Friday, March 18, 2005

Nova is a pimp. Everyone is a ho

I have been following with interest a promotion by Melbourne radio station Nova 100, called Pimp Up Your Life. The premise is that an online car sales company is giving away a 1981 Chrysler Valiant that has been "pimped up" with a new paint job, interior and accessories, much in the style of the US TV show Pimp My Ride. I mentioned this to Glen, and we are now thinking of co-writing a paper on that show for a new book on reality TV. Glen will discuss the car part, and I will concentrate on the aesthetic of pimpin' and the show's interlinkage with hip hop.

The Nova promotion culminates tonight in the "Pimp Party". People who have won tickets from Nova will dress up as pimps and hos and descend upon The Next Blue nightclub, where, fittingly enough, people go to ordinary club nights dressed up as pimps and hos. Some Australian R&B artists will perform and the car will be given away. They have probably given it away by now; I haven't been listening to the radio.

I recently had a paper published in Continuum which dealt in part with the African American notion of pimpin' and how it might translate in Australia, where we have no precise equivalent to that culture. Here is a little of what I said:
... the uses of the black female booty within African American patriarchy impose as many constraints as they provide opportunities for self-empowerment. As Rose argues in Black Noise, “male sexist discourse often involves naming and dominating black female sexuality and sexual behaviour.” (253) Some African American rappers display an enormous distrust of the booty, seeing it as a lure to manipulate men’s desire for women’s own purposes. In “The Bomb”, Ice Cube warns men to “especially watch the ones with the big derriers [sic]”, while Bell Biv DeVoe’s “Poison” cautions them not to “trust a big butt and a smile” (Rose, Black Noise 254).

This anxiety over being ‘booty-whipped’ plays out in the pimp and ho (whore) dichotomy. The figure of the pimp has a long history in black American culture, from the macquereau (mack) of nineteenth-century New Orleans to the ghettocentric images popularised in 1970s ‘blaxploitation’ films like Superfly (1972) and The Mack (1973).* “In its most simplistic (and powerful) forms,” writes Mark Anthony Neal, “pimpin’ was a constant reminder of black patriarchy’s role in the black community, as pimps were the visible controllers and connoisseurs of black female sexuality.” (Songs 153)

Thanks to hip hop, pimpin’ looms large in contemporary youth culture. In what Neal calls the “neo-pimpin’” discourse (Songs 154), terms like “big booty ho” or "hoochie"** have come to police sexually explicit African American femininity — whether or not it is for sale. In Notorious BIG’s openly misogynist song, “Big Booty Hoes”, it is a woman’s willingness to perform graphic sexual acts on Biggie that makes her ‘deserving’ of disrespect, and therefore of the name “ho”.

More importantly, writes Neal, it is the imagery of pimpin’ that is being pimped in booty-dancing songs and music videos. Jay-Z can probably be described as the preeminent exponent of the neo-pimpin’ aesthetic. In the video for his 1999 hit, “Big Pimpin’”, women in bikinis shimmy aboard a luxury yacht in the Caribbean; while in 2003’s “Crazy in Love”, Jay-Z plays the role of limousine-riding pimp to BeyoncĂ©’s delirious, booty-wiggling ho.

* While the pimp is a figure of black hypermasculinity, the ho has a far less empowered presence in black popular music. Some of the few feminist interventions into this discourse are Marlena Shaw’s “Street Talkin’ Woman” and LaBelle’s “Lady Marmalade”. Regarding the latter, Neal argues: “Rather than a narrative about the illicit and illegitimate culture that supports prostitution in places like New Orleans … in the hands of LaBelle the song became an anthem of sexual assertion and empowerment” (“Songs” 98).

** ‘Hoochie’ or ‘coochie’ means a sexually promiscuous woman. Closer in meaning to ‘slut’ than ‘whore’, it derives from ‘hoochie coochie’, a dirty dance or even a black vernacular reference to sex (eg: Muddy Waters, “I’m Your Hoochie-Coochie Man”). It may come to English from the French “couchĂ©e” — the past tense of the same verb used in LaBelle’s famous chorus “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?”
At first, I was a little disturbed by the cavalier way that the radio station deploys cliches of pimpin' - for example the implication that hos are as much an accoutrement of the pimp as his cane, pinky ring and fur coat. You a pimp? Well, you gon' need some bitches, nigga. There seemed to be very little admission that pimpin' is still rhetorically (if not literally) a sexual economy with women's bodies as its currency, except that today I heard an announcer say that the Pimp Party would be "like Carlisle and Grey Street". (FYI: these are notorious streetwalking strips in St Kilda.)

Curiously, in Nova's view pimps and hos are equal partners. They are like stags and does, rams and ewes - just names for the male and female version of the same thing. Some of the prizes to be given away are a kind of "his and hers" thing that seems completely alien to how I understand pimpin'. No self-respecting pimp would lounge around with his ho in matching Peter Alexander robes, for example - he would wear the robe, and she would wear her booty. Later, he would wear her booty.

What had actually first grabbed my attention about this promotion was the line "This is an equal opportunity promotion." I was quite excited by the way it was inviting women to be pimps, even though that isn't at all feminist because it still maintains the pimpin' discourse. But there was something a little subversive about that I liked. It seems to have got lost along the way.

But that is really an aside. What interests me is the aesthetic of pimpin', and the use of "pimped", "pimped-up", "pimpish", etc to describe a 'look'. I haven't got time to discuss this properly now; but it is a preoccupation of mine, as is the aesthetic of bling.


Glen Fuller said...

so did the PMR dvd arrive yet?

how'd it go?

I am back online now after recent puter probs...

Mel said...

Hi Glen,
Yes it arrived, but I haven't had time to watch it yet - my time is totally chockers with freelancing, comedy festival, Is Not Magazine, etc.

Will let you know how it goes.