Wow. If these are the opening remarks of this series, Amanda and I need to do our homework! Great job, everyone. I thoroughly enjoyed reading and contemplating a reply. Originally I was going to just reply in a comment, and then I wrote a short novel and realized that wasn’t going to work.
I can’t say that my view has been completely changed, but I’ve certainly been given some food for thought. I’d like to keep my response to the same 250 word limit given to our esteemed interns. I was close…
Sexism is about power. Those who hold the power oppressing, defining, and weakening those who do not. With that in mind, none of the songs offered up as being possibly more sexist tend to hold up, at least lyrically. In these cases: ASWI, HLTW, GOF and The Chauffeur, the words clearly put the woman in a position of power. The man is ultimately chasing them. Even in GOF, arguably the most lyrically sexist song lyrically of those mentioned, the woman is clearly a model. There is no clear indication that she is there by force. Read My Lips, on the other hand, is overtly sexual – no argument there – but sexist? I read the lyrics as perhaps someone (maybe even a celeb) in a bar trying to convince a woman to go away with him for a one night stand. Falling Down has nothing to do with sexism, lyrically. It could be about anyone.
In Electric Barbarella, we can read that this female subject was found on a so-called “showroom floor”. At the onset, she has no power – whether robot, or arguably, even if human. She is powerless. He buys her. He takes her home, dresses her, “plugs her in” and trains her.
In videos, women still have the power. ASWI – the men are puppets. HTLW – the male is desperately pursuing the female. GOF – in every vignette, it is a woman in charge. She is the horse rider, the masseuse, even the hero. Sex objects, yes. Sexism? No. In Falling Down, the video definitely poses women as the rehab/psych patients and the men are doctors, treating the patients. Is that as overtly sexist? I don’t think so.
A couple of times a month, Daily Duranie will toss out a “Change My Mind” topic to a handful of guest writers. In this first episode, Daily Duranie declares “Electric Barbarella” is Duran Duran’s most sexist song – change our mind.
All She Wants – Is To Change Your Mind
I’m not going to claim that there aren’t sexist elements to ‘Electric Barbarella’. It’s about using a sex doll, so… yeah. It’s also a slight guilty pleasure (the guilt coming from the need to ignore that grim video, which is not at all fun or pleasurable to watch).
But – I would argue that ‘All She Wants Is’ is at least equally so, if not more.
First of all, I find it kind of judgmental in a way that ‘Electric Barbarella’ isn’t – Barbarella is purely a sex object (not a good thing, but it can be argued that a doll cannot really be harmed by such treatment). The opening lines about saving money for the shoeshine boys don’t come across as a celebration of the protagonist’s promiscuity, but instead as condescending, even while the narrator appears keen to become involved with the protagonist himself.
‘Electric Barbarella’, meanwhile, is at least reverent of its subject – Barbarella is described as ‘perfect’, ‘so good’, ‘princess of my dreams’ – and if it, like much of Duran’s oeuvre, were about a real woman (and obviously thus not featuring lyrics like ‘I plug you in’), then it could be argued that it wouldn’t be sexist at all, merely a paean to a much-adored lover. The sexism comes more from the out-of-song context of the use of sex dolls (and the misogyny inherent in that industry) than from the lyrical content itself.
All in all, between the two songs, ‘All She Wants Is’ most definitely creeps me out more! – Dee Cooke
Hungry Like A Wolf To Change Your Mind
Trust me, I’d be fine with laying the blame for the most sexist song our guys have ever done on the era of WC. Electric Barbarella is made especially cringe-worthy by its video, that’s certain. But if we’re to blame the videos, I have to look past Barbarella to Girls on Film, a song about the exploitation of women, with a video that well, exploited women, for the sake of giving something edgy to the video nightclub market. Or Falling Down, because nothing portrays mental collapse better than a Bedlam-esque scene of scantily clad models tended to by a patriarchal band in white coats, right?
Lyrically though, I find Electric Barbarella more in line with Bedroom Toys. It could be about a guy treating a girl like a doll, yes. It could also be a funny song about a guy and his sex robot. It’s not great, but most sexist? I say it with love, but I have two that outstrip it, though their videos are far superior.
First up, All She Wants Is, built around the well-known vocal stylings of an underage porn star. It’s got a great beat and you can dance to it, but all it has to say is “she wants that d***”, and it’s not precisely flattering about it.
Second, & “winner” – Hungry Like the Wolf, which is literally about stalking a woman for sex. Simon himself has said “You couldn’t get away with writing a song like that now”. And I guess he would know. – Laura Skarka
Read My Lips – Electric Barbarella Is Not The Most Sexist
The sexism of Duran Duran’s videos are worthy of discussion even if the band’s sense of play often diminishes the general negativity of the imagery. Detaching the songs from the videos, there are still examples of sexism woven into the lyrics as is the case for most bands who came of age at that time. The music industry, as a whole, sadly remains a sexist playground for men in almost every regard. However, “Electric Barbarella” sidesteps this while “Read My Lips” reeks of stale cologne and the male predator.
The opening lines of “Read My Lips” are nothing more than a creepy come-on by a lecherous male. I don’t know why, and I have no factual basis for assuming this, but I’ve always associated this song with Warren Cuccurullo. The guitar heavy song has his fingerprints all over it and it’s an uncomfortable listening experience. I’d rather not “get a grip” on anything within ten feet of this lazy song.
The Barbarella reference of the song in question hints at a playfulness celebrating the retro-kitsch style of the film that inspired Duran Duran’s name. The song itself serves as a commentary on the inability of humans to connect on a flesh and blood level in modern society. The idea of an electric Barbarella is nothing more than a fantasy that can never be realized despite the promises of the patriarchy. The song shines a neon-flavored light on that with a knowing wink. Maybe marriage has made them wise. – Jason Lent
Driving Towards A Change of Mind
The Chauffeur is easily a more sexist song than “Electric Barbarella.” Its dreary, coma-inducing synth line pounds the listener into submission, much like thousands of years of patriarchal civilization have to women. The song never explicitly states if “my envied lady” and her “shadowy lined dress” is the driver or passenger, passing up a prime opportunity. Think about the power of the last track on one of the most iconic 80’s albums definitively putting the woman in control. But no—instead, we’re left with the “poetry” of LeBon’s lyric. Indeed, all we do learn is that this lady “smiles” when lovers part, like some latter day Miss Havisham from Dickens’ Great Expectations. Our singer also wonders “what glass splinters lie so deep in your mind,” which also conjures the 19th century and the misogynistic “mad woman in the attic” trope (see Jane Eyre).
The video only makes matters worse: a voyeuristic, male-driven lesbian fantasy involving two women touching, a third dancing off to the side, and all witnessed by a “Chauffeur” who looks alarmingly like 2019 Roger. Some will argue that the video is someone else’s vision for the song. Yes, it is—but endorsed and paid for by the band. Others will claim it’s an artsy homage to the movie “The Night Porter,” about star-crossed Nazi lovers. Right—and I guess if it was set in the Tunisian desert instead of a parking garage, that would make it a homage to Star Wars. Please.
Like the aphids, The Chauffeur is a blood-sucker, setting back feminism, and by extension civilization. Skip it. – CK Shortell
More puzzling than why Jane Fonda installed floor-to-ceiling shag carpet in her spacecraft, is why it has taken me all these years to watch Barbarella: Queen of the Galaxy (1968). As the second-highest-grossing film in the UK that year, it isn’t surprising that a few young men from Birmingham would come across it and choose to name their band after a character. From the science fiction storyline to, well, Jane Fonda, it is the sort of film that captures the imagination of young men. Much like Duran Duran’s own videos, the film is a product of its time but remains a, sometimes, revolutionary text.
Equal parts Flash Gordon and Austin Powers, Barbarella finds herself trying to save the universe from the evil Durand Durand. There is a blind angel, the blonde adonis John Phillip Law, some evil dolls that try to eat Barbarella, an attack of parakeets, a bi-sexual princess and a lot of other ridiculousness along the way. As far as storylines go, it unfolds like the comic strip it originated from. The scenes look individually brilliant with a retro-futurist style the screams 1968 but it is far from gripping as a story.
While most will want to dismiss the film as soft-core sexist fluff, Barbarella has proven to be an iconic and influential character, most recently being reprised by Ariana Grande in her “Break Free” video and celebrated by Clutch with “In Walks Barbarella” . The kitsch and camp of the film overshadow how in-control of her sexuality Barbarella is throughout the film; ultimately undermining patriarchal attitudes and reflecting the sexual revolution of the late 1960s. Nobody exerts any power over Barbarella’s choices and she possesses the same sexual freedom of James Bond, moving from bed to bed without a second-thought.
Nobody, not even Durand Durand with his excessive-pleasure machine, can tame Barbarella and her innocence ultimately is what saves her from the Matmos, some sort of evil energy substance. That innocence is not tied to chasteness, but to peace and love and the search for a utopia that we know we will never find. Barbarella’s charm lies in how it celebrates and ridicules such thinking simultaneously. It’s all a bit daft and the film embraces that fully. Fonda may have been cast by her husband for other reasons but she magnificently threads the needle as an actor throughout.
Which brings us to Duran Duran. From “Girls On Film” to “Electric Barbarella”, many of the same criticisms of Barbarella apply to their work but they can be dismissed for the same reasons. If patriarchy is rooted in power, it is hard to see how the band has exerted that power over women in their music and short-films. In the subversive “Girls On Film”, the video unfolds with vignettes that establish power ultimately resides with the women and the band are kept at a distance, unable to participate. When they are allowed into the fray with “Rio”, they all make fools of themselves chasing their idea of female beauty.
The most troubling video is likely “Electric Barbarella” with the boys purchasing a sexbot for their flat. Why Nick, Simon, and Warren are sharing a flat is never addressed but I know record sales were declining at the time. Director Ellen von Unwerth brings her iconic photography to life in the video and, admittedly, her visuals threaten to overshadow the underlying message of the song. As much as the men wish to control their electric Barbarella, they are destined to fail in every regard. Myka Dunkel shrewdly exaggerates the ridiculousness of it all with her acting; something I missed the first few times I saw it upon release. Much like Barbarella, the video is a parody that mocks social conventions of the time without becoming too cynical. And it looks amazing doing so.
Did Barbarella: Queen of the Galaxy give Duran Duran more than a cool name for their band? Definitely. When you watch the film, notice how many times Fonda says “planet earth” for example and how many Duran Duran songs can fit into a science-fiction context. With the band’s recent NASA show, this is the perfect time to watch Barbarella: Queen of the Galaxy and ponder the ultimate question: is there anybody out there?
Day two from Santa Barbara. Last night we took a drive to see a couple of homes we like, and we were able to cross a couple of others off of our list of favorites. I think that if we threw caution to the wind, we’d have our answer….but I’m not quite ready to do that just yet, so today will bring more looking around. If nothing else, it’s lit a fire under me to get our current house on the market!
On to more important things, like Duran Duran. (Right?!?) Does anyone remember What Unfolds? What if I gave you the name, Steve Aoki? Terminal Five? How about champagne and cake?? Well, if you were there, tomorrow is in fact your sixth anniversary of making it out alive. I would have mentioned this tomorrow, but it is also someone’s birthday, and that needs to take precedence. So, happy early anniversary to those of you who survived the insanity at Terminal Five. (Sounds like a great book title, in my opinion!)
Today also has an anniversary of sorts. On this date in 1997, the filming for “Electric Barbarella” wrapped up, and Pop Trash was also released on this date in the UK.
I don’t know if I’m alone here, but I’ve always had misgivings about “Electric Barbarella”, in particular the video…but the song as well. Cheeky as though it may be, when I watch the video, I can’t help but cringe. An electric Barbie, bought off of a floor, to do anything and everything the men want. A problem arises only when the doll starts thinking on her own. Music video or not, it’s cringe-worthy even by 1997 standards, but certainly more so today, in the shadow of the #MeToo movement. It is hard for me to defend the merit of “Electric Barbarella”. I always felt the content was anti-female, and I couldn’t help but wonder why on earth a band who was loved by so many women would put out a song (not to mention a video) like that. Maybe I missed something somewhere.
I don’t know that the intention of music videos created back in 1997 were necessarily a call to arms to fight injustice or to make any kind of a social statement. Maybe some were, but I can’t think of them off-hand. I’m sure someone out there will have great examples. I can’t help but think about Childish Gambino’s recent video for “This is America”. There’s nothing lighthearted or joyful going on there. It is a powerful, social statement, from song lyrics to one of the first images in the video where a man is savagely shot from behind while sitting in a chair. The scene is disturbing and stays with you, but even more so when you continue watching and notice that the point of the video is not necessarily the violence or injustice itself – it is that while all of that goes on, no one else pays any attention. As alarming and shocking as the video might seem, the portrayal of America is disgustingly accurate. I don’t know about anyone else, but it is a tough video for me to watch. Art can be like that, and yes – I do believe it is art. I had a long discussion with my oldest about the video when she insisted I watch it. Instead of being disturbed by the graphic nature, she was thrilled that in 2018, artists are being encouraged to really be so open and honest.
It is funny, and by funny I mean very strange and slightly discomforting, that back when I was her age, I felt the same way. I have to wonder what the future will bring.
In contrast to “This is America”, “Electric Barbarella” at least seems to be the epitome of the throwaway 1990s culture. Bright colors, animated graphics, shallow, plastic and pretty. It is hard to see past the facade…and I admit that I just can’t seem to find what the real message is, if in fact there is anything going on there to be seen. My question to you is simple – what do you think the band was really trying to convey? Do you like the video or the message, and does it still have a place in 2018 amidst #MeToo?
I feel free! Summer may now begin! Now that the graduation festivities are over and I have another high school graduate on my hands, I’m ready.
It felt really good to see Gavin cross the stage and get his diploma on Saturday, and I’m really thankful that most of my family was there to see it, including my brother-in-law, who spent quite a bit of time in the hospital recently. He’s doing really well though, and we have great hopes that he’ll receive the bone marrow transplant he needs in the coming months. Until then, we treasure whatever time we have together.
Next on the summer “fun” list is Gavin’s 18th birthday, and then 4th of July, which is my favorite holiday, and then I pick Amanda up from the airport for an extended weekend of fun and road tripping to the bay area. I’m excited to see the shows, but I’m also really looking forward to not being in a hurry to get from one place to the next. We are leaving early enough to have time to ourselves, and the same holds true for on the way home. I am hoping it will feel like a real getaway rather than a race, even though the two shows are GA. We may be waiting in line, but hopefully we will be amongst friends and have a good time chatting the weekend away. I’m not going to think much beyond that because I want to savor every moment.
So, for today – I have a moment in history to think about. On this date in 1997, filming for video for “Electric Barbarella” was completed.
I never really fell in love with this video, and I think it’s one of the pieces that really tends to stir up a fair amount of controversy amongst fans. The woman is a robot, looks an awful lot like Barbie, and the song lyrics are enough to make you wonder just what is meant by the song. Is it all just for fun, or is there another message?
I enjoy setting up the question of the day on this blog because I like doing the polls myself and I learn from them. This week, I noticed an interesting result. As probably most of you know we have been asking about video preferences. While we had asked this question before, we haven’t done so since the most recent videos from Paper Gods came out. Generally, I feel like I have a sense of which videos Duranies prefer. For example, I expect New Moon on Monday to be popular based on previous surveys, word of mouth, etc. Earlier this week, I asked which video people preferred between Sunrise and Electric Barbarella, Interestingly enough, Electric Barbarella won by a LOT. In fact, more people voted in that poll than the rest of the week’s combined. What’s up with that and which video do I prefer and why?
Do Duranies really prefer the video for Electric Barbarella over the video for Sunrise? I’m not really sure despite the result of the poll. Obviously, the verdict was decided by the people who voted and not all Duranies vote on this site. If I asked again, I wonder if I would get the same result. What if I asked in a different way or with different fans? What if I went to Facebook groups and asked or busted out the question on message boards? Anyway, I have to wonder why we had so many more votes that day and why for Electric Barbarella.
Let’s take a moment to watch that video before I add my thoughts about this video:
All right, I’m just going to say it. I don’t like this video. I might even go so far as to say that I really dislike it. It is definitely one of my least favorite Duran Duran videos. (Don’t send hate mail. I can be a fan and not like one video.) I won’t lie. It isn’t even a favorite song of mine. While I appreciated the connection to Barbarella and to the band’s history, it isn’t enough for me. Some of you might say that my dislike for both the song and video probably has something to do with the lack of John Taylor. I’m sure that you might be somewhat right. That said, I like Out of my Mind (the song mostly) and that doesn’t have John.
While the song doesn’t cut it for me, the video is WAY worse. If this was the only video that I saw from Duran, I would not be a fan. First of all, the video is too predictable. It feels to me that it is follows the song too precisely. The viewer isn’t forced to think or ponder anything as it is all spelled out. I’m also not a fan of the premise. Here’s a “woman” that can be bought and then directed to do whatever via a remote control. Of course, I realize that it is a “robot”. Still, the message is too close to objectification of women and that makes me uncomfortable. Some of you might be pointing out that Duran often uses women in their videos. That’s true. I don’t find most of those women to be seen as objects. The woman of Rio, for example, holds the power over the guys. Even the women of the Chauffeur aren’t objects. One might even argue that they don’t need men at all. Some might say that the models of Girls on Film show how awful models in real life can be treated. I think the use of women and how they are shown can be explained, for the most part, in their videos except for Electric Barbarella.
Sunrise is very different. Let’s watch that video to compare:
As you might imagine, I really like this one. I don’t know that I would say that it is one of my ultimate favorites but I enjoy the heck out of it. I love that the focus is the band. It tells the story of each member traveling to come back together. The storyline is not obvious but fits not only the song but what was happening with the band at the time. Yes, I also appreciate that it featured the Fab Five, too. It wasn’t just Simon, Nick and Warren like Electric Barbarella. It also captures a part of the band’s history with the reunion.
I have a few questions remaining. First, am I the only one who likes the Sunrise video over Electric Barbarella? Am I the only one who finds the video for Electric Barbarella a little distasteful? Then, if I am not the only one who prefers Sunrise, what do you make of the vote showing a vast majority favoring the other? I guess one thing is true. The Duran Duran fan community never ceases to amaze me or make me think.