TW for rape culture and graphic depiction of rape threat
If you listen to pop radio, odds are you’ve heard Turn Down for What (TDFW) by Lil Jon and DJ Snake. I’ve heard it before, but only recently had the misfortune of watching the music video. It was an innocent click—I was browsing YouTube and there it was. I guess most people simply see it as a somewhat bizarre electronic dance music video, aimed to shock the viewer. What I saw was an appalling and offensive embodiment of rape culture.
It begins with a man crashing himself groin first into a woman’s apartment. Maybe he has just heard a good beat and needed to break some walls, or maybe he had been bitten by a boner werewolf and it’s a full moon. We may never know.
He begins humping everything in her apartment, much to her horror. She scrambles out of the way and tries to call the police, but he breaks her phone. With his penis.
She begins to throw things at him, which he also breaks against his genitals. Looking determined, she hits him with a baseball bat but to no avail. Then, with a thrust of his pelvis to the air, he blows off all her clothes except her underwear. Another air thrust with his butt, and she’s knocked back to the wall and suddenly wearing a cute crop top. And eureka! She’s suddenly infected with the man’s humping disease! She’s smiling! She’s dancing! It’s OK now because she likes it!
What the fuck.
This music video portrays a man breaking into a woman’s apartment and making motions in a graphically sexual manner in her direction, despite her efforts to get him to leave. And then, of course, disappearing her clothes with his magical dick powers. In real life, we’d all take this as a threat of rape.
“But it’s not real life!” you protest, “so what’s the problem?”
Turn Down for What models aggressively poor consent practices, which millions of people see, especially young people. Last time I looked, the video had 97,331,057 views. To me, the director of the video is saying “don’t worry, woman who is terrified! I bet if you just go with the flow and loosen up, you’ll like what this guy is doing and join in!” Does this not sound rapey to you??
Only here in music video land, the woman does end up joining in the humpy fun and then the video ends in a party. Is this what we should be teaching our teenagers about consent? That if you terrify a person long enough and remove their clothes against their will, it’ll eventually be cool with them?
College Humor posted a video of TDFW without music. Several websites including Buzzfeed, and Time’s viral newsfeed, and The Vine picked it up. Buzzfeed declared it “awesome and insane.” Time and The Vine called it “weird,” “surreal,” and “horrifying,” but still treat it more like a joke than anything else. Popular websites such as these increase viewership to the video without calling out how fucked up it is. That promotion, that silence, it feeds into rape culture almost as much as the video itself.
One internet article on oPENionated defends the video and goes so far as to call it progressive.
The beauty of “Turn Down for What” is that it challenges the norms that society has established. It offers such a sharp contrast to what you would normally expect that it can be rather jarring. For instance, Asian men are usually depicted as nerdy, submissive, and asexual among other stereotypes. Asians are the model minority who don’t cause trouble. Not the case in this video — with Daniel Kwan smashing through everything with his wang.
“Turn Down for What” depicts race and sexuality in such unconventional ways that you can’t help but to be shocked by it. You expect T&A from an EDM music video, but not like this. Let’s be honest here — white girls and EDM go hand in hand. What we get instead is an Indian girl butt-smashing some Asian guy’s face. Moreover, we are treated with the bouncing breasts of an older, heavyset woman. I’m pretty sure this isn’t what the marketing gurus meant when they said sex sells. It is almost as if “Turn Down for What” is rejecting the established social standards on beauty and sexuality. Instead of depicting the glamorous lives of the rich and beautiful, the video shows normal people going buck wild in a dumpy looking apartment complex.
It’s true that there are a lot of racial groups that are not traditionally represented in music videos, and I think that’s great. But oPENionated is viewing things through rose colored glasses here. That older, heavyset Latina woman with the bouncing breasts? In the video, her breasts are bouncing of their own accord and smashing things, while she is looking at them, horrified and screaming. Is that really a “treat” to viewers?
I’m on board with challenging societal norms but even if that’s the goal, TDFW is promoting rape culture to do so. I never want to be the kind of activist that throws a different marginalized group under the bus just to promote my own cause. If Lil Jon and DJ Snake had a point to prove, they certainly tromped all over the concept of consent in the process.