Performance poet Hollie McNish has done a brilliant performance poem about sexual objectification. The poem is designed as a commentary to the music video for the pop song ‘Blow My Whistle’ by Flo Rida – you play the poem alongside the muted song video. It’s very witty and clever and comical - in fact, you should probably listen to it before reading my two pennies worth (nothing spoils literature like hearing a second-hand description of it first!).
I recently used this video in a third-year philosophy lecture to introduce Martha Nussbaum’s excellent paper ‘Objectification‘, and it worked really well. Part of what Nussbaum does in that paper is to make a case for the existence of a positive form of sexual objectification – a temporary object-like treatment of a person that enhances a mutual and otherwise respectful sexual relationship. It struck me that this is very much in line with the position McNish takes in the poem. Interestingly, whilst McNish does critique the objectification of women in the music video, she reserves her real scorn for Flo Rida’s self-objectification. If he really must compare his penis to a musical instrument, she wonders, why choose a whistle – irritating, shrill, and easy for anyone to get a noise out of? Why not, McNish asks, a saxophone – something that requires skill, but which, when played well, can produce beautiful music? In other words, the problem with the penis/whistle (and consequent oral sex/blowing) metaphor is not the fact that it objectifies Flo Rida per se, but that it objectifies him in a way that completely fails to open up any fulfilling or exciting sexual possibilities – something that sexual objectification, if carried out with more imagination, might be able to do.
The video sparked a great discussion* between students about objectification in its own right, and it also, I believe, helped the students to grasp what Nussbaum had to say about positive objectification when I went on to explain her argument. The connection between the poem and Nussbaum’s paper is really very striking. This made me wonder about other pieces of media, art, or literature that could work the same way. Has anyone else found something that captures a philosophical claim really accurately like this, and used it in their teaching? What was it, and how did it go?
*One particularly important point that was raised was whether the poem endorses a harmful ‘bigger is better’ attitude to penises. Now, I do think that there’s room to read the remarks about size as pointing out the irony of Flo Rida implying (via the whistle metaphor) that he has a small penis, when that probably isn’t what he intended to convey. However, the poem doesn’t do much to distance itself from the more harmful reading, which is a bit of a shame.