I love Justin Timberlake. He’s attractive, funny, charismatic, and multi-talented. But his recent music video for “Tunnel Vision” undermines my admiration for him. As you may have heard or seen for yourself, the video is overwhelmed by ornamental, naked women.
Like Huffington Post’s Toula Foscolos aptly puts, it’s not the nudity itself that is troublesome. Rather, it’s the fact that while the women are naked, the men are fully clothed. It’s the fact that all of the women have the same pencil-thin bodies with lustrous breasts. The fact that all of these women look perpetually turned on for no apparent reason, and like they’re trying to turn you, the viewer, on. The fact that this appears to be the only purpose the women serve.
My argument against this video is the same old tired feminist argument, and that’s precisely what makes the video more frustrating. We have discussed to death that the media and pop culture reduce women to sexual objects. So when musicians from Robin Thicke to The-Dream to Justin Timberlake have the audacity to create videos that so blatantly perpetuate a problem we’ve all been saying needs to be fixed, it’s infuriating (to be fair, neither JT’s nor Thicke’s videos are nearly as offensive and demeaning as The-Dream’s video for “Pussy,” which is purely pornographic).
JT’s music video for “Tunnel Vision” (and Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” video, while we’re at it) would be less problematic if the men joined the women in prancing around naked. Why don’t they? And why are naked men in videos and film so uncommon anyway? Is it just gross, like The Lonely Island asserts in “You’ve got the look”?
“Boy, you got the look / Rolling up in the party with one ball out / . . . / Oh . . . yeah, that’s gross. / Sorry. / That is not the same thing. / Nobody wants to see that. / I was wrong. I’m a jerk. Sorry everybody.”
Our culture does seem to largely cast the male form as grotesque, while the female form, on the other hand, is a piece of art. But the male body is not objectively unpleasant. Considering, as Foscolos puts so well, that to be naked is to be weak and vulnerable while being clothed denotes power, perhaps we’ve been conditioned to view the penis as horrendous in order to keep men in lofty positions. Men, can, of course, be sexy, but it’s interesting that sexy men in the media are always clothed, at least from the waist down. Look at JT—he’s fully clad in this video and looking damn good; but he also looks put together, in control, and above sexual temptation—the women, on the other hand, do not.
So why would our beloved Justin perpetuate old stereotypes of women as weak-willed, sex-crazed objects? It’s not as though the video even illustrates the song’s lyrics (though if it did, then the song itself would be fighting against accusations of sexism). “Tunnel Vision” is about a man so enamored with a woman, he can’t see anyone else: “A crowded room anywhere, a million people around, all I see is you / and that everything just disappears, disappears, disappears, disappears.” Having tunnel vision for another person doesn’t appear to have much to do with naked women. I suppose if I were to stretch things, I could say these naked women symbolize temptation; their seductive looks try to lure JT into bed, but his blinding love for his significant other prevents him from even seeing these beautiful women at all. But I don’t buy it. And even if I did, the fact that the women are portrayed as mere temptresses remains problematic.
Another possibility, as my boyfriend suggests, is that making a not-safe-for-work video was a fuck you from JT to the entertainment company Live Nation. Considering he hasn’t recorded a studio album since releasing Future Love/Sex Sounds in 2006, choosing instead to focus on his acting career, JT may very well may not have wanted to make The 20/20 Experience at all; yet he had signed a contract with Live Nation stipulating he had to put out an album this year. Consider how quickly he rushed through the production of the album—it took just 20 days. Rushing the deadline and making a video that can’t even be shown on television may have been away for JT to fulfill his contractual obligations while still sticking it to “the man.” He refuses to be anyone’s puppet (perhaps even more so because of his less-than-pleasant experience with his Ponzi-scheming ‘NSync manager Lou Pearlman).
It’s possible too that there’s no rhyme or reason for the video at all, other than JT wanting to glorify the female body. But this execution doesn’t glorify women. It demeans them. I’m willing to bet the sexism perpetrated in this video was unintentional, but in a way, that’s more problematic. We need to take a long hard look at the things we do and say and their implications. Too often, we let sexism (as well as racism, homophobia, and all other forms of discrimination) in both pop culture and our personal lives slide. We excuse a degrading joke because “it’s just a joke” and the joke-teller isn’t really fill-in-the-blank-ist (note that there’s a difference between offensive jokes your brother tells to get a laugh and self-aware comedy that aims to subvert our latent prejudices). The more we perpetuate degrading material under the guise that we’re not actually sexist, the more likely it is those demeaning attitudes will worm their way into our brains until one day, they posses us. Maybe they already have.