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Daylight fades over Kings Dominion. The theme-park throng, here for BET’s College Hiphop Fest, heads for the exit gates.
A young Latina in a tight-fitting tan jumpsuit and black blouse sashays through the crowd. Her curvy figure draws catcalls from more than a few male onlookers.
But not all of her admirers are speaking up. Quietly lurking amid the masses, tailing the woman, is Fort Washington, Md., videographer Mike Muse. In his right hand, down by his waist, he casually carries a digital camcorder. “I know just where to hold it,” he says.
The viewfinder is flipped open, but Muse boasts that he doesn’t need it. “I’ll look down occasionally,” he says, “but not enough to worry about bumping into something. I can talk on my cell phone and do this at the same time.”
Later, replaying the footage, Muse breaks down the woman’s comely characteristics: “The shape. The thickness. The way she walksit makes her pants wrinkle.”
In the footage, you never see the woman’s face, front, or much of anything above her waist. Muse focuses strictly on her fanny. “The no pockets accentuate the figure ’cause you can see all the definition,” he continues. “Those pants are so tight it doesn’t make any sense.”
Although he shelled out $42 to enter Kings Dominion and logged about five hours inside, Muse says he never set foot on a roller coaster. He didn’t catch Cam’ron & the Diplomats or Keith Murray in concert, either. Muse went solely in search of booty. “It’s strictly about business,” he says.
For two years, Muse has prowled public events, documenting the derrières he finds “phat.” (“To describe a curvaceous woman,” he specifies, the term is “spelled p-h-a-t.”) If you attended Southeast’s Unifest last summer or Howard University’s 2001 homecoming, Muse just might have your ass on video.
And he just might be making money from it: On Muse’s Web site, RearView2.com, two-hour VHS compilations of his bottom-heavy clips sell for $14.95 each, under such titles as D.C. Street Booty and Butts in Motion. So far, Muse has sold about 500 tapes, but he hopes that candid asses will do for him what breast-baring spring-breakers did for Girls Gone Wild auteur Joe Francis.
“I want to be a millionaire,” Muse says.
It’s been 10 years since MTV banned the controversial booty-shakin’ video for “Baby Got Back,” Seattle rapper Sir Mix-A-Lot’s popular ode to big butts. Denounced by some as too sexy and by others as outright sexist, the song nonetheless topped the Billboard charts and nabbed a Grammy for His Heinieness.
It would be the obvious yet ideal choice of musical accompaniment to Butts in Motion, Muse’s most recent video offeringthat is, if the video featured a soundtrack, which it doesn’t. The low-budget rump romp, shot entirely at Unifest 2002, features music only when the mike on Muse’s camcorder picks it up on the street.
Still, the 36-year-old Muse is quick to give props to Mix-A-Lot. “Basically, what he spoke of in that video was just the typical thinking of most black men,” he says. “There are two standards of beauty in America: Thin, very thin women are what white guys find attractivethe supermodel type. In black culture, it’s hips, bubble butts, lots of curves, and a small waist.”
Muse, a full-time telecom technician who grew up in the Congress Heights neighborhood of Southeast, describes himself as a natural-born butt man. He’s quick to laud the local scene. “I’ve been in D.C. all my life,” he says. “I’ve found that there are a lot of shapely women, and they love to wear tight jeans. Even in the wintertime, it’s short coats that don’t conceal the behind at all.”
Pop Butts in Motion into the VCR and you’re instantly riding along the rim of an enormous left buttock, tightly shrouded in beige, that takes up half the screen. A low-hanging black purse blocks view of the butt’s other half.
Deftly overcoming this visual obstruction, Muse quickly cuts away to zoom in on another ass a short distance up the street. He tails this walking pair of pink-and-purple capris for several minutes, sometimes shifting into slo-mo to accentuate every gluteal contraction, rotation, and extension.
The video proceeds in this fashion, hopping from butt to butt, for the next 120 minutes. It’s an ideal sleep aid for insomniacs who’d rather count asses than sheep.
“I’m basically the raw deal,” Muse says. “There’s no fancy introductions, no fancy art, not even a title at the beginning. I just try to put you like you’re there. You see what I saw.
“Most of the guys that like to look at this stuff,” he continues, “they don’t care about all those frills, how much color or music you have in the background. They don’t want any of that. It’s like, Just get me straight to the butts.”
Muse certainly didn’t invent the candid butt-cam. But he’s quick to distance his work from the plethora of posterior-prominent pornography that’s out there. “I don’t consider it pornography,” he says, though a more accurate term escapes him. “There’s no sex and no nudity at all. I don’t even show toplessness.”
Sometimes, Muse says, he’ll introduce himself to a woman he’s been following and filming. He’ll compliment her looks and slip her his card, inviting her to model a thong for him in a private shootwhich, if the images posted on RearView2.com are any indication, usually takes place in Muse’s kitchen.
But that’s as far as it goes on-camera, Muse stresses. “Guys wanna see skin,” he says, citing a higher demand for girls in G-strings than for “just pants.” But Muse intends “to not go nude.” “There’s just a point that I like to stop at,” he says.
Through his filmmaking efforts, Muse claims to have gained some insight into collective female behavior. He’s found, for instance, that the women with the phattest assets usually assume a role of authority in their social groups.
“If they’re walking in a group of females, they’re always in the front,” he says. “It’s like they’re leader of the pack.” That can make Muse’s job slightly more challenging. “Sometimes it pisses me off,” he says, “because while I’m trying to film, she’s got all her buddies in the back, and I can’t get through there.”
Such difficulties have led Muse to take a philosophical approach to his butt-watching. “You’ve just got to be patient,” he says. “Sooner or later, there’s gonna be a break in the clouds.”
Since filming his first phat fanny two years ago, Muse has become increasingly stealthy and technologically savvy in conducting his covert caboose surveillance.
“In the beginning,” he says, “I was using this big ol’ bulky 8 mm camcordervery hard to hide.”
That setup didn’t offer an image-stabilization feature, either, making for some bumpy visuals. “The picture was almost like The Blair Witch Project,” he says. “You get sick looking at it.”
His initial jitters didn’t help, either. “When I first started, I was always nervous,” Muse says. “What if somebody catches me? Am I gonna have to fight her boyfriend?” But so far, he reports, conflict has been minimal: “I’ve been caught by some women, and they may give a smart remark. I just ignore it.”
Now equipped with a more compact Canon ZR45, which fits discreetly into his hand, Muse intends to keep his activities “on the anonymous tip as much as possible.” “If I’m following you, you’ll never know it,” he boasts. “I should have worked for the FBI, because I’m in stealth mode most of the time.”
It helps that public events are usually crawling with people wielding video camerasnot to mention the pervasive video surveillance conducted by various federal and local authorities. Unsuspecting subjects caught in Muse’s sights who discover their backsides onscreen probably shouldn’t be surprisedthough they do have the right to be outraged.
Case law hasn’t yet recognized a right to privacy in public. But the courts have affirmed an individual’s right not to have his or her image exploited commercially without consent.
In other words, a woman upset at unwittingly starring in one of Muse’s videos, armed with an aggressive attorney and a “recognizable” rear end, “could make life very complicated” for the video-maker, says John Malloy, legal-services director for Washington Area Lawyers for the Arts. Muse, Malloy suggests, should get consent from all his subjects before adding their asses to his collection. “The more recognizable a person’s likeness,” he says, “the stronger the suit.”
Although Muse has yet to experience any legal troubles, he has suffered some consequences: “My last girlfriend left me because of this,” he confesses. The issue, he says, eventually erupted into a fierce argument over the morality of his avocation.
Muse, however, seems prepared to do whatever he has to for his videos, admitting that he would even compromise his own ethics for the right amount of cash. “They say everybody has a price,” he says. “If somebody wanted to market me or sponsor me or just give me the type of money that I think I need, and they say, ‘Well, we’re gonna need a few nude pictures,’ I guess I probably would do it.” CP