Media/Visual Literacy Art Education: Sexism in Hip-Hop Music Videos

By Chung, Sheng Kuan | Art Education, May 2007 | Go to article overview

Media/Visual Literacy Art Education: Sexism in Hip-Hop Music Videos


Chung, Sheng Kuan, Art Education


The hip-hop music video is arguably the most influential and controversial artistic expression in American pop culture today, and thanks to global media marketing, it reaches youngsters worldwide.

Media programs like hip-hop music videos are powerful aesthetic agents that inspire teenagers; thus, they have a tremendous influence on young people's identity formation, lifestyle choices, and knowledge construction which are manifested in the ways teens dress, express themselves, behave, and interact with each other. However, because of the controversies associated with sexism, racism, homophobia, and materialism often seen in hip-hop music videos, educators seem to rarely discuss or examine them in their classroom settings. The messages in hip-hop music videos, in particular, perpetuate gender stereotypes and discrimination and attempt to normalize unequal social behavior under the label of art. Contemporary art educators advocate the importance of fostering media/visual literacy in children through critically examining discursive cultural and aesthetic sites in the popular media (Chung, 2005; Duncum, 2001; Freedman, 1994; Taylor & Ballengee-Morris, 2003). In concert with art education's goal of fostering critical media/visual literacy in future citizens, this article explores issues of sexism in hip-hop music videos and proposes ways to engage high school students in deconstructing their popular visual culture. It provides art teachers with critical tools For educating their young adults about how hip-hop culture discursively glorifies sexist portrayals in the name of art and how it presents sexism as an acceptable, normalized social practice.

The success of the media industry largely depends on sponsorship by commercial advertising and innovative, if not questionable, programs that sustain viewers' interest and curiosity. For people living in the electronic age, the media is the primary source of aesthetic experience and knowledge acquisition through which they learn about themselves and the world. It is not surprising that the issues people talk about, the things they use, or the lifestyles they choose are greatly influenced by what they see on television, the Internet, commercial billboards, and in newspapers and magazines. Media images in contemporary visual culture are colored by commercial interests and are embedded with a certain set of values, beliefs, and attitudes that influence viewers' everyday choices and decisions. For instance, a hip-hop music video, whether viewed on television or the Internet, is an artistic multimedia presentation produced not merely to intensify viewers' senses and persuade them to make purchases or consume products, but also to communicate feelings, emotions, and ideas that eventually influence their perceptions and attitudes towards others and society.

Popularity/Influence

Hip-hop culture consists primarily of break-dance, graffiti, DJing1, and rapping.2 Kool Here, a Jamaican-American musician, is generally credited with originating breakbeat DJing3 and performing it for partygoers in the Bronx of New York City during the early 1970s. Several years after Kool Here's introduction, the trio group Sugar Hill Gang released its first hip-hop hit single, "Rapper's Delight," in 1979 (Wikipedia Contributors, 2005). Since then, hip-hop music has received a lot of attention and, over time, has become increasingly popular.

A television interview on CBS 60 Minutes (CBS News, 2002) featuring rap singer Jay-Z, revealed that the singer had sold over 15 million music albums, more than 80% of which were purchased by suburban teens in predominately Euro-American neighborhoods. The singer claimed that he was not just selling his music, but an entire hip-hop lifestyle being promoted through his clothing line, liquor business, and movie production. Time magazine confirmed that suburban Euro-Americans dominate 75% of rap music sales, and in 1998 rap music became America's most popular music genre (Parley, 1999). …

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