Sunday 18 March 2018

Sex sells — it’s the oldest trick in the book. The sad part is that Taylor Swift doesn’t need the cash

Modern life

Taylor Swift in her new video
Taylor Swift in her new video

Rosemary Mac Cabe

It's the eve of the release of Taylor Swift's sixth studio album, Reputation (it drops on November 10), and in the tradition of drumming up some publicity for the countdown, Swift has shared the trailer for the video for the second single (do keep up), 'Ready For It'.

The teaser shows a naked-looking Swifty doing her best cyborg impression, amid bright blue lights and rather confusing graphics.

It appears to be an ode to, oddly, the Scarlett Johansson-fronted film remake of Ghost In The Shell, which flopped commercially and came under fire for whitewashing; Johansson, who is a white American, played Major, a cyber-enhanced Asian woman.

As controversies go, this is one Swift would do well to steer clear of, having previously come under fire for cultural appropriation of black women in her 'Shake It Off' video, not to mention the fetishisation of racism in her "African colonial fantasy" video for 'Wildest Dreams'.

"I find it relatively easy to keep my clothes on," she said in a 2014 interview with Glamour magazine. "I don't really feel like taking them off. It's not an urge I have."

Is it really that shocking that Swift has, on this front at least, changed her mind? As the youngest woman on Forbes' Rich List, valued at $280 million, one of the world's foremost entertainers, and one of the most powerful women in the music industry, Swift has the freedom to be fickle.

Without structural, financial or economic constraints, she doesn't have to choose whether she is the sweetheart or the siren - she can be both virgin and whore, or neither, if she so chooses.

It's not the roll-back that really matters - after all, show me a 20-something who hasn't changed their mind in the past six months and I'll show you a liar - but, as choices go, this one is, at best, disappointing.

As far as Taylor Swift's feminist credentials are concerned, 2017 has been a standout year. Who could forget her time in court, defending herself against accusations from David Mueller, a former DJ whom Swift alleged groped her backstage after a 2013 concert, and who, for his part, claimed that Swift's team had deliberately and vindictively ruined his career? (She was awarded a symbolic $1 in damages - after all, she really didn't need the money.)

The court case in and of itself was symbolic. It was Swift showing women everywhere that men do not have the right to touch them. It was Swift showing men everywhere that she is not ashamed of her sexuality (but that they should be ashamed of their bad decisions). It was Swift answering questions bravely and smartly, defending her right to, well, defend herself and, in the process, showing women everywhere that they, too, have that right.

Against that backdrop, it could be argued Taylor's nude form is a symbol of empowerment too - her body is hers, she can do what she wants with it. But there is nothing new in seeing a woman's naked body on screen, there is nothing revolutionary, empowering or feminist about using female sexuality as a commodity.

It's the oldest trick in the book - sex sells. The sad part is, Swift doesn't need the money - this is yet another symbolic gesture. Swift is sexy. Swift is desirable. Swift is more than the sum of her feminism and her rebellion and her smart mouth. Swift is a woman and we should view her as one - nude and sexualised, above all else.

Of course, it doesn't matter if it's simply a cyborg suit or a trick of the light. The effect is still the same. The question isn't whether or not Taylor Swift is truly naked; if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, does it really matter if it's just Taylor Swift in a duck costume?

For a generation of young women, 2017 was the year of Wonder Woman. It was the year after the all-female Ghostbusters reboot; it was the year Swift won her case against a man who touched her - who sexualised her - against her will. But none of that matters if our feminist heroes believe that selling their naked bodies - for art, for "empowerment" or for record sales - is the right choice to make. After all, if we're still buying the lie that commodifying our sexuality is empowering, how far can we possibly have come? And how will we ever get to our destination?

Irish Independent

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