|Purple Rain: 80s
Purple Rain Pimpology:
The Missing Link Between "The Mack"
and the Many Macks of Hip Hop
SeeingBlack.com Editor and Film Critic
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When the phenomenon known as "Purple Rain" burst onto
the screen in 1984, it was still only a stone's throw away
from the 1970's. Sure, long mack coats had given way to leather,
and the "press and curl" had given way to the jheri
curl but there were still many land yachts—old Cadillac Eldorados,
Buick LeSabres and Chrysler New Yorkers—on the road. The faux
fab aura of the pimp was still part of the pop culture imagination,
and was taken to a whole new level in the big pimpin decade of the
1980's, with its junk bonds, savings and loan scandals, obsession
with "Dallas"-like materialism and wanton greed.
In the larger context, the pimp aura (and, we should add, the "ho"
aura as well) of "Purple Rain" is mild in comparison—but
is startling nonetheless. Wardrobe is an easy mark. Minus the wide-brimmed
hat, bandleader Morris Day is pimped out in his loud shiny suits,
creamy white coat, two-tone wingtips and straightened hair. He is
vain and preening, as if accustomed to pampering himself with the
proceeds of the pimpish music industry or, we could imagine, hookers
on the track.
Day's self-absorption is rendered comically as he runs his
hand over his hair like a girl, and checks his appearance in a mirror
held aloft by his manservant-sidekick-fellow performer Jerome. Prince
is a whole other matter. He does sport the long coat but his shirts
with waves of ruffles, tight pants, pointy-toed boots and curly
locks make him look more effeminate or androgynous than pimp-like.
At some point, Morris Day, his worthy adversary, calls him a "long-haired
What really gives "Purple Rain" the aura of the pimp-hooker
relationship is the inconsiderate and often violent interaction
between Prince or Morris Day with Apollonia and the other women
in the film. Always couched in humor, albeit a immature type of
humor, Day and Prince are, in one moment, abusive to women and,
in the next moment, treating them like pet poodles with possible
earning power. At a rehearsal for the new girl group he wants to
form, Day grows increasingly irritated with two women executing
the bump-and-grind dance moves that he has choreographed.
"Let's have some action!" he yells at them, both
bent over in tights and high heels. "I want some asses wiggling!
I want some perfection!" Pleased with his off-rhyme, Day smacks
palms with Jerome before telling him outside, "This just ain't
hapnin. The bitches are okay. But we need something more exciting."
Just then, someone we assume is one of Morris Day's women,
jumps in his face about some slight she has suffered and, with one
gesture from Day, Jerome picks up the woman and throws her into
a nearby garbage dumpster. The surly woman who dares speak back
has, literally, been dumped.
In contrast, the relationship between Prince and Apollonia is more
complex, with Apollonia playing more of a "ho" than
Prince plays a pimp. Apollonia is a needy and ambitious aspiring
performer who hopes Prince can give her the break she needs. On
her very first outing with him, she accepts what thinks she is an
initiation into the world of popular Minneapolis performers and
strips down to her panties before jumping into a dirty lake. Prince
laughs at her and pretends that he is going to leave her in the
woods naked and wet. She has no money and is staying in a seedy
hotel but she pawns a gold ankle chain to buy Prince a new guitar.
Minutes later, when she tells him she is joining Morris Day's
girl group, Prince slaps (as in pimp slaps) her before she bolts
from his basement digs in his parents' house. We are supposed
to understand that, as depicted here, Prince has grown up in an
abusive household, watching his controlling and domineering father
repeatedly hit his mother. So the son has taken on the same behavior,
which is the same behavior some pimps use to control the women in
Apollonia's ultimate decision to "sell" her sexuality
as the lead singer for the new group Apollonia 6 is really what
cements the pimp-hooker flava of Purple Rain. It is not her fault
that men in the story look on her video-ready redbone looks and
begin to lust but it is entirely her decision to make that lust
work for her career and monetary advantage. For her group's
debut, she appears on stage in a cape and then peels it away to
reveal only a black lace teddy, a garter, black stockings and high
heels—this moment is the cinematic intersection of the strip
club, prostitution and good, old-fashioned girl group entertainment.
Men throw dollars onto the stage, perhaps they even reach to place
one inside Apollonia's garter as she sings:
I'm a sex shooter, shooting out in your direction.
Sex shooter, come and play with my affection.
Apollonia presents herself here as a woman confident of what her
looks and sexuality should buy and cost. Appropriately for its superficial
decade, "Purple Rain" was a precursor to many girl (and
boy) groups that looked good on camera but could not sing. At the
time of its release, "Purple Rain" was only the latest
to tell young women that looks and sexuality can easily be sold,
and to tell young men that maybe, just maybe, pimping is easy after
— August 3, 2005
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