"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Thursday, May 13, 2010

why i don't listen to the radio any more and only watch tv on the internet, OR, why the youth are starting to change

i got home from work today and, exhausted from bickering with administration about some sketchy misdeeds they are trying to pull on one of my special ed students, sat down in front of my computer to unwind, eat cake, and read some blogs.

i went to TigerBeatdown and started reading the first article up, something about Miley Cyrus and the "search for a feminist pop star."

um. ok. what?

i was unaware we were collectively searching for a feminist pop star. and i was confused about the parameters; have "feminist" and "pop" ever gone together? when was the last feminist "pop star?"* none come to mind.

still, i continued reading, interested to see where this was going. as it turns out, i guess Miley has recently released a new single and with it, a new music video. the article glosses over the use of tired metaphors and symbols: birds, cages, wings on ladies. you get the idea. and pretty soon, i was tired of reading. but i skipped over to youtube and quickly ran a search of Miley's video.

now, admittedly, i am so out of touch with popular youth culture these days. i find my career as an educator has made me more averse to children than understanding of their behaviors and interests. when i sit down at my computer to look up the latest top 40s or to read an article about Justin Bieber's hair, i consider it "research" for my work, rather than pleasure reading.

but here i am, on a thursday afternoon, researching and talking about Miley Cyrus. surely there are better ways of spending my, and your, time.

well, after watching the first minute of the video (and believe me, that was about all i could stomach) i continued reading the aforementioned article, and found i couldn't get far in that either before i had to write a little rant of my own. because the article, and, it seems, a lot of feminist bloggers out there, seem to be discussing the video, and Miley's career, for that matter, in these terms, and these terms only:
1) the rampant sexuality, and whether it detracts from the potential "feminism" present in the music and the act of her, a 17-year-old girl, being a successful "musician." (i use those quotation marks with a generous helping of skepticism, since, as far as i am aware, Miley does not produce any music of her own.)
2) her lyrics are "empowering," thus, she is a feminist because her music speaks to young girls. (again, the quotations around empowering.)

oh... the rant that is about to unfold!

as far as the blogosphere is concerned, Miley is either a feminist if you just focus on the words and the music, or a hypocrite if you look at her flapping those Victoria's Secret wings in the video. my adamant and vocal disagreement is: SHE IS NEITHER!

i agree with my blogger sisters that she can't be a feminist and a sex kitten. but not because i believe sex and beauty can't be empowering (because they can). i have a problem with the whole Disney virgin/pop princess image Miley tries to evoke, alongside the over-sexed performer she tries to be. madonna/whore dichotomy anyone!? i understand young women can be confused, because the patriarchal culture has us thinking we want to be so many things it's hard to choose sometimes, but you cannot evoke whatever persona whenever you want and call it "show business." (whore!)

that brings me to my problem with the "search" in the first place. because pop stars, almost by definition, sell sex, and use sex to sell more sex, under the guise of "making music." it's not music that's on display, it is Miley's precocious boobs and sultry legs. did Tracy Chapman ever prance around in a cage, half-clad in a leather corset and knee-high boots? no, because she was too busy writing music and winnin' Grammies! shoo...

a pop star can never make empowering music, because empowerment is not what sells albums or makes a trashy music video, or gets throngs of tweeny girls to go to your concert (oh, but if it were!) empowerment isn't about hyping up celebrity culture, nor is it about self-worship and hubris, it is about feeling confident enough to take agency and do something for yourself and others around you.

but what is being called "empowerment" in Miley's case, is actually a strong case of entitlement. here's a sampling of the lyrics from the newly released "Can't Be Tamed," the song some people are lauding as a "kick-ass girl power anthem":
For those who don't know me, I can get a bit crazy
Have to get my way, 24 hours a day
'Cause I'm hot like that
Every guy everywhere just gives me mad attention
Like I'm under inspection, I always get the 10s
'Cause I'm built like that

I go through guys like money flyin' out their hands
They try to change me but they realize they can't
And every tomorrow is a day I never planned
If you're gonna be my man, understand

I can't be tamed, I can't be saved
I can't be blamed, I can't, can't
I can't be tamed, I can't be changed
in one of Miley's first singles, the chorus goes "blah blah blah... she's just being Miley."** see a pattern? don't let the erratic dance moves confuse you, Miley's not trying to empower anyone, she just wants a nicer, more lyrical way of saying, "I'M A HOT, ENTITLED, POP STAR BRAT. I DO WHAT I WANT!"

now, this wouldn't be such a mondo problem if it just stopped there. i wouldn't be writing this long-winded blog post if just a few smart, well-spoken ladies believed Miley (or Christina Aguilera, or Madonna, or Tina Fey, or etc.) was doing a really innovative and daring thing by singing about her selfish wanton desires, and confused her entitlement anthems for empowerment anthems. but, because pop culture and pop music is so pervasive, everyone starts to think these things, and this kind of thinking becomes ingrained into our daily lives, becomes practiced by real-life tweens on the street, becomes a chronic problem of irreverence and disregard among our young people.

you see, as a teacher in South Central Los Angeles, it is almost a daily topic of conversation and source of wonderment among the teachers, as we walk to our cars at the end of each day, "what is wrong with the kids these days!?" i never thought i would say it, and i guess it's a sign i'm getting old, but the behaviors of children these days is perpetually perplexing, befuddling, and bewildering. students cursing off adults who are trying to teach them, students pushing or touching teachers, students standing in the way of a teacher refusing to move, huffing and puffing as if they are engaged in some prelude to fighting ritual. my aide says, every time we have this conversation, "kids have more rights than adults to these days" and though i was hesitant to concur, i believe she may be right. there are no consequences strong enough to make an impression on a student in my school, so many will push their limits until they eventually are escorted out in handcuffs and served with fines. students come to school wearing whatever they want and argue with principals about the uniform, and sit in class looking cute but not learning anything. one of my students is doing math at a pre-kindergarten level (she cannot add without assistance and frequently doesn't know how to count past ten) and comes late to school each day because she spends her mornings straightening her hair and putting on her mascara. she got her nails done the other day and refused to use a pencil for fear of snapping a nail off.

my point is, maybe if our culture didn't glorify material self-worship, we wouldn't have young women walking around in high heels, booty shorts and low-cut tops, mouthing off to adults and carrying themselves with arrogance, thinking that they are being strong, confident females. maybe if we gave them role models with some sense and sensibility, we'd have some more respect and self-respect among our youth. it is so pathetic how starved of feminist idols we are that we will jump at the opportunity to call someone so clearly wrong a "feminist."


*some might argue Lady GaGa, and as much as i love her performances and vision, never once considered her a feminist. an artist, sure (which is more than i can say about Miley) but not a feminist in the way Betty Friedan was a feminist. end of story.
** disclaimer: i only know this song because i work out at the gym a lot.

1 comment:

K. said...

Tiger Beatdown published a nice response to the Miley article by Chloe Angyal yesterday, my favorite part was this: "If it’s feminist role models we’re after, we need to look elsewhere [outside of popular culture], at self-proclaimed public feminists who are out there every day doing feminist work. If it’s feminist icons we need, let’s look for women who devote their lives to helping other women, who live feminist lives every day rather than just singing pseudo-feminist lyrics once in a while. Pop culture is fun, and it’s important: It reflects and shapes who we are as a society. But it’s also driven by profit, and for that reason alone, it shouldn’t be trusted with something as important as feminism."

I certainly think that pop culture (especially music) can be a great starting point for budding feminists, I know a lot of my early feminist though was informed by riot grrrl (though a lot of the underpinnings of riot grrrl involved anti-capitalism and moving girls from being consumers of popular culture to being producers of their own culture.)

ANYWAY, I honestly don't think I've ever heard a Miley Cyrus song and I haven't watched any of her videos, but the whole thing makes me think of an article that Sady (again of Tiger Beatdown) wrote awhile ago about Taylor Swift when everyone was fawning over her as a potential feminist icon where she said (and I am paraphrasing here), "It's great that she's writing her own songs and plays the guitar and encourages girls to think that there's more to life than finding the right boyfriend, but is that enough?" And I think that's where a lot of the discourse around feminist icons in popular culture falls apart -- our baseline for what constitutes a good public feminist icon seems to be set so low, that when we do something like calling Miley Cyrus a feminist we are basically saying, "Look! She is a woman! She has a career! She can't be tamed! Isn't that amazing?"

But yeah, I really like what Angyal says about needing to look outside of popular culture for feminist icons because popular culture is driven by capitalism and feminism cannot and should not be that way.