Sunday, June 11, 2017

Single, Bilingual & Ready to Mingle: The Good & Bad News About Pitbull's Social Change Through Music

Pitbull performing at Enrique Iglesias World Tour 2017 Ft. Pitbull, Staples Center, June 10, 2017
After seeing Pitbull last night at Staples Center in Los Angeles, I was energized, amplified and feeling the Dale!  Born to Cuban parents and making something from nothing - 50 million reportedly - Pitbull delivered one of the best performances I have seen in that venue.  To me, he ranks up with performances like Prince I've seen at Staples.  It was on point, but leaves much to discuss about his messages - from American pride to hyper-sexualization of women.  

Pitfall’s direct messages to the audience included questioning how can a country that was built by immigrants be kicking them out.  His messages, which are consistent throughout his lyrics and interviews, include living the American Dream, working hard to follow your dreams, and focusing on the now.  His positivity and encouragement to embrace the moment, despite the politics, baby mama or papa drama, and bills piling up, seemed to resonate with the audience.  He also reminded us that if you don’t know where you came from, you won’t know where you’re going, an important reminder to those on the road to success and resilience.

Mr. Worldwide reminded us despite all the politics, “there’s one thing that brings the world together - Music.”  A loud roar erupted in agreement to his pronouncement that “We are the United States of America, not Divided States.”  Pitbull encouraged everyone to stay united, despite what’s happening in politics. I couldn’t agree more with all his direct messages.  It reminded me of the concepts I taught last semester during Art and Social Change at Pacific Oaks College, of the power of music to further social movements and change, especially during political and social climates calling for them. 

Musical performers like Pitbull have the power to send these powerful messages, woven in with their music.  It was a brief civics lesson, advocacy and education, pressing up against a performance that had a different message demonstrating his “lady’s man” image, an implied message throughout the performance.  I couldn’t help notice Mr. Worldwide deliver these powerful message as he was booty slapping his back up female dancers.  Just like white performers, latin performers have provocative and R-rated scenes woven into their shows.  These sets run the risk of promoting gender bias, hyper-sexualized and demeaning images that women and girls already face in the media. And that can continue to make for a divided state of equality.  Being Latina and a dancer myself, I recognize it comes with the territory and is so widely accepted by the public and entertainment industry; it’s pretty much expected.  

I genuinely appreciate choreography, set design, and costumery - especially how on point the performance was last night.  But I’m also a confident, educated and privileged professional who can separate fact from fiction.  I question how similar entertainment messages influenced me growing up and continue to harm our youth today.  It sends the message - this is how young women should act and this is how young men should treat them. Mr. 305‘s backup dancers, with long flowing hair and thong bodysuits, pranced around in sync with stripper go-go boots and performed X-rated boots-are-made for walking moves.  They were getting bumped and grinded all night by Pitbull.  As much as Pitbull’s “American Dream” messages can influence the audience, so can the expectation of women through his artistic expression.  

Allan Johnson points out in "Privilege, Power and Difference," that "we won't get rid of racism, in other words, without doing something about sexism and classism, because the system that produces the one also produces the others and connects them."  Even more important is the need to address these issues with our children.  When it comes to youth absorbing these messages, whether it’s live, in videos or lyrics, it’s important to discuss with them what is happening, what is fact or fiction, and what are the outcomes when women are treated or act in provocative ways.  This is especially critical for those who are at-risk for being influenced by these messages, have low self-esteem, have been subjected to violence, are aggressive, or have traumatic backgrounds.  Their actions may be exacerbated by viewing the display of the treatment of women, how they should act, look, or tolerate - which last night on-stage was legs wide open, masks restricting their mouths, and acting provocative.  

Good movies and guides to address these issues with students and girls are Miss Representation and Killing Us Softly.

Do you think Pitbull has a responsibility to address these hyper-sexualized messages with his audience?  Even when it’s part of his "single, bilingual and ready to mingle" image?