I finally saw the video for the relatively new Rihanna song, "American Oxygen." And while I rather like the haunting resonance of the music and its theme, the video itself has one glaring problem: Rihanna is in it.
For those who haven't witnessed it, the thing flashes between various American historical images and close-ups of Rihanna taking a series of seductive poses—including her Eyes-Closed, Chin-High, Chest-Forward-Fuck-Me Arch and the Auto-Erotic-Empress-Tyrant. Her Twerky Anaconda makes an appearance, as does my favorite, The Deep-Red-Lipsticky-"Who-Me?"-Pussycat-Pout.
For most of these poses, Rihanna is wearing a black leather jacket that frequently slides down her shoulders to reveal a skimpy white cotton undershirt that epically fails to conceal the contour and color of her nipples.
"Hellooo Boomy," they seem to say looking upward toward an unseen boom mike. "Do you think we're pretty?"
The vocals are spellbinding: "Breathe out, breath in / American oxygen," she drones as the camera switches between the images— most of which are disturbing or conjure something disturbing— and shots of Rihanna shoving her erect nipples into the lens.
In the first batch we see the inauguration of President Obama, MLK's march on Montgomery, soldiers raising a flag to half mast, a company of downtrodden immigrants riding the top of a train, a U.S. destroyer firing a cannon—then cut to Rihanna pointing her perfect nozzles at the camera in a manner that would make Tom Cruise go straight.
Next we see images of Cuban immigrants floating on a blow-up raft, the iconic Black Power salute at the '68 Olympics, Occupy Wall Street marchers, dirty drug deals, Molotovs being lit and thrown, a mushroom cloud, a NASA rocket launch, the Twin Towers smoking—cut to Rihanna, shoving her papilla toward the camera then twirling slo-mo so that we may gape at every perfect, hump-able inch of her.
And so it goes with images of race riots, mass pepper sprayings, Ferguson protests, burning crosses, Klan rallies, assembly lines, MLK in a coffin, and—cha-ching—Rihanna presenting her teats as if her teats will end racism.
And perhaps they will. After all, these are no run-of-the-mill Farrah Fawcett nipples—all bourgeois and bored beneath an orange one-piece. These are Rihanna-bo-banna boss-bitch nips—chocolate and bloated like Hershey's Kisses injected with jam. Helen of Troy may have had a face that launched a thousand ships but Rihanna's radioactive areola will one day launch a warhead.
But that's the point right? As the great Roman statesman, Julius Caesar, once noted, "Nullum Umqaum magna Nipplum deserta," which roughly translates to, "Never let a great nipple go to waste."
Of course, most people aren't aware of Cicero's brilliant response to Caesar, which was, "Sed Ceaser! Whyus insertaum nippli into minima sexualem musica video sinceum Hippus to be Squareum?'" which translates, "But Caesar! Why would anyone insert a nipple into the most non-sexual music video since Hip to be Square?'"
Look, this is not me being a prude. I like lactiferous protuberances as much as the next mammal. I don't believe seeing them will corrupt the youth, didn't give a whit about Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction, have no problem with nudity (except my own), and fully believe in a woman's right to choose—to work in a strip club.
Not only do I think it's acceptable for a new mother to breast feed in public, for all I care she could sit topless on a Central Park bench and let the pigeons have at 'em were she the type of person who believed pigeons were lacking in vitamin D.
That said, I also believe there are some things that should not be cheapened by gratuitous stimulation of the libido. I mean, here we have a song that contemplates the juxtaposition between American greatness and American futility, failure and despair by smearing a wad of melted sex butter all over it? This is clearly not a song that should be sexualized. In fact, as she does sexualize it, Rihanna becomes the American failure she bemoans. It is her grand appeal to the lowest common denominator that causes us to look at the nipples instead of the problems.
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, Ed it is you, not Rihanna, who is sexualizing Rihanna. She just happens to be a sexy woman whose nipples happened to be erect during shooting.
Nice try, Imaginary Critic in My Head, but, no. This is no RUNE (Random Unintentional Nipple Erection). They did not accidentally abound because of the way the fabric was rubbing or because of the temperature in the studio. This was obviously, clearly, plainly—sure-as-side-boobs-on-red-carpets—an intentional decision to make her package pop beneath a flimsy white cotton tee.
So my question is "Why?" Why did Rihanna debase this important content with unnecessary sexual imagery? Because, judging from the majority of her songs and videos, sex is the only way she knows how to communicate. And even if her next song's lyrics are as utterly non-sexual as, say, how deforestation is killing off the South American Awa Guajá tribe, I would not be surprised if the video will feature a beaver-bikini clad Rihanna twerking her T-and-A in front of the Awa Guajá witch doctor, played by a yoked-up, oiled-down Kanye, while her erect nipples sing, "Do you think we're sexy?"
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Edwin Decker blogs at www.edwindecker.com. Follow him on Twitter @edwindecker or find him on Facebook.
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