Who run this motha?

May 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

I watched Beyonce’s ‘Run the World (Girls)’ video yesterday, and it reminded me of Sucker Punch[i], for some reason. These are some scattered thoughts:

Girls who run the world must be ready to seduce men and / or perform for them.

[Interestingly enough, exactly like the girls in Sucker Punch who do not run the world – even the one they inhabit.]

The writhing spectacle of Female will temporarily blindside heterosexual men brandishing weapons.

Presumably, in that space between heterosexual men’s [desire for Female] and [inattention to the larger world] there is a moment for girls to run the world.

[Because it is men who run the world by default?]

But what if she were wearing sweatpants?

Between seduction and [in]attention. Precisely like how the pig-tailed, vacant-faced Babydoll (played by Emily Browning) in Sucker Punch gets men to stop for a few minutes. Stop raping. Stop controlling. Stop killing. Stop exerting power. She moves her body for them to stop. The performance is hypnotic and it stops heterosexual men in their tracks. Literally.

Yet in Sucker Punch the audience doesn’t see Babydoll move her body in a seduction spectacle, The Dance. Instead, we see her move her body in physical combat in fantasies of war and video game-inspired fights in an imaginative landscape as her actual, physical body moves in certain ways in her present life. How does she move her body? How does she dance? We don’t know. The film wants to tell you that it’s not important, the dance that stops men in their tracks. It is the imaginative body-in-motion that is more important. The dance is left to the audience’s imagination.

Precisely because of this, the dance becomes more powerful than what is actually in the imagination. The dreamscape is over-familiar because it works by rote and repetition. Each dance is accompanied by a dreamscape. Each time, the girls battle different monsters and humans. Yet is Babydoll’s dance repetitive? I was curious to know. Because men who have seen it before continue to be mesmerised by it over and over again.

This mirrors the audience slack-jawed gaze as it looks at the screen. Whether you’re enthralled or bored, you continue to look at the screen. Does the dance work in the same way?

In a short skirt and thigh-high stockings, there are displays of skin that continue to confuse me. Does skin need to be displayed when the girls of Sucker Punch kill, maim, and destruct? Skin is not consistently bare. It is tantalisingly bare. Because Baby must move, jump, and run, her skirt lifts up, and the camera pauses lovingly between her bare, white thighs. Because Beyonce must move, jump, and dance, her yellow dress shifts and moves with her body, and the camera glides over cleavage and thighs.

Babydoll the baby dragon (aww) slayer

Thinking about what bell hooks writes in Outlaw Culture:

“You know, the function of art is to do more than tell it like it is – to imagine what is possible.”

Sucker Punch and ‘Run the World (Girls)’ imagine what is possible. But what if what is possible is only contained within a tired, rehashed narrative? It reveals the limits of collective imagination. Girls are sexy – if they have a certain body type, if they acquiesce to dressing a certain way. Wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt and jeans, for example, is not the aesthetically-pleasing feminine path towards revolutionary upheaval. Neither will it help you slay dragons in your dreams. There are certain sartorial codes to be observed.

Who decides on these codes?

Sometimes I forget: in real cities around the world, women heed the revolutionary call wearing the clothes they’re most comfortable in.

bell hooks also writes:

There was a point in my life when I needed a therapist. I was involved in this horrible, bittersweet life with a black male artist/intellectual. There was no one I could go to and say, “This is what’s happening to me, and I have no apparatus for understanding it.” So I invented this figure: this therapist, this healer, and I could get up and do an improvisational performance on this persona. I realized you could invent something you need.

The trapped, abused, isolated girls in Sucker Punch are inventing the personas they need. So are Beyonce and her group of riot-girls. They’re women as girls presumably creating girl characters for the girls in the audience watching them through the eyes of prescribed femininity that needs girls and women to be a certain way when they’re doing things like exorcising psychic demons or running the world.

But maybe we’re all trapped by the limits of Capital. The vast and limitless personal imagination always trips up against its own borders; reduced to a few easily-understood visual codes. The collective imagination can visualise the conventionally-attractive girl and the conventionally-accepted body. Femininity can co-opt the codes of masculinity with guns and grunts and stares – as long as it reminds itself it is still femininity; that is, in opposition to masculinity, never quite meeting it.

Perhaps these images bother me because they suggest that the personal imagination is not limitless. It only goes so far as it has gone before. Or is the collective imagination that limits the personal imagination? Your imagination can only so far as the imagination of others.

The lion would rather hang with the girls, though

I found the first 50 seconds of Beyonce’s video to be the most visually-arresting. But that’s probably because I find the first 50 seconds of the song to be the most interesting, although I’m not sure if those 50 seconds of music were edited in for the video. The start of the song seems to promise a compelling aural landscape until the actual song begins – and turns out to be really mediocre.

The song’s failed imagination.

This is how the video works, as well. Towards the end when Beyonce and her posse of girls march towards the all-male soldiers, one almost holds out hope that the girls break the barrier and break through the invisible boundaries and infiltrate the all-male battalion. But it ends with a predictable confrontation involving a sexy Stare-Off, and then the Girls give the all-male soldiers the hand salute.

What does that salute mean in the context of the video? “We see you?” “We run the world and we salute you as a performance act meant to superficially acknowledge that you run the world when we know that we really run the world?”  “We acquiesce?”

We get what we want in both instances of movie and music video by getting slightly more than what we thought we want.

In heterosexual porn, it’s always the female body that is in the limelight, displayed, and counted upon to produce the desired effect.

So writes Virginie Despentes in King Kong Theory. In movies and music videos that are Certainly Not Porn, (these are generally Approved By Society as Not Porn) (but it’s not like all porn is lacking imagination and is stereotypical) (it’s just that mainstream porn and mainstream film and music locate the source of entertainment, pleasure, and desire in the homogenously attractive female body) the viewer is ostensibly meant to identify with the girls of Sucker Punch and the girls of Beyonce’s video. But the girls see themselves through someone else’s eyes.

Who? The unidentified spectre of a viewer is dishearteningly familiar in its expectations. It demands danger insofar that it is imaginative. Kill, but not in real life. (Sucker Punch) Run the world, but not really.

Who are we? What do we want? These are all good questions we can't quite answer.

“My persuasion can build a nation,” sings Beyonce. It’s a nation that has been built before. I’m sure I’ve seen it somewhere else.

This goes out to all my girls
That’s in the club rocking the latest
Who will buy it for themselves and get more money later

I think I need a barber
None of these hoes can fade me
I’m so good with this,
I remind you I’m so hood with this

Boy I’m just playing, come here baby
Hope you still like me, If you hate me
My persuasion can build a nation
In this our, our love we can devour
You’ll do anything for me[ii]

Oh yeah, that fake nation! Boy I’m just playing.


[i] If you want to read some interesting reviews of the movie, there is one at Millicent and Carla Fran and one at What Tami Said (with some key points about race), and a divergent take at The Hathor Legacy. There is also this, which is hilarious.

[ii] Lyrics shamelessly copied from dodgy lyrics website.

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