31/03/2014

What's So Dirty about Jason Derulo's "Talk Dirty"?

Hoo boy. I really hope this one doesn't need too much explaining. Singer/songwriter Jason Derulo's hit single "Talk Dirty" from his album Tattoos (2013) is exactly what the title would lead you to believe: dirty talk. As with Katy Perry's collaboration with Juicy J on "Dark Horse", "Talk Dirty" features a collaboration with rap artist 2 Chainz but, unlike "Dark Horse", 2 Chainz's addition to the song is not that much more spectacularly offensive then Derulo's lyrics. In an interview, Derulo claimed that the song was "shocking" and "out there", and he was definitely right. However, the shock factor has very little value since Derulo is not providing his audience with anything new. Chauvinism and racism have been around for centuries. What's shocking is that such distasteful vulgarity is being played on mainstream airwaves and we're soaking it up. It has been established culturally for quite some time now that both chauvinism and racism are "bad things", and yet our schizophrenic society deems these exact things, when put to R&B music, nothing much more than a bit of "good fun". Sometimes I wonder whether, if Hitler had put his Mien Kampf to music, the entire Western world would have simply followed the Pied Piper into the Third Reich.

The premise of the song harps on Derulo's international fame as a musical artist, which provides him the opportunity for sexual liaisons of all sorts with women from all kinds of ethnic and cultural backgrounds throughout the world. He marks his time in each country with the lipstick marks of the women he has gained intimate access to on the pages of his passport. The women he meets are his fans and know all the words to his songs, but they don't speak the English language. Therefore, conversations between the poet and his groupies are practically nonexistent; however, the language of sexuality is universal and can be performed regardless of verbal understanding. It's difficult to confuse the idea of a universal language of love with what the poet is talking about in this song, as women are anatomized to nothing more than "booties". This is the only part of the women that is "understood" by the poet, and it is how they are identified by 2 Chainz in his list of cell phone contacts, as he expresses in his addition to the lyrics. This is also pretty much all women are in the music video as well, which features women of many cultural and ethnic backgrounds dancing in such a way that the only thing about them that is "understood" by the poet is made most prominent. This is male chauvinism at its finest. The woman is objectified to such a degree that she is barely even human anymore. Her capacity for rational thought is nullified by the poet's inability to speak the language, as well as his dismissal of any attempt or interest in learning to communicate with her. In denying her the ability to communicate, the poet also denies the woman any sense of personhood outside of a sexualized body language that serves, not to communicate anything truly intimate about the woman herself, but merely as an invitation to coitus. But even this gesture of coming together as equals in a union of sexual pleasure is undercut by the insistence, largely on the part of 2 Chainz, that the sexual activity engaged in is oral, thereby relegating the woman to merely an instrument of male pleasure rather than an equal partner in the sexual act. At every turn, women are being degraded to subhuman, depersonalized, objectified sex toys made for the enjoyment of the kind of dominating machismo glorified by the male "rock star" culture.

As if this weren't enough of an insult already, the poet continues to dig himself deeper into his hole by using ethnic, cultural, and linguistic differences to further objectify these women. Their lack of fluency in the English language makes them completely devoid of any personal interest and relegates them merely to bodies. National and racial difference makes them less deserving of the personal investment that perhaps might have been paid to a North American, English-speaking woman. Their "conversations ain't long", denying them the possibility of forming any sort of meaningful relationship and encouraging nothing but a sexual liaison. The use of language as an introduction to intimacy that would have been required by an English-speaking woman is forfeited when met with linguistic challenges. Cultural difference becomes an excuse for instant objectification. If that's not racist, I don't know what is. The song provides such cringe-worthy examples of this attitude in the very lyrics, as a Japanese woman is heard saying the poet's name in broken English at the beginning of the song and ending it with the words, "What? I don't understand!" This lack of understanding is used to make these ethnic women look unintelligent, naive, and easily manipulated, especially sexually, enabling comparisons with a stratagem common to human trafficking rings in which women are brought to countries where the language is completely foreign to them in order to keep them from being able to ask for help. The music video also plays into this racist element of the song by showcasing women from different ethnic backgrounds performing stereotypically ethnic dances in stereotypically traditional attire, but all of these elements have been highly sexualized in order to bring a stereotypically North American flavor to the entire display. The whole depiction of "Talk Dirty" is racist, sexist, and degrading.

Fortunately for Derulo, the most criticism he seems to have received on this score is an accusation of "cultural ignorance". I wonder if that's all I'll get the next time I inadvertently paint all other ethnicities beyond my own with the same objectifying brush. Somehow, I think "bigot" and "racist" are the terms more likely to be used, and they should really be used in this case as well. 

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The point of this blog is not to tell anyone what they should or should not consider entertaining, nor what films, books, lyrics, or television shows are morally or artistically good or bad. The point is to engage with the stories that are creating our culture on an intellectual level, to meet the morals with our minds before they go to our hearts. Once you know what's in the entertainment you imbibe and you're aware of how it may be shaping your perceptions of the world around you, well then, imbibe away!

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