Thursday, August 20, 2015


Apparently Madame Tussaud's has created a hail storm of criticism for themselves with their new wax figure of Nicki Minaj. For those who haven't seen it yet, I'll post a pic below, and it is definitely a very sexually suggestive, even erotic pose.

Immediately, two things happened. First, a whole lot of men, and a very small number of women, started taking pictures with the statue that were of a decidedly pornographic nature. Second, Iggy Azalea took to Twitter to lambaste the display as insulting to both Minaj, women rappers, and black women in general, because Azalea's hit single obviously makes her the leading voice on both hip-hop and women's issues. Minaj herself seems to actually like the installment, for whatever that's worth.

The thing is, I'm just as feminist as the next guy, but I'd like to complicate the matter a little bit, if I may. And I don't mean that I want to play post-modern head games with the issue. On the contrary, I think that one of the problems here is that too many people on all sides of an issue like this try to take something very complicated and force it to fit their simplistic view, rather than making it appear as complicated as it is. This is not to say I'll be coming to any conclusions by the end; mostly, in fact, just asking questions to point out how complicated this situation really is.

Complication #1
What in the hell did Madame Tussaud's think was going to happen when they installed this wax figure? If you place a statue of Rocky with his gloves up and blood on his face, people are going to take pictures of themselves facing him in their best boxer poses. If you place a statue of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury pointing his finger menacingly, people are going to take pictures either cowering in front of him, shrugging with that "I didn't do it" look, or standing next to him, as if backing him up. And if you place a statue of Nicki Minaj on all fours, nearly nude, with her behind in the air as if presenting, people are going to take pictures of themselves in sexual poses with it. Like this guy.

And I do get all of the rape implications involved, as well as the image presented of the black woman as object or plaything or purely sexual being. It is just a statue, but it some ways it is also the embodiment of the rape fantasy of the unresisting woman. In some ways, images and objects and movies like this perpetuate the idea that women, and especially black women, can be violated without repercussions. I get it. And I also get the apology from Tussaud's, but again, what other outcome could they have envisioned?

Complication #2
There is another question that has to be asked, as horrible as it may sound at first. That is, did Madame Tussaud's get it right? Specifically, does this statue match the public persona that Nicki Minaj herself has created? If you do make a statue of someone, it should be made to capture their most iconic persona or their most popular role. So, to return to the previous examples, if you make a statue of Sylvester Stallone, you don't make one representing his role as the beleaguered Sgt. Joe Bomowski in Stop or My Mom a Will Shoot. You put him in the iconic USA trunks and red gloves as Rocky. If you want a statue of Sam Jackson, you don't put him in boxers and a white ribbed undershirt, getting whacked in Goodfellas. You go with Nick Fury. And apparently, if you make a statue of Nicki Minaj, you make it look like this.

Or this.

Or this.

Or this.

Enough said. Wait. I was making some kind of point just then. Oh, yeah, right, right, right.
But why not make a statue of her standing up holding a mic? This is what Azalea asks. I could write an entire post about my opinion on Minaj's lyrical skills, but suffice it to say she's no Lauryn Hill. Or Queen Latifah. Or Foxy Brown. I'm not even sure she's a Monie Love. The question is not really why Tussaud's didn't depict her holding a mic instead of on all fours. The question is, which pose most accurately captures the essence of her public persona? Is Minaj primarily a rapper? Or is she primarily a sex symbol?

Complication #3
If I accept the premise that the statue represents Tussaud's accurate depiction of Minaj's public persona, the way she presents herself to the public, and I also accept that Tussaud's should have known that this statue would not only degrade Nicki Minaj and black women, but also incite abuse and violation, then wouldn't I also have to accept the conclusion that the same could be said about Minaj herself? Can any of these accusations also be directed at her? Does her public persona, like the Tussaud's statue, degrade and possibly endanger black women with the stereotype and myth it perpetuates? For the record, Minaj has the right to speak, rap, dance, and pose however she wants. It is her body after all. However, don't we all also have the right to critique her speech, lyrics, choreography, and poses? I don't mean "judge," although you could call it that, if you mean "to form and utter opinions about the wisdom, value, and morality of certain actions." Again, if Madame Tussaud's is wrong for accurately depicting Minaj in exactly the same way she depicts herself, then is Minaj wrong for depicting herself that way in the first place?

Complication #4
This one may be a little meta, and may sound like some kind of crackpot conspiracy theory, but bear with me. The next question that comes to mind is this: if we accept the conclusion that Minaj's presentation of herself is just as problematic and destructive as the Tussaud's statue, and some criticism should be directed at her as well, then who else is to blame? How much control does Minaj have over her public persona. In my opinion, she is absolutely responsible for her own public image. After all, no one is forcing her to take those suggestive pictures or speak those whack lyrics. However, there's force, and then there's coercion. If we didn't consume those images and lyrics as voraciously as we do, there wouldn't be much market for them, and no incentive for her to present this way. To complicate even further, is it possible that within the industry there are forces that push these images of black women forward, and hold back other, possibly more positive, constructive, and multi-dimensional ones? I don't have any hard-core (no pun intended) evidence of this, but the small number of female rappers promoted, coupled with the singular, monolithic nature of the current field of label-backed female rappers, is definitely circumstantial evidence, at least.

Again, my goal here is not to make some definitive statement about the morals involved here, although I do have opinions on the matter, nor to bash Minaj as a person, but to try to think of the thing from multiple angles, in all of its complexity. And I'm sure there's many angles I've missed, which is what comments sections are for. What I do want to state definitively is that I want to raise my daughters to protect themselves, their bodies and minds and hearts and images. I want to raise them to love themselves, and love all the parts of themselves, including but not limited to their bodies. I want to raise them to understand the power that they have to combat, or perpetuate, or create perceptions of women everywhere. And that is growing increasingly difficult, and not just because of a wax statue that some guy molested.