This is a bit of a departure from my usual post topics. However, I got the opportunity recently to write a critical media analysis of a music video from a band that I love, and I thought that it would be fun to share here. 

The Cramps, headed by married couple Lux Interior and Poison Ivy Rorschach, were a raunchy, rockabilly inspired band that were part of the early punk scene in New York City. Nearly every Cramps album cover pictures guitarist Poison Ivy posing suggestively and scantily clad. Having had experience working as a dominatrix, Poison Ivy had no problem falling into the role of the band’s powerful sex-symbol frontwoman. The Cramps’ music video for ‘Like a bad girl should’ uses elements of suggestive imagery subversively within its camerawork, imagery and lyrics to create a message of sexual control and empowerment.

The setting of the music video is a white void, in the center of which is a zebra print rug with high heels strewn around it. On the rug, various pieces of furniture appear throughout the song for Poison Ivy to sit on and dance around. A large ornate metal chair, a glass table, and a bar stool all are shown at different times to display Ivy’s body. The only people in the video are Ivy and Lux Interior, both of whom are wearing black high heel pumps. Poison Ivy is clad in black lace lingerie, and various other loungewear items on and off, including a corset, sheer robe, garter belt and stockings. Interior wears his quintessential skin tight gray latex pants, various large rings, and a patterned button-down shirt that hangs open to reveal his bare chest. 

The opening shot of the video shows a close up of Ivy rolling up her sheer black back-seam stockings and putting on her black pumps. A slow pan up her leg to her butt begins the lyrics “I love your ass, for bad or worse” which Lux sings in a croon while rubbing the aforementioned area. Ivy responds by pushing him down to the carpet and continuing to kick him down as he tries to get up while singing “I love the nasty way you curse”. A close up of Ivy’s face shows her shouting profanity at him without sound. The next shot, paired with the lyrics “When you sit down, it’s wild how you sit” shows Lux, underneath the glass table as Ivy begins to sit, and then cuts to a high angle shot from under the glass of her butt pressing to the table. The last two lines “Grind your heel in the ground, the groovy way you spit.” Show Lux staring adoringly at Ivy’s foot as she grinds her heel, and then another high angle shot from under the table showing Ivy spitting onto the glass.

 The rest of the video continues similarly, with shots showing Lux, in heels, writhing on the floor and worshipping Ivy’s body as she dances around the set. The lyrics continue to reference Ivy’s deviant behaviour and sex appeal and how attracted Lux is to her, notably saying “I blow a gasket for your pink jellybean” as he holds up a pink jellybean between his fingers, and “Your picnic basket splits my spleen” as he dives into a picnic basket between Ivy’s open legs as she smiles. The video ends with Ivy dancing in a circle as Lux chases her on his hands and knees, and she turns occasionally to tease him by waving her sheer robe in his face. After the music fades, a close up shot shows the pink jellybean on Lux’s wiggling tongue in his open mouth, presumably representative of oral sex. 

These comically overt references to female genitalia and the hyper-sexual camera work highlighting Ivy’s body could be seen as negative objectification, if it weren’t for the clear power dynamic displayed between her and Lux. The progression of the video from pursuit to humiliation to the acceptance of sexual control and adoration, to the act of oral sex, utilizes imagery that subverts power dynamics within the act of viewing and touching. Ivy, placed above Lux at almost all times, is in complete control of her sexuality as she dresses up, dances and effectively resists his unwanted advances. She is a clear symbol of sexual power and expresses this through her actions, while Lux, quite literally underneath her, begs for sexual attention and views her with her full awareness. He is so engrossed in his worship of her that he wears high heels as a symbol of his willingness to be emasculated for her sexual needs (Breazeale 7). This is reinforced by her spitting on him and cursing at him in acts of humiliation, as well as him serving her by helping her put on her shoes, fasten her garters, or lace her corset. The only other sexual acts referenced throughout are that of Ivy receiving pleasure. 

The lyrics of the song’s chorus, “Oh you look good, oh, you smell good, Oh you taste good, like a bad girl should” highlight how sexual deviance creates hypervisibility that both judges and consumes women (Ryland 2). Many of the chosen camera angles highlight her body in clear detail, and the on-screen objects serve only to put her on display. Her openness to this visibility and the consumption of her body further reinforces her perceived deviance that labels her a ‘bad girl’. This label references the expectation for women to hide their bodies and be modest, and defines Ivy in contrast to this (Ott and Mack 195). Since Ivy embraces the viewing of her body, the camera angles are empowering rather than voyeuristic. The lyrics continually reference her power and appeal within the dynamic. However, there is a chance that a viewer’s attraction to Ivy would overshadow their realization of her sexual power. If their use of the camera angles involves the objectification of her body for their pleasure, the context matters very little. There is always the possibility that the sexual empowerment of women can become fetishistic if it is used that way by men. I believe that The Cramps were aware of this in the making of the music video, because there are many nods to it playfully in Lux’s behavior and Ivy’s responses. Overall, the props, angles, lyrics, and actions showcased in the video are a playful celebration of female sexuality, empowerment and sexual deviance.

- Celina Carra

Works Cited

Breazeale, Kenon. “In Spite of Women: ‘Esquire’ Magazine and the Construction of the Male Consumer.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, vol. 20, no. 1, 1994, pp. 1–22., doi:10.1086/494952. 

Ott, Brian L, and Robert L Mack. “Feminist Analysis.” Critical Media Studies: an Introduction, Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, John, 2020, pp. 193–213. 

Ryland, Megan. “Hypervisibility: How Scrutiny and Surveillance Make You Watched, but Not Seen.” Beauty versus the Beast, Wordpress, 18 Oct. 2013, beautyvsbeast.wordpress.com/2013/10/18/hypervisibility-how-scrutiny-and-surveillance-makes-you-watched-but-not-seen/. 

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