Fembots & Feminism in Music Videos

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All kinds of fetish exist: bondage, feet, spanking, animals, incest. Most are out in the open, but I happen to have one that’s less talked about, less understood, and sometimes considered sexist. After all, the general idea is that a man invents one or several robots to obey his commands, and happens to make them look like attractive women. The fetish shows up throughout science fiction, from highly-regarded masterpieces such as Blade Runner to mediocre but fun flicks like Cyborg II: Glass Shadow, which happened to mark my immersion in the fetish. Not only did I look up to Angelina Jolie, but something about the idea of being a robot excited me, in the same kind of way that boys did.

While plenty of men fantasize about having a robot slave, I’ve only met a handful of girls my entire life who get aroused at the idea of being a robot. The way the fetish is depicted in most media reinforces the idea that robots are primarily a man’s fetish. Look at any TV commercial or music video, and you’ll see women in the kind of role featured in this recent video called “All Correct.”

I don’t know if this band is using satire or not, but I can’t ignore the sexist tropes here: A bunch of slick guys find an unconscious girl in the desert. They stuff her in the trunk of their car. They pamper her until she “malfunctions” and starts misbehaving, a sequence which includes a jealous rampage against other attractive females. Once she starts beating up the men, one of them knocks her out with baseball bat, and after a chest bump another one undresses the girl and rips her circuits out.

I’ve had plenty of fantasies like this myself, but let’s stop and think about this a moment. I’m a grownup who knows that what turns me on isn’t a blueprint for how to conduct a workplace, a meeting, or set of laws. It doesn’t arouse me to think about Republicans programming all women to accept a national ban on reproductive rights. But what do these guys and their video director have, a fetish? Are they technosexuals like me, or just looking for an excuse to hit a girl with a bat? Is it appropriate to use a fetish in order to justify such extreme acts of violence toward women? After all, this video isn’t something you have to pay for on Pornhub.com, something that requires at least some knowledge that what you’re watching is sexual; it’s for wider public consumption. The fact that this video has more than 5 million views concerns me. Imagine all the adolescent guys watching this kind of violence normalized. Think about all the 14-year-old girls watching this as they learn how to express their sexuality. They only see girls depicted here as objects of envy by each other, or as objects that must be destroyed if they can’t be controlled. What are they being taught?

On the off chance that this video serves as some kind of dark satire, I wonder if that’s how kids will see it–as misdirected critique. Because I can assure you, up to 25 percent of my college students often mistake The Onion articles for real news.

It’s fine to have dark fetishes, and they don’t have to follow politically correct guidelines. However, they’re also for adults who have explored and reflected on their sexuality. I wish more people understood this point.

The fembot fetish has been handled with varying degrees of success by different musicians for more than two decades now. I’d like to go through some of my favorites. Any of these would be a healthier immersion into my world:

1. Hungry, David Navarro

Storyline: The ever-beautiful Navarro plays an artist and scientist devoted to creating the perfect robotic companion for himself. He comes closer than ever when he makes a fembot portrayed by Carmen Electra. Although she ultimately trips and busts open her head (spoilers, sorry), let’s focus on thematic concepts. This video plays on the Pygmalion myth, as do many of the better fembot-inspired videos. Say what you will about Navarro, but you have to admire his intelligence and tenacity. He also treats his creations with extreme respect and care. He loves them. He takes them out do dinner and gives them jewelry, kisses them gently before love-making. Even when they break, he cherishes them. I’m generally okay with what happens here, and this video illustrates my ideal night of role-playing.

2. The World Is Not Enough, Garbage

Shirley Manson remains one of my all-time favorite musicians. She turned me on to alternative music in the 90s, and I still listen to her first album routinely. This video presents a more subversive interpretation of Pygmalion. Manson is a dangerous, malcontent robot designed by evil scientists to carry out some form of terrorist attack. Even the men who made her show a little fear when she’s up and walking around. Manson indulges technosexuals a little , but there’s a move toward a pointed critique of technology and its misuse.

3. Electric Barbarella, Duran Duran.

This one scores high because the model is beautiful, and she has the best mechanical walk and doll face I’ve ever seen. I can’t imagine how much practice and training that took. Kudos to her! Meanwhile, the storyline is borderline sexist. Duran Duran purchase her, carry her home wrapped in plastic, and then use her battery all up on a combination of dates and chores. She even has a remote control. Still, the video is up front about its purpose, and the aesthetics go a long way to make up for what it may miss on the gender equality front.

4. Technology, Destructo

This video impressed me with its self-awareness. It begins with a girl confessing her true nature to a lover who–once he knows she’s a robot–abuses and neglects her, cheats on her, and then abandons her in the most callous way. The video sends a clear message that some jerks are simply looking for an excuse to treat people as things. Even if the female protagonist is technically a robot, she obviously shows emotions that are disregarded because they aren’t “human” enough. And for what? She was honest with him, and that’s the thanks she gets? We see everything from the fembot’s perspective here. This one gets to me a little because, in some ways, it feels like the story of my life until recently. Who hasn’t felt like they were made just to please other people, and neglected when they can’t satisfy all the expectations heaped on them? Overall, a moving little video.

5. Plug It In, Basement Jaxx

The story is simple. Two bumbling security guards take advantage of their jobs at a fembot manufacturing plant to have some fun, but whoops they misuse the controls and send the girls into a tizzy. They overheat and catch fire. The girls look great and in their stereotyped costumes: bride, tennis wife, stripper cop. These guys aren’t even trying to hide what’s going on. There’s no violence, just idiocy. We see this trope pretty often in fembot fetish material: amazing girl broken by idiot who doesn’t read the instruction manual. Wait, I think that’s happened to me in real life…

I could go on down the list of 40 or 50 videos featuring fembots, but they tend to fall into the categories above. I’ve seen almost all of them, and despite their depth or quality, they usually steer clear of stuffing girls in trunks and hitting them with bats. What gives? Am I turning into a prude?

 

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