Inspired by Tina Turner’s deliciously bizarre music video for her 1986 single “Typical Male,” in 4 Tina I became a pop culture icon of my own making: a cut and paste Crayola clown diva chasing after Turner’s afterimage. Using rudimentary rotoscope, karaoke visuals, makeup and wig crafting, I bask in Turner’s afterglow and enact an unapologetic selfhood through distortion, mimicry, and performance.
My first real “Tina” moment was with her compilation album “Simply the Best.” Feeling melancholy and stormy as I processed romantic relationship drama, I completely fell into a Tina trance after recognizing “I Can’t Stand the Rain” as the song interpolated by Missy Elliot’s “The Rain (Super Dupa Fly).” Hit after hit, I sang along with Turner, enraptured by her smoky salty vocals and unapologetic longing and desire. “Typical Male” is the twelfth track on the album, and it arrives as a surprise. Tina sings,
All I want is a little reaction
Just enough to tip the scales
I’m just using my female attraction
On a typical male, on a typical male
Tina cajoles the object of her desire, a learned suit-and-tie lawyer type who may have “wits” that can “match the best of them,” but when Tina’s close, “he’s just like the rest of them.” She grapples with her foolish love of masculine authority, even though she is prone to be on the trouble end of the law. As a queer black woman in art and academia I identify with Tina’s struggle. Why am I attracted to and repulsed by men and masculinity? To institutions that reify white patriarchal power? It’s not all misery and fatigue; there’s something compelling about being in contested spaces beyond the resources I can temporarily access through them. Maybe it’s the thrill of occasional victory, or finding soft spots in hard places.
The music video places Turner’s struggle in a cartoony set of a virtual game space where she competes against a series of white men. Tina plays chess with immaculate red manicured nails, yanks neckties, tips oversized scales, hip checks fools, and bashes men with baseball bats. Her “female attraction” is commanding and capricious, and these typical males are no match. This version of femme power is a potent resource that I revere in others and fear within myself. At times it is a weapon of last resort. To deploy it risks collateral damage, i.e. when effective, my target becomes “typical,” and so do I. I’m grateful that Turner demonstrates how to revel in one’s deep complexity and predictable simplicity.