How men can experience sexual objectification

(May 23, 2012)

D’Angelo, ‘Untitled,’ and What Happens When Men Get Treated Like Women

Amy Wallace’s profile of D’Angelo in GQ is fantastic, and not least because it breaks down how the video for “Untitled,” one of the sexier things ever produced, contributed to his unraveling. In other words, D’Angelo got treated like a woman, and it was not exceptionally good for his mental health:

But as D began to fall apart, the video would be the only thing many fans remembered. “The video was the line of demarcation,” says Harris. “It sent him spinning out of control.”…The trouble began right away, at the start of the Voodoo tour in L.A. “It was a week of warm-up gigs at House of Blues just to kick off the tour, draw some attention, break in the band,” says Alan Leeds, D’s tour manager then and now. “And from the beginning, it’s ‘Take it off!’ “…

D’Angelo felt tortured, Questlove says, by the pressure to give the audience what it wanted. Worried that he didn’t look as cut as he did in the video, he’d delay shows to do stomach crunches. He’d often give in, peeling off his shirt, but he resented being reduced to that. Wasn’t he an artist? Couldn’t the audience hear the power of his music and value him for that? He would explode, Questlove recalls, and throw things. Sometimes he’d have to be coaxed not to cancel shows altogether. When I ask D about this, he downplays his suffering. Watching him pull hard on another Newport, I realize that he finds it far easier to confess his addictions than his insecurities about his corporeal self. Self-destructing with a coke spoon—while ill-advised—has a badass edge. Fretting over what Questlove has called “some Kate Moss shit” seems anything but manly…

What’s fascinating about that Questlove quote is that it implies that you shouldn’t be affected by how other people perceive your body. It’s a perspective that makes men feel better about ogling, about demanding. If it’s flattery, there’s no ugly undertone to it, no sense that the person you’re telling to take it off owes you, that you could turn on them if they don’t comply. But when a man experiences, gets driven crazy by it, it’s not really “some Kate Moss shit” anymore, and it’s not complementary. So much of pop culture is like this. When a man experiences objectification, or stays at home with his kids, suddenly, this arena that women have been playing in for decades is a revelation. How does it feel, indeed?

Click here to return to the News page