Lil Wayne, S.W.A.G and The Nothing: Marketing Rape Culture to Communities of Color is a Never Ending Story(Trigger Warning Graphic Images)
Commercial Hip Hop has became a desolate land where “bandz will make her dance”, sex addiction is celebrated in lyrics like “Yeah I like to F*ck! I got a f*ckin problem”, and if there is a room full of liquor, well… dive in! Ours is a world where everyone is too sex crazed and Ciroc high to think of the implications of what we have been pouring into our ears or down our throats. This week I got a double dose of how far down the rabbit hole we have gotten and it is pretty damn far. Yesterday, Epic records agreed to pull the remixed song “Karate Chop” by rapper, Future featuring a verse from mega-star emcee Lil Wayne, referencing slain civil rights era icon Emmet Till. In the song Wayne states he will, “beat that p*ssy like its Emmet Till.” We guess Wayne meant like this. The SAME day this track was leaked to the public a friend of mine posted an image of a product sure to make women swoon with delight, yes S.W.A.G! S.W.A.G. is an acronym for the companies website and product name Sex with a Grudge. The male sexual performance enhancement drug’s website offers the following product description: We can’t state this enough, the damn stuff makes sex almost violent, in a good way, of course!! … 45 minutes after taking S.W.A.G you will start to feel a little buzz… [that will] give you a sense of urgency to go crush someone. You’ll actually start to feel BIGGER in the process. The rest of the story is whatever you make it, and believe us; you will have a story to tell.” (www.sexwithagrudge.com, 2013) At the intersection of this week’s latest example of poorly conceived “bad enough you thought it let alone said it aloud” ideas gone public is the frightening marriage of racism and Rape Culture. Rape Culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture. Rape Culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety” according to Marshall University’s Women Center website. In both Lil Wayne’s verse and in S.W.A.G’s marketing what we are seeing is rape culture at its best, a system that simply reduces women to receptacle. The type of sex both Wayne and S.W.A.G imply in their words is not actually sex with a woman; it is sex with a vagina. A vagina they both apparently hate. We must wonder how the presence of songs and over-the-counter pills where Hurt it, Kill It, and Beat it like its Emmet Till, are so routine that they make it from studio booths, market testing rooms, trademark applications, and label executive reviews to actual public consumption without even the raising of a higher ups eyebrow? It is indeed a testament to how acceptable it is to not only dissect women’s bodies but to then enact violence on the parts that have been dissected. Deniers of Rape Culture have offered, “but men are only doing what women want” and the always popular “y’all are being too sensitive”. Given that according to a 2009 ABCnews.com article, 75% of women do not achieve orgasm through vaginal penetration alone and 10-15% have never achieved orgasm from any sexual stimulation whatsoever it is hard to believe that the beat it, pound it, kill it message is coming from Camp Women. As far as hyper-sensitivity goes, perhaps having a 1 in 3 chance of being sexually assaulted in our lifetime HAS made some of us a bit sensitive? Maybe being more likely to be raped than to get adequate healthcare or having 3 women a day die at the hands of partner violence has left a few of us a bit on edge? Maybe centuries of oppression and misogyny have dwindled our Job like patience for people who keep trying to KILL US! It was not lost on me that S.W.A.G , with its use of urban street slang and a product name popularized by black hip hop culture, seems to be marketed directly toward young Black men. I desperately wish I was shocked that Lil Wayne had so little regard for the traumatic history of racial violence in this country that he would equate a sex act with the gruesome kidnap, shooting, strangling, and drowning death of a 14 year old boy in 1955 that sparked the civil rights movement. I am not surprised that black masculinity has been so crushed that as S.W.A.G states in its online write up, it wants to “crush” something else. It is sadly reminiscent of the scene from the 80’s childhood fantasy film, The Never Ending Story. At the end of the film after the land of Fantasia has been ravaged by The Nothing, a mysterious force destroying all the humanity it can find, left standing amid darkness and desolation, The Rockbiter, an enormous creature made of limestone shakes his head, palms outstretched and says, “They look like good, big, strong hands, don’t they? That is what I always thought they were. … my little friends…The Nothing pulled them right out of my hands. I failed.” I believe Black men know that feeling. What it is to be told you are so big, scary and inconsequential all at once? The attempt to hold on to dignity and self worth with those big hands only to have them snatched away. The historical ache of emasculation. I can only imagine how that stripping might make someone want to crush, smash, beat, kill something… even if only metaphorically. There is a deeper cultural pain Black men are trying to avoid. To my knowledge, Lil Wayne is not a rapist. I do not believe that most of the men who would consider taking S.W.A.G are murderers or violent misogynists. I do believe oppression oppresses everyone, including oppressors. Black men, all men are belittled by the culture of misogyny and sexism. Rape culture dismisses the intelligence of men. It constricts the breadth and depth of male identity, reduces depictions of maleness to violent, emotionally stunted, brutes rather than the nuanced, capable compassionate humans that men can be. Lil Wayne’s lyrics and S.W.A.G’s marketing assume the worst of men at the expense of us all. It assumes men must hurt women to be ‘real’ men. It asserts that women want to be hurt, thereby removing the accountability of violence from the perpetrators, calling to mind the oh so common tropes of rape such as, “She asked for it.” or “She wanted it.” Correlating violence with sex desensitizes us to the emotional, social and political impacts of rape. It makes politicians use terms like, “legitimate rape”. It reinforces the false notion that only the most extreme cases of stranger rape are rape at all. Everything else is just a guy “killing it” like we women really wanted anyway. Rape culture and racism have convinced Lil Wayne that his ability to dehumanize the women he has sex with substantiates his power. It so thoroughly detaches him from his history as to make a brutal historical moment simply a lyric of crass comedy, even as that moment served as a catalyst for his own ability to make records and amass wealth. S.W.A.G asks men to forget that there is a human on the other end of sexual intercourse. S.W.A.G manipulates the insecurity of male sexual prowess at the expense of everyone’s humanity. It removes what is best about sex, human connection and pleasure and turns it into blood sport. I remember being 8 years old in a movie theater in Oakland, Ca watching The Never Ending Story, weeping into the plush velvet seats. The Rockbiter was so sad. He had decided he was helpless and worthless, so why even try to make it out alive? Why not just give himself over to The Nothing which had taken everything else? In the last moments of his scene he laments to the protagonist of the film, Atreyu, “The Nothing will be here any minute. I will just sit here… and let it take me away too.” It seems, Lil Wayne and S.W.A.G have also chosen to do just that.