07 October 2010

Hate "Love the Way You Lie" by Eminem/Rihanna

A dynamic pop duo stormed the radio waves this summer, with their rage, woes, and contrasting inflections. Barring Taylor Swift’s uncomfortable 2010 VMA “forgiveness” performance, Eminem and Rihanna’s “Love the Way You Lie” is arguably the most disturbing product of the year.

Apart from Eminem’s standard vitriol and bloodcurdling tone, the lyrics about domestic abuse should, in the very least, irk conscious listeners. As a feminist hooked on gender equity and mass media, I just can't sing along to Rihanna’s abuse victim mantra: | Just gonna stand there and watch me burn | Well that’s alright because I like the way it hurts | Just gonna stand there and hear me cry | Well that’s alright because I love the way you lie.

Upon first listen, I saw the symbolism, and reflected on my own relational scars that “burn.” But towards the end of the song, Eminem deflates my understanding that the lyrics are solely figurative. In a fit of passion—or misogynist blather—Eminem threatens: If she ever tries to fucking leave again | I’ma tie her to the bed | And set this house on fire.

The song is a continuous intrapersonal battle for Eminem, as he attempts to navigate and manage his tendencies to beat Rihanna, or the typical, emotional, vacillating female she represents. By admitting her love for the pain and deceit, a subtle naturalizing of domestic violence—and women’s subordinate place in society—ripens.

While I acknowledge the counter claims—that the song actually raises awareness about domestic abuse crime— I cannot ignore the lack of oversight or direct engagement with the issue. The song is a tween, pop phenomenon, not some bold campaign to end domestic abuse. It is a step backwards for women’s social, political, and personal freedom.

In an Access Hollywood interview, Rihanna says, “He [Eminem] pretty much broke down the cycle of domestic violence, and it’s something that people don’t have a lot of insight on.” But it seems Eminem’s “insight” serves a pretty dire purpose: commodification of domestic violence and the apparently “natural” cycle it entails. A chilling cycle in which anger may lead to literal charring, one in which abuse becomes more of a bearable component in “real” or truly passionate relationships?

Although I immediately recognize the patriarchy and rights violations in “Love the Way You Lie,” popular media ask me to suspend my convictions for four minutes and simply enjoy the catchy rhythm. This is what I fear the most; as Marshall McLuhan insisted, the medium is the message.

Now I am all for snappy rhythms on my Pandora station, but I am not for the mindless karaoke-ing of misogyny. This pop number calls for an assertive, critical engagement with media producers, celebrities, and all the 5th-12th graders humming along to Eminem down the halls—back into their own relationships.

16 April 2010

Post on Gender Across Borders

For an anthropology class project, I wrote an essay for Gender Across Borders, which is a global feminist blog.

Please visit their homepage and also my particular contribution!

It's about beauty standards and popular media! Who can resist?

26 February 2010


Breast Obsession: What’s the Big (Bigger, Biggest) Deal? asks the cover of Allure magazine. When I fanatically flipped to find out, Allure supplied this concluding insight: “For better or worse, breast enhancement has become part of our culture.

An eight year old (sadly) could have told me that. I want to know what made it a big deal, not what “the big deal” literally looks like these days. Allure’s “How It [breast augmentation] All Began” tells me nothing about how we came to assign value to larger, more ‘perfectly’-formed breasts, or how we pieced together an objective boob-shape hierarchy in the first place. This hierarchy includes breast shapes dubbed “deformities” (at the bottom of the chart), diagnosed by cosmetic surgeons dubbed medical professionals.

I mean not to rag cosmetic surgeons. They went through a lot of school to get where they are (I assume), and they make a lot of people truly happy. But I do mean to question just where our “medical” info on “normal” appearance is being affirmed. I know I’m giving you a lot of these “—“, but they’re important for satirical emphasis.

I suppose a beauty magazine such as Allure is meant to tell me what is beautiful now, not why we think things are beautiful. Tyra Banks’ (ugh, can’t believe I’m citing her) BIO campaign—Beauty Inside & Out—is a model celebrity’s attempt to transform women’s understanding of beauty. But, as much as I want to hop naively on the BIO bandwagon, or at least what it stands for, the governing beauty framework still prevails.

The BIO campaign seeks a revolution within the obviously struggling gender, not within society. If women can expand their definitions of beauty, then we’ll have more confidence and think ourselves more beautiful. That would be nice, if Tyra wasn’t the one telling me my “unique” qualities are beautiful, despite what popular media say. Perhaps I have a personal vendetta against Tyra who makes me want to punch something (usually her), as she unhealthily counsels (patronizes) other women on her show.

Or perhaps, I feel that BIO-like ventures only address a fraction of the issue. For better or worse, sexualized beauty has become part of our culture. Youthful beauty, feminized beauty, pleasing beauty (to whom?), skinny beauty, leggy beauty, pouty beauty, busty beauty, and obedient beauty have become part of our culture. I hate to burst Tyra’s bubble, but culture is made up of more than just women. Transforming beauty understandings will take more than a self-empowerment movement led by America’s Top Model.

Changing how we see ourselves—the mission of BIO—is great, particularly if we feel energized by the process and outcome. But what do we do when others haven’t changed how they see us? Does it matter? BIO would probably say no; Allure would probably say no, adjacent to its Romantic Looks and Best Skin Fixes features. But how then can we really claim to have transformed understandings of beauty?

If enough of us (women) can say ‘To hell with popular beauty standards!,’ will models start looking more like me? Or will they still be seducing me on the covers of beauty magazines, as I sit and celebrate my uniqueness—or deviation from that image—at a BIO summit?

I think it’s going to take more work on a larger, more inclusive level to unpack the Big Deal with breast obsession. Once we derail the “naturalness” of our beauty standards, and convince more people (not just “Fiercely Real” women) of the beauty myth, then perhaps we can rework our narrow vocabulary, pictures, and obsessions.

Perhaps we can even do away with the question, “What’s the Big Deal with [FILL IN THE BLANK]?", when we start refocusing our gaze and valuing people for their total worth rather than amputated fragments (eyes, boobs, self-confidence) of a gendered beauty.

26 November 2009

Black Friday: A Satire of Sorts

For an in-depth spoof on American culture, checkout Body Ritual among the Nacirema.

In the spirit of the Nacirema, and especially of the holiday, here is a satire I wrote a couple years back:

In order to appropriately perform the Black Friday ritual, participants must embody the Spirit of Backhoe-Snake. This spirit is perceived as the only conduit to the venerated Bargain god. The Spirit of Backhoe-Snake empowers participants to bulldoze the less-fit and to slither craftily among all. The goal is to secure a modern, discounted prize to which participants have ascribed sacred value. Some participants stay awake all night in preparation, dismantling and dicing their newspapers for divine vouchers. Others stock up on tryptophan, rest early on, and rise during untimely hours of the morning.

Participants form lines outside of locked shop doors hours before they open. Some employ folding chairs to conserve corporal energy. The chair acts as a bodily reinforcement prop as well as a symbol of line status. Once the opening hour dawns, participants abandon their prior parameters (a single line) and amalgamate their bodies (we have yet to discover the fate of the chairs). This new and impulsive fusion slowly filters through the doors, as pious participants begin driving elbows, fists, and tepid coffee cups into one another.

Once the mass enters the store, it quickly diffuses. The ritual consists next of destroying store displays, tossing products into the air, and shoving fellow believers around until faces hit tile. The yearly ritual requires further physical exertion, such as running, crawling, heaving, and bellowing profanities deep from the pit of one’s innards.

Together, these ceremonial practices reveal participants’ fundamental belief in the holiness of the hunt. By performing the Black Friday ritual, participants show ultimate reverence for the Bargain god to whom they devote all their spirited labors, time, and capital.

11 October 2009

Senioritis >Exposed<

My roommates and I think we’ve put our finger on it. Senioritis isn’t giving up, it’s probably the biggest compliment we could offer our respective institutions. When we seniors have figured out the system so well, and acquired the capacity to critically examine everything about everything, including our own higher education, then by golly, we’ve finally come of age.

Making study guides for tests isn’t rational, it’s an empty ritual we loathe for rational reasons. We know we’re studying for the grade, we know we won’t be demonstrating our true knowledge, we know we’ll just be stressing for hours the night before, all for a 50 minute freehand purge of ephemeral bullet points.

Yes, the biggest compliment, the biggest exhibition of knowledge this college will ever see, is my senioritis. On the surface, it’s perceived a lack of focus. To those who know better, it’s the greatest degree of focus one can attain. We see through the bull and skillfully prioritize sources of influence and power: our conscience, our values, our futures, our friendships, respect, grade point averages, participation points, syllabi, final exams, quizzes, etc. Academia becomes frustrating because we know better than to study for studying’s sake. We know better than to study for something that deviates from our coming of age-ness.

So be flattered, professors. When I roll my eyes, hand in something late, or don’t show up to class, give yourself a deserved pat on the back. Calling out superfluous requirements, deeming tasks futile for my life, and exercising my right to procrastinate are mere testaments of a job well done in teaching critical thinking.

Together then, let us celebrate the merits of senioritis and all those working to uphold its integrity.

25 September 2009

I Am Person; Hear Me Roar

My professor asked me bluntly the other day if I was a feminist. His tone seemed rather neutral, but the tone in my head associated with that word—“feminist”— was not. “Maaybe,” I said sheepishly, but with certain “yes” undertones. He laughed an awkward laugh, as did I, and we continued on to discuss the film Killing Us Softly (1979).

Although I have not seen the original film, our class watched Jean Kilbourne’s Killing Us Softly 3 from 1999. Kilbourne’s lecture focuses on advertising’s image of women, particularly in American society. Kilbourne critically analyzes the objectification and compartmentalization of the woman’s body in popular culture through various visual media. In class, the reactions ranged from epiphany to cynicism, from humorless stares to humorous disbelief. “I think she overreacted,” said one girl. “Some of these images are just ‘artsy’” (referring to a sexualized, emaciated, battered woman photo narrative in some magazine).

In the same class earlier that week, our professor asked us to construct the typology of an “ideal wife.” Traits such as honesty, faithfulness, attractiveness, wealth, patience, and intelligence were suggested and marked on the board. Before we were able to deconstruct the notion of “ideal culture”—beliefs and practices infused with cultural values that are not actually “natural” nor easily achieved—a young man shouted out, “She doesn’t have to be smart!” He threw his head back as people around him chuckled over such obvious guile.

I am a feminist, and the bad rep the word has somehow acquired is just another reason for me to support and flaunt its significance. I sheepishly regret my sheepish admittance to “maaybe” being a feminist. Actually, I’m a full-fledged individual with a stanch belief in feminism. If believing in the equality of all persons, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc., is seen negatively, and the fight for that equality seems melodramatic, then I am still living in a time when women’s rights aren’t being taken seriously. I am not talking about U.S. legal rights per se, but about the intellectual and social equity rights of individuals in the midst of their gendered, mediated paradigms.

A hyper-sexualized or hyper-compartmentalized ad about how to improve my body is disrespectful to my personhood. The new Special K campaign “Jeans Don’t Lie” discloses, “The best way to tell how you look great is in your jeans. Drop a jean size in 2 weeks.” it commands. There isn’t even an exclamation point after the statement, to lighten the blow of the fact that my jeans are telling me something depressing. There is a period at the end of this sentence; it is very matter of fact and very isolated. It is saying my ass can be helped; therefore, I as a woman (not person) can be helped. I am reduced to a lump of cellulite far from that other, more productive lump, my brain.

When recurring carbon copies of “nice” figures, or just severed-off parts of those figures, saturate our media, they saturate the socializing process. Moreover, categories of different (yet narrow) “womanhoods” are formed and imbued with self-deprecating text to complement the carbon copies. In the October issue of Cosmopolitan, the feature “Don’t Get Bitten by the Office Bitch” eloquently confirms that my gender in fact possesses the “bitches” of humanity. “A new survey found that 1 in 4 workers is willing to sink their fangs into you to get ahead. Even worse, more research shows it’s likely to be an office gal pal—not one of the guys. We help you spot the conniver…and muzzle her” (italics mine). There are 5 bitch categories Cosmopolitan demarcates for me so I know how to successfully silence other women, no matter their class of bitchiness, and silence them like the dogs that, via association, we are. Although the magazine probably hopes to empower female pushovers by targeting our gender’s “delinquents,” it instead reinforces the reckless mutt condition of which we are (most) capable AND the condition of our other half—helpless and vulnerable women in the workplace.

Intragender (Office Bitches) conflict does not empower; it solidifies a regimented defining system that still caters to a patriarchical and dualistic structure. Intrapersonal conflict (Special K Challenge) does not empower; it redefines (often in a sexist, dehumanizing way) measurements of value and self-worth. What empower are individuals realizing personhood, and through that, the right to equality in all areas of life, not just in policy handbooks and rhetoric.

I am a person who is female by nature, and feminist by conviction. So next time I’m asked whether or not I’m a feminist, I will purposefully respond ‘Yes’ – knowing fully the risk of meeting judgment from others, but knowing also the greater risk of stifling a personhood, and ultimately, fellow personhoods seeking change.

08 September 2009

Mimesis Sale

The colorful flurry that is the Annual Poster Sale at Messiah College ends today. I bought 3 posters for my blank, tack-compliant walls: two are Andy Warhol prints with wistful quotes, the other, a very artsy brown collage of triangles and swirls that form a center ascending swirly tree. I realize this means nothing to you (yet), but I still dished out $24 for these three pieces of paper, rashly spoiled by tiny corner tack holes.

If the poster sale was year-round, I would petition to change my senior thesis to examine this public phenomenon. But I suppose the rush of transience is something that makes this 2 DAY ONLY sale at least partially so appealing. But what makes the rest of it so darn appealing? Students from all years, all majors, and all styles meet in the commons to flip through awkward and robust poster books—the cheapest and smallest of these priced at $6. The commons in Eisenhower transforms from open lounge space to a space for visual and material consumption for the purpose of filling one’s own space with right imagery. From James Dean and Jamaica to Buddha and The Godfather, images of many shapes and sizes envelop a rectangle of tables by the mailboxes. The two cashiers have thick exotic accents; each year they do. But each year, I still have no idea who they are, where this business was started, and how it got affiliated with our Human Development and Family Sciences Department sponsoring the sale. But none of this seems to matter.

What matters is the magical usage these images have for people. I picked out three flat material posters, and it took some time, more than one trip, to decide on the right images. The images do something more than resonate with my life; they capture an elusive power gained by entering into them. Michael Taussig writes in his book, Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses, about an “active yielding of the perceiver in the perceived—the perceiver trying to enter into the picture and become one with it, so that the self is moved by the representation into the represented.”

Maybe this concept is a bit too harebrained and imaginary for the annual poster sale. Maybe anthropologist Michael Taussig, both fanatically worshiped and fervently hated depending on the group, is generally a bit too harebrained himself. But I believe my image browsing yesterday and today was shaped by cultural notions of individualism and representation. In turn, my decision to actually consume the images was shaped by the “original” (or perceived original) power captured by them, by entering into them. These posters are faithful “copies” of me, not because of their physical likenesses (there are none), but because of their self-extending faculties. We extend ourselves beyond our physical selves via other products too: Facebook, Blogs, wardrobes, cars, even majors (e.g. a student of Sociology and Anthropology). All of these production technologies provide powerful means for self-extension.

So whether you have “found” yourself in Marilyn Monroe, Johnny Depp, or the products of Salvador Dali, more power to ya. I could shame us all for being so shallow and consuming culture so irresponsibly. I could deconstruct the poster consumption chain or unpack the cultural logic behind my indulgences, if I had time. But instead, I'll just hang my posters, empowered by their sentiments and character with which I identify.