I love P!nk, always have. As an angsty teen I superimposed onto my the life lyrics of “Don’t Let Me Get Me,” cheered her feminist appeal for more future female presidents and fewer video dancer wannabes in “Stupid Girls,” and played her empowering break-up anthem “So What” so loud the neighbors complained. More than once. So, I’m in her corner. That said, I have serious issues with both videos for her song “Please Don’t Leave Me.”
Yes, both. If you too are a P!nk fan, you know that her album Funhouse, which includes “Please Don’t Leave Me,” is the artist’s heart wrenching, raw musical ode to her divorce from her husband, Carey Hart. The first video she released for the song, in 2009, was this disturbing depiction of the lengths she would have gone to keep him from walking away:
As in Lady Gaga and Beyonce’s Telephone video, P!nk seems to buy into the idea that domestic violence perpetrated by women is ok, even funny, even deserved. She orchestrates her soon to be ex-boyfriend’s tumble down the stairs, smashes his knee with a golf club, and comes after him with an axe. The video ends with the singer falling to her death after her boy sprays her in the face with hairspray. Anyone watching comes away with the idea that true love is literally worth fighting for, to the point of inflicting serious physical harm on your partner.
If I were in Hart’s shoes, I’d never come near a woman who play-acted my demise so convincingly but the couple reconciled shortly after Funhouse came out and are now happily remarried. Which brings us to the second video for the song, released on Sunday. Instead of love as beating each other senseless, she declares in this video it’s possible against all odds. How sweet! Except…not:
Shot in classic black and white movie style, the video opens with P!nk as a Giantess in a sideshow tent holding auditions for a husband. A line of potential suitors waits outside for their chance to impress her, including one who the others mock uproariously and claim “doesn’t have a chance.” The butt of the jokes turns out to be her real-life husband Hart, portrayed as a Little Person named Carey Big-Hart. He wins her heart with his personality and the pair frolics through the video, with P!nk kneeling down to talk to her suitor and picking him up to put him on a swing.
So what’s the problem here? Imagine if instead of being a Little Person, the mercilessly mocked Hart was in blackface or yellowface. Still adorable and funny? Not so much. Carey Hart is an average heighted man objectifying a Little Person for laughs. Hart can shed this persona without ever facing the heightism and ableism that accompanies it in real life, like being unable to reach an ATM or fearing for his safety around idiots who might see him as a projectile, vis a vis that horrible online “Midget Toss” game.
And here we get to the ‘M’ word. Widely considered offensive in the Little Person community, P!nk’s video has spawned a spate of blog posts throwing it around in the “aren’t midgets funny just by their very existence” way rather than the “midget originated as a term for acts in a freak show and therefore has a painful history, thank you much” way. P!nk seems to know that particular history of the term – the video opens with “Freakshow Theatre Presents” and the whole first scene is in a side show tent – and is more than fine with using it as a premise for her video. While she’d likely argue that her character, the Giantess, is the one that’s part of the freak show, she’s the subject of adoration rather than derision. Also, there’s the little sticking point that Giants aren’t a real group of people still fighting for equal rights.
I also don’t buy the theory, which I first saw posited by a commenter on The Frisky, that P!nk is using the Giantess and Little Person characters as an allegory for the marital pairing of a hugely famous rock star and the little-as-in-average guy. It’s not like she pulled a Britney and married her backup dancer; Carey Hart is an international motocross super star and was well known long before they met. I do think P!nk was trying to make the point that love can bloom between the unlikeliest parties but this is problematic, again, because of the way she chose to make her point. Little People and average heighted people have happy, successful relationships all the time – even with P!nk as Giantess, it still begs the question why people of different heights getting together is bizarre enough in itself to be a comment on unlikely relationships.
Do I think P!nk and Hart intended to be malicious toward or even offensive to Little People when they made this video? No. Do I believe they even thought about it being problematic? Again, no. That’s the evil, sticky wicket of privilege: you can’t really know what oppressions a certain group faces unless you’re part of that group and therefore don’t innately know what words, references, or depictions might be triggering or problematic. That’s not an excuse for being discriminatory. The key to combating privilege induced mistakes like this one is to run it by members of that group and really listen to what they have to say. Had P!nk floated her idea to a few Little People activists they might have suggested she celebrated unlikely love with, say, a depiction of the difficult partnership between a rocker and an extreme sports star. That don’t beat the crap out of each other. That right there is a video I’d love to see.