Archive for the ‘pop culture’ Category

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you got real big brains, but I’m looking at your…

March 6, 2007

This is why I like to live in feminist blogland.

Jill at Feministe has a great post up about pop culture’s watered-down and totally distorted understanding of feminism. Apparently the Pussycat Dolls are the next wave of feminism. What’s this? Another case of female empowerment, ah yes. Nice ass, by the way.

Third-wave feminists have enough trouble trying to explain that “sex-positive” doesn’t always mean “totally ok with all pornography and traditional female subjugation.” The backlash is in full swing, and part of it involves using feminism to suit your own, non-feminist aims: Selling sexist shit as “empowerful,” fear-mongering about Femi-Nazis, arguing that feminism created the mainstreaming of pornography, or deciding that a woman is a real feminist if she embraces every requirement of traditional femininity.

This is the nuance I was going for in that femininity post. This also explains why Intentional Feminist Femininity (the femme thing, you know what I’m talking about) is one of the hardest things to explain to a non- or pre-feminist or to a *gasp* second-wave egalitarian feminist. Because femininity is still so steeped in patriarchy and because pop culture got the ridiculous idea somewhere (from many brands of egalitarian feminism, perhaps?) that choice trumps all. As if free choice is somehow exempt from the rest of our lives as women and came into existence completely independent of this patriarchal culture.

This discussion is a vicious cycle, natch, and if you know me at all you know I’m no nihilist. I understand that my own relationship with femininity is love-hate – I know that it has some pretty dreadful roots and is fairy steeped in all things patriarchal. I also know that I don’t believe that “free choice” actually exists anywhere in our lives. I dare you to name a decision in our lives that isn’t somehow affected by our gender (a key one to mention here), community and family standards, financial situation, race, sexual orientation, what high school you went to, etc. Jill continues on this point.

Younger women may have more choices today than ever before, but we still don’t have a full array. Younger women are presented with an image of male-defined “sexiness” as the best way for them to be attractive, fun and desirable. Dancing on the bar or flashing their breasts secures them the positive attention that they probably wouldn’t get from being the smartest girl in class. It’s the new way to prove that you’re “fun” and “independent” if you’re “doing it for me.” And while men are fully permitted to be both sexual and serious, and otherwise possessive of complex identities, women who seek male attention are pushed into the sexbot role.

We can understand “free choice” to be the messiah of feminism, in that we work towards this theoretical utopia with the understanding that we will likely not experience it in our lifetimes. Which, to me, isn’t so much depressing as it is realistic and should rid us of the “weight of the world on our shoulders” thing that feminists often experience. At this point in time, men still have many more choices about who they are and what their lives can and should mean. In other words, the Pussycat Dolls are welcome to call it sexy and fun and girl power, whatever. Just don’t call it feminism. Please.

P.S. The title of this post if from the Pussycat Doll’s Beep (a song about feminist empowerment if I ever knew one. Ha.)

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Thank you, Pink

October 12, 2006

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I don’t know how in the world she managed to get this song on a mainstream pop record but I have a lot of respect for her for doing it. It’s kind of unbelievable, millions (literally) of copies of this album have been sold around the world. Teenage girls everywhere are hearing a pop star sing an unabashed protest song – and doing it beautifully, painfully, and honestly. The album version of the song is better than the one above because the Indigo Girls sing with her – I highly recommend it. Lyrics below.

“Dear Mr. President”
(feat. Indigo Girls)

Dear Mr. President
Come take a walk with me
Let’s pretend we’re just two people and
You’re not better than me
I’d like to ask you some questions if we can speak honestly

What do you feel when you see all the homeless on the street
Who do you pray for at night before you go to sleep
What do you feel when you look in the mirror
Are you proud

How do you sleep while the rest of us cry
How do you dream when a mother has no chance to say goodbye
How do you walk with your head held high
Can you even look me in the eye
And tell me why

Dear Mr. President
Were you a lonely boy
Are you a lonely boy
Are you a lonely boy
How can you say
No child is left behind
We’re not dumb and we’re not blind
They’re all sitting in your cells
While you pave the road to hell

What kind of father would take his own daughter’s rights away
And what kind of father might hate his own daughter if she were gay
I can only imagine what the first lady has to say
You’ve come a long way from whiskey and cocaine

How do you sleep while the rest of us cry
How do you dream when a mother has no chance to say goodbye
How do you walk with your head held high
Can you even look me in the eye

Let me tell you bout hard work
Minimum wage with a baby on the way
Let me tell you bout hard work
Rebuilding your house after the bombs took them away
Let me tell you bout hard work
Building a bed out of a cardboard box
Let me tell you bout hard work
Hard work
Hard work
You don’t know nothing bout hard work
Hard work
Hard work
Oh

How do you sleep at night
How do you walk with your head held high
Dear Mr. President
You’d never take a walk with me
Would you

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changing the world, one ass-shake at a time

September 1, 2006

There’s an interesting take on the role of hip-hop in the world, specifically in the Islamic world, in today’s salon, in an article called Beyoncé Knowles, Freedom Fighter. Thaddeus Russell draws parallels between the Cold War and the current war in Iraq to illustrate a telling point:

Joseph Stalin and his commissars called it an “amoral infection” in the minds of Soviet youth. It was “American primitivism,” “capitalist cultural imperialism” and “bourgeois cosmopolitanism.” But it was really African-American culture. It was the same infection that today is spreading underneath the police, the laws and the censors of Islamic regimes.

I took a fantastic American history class with Professor Russell in college, probably the most interesting lecture I took in four years – he’s all about social history and pop culture. He was one of the hottest professors (for always teaching a fascinating class and for being pretty attractive). The buzz was always Thad this and Thad that. I’m getting away from myself…so the article is definitely an interesting read. I don’t want to dispute the validity of his theories/claims, I’m more interested in my own contrasting views about “open” sexuality in hip-hop, especially in this context.

thoughts:
1. Where does my dichotomy of freedom vs. sexism, or third wave feminism vs. second wave feminism, respectively, fit into this discussion? In other words, where does sexual freedom (for some) end and sexual oppression/sexism begin? Can it be both at the same time?
2. What of secular Western assumptions of religious non-Westerners (‘primitive’ notions about sexuality) that are clearly based on some reality (as stereotypes always are) but are problematic nonetheless?
3. Finally, where do we draw all of those boundaries in an (American) world where we are barraged with hundreds of images of sex and sexuality all day long? So you get a better sense of where these thoughts are coming from, here’s another excerpt:

Islamism is facing an even graver challenge in Indonesia, with a special assist from Beyoncé Knowles. In 2003, a 24-year-old singer from East Java named Inul Daratista unleashed a sexual revolution simply by rotating her lower body onstage in such a way as to cause millions of men to worship her and millions of women to emulate her. Inul’s dance style, which she calls “drilling,” is indistinguishable from a move that has been ubiquitous in hip-hop clubs and videos for years, and which Beyoncé recently brought to the mainstream, called “booty popping.”… The singer-dancer, whose name means “the girl with breasts,” dresses much like her pop counterparts in the Middle East, but she also has diamonds embedded in her teeth, a fashion statement made famous by American rappers.

There’s this funny assumption that my enemy’s enemy is always my friend. Lately I feel like this is especially untrue, and here is a perfect example. Though I admittedly snicker with the rest of the smartass Americans about the ‘fascist’ rulings of Islamic leaders, I also don’t consider near-naked women (often women of color) flaunting their asses as particularly symbolic of a free society. Frankly, I don’t know that I find it particularly helpful for professors of American history to be interpreting the Islamic world’s (particularly its leaders’) reactions to American hip-hop and its influences. I’d rather think about what this might say about American culture.

Russell’s high points are when he relays Cold War history and Soviet reactions to American jazz music:

Though they avoided the explicit racism of their capitalist rivals, Communist authorities clearly understood the source of the corruption. A Bulgarian newspaper called young rockers “arrogant monkeys, dropped into our midst as if from a foreign zoo.” Soviet cultural magazines referred to jazz and rock as “mud music” produced by an “ape culture.” East German Communists more frankly dismissed it as “Negermusik.” But the youth in those countries apparently took the association with African-Americans as a compliment. The first rock band in Poland, formed in 1958, was originally named Rhythm and Blues and subsequently changed its name to the Reds and Blacks.

OK…so I just threw out a bunch of open-ended questions and ended with some more quotes. Sue me. Not a great post. The article was interesting, but it left me wanting a lot more than just a story of “then and now.” I think I’m just bored of the daily political opinions, they are so completely dry. At least Russell got me thinking about how all of these things (pop culture, women’s bodies, globalization, to name just a few) are connected and it’s up to us to offer up all these interpretations of how.

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femme puppet!

August 21, 2006

Abby Cadabby should make the femmes proud. I think so, anyway. Abby is the newest, girliest addition to the Sesame Street cast. And a fairy, to boot! I know, I know, I should stop seeing everything with a queer lens. But this is a really good one. She could never replace Miss Piggy (the ultimate high femme) but she seems fabulous in her own right.

The pink and sparkly Abby, who flutters around with dragonfly wings and a magic wand, is decidedly more girlie than her peers… “Abby, being a fairy, allows us to teach diversity and accepting of other’s differences, because we don’t have a fairy on ‘Sesame Street,'” (executive producer Carol-Lynn) Parente said. “She’s able to show everyone what it’s like to be a fairy and what it’s like to be magical.”

Contrary to expectations, I won’t go into a long and detailed rant about why Abby is queer. Suffice it to say that she sounds like a sparkly femme to me. And she’s so effing cute! Go Abby. More here and here.

Thanks again to Feministing for the linkage. (An excellent site to add to your rss reader, IMO)

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reason #456 to love HBO

August 21, 2006

I started a post about Spike Lee’s new documentary about Hurricane Katrina, When the Levees Broke, but then realized how ridiculous it is to blog about a movie I haven’t seen yet. The first two parts premiere tonight on HBO; the second two tomorrow night (both at 9 PM). All four parts (one hour apiece) will be aired on August 29th, the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Interesting reviews/opinions:

N.O. Better Blues (from Salon.com, brief summary and then description of the New Orleans premiere of the film)
‘When the Levees Broke’: Spike Lee’s Tales From a Broken City (NYTimes review)
Spike Lee Films the New Orleans Disaster His Way (NYTimes opinion piece, not exactly my opinion but an interesting read)

See the full airing schedule here.