So, as discussed in Part 1 of this series, it’s clear that the video for “Ayo Technology” features high-tech surveillance as a method to voyeuristically monitor and manipulate not only the images of women, but their actions and reactions as well. At the click of a button or stroke of an image, the women perform the acts desired by the protagonists (Timbaland, Justin Timberlake, and 50 Cent). Through this process, the technology itself is fetishized. Recording devices, like camera phones, are prominently featured, as are the means of organizing these images (Timbaland’s holographic touch screen, for example). The protagonists are granted their power because of their superior technology, which allows them to see without being seen.
The ostensible meaning of the lyrics, however, is quite different. It is curious, for instance, that the chorus actually maintains that Justin (with the others) is actually tired of using technology, and wishes the addressed, female “you” to be “right in front” of him. At first glance, it could be that Justin is pining away for some “good old-fashioned stalking”- that is, it’s not enough to view from a distance through an image- he wants the up close and personal visual contact that only is possible without a piece of technology mediating between him and the desired object.
An added dimension is revealed, though, when one considers that the song was originally supposed to be called “Ayo Pornography,” then changed to avoid controversy and increases the chances of radio/television play (apparently, as long as misogyny and objectification is thinly veiled, it’s ok). So the protagonists are actually tired of using pornography; although the ready-and-willing pornographic woman is described and idealized by 50 Cent in the verses, she is rejected in favor of real sexual encounter in the choruses. On some level, there seems to be an acknowledgment that that woman, the one you find in most pornography, is just imaginary, that is, she is just an image. And the image itself is not stable; the women tremble Matrix-like, as if they are about to blink out of existence entirely. The technology is simultaneously fetishized and rejected as the ideal means of sexual contact.
What we also shouldn’t forget in all this discussion is the viewer/listener of this video. The viewer of the video is also made privy to the sexualized images of the women in the video and witnesses the use of technology to control and manipulate them. However, the viewer also observes the observers- the concept of the video, which would have you believe that the men can see without being seen, is undermined by the images of 50 Cent and his cohorts, which are placed in the same package as the others and distributed widely through technology as well. The images of 50 Cent, Justin Timberlake, and Timbaland are created, reproduced, and distributed far more often than any images of the women they hired for the video (a google search for any of these artists, for example, is bound to be much more successful than one for a bunch of mostly anonymous, not famous video girls). And these images of the artists are made available to practically anyone through mass media, to viewers who may of any gender or sexual orientation. Practically speaking, if anyone is sitting on someone’s lap, it’s most likely an image of Justin Timberlake on your laptop. So, despite the contradictory and/or violent messages about surveillance of female bodies being sent out by the video (which are definitely, blatantly there), the viewer (be it he, she, or it) is granted power through the very act of viewing the video.
It is up to the viewer whether or not to continue to consume the product by watching the video. And even for the woman who gets “tired of using technology” and hearing about men talking once again about their sexual fantasies and exploits (count me in), there’s always the possibility of closing the curtains and curling up with a good book.