Monster?

Posted on January 15, 2011 by

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The yet-to-be-announced official release of Kanye West’s “Monster” music video is being protested by concerned women’s groups worldwide. But is “Monster” really an attack on women?

By Anna Wiegenstein

At this point, it seems impossible to overanalyze the work of Kanye West. Whether he’s tweeting about water bottles or taking Matt Lauer to task, he’s as much a lightning rod for criticism post-Swiftgate as he was after his memorable remarks on Hurricane Katrina.

Now, with the leak and ongoing protest of the upcoming official release of his “Monster” video, he’s provided enough grist for both detractors and defenders for weeks to come. The clip surrounds him – along with collaborators Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj and Rick Ross – with corpses, zombies, entrails, and a werewolf thrown in for good measure.

It’s not the first time Yeezy has tended toward horror movie images in his videos, but it’s more typical for him to use religious symbolism or a style dedicated more to fun than anything. His latest is neither, and it’s worth pointing out that the current comments to “Jesus Walks” includes flat-out accusations of hellish intervention: “how could kanye make this and then make that satanic filth “moster” [sic] go and watch the video, it’s fucking demonic. looks like the devil finally broke him down.”

Images of beautiful women in horrifying scenarios have been discussed before.  (Hey, even by a Daily Iowan alum!)

What Tyra Banks actually said about this photo of an America's Next Top Model contestant posing as if she's been electrocuted: "She's making those clothes look kind of fierce."

To narrow down discussion of the “Monster” video to its bloody basics, however, is to ignore what’s truly more provocative: It’s one of Kanye’s sexiest videos. No slow-mo shots of Stacey Dash running (“All Falls Down”) or a plethora of pin-ups so shiny they look as though they’ve been given a Crisco rubdown (“Gold Digger”), though.

Here, ‘Ye is portrayed as both aggressor—those bodies on the bed got there somehow, not to mention the part where he holds a head in one hand—and victim, as his shirtless torso is clawed at by thousands of lady-zombie hands. Rather than being precisely arranged as a murder victim in designer clothes, the female undead are clamoring to eat Kanye, as he tells us that he’s the track’s titular monster.

Elsewhere, Jay-Z gives the impression of a Mafioso (something he’s cultivated for over a decade): unwilling to get his own hands dirty, but unfazed by a dead girl draped over a couch. Seems fitting, considering that his own forays into unsettling imagery have been a bit more associative themselves. (And despite being given equal billing with Jay and Nicki, Rick Ross does as little in this video as he does on the song itself. In my absolute dream video, Bon Iver shows up instead.)

Nicki Minaj, by far the most notable voice on the song, plays a telling dual role, because the only thing better than Nicki is two Nickis. Just as her voice switches dramatically from lightly coy to gravel-voiced fury, “Monster” has her as both the torturer and the tortured. As dominatrix, she taunts her “Harajuku Barbie” self with a riding crop and a sword — but ultimately refrains from physical harm.

Almost as big a faux pas as the whole T-Swift thing.

I don’t think Kanye intends for critiques on female sexuality to result from this video (though when the grand total of male zombies is three, by my count, it had to have crossed someone’s mind along the way). “Monster,” both video and song, deal with media perception and the tendency of celebrity to create personas that are either socially acceptable, or entirely damning. Its over-the-top nature seems to stem directly from the months after the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards when Mr. West’s name was synonymous with all things evil in this world. I myself was told that being a Kanye fan was “almost like loving Chris Brown,” a fellow who, you may remember, actually did perform acts of terrible violence on a female.

With an album that’s perhaps the best-reviewed of 2010, it’s becoming more and more acceptable for me to proclaim my everlasting love for Kanye and all his amazing insanity everywhere I go. That said, I still don’t think I would eat Mr. West alive — despite my twofold status as both girl and journalist. But thanks to the “Monster” video, the real question has become: Would he take it as a compliment if I wanted to take a bite?

P.S. The only thing better than a Kanye West video is one able to feature Grover.

– Anna Wiegenstein

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