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Christina Aguilera: "Dirrty" or "Beautiful"?

Part One: "Dirrty"

essay by Matthew Webber

November 1, 2002

OhmyGod!!! Like, Christina Aguilera is totally growing up!!! The girlchild who sang, "If you wanna be with me… I'm a genie in a bottle, babe, better rub me the right way," has now matured into the woman who sings, "I wanna get dirty. Let's get dirty." See, because of the confessional nature of these and her other new lyrics (some of which she actually co-wrote!!!), she decided to call her new album Stripped, but not for any sexual, um, connotations (?) or anything, hee hee. To give herself instant hip-hop credibility, she features rapper Redman on her current hit single, "Dirrty." To give herself credibility as a Serious Artist, she strips away anything (pants, skirts, chaps) that might conceal her upper thighs as she aims the crotch of her orange panties at every pair of agog male eyes, gazing at Christina as she writhes, shakes, and gyrates like a go-go dancer with an epileptic vulva; as she boxes a woman in a "bring out the Gimp"-style mask; as she cleans her dirty breasts in the shower with her pals, the cleanliness of which makes a mockery of godliness.

Memorizing Christina's orange V, Maxim-reading males ignore the other actors in the video, who are likewise gazing at Christina, her crotch, her cleavage. According to an October 23, 2002, article, "How Dirty is 'Dirrty'? X-Posing the Kinks in X-Tina's Video," which gives a second-by-second description of the video's every deviance (including "plushies," people who wear animal mascot costumes for arousal), the video is naughty enough to have gotten itself banned in Thailand, primarily because of the Thai-language signs in the background that advertise underage prostitutes.

If Santa Claus has seen the video, she's made his twice-checked list.

The video is the naughtiest I think I've ever seen, and that includes last year's "Lady Marmalade" burlesque show.

Similarly to how I feel about car crashes, I both have to and hate to watch this video. Honestly, it turns me off. It turns me off because Christina assumes I'll be turned on, because she takes away my own choice to gaze at her or not. Even if I don't want to ogle a woman, Christina's provocative dances compel me to do nothing but. As if I'm in a strip club, I'm trapped between thighs and I can't turn my head. As attractive as she is trying to make herself appear, she's trying too hard, is too obvious, too sad. She has stripped away one of the sexiest aspects of any beautiful woman: the mystery.

I usually feel dirty after watching the video, like I need to jump in the shower to cleanse away the scenes of Christina in the shower. (She's clothed, but scantily, and of course she's wet.) I won't lie and say that some of the racier parts of the video (like, all of it) don't appeal to a few of my basest and most prurient interests, but my excitement wilts when I remember how remotely I last received the sacrament of Reconciliation. (It's my whole Catholic guilt complex thing.) Regarding this svelte ingenue, I once might have made the politically incorrect joke of, "Go eat a cheeseburger!" Now, I want to shout at her, "Cover yourself with a bathrobe or something!" Or even, "I'll pray for you!" What I feel most is guilt - and sorry for her. If making a soft-core porn film is what a woman in contemporary America believes she needs to do to be recognized as grown-up, then I sincerely hope I never have a daughter. I wonder what Christina's parents are thinking.

I wonder if being a man makes me at all complicit in Christina's sluttification. Is this what we really want?

I don't buy Christina's facile justifications of her new persona. I don't see anything liberating about a woman who becomes her own bathroom epithet (which is really what Eminem's and Fred Durst's accusations amounted to). Although she might be attempting to assert her independence as a woman, she reveals her lack of options in a male-dominated music industry and world. She transforms herself into a vision of raw male desire, trapped like a headlighted deer in the fixed gazes of men.

Okay, so Christina wants her fans to view her as a woman, instead of as the child star of before. Fine. So she chooses to display more of her body, a right she didn't have as a minor, and sing lyrics which she, not professional songwriters, penned. All right. But the questions must arise, how much choice does Christina really have? How much of her decision truly belongs to her? Really, can there be any question that her vixen self-image coincides with one of the options from which a horny teenage boy would choose (among other available archetypes of hot nurses, lifeguards, and Catholic schoolgirls)? Why does she resemble a heavy metal or rap video ho? Can anyone really view her new, self-aware skank persona as freedom - or as anything other than a ploy to sell CDs?

While Christina might have "chosen" her "independent" slutty self; her male video director (David LaChapelle), song producer (Rockwilder), and high-ranking record label executives did nothing to discourage her to embrace her inner hussy. They've accepted it with open arms - on the condition of her open legs. Ain't she a "woman"? Ain't she no longer a "girl"? Is "what a girl wants, what a girl needs" - as she herself once sang - the right to adhere to what some men most like to see? Why is her definition of self so dependent on what a boy wants?

Compelled by music critics and her own ego to mature, Christina has chosen as her representation the only one available. Since she doesn't play an instrument, she can't define herself in the manner of a Jewel- or a Melissa Etheridge-type singer/songwriter. Since she has a powerful voice; and since she is lithe, young, and with breasts; she can define herself as singing sexpot, which she does. Which she must. There are no other options available to her as a performer in the music industry.

Since she does not play an instrument, she and her handlers must justify her presence in a video in some other way. Simply, obviously, she gets to appear in videos because men wish to see her in them. Our culture has decreed that she wouldn't appear in videos otherwise. Really. I dare you to watch MTV's Total Request Live and spot even one unattractive female. Watch the program every day for a year and I bet you will never see one. No matter how angelic her voice, there is little precedent for a fat and ugly female to self herself on MTV. But since Christina's sexy, tiny body has been interpreted by the music industry as profitable, her lack of guitar playing is forgiven, nay, encouraged. Because she looks hot. Because she looks so "dirrty." Christina is choosing as her womanly image the womanly image that the hegemonies of the music industry and the culture at large have constructed as being desirable for a woman singer. (Choosing otherwise, she knows, is a career death wish.) So she wasn't born "dirrty," but, rather, became it; compelled by the culture, she had no other recourse.

I wish she had chosen to be nice. I wish she had chosen to showcase her beautiful voice.

If Christina really did intend to portray herself as a mature non-girl, she succeeded - but only for males whose Ideal Woman is one who stars in girl-on-girl porn. She obscures any adult (grown up and finding her own voice) messages with her adult (sold in black wrappers) content, substituting what could have been seen as a newfound confidence regarding her body image for a striptease and a crotch shot whose value is less than a john's dollar bill. Nobody pays her for the privilege of her virtual lap dance; rather, her record label paid video director David LaChapelle thousands of dollars to film and edit it. Like a prostitute who buys herself new makeup or a haircut before turning a trick, Christina bought an image to turn around and sell. She wants to be the hooker with a record of gold. And she is.

Whereas Christina could have used her "Dirrty" video to question her girlish image through some creative conceptual framing or narration, she simply displays herself not as a woman but as any old misogynistic rocker's spectacle. She's Tawny Kitaen in a Whitesnake video humping a car. She's a girl in a bikini on whom Dr. Dre pours champagne. If Christina truly believes she's presenting a more womanly image, then a woman is nothing but a nocturnal emission-giver. A woman is nothing but a dancing, "dirrty" doll. Really, the only thing that separates her from one of Aerosmith's Alicia Silverstone archetypes is a few more minutes of screen time and many more hangers-on gazing at her ass.

She is woman; hear her acquiesce.

Or read her lips because you've muted her song.

Let's change the channel. I wanna change the channel.

Continue on to part two of this article.

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