Published in The F-word on 8 November 2004
View the published article here
How did the abusive, exploitative role of Pimp become the epitome of cool? Rachel Bell comments on this outrageous trend in popular culture
Being a pimp is the epitome of cooldom. If you want to be somebody in this white world, to be the main man and have serious street cred, you’ve got to be a pimp. Or at least call yourself a pimp. This is the message from MTV. The message from hip-hop culture. It’s a message that’s been around for a while. But I’m pissed now because the media are letting it seep into our casual vocabulary without question.
‘NELLY Pop star, pimp or gangsta? asks VIBE magazine this month. The wannabe gangsta rapper whose ubiquitous hit ‘Country Grammar (Hot)’ sealed his status as a pop (super)star certainly likes to come across all bad boy and pimpy. His video for ‘Tip Drill’ features scores of strippers lap-dancing for Nelly and his chums. We’ve seen this before but what made this video particularly charming is the chorus line, “It must be your ass cause it ain’t your face” and Nelly swiping his credit card down a dancer’s arse crack. Nice.
According to VIBE, Nelly argues that the women in Tip Drill were paid workers who willingly participated in the video. I should hope so Nelly. Many prostitutes are willing, paid participants but this does not make colluding in the degradation of women right. The male tendency to shift all responsibility onto the woman speaks volumes about their attitudes to women. Nelly needs one-dimensional sex objects around him to make his dick and his ego gigantic enough to feel safe. And show off his great pimpiness to the gangsta rappers he looks up to. One can only conclude that three-dimensional human beings in female form will make him feel threatened.
To confirm his supreme pimpiness to the kids, Nelly got his own soft drink and called it Pimp Juice. He says that PIMP stands for Positive Intellectual Motivated Person. Hmm, let me think about whether I’ll buy that? The thing is Nelly, I’m really not getting that intellectual vibe from your contribution to art. Please explain it to me. A representative for Pimp Juice explained to VIBE that ‘The meaning of Pimp has changed. To most people on the streets, if you say pimp, they wouldn’t say it is someone who pimps out women. It’s more like mojo, or your ‘it’ factor.’ Ok, let’s see. Nelly’s videos tell us that he loves to lord it over scores of gyrating, stripping women. In his latest collaboration with Justin Timberlake, Work It, he and the ‘teen sexgod’ set themselves up as a pair of Hugh Heffners. They give Hugh the nod of respect by donning Hugh-alike silk robes, flank him on thrones in his playboy mansion while the camera hones in on tits, arses and the stripping playbunnies gyrating strangely on the snooker table. Nelly, your ‘it’ factor is wholly about being a pimp, a playboy and now, it appears, a bit of an old perv in a dressing gown.
Which brings me to Britney. Aside from her multiple crimes against little girls’ notions of self-hood, failing to recognise her execs and mommy abused her childhood to feed the paedophilia disease and her notable contribution to the pornographication of popular culture, she had some offensive tracksuits made.
In case you don’t read trash, Britney married her backing dancer, Kevin Ferderline in September and decreed that all the male guests at her wedding wear custom-made tracksuits with the word ‘Pimps’ emblazoned across the back. The girls’ tracksuits read, ‘Maids’. The groom’s father got to be ‘Pimp Daddy’. Existing in the music biz, Britney obviously knows how popular pimpdom, how some hip-hop artists can’t get enough of bigging up their pimpiness. Her taste in husbands also shows she thinks badboys are really great. But are you really as stupid as you would have us believe? (she offered her services to the Bush campaign and was turned down, case closed) Have you not heard about the massive worldwide human rights abuse that is sex trafficking? Have you not read one headline about the smuggling of girls and women under false pretences to another country where they are enslaved by their ‘pimps’ and forced to endure rape thirty times a day? Heck, there are even TV shows on it now. Britney, I’m not singling you out. My attack is on modern hip hip culture, particularly gangsta rap and a whole bunch of other people. But at 22, you really are old enough to educate yourself. I don’t think your tracksuits are funny, cool or ironic. I don’t think they are big or clever. Unfortunately, there are lots of little girls who think you are.
If a twelve year old boy looks up to hip-hop ‘artist’ 50 Cent who brags about being a pimp on Top of the Pops, drinks Nelly’s Pimp Juice to get Nelly’s ‘it’ factor, sees Ice T’s video, How To Pimp Girls advertised on the street, if his only role models are artists such as Snoop Dogg and Ja Rule who tell him it’s cool to disrespect women, if he watches rap videos that portray his sister, mother, girlfriend, future wife and future daughter as nothing more than gyrating body parts, what values will he develop? If music videos are full of women who look and behave like porn stars, if every young famous female who is photographed has her mouth open ready to give head, if advertising continues to use young women’s bodies to sell ANYTHING, if ‘cool’ celebs say porn is cool, then a boy’s and girl’s evolving identity will be under pressure. Bombarded with these stereotypes of men and women, what messages are they absorbing? It will take a young mind some strength not to conform.
The word ‘pimp’ is both a noun and a verb. According to the Oxford Dictionary, a pimp is “a man who lives off the earnings of a prostitute or a brothel: a pander; a ponce” According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it is, “a man who controls prostitutes, especially by finding customers for them, and takes some of the money that they earn.”
Both definitions are offensive as there is no suggestion that the prostitute may be an unwilling prostitute and a victim of violence and crime. A sexual slave stripped of her human rights, indeed her humanity, not half of a cosy, underground business arrangement. Both definitions are also out-of-date. In contemporary culture, the word has a wealth of connotations.
Despite what Nelly’s representative says, in the real world, on the streets of any city, ‘pimp’ still means what it says in the dictionary. But as the fantasy world of MTV and hip hop culture co-exists with the real world it also means many other things, too. In hip hop, and more recently pop culture, ‘pimp’ has become synonymous with ‘bling’. In DBC Pierre’s cult novel, Vernon God Little, the 15-year-old anti-hero Vernon pimps out his school friend, Ella. He knows only too well that, “pimps are already an accepted thing these days, check any TV-movie. Lovable even, some of them, with their leopard skin Cadillacs, and their purple Stetsons. Their bitches and all.” (p134) Ok, so the source of Vernon’s image appears to be seventies TV-movies. Contemporary pimps favour heavily branded sports gear and flashy rocks. They don’t court ‘cuddly’ compliments either. It doesn’t fit in with their tough guy/big dick image. Or their hatred of homosexuals.
OK, so it’s not Britney’s job to be aware of the worldwide relentless rape of girls and women. But the media and some newspaper journalists seem to be entirely oblivious to the dangers of embracing the word ‘pimp’. When Barbara Ellen wrote about Britney’s wedding in the Observer magazine on 26 September, she mentioned the tracksuits fleetingly but did not question them. Her only point was this: “Britney’s weddings, both of them, indeed Britney’s entire behaviour over the past few years, seems to be coming from the same place – her tortuous split from childhood sweetheart and fiancé, Justin Timberlake.’ Wow.
More offensively, on 22 September Guardian columnist, Lucy Mangan wrote a column explaining Britney’s new trashy behaviour as being a marketing ploy to get late 20-/early 30 something to buy her crap records. (like hello?) Mangan throws in the pimp thing as an afterthought at the end. She reckons that, ‘feminists can laud the succinct deconstruction of the traditional matrimonial model inherent in the “Maids” and “Pimps” slogans. What? So I should be jumping up and down because that the husband/wife roles have been replaced by sexual and violent abuser/sexual slave?!
Sam Deleaney was equally insensitive and strangely over-zealous about the whole pimp thing in his feature ‘Pimp to Ride’, which appeared in the Guardian Guide on July 31st. In the show, rapper Xzbit gives ordinary folks’ old bangers a pimp makoever. Deleaney translates the hip-hop slang, ‘Pimp My Ride’ as roughly, ‘Make My Car Make Me Look Like I’m A Pimp.’ He describes the show as, ‘MTV’s new family entertainment hit’ and makes the sweeping and frankly bizarre claim that, ‘Everybody wants to look like a pimp these days.” Deleaney uses the word ‘pimp’ as casually as the self-styled pimp, Xzbit. Without a hint of irony. Without question.
Hundreds of thousands of girls and women, many just children as young as 13, are being forced into prostitution by traffickers every year. The US State Department believes the figure to be between 600,000 to 800,000 people. Demand is high all over Western Europe and men are raping trafficked children here in Britain. Many of the victims are as young as 13, from Eastern Europe. Here, the export of human beings is big business. According to a report by Save the Children, up to 90% of girls living in rural areas in Albania have simply stopped attending school for fear of abduction. Threats to kill their families, brutal beatings and rape keep them enslaved for years on end. Some of them are in legal and therefore ‘acceptable’ brothels in Amsterdam, most in criminal syndicates all over the world. Last year, The Guardian reported the harrowing story of a trafficked Albanian teenager who was forced into prostitution in Britain. For around three months she was made to work in a grimy Paddington brothel, enduring up to 16 hours of sex each day. “One night I had 26 customers,” she recalled. “After work,” the story depressingly revealed, “the pimps would rape her one by one, tie her down and use her naked belly to snort cocaine.” I read this and felt a deep, deep hatred for the men who dare to treat another, more vulnerable human being in this way. I felt a deep fear for the future of all girls and women. But this month, the Observer magazine’s special report on human trafficking told more stories of children kidnapped from the villages of Albania and Moldova. Now another girl’s hell has come to haunt me, too. She was an orphan who was abandoned by her boyfriend when she became pregnant. With the promise of work, she agreed to go to Moscow. There she was enslaved and forced to work beneath a railway bridge, for which her traffickers paid local police. Some ‘clients’ kept her for several days and brought their friends. One man kept her for three or four days in a basement and invited 20 men. When she objected, the pregnant girl was called a ‘bitch’.
Do I make my point?