21.11.14

SEX SELLS: Sex, Rape and Sadomasochism in Music Videos

Rape is never ok. Period. 
I thought I'd clear that up at the beginning before anyone accuses me of advocating rape. 

This morning, the disturbing headline 'Marilyn Manson Denies involvement in Lana Del Rey Rape Horror Video', caught my attention. I am a huge fan of Marilyn Manson, both musically and creatively. Lana Del Rey is also my guilty pleasure - despite her arguably 'anti-feminist' lyrics, but more about that later. Curiosity lead me to read further into this accusatory post and to be honest, it really angered me. So much so that, after a month of being uninspired, I decided to write about it.

The 'rape horror video' in question is an apparent 'unreleased' Marilyn Manson music video, which has been leaked under the title 'Sturmgruppe 2013 Reel'. Directed by Eli Roth, who has also directed  gruesome horror films Hostel, Cabin Fever and The Last Exorcism, 'Sturmgruppe 2013 Reel', according to the above article on The Guardian, is a just over 2 minute video that is a mix of footage from two of Manson's music videos:  'the main sequence was original, with horror-movie-like shots of a creepy party where the word “rape” has been scrawled on balloons. The film culminates in the staged assault of a woman who appears to be Del Rey.'
It has since been taken down from YouTube, however at the time of writing it was still available to view here  I suggest watching the whole thing, however the 'Lana Del Rey rape scene' begins at 0.59. 

I have several issues with why this video is controversial.

Firstly, why has Marilyn Manson been scapegoated? Why not Lana Del Rey or Eli Roth? Surely all have had fairly equal inputs into the creation of this video. All participants would have read the scripts and presumably seen the final short film. Although Manson is a controversial artist, something about him that has created the fan base he has today, why did he feel that he had to put out a statement denying involvement in this, and thus far neither Roth or Del Rey have?

Secondly, Lana Del Rey is hardly an advocate of feminism or equality, especially in terms of relationships. With songs such as 'Fucked My Way Up To The Top' and sample lyrics from 'Ultraviolence' "He hit me and it felt like a kiss" a clear ode to domestic violence, her moral standing on the treatment of women is hardly one that should be an inspiration. Lana Del Rey would have read the script prior to the filming of this video. Therefore, clearly she had no issues with the rape scene. 

Similary, what seems to be forgotten in this video is that it isn't real. It's fictional. Lana Del Rey was not actually raped by Roth. How is this short film any different to the plethora of rape scenes in horror films? Most horror films have at least one overtly sexual scene, whether it is violent or just an, unnecessary in my opinion, ploy to get the 'hottest female actress' naked to engage the male - or female- audience. Either way, sex and horror have a history or interlocking and interrelating. Roth himself said in an interview  “The sexual abuse of women is so horrific...[But] I mean, Straw Dogs is a movie where there’s rape. Does that add to that movie? Yes.” In previous Manson music videos both of these factors feature highly. From Manson's own appearance to the often dark and disturbing concepts of each video combined with burlesque elements, Manson's videos are a creative, creepy combination of sex and scary. Take mObscene for example. Featuring Manson's then wife Dita Von Teese performing burlesque in her signature martini glass, contrasted with the vintage clad burlesques dancers, with half of their face made-up to represent a skeleton. 

Finally, and perhaps most controversially, the filming itself. Personally, I think it's a really well shot, artistically directed short film. While the topic may not be beautiful, the mis-en-scene throughout  is incredibly artistic. The audience don't see the rape physically happening, although it is explicitly implied. Camera angles, juxtapositions of violence and nature and contrast between black and white and coloured shots give a lot of diversity and meaning to a short film that's only 2 minutes long. This level of creativity and almost intelligence is often lost in the music video's of today, especially those that have a sexual implications. Sexual sophistication has been replaced with the obvious and the predicable. 

Sadomasochism and sex is a popular theme in music videos across genres. From Madonna's Justify My Love   which plays on ideas of voyeurism and sadomasochism and her later album titled 'Erotica', to Rihanna's song 'S&M' with lyrics such as 'chains and whips excite me' and 'now the pain is my pleasure', the idea of sexualisation interlinking with pop culture and the media is not a new concept. I am not saying that rape and sadomahocssim are the same thing at all. If Rihanna, Lana or Madonna, or anyone for that matter, is into Sadomasochism, fair play. If that's what gets you off then that is absolutely fine. A little spanking never hurt nobody- unless they wanted it to. S&M doesn't affect anyone but those involved, and as long as all participants are aware and consensual to the activity, there are no issues. Fetishes and turn ons are deeply personal and it is no ones business to give their opinions. 

However there are tasteful ways to present such ideas into popular culture, music and media. Although the Eli Roth 'Sturmgruppe 2013 Reel' featuring both Manson and Del Rey deals with a disturbing topic, it is done so in as artistic a way as rape can be portrayed. Music video's that deal with Sadomasochism and sex as a general topic are often less sophisticated and the sexualisation of women is still dominant. Although 'sex sells', perhaps directors should stop objectifying and overtly sexualising women in pop culture and deal with topics such as rape and domestic/sexual abuse in an creative and artistic approach. It is interesting that a video involving rape is shot more stylistically that some of those containing consensual sex. 





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