Rivulet of Consciousness
So I haven’t posted in forever and I apologize. I have been really busy getting my grad school applications together and I also got a promotion at work, ergo I simply haven’t had time to write anything other than statements or purpose, cover letters and the like.
However, just because I took a writing hiatus doesn’t mean feelings were not being had. Actually, the overflow of feels made me realize there were so many things I wanted to discuss I couldn’t make up my mind as to what my next piece would address. SO I’MMA DISCUSS IT ALL, VIRGINIA-WOOLF-STYLE.
I have recently taken to Scandal, also known as the one Shonda Rhimes show that is still watchable (sorry to all my Grey’s Anatomy fans but I could only take Meredith’s white whine for a season and a half). Scandal is the first drama to star an African-American female lead in 40 years and honestly, that in itself was good enough to pique my interest. Because the show induces oh-my-God-I-can’t-deal-with-the-stress moments by the pound, it is highly addictive. But that’s not all I love about it. What I think is great about Scandal is that, yes, the lead is a black woman and, yes, that’s a big deal, but it’s also REALLY refreshing that it is not what the show is about. Olivia Pope is a complex character with flaws and neuroses and brains and skills and feelings and style and, at the end of the day, she could have been white. BUT SHE’S NOT. And that’s all that matters. It’s just so important to get visibility for women of color, but that’s only possible if the story their characters tell does not reduce them to their race, and I really really appreciate that Shonda Rhimes was like: “Yep, I’m going to have a black female lead because I fucking can. Nope, she’s not going to be ‘that black chick from not-House-of-Cards‘.” Yet, people —and by “people”, I mean “good friends of mine”— are uncomfortable with how messed up Olivia’s relationship with the President is. And I agree that it stopped bordering and went into full emotional abuse mode halfway through the second season and that’s horrible. But that’s actually what I think is so great about the show because, forget scandal, the show is about power (Alternate title #1). Really, the main theme of Scandal is how being powerful does not equate being free. The very unhealthy dynamics that go on at Pope & Associates or the White House really shed light on how the obsessive quest for power just FUCKS SHIT UP. There is something quite caustic in how everybody wants to wear the proverbial “white hat” (Alternate title #2) and yet lies and cheats about everything to get where they want, only to find themselves unhappier than they’ve ever been once they reach that place. So I understand why people say that it’s very antifeminist to have the strong female figures of the show completely enslaved in their relationship to the most powerful man in the world, but doesn’t that point to the larger issue of the systemic sexism of capitalist establishment led by men who think they can? What I understand of the show’s storyline is that a male politician who (thinks he) has ethics needed two women and a gay to propel him into the White House through all sorts of devious means and, once he became the leader of the Free World, lost his soul while his loved ones just continued struggling to keep their head above water because they’re two women and a gay in a straight man’s world. Honestly, I only started liking Olivia Pope when she showed some kind of humanity and stopped talking about what a fucking superhero her gut was (seriously, enough with the gut, ugh), and I think her weaker side is more interesting than the self-righteous goody-two-shoes that Kerry Washington played in the first season. Also, best quote from the show: “You have to work twice as hard to get half as much” = BOOM the relation between racism and sexism explained in one sentence. But I agree Fitz and Olivia just need to stop, the writers have stretched that arch out. Oh and, Shonda, please kill Quinn and Abby, no one cares, just, please, #kaythanks.
I’m listening to Lily Allen’s newest song right now: Hard Out Here. Anyone who’s met me pre-2010 knows I am a sucker for Lily Allen. I was devastated to learn that she was supposedly retiring after her second album but I admired the fact that she acknowledged she had reached her peak and wanted to leave on a high. Speaking of which, something that a few television shows should be aware of is that SOMETIMES ONE SEASON IS ENOUGH (I’m looking at you Lost, Once Upon a Time, 2 Broke Girls, etc.) Anyway, Lily Allen’s song: it’s about sexism in the music industry. She sings about the fact that “[i]t’s hard out here for a bitch” —you gotta love her reference to Three 6 Mafia— and that “[t]here’s a glass ceiling to break… uh-uh there’s money to make” —which seriously is the most accurate statement about the appropriation of feminism in pop culture. The lyrics are dry, sardonic and rather disillusioned (“Inequality promises that it’s here to stay / Always trust the injustice, ‘cuz it’s not going away.”) IRONY ALERT: Allen’s voice is autotuned to death during the chorus and she stars in a video where female dancers, some of whom black, are twerking (hello slo-mo cellulite) and pouring champagne on each others’ breasts while she deep throats a banana and plugs various products including a Fujifilm camera, a Beats by Dre speaker and E-lites cigarettes. Also, and that might be my favorite thing about the video, at one point she starts dancing in front of balloons that read “Lily Allen has a baggy pussy” —which is HANDS DOWN the best diss at Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines video, about which I have written extensively.
I have to be honest, here: I read YouTube comments. I know they’re the worst thing and Stephen Fry has rightly pointed out that most of them are truly malevolent and vile (PS: my utter admiration and love for Stephen Fry are worthy of a tetralogy, just FYI), but sometimes it’s very enlightening. And this time around, the comments under Lily Allen’s video have been rather interesting. Some people have criticized the song and video for failing to address racism and the commodification of women of color in the music industry, mainly because the video features black women twerking. Right. I am the first to be extremely upset when Miley Cyrus appropriates black culture and slaps African-American women on the butt at the VMAs so I understand the gravity of the issue. But, honestly, I think the video is probably my favorite of the year because it actually manages to pinpoint EXACTLY how our disregard for the objectification of women (and, correct me if I’m wrong, but that includes women of color) is bursting at the seams. I do find the video upsetting and irksome but that is because Allen does a great job at playing with the codes that are a danger to feminism in order to criticize them. Is the use of black women as props one of those? Yes. As is the incessant product placement, or the obsession with money, or the oversexualization of women. And then people attack her on being a “white feminist”. Well, I mean, she is white and there is not much she can do about it but I get what people are trying to say: “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit” and I agree a hundred percent with that statement (PS: if you haven’t read the piece yet, please stop perusing mine and go read it). Except that there is nothing more “white feminist” than thinking that women of color are incapable of being in on the joke and making a statement through parody. There are exactly 8 women in the video, 4 of them are black, 3 of them —including Allen— are white and one of them is Asian. All are twerking. So, yes, pat yourselves on the back, fellow white people, your heart and guilt are in the right place. But guess what, self-awareness and sarcasm are not essentially Caucasian. And, of course, because she doesn’t use the exact phrase “sexism and racism are related” in her lyrics, she is being criticized for ignoring that fact. Well, not everyone can be Olivia Pope (haha, I’m making a joke about something I just wrote, I’m so smart and witty and meta) but there are two reasons why we should still give more credit to Lily Allen:
1. by saying “[i]t’s hard out here for a bitch” she refers to women in the way that mostly black women are designated in hip-hop, meaning black women = all women. If she had sung “[i]t’s hard out here for a chick” —which I’m sure she’s going to have to do in the US to be played on the radio— THAT would have been really “white feminist” in my book.
2. by choosing not to speak FOR women of color and hire them in her video instead, she maintains some kind of humility in her discourse. As a white male, it is incredibly difficult for me to feel entitled to write about the things I do and I constantly struggle with the idea that my writing borders on lecturing people on discrimination I haven’t experienced firsthand. I own that and am ready to hear the criticism. But I understand why Lily Allen would decide to write exclusively about her own experience. I have already discussed how white writers are often stuck in a position where they’re scared of being attacked on misrepresenting social groups they don’t belong to and come under fire for ignoring those groups. Should she have mentioned racism in her song? Probably. Does that make her a racist? I don’t think so.
Lily Allen could have gone fully comical and have male dancers twerk around her but I think there is strength in ridiculing actual sexism and not a palatable imagined version of it (“look at how I’m using men in a way that they are never used, haha”); she gets straight to the ice-cold point (“this is exactly what you see everyday and it is disgusting so keep your head in the sand if you so desire”) and I find that commendable. Lily Allen is one of those people who have an obnoxious attitude but ultimately have interesting things to say. My dad thinks she’s a brat, and she probably is —I remember her rescheduling her Berlin concert last minute when I’d already bought tickets and arriving an hour late to the venue— but, truth be told, she’s smart and writes far more insightful songs than most pop singers.
Speaking of musicians who don’t write terribly well: I wonder if Lady Gaga has ever heard of a thesaurus. Perhaps she thinks it’s a dinosaur. Seriously, ARTPOP, her newest album —to which, bien sûr, I’m listening on loop— has some of the poorest writing I have ever heard. She repeats and spells out words ad nauseam to fill in the melody (“I live for the applause, applause, A-P-P-L-A-U-S-E…”or “We could, we could, belong together, artpop, artpop”), has some truly terrible verses (“Mercury, Venus, uh-ah, Uranus! / Don’t you know that my ass is famous?” or “I know that Mom and Dad think I’m a mess / But it’s alright because I am rich as piss”) and she could literally sing about human gums and make it about sex and empowerment —she will probably do it in space, no less. I have to say, though, there are three very good songs on the album: the non-R. Kelly part of Do What U Want —about sexual promiscuity and independence— Gypsy —about being on the road— and G.U.Y —about being a power bottom. So, yeah, she gets away with it but, seriously, she needs to open a book.
While we’re on the topic of poor writing and space, I saw a movie last week: Gravity. It’s visually stunning and the sound design is really impressive so I actually enjoyed it. Also, I almost didn’t survive all the 3D stress, so good job, Alfonso Cuarón. However, the dialogue was TERRIBLE. First of all, Sandra Bullock is alone for about three quarters of the movie so WE DIDN’T NEED TO HEAR HER EVERY THOUGHT. And, God, can we please forever ban any “it’s going to be a bumpy ride”-adjacent punchlines? I seriously doubt that anyone who has had to regain control of a vehicle on the verge of implosion has ever taken the time to make the most overdone joke in the history of action movies. On top of the flat humor, we weren’t spared any of the usual “life is worth it” clichés and that didn’t help. Something that I didn’t notice during the movie —probably because I was too busy shitting my pants— is that there is something quite perplexing about the female lead in Gravity. I was really happy about the fact that the main protagonist is a heroine [Spoiler alert: the male character dies about twenty minutes into the movie and she still manages to survive on her own! GASP] but someone pointed out that the whole thing about losing her child and the Earth being a metaphor for motherhood and her needing George Clooney to realize she had good things ahead of her was a little unnecessary because can we please see strong women whose soft side isn’t that they have a maternal instinct? Also, I’m not an expert in spacewear but she sure has nice undies for an astronaut struggling with depression and impending death by satellite debris. Sandra Bullock’s bare legs need top billing because I sure as hell saw more of them than George Clooney.
Other things I wanted to talk about but don’t have time to: Masters of Sex is probably my favorite show at the moment (yey female writers); dressing up as a person of color for Halloween should be avoided —like, really, we have options— but can be done respectfully —newsflash: it doesn’t involve blackface; Pixar’s Brave is amazing for not having a love story.
I don’t have a proper conclusion to this stream of thought but, as my good friend Meryl Streep said in The Devil Wears Prada: “That’s all.”
ADDENDUM: Lily Allen has personally responded to the critique. I’m a little disappointed that she says that “it has nothing to do with race, at all” because, I’m sorry to say but, at the end of the day, it does. Hey, at least people will stop saying I see racism everywhere.