falderal : a moving images blog
Girls and Boys on Film: The Gaze and the Portrayal of Gender in Duran Duran Videos  ·  Posted by Tallulah

Lately I haven’t had time to watch feature films so I thought that I’d write about music videos since they don’t take much time to watch, which leads to another…

MARATHON!!! Woohoo! I haven’t done one since the G.W. Pabst one and I thought that the next marathon I would be related to some film star, Billy Wilder, or Ernst Lubitsch, but nope, instead it is one of my favorite music groups: Duran Duran. I am going to watch every single music video I can get my hands on by them and just write about whatever pops in my head while watching them.

I thought that I’ll start the marathon by posting a paper I wrote last year about the band since I think that I’ll probably end up referencing it later down the line.

God, I can’t believe that I’m putting something I wrote for school out to the public because I HATE showing my writing to people because it’s just embarrassing. Friends who read this blog, please do not think of me any less!
I must have been terribly unhappy with this essay because I couldn’t find it on my external hard drives or on my laptop and had to redownload it from the email I sent my professor.

“Lipstick cherry all over the lens as she’s falling”: no other line from a Duran Duran song could capture the look and message of Duran Duran’s most polished videos. The “lipstick cherry” can be translated to the lush look of the videos, “the lens” refers to the apparatus used to create these videos and a stand in for the eyes of the video watching audience, and the “she” is the most interesting subject, or arguably the object, of their videos. By analyzing the visuals of two Duran Duran videos from the early 1980s and a recent video from 2011, it is obvious that sex and gender stereotypes are still a part of Duran Duran’s video repertoire. These videos can take on a “genderless address” as Kaplan writes, “across its various segments TV in general, and MTV in particular, constructs a variety of gazes that indicate address of a certain kind of male or female imaginary. […] (T)hat people of both genders undertake multiple identifications, depending on what particular video is being shown.” (90) While the videos can appeal to people of different sexualities and genders, the videos still reinforce heterosexuality and the male gaze despite overt queerness and queer undertones.

Laura Mulvey’s essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” mentions scopophilia, and the pleasure of viewing ties in to the three videos that will be addressed: “Rio” (1982), “The Chauffeur” (1982), and “Girl Panic!” (2011). Mulvey mentions turning people into objects and how the cinematic conventions “focus attention on the human form.” (17) The objectification of women in Duran Duran’s videos tie in with Mulvey’s idea of “to-be-looked-at-ness” as the women in the three videos are there for a “strong visual and erotic impact” for both the video watchers and the people in the video’s narrative (Mulvey 17). The flatness of female characters in Duran Duran’s videos is emphasized by their use of models; models are supposed to be looked at and the term “clothes horse” is telling in regards to how models are viewed as something less than human, thus closer to objects. While moments of queerness in the videos will be addressed later in the essay, it is important to emphasize that the videos portray and perpetuate heterosexual social norms (Vincent, Davis, and Boruszkowski 941). The female characters are viewed in a “condescending” manner in that “the woman is portrayed as being less than a person, a two-dimensional image” (Vincent, Davis, and Boruszkowski 752). These women are in the videos to create an image of glamour for the band members and Duran Duran videos were no exception when it came to the connection between rock videos and the image of wealth (Vincent, Davis, and Boruszkowski 755). Boy George referenced the glamour when he said, “Duran Duran were projecting an entirely different image than we were. They were selling champagne and yachts.” and Duran Duran’s keyboardist, Nick Rhodes, also mentioned the unreal nature of their videos saying, “Our videos became larger than life. People believe, ‘That’s what they must do all day, hang out on yachts’” (Marks and Tannenbaum 123) and it goes without saying that if these men had yachts (a subtle way of saying wealth), then they had glamourous women too.

Figure 1: Fragmentation of the female face in “Rio”.

Figure 2: Nick Rhodes and the heterosexual male gaze.

Figure 3: V-formation of the legs.

Figure 4: The money shot.

Duran Duran’s 1982 video, “Rio” addresses the objectification of women from the beginning. The video starts with circle masks that cover everything but a small section of a woman’s face and as Mulvey states, the fragments turn into a “different mode of eroticism” (20). First the viewers see the woman’s smiling lips, then her eyes, and then a close up of her smiling and laughing lips (Figure 1). Rather than seeing the woman as a whole, the viewers are introduced to the object that is to be desired in parts, like a striptease. The fragments are referenced in the next shot, which is of a broken mirror coming back together and the female body can be admired in full. In “Rio”, the heterosexual male gaze and female desirability is addressed from the beginning with Nick Rhodes acting as a Peeping Tom with binoculars, looking at a woman sunbathing on a deck (Figure 2). The camera draws the viewer closer to the sunbathing woman and the camera and the viewer takes on multiple identities: either as Nick Rhodes or as the viewer themselves. Fragmentation is used once again to draw attention to certain parts of the female body, particularly the legs and the crotch, and these body parts are addressed as Rhodes appears from the ocean and looks up at a woman who has her legs formed into a V. The legs frame Rhodes’ face and he is looking up her dress, therefore the focus is not only on the legs but also on the crotch. The V-formation legs are used again to create the same idea of a man looking up a woman’s dress, as in another scene, the viewer watches Simon Le Bon singing while looking up with a shot of a woman with her legs open right next to him (Figure 3). These women have no identity as their face is not shown and any sense of identity lies in them as desirable objects or beautiful body parts. Because they are only known by their body and not their faces, these women are not seen as individuals but a group of objects that are pleasing to the eye. Women are once again degraded into objects as there are several shots in “Rio” that are similar to “money shots” (Figure 4) in pornography; women are splattered with liquids of all sorts of colour and at one point, champagne. Further objectification of women is seen in the video as women are used as display objects or decoration to a shot. There are women standing on the yacht doing nothing but posing and there are women leaning against trees with no purpose other than to be a beautiful object that add visual interest to the shot. The two dimensionality of women mentioned by Vincent, Davis, and Boruszkowski is shown in the video when women act as coquettish figures: one woman pushes Roger Taylor into the ocean, another woman is seen lurking on the yacht and tempts Rhodes out of his cabin, and another woman yanks Le Bon into the ocean. While these women appear to be desiring subjects as they seem to be attracted to the men in the video, they are flat characters shown in a similar fashion over and over.

Figure 5: Leading into Le Bon’s crotch.

Figure 6: Woman addressing the viewer’s desires.

Despite the heterosexual tone that the video sets up from the beginning by showing Rhodes looking at a woman, there are moments in the video that address different gazes and scenes that can be interpreted as queer. The band members are all dressed in candy coloured suits and their handsome looks can appeal to anybody. Their manner of dress is similar to stereotypical gay men and Joe Elliott mentioned Duran Duran’s appeal to men when he said, “As much as they were all heterosexuals, you could understand why gay men would fancy them. Especially Nick Rhodes. I mean, even we fancied Nick Rhodes.” (Marks and Tannenbaum 123) Dave Holmes also referred to Rhodes’ appeal when he said, “It blew my mind that girls were attracted to Nick Rhodes, because he was so feminine looking. It just didn’t seem right. Up to that point, men hadn’t been erotic.” (Marks and Tannenbaum 123) It isn’t just the women who are erotic in this video but so are the male band members — they are to be consumed like the candies they appear to be by both women and men alike. The band members are similarly objectified like the women, particularly in the last scene when two band members are dancing in a humourous manner for no reason and with the shots of Le Bon and the yacht. The dancing is similar to women being used as decoration because Andy and John Taylor are dancing most likely for the viewer’s enjoyment. While none of the band members are fragmented into body parts, something similar is done with the closing shots of Le Bon sitting at the head of the yacht with the tip of the yacht leading the viewer’s eyes straight into Le Bon’s crotch (Figure 5). Just a little before the last scene, the viewers also can ogle Le Bon’s posterior as it is emphasized by the wind blowing his pants into molding to his body. Then a woman appears from the side and winks at the viewer as if addressing the viewer’s gaze and desire for Le Bon or any of the band members or maybe even herself (Figure 6). The band members aren’t only desirable when they are clothed but also when they are wearing less clothing. The shot of Le Bon coming out of the water in slow motion allows the viewer to admire his tan body as it moves in a dramatic manner. The viewer, of any gender or sexuality, can admire Le Bon’s youthful tan body that is asking to be looked at due to being shot in slow motion.

Figure 7: “Rio” versus Pillow Talk (1959).

The scene that could be analyzed as queer is the saxophone solo segment in the middle of the video. It is odd that the scene features two band members (Rhodes and J. Taylor) since only one saxophonist performs the solo on the music track. The two men appear to be complementing each other’s playing as if they are serenading to each other via their saxophones. Eventually the solo comes to a close as a split screen effect is used to bring the two men together, similar to how Doris Day and Rock Hudson sex comedies brought the two lovers together in two different locations via the split screen technique (Figure 7). It also may be telling that the choices of the two men are Rhodes and J. Taylor since J. Taylor was known as the heartthrob of the band for female Duranies and Rhodes appealed to all genders and was seen as a feminine person.

Queerness is addressed overtly in “The Chauffeur” as the two protagonists of the video are women who are openly attracted to each other. The video begins with a brunette woman who is in her car being taken to a place by her chauffeur. Even though the story of the video is about queer women and can appeal to people of various sexualities, the video is made in a manner similar to “Rio” where the male gaze and objectification of women in favour of being seen as consumable objects for men is obvious. Like “Rio”, fragmentation is used so that the viewer can take in various body parts, such as legs covered in sheer tights, the torso covered in a sexy bustier, and arms and hands covered with gloves. The erotic nature of the legs is emphasized when there is a medium shot of the woman touching her legs in a sensuous manner and then the same action is shown twice but the second time around, it is in close up. The voyeuristic character is seen through the character of the chauffeur as he looks back at his employer. This scene can be interpreted in two ways. One: the chauffeur is like the audience – we are viewing this scantily dressed woman and she is there for the viewers to look at. It does not matter who she is but it is clear that she is the object of desire and her actions seem as if she is performing for the viewer. Two: non-heterosexuality is implied as the chauffeur is looking at his employer in a knowing or interested manner whereas the woman could care less about her driver because she will be seeing her female lover soon. Nevertheless in both situations, the viewer and the chauffeur can take in whatever they like of her.

Figure 8: Visual parallels.

The video cuts to another woman, who is blonde, and she is seen waking up and then touching her body in a sensuous way. She is also to be seen as a desirable figure as the camera moves with her hand movements down her body, and her outfit hides and exposes her body at the same time with the mesh body suit and the fishnet stockings. The connection between the blonde and the brunette woman are made through a broken piece of a mirror and their relationship is implied when the brunette woman kisses the shard. A second reference to a connection between the two figures are made via visual cues when close ups of their thighs are shown back to back (Figure 8). When the blonde woman prepares herself to go out, she looks at herself in the mirror as if to check if she is desirable enough for the brunette woman. While she is looking at herself, the viewers drink in her body even before the intended sees her. The same thing is done with the brunette woman as the viewer sees her touching her stomach as she is becoming aroused but the video has it that this event isn’t a personal one but one that is open for the viewers to look at and enjoy. By having such a scene in a music video is as if to imply that these images are here for the viewers to react to and she is unconsciously performing for the viewers.

Figure 9: Addressing the viewers.

The final dance sequence at the end raises questions in regards to who the dance is intended for. The brunette and the blonde woman’s attraction for each other is acknowledged when the blonde woman widens her eyes in desire when she lays eyes on the brunette woman and the desire is reciprocated as the brunette woman helps the blonde woman take off her coat and they both dance as they stare deeply into each other’s eyes. The scene starts in a bizarre manner with the introduction of a possible second chauffeur. While the two women are dancing, it cuts to the chauffeur looking at them and the viewer supposes that the chauffeur is the one that they saw in the beginning of the video. Through this assumption, the chauffeur is back to the voyeur role as he watches the sensuous dance. The dancing is similar to the decoration role that women played in “Rio” – there is no reason for them to be dancing together in a public location, particularly in front of the chauffeur. It is as if they are putting on this act for his pleasure (thus the pleasure of heterosexual males) very similar to women kissing each other for the attention of men (Note: The appeal of two women kissing is referred to in the film Uptown Girls [2003] when Huey [male character] says “Look at the babes, Molly. They’re, like, beautiful and natural and sexy, right? Beauty like that is universal.“). But there is a turn of events when the chauffeur that the viewers thought was the one from the beginning of the video is a complete different person and is a woman. The female chauffeur addresses the viewers in a strong, almost defiant gaze (Figure 9) as if she is telling the viewers that what she is doing is for their eyes. Her entire dance’s purpose is to titillate the viewers and it is implied that gender of the audience is of no importance through the switch of genders that happened with the character of the chauffeur. Yet it is also important to note that while the viewer’s gender might not be of importance, the switch from male to female could have been done so that the female chauffeur also plays the role of decoration along with the other two women. Her dance and her body are for the viewers to look at and that is her only purpose in this video. Because this dance was a reference to Charlotte Rampling’s dance in Il portiere di notte (Liliana Cavani, 1974) when she performs “Wenn ich mir was wünschen dürfte”, it adds another reason for the dance to be viewed as something that was meant to be looked at and something that is purely a show. While most of the video implied a queer narrative, it is with a heterosexual note that the video closes with. All of the characters in this video may be appealing to people of all genders, but it is suggested that all of this performing was for the entertainment of heterosexual men as shown through the male chauffeur reappearing as he watches the three women dance.

Figure 10: Male or female?

“Girl Panic!” takes the transition or switching of genders seen in “The Chauffeur” to the next level as the male band members are played by female supermodels. While the video appears to be progressive by having this play with gender, nothing has changed since the making of “Rio” or “The Chauffeur”. Like “Rio”, glamour is a large part of “Girl Panic!” and this aspect is emphasized from the beginning. The video itself is larger than life in that it is over nine minutes long (the original song is approximately four and a half minutes) and it presents itself as a film rather than a music video. Due to the nature of music videos as advertisements, it has been noted that music videos lack credits (Kaplan 13) in the traditional film and theatre sense but “Girl Panic!” has title cards and credits. Then the setting at the Savoy Hotel filled with models wearing beautiful and fetishistic clothing is like an erotic dream. To add to the glamour, supermodels are portraying the band members; because the band members no longer have the poster boy good looks, the models take on the role of the members and portray them as glamourous people. The beginning of the video shows multiple women who are lying around unconscious from what appears to be a night of partying and drinking and this state makes them powerless. The unconscious models are referenced later on through Helena Christensen as R. Taylor when she photographs these bodies as if they are objects or even conquests. The viewers are introduced to these women the same way as “Rio” through the fragmentation of the body. The only active person in the beginning scene is Naomi Campbell as Le Bon and she creates an odd dynamic because it is unclear as to how the viewers should read her character. Should Campbell and the other models who are acting as the band members be seen as male or female? It is hard to differentiate because while the viewers can pretend that these models are the band members, there are constant references to the model’s femininity. Campbell, in the first scene, is wearing lingerie and is the perfect image of what is considered desirable to most people. Despite being appealing to all genders, one still cannot get the idea of heterosexuality out of one’s mind due to Campbell being Le Bon despite being portrayed in a manner that appears to normally be for the male gaze. The idea of female supermodels acting as band members could have been an interesting take on gender fluidity or even a reference to some people’s indifference to gender, but the video went down the conventional path of objectifying women (Figure 10).

“Girl Panic!” is a 2011 version of “Rio” in that essentially, the portrayal of women is all the same. There may be minor differences such as “Girl Panic!” featuring women of other races, but the roles of the models are still the same as the roles the models played in “Rio”. Everything about the women in “Girl Panic!” is about being looked at and looking glamourous. Cindy Crawford as J. Taylor is seen drinking champagne out of the bottle in a limousine and she looks out the window with her hair flying around perfectly with her green fur outfit being so outrageous that it is glamourous. Such scenes have no importance other than for the viewers to admire Crawford and the image she presents in the video. In other scenes in the video, the paparazzi, fans, and photoshoots are shown and the band members are constantly having their picture taken. Not only are they to be seen via photographs, they also make headlines in newspapers with outrageous stories such as “Nick adopts alien baby”. Just as the dance in “The Chauffeur” can be seen as a dance solely existing for the male gaze, the actions of the models (both the ones that are posing as the band members and acting as a glamourized version of themselves) are done for the entertainment of others, mainly men. Like the tagline from the 1939 film, The Women, “Girl Panic!” is “all about men”. There are very few men shown in the video but every movement that the women make in the video appear to be a move traditionally tied to how women seduce or attract men. When Eva Herzigová as Rhodes kisses a female fan, the scene is reminiscent of Marlene Dietrich in Morocco. “Nick” is kissing his fans purposefully in front of other fans and the paparazzi and acknowledging what actions should be done for attention and eventually objectifying queer sexuality by turning it into a commodity. Whereas the dance in “The Chauffeur” can be seen as erotically beautiful due to what appears to be a look of permission given to the audience from the female chauffeur, the female kissing in “Girl Panic!” is not something that could be titillating to all but appealing only to heterosexual men and be seen as something insulting to people who identify as queer. Party scenes are shown with women wearing clothes that resemble bondage gear, touching each other, and these scenes in medium shot are interspersed with close ups of stomachs, legs, and crotch, and eventually a close up of two women kissing. The kissing’s disingenuous nature is implied by the next shot, which is of a woman holding a camcorder as if she was there to record the kiss, thus the kiss was just for show. Objectification is seen again through references back to Duran Duran’s older videos as women from older videos are seen as objects of history to look back to.

The band members play a similar role in “Girl Panic!” as they did in “Rio” in that they are looking at the women despite their roles as servants. While the role may appear to be condescending, on the contrary, it is the real band members that have the most power in the video. During the party sequence, the women are dancing seductively for what appears to be no reason while the real band members are active viewers of what is going on, very similar to the chauffeur in “The Chauffeur” video. The power dynamic of who is looking and who is the object that is being looked at is also set when the real band members are seen as paparazzi. The models as the band members are the ones who are the subject of all the attention whereas the real members are relegated to cameo roles.

Despite the music videos taking place in different places with different story lines, Duran Duran videos reinforce stereotypes when it comes to women and societal norms. Whether the band members are present in the videos or if time has passed between the videos, they only appear to be progressive in regards to gender and queerness when on the contrary, their portrayal of both only reaffirms how society views both topics.

Works Referenced and Cited

Boruszkowski, Lilly Ann, (Author), Richard C., (Author) Vincent, and Dennis K., (Author) Davis. “Sexism On MTV: The Portrayal Of Women In Rock Videos.” The Journalism Quarterly 64.(1987): 750. RILM Abstracts of Music Literature. Web. 1 May 2012.

Cummins, R. Glenn. “Selling Music With Sex: The Content And Effects Of Sex In Music Videos on Viewer Enjoyment.” Journal of Promotion Management 13.1 (2007): 95-109. Print.

“Duran Duran – Girl Panic!.” Duran Duran. YouTube. 2011. Web. 7 May. 2012.

“Duran Duran –Rio.” Duran Duran. YouTube. 1982. Web. 7 May. 2012.

“Duran Duran – The Chauffeur.” Duran Duran. YouTube. 1982. Web. 7 May. 2012.

Kaplan, E. Ann. Rocking around the Clock: Music Television, Postmodernism, and Consumer Culture. New York: Methuen, 1987. Print.

Marks, Craig, and Rob Tannenbaum. I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution. New York: Dutton, 2011. Print.

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Screen 16.3 (1975): 14-26. Print.

Pillow Talk. Dir. Michael Gordon. 1959.

Uptown Girls. Dir. Boaz Yakin. 2003.

Wallis, Cara. “Performing Gender: A Content Analysis Of Gender Display In Music Videos.” Sex Roles 64.3/4 (2011): 160-172. LGBT Life with Full Text. Web. 1 May 2012.

Leave a Reply