Kanye West’s new “Bound 2” video has been criticized for featuring a nude Kim Kardashian, with whom he suggestively canoodles. To be blunt, it seems a lot like she’s just there for some eye-candy. But Flavorwire’s Lillian Ruiz would disagree, suggesting that Kanye’s portrayal of female sexuality is “unusually complex” because “there is no Madonna and no whore in this narrative.” In other words, Kim is simultaneously the mother of Kanye’s child and the love of his life and a sexy, scandalous lady who enjoys sex on motorcycles. Ruiz concludes that the video is ultimately a positive step for women in pop culture: “[Kardashian] may never be held in high esteem by the world at large, but if West can make society view her even a bit more holistically, he may well succeed in complicating pop culture’s one-dimensional female archetypes.”
While Ruiz’s essay is insightful, I don’t agree that this video offers a progressive portrayal of women. She’s right to suggest that the video is smart. Upon close examination, it does complicate the idea of male sexuality. When he mentions Jerome, a character from “Martin” known for his stereotypical womanizing and considered a (sometimes offensive) representation of “’ghetto’ black virility,” he simultaneously allies himself with and distances himself from the trope. He too has been called a womanizer, as he has a “leave-a-pretty-girl-sad reputation.”
But he’s also loving and good: Kim just wants someone to love, and he’s finally rescuing her from the lonely, lonely desert with his affection. He allies himself with Jesus by making the symbol of the cross as he raps, “Jesus wept,” both a sexual term and a religious one. He understands Kim’s worth, and he’s ready to abandon other women if he can continue to lovingly fondle her on a bike.
All of that might complicate male sexuality, suggesting that one can be godly and heroic and also enjoy the “dirty” sex that is briefly described, and that’s great, but the video’s narrative ultimately limits female sexuality. Kim is the reason Kanye reforms his “bad boy” ways, and though Ruiz might disagree, her feet are firmly planted in Madonna territory. She holds Kanye like the Virgin Mary when he collapses like Jesus on the cross; she nurtures him with her bosom. While his shirt is tattered, her flesh is smooth and pure as a baby’s. A glow reminiscent of Annunciation paintings surrounds her face. She is the “good girl” Kanye claims is “worth more than a thousand bitches.” She’s his seductive redemption.
Whatever complication of female sexuality that might come from the video is resultant from Kardashian’s own reputation outside of the relationship, because her narrative here is pretty simple. She is passive and serenely accepts West’s advances; far from a sexual agent, her sleepy eyes suggest that she might not even know where she is. The video just moves the reality star from one box to another, from “whore” to “Madonna,” and there’s nothing progressive in that. But maybe I’m wrong. What do you think? Is this video subversive and empowering to women?
Image and video via YouTube