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Strange Days July 19, 2011

Posted by FCM in entertainment, kids, pop culture, race, rape, WTF?.
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serving suggestion: if you can stand it, listen to the songs first, without the videos, and then watch the videos afterwards.  lyrics below.

ive tried to wait it out, and hoped they would go away but they havent — these 2 songs are currently playing on every radio station at all times, and have been for awhile.  listen to any station for more than 6 minutes (or change channels) and you will likely hear them back-to-back.  its a double-feature horror show, and the saturation is full.  people are hearing this, whether they particularly care to or not.

for overlapping and probably irrelevant reasons, i heard the songs long before i saw the videos, and the lyrics without the images accompanying them absolutely chilled me to the bone.  rihanna sings about s&m, how she loves whips and chains and how pain and pleasure are indistinguishable to her; a black woman with a history of institutional and domestic violence being paid handsomely to literally read from the script of every mans fantasy for all women, within a context of american black slavery and a global epidemic of male sexualized violence against women.  a willing victim who wont call the cops, no matter what is done to her.  how sexxxay!  according to wiki, she didnt write the script, someone else did.  one writer is a woman (ester dean) the other 4 appear to be men.

meanwhile, katy perry sings about wanting to be an abduction victim, “disrobed and probed” as well as infected, poisoned, stunned, and “lead into the light” by her abductor.  according to wiki, three doods “helped her” write it; all four get songwriting credit.

i dont know who gets credit for the videos, and i am sick of googling already.  but its kind of irrelevant isnt it?  i mean really.  we all know from whose perspective we are all supposed to be viewing/consuming these images (and indeed, the entire world) at all times.

anyway, the banality of the male violence in these songs, the pure horror and the banality of it is so clear when the music plays.  women really are abducted, stunned, and “disrobed and probed” (aka raped) by men all the time.  men really do beat, rape and abuse women, with whips and chains and with other objects and with their own hands and bodies, whether or not the women “like it” and consent may be better than no-consent to men who like to abuse women, but maybe not.  like all consent rhetoric, it serves to keep men out of prison sometimes, but theres no such thing as a willing victim, and men like to sexually victimize women.  they want women to not want it.  it really couldnt be more obvious.  and in these songs, the women are saying they want it and need it or whatever, but the horror is still so obvious.

but something happens when these words are made to correspond to these sexualized images.  doesnt it?  the banality of it is erased: the images that accompany both songs seem alien, exotic, and staged (and they are, and they are meant to appear this way).  the violence of it is transformed into something else.  at least, it fails to register as violence anymore, or not in the same way it did when i was just listening to the words.  and its not like the words themselves are unproblematic either.  but this is not the first time i have noticed that something happens when the images are added.  so what is going on here?

i think whats happening is that we are being shown the meaning and the impact and the history of these words through mens eyes.  and that these images are somehow more powerful and meaningful, and are able to displace the reality invoked by the words.  the words clearly signify (to me) that these women are being victimized, and i can relate to that, its a female-centered reality afterall.  but the images?  to use my own image….its as if the video images displace that female-centered reality like water in a bowl, if the images were a stone and the words were water, and the water reminded me of my own life.  and the stone didnt.  and once this happens, you forget instantly that there ever was another reality, or that there was ever even a bowl.  what the fuck?  i dont know, im not really into deconstructing film, and ive never made one, but how’d they do that?

as for the videos, this is all just sex to them, and this becomes clear when they let us see what they see:  women being beaten by hands and objects is sexxxay.  its sex.  women being kidnapped, imprisoned, tortured and raped is made to seem like a fun little game.  a sex-game.  and it is, for the abductors, and for people who fantasize about doing this.  but ask jaycee dugard what its really like to be abducted, disrobed and probed, for example.  for women, this is our worst nightmare, but the images belie this dont they?  noone wants this to happen to them, so from whose perspective are we supposed to be consuming these images/fantasies?  whose reality do these images represent?

once again, women are made to see everything, even our own destruction through mens eyes.  someone once made a sci-fi flick about this, but its not science fiction is it?  anyone remember this?

from the movie strange days.  some fucking dickwad (james cameron…directed by kathryn bigelow) surely thought he was being very clever here, inventing the novel concept that a rape victim could be “jacked-in” and experience her own rape, from her own perspective and from the perspective of the rapist at the same time (i havent seen this film for probably 15 years, but i remember that part clearly) but you know what?  this really happens, or something approaching it.  this is reality, what women encounter daily, when we are forced to see mens sick pornified misogyny and rape fantasies, acted out and projected against our bodies, but from their eyes.  and never from our own.

trying to unravel this is a full-time job, and women-identified-women do a good job of this, but it takes constant vigilance and belligerence to stay behind our own eyes.  who else can say this, and in what circumstances?  this is a serious question.  clearly james cameron can only envision this jacking-in and jacking-back-out-again as a fantasy, but its not one.  i feel exhausted just thinking about it, but i do it, and i struggle to do it consistently and to be honest i cannot do it consistently.  i fail, constantly.  there are not enough hours in the day, there are too many images and messages to digest, and i have other things to do, before, during and after.  this is what feminists do.

but seriously, whats the deal with images, specifically, and the seemingly transformative power of images, and their ability to frame and reframe issues?  i hope im not the only one who saw the videos last, instead of first, because i dont think i ever wouldve noticed.  but considering that so many of us are jacked-in now and our preferred media appears to be video (and not words or music by themselves) i suspect there are many people who dont notice, and that many of these people are young girls.  and this is fucking terrifying.  it really fucking is.


1. bugbrennan - July 19, 2011

Strange Days is the only movie I have ever walked out of – it’s a revolting, terrible concept, and I cannot believe that film was made. So ultimately misogynist. Good post.

2. lishra - July 19, 2011

Thanks so much for writing about both of these songs/videos. Your words are so powerful, as always.

I heard the songs before seeing the videos too, and the various ways in which I could interpret the songs changed upon seeing the videos. What I first noticed with both songs was how overtly violent and sexual the lyrics were. With the “S&M” video, that overtness continues albeit in a fun, candy-coated way. (It’s interesting to consider “S&M” alongside Rihanna’s other new video for “Man Down” which explicitly deals with rape.) With the “E.T.” video, the violence of the language (which most people likely don’t even pick up on) is erased in the video with spacey imagery and elaborate costumes. We don’t actually see Kanye “disrobe and probe” her. Nor, for that matter, is Rihanna the one being beaten or whipped in her video. Of course, both of these things could have been stylized into sexiness that masquerades as non-harmful too, but it seems that even the music video makin’ people knew that those kinds of overt imagery (*that match the lyrics*) might not be entirely acceptable at as-is.

With the Katy Perry song, I tried my hardest to interpret it my own way when I first heard it…. all anti-PIV (“fill me with your poison”), trauma bonding (“want to be a victim”), etc. Of course these ideas weren’t in the minds of the songwriters. After reading your post, I was curious what other folks have said online so I did a basic search and one of the first results is someone asking if the “E.T.” song is about rape. A sample of the replies: “the lyrics suggest that katy also wants it “take me, want to be a victim, ready for abduction”. If she’s willing I wouldn’t call it rape” …. “It’s about interspecies sex with an extraterrestrial partner who happens to be extra dom” (and I don’t think this comment was facetious).

I actually saw Katy Perry’s live performance on American Idol before seeing the video or being very familiar with the song. Kanye West’s part was barely intelligible because they had to take out so much of it. While he couldn’t say anything about “probing”, it was fine to say that he abducted her and that he will now tell her what to do. Great. Also, an irrelevant fun fact: Katy Perry was wearing an outfit in the performance that made her look like Zuul from the first Ghostbusters film. There is no feminism – ONLY ZUUL.

FCM - July 19, 2011

yes, the rihanna video above has her being the dom and the sub at different points…but heres another version of the same video where she and brittany spears are handcuffed the whole way through. it can be done either way, cant it, using the same lyrics? and ZUUL made me LOL lishra, thanks. 😛

3. phonaesthetica - July 19, 2011

“…a black woman with a history of institutional and domestic violence being paid handsomely to literally read from the script of every mans fantasy for all women, within a context of american black slavery and a global epidemic of male sexualized violence against women.”

You said it. And, as a teacher who works with adolescent girls, I cannot articulate how disturbing it is to see the seeing-oneself-through-men’s-eyes phenomenon start Stockholming itself in. The girls are learning early on to identify with boys and men; to participate in their own and one another’s degradation and call it “choice” and “fun.”

4. Undercover Punk - July 19, 2011

Oh.my.god. I have a friend who’s been telling me about this Rhianna song for weeks now. She’s horrified by it and likes to get me ranting. 😉 Can’t wait to post this on her Facebook wall!!! Thanks, FCM!!

Ok, this:

but seriously, whats the deal with images, specifically, and the seemingly transformative power of images, and their ability to frame and reframe issues?

I think feminism needs to go here!! I tried to sort of get at this bit with my defenses of aesthetics (ala femininity). Imagery is VERY powerful, as you say, even transformative. It evokes EMOTION and THOUGHTS. Eeek, thoughts! We’re living in an increasingly image-saturated culture. I think part of it has to do with how quickly and efficiently our brains can process visual information. You don’t have to know the meaning of words or take the time to read them (so hard!). But even a boring old CHART can substantially improve cognitive absorption of complex information. Actually, as I think about it, men have historically DENIED the importance of aesthetics or visual/sensory ways of knowing, so we have little language to describe its unique power over our minds. Rationality and logic are supposedly better, more reliable ways of knowing the world!!

As a result, we don’t understand very well the IMPACT imagery has on our reality. It can actually CREATE reality. Frame/reframe! And here we see an entire culture growing increasingly desensitized to violence. It’s really SCARY. Now violence EQUALS sex. They cannot be differentiated. I feel sick.

5. Undercover Punk - July 19, 2011

@phonaesthetica: “Stockholming itself” YES!

6. Links: July 19, 2011 « Against All Evidence - July 19, 2011

[…] “Strange Days”. . . on the horrific songs/videos for Rihanna’s S&M and Katy Perry’s […]

7. cherryblossomlife - July 20, 2011

It’s fashionable at the moment for men to get light (or no) sentences for murdering women (usually their wives, but not always) and pretending it was a “sex game”. Srsly, women getting shot in the head, women getting strangled, and the judges and juries let them off because it was, apparently, just a “sex game gone wrong”

8. cherryblossomlife - July 20, 2011

What I mean is that women’s reality is denied so much, and so often, that *even* *when* *their* *dead* nobody can be persuaded to believe that perhaps that was not, actually, what they wanted after all.

FCM - July 20, 2011

i feel sick too UP. i really do. 😦

9. Mary Sunshine - July 20, 2011

Instead of aborting the female before she is born, as they do in Asia, here we / they abort her after she is born. No diff. The female is just another carcass upon which the male can feed.

10. KatieS - July 20, 2011

I feel sick, too. There is no way not to be affected by these images.

Here’s something I read a while back about images. It was sobering. It’s about the U.S. but I’d guess is not limited to the U.S. I’ve bolded the part that stunned me most about images, something that I was seeing the results of but not really understanding or believing. All the statistics are useful to see, too.

We live in two Americas. One America, now the minority, functions in a print-based, literate world. It can cope with complexity and has the intellectual tools to separate illusion from truth. The other America, which constitutes the majority, exists in a non-reality-based belief system. This America, dependent on skillfully manipulated images for information, has severed itself from the literate, print-based culture. It cannot differentiate between lies and truth. It is informed by simplistic, childish narratives and clichés. It is thrown into confusion by ambiguity, nuance and self-reflection. This divide, more than race, class or gender, more than rural or urban, believer or nonbeliever, red state or blue state, has split the country into radically distinct, unbridgeable and antagonistic entities.

There are over 42 million American adults, 20 percent of whom hold high school diplomas, who cannot read, as well as the 50 million who read at a fourth- or fifth-grade level. Nearly a third of the nation’s population is illiterate or barely literate. And their numbers are growing by an estimated 2 million a year. But even those who are supposedly literate retreat in huge numbers into this image-based existence. A third of high school graduates, along with 42 percent of college graduates, never read a book after they finish school. Eighty percent of the families in the United States last year did not buy a book.


I think that, to some extent, being able to reason in words does help us deal with these images. I find it nearly overwhelming to think of what is happening with the apparently vast majority who cannot defend against the images.

I think that this explains a lot.

11. yttik - July 21, 2011

I found it kind of funny in a sarcastic way, the one time I saw Rihanna experience a touch of controversy was with her “Man Down” video. The patriarchy was just going about their business, quite content to let her talk about torturing women……wait, did you just harm a man?? Hold the presses! We can’t have that kind of violence going on! The Parent’s Television Council had to come out and everything. Really funny, people were concerned that this would “teach young girls to retaliate against abuse with murder.” Music videos have been showing men plugging men over the slightest offense since forever, but the idea that some girl might shoot a genuine abuser in something pretty close to self defense, really scared them. We do have limits on our violence, donja know.

Good point about how these atrocities in the lyrics are sugar coated with images on the videos. It makes them hip, edgy, cool, makes you forget they’re talking about torturing a real person. The rhythm helps, the images, they all lull you to sleep.

You ever heard little kids sing a few lines of a popular song? Yikes, it’s really startling, because we don’t even really “hear” the words anymore. When they come out of a kid’s mouth they all come slamming back into perspective. Your brain is like whoah, wait a minute, “I’m going to stick it to you hard, baby” is not a love song with a cool beat!

12. tiptree2 (vliet) - July 21, 2011

Add me to those who feel sick. These things are so poisonous and they are aimed at children. I couldn’t watch either of them all the way. If anybody has doubts that there is an immensely powerful system out there to convince young people that women want to be assaulted and degraded, that it’s a fun and normal thing to humiliate and hurt women, this is the slick proof. I think your comment is very helpful, Katie. How can a 14-year-old girl sort through these mixed messages? “We are strong independent women” is what Rihanna and Perry present themselves, and you buy it, and then these strong independent women instruct you to look for vicious partners to injure you, and instruct you to love it.

I am so grateful for these threads where these things can be discussed without poisonous interference. Thank you very much.

13. elkballet - July 21, 2011

It’s horrifying as well that Rihanna was in an abusive relationship right before that song came out. She also guest-starred in an Eminem song where he describes beating and killing her (“I’ll tie you to the bed and set this house on fire”) while she sings about how she loves it.

the violence of it is transformed into something else. at least, it fails to register as violence anymore, or not in the same way it did when i was just listening to the words.

This happens in almost all porn as well. In almost all mainstream porn where there is physical violence (88.2%) the women almost always respond either neutrally or positively transforming violence into a bit of sexy fun to the viewer.

FCM - July 21, 2011

yes, i took down that eminem song TWICE:


and YES about the violence in porn, and the “sex” in porn too. the women are faking pleasure and orgasms at least SOME OF THE TIME, can we at least agree on that? they are ACTING and these images transform whats happening to the viewer. between watching PORN and their girlfriends and wives FAKING IT, many men have literally never seen or heard (or felt) an authentic female orgasm, ever. when their wives dont respond like the women do in porn, its like theres something wrong with the woman, and not that the porn-actresses are faking it. sheila jeffreys wrote about how wives were never expected to enjoy PIV before it fell out of fashion for men to use prostitutes openly…after that, women were expected to respond to PIV like men were used to prostitutes responding to it. ie. they faked it, OR they screamed in horror because the men were raping them. meh, same dif right?

14. elkballet - July 21, 2011

Also have you ever noticed this particular defense of porn:
-When women in porn look like they are enjoying themselves it’s always real because women in porn love their job.
-When women in porn look like they are in pain, it’s always acting.

Anticlimax was seriously eye-opening about women’s roles during sex.

FCM - July 21, 2011

yes, its along the same lines as “if she cries at her murder trial, shes being manipulative to get away with murder, but if she doesnt cry shes a cold hearted murderer.” the take-away from the murder trial scenario is there is absolutely nothing a woman can do, or not do, that will be evidence of her innocence in mens courts of law.

the takeaway from the porn scenario is that there is absolutely nothing a woman can do, or not do, that will be evidence that she doesnt LOVE absolutely everything that a man or men might choose to do to her, sexually. nothing. and that is terrifying.

15. tiptree2 (vliet) - July 21, 2011

Factcheckme, I was so disturbed about all this that I posted a link to this thread, including comments, on my facebook page a few hours ago. Now I am worrying that is not authorized. Please let me know whether to take it down and please accept my sincere apology if I did the wrong thing.

FCM - July 21, 2011

no go right ahead tiptree! link away.

FCM - July 22, 2011
16. What About the (Girl) Children? « Against All Evidence - July 24, 2011

[…] off of FCM’s post, “Strange Days”, regarding the lyrical and video content of Katy Perry’s “E.T.” and […]

17. lishra - July 24, 2011

When yttik mentioned how children sing along to songs like these without knowing what the hell they’re saying, I got curious and took to Youtube. Indeed, plenty of girls have video taped themselves singing and dancing to both of these songs: http://againstallevidence.wordpress.com/2011/07/23/what-about-the-girl-children/

FCM - July 24, 2011

lishra, when i was writing about eminem’s “love the way you lie” i heard the song come on right next to me, and i was embarrassed bc i was in a public place and i thought it was coming from my computer! alas, it was the ringtone of a 13 year old girl. HORRIFYING. omg.

18. calliope - July 24, 2011

FCM great post as usual.. That S&M song keeps getting stuck in my head and it’s so disturbing.

Have you seen these posters? It’s a poster campaign by an advocacy group for “sex workers”. (eyeroll). Well-meaning I guess but they’re horrifying:


They make me angry and frustrated and incoherent. I would really love to hear what you have to say about them

19. calliope - July 24, 2011

I think what bothers me most is the fact that, in response to a man killing a prostitute (a woman probably driven into the “sex trade” by drugs or abuse or poverty or all of the above), they made posters going “I’m so proud of my tramp! legalizing the rape of destitute women is totally cool” Instead of something like “hey men, stop killing women and go fuck yourselves”.

FCM - July 24, 2011

Both these songs are earworms. Which makes it even worse!

20. KatieS - July 25, 2011

Maybe they are earworms for a younger generation. I just find them vague, little-girl or junior-high sounding voices, lacking structure, with the sounds themselves bouncing around and all of it kind of dumb-sounding. Even if the lyrics were about unicorns and rainbows, I’d find the sound of them offputting. The lyrics are hard to understand when you hear them, vague. That’s by design, I’d guess, so that the toxic message is not easily understood.

21. Create the Problem, then Offer the Solution [BDSM Part I] | Radfem Hub - September 18, 2011

[…] all supposed to forget that female sexuality was not originally defined by men. Patriarchal rule deploys all the weapons it can to prevent us from recollecting the fact that: “Woman has sex organs just about everywhere. […]

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