Richard Anthony Chemaly
Sure, most popular music is terrible, with lyrics that want of some better quality, but still, is it enough to criticise a song about hookup sex as being an instigator of gender-based violence?
Biggy was in my city this weekend and, given his hit, Dames (Ladies), I reflected on the criticism it’s been receiving in its alleged contribution to gender-based violence.
I might understand the criticism but I don’t agree … and now I’ve been placed in a space where I disagree with the criticism to such an extent that it will make me go as far as the unintentional consequence of defending Afrikaans doef-doef music.
Broadly, the song starts with the story of Biggy seeing a lady (who he’s rather descriptive with), as he says he “can see she just wants things” before she asks to be taken back to his place where she finds out he still lives with his mom. She then proceeds to tell him to call her an Uber, at which he tells her, “what’s wrong with your feet?” before tossing her shoes on the floor in front of her.
Now I can see how it would be appealing to view this as an objectification of women, but is it really? I also recognise my own position which, to many, would put me in an immediate prejudicial state, so I’ll go out of my way to be objective as possible.
Music often reflects our society and even the negative aspects (as highlighted by the likes of NWA, for example) are fair game.
So … if Biggy was telling me how it is a woman’s place to be sexually ravaged by him so that the neighbours can hear when he’s done, sure, I can jump on the “that’s not cool” train. However, in this case, Biggy is boasting about his skills and I’m unconvinced that he’s making a claim to forcing it on anybody. I have taken an informal poll among some of my female friends. Some, albeit not a lot, but some, would find that appealing. While the video with a lady combing Biggy’s hair may suggest something, I don’t think it does any more than going to a female barber.
Now I’m not one to tell anybody what they should and should not find appealing, especially not in the privacy of the spare room at one’s mother’s house, but I will say that I think it would be wrong to deny them that agency … and I think the criticism of such a song does exactly that … that the song offends ones notion of equality and therefore one shouldn’t engage with it.
Surely this is the perfect moment to engage not on the song but the culture the song represents, the one of casual hookups, conditional consent, etc.
To be fair, much of the criticism has been aimed less at the consent aspect and more at the contribution that songs like this make towards gender-based violence and, once again, while I see the appeal to make the link, I don’t see the link itself.
Were the link there, when the lady calls Biggy a loser for still living with his mother and then the banter ensues, the story would probably have ended differently in South African terms. Of course, I don’t deny the horrific attacks on women in South Africa and that we should act against them. I do, however, think that aiming our energy at denouncing a song isn’t effective.
If anything, the song highlights warped social expectations in our hook-up culture.
I think that distinction is a tough one for many people to make; the one between where we can boast about our sexual abilities and one where there’s an expectation to have those abilities received.
Ordinarily, I’d leave it there, but unfortunately, some of those many people I refer to above are men who may abuse the difficulty in making such a distinction. While it may be tempting to criticise the song, I don’t think that solves the problem. Maybe that would be enough to make many want to pull the song, though it’s probably more effective to criticise the men themselves.
Myself, I’ve had to explain to friends why certain jokes they cracked made me feel uncomfortable. Recently, because I had misunderstood a set of facts, I made a joke and a friend corrected and reprimanded. It’s effective.
I can’t agree with criticising the song, since doing so will merely play into the narrative that we shouldn’t be critical of what is actually right and wrong, where agency ends and objectification begins.
Were I compelled to make a criticism of the song, it would be one of my Grade 9 English teacher informing that I did not elaborate further … like in this case, that there was no compulsion to join Biggy in his mom’s spare room so that the neighbours could hear when you were done, but if you’re into that, he can totally give it to you. But then again, a line that elaborate would be more than we can expect of a doef-doef track.
At least this one has inspired some discussion on a difficult issue facing the nation in a way that only art can do.
Richard Anthony Chemaly.
Chemaly is an entertainment attorney, radio broadcaster and lecturer of communication ethics
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