Lily Allen, P!nk, and Satire

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about Lily Allen’s music video for her song “Hard Out Here”.  While I think it’s a good start for satire, I was disappointed by its (unintentional) racism.  I’d like to compare it to another feminist satire, P!nk’s music video for “Stupid Girls”.

(Disclaimer: I am a fan of both Lily Allen and P!nk.  My intention is only to analyze each of these videos from a feminist perspective, NOT debate who’s a better artist.  I think both women are great, and in general we need more support for female performers.)

In case you haven’t seen it, here’s Lily Allen’s “Hard Out Here”:

The video has a lot of great scenes.  The opening is a perfect example of men judging and manipulating women’s bodies.  Her manager showing her how to seductively eat a banana, and later instructing her on how to clean a hubcap, is hilariously ridiculous and spot-on.  Lily’s balloon scene spoofs the horribly sexist Blurred Lines video.  The lyrics of “Don’t you want to have somebody who objectifies you?” and “We’ve never had it so good, we’re out of the woods” are perfect commentaries on the faux-empowerment that permeates our culture.

However, one of the first things I noticed about the video is that all the scenes that are over-the-top ridiculous feature Lily Allen.  All the scenes that exclusively or primarily feature black dancers could be taken from any popular music video.  I think this is at the heart of the criticisms against the video. Given what music videos show nowadays, there was nothing truly satirical about the dancers’ scenes.  Even when Lily joined the dancers she didn’t really dance with them, she’s more clothed than they are, and most of the shots from these scenes are just closeups of the dancers’ butts (noticeably excluding Lily’s butt).  The dancers are still being objectified, and this is what gives the video a both racist and sexist edge.  I understand that Lily felt she couldn’t twerk and was self-conscious of her body so she wore more clothes, but I think that could have been a great opportunity to make those scenes truly satirical.  Closeups of her butt dancing badly would have been much more effective as satire than the closeups included in the video.  She also could have played off of her self-consciousness, possibly by showing her “manager” pressuring her to dress in tiny outfits.  She could have shown footage of the everyday sexism encountered by her and her dancers.  For example, to really illustrate her lyrics of “It’s hard out here for a b*tch”, she could have shown her incredibly skilled dancers going to auditions where their bodies get judged for not being a certain size and their talents get ignored.  I really respect and applaud Lily’s intentions for the video, I just feel that it could have been a lot better.  That said, Lily does deserve serious props for creating a song and video that shines a light on our culture’s sexism.  One of the main purposes of satire is to spark discussion, and at this Lily has clearly succeeded.

Now let’s look at P!nk’s “Stupid Girls”:

It’s fully satirical the whole way through.  P!nk is the one who becomes various versions of a “stupid girl”, so the only performer making a fool of themselves is her.  This is significantly different from Lily’s video, where Lily has the highest status of all the women.  P!nk also clearly exaggerates each character to an extreme.  There isn’t a single scene in P!nk’s video that could be part of a typical music video, because she looks so ridiculous.  Even in the scenes at 00:31 and 03:07, where her character is a dancer in a rap video, she’s purposely dancing awkwardly.  There are no closeups of anywhere on her body except for one scene at 02:57.  She’s a “gym bunny” whose pants get caught in her treadmill and fall off to reveal her underwear, which has “Say No To Food” printed on the back.  This one, brief, closeup of her butt allows the viewer to read this, and experience one more satirical poke at our culture’s obsession with thinness.  P!nk doesn’t use anyone else’s body to prove her point, and she uses many many different examples to show the tragic and ridiculous stereotypes women in our culture are expected to emulate.

I also like that P!nk shows, and mentions, the kind of women she wants to see more of: “Outcasts and girls with ambition, that’s what I want to see” is the lyric that plays as P!nk is shown first scoring in football, then giving a presidential speech.  At the end of the video, the young girl who has the choice of barbies and dollhouses or instruments and sports decides to grab a football and run outside.  Making fun of what doesn’t work is great, but I really appreciate P!nk also showing examples of the solution.

What do you think of each video?

Amazing Women From History, Disney-ified

Artist David Trumble recently released a collection of drawings of famous women from history.  The images are highly stylized, mimicking the aesthetic of Disney princesses.  The project, which Trumble refers to as “a prototype for Disney’s new ‘World of Women’ collection”, seems to be a satirical response to Princess Merida’s makeover:

merida

Trumble’s models include Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Hillary Clinton, Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony, Anne Frank, Malala Yousafzai, Harriet Tubman, Jane Goodall, Marie Curie, and Gloria Steinem:

1-RUTH-BADER-GINSBERG-PRINCESS-e1383160244615

2-HILARY-CLINTON-PRINCESS-e1383160265589

4-SUSAN-B-ANTHONY-PRINCESS-e1383160460332

5-ANNE-FRANK-PRINCESS-e138316043560410-MALALA-YOUSAFZAI-PRINCESS-e1383160318701

6-HARRIET-TUBMAN-PRINCESS-e1383160416115

7-JANGE-GOODALL-PRINCESS-e1383160389392

8-MARIE-CURIE-PRINCESS-e13831603633699-GLORIA-STEINEM-PRINCESS-e1383160339304

These images show how insulting the real Disney princess images are to women and girls.  Trumble includes photos of the real women next to his drawings, so we can see the discrepancies between the women’s strong, confident body language and the coy “on display” poses of the illustrations.  All these women have accomplished incredible feats and committed their lives to amazing causes.  Instead of capturing their power and unique traits, the Disney-style illustrations reduce the women’s images into flat “Look at me – aren’t I pretty?” cartoons with vacuous smiles.  For years I’ve been aware of how unrealistic Disney princess images are, but this project really drives home how ridiculous they are.  Girls deserve to see princesses and warriors who look and move and act like real women.

A more positive aspect of this project is the notion of making women from history the new Disney princesses.  Although I don’t expect Disney to change their stories or character designs anytime soon, hopefully the discussions fueled by Trumble’s work will inspire more children’s authors and illustrators to both create realistic portrayals of women and tell stories from women’s history.

Finally, this project made me think about what kind of images I’d like to see in children’s media, and if I’d ever seen them before.  I remembered one of my favorite books, The Serpent Slayer: and Other Stories of Strong Women – the stories are folklore from around the world, featuring heroines who use their intelligence and strength to succeed.  The illustrations show characters who have strong bodies and real facial expressions:

SerpentSlayer7

SerpentSlayer23

SerpentSlayer13

SerpentSlayer2-1

What do you think of Trumble’s project?  And do you have any favorite storybooks that feature strong heroines?