Slow-Motion Undressing and Sexual Objectification: The Roller Derby Narrative in Gavin DeGraw’s Fire Music Video

Written by Kevin Dennison

At about 50 seconds into the video I found myself wondering when derby was going to kick in, it must be right around the corner! A few strong career women were just shown in their professions and now they were finally leaving work to get to what I could only assume was their bout! Disappointingly, rather than being introduced to the roller derby portion of this video through imagery showcasing strong, athletic, empowered women it all begins with this:

That’s right. The first shot of these career women and roller derby athletes at their venue is a slow-motion shot of one of them undressing. Of course.

None of what comes next should be of any surprise. A solid 35-sconds-ish of screen time then, in my opinion, clearly objectifies these derby skaters. As the athletes get geared up, the camera focuses in on various body parts, ignoring their faces in favor of smooth stomachs and more slow-mo as they pull socks over their fishnet stockings.

When the viewer IS shown their faces, many of the women are still presented in awkward, “sexy poses”. Their backs arched, their chests pushed out, one is all awkwardly posed screen right with her hands uncomfortably balanced on her raised thigh. It just all feels so forced, like, derby girls getting ready the “sexy” way according to the fantasies of whoever was directing this thing.

Then of course there is the super obvious chest closeup as the firefighter from the beginning of the video puts her jersey on. The shot opens square on her bra, taking it’s sweet time in panning up for a very brief shot of her face, yet never going too high so that it would rob us of a clear view of her lingerie. If that weren’t obvious enough, the camera then abruptly cuts away from her just as she is about to pull her shirt down. I don’t know, it just irks me. I mean, come on…

If a skater is feeling beautiful and sexy, free and comfortable in their self-expression due to the empowerment she has discovered through this sport, then I think that’s awesome! Roller derby is sexy because it is so empowering and I love that it is on the terms of the athletes. Unfortunately, I feel that only the last part of the video portrays any semblance of that as the LA Derby Dolls finally take to the banked track and kick some serious ass! It’s a great show of their tremendous strength, dedication, and athleticism.

I just can’t get over the intro bits. It’s just a shame that so much screen screen time went to this completely unnecessary dressing room peep show sequence. Rather than showing all of the loud chatter as the team gets geared up, the excitement, the coach talking strategy as everyone gets in the zone, the camaraderie, the goofy dancing to 80’s rock and roll moments that ACTUALLY happens in many derby dressing rooms, instead we see this silent, staged, rather voyeuristic sequence that to me was very reminiscent of the Teleflora ad from the 2012 Super Bowl.

Bummer.

Here’s hoping the next music video to feature roller derby skips the dressing room and shows viewers the REAL community and culture of roller derby.

Anyway, you can check out the embedded video for yourself below and draw your own conclusions as well!

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13 comments

  1. If I could ..I would hug the hell out of you. Thank you for being honest in your review and not acting like this video had anything to do with empowering women… pretending like it a supa great thing for derby and women athletes.. like 90% of the skaters i know. Thank you x infinity. Then some.

    1. I definitely feel that everybody is entitled to their own opinion and if there are people out there who genuinely enjoy the video, and felt that it was great for derby and women athletes, then cool, that’s their take.

      I just personally feel like the dressing room segment was the EXACT opposite of all of that and it really undermines the rest of the video. In my opinion it was just flat out needless and a ridiculously, obvious exercise in objectification.

      Glad to hear you are voicing your opinion on the video as well! I believe that these are great conversations for the derby community to be having.

      Thank you for reading and for commenting, Gracie!

  2. My league (the Lansing Derby Vixens) did a really fun video with a local band, The Outer Vibe, for their song “Princess of Sin” that shows a lot of the camaraderie and fun that’s part of roller derby. The band understood completely that we didn’t want to be objectified, and worked with us extensively on the storyboard. The video is available here:

    1. Great music video! Thank you for sharing it, Leigh! Love the camaraderie, the energy, the athleticism and the empowerment it shows. It’s great that there is a really strong dose of the culture of roller derby in it too. I especially liked the after party sequence with the skater buying the guy she decimated on the track a beer.

      THOSE are the kind of videos I’d like to see of derby going forward. Fun, fast paced, showcasing great athletic skill, and giving the viewers a taste of what being in the community is like.

      Cheers!

  3. Something that I love about derby us that every body type is represented on the track. That’s something that is totally lost on this video. Sure its fun, but it could have gotten more derby love had the directors paid more attention to the culture of the athletes who participate I’m the sport.

  4. Its great that they used derby in their music video, but yeah it seema like they pulled some of the wrong strings if they wanted more love from the derby community. One thing I love about derby is how every body type is represented and valued on the track. They missed it.

    1. Completely agreed, donytop. Though I must admit that the more and more I see of roller derby in pop culture, the less and less prevalent that “all shapes and all sizes” mantra seems to be. I don’t really know what it is but from my own personal observations, the pursuit of athleticism in roller derby feels as though it is starting to purport an ideal body type for our sport as well. But I digress, that’s an another conversation entirely!

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

      1. The more money that comes into the sport, the more shiny marketers it will attracked. And they are mostly snake oil salesmen that will want to push a lot of the above kind of material with very persuasive arguments. I think it’ll be important for teams to have people in house that can guard the “brand” of derby.

        I always tell my wife that sexyness will always be a part of rollerderby, it doesn’t really need to be promoted.

  5. I felt like the locker room scene showed the transformation from professional day life to our derby alter egos. I’m an accountant by day and getting ready for px or a bout it involves a transformation that I felt was accurately portrayed for me. I found this video through my step daughter who is so used to derby being part of her everyday life she didn’t realize how cool this really was!

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