A Defense of Kanye’s Monster

June 11th, 2011

Kanye West, always a magnet for controversy, has recently come under fire for his latest music video for the song Monster. Kanye has been the recipient of intense criticism for how his most recent video is misogynist. Critics generally argue that the video promotes violence against women, reduces them to sexual play things, and is just flat out mysoginist. This campaign against the video has led to Kanye to show a disclaimer before the video (a dumb and meaningless act in my opinion). It led it being banned on MTV and it being held up as one of the worst offenders of its kind.

The Monster video is a lot of things but one of the most mysognist troublesome items in pop culture it is not. I believe that because Monster is sensational in other ways (mainly in its gore and shock value), it initially drew the attention of many viewers who conflated gore with other issues and then unfairly singled it out and critqued as blatntly misogynist while so many other similar, or much much worse, items in pop culture went uncommented on.

First I would like to point out other pieces in pop culture that are at least as bad as Kanye’s video before going on to offer some actual defenses of Kanye’s work, that these other examples don’t have.

I think the main issue at hand here is the sexualization of images of dead women. So lets look at some different examples of this that are produced without notice or protest.

The Following are some images from Vogue Italia in a 2010 issue. (click on the thumbnails to view a larger version)

Continuing with this theme the following are an ad for Lavin Paris and Blender (an upscale fashion boutique). The blender image is definitly more graphic but I don’t believe the level of gore makes it any more (or less) mysoginist.

Moving from Europe over to the United States the following are from the fashion/art magazine W.

And here is some from fashion magazine Lula

Here are some surprising shots from Lindsay Lohan

While the images above have appeared mainly in niche magazines (which may have a more mature audience), lets take a look at some examples from mainstream pop culture. The following pictures are from the extremely popular America’s Next Top Model. Keep in mind that this show airs on the CW which targets a younger teenage demographic, and runs it’s reruns on Oxygen which is a cable network dedicated specifically toward women.

Finally I’d like to show an example of sexualized dead women from a contemporary pop music video, not Monster, but Lady Gaga’s Paparazzi. When this video was released I never heard the word mysoginist once. Keep in mind that like the photos above, these are targeted toward young women.

From the above I think it is clear that Kanye is not the originator of this type of esthitic and, knowing that Kanye has always considered himself a part of the fashion world, Kanye was probably heavily influenced by the images above (many of which I’m sure he’s seen)

So moving on to exploring the Monster video itself…

While I’ve just showed numerous exmaples the sexualization of dead women images, not all images that involved dead women, art, and even sexuality are mysognist. For example the image below involves the themes of women and death and clearly falls into a different camp.

These next two images, done my Dresden Dolls lead singer Amanda Palmer, are closer to many examples shown previously but I believe have some key differences. Mainly, when I view these images I see more the tragic and disgusting nature of the situation rather than the glamorized or sexualized aspect.

Kanye’s video I believe is a mix between the sexualized images from the magazines and the tragic images of amanda palmer. Below of some images from Kanye’s video of that are not primarily sexy but instead more scary/sad/tragic.

While these images aren’t as “anti-sexy” as the Amanda Palmer ones, they aren’t exactly the glorified images from the magazines either.
Now let me take on some specific critques/issues about the video one at a time…

The most controversial Scene

One of the most controversial segments of the video occurs between 1:00-1:18 when Kanye West lays on a bed with two dead girls and moves their limp arms and heads. These two dead girls are posed on the bed more in the vain of sexy-fashion than disgusting/sad corpses. Lots of critics see this scene as a rape analogy as Kanye moves their bodies at his own will and they talk about how it promotes rape. However whenever I see the clip I think of the rape of a drunk girl and how disgusting the act is. Something about the extreme of these girls being corpses and the extremely creepy/noninterested way Kanye moves their limbs makes me recoil and have the opposite reaction that the videos critics claim.

Taking some interpretive liberties I see this scene as Kanye talking about how women become submissive to him, his fame and his wealth, and how it bores him to control them like puppets (all very mysoginist I know), but then the lyrics at that same time are “everybody knows I’m a motherfuckin Monster”. Maybe Kanye is reflecting on the way his fame coupled with his male impulses make him a monster, maybe.

Women and men are strictly divided into different groups

This is a critic where the person states that all the women are shown as wild and ravenous while men are not. Or, the women are shown as dead or weak while the men are the predators. Besides the fact that you can’t have it both ways (women being wild/ravenous and dead/weak) both of these arugments are simply false. The following is just one image where a man is seen as part of the wild zombie-like mob.

Then there is this cool headed woman

If you are looking for strong predatory women, or weak helpless males, just looks at the images below

Black women are the crazed ones, white women are the “dead sexy ones”

This critique probably comes mainly from the crazed black female wherewolf type character that appears around the 5 minute mark. However I’ve also hear people say how all the zombie figures are black, not true. Below are all the white zomebies (as well as in the picture above with the zombies behind glass, or the white and black girl both eating the dead waiter).

And then a black “dead sexy one”

Conflating the shock value with misogyny

-Is the Monster video disturbing? Absolutely.
-Is it graphic and gory? Yes (although not if your comparing it to the motion picture industry which makes movies like Saw).
-Does Monster make violence and death look cool? Maybe, though not to the extent that other music videos, tv shows, and movies do.
-Is Monster especially racist or misogynist? I just don’t see it. Obviously it isn’t the pinnacle of the femenist movement, or even pro women, but its no worse on that count than so many other things that are absorded and ignored as about of our engrained culture.

The Monster video is a spooky horror-like music video that borrows both musically and visually the the long tradition of horror movies (something the fashion magazine are NOT about which I think is an important distinction). It incorpates women into the video like all other music videos do (sex sells) but it is not more anti-women than other videos nor is it more violent that other items in pop culture.

Because this type of video is unique among the sea of mass produced booty shaking, money raining, uber swag music videos it got the attention it deserved, unfortunately the shock that it created led people to come up with halfbaked incosistent arguments as to why Monster is so much worse than everything else and should be banned from the airwaves.

I know this video is unusual for a music video, but is it really as bad as everyone’s saying?

Watch the video yourself

Or just watch the muppet version.

Here is a video critique of Monster