Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Raunchy Rihanna exposes naked truth about nudity

Rihanna pictured filming her new video in the New Lodge
Fans gather to see Rihanna
Rihanna pictured filming her new video in the New Lodge in Belfast

We were treated to a surreal culture-clash earlier this week.

For some unexplained reason, R&B singer Rihanna — the queen of raunch culture, whose recent (widely banned) video featured blow-up dolls, bondage and Perez Hilton on a dog-leash — decided to shoot part of her new video in a grain field behind a Presbyterian church off the Belfast-to-Bangor road.

That's weird enough as it is. I mean, a muddy field beside a dual carriageway in Co Down, with the wind howling and the traffic whizzing past, doesn't exactly scream power, glamour and sex.

But it gets better. Pursued by a pack of eager photographers and cameramen, Rihanna starts to gyrate lasciviously among the wheat and, before you know it, she's whipped off her bikini top.

Incredulous motorists screech to a halt at the side of the road to get a better look; passing schoolchildren wave excitedly and hold up their mobile phones to record the action.

Rihanna frolics, pouts and poses. But who's this hoving into sight on his tractor? Why, it's DUP alderman Alan Graham, owner of the field in question.

He isn't happy with what he sees and decides to put a stop to it, on the grounds that things are getting “inappropriate”.

Given Rihanna's track-record, he ain't seen nothing yet. But the story ends well. The teetotal Christian farmer and the raunchy global superstar shake hands (presumably once Rihanna is fully covered up, unless Mr Graham politely averted his eyes) and go their separate ways.

“I wish no ill will against Rihanna and her friends,” said Alan Graham afterwards. “Perhaps they could acquaint themselves with a greater God.”

Other farmers across the country must be sick with envy at Mr Graham's wasted good fortune and marvelling at his principled restraint.

Still, at least they've got a new fantasy to while away the lonely hours on the tractor: chugging over the brow of a hill only to come upon a half-naked popstar getting jiggy in their cornfield.

It's easy to paint this as an encounter between a hopelessly outmoded, sin-haunted and uptight code of behaviour and a youthful, modern, uninhibited and emancipated attitude to sex and nudity. But it's not quite as simple as that.

There's no doubt that this is a society still tainted by prudishness. In spite of the scenes of avid interest at the roadside as Rihanna shed her clothing, we're not exactly comfortable with nudity ourselves.

While many people from other countries are happy to walk naked across a swimming pool changing-room, or even go nude at the beach, we are the ones who are still struggling awkwardly to get changed under a towel, so that not even a glimpse of snowy flesh will be exposed to a stranger's gaze.

Centuries of religious repression have left their mark: somewhere deep down (or not so deep down, in some fundamentalist circles) we still see bodies, especially female bodies, as dangerously sexual and uncontrollable, the agents of sin and guilt and shame.

The kind of brash, overt sexuality that Rihanna embodies is sometimes seen as the antidote to that old-fashioned, thin-lipped Puritan inheritance.

But, to my mind, it's just as unhealthy — more so, in some ways. For all the talk of empowerment and liberation, the sick message it sends to girls and young women is that, no matter what other talents and attributes you may have, you will be judged fundamentally on how you look.

More than that, you will be judged on how sexually desirable you are.

I don't see any male R&B artists frolicking half-naked around fields. That's because the male stars don't need to market themselves as hyper-sexual spectacles, acting out some tired and deliberately manufactured porn fantasy. Rihanna is just a player in this game. Probably she would have been quite happy to put her top back on and go into Mr Graham's farmhouse for a cup of tea and a slice of toasted veda, if he'd offered. Pretending to be a real-life blow-up-doll all the time must be exhausting.

Experiencing real nudity — not as a contrived pose, or a paid performance, but flinging off your clothes for the sheer hell of it — can be incredibly exhilarating.

Standing completely bare in a summer hailstorm in the Mournes, or running naked out of the sand-dunes and into the surf on a deserted Co Donegal beach, can make you feel like you are truly alive. Just make sure there aren't any photographers, cheering schoolchildren, or irate farmers hanging around.

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