Monday, March 31, 2008

Dreamworlds 3: Desire, Sex & Power in Music Video - a review

Here's a fragment of a review I just wrote of Sut Jhally's documentary Dreamworlds 3: Desire, Sex & Power in Music Video (2007). I'm sure a lot of folks will find this documentary insightful and useful... so I won't wait until the review is out in print to give you the scoop.

By the way, Sut Jhally is the Executive Director of the Media Education Foundation, the institution responsible for producing this documentary and many others—including Byron Hurt's groundbreaking piece on hip-hop and masculinity titled Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes.

Here's the trailer:

Here's my review:

Dreamworlds 3 is focused on analyzing how music videos both inform and are informed by our culture’s dominant attitudes regarding femininity, masculinity, sexuality and race. One of this documentary’s strongest points is its close attention to music video’s “storytelling techniques,” not only in terms of its lyrics and images, but also in terms of filmic techniques (camera angles and movement, for example) and the stories that these tecniques tell. Other strengths include its discussion of how the “pornographic imagination” and the porn industry inform music videos, as well as its portrayal of music videos as a constructed “fantasy” and “dreamworld” that is not the “real world” but is still in constant dialogue with it.

Another of Dreamworld 3’s crucial contributions to making more productive the often sterile dialogue surrounding gender and popular culture, is its framing of the question of sexism, not by asking if an image is “good or bad,” but through an analysis of whose stories are being told and how. According to the documentary, the problem is not that there is too much sex in music videos, but that there is no diversity in the stories being told since they are monopolized by the “heterosexual male imagination.” Furthermore, the documentary makes it very clear that female objectification itself is not the problem; the problem is that females are only being portrayed as objects. Once again, the key issue for Jhally is the lack of diversity in how gender is represented.

Though the aims and strategies of hyper-sexualizing women in music videos are thoroughly covered, one is left wondering how (and if) sexualization and objectification works in terms of images of men. The question of how women viewers receive and respond to all this imagery is also left somewhat unclear. Surely, it is the male heterosexist pornographic imagination constructing the dreamworlds of music videos “to draw in male viewers.” But what about women? What are the details of their attraction, repulsion and/or indifference to hyper-sexualized images (of women, of men)? How are their responses different from those of (most) men? But frankly, faulting the documentary for failing to hone in on these questions seems like nitpicking, given all that it does do.