For its 1.5 years as an active platform, PF helped me cultivate the point of view, style and content for my study of “The Twist.” Read it here:
While New York City has apparently been hosting a historical reenactment of the Ice Age, my line-of-sight has been basically limited to whatever I can make out through that moist hole my zipped up jacket hood makes (is it spit? snot? sweat? snow? one of life’s great mysteries). So it’s saying something that from the inside that little tunnel, I haven’t failed to get an eye-load of Barack Obama on the cover of every single magazine on every single news stand since what might be forever. The guy sells magazines. I get it.
Still, I’m amazed that Ms. Magazine decided to hop on the relevance train clutching a one-way ticket to Utopiobamalandia, all jittery and empty-eyed like its other mildly insane residents. Population: everyone I know.
Elenor Smeal unveils the (not at all cheaply rendered) cover claiming Obama’s femini-cred by relating,
When the chair of the Feminist Majority Foundation board, Peg Yorkin, and I met Barack Obama, he immediately offered “I am a feminist.”
Granted, his little airbrushed representative already has pathological delusions of grandeur, it might as well help those piddling rascals at Ms. cast the term “feminist” into the infinity of oblivion.
And hey, I’m all for exposing the vacuous black hole at the bottom of American politics, which is why I have to agree with Sarah Breslin that the ensuing feminist-backlash is an overreaction to the point of embarrassment. Breslin takes it up a notch, writing:
This is what gets feminist knickers in a twist these days? The cover of Ms.? Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Feminism lies like a beached octopus, tentacles thrashing in all directions, looking for anything upon which it may find purchase, desperately seeking to be relevant again.
It’s funny cuz it’s true.
I’m looking forward to not having to endure everyone looking forward to the inauguration. I just hope once he takes office our country can hold it together. If special-edition Alternate Reality President is what Ms. and the rest of us need to survive, then I’ll gladly take an eyeful of his austere portraits on our withering news magazines for as long as they inspire us. Let’s hope he can fulfill a fraction of our expectations.
A few months ago, Bitch Magazine asked for handouts from the feminist community. In their words “We need to raise $40,000 by October 15th in order to print the next issue of Bitch.” Even though my conspicuous eye-rolls and pages of Bitch are well acquainted, I considered donating some cash as a practice of my conviction that we must support feminist discussions of all kinds everywhere, period. But given, like, a fraction of a second thinking about it I realized how ludicrous it was for Bitch to feel it so crucial to print anything at all.
As their wildly successful begging campaign attests to (which I commend them for running so splendidly), the internet is a much more effective method of community-building and communication than one-sided print media.
No one is wringing their hands and gnashing their tongue more than me about the impending death of print media. The whole industry has been flipping out with all the grasping moans and lashing desperation of a Joan Crawford death scene. But what puts the “tragi” in “tragicomedy” here is the possibility that high quality content that deserves to be one-sided is losing its forum. Some writers are still great—few, but some—and deserve to speak and be heard. Those writers do not contribute to Bitch.
Websites like Feministing, Feministe, Racialicous and the Curvature consistently produce high-quality analyses and critical essays, and spark insightful and community-building discussions online. The emphasis on discourse-based content is not just a given in web communities, it was the foundation of the feminist movement and will continue to be the bedrock of our progress.
Bitch’s endeavor to fund their one-sided anachronism for as long as they can con us into giving our money to them, as opposed to proposing a more cost-effective online presence which fuels the productive work of an inter-play between professional and user-generated content, is short-sighted and bizarre.
In their appeal, the Bitch editors claimed that “it’s not magazines like US Weekly or Vogue that you’ll see disappearing from the newsstands—they have the parent companies and the resources to weather industry ill winds”. This assertion isn’t just false, it’s self-destructive. In fact, it is precisely because the major media players are giants that they’re falling so hard to their knees. They’re cumbersome and steeped in decades of tradition. The sentimentality they lug around for the glory years of their industry is making it hard to be lithe and adapt in a changing landscape. The young, hip, women who hail from a tradition of community building that pre-dates the internet are at an extraordinary advantage to be at the helm of innovation for successful online community building. The absurdity of measuring themselves against the large media conglomerates and demanding special help in order to mimic the terms of Goliath’s survival is the exact opposite of the approach that we need to take.
(As an aside, I consider it manipulative for the editors to name US and Vogue magazines in particular in their appeal, which will immediately read to Bitch subscribers as “bad, stupid, harmful to women, and therefore less deserving of such corporate protectionism than the comparatively righteous Bitch, which we now feel obligated to ‘save’”. You know what else won’t be disappearing? The New Yorker and Harper’s to name a few. How about Vanity Fair and O Magazine? They’ll survive too. And why? Not paternalism but superior content. Bitch aggressively steers the conversation elsewhere).
This is not a piece of writing geared toward scolding Bitch or their supporters. I want to underscore only the invigorating fact that the websites I mentioned above have leaped gloriously ahead of Bitch, and it serves us feminists to recognize a number of things this proves:
1) As hard as it is to admit or confront, the contemporary feminist community doesn’t have “public intellectuals” worthy of a print publication. Just something to chew on there.
2) What we do have in spades, is interested and interesting women of all ages ready to engage with one anther online as Feministe and Feministing attest to. This is extraordinary and could be key not only in generating feminism’s “next wave” but (one hopes) the accompanying public intellectuals to support it.
3) Women’s online communities could be key in unlocking the future of publishing and written media. Women need to figure out why this may be (I’m working on it), and how to capitalize on it, before anyone else does.
More on the future of publishing to come. Stay tuned. Bitch: all the best! Keep the techno-zeitgeist alive.
There’s no better way to describe my moral reaction to Natalie Dylan’s scheme to auction off her virginity than extreme indifference. I’m utterly burning in the white-heat of neutrality. What supposedly makes Dylan’s venture into the enterprising world of ebay prostitution the stuff of controversy-plus, is her status as a women’s studies graduate and insistence that this is an act of feminism.
While I can’t really bring myself to take a position on this, Dylan’s entirely defensible claims mark further evidence of the terminological abyss that lurks just beneath the surface of “feminism”. Anyway, I have to admire her lack of sentimentality for this perplexingly coveted flap of organic matter.
I lost my virginity when I fell on a handrail in 5th grade. Not only was the whole affair woefully unromantic, it was a freebee. If I had known that the genius decision to perfect my balancing act that fateful afternoon would result in the potential net-less of some $3M, I would’ve guarded my god-given little investment somewhat more jealously and maybe sold it on ebay to a blithering moron willing to pay through the nose for it. In that Dylan’s V-for-sale reveals the infinite absurdity of valuing such a commodity, maybe she is taking a positive step in the name of feminism after all. Such as it is.
This list, while flawed, beautifully illustrates my earlier proposal that we should place sex at the imaginative center of feminism, not politics. Every one of the figures below is a rich subject for nuanced feminist thought–though not for rubber stamping “good” or “bad”. You’ll see that self-identified and honorary feminists both feature prominently in the list below. Playboy, as usual, offers up some dynamic food for thought.
16 Howard Stern
17 Ed Meese
20 Bo Derek
23 Anita Bryant
25 Erica Jong
31 Nancy Friday
34 Philip Roth
42 Mike Nichols
43 Betty Dodson
45 Ian Fleming
46 Lenny Bruce
49 Danni Ashe
51 Gay Talese
52 Rock Hudson
In 1959 Berry Gordy founded Motown Records. This year is the 50th anniversary of what I consider to be the greatest record label in pop music history. The beauty of Motown rests in its general commitment to a Fordist model of music production which values specialized talents over the omni-talented-singer-songwriter-folk-myth that has been flinging mediocrity in our faces since 1975.
With a few notable exceptions, he or she who is the better singer, is not the best lyricist. The great lyricist is not usually the great composer. The great composer is not the great musician and so on. And yet, because we so comically personalize music (oh my god, it’s like Fiona Apple knows me), we place irrational value in the notion that the musician’s final product as a pure, untampered with expression of the artists’ inner soul. Despite aggressive marketing to the contrary, this is almost never the case.
For anyone who ever thought two seconds about it, it would be obvious that pop music is, and ought to be, a collaborative and technical effort. I don’t want the same person working at all levels of production just as I wouldn’t want to watch the a Martin Scorsese film, starring Martin Scorsese, score by Martin Scorsese, edited by Martin Scorsese. Imagine the pathetic state of the film industry if it labored under the same stigma the music industry must! Of course I’m aware that very few films are great, but pound-for-pound, it remains one of our more thriving mediums and that it also has a strong tradition (necessity) of artistic delegation is not coincidental.
This pop music folk myth also tends to favor the medium of The Album as opposed to the generally superior and more endearingly humble “single”. How many artists really merit the event of The Album? Most would be better suited to just write songs and release them as singles, and only if they have a solid enough run to necessitate it, compile a “best of” ten years down the road thus actually ensuring the consumer that their $15 will be well spent. This I propose as an alternative to the crap-shoot we’re expected to make when we hear a promising single on the radio and must take our chances when we lay down some serious cash for a Natalie Imbruglia CD.
The self-righteousness just oozing from every syllable of the hipper-than-thou LP collector’s tight lips “I prefer to listen to the whole album as one piece–the way the artist intended”, makes me want to slit my wrists with their record needle.
Berry Gordy got all of this and that’s why my favorite Motown act, the Supremes, stand up as a pop group of such colossal stature (they are but one of a startling catalog of acts about whom the same could be written). Their singles collection (many albums worth), boasts the transcendent work of a collaboration of geniuses, and packs a punch nearly unmatched. For our women’s interest bent, let it be once more stated that Motown was built on the backs of The Supremes and other women (Martha and the Vandellas, The Marevellettes, The Velvettes ), who topped the unprecedented dominance of women on the pop music charts in the early years of Motown and mid-to-late years of Brill Building. This was the great era of the pop single, which, thanks to file downloading, is the unit of pop music once more.
After the tragic suicide of David Foster Wallace in September, everyone with a basic grasp of the written word took it upon themselves to make me feel like a miserable fraud for never having read him (sadly, I can’t claim this to be a totally novel sensation for me. I’ve always disturbingly empathized with David Rakoff’s statement that “fraudulence is the central drama of my life,” amending “well, that and staying thin.” How excruciatingly true).
A.O. Scott’s Greatest Mind of His Generation, was especially guilt-inducing but I say this only for his linking to Wallace’s piece on Borges, and not that it was what one might imagine to be an atypically grandiose portrait of OUR GREAT LOSS. It was not.
And yet, to even entertain the possibility of tackling the dense “Infinite Jest” in my so-called free time was jest indeed. Being as I was resigned to stew in left-outedness, imagine my excitement when I caught wind of the fact that his collection of essays “The Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”, featured an account of his experiences on a Caribbean Cruise (mere weeks before I would find myself back in my new hometown of Barbados, which can be sort of like a big, still, sandy cruise ship—to which I must return. Forever.) I didn’t even wait for Amazon.com to bring it to my doorstep. I actually walked to a bookstore and obtained a copy with the aid of that irrelevant slab of flesh we used to call a “body” before the internet nullified it.
The cruise-ship essay (“Shipping Out”) was delightful. I again found my empathy disturbing– this time with what we now know was a suicidally depressed young man– though admittedly comforted in the knowledge that at least my strong aversion to anything that might be described as an “activity,” yet again appears to be the condition of those whom I consider to be more worthy representatives of the human race.
Actually, I’m truly enthused about Wallace, especially when I got a load of his “E unibus pluram: television and U.S. fiction” essay in the very same anthology. As this is a popular culture blog, I can’t recommend it enough. While amazingly already anachronistic, Wallace’s observations about the impact of television on irony and/in literature were some of the more insightful I’ve ever come across.
If you even kind of respect my opinion, give Wallace’s essay a try. Below is but an (extended) excerpt from the very worth-it piece which can be read in its entirety here.
[H]ow have irony, irreverence, and rebellion come to be not liberating but enfeebling in the culture today’s avant-garde tries to write about? One clue’s to be found in the fact that irony is still around, bigger than ever after thirty long years as the dominant mode of hip expression. It’s not a mode that wears especially well. As Hyde puts it, “Irony has only emergency use. Carried over time, it is the voice of the trapped who have come to enjoy their cage.” This is because irony, entertaining as it is, serves an exclusively negative function. It’s critical and destructive, a ground-clearing. Surely this is the way our postmodern fathers saw it. But irony’s singularly unuseful when it comes to constructing anything to replace the hypocrisies it debunks. This is why Hyde seems right about persistent irony being tiresome. It is unmeaty. Even gifted ironists work best in sound bites. I find them sort of wickedly fun to listen to at parties, but I always walk away feeling like I’ve had several radical surgical procedures. And as for actually driving cross-country with a gifted ironist, or sitting through a 300-page novel full of nothing but trendy sardonic exhaustion, one ends up feeling not only empty but somehow … oppressed.
Think, if you will for a moment, of Third World rebels and coups. Rebels are great at exposing and overthrowing corrupt hypocritical regimes, but seem noticeably less great at the mundane, non-negative tasks of then establishing a superior governing alternative. Victorious rebels, in fact, seem best at using their tough cynical rebel skills to avoid being rebelled against themselves – in other words they just become better tyrants.
And make no mistake: irony tyrannizes us. The reason why our pervasive cultural irony is at once so powerful and so unsatisfying is that an ironist is impossible to pin down. All irony is a variation on a sort of existential poker-face. All U.S. irony is based on an implicit “I don’t really mean what I say.” So what does irony as a cultural norm mean to say? That it’s impossible to mean what you say? That maybe it’s too bad it’s impossible, but wake up and smell the coffee already? Most likely, I think, today’s irony ends up saying: “How very banal to ask what I mean.” Anyone with the heretical gall to ask an ironist what he actually stands for ends up looking like a hysteric or a prig. And herein lies the oppressiveness of institutionalized irony, the too-successful rebel: the ability to interdict the question without attending to its content is tyranny. It is the new junta, using the very tool that exposed its enemy to insulate itself.
This is why our educated teleholic friends’ use of weary cynicism to try to seem superior to TV is so pathetic. And this is why the fiction-writing citizen of our televisual culture is in such deep doo. What do you do when postmodern rebellion becomes a pop-cultural institution? For this of course is the second clue to why avant-garde irony and rebellion have become dilute and malign. They have been absorbed, emptied, and redeployed by the very televisual establishment they had originally set themselves athwart.
For a guide to Wallace’s free work online, visit TNR.
An axiom: Finding Nemo is a visually decadent masterpiece. Though we may indulge in the cheap and strangely commonplace pleasures of cultural fatalism ([fill-in-the-blank] today just isn’t what it used to be!), I seriously dare you to shrug your shoulders at the imaginative and technical opulence of Pixar. It would evidence dishonesty or insanity to take me up on it.
Producing no less impressive a catalog than Toy Story, Toy Story 2 (superior), Wall-E, Ratatoullie, The Incredibles, Cars (okay: meh), A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo and Monster’s Inc, Pixar has had a remarkable run since it made its revolutionary debut just over 10 years ago.
But there’s one thing in particular I’ve noticed about all of the above films and that is the conspicuous absence of represented humans.
Well, to be fair, not entirely: Toy Story featured some humanoid characters, The Incredibles were all humans, and the others feature people here and there, but the precedence of the human-based children’s story has been totally undermined in Pixar’s reign, whose anti-human bias has extended to other CGI productions not affiliated with Pixar.
Mori’s hypothesis states that as a robot is made more human like in its appearance and motion, the emotional response from a human being to the robot will become increasingly positive and empathic, until a point is reached beyond which the response quickly becomes that of strong repulsion. However, as the appearance and motion continue to become less distinguishable from a human being, the emotional response becomes positive once more and approaches human-to-human empathy levels This area of repulsive response aroused by a robot with appearance and motion between a “barely-human” and “fully human” entity is called the uncanny valley.
I consider the absence of porn video-games on the market to be irrefutable proof of the “Uncanny Valley” theory. If someone could’ve made it work, it would be the most popular product of all time. Leagues of XY chromosome-bearers would never see the sunlight again. Thankfully, it’s not possible (30 Rock’s Gorgasim: The Legend of Dong Slayer notwithstanding).
Obviously this holds with CGI animation as well. The humans we do see represented have to be made cartoonish and bizarre in order to not give us Freudian nightmares.
Everyone over 15 reading this blog grew up with a canon of children’s animated films, which, barring the possibility that your parents hated you, were Disney productions. Most of the “big ones” were built on a Princess-model. Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast etc. were all more or less hetero-normative romances about which gender theorists have been triumphantly making statements of the obvious since what feels like maybe forever. Okay! Yes– Disney reinforces traditional/repressive whatevers which has effected the minds of little boys and girls in a maddening infinity of ways we can’t even begin to fathom– the horror. One day it’s watching your Pocahontas VHS for the six thousandth time, the next, you’re vomiting up lunch in the girls’ locker room, addicted to meth or becoming some demented MySpace pedophile in the suburbs of Baltimore or any other equally plausible nightmare scenario we can (and do!) trace back to the magical world of Disney.
Now I wonder, what might it mean for the construction of gender identity to have the monster children’s media fundamentally preclude the once near ubiquitous romantic drama (and the gendered implications therein) in lieu of the endless parade of CGI’s scrappy and hilarious ambassadors from the animal kingdom at BEST engaging in a romantic-comedy sub-plot? Assuming children today don’t obsess over the Disney Classics as we did, we’ll have a whole generation of men and women and anyone in-between as test-subjects for what the world might look like without evil Disney mind-control. For the record, I don’t feel Disney tinkered with us as insidiously as most feminists seem to (same goes for Barbie), but I’ll still be interested to see how a medium poised at the edge of the Uncanny Valley will change the way children are socialized, or what conclusions we might draw should it fail to.
It’s true. Though friends and readers futilely continue to urge, I refuse to read Twilight. Yes, my official position is in staunch opposition to elitism, but my the itty bitty tweed-clad side of me is a defiant outlaw in my own jurisdiction. YA Lit is simply no-man’s land. Scoff.
I was therefore relieved to discover Catilin Flanagan’s marvelous review in my latest issue of The Atlantic, which is kind of like reading the Twilight books, only better because you’re not. In any case, her insights about girls’ special relationship to literature are right on:
The salient fact of an adolescent girl’s existence is her need for a secret emotional life—one that she slips into during her sulks and silences, during her endless hours alone in her room, or even just when she’s gazing out the classroom window while all of Modern European History, or the niceties of the passé composé, sluice past her. This means that she is a creature designed for reading in a way no boy or man, or even grown woman, could ever be so exactly designed, because she is a creature whose most elemental psychological needs—to be undisturbed while she works out the big questions of her life, to be hidden from view while still in plain sight, to enter profoundly into the emotional lives of others—are met precisely by the act of reading.
The whole piece is well worth a look. Read it here.
You must read metrosexual-term-coiner Mark Simpson’s analysis of this D&G Time ad:
Contrary to what you may have heard, metrosexuality is not about ‘feminized’ males – or even about straight men ‘acting gay’. To talk in such terms is merely to reveal yourself as a hopeless nostalgic. As the ‘father’ of metrosexuality, I can tell you that metrosexuality isn’t about men becoming women, or becoming gay – it’s about men becoming everything. To themselves. In much the same way that women have been for some time.
As we approach the Teenies (what else should we call what comes after the Noughties?) this process, with a flush of hormones, has been speeded up. D&G Time is neither homo, hetero, bi – or even metro. It’s simply same-sexuality. Clonosexual. In D&G Time, all genitalia are the same shape: fashion-shaped. In place of the Oedipal military-industrial complex of the 20 Century we have… the all-consuming Narcissus Complex of the 21st.
“At the dances I was one of the most untiring and gayest. One evening a cousin of Sasha [Alexander Berkman], a young boy, took me aside. With a grave face, as if he were about to announce the death of a dear comrade, he whispered to me that it did not behoove an agitator to dance. Certainly not with such reckless abandon, anyway. It was undignified for one who was on the way to become a force in the anarchist movement. My frivolity would only hurt the Cause.
I grew furious at the impudent interference of the boy. I told him to mind his own business, I was tired of having the Cause constantly thrown into my face. I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from conventions and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy. I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to become a nun and that the movement should not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it. “I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everyboy’s right to beautiful, radiant things.” Anarchism meant that to me, and I would live it in spite of the whole world–prisons, persecution, everything. Yes, even in spite of the condemnation of my own comrades I would live my beautiful ideal.” [Living My Life (New York: Knopf, 1934), p. 56]
Spin Magazine has come out with its picks for the top 20 music videos of 2008. Predictably, Bjork tops the list with Wanderlust. Though I’ve already touched on the topic of Bjork’s “feminist aesthetics” in photography, her videos merit much more thought. Whatever my conclusions, it’s a matter of fact that Wanderlust is a worthy addition to Bjork’s fearless and gaudy body of work–she never fails us.
I attended the wrap-party for Wanderlust last year, and am astounded beyond measure by the final product considering how preposterous the yak costumes looked in person, and the sheer abundance of assholery festering on that Williamsburg rooftop. I must say I have a fond memory of reenacting the brief (and hilarious) intro segment to This American Life’s “Cringe” episode– crab walk and all–before a tense audience of frigid hipsters, unsure of my degree of irony. For the record: zero. As ever.
Elvis, as you may have noticed, is the subject of my thoughts. Lots of days.
In celebration of my 500th post (woot!), I present for your consideration the art of Barbara Kruger. I bequeath this exultant honor not without ambivalence. Certainly Kruger understands the effective and maybe even inevitable union between feminist art and pop iconography, but I bristle at the literalism which plagues her work and am generally suspicious of any work of (non-narrative) visual art in pursuit of a political agenda (l’art pour l’art, dammit).
Nevertheless, some of these images are provocative and worth some feminist thought. Apologies for not properly identifying the names/dates of these pieces. Lo! Google image searches are not conducive to proper citation.
The 1963 hit, “My Boyfriend’s Back” by the Angels is one of my favorite songs. Obviously, it’s not the first track that comes to mind when we think of feminist pop, but as I’m obsessing over girl groups at the mo’, I’d like to briefly defend the “Masculine Prowess” genre.
A staple in the girl group cannon is the smug championing of one’s boyfriend’s abilities. While, yes, if we’re going to bludgeon all forms of expression into the single most digestible incarnation of our politics, the Angels would have ideally not waited for the boyfriend’s return and karate-chopped this gossiping asshole themselves; but I’d argue the subject position they’ve chosen to assume here isn’t passive in the least. In essence the girl speaking is sicking her boyfriend on the offender, reveling in the violence she’s instigating while her snotty girlfriends cheer her on. While her tactics aren’t of the sort we typically brand with the feminist stamp of approval, I think we can forgo the vigor of self-sufficiency now and again for the thrill of manipulation and the delightful spectacle of masculine prowess.
My slogan contains the phrase “where gender is a celebration of possibility”, and I really do mean that. Gender– as the condition of men, women, and all other sex-identities– can be expressed in innumerable ways, some that we support and some, which we might consider “anti-woman”. There isn’t anything intrinsically anti-woman in recognizing and delighting in the gender expression of some men who are big, strong and tough. Just as I’d celebrate these qualities in a woman who possessed them, so too, do I admire it in a man and “My Boyfriend’s Back” is imbued with the sultry thrill of its display.
The Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel”, and the Shangri-Las’ “Leader of the Pack”, are other stellar examples of the Masculine Prowess genre, the speaker taking pride in her ability to nab and keep a bad-ass—for a while at least. As I argue in Rebels by Proxy, there is an associative rebellion that comes with being the rebels’ “girl” which is a valid access point to personal transcendence.
Finally, the complex interpretative process that takes place when we listen to music or consume popular culture should be contended with. A good friend of mine who shares my enthusiasm for “My Boyfriend’s Back” told me recently that when she listens to it, she thinks of the abstract “boyfriend” as herself. That wonderful inner transition between the feeling of defeat and insecurity to the sudden resolve to take control and conquer – that’s when your “boyfriend” is back. Since she told me this, I’ve been unable to hear the song without also thinking of myself as the both the speaker and the boyfriend—completely changing the feel of the track.
So, that’s my defense of “My Boyfriend’s Back”. Take it of the feminist blacklist. Please advise.