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Miscellaneous - Pop's Example to the World's Young Men

  by Mark Rowland

published: 16 / 2 / 2012

Miscellaneous - Pop's Example to the World's Young Men


Mark Rowland in 'Rock 101' reflects upon the disturbing attitudes that are often displayed by the music industry with regard to violence and sexism against women

Here’s a conundrum for you: imagine that where you work, two of your colleagues, a young man and a young woman, are in a relationship. They seem happy enough. you don’t think much of it. Then, one day, you’re told the young man beats his partner so badly that she ends up in hospital. It’s a shock. The young woman thankfully recovers, and the man receives a paltry sentence for his crime. Eventually he comes back to work, mumbles an apology, and everyone is expected to go back to normal. It’s mentioned occasionally, but most people pretend it never happened. At the end of that year comes your annual work do. Your company gives awards for the best workers. The young man gets the award for the best worker in his department. He also provides entertainment on the night. What’s your reaction to that? Is it anger and disbelief that such a vicious crime is being treated as water under the bridge? Or do you give him a standing ovation? The latter is, as we all know, what happened when Chris Brown performed and took a Grammy for best R&B album last month. In 2009 Brown viciously assaulted his then girlfriend, the pop star Rhianna. Pictures of her bruised, swollen and bloodied face appeared in the world’s papers. Having admitted his guilt, Brown was ‘punished’ with 1,400 hours of “Labour oriented service”. The Grammys was hailed as his comeback in industry and some media circles. Despite some dissenting voices within the industry, a significant proportion seemed to deem his performance brave. It wasn’t brave. In fact, it set a bad example for young pop fans everywhere, particularly in light of recent online discussions that suggest that today’s teens – or at least, a significant number of them – have developed some troubling attitudes to sex and women. The first: the furore over the website 'Uni Lad', an utterly repulsive online magazine featuring reams of misogynistic ‘jokes’ that often make light of rape (one line in the article that opened the site to scrutiny read: “If the girl you’ve taken for a drink… won’t ‘spread for your head’, think about this mathematical statistic: 85% of rape cases go unreported.”). The comments from the site’s readers once the offending article was removed (“It’s just a bit of rape banter.” “Proof women don’t understand freedom of speech and banter.” “Fuck off and wenches stay in the kitchen.”) were particularly worrying. These kids really thought that it was fine, that it was normal to say things like that. A woman even contacted the police after receiving threats from the site’s fans. The second: in Bristol, a branch of repugnant American restaurant chain Hooters (USP: exclusively female staff in skimpy uniforms) was opened despite protests from feminist groups. It lasted just over a year before it closed down, due to lack of trade – a very good thing. A very bad thing however, was the vitriolic reaction to Bristol Feminist Network spokeswoman Sian Norris, who received numerous threats from Hooters supporters, who blamed the BFN for the closure. One posted personal details on Norris on Facebook. One man said he wanted to “kick her in the vagina.” The online abuse got so bad that Norris had to call the police. “I believe that establishments like Hooters and communities like Unilad are contributing to the normalisation of this degradation, this violent language, this view of women as objects. The dehumanisation of women by Hooters and Unilad makes it easy for its supporters to threaten us with violence, because they help normalise the view that women are disposable objects,” she said in a column for 'The Guardian''. “And that all too easily leads to a day where a woman is forced to call the police because men have threatened to find her and make her pay for having a voice, and using it.” The internet has a habit of giving the worst aspects of humanity on a platform. Looking at social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook, there are plenty of examples of young men (and even some young women) making incredibly misogynistic comments – often basing entire threads on them. This attitude, whether we want to admit it or not, has been pushed through mainstream culture as well. 'Uni Lad' was a more explicit form of the kind of slurry peddled by lad’s mags such as 'FHM' and Britain’s tabloid newspapers. Last year, the high street chain Topman were forced to pull T-shirts bearing misogynistic slogans, one of which appeared to list excuses for beating a woman. Again, the T-shirts were aggressively defended by young males. We need media industries to stand up against this, to strongly set a better example. Unfortunately, the pop industry is not stepping up to the mark, but then neither is Hollywood, or the magazine industry. Most modern, mainstream female pop stars perform in their underwear in almost every public appearance they make. This decade’s teens have grown up with this stuff. It’s present in all forms of media – lust and sex is everywhere, and often presented in a very primitive and misleading form. The music industry could change the record, if it wanted. The world needs more pop stars with something to say; that are not afraid to challenge these sorts of perceptions. Despite the insistence of the most cynical and imagination-free marketing types that sex sells, it is not the only thing that does. Contrary to popular media beliefs, the vast majority of people are not slack-jawed numbskulls with an inability to comprehend anything beyond the lowest common denominator. Offer them something accessible with some quality and they will respond favourably to it. At the very least, it’s not much to expect an appropriate reaction from the industry to an apparently remorseless, violent pop star.

Visitor Comments:-
537 Posted By: Lisa, Chicago, il. on 05 Mar 2012
Unfortunately, some individuals rely on their rights to say whatever they please, as if that means that they should not have a conscience. There is definitely a difference, though, between having the right to say something and having a sense of what is fundamentally right and just. I am also surprised that Chris Brown's violent behaviour was shoved under the rug. This dismissiveness shows a complete lack of human compassion/concern for any woman victimized by such actions. Thank you for writing this piece, Mark. We need more essays like these. Lisa

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