READ: Drop It Like It’s Hot by Fitts
RJ: How does labor matter—or does it? How should we feel about the workers who create these videos?
As we all witnessed during the global hip hop presentations – there are certain elements of American hip hop that are inherently prevalent across the world and many of them are expressed through music videos. Some of these elements include the objectification of women, the display of wealth or inclusion of a representation of commodity culture and an overall presence of masculinity or power. As Fitts so adequately conveyed – perhaps the labor (or lack thereof) in American rap music video production should be investigated further as it tends to exploit both the female actors or “video girls” who act in the video, in addition to the women who work on set. This ultimately leads to immensely negative outcomes that impact the treatment and perception of Black women outside of the hip hop industry altogether.
“The crisis in the sexual politics of black female commodification is that young men are buying the kool-aid and it is evident in the rates of black female sexual abuse, public disbelief in black women who report incidents of sexual assault, rising rates of AIDS/HIV infection among black women, and perceptions of black women by the masses” (Fitts 226).
Relating these concepts to the global presentations we all just saw – it seems apparent that these negative depictions of women are not merely limited to American rap and hip hop. In my groups Japanese rap video we saw the group of women who were being followed down the street as if they were simply items of food for the men’s consumption. In Brazil’s video we witnessed the main female actor being taken advantage of and physically pushed around, but in the end she seemed perfectly content with that. I think Fitts makes it perfectly clear that labor does matter, but not in the way that we would assume. Labor matters because of what it’s doing to the image of women as a whole and especially to those who subject themselves to this type of treatment on set. Consider how many young children watch MTV and see how the men in the videos are treating women… this alone has the potential to nurture viewers and make them think that treating women like sexual objects is appropriate! Unfortunately, as Fitts asserts, the rap video includes a formula that has worked for years and it continues to remain the consistent norm when a rap artist sends his song out to the music video production company. If this has become the norm, how can it be changed? I think in general, we should feel that the workers who are creating these videos may be simply trying to earn money and make a living – but at the same time, I think that we should feel that these workers are inevitably contributing to negative social constructions of race and gender.
In Mako Fitt’s article titled “’Drop It Like It’s Hot’: Culture Industry Laborers and Their Perspectives on Rap Music Video Production,” he goes straight to workers in the rap video production industry to gain their insight on the production process. Throughout the piece, he crafts an argument for the insignificance of the actual laborers in the industry. From the beginning, Fitt asserts, “recent trends in mainstream, commercial rap music videos rely on formulaic video imagery that emphasizes rapper’s accumulated wealth and property” (Fitt 211). There is a preset standard for music videos across the rap industry. In this context, Fitt shows through interviews the lack of originality and mass conformity prevalent. For instance, he claims that women that come into power as directors adopt male behavioral characteristics to fit this new role (Fitt 218). Furthermore, Fitt tells how it is the dominance of economics and politics in the corporate music industry that restrict creativity. Production companies dominate the process, and as a result the individual laborers become identical and interchangeable, rendering them insignificant.
In addition, his portrayal of the position of laborers in the industry evokes an emotional response from the reader. Fitt fosters this sense of sympathy for these individuals that are merely a cog on the wheel as far as music video production is concerned. One example is the director that “creates four treatments, two that he thinks the artist and his label will like, and two that are edgy and innovative and reflect his own desire to stretch the imaginative boundaries of rap videos” (Fitt 233). Despite the interesting alternatives the director provides, the label consistently elects the formulaic treatment; this provides incentives for conformity and discourages creative risks by directors. As a reader, Fitt connects you to these laborers caught in entrenched system of production company dominance. This additionally creates an environment for the ill treatment of women and their view as mere objects and commodities. In this preset formula, women hold a place as sexualized objects and cannot escape due to the continuous production of these same sorts of rap music videos.
I agree with Mako Fitt’s argument that laborers in the industry really don’t matter all that much. From my own viewpoint, hip-hop has become so mainstream that the truly gifted artists aren’t always recognized. Production companies have embraced the idea of “video imagery that emphasizes rapper’s accumulated wealth and property,” and look to capitalize on this imagery whenever possible. Because of this, laborers have become generally bland, and are easily replaceable. The article spends a good portion discussing the female/male relationships that are portrayed in music videos today. While some might see it as degrading to the women shown in the videos, it is merely what they need to do for their paychecks. If they try to oppose it, the producer can go out and simply find a replacement. This provokes an emotional response from myself, because it shows the pure greed by the few who hold the power in the industry.
Labor matters because the “laborers”—the video girls who are not the “main girl” in a music video—are being exploited, although not completely against their will. After all, the video girls are knowingly immersing themselves in an industry that judges women based only on their looks. They willingly audition for roles in which they know they will be sexualized and objectified, just because they hope that being in a music video will help them gain social mobility in Hollywood.
However, even though the video girls subject themselves to mistreatment, it is not entirely their fault. The artists who sing the songs and the workers who create the videos are partly to blame, because they do not seem to realize the extent of the negative effects that the music videos cause for the video girls. Fitts describes how the way the women are portrayed in the videos influences the way they are treated in real life. Many of the video girls are “unable to escape the fabricated characters they play in the music videos” (222). Because they always play girls who are sexually available and who are treated as objects and possessions, many men treat women that way in real life. Therefore, the workers who create the music videos should be criticized for perpetuating the hatred and mistreatment of women, rather than trying to do anything to change things.
The mainstream Hip Hop industry consists heavily of sexually provocative, aggressive, and commodity oriented content. The majority of the artists and participants, usually males and females of color, emphasize the importance of sex, money, and expensive consumption. However, seeing that males make up the majority of such an atmosphere, women are usually subject to the standards which the males assume for them. The Hip Hop industry has become a leisure field for men and labor field for women due to the specific roles that the testosterone fueled industry has set for both sexes. While males are to appear supposed to represent a modern form of coolness by convincing the audience that they are tough, assertive, and sexy, women have been left to give the impression that they are eagerly desperate for male attention. In this portrayal, they dress with very little clothing which exposes much of their bodies, are sexually suggestive towards men which shows their willingness to be of sexual service, and they are vulnerable to verbal and physical objectification which demeans their value as socially equal opposites to men. Technically, these women are laborers because they must accept these belittling standards to be success in the industry regardless of their opinions and have very little influence to change the depiction of women. These women must labor to be recognized and appreciated, but receive depreciating recognition by allowing themselves to become sexual objects for the male atmosphere.
The public’s opinion towards the people in these videos depends heavily on the individual members of the public. Of course, these women should be represented as much more than sex symbols, but the men and women have the right to appreciate or disapprove such content. Those with consideration for the dignity of the female as a respectable should definitely challenge the mainstream industry and seek to eliminate such content, while those without consideration should remain free to do the opposite. Those in favor of the culture should indulge in and advocate it, those who oppose it should lead a movement against it and attempt to break it, and both should accept the consequences that derive from their views and actions towards it.
Mako Fitt analyzes the experiences of women in rap music videos sets, demonstrating a highly sexual atmosphere. The author introduces the culture industry laborers and presents the gendered labor practices behind the camera. Women are susceptible to sexual advances and are merely objectified, “as fetishised commodities” (219). Fitts pays particular attention on how images are created and perpetuated from the music video casting until its final production.
Rap music sets are a sphere of gender exploitation, leading to the objectified representation of women on music videos. By “Keepin’ it real,” the music video directors (assistances and so forth) perpetuate the phallocentrism observed in the documentaries such as “Hip Hop: Beyond beats and Rhymes”. Although there is a naïve “distinction between entertainment and real life,” the paradoxical truth is that the industry is trying to “Keepin’ it real” (Nelly 226). As Fitt notes, “music videos are nothing more than extended advertisements to sell music products” (226). The workers involved in the production of these sexistic videos are but promoting disrespect, sexual assault and rising rates of HIV infections within the black community. The labor involved in this production is encouraging and defining a generation of black individuals, leading to a very dangerous imagery of blackness. Artists, directors and their crew are highly responsible for the proliferation of such images, whom are often disregarded and forgiven. The hip hop industry frequently ignores this problem, which has tremendous consequences in the definition of blackness and gender relationships.
The hip-hop genre, like many genres of music, has become mechanical. There is an expectation as to what the music should be and how the music videos should look. Since this standard has been set, the hip-hop music video has become a stifling atmosphere for the laborers who work on its production. These laborers are in every facet of the production, stretching from female dancers, casting directors, producers, and more. In his article, Drop It Like It’s Hot, Mako Fitts examines the role that laborers have and how they are fitting into the formula of hip-hop music videos. It seems that everything is very cookie cutter. There are certain ideas and concepts that are accepted, and everything else is pushed aside. Fitts explains that “casting directors have a database of talent with whom they have previously worked,” referring to the video girls that appear in music videos (217-218). These women do not have agents, and have made their way into the business and do not really go anywhere from there. They get stuck and are forever seen as the booty dancing girls and are even exploited as sexual objects on the filming set. It is a stifling existence. Creative artists are also stuck in the industry. Fitts found that “the label almost always goes with the formula treatment” (223). The people behind the money do not want to take risks by doing something creative and new. There is too much of a possibility of failure. Despite using creativity and being innovative, the label goes with the safe choice. Those with the money are made out to be the bad guys, who have created this atmosphere that not only diminishes women but also artists, who are all victims in the oppressing industry of hip-hop music videos.
I believe the labor matters but to a certain extent. The directors, casting directors, assistants, and etc are really just doing their job in order to please the artist, record label, and managers. After all, it’s the artist’s video that will be portrayed in media. The question is who really has control over the portrayal of hip-hop in the music videos? If the artist doesn’t like the images that are being portrayed, then they could easily state to the production company or directors what they specifically want. Since “rap music videos moved from depicting the artist in realistic scenarios to a quasi-cinematic, sensationalized illustration of the persona of the artist” (222). The use of commodities (including the use of the female body) is seen as important to the artist due to this fantasy of their lives that they must capture in a music video.
More specifically, I agree that the image the video girls portray to everyone on the set of a video shoot creates an unprofessional atmosphere. “While black women, like the video girls in question, may control their personal sexuality the context in which they labor creates the conditions under which they form relationships with men and other women”(221). The video girls may like taking part in the game of sexuality while on and off a video shoot, but the laws of double-standards are going to always be prevalent. This is something that video girls should keep in mind. Respect for their fellow female( the ones that are working on the sets, the artist’s girlfriends and wives, theirselves) would make the male and female workers and artists respect them more. At the same time, the women need to understand that the fantasy of the video girl isn’t taken as a fantasy by the workers, artists, or the viewers. It’s essentially up to them to make sure that everyone understands that the life of the video girl is simply a job, not a lifestyle.
The labor and process of rap music videos matters equally as much as the public viewing of the created material. While the audience that a music video reaches through a channel like MTV for example is monumental, the production crew and characters are in themselves a create sum of people today. It seems through Fitts article at least that a great portion of youth today have some degree of interest in going into the rap music industry and thus would be affected by their workplace dynamics.
That said, I find it troubling that the messages that are sent to audiences through rap music videos are in real life acted out through producers and staff. Fitts really is focusing on the degradation to women behind the scenes of the rap world, which makes sense if we look at the material that they are supporting being put out (of course I do recognize that not all rap music is degrading to women) which is generally utilizing women as sexual objects. When a music genre is externally portraying women as one thing (a “bitch”, “trick” or “ho”), did anyone expect the people behind the scenes to be upholding some high moral/conservative code?
I am not surprised that according to Fitts: “from casting to production, women are subjected to harsh physical scrutiny because their bodies are among the many commodities used to create the music video as an extended advertisement for the music products (songs, albums) sold by the record label” (p. 217). There seems no reason that a woman behind the camera should be held to a particular physical standard of attractiveness, which is clearly discrimination. But as we saw in the Byron Hurt film, there is an odd exchange occurring in rap culture between the men and women involved. We saw the women accept the sexual grabs at them during the BET spring break – and I wonder if that is exactly what is happening behind the scenes to. Is there an uprising amongst these female staff members? Are they going on strike together to fight back?
In the article, “Drop It Like It’s Hot” by Mako Fitts, he interviews what he calls the “culture industry laborers”, which are the peple who work in the industry and come up with the ideas involving the “booty videos”. What I thought was interesting is when Fitts talks about the “video girls” and how they get mistreated while they are working. One casting director said, “They treat them [video girls] kinda horribly… In some ways, they’re worse.” (218). This quote is interesting because he is talking about the women directors treating the “video girls” horribly with no respect. These “video girls” are also stuck with being “video girls”. They don’t even have a talent agent and they just find these jobs by having worked for them before. Men also mistreat the “video girls” and constantly want to “get with” them. Fitts says, “Hence the relations of power between the network and record labels uphold white male privilege, which is predicated on the devaluing of women as fetishized commodities.” (219). These women are being treated as objects instead of human beings. Their bodies are constantly being heavily scrutinized and if they arn’t good or sexy enough, they will have harsh things said to them. This can compare to my group’s presentation of UK hip-hop because my group also talked about how here in the US, it has become the norm for women to exploit their sexuality to become famous. I think that these ‘video girls’ are doing that to try to catch their 15 minutes of fame, but in the mean time they are just screwing themselves over because it is allowing men to treat them unfairly. Women in American hip-hop need to change and become more like women in the UK, where they respect themselves and focus more on their talent than sexuality, like how Lady Sovereign does. The media needs to change the perspectives of women to fix this problem.
Labor matters because the conditions that the video girls work in and the expectation for them to perform sexual favors go beyond the studio. This attitude towards women in these videos leads to viewers also treating women (especially young black women) as sexual objects, “young men receive cultural cues from the booty videos that black women’s bodies are ripe for the taking” (222). This treatment in the studio and portrayal also is part of an expectation from record labels and viewers, which makes it difficult to create a different or more artistic music video that may not depict women in the same way. In order for rappers and directors to be respected they are suppose to attract and be with many women/video girls. In relation to that, in order for females in the videos to be successful they are expected to sexually engage with the workers and creators of the video, “featured talent has exclusive access to those with power that allows them to develop networks in order to further their careers” (229). The portrayal of the workers who create these videos (both male and female) is that they perform the stereotypical behavior and sexual acts in order to further their careers and develop connections within the scene.
RJ: How does labor matter—or does it? How should we feel about the workers who create these videos?
In Mako Fitts’ article “Drop It Like Its Hot,” Fitts discuses the arguments that are being made as to what he calls the “culture industry laborers”(212). One thing about this article that stuck out to me was the way the video girls are looked at which is why I think labor matters. In the article, Fitts says, “Video girls are unable to escape the fabricated characters they play in the music video”(222). The women are seen grabbing other women’s butts and are referred to as “bitches” and “ho’s.” In order for the male rappers to make it big, they have to have these women to help them reach that level of fame. “This begs the question of whether the overwhelming display of women’s bodies are a requisite component of self-promotion, and if so, why”(212). There is a stereotype about the video girls that are created because of the way that the women are shown and represented as sex objects in the videos.
In the article, “Drop It Like It’s Hot” by Mako Fitts, he interviews what he calls the “culture industry laborers” and does an analysis of these video girls, makes remarks on the real world behavior of directors, artists, and rappers. In the beginning Fitts takes the readers into a closer look to the historical analysis that has been done in hip hop music industry. He mentions our previous articles from Joan Morgan and Bryan hurt’s video Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes. Through this reading i feel as though that Labor does matter, not necessarily physical labor but the environment that these women entire is completely absurd and unsafe. I believe that the relationships between the directors and these video girls is past intimacy.
These young girls enter this “dating pool” where it is seen as “tacky behavior” but it doesn’t stop them from doing it (p 219). In some responses these video girls are seen as trying to use a sense of sexual empowerment when in reality these guys (directors to rappers) don’t care about them because there is more video girls to be with and chose form. These “clad women [are] mixed with rappers, alcohol and drugs made for an unsavory environment” (p 220).
The labor that is apart of this environment is in a sense a social justice concern. These working environments are dependent on this heiarchy which stands by the benefits as being a video girl and to being an assistant to the director if they involve themselves into an intimate relationship. There is also this reality of the average video career for these girls are 2 years.
In some ways you pity these girls but at the same time these girls are at the same time taking part into this behavior because they are the ones who “recycle the rappers” who rotate between other video girls-which is something i feel is disgusting to know you co workers are sleeping with the same guys as you – but you rotate in this cycle form from Director to rapper to artist. It is also noted that these women are a “modern version of the jezebel” who “fuck men for pleasure, drugs, revenge, or money” (p 220). i do not really know how to feel about these girls and the people who create the videos (who seem to just being worried about copping girls). THey are both at fault for this environment. the behavior that these girls participate in just puts them back into this category of “lack of respect for being professionals”(p 222).
Labor in the hip hop industry has not only degraded women but has set a trend for women directors to treat women horribly. For example, women directors don’t have any respect when it comes to getting the job done; casting these women into videos has always been easy since many directors do not have to go Modeling Agencies. Women are subjected to harsh physical examiniation because their bodies represent the rappers reputation, masculinity, and dominance over hip hop. As they women are casted, they are treated with little compensation. As women reproduce the “booty shaking” image within music videos, they begin to realize that each women must compete against each other in order to be kept within the male dominated industry. Women have had a history of demonstrating the practice of sexual favors to gain entree into the public sphere of music production, allowing for upward social mobility (222). As the video girls are recycled and used for the rapper’s convience, the recreate the jezebel image. Therefore, we should be upset that the workers within the music industry are unprofessional and encourage inequality.
Through the videos that we have looked at in class and from the film “Beyond Beats and Rhymes” we can tell that there is a huge role that women play, but how they are portrayed seems to be inferior to men, they are seen as sexual objects. Women in these videos are falling into the stereotypical negative image of women in hip hop, this is happening all over the world. Not only do they express the stereotype, but through being a part of a music video seems like they are supporting the stereotype, reinforcing the idea. Fitts describes how the women in the video cannot escape this view of women due to these music videos that are being put out. However the fact that they are in the videos gives them some sense of control. If they do not want to be portrayed this way, then why do they agree to be seen in the videos like that. I think that in a way the videos do reflect the thoughts of women and they do not seem to care that they are viewed this way. This may be seen as just a performance and that they are in costume, and because it is, they can wear these clothes and get away with it, but then in the film “Beyond Beats and Rhymes” we see women dressed this way outside on the streets. They are not performing, or in costume, but they are still portraying the negative stereotype.
Yes Labor should matter but music videos are just a type of entertainment like miniature movie. The attributes of videos does not directly reflect the majority of the culture. For example we don’t judge ever one girl based of Ke$ha. Rap videos have a high cost behind them, there is the director, artist, production team and the talent (video girls). Most forms of current popular entertainment is some shape degrades women, but rap videos are very explicit in the manner in which it is done. Hip hop has become infamous for its treatment of video girls and how easily they are replaceable. This article repeats the idea that women are rarely in a mobile career when they join the ranks of other video girls. And that the female casting directors are the hardest on these women (222). Women have to gain the respect of the male is this line of work lest they be confused with a common video girl or a groupie. Labor has taken a hold onto women in hip hop they are either the oppressed or the oppressor.
The question of whether labor matters in mainstream hip-hop is debatable, although Fitts makes quite a few valid points, I think that laborers of the industry have a lot to do with the out come. The overtly sexist and provocative nature of hip-hop is something that we found to be a commonality between cultures. Laborers who take part in the production of these videos have the power to influence our society through popular artists. As hip-hop continues to grow as a sub-culture, it becomes more and more acceptable for these “standards” of living which we see in videos, to become the norm.
Clearly laborers produce what will sell, and sex is a crucial element not only in music but tv and film productions as well. The portrayal of women in these videos for example is not something I would gladly approve of. However, the image of women as a sex symbol and always falling second to the male role, is something that has been engrained in the hip-hop culture across the world. In all the videos we studied, females were represented in a very unbecoming manner, with little clothing and provocative dancing. Women are used as a way validating the male artists. Fitts says that “Rappers partake in mental masturbation and ego-stoking.” I like this analogy because it relates to the commodity culture which we see rap artists belonging to. The status symbol that hip-hop creates for African Americans is a collection fairly meaningless and superficial “accomplishments.” The laborers facilitate this schema just as much as the artists themselves.
Throughout the article, Fitts categorized industries, marketing, directors, producers, and most importantly the video girls under the group of laborers within music videos. Today the consistency that rappers show within music and videos is, “access the hottest women, to acquire the most money, to dominate the rap game” (2). In order to take over control, using women as “sexual objects” in videos have been the main target that the audience desires. The question is does labor matter and how do we feel about these workers who create these videos? Overall, the labor does matter within these videos. Even though mostly black women are treated as sexual objects, there is still work that is done with these videos, but there are many problems that have developed.
One of the casting directors have said that it was difficult for them to pick women to be in the videos because they want to “cop” with the girls. But as time went on the production and process of videos have been more professional. There are people who have to manage the videos, film, and that takes a lot of responsibility. But on the other hand there would be too much wasted time within the productions that dealt with drugs and partying. Most of the video girls get into relationships with the rap artists which created fights even during the video shoots.
Overall, the main theme of these videos isn’t about talent, but about sex. It comes down to also the rappers songs and ideas they portray. They have the money so they want to do it how they want. The women used in these videos are use to what takes place because they have dealt with it before, they said it is like a cycle. The laborers who take part of these videos are just doing their jobs. They are looking for what pleases the audience so they can sell and make money. The way hip hop and rap is now portrayed today is going to make it difficult to shift in another direction, but until then this is how rap will stay.
I believe that labor matters to a certain extent in the production process of music videos. Mako Fitts’s article, “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” provides a detailed viewpoint about what occurs on the set and behind the scenes of a hip-hop music video. For the purpose of the article, Fitts interviewed many people with various positions related to the production of a hip-hop music video. From reading this article it appears that almost everyone in a position of authority on the set of the music video was male, and the females were helpers, assistants, or dancers in the video. According to Fitts, “Recent trends in mainstream, commercial rap music videos rely on formulaic video imagery that emphasizes rappers’ accumulated wealth and property (such as houses, cars, jewelry, and women)” (211). Due to these recent trends and high consumer demand for a particular “type” of music video, artists and directors are limited to the amount of creative expression they can use in the video because they know the men in charge won’t approve or the TV networks won’t air the video. From reading this article, it is obvious that there are many power struggles that occur at various levels when creating a music video. The first one that stood out to me is the power struggle between what artists and directors want a video to look like and what executives will allow because the video needs to be creative but also appeal to the target audience. Another power struggle that Fitts focused a lot on is between the men and women that are involved in the music video production process. The women who are on set, whether they are dancers or a part of the crew, are often objectified and degraded by the men. The men clearly have the dominant role on the set and most use the women for their own personal pleasures. According to Fitts, there are some sets where the crew (mostly men) even go so far to make lunch “invite only” and if there isn’t a large enough budget, some people don’t get to eat (most likely the female back-up dancers). This dynamic power struggle has even had women fighting with one another because the executive women who are involved in the crew look down upon the female dancers and do not want to be associated with someone who approves of female degradation. All in all, I think that labor does matter, but at the end of the day it comes down to what will sell and make money, and that is what executives are after.
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