As a slightly younger person, I used to believe that everything that was popular had merit; that if someone could make music, or write a book, or portray a certain persona, that there must be something extraordinary about that person, and that even if they didn’t fit my personal tastes, they must have some kind of talent or intelligence exponential to my own. The more I learn about popular culture, the more I learn this is not true, and increasingly so in the age of the Internet and DIY celebrity.
But this isn’t entirely the fault of our talentless idols; the onus for their acclaim rests largely with us more humble folk, the unquestioning masses that are desperate to idolise. We’re gagging for it; to put someone, anyone, up on this pedestal. Maybe because in our Warholian reality, any one of those shiny super stars could be you or me. Or maybe, just maybe, there are those of us out there who are as guileless to genuinely believe that some people are just better because there are cameras on them.
And hence begins my rant about Lana Del Rey and her most offensive video to date, the almost unbelievably idiotic “Ride”.
Lana Del Rey embodies every socially instritutionalised attitude towards women (by both women and men) that I find absolutely and unequivocally repulsive. It’s a poor, irresponsible standard for idols of her stature to set, and it makes me blind with rage. And I feel like I need to be vocal about it because every time this misguided young woman comes out with a video that other young women swoon over, deifying Lana, posting photos of her dead doe eyes across social media and romanticizing her image, it feels like everything I’ve ever wanted for women of my generation, and for the generations that will survive us, is slipping away.
What’s more, it bothers me that there’s very little conversation surrounding such sinister portayals of women by women. Of course, everyone was up in arms when Kanye West publicly called his girlfriend a “bitch”, and rightly so. The discourse surrounding the gaffe even prompted Kanye to (predictably) take to his Twitter to (unpredictably) philosophize that maybe he was wrong using such anachronistic vernacular to describe a woman. When Lana shows an equally sexist outpouring however, by comparison, there’s relative silence. And this is more dangerous; the assumption that just because a woman does it, it can’t actually be detrimental to women.
Lana Del Rey’s “Ride”, from what I can tell, is a story in three parts:
1. A young woman with a severe mental illness, whose favorite book is On The Road and who “identifies” with Rolling Stones/heroin addict era Marianne Faithfull, “lights out for the territory” because of some grave injustice she’s faced in her life or maybe just because of her sexy, unchained, unpredictability;
2. On her journey, she has sex with a bunch of men who are all at least twice her age, many of whom are in bike gangs or have some violent propensity. It’s unclear as to whether or not she is actually being a prostitute (but she is), regardless of which, she appears to have a heart of gold;
3. In the end, she engages in some hipster racism, wearing a Native American headdress for no discernable reason while destroying things in the desert, finally declaring herself “wild” and “free”, voiced over one particularly disturbing scene of a man chasing her and grabbing her around the ankles as she scrambles away.
Right now I’m reading Chuck Klosterman‘s Fargo Rock City, and in it there’s a lot of talk of the bravado that goes hand-in-hand with rock music; the posturing, the boozing, the sex and the violence. I think that conversation applies rather pertinently to our friend Lana, who appears to have missed the “Firework”/”Run The World”/”Born This Way” empowerment train and instead has opted to glorify self destruction and patriarchy, in much the same way as (sorry Chuck) out-dated rock stars before her.
Beaten and broken, Lana makes for a romantic hero, looking flawlessly doll-like as she drinks and smokes too much; soft and innocent as she turns tricks, and disturbingly serene as a putrid old man boffs her from behind against a pinball machine. There’s also a terrifying scene in which Lana, Lolita-esque and child-like, sits inert on a old man’s knee as he brushes her hair. Why not throw in a healthy dose of pedophilia?
Lana, in short, buys into a creepy culture that’s the direct antithesis of feminine empowerment; although I feel like I need to disclaim that assertion: I call bullshit on the enforced polarity (virgin vs. whore) of women in popular culture, it’s unfair and archaic to ask women to exist as either a hero or a victim, when there’s such a broad spectrum of states of being in between. Having said that, I still believe Lana Del Rey’s “Ride” to be the biggest ass fart of a music video I have seen in a long time; I find it gratuitously offensive to women.
First and foremost, Lana attributes her only “summers” and her only fold memories to the gross old men she sells herself to. And so I ask: Why the dependence on men for happiness and fulfillment? Why men in particular? Why doesn’t Lana find the same comfort in other women? Doesn’t the absence of women intrinsically imply a. a sense of competitiveness between women or b. worse, that women don’t actually need one another at all? Moreover, why doesn’t she find any value in her own company? Why aren’t any of these men reliant on Lana? Why doesn’t she call the shots instead of being vulnerable to their every masculine whim?
What Lana is selling isn’t necessarily an untruth. Whether or not you believe she’s a prostitue in this stupefying video, we’re all guilty of trying to fill our lives with superficialities (men we should be ashamed of and drugs and alcohol) to defeat whatever absences and demons we carry around inside us. But that’s not the point; the point is that Lana is consistently glorifying and glamourising what I can only call “mental illness”. She makes destitution covetable and depression sexy as she transforms into this deeply scarred creature whose wild ways aren’t destructive but editorially cinematic and gorgeously tragic.
The video ends as it starts, with Lana’s inner monologue. She says, whimsically, ”I believe in the country America used to be. I believe in the kindness of strangers… I am fucking crazy, but I am free.” Lana is presenting herself to us as the modern Blanche DuBois, and as a contemporary incarnation, does the original no favors. Blanche’s tragedy was ultimately that she had no choice, silenced and abused by her society and those closest to her. “The country America used to be,” Blanche’s America, was dark, lonely and prejudiced by a suffocating patriarchy.
But Lana, on the other hand, has a choice. And I would have preferred it if she hadn’t chosen to glorify tragedies as consuming and ever-present as the ones addressed in her video, offering a string of men as a woman’s only solace, without an empathetic or intelligent compass to guide the narrative.