Sunday, September 8, 2013

Why I love the Raspberry Ape, but don't want to see the tables turn again...

There are a few things Facebook is actually good for. For me, one is talking out issues like this one. I had to ask myself some questions about my own, visceral reactions to the Kyra Gracie shoot. I had to ask those questions again when models wearing nothing but body paint cropped up as props to sell gis. Seeing that, I sighed, but it didn't REALLY bother me...not like the Kyra shoot. That's why I was a little surprised to see a few women react similarly to both. One of those reactions (and honestly the one I have the biggest problem with) is the "turnabout is fair play" or "parody" response.

Why do I have a problem? Mostly because the two sets of images are not the same: 

First off, Kyra's shoot...
  • Kyra's a big name in BJJ.*
  • The images (as far as I can tell) weren't directly used to sell a product (though they eventually might have been) and instead were spread by Kyra on her personal page.
  • The image boils down to the sexualization of her body, enhanced and contextualized by the use of the gi.
  • She is the main subject of the photo
The Company's shoot...
  • The Company is small and the models are unknown.
  • The images are used on the company website, featuring the products they are looking to sell.
  • The image involves the objectification of the female form, not outright sexualization (high heels aside). It's only sexualized if you consider nudity inherently sexual.
  • The women are props in the photo
Parody, like paying homage, is difficult. To be done correctly, you have to not only understand the elements of the original work, but also what they mean in context. You not only have to understand why the original subject is ridiculous, but you also have to be able to execute it with the finesse to focus on the ridiculous, not get tripped up by all the other moving parts of the piece, AND not get distracted by all the other messages you may want to insert. So yeah...I think it should be used sparingly and carefully, especially in a day where nothing is really private..

Take Robin Thicke's abysmal video for Blurred Lines. (Have you seen the uncensored version??) It somehow offended the liberal, conservative, womanist, musician...pretty much every part of me that could be offended. It was BEGGING to be parodied...and parody happened. Once here in what I'm calling parody A, and again here in what I'm calling parody B

Parody A, the more popular of the two, gets it. The original is ridiculous in its own right...beyond the norms of the issues women face in media. All they had to do was genuinely switch out men for women and women for men and bam. Parody. It even managed to challenge ideals of the acceptable female form by simply doing very little (which actually took more work).  

Parody B trips up a bit (ok, a lot). They switched the gender roles...oh wait no! They ONLY switched the sexes! They managed to keep gender roles well in tact, with the women still in high heels, short skirts, full make up, and the men in...underwear (because, apparently, nudity is the same as objectification). They seem to have totally missed the point that the original video's problem was not the showing of skin. They did it in the name of asserting women's rights to dress how they choose? Sorry, but sexy women in this context, dilutes the the point that it's actually reinforcing gender stereotypes...kind of like the original. Surprising (and yet, not) for students of feminism (Correction, they are law students). It strikes me as mostly reactionary, focusing more on men as Bad Guys (as opposed to the equally shallow Heros) that must be combated rather than the actual social issues for which they are sometimes willing (or unconscious) vehicles. 

Back to BJJ...

Why don't I want to see The Company parodied?
  • I don't like objectification. At all. Of any human. I get why it could be important, possibly even useful here, but I'm not the Machiavellian type. There are better ways to tackle the problem. 
  • Sex may or may not sell, but controversy definitely does. I wrote about it a while back and I stand by the research and the claims. There's a company out there doing something shocking, and shocking makes $. I know it might make a few people feel good to see the shoot redone, but I'd hate to see that ending up as more sales for The Company (who I really think only cares about sales and couldn't possibly care less about women's reactions).  
  • Whoever does it, will do it wrong. I promise they will. It's not enough to get hot guys, slap on some body paint and stand them in between two women in gis...because the paint isn't the problem. Imagine the shoot done again, instead, with the women in question in rashguards and a full gi. They're STILL superfluous and still objects.

It's not the naked that's the issue, it's the use of a human as an object. Sure, you can say that using a man as an object turns the tables, but it's not the same. Men can easily (as in the case of the Daniel Strauss/The Raspberry Ape) jump into a position of objectification and jump right out and return to their lives, never having to deal with street harassment, hyper-sexualized imagery, etc. that women walk through every day. The social practices that lead to the company choosing to create the ad they did, are pervasive (car/motorcycle, deodorant, beer ads). It's incredibly difficult to capture the depth of what's behind all that without something as extreme as Parody A.

.So yeah, if someone does decide to do a hot guy shoot, I will be just a little disheartened.

*A little off-topic foot note for anyone who has responded to my critique of Kyra claiming that she can't be held responsible for the effects her behavior and images have on the community...I'm an all-or-nothing kind of person when it comes to things like this. Either we give her credit for inspiring some women and discouraging others, or she gets no credit at all. I don't understand how we can, in the same breath, say that she serves as an example to both women and men who train of a woman who deserves respect, but then ignore the fact that some of her actions might have some negative consequences. 

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