I can’t get away from “Ayo Technology.” The song, a collaboration of top pop powers-that-be 50 Cent, Justin Timberlake, and Timbaland, has been playing on popular radio and MTV Germany for months. The track seems to be even more popular here than in the United States; the highest spot on any of the Billboard charts was number 5, while the song reached Number 1 on the “Deutsche Black Charts” and Number 3 on the “German Top 100.” I’ve been inspired to blog about it, however, not just because it’s so readily available. The first time I saw the video, I knew I would end up writing about it sometime. In short, this product contains and, indeed, combines many of the things that have occupied me throughout my encounters with pop culture: surveillance, the “male gaze,” technology, sexuality, consumption, etc.
The video has been picked up by a number of blogs (over at Feministing and Diary of An Anxious Black Woman, for instance) and, rightly, been criticized for its all-too-easy, profoundly unnuanced portrayal of male sexual fantasy enacted through invasive, possibly violent surveillance. Chris Schonberger at Popwatch describes the video concept as such: “After defrosting from their cryogenic chambers, mega-billionaires 50 Cent, Justin Timberlake, and Timbaland have established an advanced Big Brother state to help them spy on lovely ladies in futuristic lingerie.” We see 50 Cent standing on top of a building, looking down through a weapon’s scope at the object of his desire, then later inside being served by multiple women (harem fantasy, anyone?). Justin spies on a half-naked woman through his binoculars. Timbaland acts as the mastermind, orchestrating and manipulating the images of these women with his hands, selecting whichever one he wants for viewing. The intravideo images (images of video within the video) are grainy and green-tinted, as if seen through a night vision scope or filmed by an amateur-quality camera (e.g. a phone camera), to further give the impression of “raw” authenticity.
And the lyrics aren’t much better. The woman 50 describes is more than simply willing to indulge her creator’s fantasies; she’s sexually voracious. We’re told over and over again that “she wants it,” which sounds disturbingly close to the all-too-common “asking for it” justifications for rape that circulate in our society. All this while the women in the video are being, so it seems, unknowingly filmed and observed. Which suggests that it doesn’t matter how you see her (or whether she sees you back)- a woman in lingerie is always to be interpreted as “wanting it.”
What’s more-the men in the video seem to be able to affect the women they are observing without actually touching them, that is, through the very act of looking and desiring, through the image itself. 50 strokes the image of the woman while driving and she, in the car ahead, suddenly gets hot and bothered. When Justin slams his hand against the doorframe, the woman on the other side acts as if she’s just received a powerful thrust. Meanwhile, Timbaland sorts and manipulates all these images. It might be that long-distance groping is simply “in” this year.* However, as Anxious Black Woman notes, it is certainly disturbing that “hi-tech video surveillance is being ubiquitously shown as ways to capture, frame, and control the female body.”
All in all, it’s not surprising that the video comes off, as Jessica at Feministing describes it, as an “ode to stalking,” in which case it’s just another entry in the grand tradition of “Every Breath You Take” and Enrique Iglesias’ “Can’t Escape My Love.” Or perhaps, as RayT at Popwatch supposes, 50 Cent and his collaborators have created a whole new genre- “Orwellian porn.”
In any case, the video, perhaps unwittingly, pulls its influences from many sources (elements of James Bond, Minority Report, 1984, etc.) so that it is capable of producing a number of responses and readings. I’ll be continuing to talk about these different elements and readings in the following Part 2 and 3 of this series, complete with Pop Culture Post Secrets.
*I refer you to the video for Will.I.Am’s “I Got it From My Mama” or, as I call it, William James Adams’ Treatise on Beauty through Maternal Genetic Transfer