probably undeserved, rant.

    Thanks for yet more objectification of surf life savers. We really don’t appreciate it.

    Mostly we’re on the beach because we want our kids to be safe on the beach. And if we have hard bodies it’s as much because of a fear of failure as other reasons — a fear of not being able to reach someone who needs our help because we lack strength and skill. It’s a huge motivation to spend two hours a week in the pool, an hour a week in the gym, three hours a week training on the beach. The motivation isn’t wanting to *look* good, the motivation is wanting to *be* good.

    The treatment of us as sexual objects hurts our mission. Because of that objectification women of some cultures feel themselves dirtied if we touch them, even when saving their lives. Even if that is being done by a woman life saver. Some Islamic groups even argue that expired air resuscitation is the same as kissing. Sure that is nonsense in this age of blood-borne infection and resus masks. But at the core of that world-view is a view of surf life savers and women as purely sexual objects.

    Believe me, sex is the very last thing on our minds at that time, I always find the thoughts are “oh no they really do need help, board, run, wade, bunny hop, on, go go go, christ it’s a long paddle, go go go, god please give me strength, go go go, there they are, I’ve got you, thank you god, DRABCD, are you OK, no response, oh fuck oh fuck, breath, breath, on the board, wave to shore, look behind, god please don’t let me fall of the back of this wave, go go go, shallows coming please don’t flip, off, grab, drag, head downhill, airway, patrol’s here with the oxygen and defib, stand down, catch breath, small prayer.”

    And yeah, Tony was acting like a complete tool. But he is a politician. Most of us wear the yellow sun shirt and the rule “boardies over budgies” is pretty universal. You might flick the boardies when doing a tough swim. But that’s pretty rare, as you’d more than likely take a board and without the boardies you get board rash in places you’d rather not. Although the current SLSA issue boardies are pretty useless (the pockets fill with water) so I wouldn’t blame anyone who flicked them before a rescue for that reason.


    • Jennifer Wilson March 4, 2011 at 1:18 am #

      Oh my goodness, surf lifesavers are the last people I’d criticise!
      That was all about Tony the Tool.
      I so do not see you as sex objects, though that’s not to say I don’t think lots of you are very beautiful.
      Can I put your post up as an article, because I’d like more people to read your inside story about what it’s really like. I can put it up as anonymous.


  7. PAUL WALTER March 7, 2011 at 7:21 pm #

    Doesn’t matter what you write, how carefully, you’ll end up shitting someone, some where, sooner or later.



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