There's an unwritten rule that says every generation must outdo the next in every way, and "outrageous" stage behaviour is just one of the the more entertaining areas in which to demonstrate how much badder one generation is from the one that preceded it.
A problem for performers hoping to go one better, though, is that once artists have dry-humped the air (Elvis. Come on! What was the furore about his hip wiggling all about if not that?), guitars (Jimi Hendrix, Madonna), the stage (MJ), their dancers (Prince, Madonna, Melanie Brown, aka Scary Spice), the next logical step is to dry-hump the audience, unless you wanna dry-hump your drummer and mess up the beat. That's probably what Akon, Usher and now Jamaican dancehall duo RDX were thinking when they decided to include fan dry-humping in their routine.
Except there's dry-humping and then there's "daggering". To be fair to RDX - who during a recent Swaggerific Concert in Nairobi gave Kenyan fans a demonstration they won't forget anytime soon - daggering is something regular dancehall fans do to each other, too. Daggering, for anyone who might not have heard of the term, is a popular Jamaican dancehall dance in which couples simulate sex in various positions to the beat of the music, with extreme gyrations and rapid pelvic thrusts, usually with the man grinding away behind a girl who's bent over at the waist. In 2009 the Jamaican government banned from radio and TV all songs that refer to daggering, as well as songs that contain sexually explicit or violent lyrics. As of yet there's no ban on the dance itself, although Jamaican doctors have warned of the dangers of daggering, after seeing several cases of damaged penis tissue.
Now some people say, hey, what's sexually-charged fun to one person is beyond the pale to another, just as what one person finds erotic someone else finds pornographic, the separating line varying from one person to the next. Hence film classification bodies whose job it is to decide whether scene X in film A is merely erotic and essential to the story or porn and gratuitous, and how old you need to be to be allowed to see the film. (On that note, perhaps live shows should also be pre-judged and given age-appropriate ratings. CDs of sexually or violently-explicit music carry parental warning stickers, so why not? It'd be the job of the bouncers at the gig entrance to keep out anyone below the age of admission.) Anyway, back to the dry-humping. Sure, the dividing line is fine, but what parallel universe would you need to inhabit at this point in time to see daggering as anything but crude debasement? Or as United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said in describing his threshold test for pornography, "I know it when I see it."
The bigger issue, though, is one of objectification, and it's related to the male-female power imbalance, which is skewed heavily in favour of men. If Madonna felt like it she could dry-hump a male fan, and the power imbalance would render such objectification almost meaningless. A female dancehall performer could "dagger" a male fan - if that's possible - and it still wouldn't matter. But at this point in time, what RDX did on stage does. When the balance of power between men and women is even across the board so that gender has nothing whatsoever to do with how we are perceived, regardless of what we do, then we can objectify one another to our heart's content. We're a long way from that being the case, especially in Africa. Which is not an argument for the other extreme of objectification - putting women on pedestals and turning them into 'pure' madonnas.
Again, to be fair to RDX, the duo is as famous for daggering as they are for their music. Their most popular song is Bend Over, an ode to the dance. And they are known for this in Kenya, too - when the song Bend Over is played in clubs, Kenyan girls do just that - so to some extent it's a bit disingenuous for some fans to act surprised or outraged, including all the ones who vented on our local flagship station Ghetto Radio's Facebook wall.
Love the passion, but people, what did you expect!? That the duo would tone down their act because they're in Kenya when that would mean disappointing half their fans? There were probably as many thrilled and excited fans in the audience, including the girls they had on stage, as outraged ones. Or perhaps the outraged fans had assumed the duo would bring along their own dancers to dry-hump. Perhaps the girls on stage felt what they were doing on stage was empowering, sort of like how some people argue that stripping is empowering. And, needs to be said, it's not as if Kenyan men are the world's most renowned feminists, so, dudes, a bit of hypocrisy at play here?
In one respect, RDX paid Kenya a compliment, albeit a backhanded one: By doing on stage in Kenya exactly what they do in Jamaica it could be argued that they were saying, hey, we feel totally at home here. But then they went and ruined even this argument by complaining that their Kenyan hosts hadn't provided them with "girls" the way their Ugandan hosts had done . Huh? What were the Ugandan hosts thinking?
Who knows, perhaps 10 years from now we'll all look back on this and sigh, ahh, what innocent times those were.
What do you think?