Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be in music videos. Yes, sometimes they do get to act, but more often women are little more than silicone-stuffed blowjob machines. It's especially true in rap, where women-as-pleasure-objects remains the dominant visual paradigm. Many call them video hoes, but we'll be nicer and adopt the term in Karrine Steffans's new tell-a-lot book, Confessions of a Video Vixen.
The book is one hell of a beach read. It charts how Steffans appeared in a number of rap videos, began fraternizing a little too intimately with the stars, and took a destructive path of drugs and indiscriminate sex as she devolved into her persona as "Super Head," a lady whose name needs no explanation.
Datwon Thomas is editor in chief of King, a New York-based men's magazine that profiles video vixens. He notes that Steffans's story is tragic, but it also portrays an extreme side of an industry that is typically less glamorous, less lucrative, and less dangerous than what she describes.
"I think Karrine had a unique experience that not too many women had at that level," he says. "[In the book] she's saying step one can lead to step two and that type of thing, but I think she was on step twelve."
Thomas describes an industry that is largely underpaid, a claim corroborated by some scuffed-up, outdated platform heels I saw attending a shoot at South Beach nightclub B.E.D. last year. (Names omitted to protect the shoe dignity of the artists for their lack of a footwear budget.)
These average video vixens are not being flown to Los Angeles and New York; they might even be catching a bus down to the beach for a day of boring, tedious work on a video that never makes it to cable. But Steffans's Top 10 New York Times best-selling status for Confessions (holding firm for a second month) reinforces the most lurid and negative stereotypes about video vixens: They're loose and fucked up with money to burn.
But it would be disingenuous to lay the blame solely on hip-hop's doorstep. Damn, when you really think about it, this decline of Western female civilization is all Duran Duran's fault. The group kicked off this whole mess when it released its raunchy video for "Girls on Film" in 1981, the year MTV launched. The band set the infinite loop in motion, and its themes are still the axis around which these videos rotate.
It's a long way from the pillow fights of carefree Duran girls to the travails of Super Head, though. And young ladies looking for role models in music videos are still crazily malnourished, with little relief in sight. It takes more than a few girl-power clips from Gwen Stefani, Missy Elliott, and Kelly Clarkson to combat the faceless army of clapping butt cheeks.
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The prevalence of jiggling women in videos might never change if artists don't dictate it first, suggests Ben Mor, director of T.I.'s booty-free "U Don't Know Me," a 2005 VMA nominee for Best Rap Video.
"A lot of those [ideas] come from the artist, meaning the artists want that," says Mor, who has also directed narrative, un-vixenly videos for Nas and John Legend.
"It might be their first video and they want to do what they've been watching. It's like a vicious cycle: 'I want the hoes in my video, and I wanna look like a pimp in my video.' But yo, we've done the chicks in bikinis by the pool scene a million times!"
MTV is doing its part to encourage other themes in music videos by rewarding people like Mor and T.I. with VMA nominations. But on the other hand, "U Don't Know Me" faces stiff competition from vixen-clad clips such as the Ying Yang Twins' "Wait (The Whisper Song)" and Snoop Dogg's "Drop It Like It's Hot." Will the booties have it? Only the VMA gatekeepers know for sure.