Hottentot Venus and the VMAs

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Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman,
“The Hottentot Venus”

Hottentot sensationalism is our generation’s blackface.

What is it about the black female body that frequently means that it is an object of sex? Object, really. I watched, horrified, women’s bodies, their glutes shaking, placed around Miley as props and I could only think: Hottentot.

Unlike blackface, however, there isn’t even the representation of faces, because it is only the body that is displayed. Also, its not all that new. If you aren’t familiar with the term “Hottentot”, or especially “Hottentot Venus” that was the stage name of Saartjie Baartman, an African slave that was repeatedly put on display in London around 1808 as a freakshow specimen because she had large hips and rotund rear. It was also reported that she had very long labia, though she did not give any public showings of this. She was bought by an animal trainer, who showed her for 15 months in France.

All throughout her “exhibitions” she was coerced into claiming that she was a free woman, doing this of her own free will, and receiving payment from the people who were “showing” her. Reportedly after the public novelty worn off, she was forced to support herself with prostitution. After she died, it was a full 187 years before her remains were taken out of a museum and returned to her homeland in 2002.

The VMA show that has everyone in an uproar was just a symptom of the same “hottentot” display that started in 1808 or earlier. Actually, there were TWO “Hottentot Venus” performers at the time, Saartjie was only the most famous of them. This situation of depersonalizing a woman’s body and making it sensational is nothing new.The curvaceous body of a full figured black woman symbolizes wanton sexuality in our culture, regardless of the personality, agency and goals of the person living in that body.

Don’t believe me? I challenge you, watch Miley Cyrus’ now infamous performance again and count how many black female eyes make contact with the camera. Nevermind, the answer of course is ZERO. Throughout the performance, which is supposed to be celebrating “urban sound” and have a “black feel” to it, every single black female had their faces obscured by either the teddy bears or the sunglasses they wore. They gyrated around Miley, but didn’t touch her, despite miming smacking her ass, they never made contact, they pretty obviously weren’t allowed to.

So we already have a problem, these women have no personalities, no connection with the audience, but hey, they are backup dancers, that happens. Right? It was problematic that all of them were black, but it doesn’t necessarily throw Miley (actually her handlers, I doubt Miley picked her backup dancers and choreographed them personally, hell, she didn’t even write the song herself) under the bus.

But then something different happened. Watch from 1:30 to 2:02 as a woman in striped leggings with an especially zaftig form, who had previously been throwing T-Shirts to the crowd (not dancing), realized that Miley was coming over to her and began shaking her ass (aka, twerking) so that Miley could use her as a prop. Unlike how the black women couldn’t touch Miley, apparently the white woman is more than welcome to mime licking the black woman’s ass, then smack it once, twice, three times. Then the woman in the zebra tights was sent on her way, to finish throwing the last t-shirt and then head off the stage.

Fat non-normative black female bodies are kith and kin with historical caricatures of black women as work sites, production units, subjects of victimless sexual crimes, and embodied deviance.

This performance was the perfect representation of body sensationalism. During the shot of Miley using the woman’s body as a drum, the camera stayed low, and never even showed part of the woman’s face. As far as the world knows, she is just one zebra printed ass that placed itself there to be smacked by a white woman.

 

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Fisking South Park, Season 1 Episode 2

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The second episode of South Park, entitled “Weight Gain 4000” deals with many issues: fitness products, gun control, entitlement, cheating and revenge.

The episode revolves around Cartman, who wins a national essay contest, which sends the town into a tizzy when they realize that Kathy Lee Gifford is coming into town to present the Award. The plot then splits; the townspeople and mayor are feverishly preparing the best way to welcome Mrs. Gifford, meanwhile Mr. Garrison is trying to plan a revenge on Cathy for a talent show title she won away from him in grade school, and Cartman doing his best to get ready for a tv appearance.

However, after getting home from school, Cartman sees a commercial for “Weight Gain 4000”, an energy elixir that obviously a parody of “get slim quick” products. Cartman is convinced by the commercial that eating the product will gain him muscle and turn him into a “beefcake” but in reality, it only makes him gain more fat.Kathy Lee Gifford is used throughout the episode as a representative of entitlement. We see a flashback of little Kathy Lee winning a talent contest because she has a group of backup singers and dancers. She is rich, and in real life at this time she was promoting cruise lines and Slim Fast, so its no wonder she was chosen as the example of excess. When she finally arrives in town, she is escorted in a bullet proof bubble (like the pope).
This episode also deals with race relations, as the town mayor decides that the best way to greet a television crew is to have the only black man in the city sing a song, regardless of how inappropriate a choice he is as a person. They only can see him as a representative of his race, and assume that he understands his part in the social contract.The thing that gets me about this social contract is that it hasn’t changed. August 20th, 1997 was when this episode aired. Its 16 years later, and a white woman (or rather, her brand) has made a blatant and obvious point that seeing persons of color as props is perfectly acceptable. Miley Cyrus started her descent into tokenism when she claimed that she hadn’t even listened to a Jay-Z song before singing lyrics written for her about how Jay-Z songs were her favorite. Her music videos have ascribed to tokenism, and then they just went all out.

“it is…worth commenting upon when in the pop culture circus the white woman is the ringleader and the (black) women who look like you are the dancing elephants.”

Another plotline shows Mr. Garrison having his first mental breakdown (of many to come). Mr. Hat initially seems like one of those “oddball teachers” who thinks he can get children to listen to him better if they use puppets. In Mr Garrison’s case, he seems to have had Mr. Hat around for years, and so Mr Hat is an indication of a split personality. That part of his personality is jealous of fame, upset for being passed over for accolades, and spiteful towards the way he perceives people as treating him. This episode opens up the discussion that is still ongoing about gun control (Mr. Garrison easily obtains a gun despite acting very oddly and angrily) and mental health. However, I feel like the mental health commentary is heavy and pointed in the wrong direction (as usual).

People with mental illness are rarely violent; I feel comfortable calling Jared Lee Loughner a tragic one-off, but that doesn’t mean the wholesale abandonment of our neediest citizens is OK. To say that this issue only matters because of the 20 people who were shot is to say that people who suffer from mental illness don’t matter. If you believe that, I suggest you not say it in my presence.

BEST JOKE IMHO:

Kyle: Hey Stan, did you see that rainbow this morning?
Stan: Yeah, it was huge.
Cartman: Heh, I hate those things.
Kyle: Nobody hates rainbows.
Stan: Yeah, what’s there to hate about rainbows?
Cartman: Well, you know, you’ll just be sitting there, minding your own business, and they’ll come, marching in and crawl up your leg and start biting the inside of your ass. And you’ll be all like, “hey, get out of my ass you stupid rainbows” [Silence]
Stan: Cartman, what the hell are you talking about?!?
Cartman: I’m talking about rainbows, I hate those frigging things!
Kyle: Rainbows are those little arches of color that show up during a rainstorm.
Cartman: Ohh, rainbows, oh Yeah, I like those, those are cool.
Stan: What were you talking about?
Cartman: Heh, oh, nothing, forget it.
Kyle: No, what marches in, crawls up your leg and bites the inside of your ass?!?
Cartman: Nothing.