In Norse mythology, Kraka (born Aslaug) stands out as the archetypical “clever peasant girl” who, by orchestrating her stunning looks in cunning ways, gets the kingdom, the wisdom and the glory.
Daughter of the legendary warrior Sigurd and the no less impressive valkyrie Brunhilde –whose wild romance was turned into a musical by Richard Wagner in his hysterical gesamtkunstwerk Der Ring des Nibelungen—she is orphaned at a young age and raised by Brynhilde’s foster father Heimer.
To keep her safe, Heimer builds himself a harp large enough for the girl to hide in (as one does), and travels with her disguised as a bard . Their musical journey comes to an end in the house of Áke and Grima. Convinced that the harp is valuable they conspire to kill Heimer in his sleep, only to discover the young girl hidden within the instrument. They decide to raise her as their own daughter, naming her Kraka after the wise crow.
Concerned that her beauty will betray her noble origins and pose a threat to her (and their own) safety, they then roll her in tar and dress her in a long hooded cape, which supposedly would allow her to enjoy a carefree childhood frolicking in the fjords of Norway, when not toiling away at the farm.
One morning, in the meantime ripened into a formidable young woman, she decides to take a swim and wash away the grime. She is discovered bathing by a troop of Ragnar Lodbrok’s men, who are baking bread at the beach (as one does). Baffled by her beauty, they allow the bread to burn, prompting an inquisition by their king upon their return. When they tell him about their vision of a young girl with silky hair long enough to reach the ground, he demands to see her. However, in order to test that her brains are match to her beauty, he gives her three commands:
She must appear before him not full, yet not fasting, not alone, yet not followed by any human being and not clothed, yet not naked.
She accepts the challenge by way of biting in an onion, calling her loyal dog to her side and dressing in a fish net.
Now wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before a king?
Fast forward about a thousand years or so, to a few weeks ago when Rihanna appeared before a court of American paparazzi –gathered on the event of the CFDA’s where she was to receive her “fashion Icon” award—dressed in nothing but “fishnet and a couple of fingers crossed” and shining bright like a diamond thanks to two-hundred-and-thirty-thousand Swarovski crystals.
And a boa and thong. But we will leave the thong out of the equation, because since “Nipple-gate” it is the baring of a female nipple that equates the knee jerk censorship reaction of black bars and blurred out body parts and the condemnation of a dress “leaving nothing to the imagination.”
Because, off course, before the applaud of the crowd had even faded she was scolded by hordes of people –from TLC who felt the need to remind the world that “we became the biggest selling girl group of all times with our clothes on, and that says a lot!” to anonymous pedestrians on the streets of New York who were concerned that she was “becoming a bad role model.”
But seriously, America, do you really think that Rihanna is any more concerned about the moral turpitude of your teenage daughters, than you were about hers, at fourteen selling t-shirts with her crack addicted father in a Bridgetown street stall in her native Barbados? I thought not -all she sees in you is Dollar bills, and you get the pop icons you deserve!
Sadly, America has come a long way from the times it was possible for a female superstar to be naked, famous and clever, but Rihanna offers us a welcome trip down memory lane, if we dare follow.
In perhaps an unwitting act of cultural appropriation, by becoming Kraka, Rihanna offers us a cunning female beauty, cleverly dissolving the black and white dialectics of the 80’s Madonna vs. Grace Jones, and channeling a lineage of American beauty as much infused with the warm blooded exoticism of Josephine Baker as the milk-and-honey cornucopia of Marilyn Monroe, flowing and shimmering into an apparition as libidinous as a dildo and as covetable as an Oscar statuette.
Image: Kraka (1862) By Mårten Eskild Winge, National Gallery of Stockholm.