Midweek Media: The Tubes “She’s a Beauty”

In the early 80s, The Tubes released “She’s a Beauty” (lyrics here), a song in which a man is selling other men time to look at and talk to a beautiful woman through glass. The customer is promised a look inside “another world” in which “you can talk to a pretty girl.” He’s admonished not to “touch the merchandise”, but reassured he will get “every penny’s worth” but “it will cost you a dollar first.”

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQ_k_VG6Syc&feature=av2e

I’m leaving out some irrelevant visuals for this.

The video begins with a shot of a wall painted to say “Ride the Beauty” in old-fashioned carnival lettering. The camera pans and we see the rest of the mural: a woman in a bikini and high heels, holding a bar like water-skiers use to be pulled along behind the boat. The camera eventually shows us her face: it’s absolutely emotionless.

A crowd mills outside a tent. Fee Waybill steps through the tent flap, dressed as a carnival showman, and sings the first verse of the song to us. He moves to the other end of the wall, and a little cart moves along a track and through a tent flap. The cart contains a woman with a hood over her head and a very long dark gray pony tail sticking straight up and out from it,and a smaller person, perhaps a child. The woman stiffly lowers a bar into place in front of the smaller person, the way a safety bar is lowered to hold people in on a roller coaster ride. We see them from behind at this point.

Now we see them riding along from the front. It’s an excited white boy bouncing in the lap of a mature white woman (yeah, really) dressed as a dominatrix – black hood, silver mask, black gloves, a black corset. She is expressionless and robotic. She turns to the camera once, and the movement is stiff. Her eyes never blink. She pulls the bar in against the boy’s chest, forcing him back against her, and the cart lurches to a faster speed.

Two white women appear, dancing in sync in silver leotards, until the dom’s cart drives between them. The band appears and performs for the boy in the cart, who is still happily bouncing/dancing in the dom’s lap. The band performs for a while. Then the dom drives the cart through a huge upturned drum skin.

We see a little white girl with frizzy reddish hair in a pink tutu dancing ballet. She turns and the camera moves to a trapeze artist who looks like this girl as a young woman. She’s in a sparkly silver leotard. The dom drives the cart past all this and through some huge stage speakers.

They enter a place with a big cage and several cave women with frizzed hair and wearing skins. The featured woman here is black: the others are white. The boy is clearly scared as the women encroach on them – even when they do so from inside their cage. He tries to get away, but the dom holds him relentlessly in place with that bar. These women have a more sexualized dance style than others we’ve seen. The lyric “step outside your world” accompanies the black cave woman opening the door to her cage and stepping outside, after the dom and the boy have driven on.

Next we see a white woman in a green mermaid costume languishing on a platform, running one hand over her costume. She sees the camera and glares directly at is (us) briefly, then goes back to her languishing.

Cut to a rather suggestive shot of the trapeze artist’s backside as she performs. This transitions into an image of her spinning rapidly from a strap under the back of her head.

The dom drives the boy out of the carnival, and we see now that he’s an old, withered, frightened-looking man.

This video has some problematic aspects – for example, the main cave woman being black is a race fail, I think – but I do believe it might be making a point: consumption consumes the consumer. What do you think?

Comments

  1. Janbo says

    Certainly the video is a commentary on consumerism, but before the video ever aired, I knew the song quite well. I’ve always thought it was a clever way to convey the idea that women are *not* commodities and shouldn’t be treated that way. The Tubes’ music was most often satirical, i.e. “What Do You Want From Life?” and its political hints mixed with surreal images, and those songs are, for me, the most memorable.

    The video for “She’s A Beauty” reinforced my perspective on the song, as it’s packed with visual parodies of how women’s body parts are used to sell products. The various “exhibits” on the “ride” the boy takes seem to be exaggerations of cultural stereotypes about women: the “wild woman,” the “cold fish,” the “dominatrix,” etc. The thing that led me to this viewpoint is the way in which Fee and the band don’t pay any attention to the stereotyped women in the video. Even when Fee’s dressed as the carnival barker, it seems evident to me that he’s copying culturally enforced male reactions (i.e. how he gestures toward the canvas painting of the woman in stilettos and a black swimsuit) as satire.

    I have no idea whether the video director had all this in mind, or whether the band insisted it be shot as it was, but it’s a great commentary on Western prejudices — and the featured woman among the “wild women” being black is, for me, a comment about racism and not a fail.

    Just my two cents.

  2. AH says

    Have you heard of Gamecrush? It’s one of the new ways men are paying for women’s attention. Hathor says it discusses the portrayal of women in media, including gaming. Thought you might be intrested.

    Men use the service to pay women a small amount of money for a small amount of time to play a video game online with a girl and chit chat. There’s a little more to it than that, but you can google the rest if you care.

  3. Christopher says

    Is that Alexis Arquette as the boy?

    I can’t help believe that if the video were shot today, most of these women would’ve been replaced by 17-21 year olds.

    Did I take offense that the “cave woman” was black? Not at all. It might be a matter of- as it is in the professional dance world- simply casting the best dancers at the audition.
    Had she been cast as the dominatrix, a whole different argument could be presented. Sometimes we apply a deeper meaning to things that were just coincidence, happy accidents,or honest mistakes.

    I took the video to mean “That lady may look great on your shoulder, but make no doubt she’s gonna be high maintenance.” So perhaps its best to ditch your dreams of dating a woman who’s ‘window dressing,’ and instead find a woman of substance.

    • says

      Did I take offense that the “cave woman” was black?

      But are you a black woman? If not, you’re not in a position to handwave any race concerns – neither am I. As much as I like Janbo’s argument and don’t doubt Janbo pegged the band’s intention, I keep thinking of the “tiger woman” in “Hungry Like the Wolf” from the same time period (another video where I doubt the band had overt racist intentions – they probably thought they were breaking ground to include a woman of color in the video, and that’s what I thought at the time, when I was 11), and thinking what message was being received by kids who were being fed the stereotype at home that black women are oversexed objects for white men to dabble with at their pleasure.

      I took the video to mean “That lady may look great on your shoulder, but make no doubt she’s gonna be high maintenance.”

      I really hope that’s not the message, and that’s depressingly sexist (link to an article explaining in detail what’s wrong with it).

    • says

      I think so. See Janbo’s comment (the first in the thread). Not only were the Tubes known for satire in their lyrics, but I think there’s a lot of subtle satire in the lyrics of the song, which is sung not from the familiar male consumer’s viewpoint, but from the viewpoint of the pimp/purveyor. “You can step outside your little world… you get to talk to a pretty girl… she’s everything you dream about” is, IMO, all about how other MEN use women to control men, all the while making it look like they’re doing less powerful men such a big favor by providing some kind of sexual access to these women.

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