On Nicki Minaj, Sexuality & Media Literacy
Nicki Minaj is not the first female artist to use her sexuality as a platform for success and she certainly won’t be the last. This post isn’t intended to blast her, I’m actually a fan. I think her lyricism is clever and playful with a subversive streak. She’s hot. She’s smart. She knows exactly what she’s doing.
My question is, do her young female fans know it too?
Do they understand that her persona is a construct designed to provoke, manipulate and tantalize? Do her sixteen year old female fans get that she is intentionally toying with gender rules, mocking the sexual contradictions that impact all women at work, home and in the streets?
Nicki Minaj is aware of what she is doing and (at least a few years ago) was concerned that perhaps her choices were negatively impacting young people:
“I have to curb the way I talk because I realize now people that donâ€™t know me, they donâ€™t know when Iâ€™m joking. They think Iâ€™m dead serious so part of me feels a sense of responsibility because I have a lot of young female fans that are 16-year-old girls and so now I have to show them Iâ€™m joking when I say certain things and that they have to be able to differentiate between when Iâ€™m joking and when Iâ€™m dead ass serious.” – Nikki Minaj, XXL interview, 2008
It’s all about context. I can listen to Nicki Minaj and laugh because I am in on the joke. Unfortunately, there are many young girls listening to Nicki Minaj and other sexually provocative artists who have not yet learned the ability to put things into context. They have boyfriends who beat them (as young as middle school) and make sexually explicit videos for them anyway. They hide secret MySpace pages from their parents that feature disturbing photos. They endanger themselves in the spirit of invoking the excitement they felt when listening to songs about violence, sex, money and power.
Young people are consuming massive amounts of media every day that directly impact their choices, altering their lives. It angers me that in 2010 young people are not being taught how to interpret media in the classroom — I’m not talking about progressive schools. There are no laws in the USA that require public school teachers to instruct students on how to analyze media. This discussion could easily be incorporated into existing curriculum but it rarely happens.
Something has to change.
As a recent press preview of ‘Digital Nation’ pointed out (airs February 2, at 9pm ET on PBS – DVR / TIVO It!), several countries including South Korea are ahead of us in media literacy. Their schools teach children how to use the internet beginning in the first and second grade. Most importantly, they are taught “netiquette” and to evaluate the content that they consume.
It is frightening that this is still lacking in American public schools.
Nicki Minaj is not the enemy. She should be able to sing about anything that she wants. The issue is that twenty years ago, an impressionable young fan would only have access to an artist and his or her questionable example by listening to their music on a CD, cassette or radio, going to a show or media sponsored event. They might even visit a very limited web site.
Now, a young person has access to his/her favorite artist 247. They can literally carry their messages with them wherever they go, via a myriad of mobile devices.
That much information — without context — is dangerous to a young mind.
Do your part. Empower the young people in your life to analyze media and to cultivate healthy self-esteem. Don’t let Nicki Minaj teach your child about sex, relationships and identity. Nikki Minaj shouldn’t raise your kid. That’s your job.
Check out The LAMP NYC to find out more about media literacy.