You Must See 12 Years a Slave, and You Must See It in The Theater

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But not for the reasons you think.

In today’s movie economy, we tell people “they must see something in the theater” when something indelible, something crucial to the film itself, would be lost without seeing it in the theater.  This season’s unanimous theater must-see is Gravity, with its gorgeous, revelatory use of 3D.  But the maxim also applies, albeit less regularly, to a certain type of comedy film — rewatch Borat or even The Hangover without a theater full of infectious laughter, and you have a profoundly different experience of the movie.

You must watch 12 Years a Slave in the theater, but not for aesthetics, and not for some sort of communal energy.  You must watch it in the theater for a very simple reason: once it’s on DVD, or streaming, or AppleTV, it’ll be all the harder to decide to see it.  It is a sad, devastating, incisive, and fiercely important movie and, to my mind, the very best of the year.  And those are the hardest movies to get yourself to watch on a Friday night on the couch.

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We all want to watch these movies on a Friday night at home.  These are the movies that stick around in Netflix queues for years or, once delivered to your home, get so dusty that Netflix eventually emails to ask if you’ve lost the DVD.  You want to be the sort of person who watches A Separation, or 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, or The Hurt Locker, something that everyone’s told you you should see, but when it comes down to it, you just keep choosing that week’s DVRed episode of Scandal or the latest relatively innocuous hipster rom-com (see: Drinking Buddies). 

Don’t get me wrong: my use of “you” here not somehow excluded myself from this practice.  You do it, I do it, many, many people do it.  And it’s not because you’re morally weak so much as fortified by choice: when there’s so much out there to choose instead, and you’re already in your pajama pants and have a glass of wine in your hand and want to be asleep by 11 pm, the laws of inertia are simply against you.  9 times out of 10, you will choose the thing that will not challenge and fundamentally alter your world view.  Again, it’s not because you’re lazy, it’s because submitting yourself to art that alters you is hard.

Someone once told me that the way to judge whether a piece of art is “good” or not is whether or not you’re a different person when it’s over.  You don’t have to be a profoundly different person, but a person who sees him/herself and the surrounding world in a different way, however slight.  And 12 Years a Slave isn’t simply good art — it’s the very, very best sort of art, it’s frankly criminal not to watch it, and since I’m still recovering from seeing it earlier today (and weeping, uncontrollably, for the last thirty minutes of the film), I can only tell you to read Wesley Morris’s superlative review on Grantland.

But please, just for a moment, be honest with yourself: when you decide to go to a movie, it’s intractable.  You could get to the parking lot or the ticket window and suddenly change your mind, but the inertia, in this case, is against you: you will go to the movie you decide to see.  All you need to do is tell someone else that you’d like to go, and then you’re accountable, just like telling someone that you’d like to go running at 6 a.m.

And when you’re in the movie theater, you can’t check your phone, you can’t turn it off, you can’t retreat, and a  film of this caliber deserves that.  12 Years a Slave isn’t just aesthetically beautiful; it’s morally and politically necessary.  Set yourself up to the path of least resistance to seeing it: even if you only see one movie a year in the theater, let it be this one.  Sometimes it’s hard to choose to consume the things that matter most, in no small part because it’s difficult to submit ourselves to media that indicts and questions the status quo, whether that relates to the present, the past, or the cathartic, hope-inducing narratives that depict it. Make this one small thing easier for yourself: see it in the theater, and do it now.

The Making of Lorde

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Ella Yelich-O’Connor is a 16-year-old girl who sings. Lorde is a pop star. The difference between the two? A whole bunch of well-crafted publicity.

What’s different with Lorde, then, is that her publicity is marketed as anti-publicity: here’s a girl who hates manipulation, who exercises meticulous control over her image, and has no qualms about speaking her mind.

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And I have no doubt that Yelich-O’Connor does all of those things.  But the celebrity apparatus takes those very things — that commitment to non-manipulation — and turns it into overarching theme of Lorde’s image.  And that image is so persuasive, especially to a certain cadre of consumers, because it effaces itself: non-image as image.

Many Hollywood stars have accomplished similar feats. Most recently, Jennifer Lawrence’s seemingly unmediated “cool girl” antics have been held up as an example of what natural stardom can look like.  (When I asked my Twitter feed for examples of unmediated stardom, I received 20 suggestions of Lawrence).  Anne Hathaway was polished and over-prepared; J-Law was natural and off-the-cuff and, as such, much easier to like.  (I write more about them here).

Lorde has really only been on the (American) scene for a few months: her hit song “Royals” slowly took over the late summer, but it wasn’t until the release of her first full length album,  Pure Heroine, on September 30th that she really drew the attention of the American press.  (If you’re unfamiliar with her style, see “Royals,” “Team,” and my personal favorite, “Tennis Court.”)

From the beginning, Lorde was differentiated from her peers.  The lyrics of “Royals” did much of the  heavy lifting: here’s a girl who, instead of buying into the dreams of consumption proffered by most hip-hop, finds herself alienated.  Lorde was 16 (she turned 17 last week), but she was no Disney product: she’s from New Zealand (!) and actively resisted the sort of bubble-gum packaging that typifies her contemporaries.  She writes her own songs; she calls the shots.  In early interviews, reproduced across the internet, she criticized the holy three of teen pop: Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, and Taylor Swift.  But these weren’t offhand comments — they were rooted in overarching criticisms of the industry:

On Bieber: ”I feel like the influences that are there in the industry for people my age, like Justin Bieber or whatever, are just maybe not a very real depiction of what it’s like to be a young person.”

On Gomez (and her song “Come and Get It”): “I’m a feminist, and the theme of her song is, ‘When you’re ready come and get it from me.’ I’m sick of women being portrayed this way.”

On Swift: “[she's] too flawless and unattainable.”

Every celebrity has image has two major components: their product and the discourse about them and their product, also known as publicity.  Even reality stars have the “product” of their program and the way they “appear” (read: perform) on it.  Usually the product is more important in dictating the tenor of the celebrity image, but sometimes the publicity overwhelms the product.  Hollywood stars rely on publicity to keep them in the public eye between projects; reality stars generate stories and photo-ops, usually through relationships and pregnancies, to keep them relevant between new reality opportunities.

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Until recently, Lorde had blockbuster product but little by means of publicity.  A collection of quips, sure, but those had started to overdetermined her meaning.  Until, that is, last week, when the Australian music site Faster, Louder (think Pitchfork) published a longform, all-access profile, entitled “Lorde: Pop’s New Ruler,” the result of months of reporting.  This reporter had gotten in at the ground floor — before “Royals” became anything big — and stuck around to the very recent past.  He spent a lot of time with “Ella,” as he refers to her, and talked with all of her managers, had dinner with her family, and traced the trajectory of her rise to fame.

Now, I’m not suggesting that this profile is going to be as widely read as, say, a Vanity Fair cover story.  I do, however, think it will function as a sort of ur text of her celebrity — the first large scale piece from which other profiles, however brief or lengthy, will draw.  Like all skillful celebrity profiles, it establishes a few new themes in her image and reifies existing ones.  It’s fun to read — like getting to know your best friend — and never descends into fluff.  It is, in other words, an excellent example of the genre and, as such, an amazing piece of image management.

So let’s take this apart.

Over the course of the profile, several overarching themes emerge: Lorde is a natural, Lorde is extraordinary, and Lorde is authentic.

AS ‘NATURAL’: 

You know how you prove that someone has natural talent?  You tell a story about them as a child.  But Lorde wasn’t just singing to the video camera. She was a genius:

LATE one night, years ago, her mother Sonja was woken by a light going on in the room Ella shared with her sister Jerry. She shook her husband awake. “Oh my God, Vic! Someone’s just gone into the kids’ room!”

“He opens up the door and there’s this 18-month-old, at two or three in the morning, with a pile of books. Just sitting there, reading them……”

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….The resulting report is couched in restrained academic language, but remains arresting reading.

“[Her] artwork demonstrates not only a high skill level but a mature perception of the world and a highly original perspective… Clearly a busy and highly creative mind at work… demonstrates leadership skills… sets high standards for herself and does not tolerate mistakes… Extremely advanced reading and writing, verbal, reasoning, listening and processing skills.”

By some measures, she had the mental age of a 21-year-old. 

The profile goes on to emphasize the 1000 (yes, 1000) books Lorde had read as a child, which accounted, according to a friend, for her mastery of words and “natural” songwriting ability.

The profile also emphasizes her perfectionism, but it’s not a perfectionism born of parenting style or industry pressures.  Lorde just has the perfectionism innate to many gifted kids, complete with an intolerance for shoddy work or incompetent collaborators.  She has what it takes to succeed as a pop star, but it’s not from effort — it’s just always been there. 

AS ‘EXTRAORDINARY’: 

Before you get 500 words into the profile, you learn that “Ella is no ordinary 16-year-old, and ‘Royals’ no ordinary hit single.”  To back up the claim, the author, Duncan Grieve, goes into the past.  Lorde’s parents had unique New Zealand upbringings (her mother is Croation; her father is Irish) with little room for creativity, and when they met, they were determined that their children would have the artistic freedoms and voices they were denied.  It wasn’t a coddling, per se, just a celebration of imagination and creativity.  Lorde’s mother is a celebrated poet; her father is an engineer — which, we can extrapolate, is how Lorde came to be so artistic and precise.

We’re also to understand that Lorde is no ordinary teen.  She acts like an adult, and converses naturally with adults:

“She was exceptional in every way,” says [family friend] Allen. “Not an extrovert by any means, but she couldn’t be thrown.” From drama she learned to interact with adults, and to retain poise on stage, attributes which would prove handy in years to come.

And then there’s the way she interacts with the interviewer himself.  During one of many days in the studio, he dared to make a small production suggestion:

When I forgot myself and issued an opinion on a production effect at the studio, she turned and said “So you’re Rick Rubin now?” quick as a cat. It’s pretty disconcerting being reprimanded by a teenager when you’re in your 30s.

She’s not afraid of adults! She has quips, really great quips! Can you imagine yourself at age 16 with that sort of poise?  I was still way, way too concerned with my acne.

AS ‘AUTHENTIC’: 

Part of Lorde’s extraordinariness comes from her authenticity — unlike other pop stars, she’s rooted in her “true” identity.  When we talk about celebrities and authenticity, we’re talking about a sense of unmediated realness.  What we see is who they are, the “real thing.”  The problem with this understanding is pretty clear: that sense of authenticity is, itself, mediated.  Meeting the star in person is often thought of as the only means to access the “real” real — first hand celebrity accounts are used as a means to buttress a certain understanding of a star — but even those are mediated through the lens of the celebrity’s self-awareness.  Put differently, the celebrity knows she has an image to uphold; he/she’s not going to suddenly “be real” because you’re standing in the elevator with her.  The desire for the real is why we love scandal: it sheds light onto the part of the celebrity that was truly never meant to go public.  The more hidden, the more real.

Lorde’s authenticity — or, more precisely, her image’s authenticity — stems from her vocal and unapologetic rejection of the music industry and its publicity apparatus.  The profile is riddled with soundbitey comments:

“I don’t care about hair and makeup.”

[A manager] pulls Ella aside to inform her that EDM star David Guetta wants her on his next album. “No,” she says sharply. “Fuck no. He’s so gross.”

When Maclachlan first watched that Belmont Idol performance, he thought he’d find her a song and have her sing it – “that classic A&R equation”. Failing that, she could knock out a set of ’60s-styled covers. He met Ella and Sonja at a cafe and later gave them a CD to serve as a reference. It ended up in a dumpster. “I was just so not interested,” says Ella. This 12-year-old wasn’t content to sing covers. She wanted to write songs.

Jason Flom is head of Universal Music subsidiary Lava Records. In the ’90s he had a hot streak like no other: Tori Amos, Counting Crows and Matchbox 20. He was sent a link to the recording early on. “Immediately obsessed”, he became determined to sign Lorde to Lava. “I can’t wait to make you a star,” he wrote in an email not long after the songs went live. “I was like, ‘Bleurgh’,” says Ella.

The irony of an anti-materialistic single doing that is not lost on them, although money is not Ella’s motivation. “If I didn’t tell her the state of her bank account, she’d never know,” says Vic, the trustee of her company.

If she’s that frank, it must be her real self.  (If Kanye West is that bombastic, it must be his real self…..If Jennifer Lawrence is that clumsy, it must be her real self.)  Etc., et. al.  Even if we do acknowledge that these authentic celebrities are mediated, we read them, in the words of my brilliant friend Phil Maciak, as “authors of their own mediation.”  Which at least in part explains her popularity with teens: she lacks the artifice, the bullshit, the adult-control that teenagers come to despise.  And in this way, control, or the appearance of it, becomes conflated with authenticity.

And Lorde seems to control everything:

Ella is deeply interested – some might say obsessed – with all the line-by-line stuff.

Ella, self-confessed perfectionist, can’t stand to let someone else make decisions for her. It’s not without tetchy moments. Maclachlan mentions a “cover reboot” for the deluxe edition of the album. “That’s very ‘record company’,” says Ella acidly. “I don’t know if we have grounds to completely rehash everything.”

On Merchandise: “Yes! I’m excited about that. Sweatshirts and short-sleeved T-shirts. Black and grey marl. That’s it.”

Cain says that in 20 years in the industry he’s never come across an artist so engaged with the minutiae of their presentation. He points up at a giant poster of Lana Del Rey. “With her, we could do whatever we liked,” he says.

 Ella is frequently compared to Del Rey, though it infuriates her. Both are white women making pop music soaked in the rhythm and attitude of hip-hop. But Del Rey has a much more conventional narrative — she had an image makeover prior to her breakout Born To Die album, and co-writes her songs with some of the biggest producers and writers in the industry. Ella’s songs, meanwhile, are very much her vision, and hers alone.

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 The piece doesn’t address criticism that she has a co-writer/producing partner — but it also doesn’t shy from it.  So long as the songs are “her vision and hers alone,” she’s the authentic author.  You see this exacting control, whether on her part, as the profile suggests, or on the part of her manager, manifest the visual publicity for Pure Heroine.  She performs in t-shirts and long skirts; publicity photos are different variations of one stare-straight-ahead pose.

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As you can see below, her video for “Tennis Court” is just her staring at the camera in black lipstick, an anti-video to the high production values of her peers’ short-films-posturing-as-music-videos.

While Lorde embodies each of these categories (natural, extraordinary, authentic) in specialized ways, the categories themselves are nothing new — they’ve been the hallmarks of star publicity since the beginning of Hollywood and serve to substantiate our fandom.  We thought she was special, in other words, but this proves it.  They’re also the building blocks of charisma: that ineffable something that separates attempted stars from bonafide ones.  But charisma also serves a political function: to very broadly summarize the social theorist Emile Durkheim, it’s what makes us okay with other people having much more money and privilege than we do.  Charisma validates their dominance — it makes it seem like they deserve to have what they have, and we shouldn’t rise up and steal it from them.  Lack of charisma can be fatal, then, because it breeds antipathy.  Most reality stars don’t have charisma.  Justin Bieber is rapidly losing his charisma.  George Clooney has a neverending supply of it.  And Lorde, at least in this moment, has a ton of it.

But all of these themes are pretty straightforward celebrity profile fodder, as is the interlude at the raucous family dinner table, which economically underlines the “just like us” ordinariness to go with Lorde’s extraordinary talents.

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I’m most interested, then, in the way that the profile accentuates Lorde’s cultural capital — and the way that accentuation has endeared her to a certain swath of adult fans.

It’s clear that Lorde is precocious.  She’s smart, she’s uber-literate.  But she’s not just reading the classics, and she’s not checked out of popular culture. Take a look:

At the same time, Ella’s own taste was evolving fast; she moved from Grizzly Bear to Animal Collective to James Blake. All the while, though, she remained fascinated by mainstream pop like Justin Timberlake. “It’s magical,” she says. She’d pick apart songs, latching on to production elements and vocal melodies. “Why is it shameful to like this music,” she thought, “or write this music?”

 Thanks to all that reading she came to the current golden age of television late, but fell hard. She adores The Sopranos, and one of the best lines in the statement of intent ‘Bravado’ — “I was raised up/To be admired, to be noticed” — is paraphrased from Mad Men’s Joan Holloway. Most of her cultural references she tosses out are similarly adult — author Michael Chabon, essayist Laura Mulvey.

Early on she implores I read a profile of the porn star James Deen written by Wells Tower, a favourite short story writer of hers. It’s magnificent, but also deeply, savagely sexual. I don’t know how to talk to a kid about something like that, so I leave it. With Ella, you’ll always blink first.

She’s a hipster! A learned, culturally literate, upper middle-class hipster.  Many of her teen fans may not know who Laura Mulvey is, but whooo boy does a certain swath of her adult fans.  By underlining her cultural capital and  broad intelligence, it becomes all the easier for adult fans to embrace their fandom of a teenage artist.  This is no guilty pleasure; this isn’t secretly listening to the new One Direction song on your headphones at the gym.  Lorde is cool, and you’re cool for liking her.

And then there’s Lorde’s feminism:

One thing Ella doesn’t often sing about directly is love or lust – the subject matter of the vast majority of hit singles. She quotes Del Rey’s ‘Blue Jeans’ with disgust: “I will love you till the end of time/I will wait a million years”, and recently decried the sentiment of Selena Gomez’s ‘Come and Get It’. Suffice to say, she’s a feminist.

“Absolutely. Wholeheartedly,” she says. “I think women who say, ‘No, I’m not a feminist — I love men,’ I think that is just… You don’t know what it means. You think it means that, ‘I don’t shave under my arms, I burn my bras. Fuck men!’ How could you be so uneducated, and so unwilling to learn about something which is so important to you?”

For me, this is the kicker: I knew I liked her songs, I liked her even more when she said that she culled lyrics from Mad Men, and then she goes demonstrates unapologetic feminism: sold.  She endears herself not only to the entire Tavi Gevinson/Rookie/teen feminism audience, but to an entire swath of feminist adults frustrated with various celebrity’s reticence to embrace the label of feminism (talking to you, Beyonce).

Lorde’s music is deeply infectious and cultivates its own natural audience, but it’s the publicity that makes her more than the sum of her musical parts — that makes her a celebrity, and someone who will endure and matter in the cultural landscape.  The purpose of this post is neither to decry nor celebrate, although I certainly haven’t attempted to mask that I’m a fan.  Rather, it’s to highlight the potent ideological and industrial work of a single profile, and how even the anti-image is, always, an image in and of itself.  Don’t mistake me: I’m not saying that Lorde is fake.  I’m saying that she, like any other public artist, is a mediated product.

Whenever you’re interpellated by a product, you feel like it’s more authentic.  Put differently, when the product seems to speak directly to you and your concerns, you’re more prepared to believe what it’s selling.  That’s why I “buy” the images of Barack Obama, Jennifer Lawrence, Brangelina, Matt Damon, Kanye, Lorde — that’s why I’m so ready to believe.  Maybe Lorde’s speaking to you, maybe she’s not.  But if she is, it’s smart to think about how and why it’s so easy to buy what she’s selling.

Back during my Freshman year “Great Books” class, my professor started his lecture on the Bible this way: close reading and interrogation isn’t blasphemy.  It’s respect: if the text, and your faith in it, can’t stand up to that, then what is it worth?  In the end, that’s how I feel about celebrities — and why I don’t think analysis is tantamount to the destruction of pleasure.  If there’s something substantial there, if there’s more than a shiny surface, the thing that speaks to you will remain.  And thus far with Lorde, I can still hear her singing.

Don Jon and the Digital Porn Dystopia

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I can’t get away from the postfeminist dystopia.  I’ve written about it here, here, and here; I just gave a presentation on its application to Girls; I just submitted a conference panel proposal in which three other very smart scholars and I apply it to GirlsUs Weekly, the star image of Katherine Heigl, and Spring Breakers.  It’s all over; it makes more and more sense.  But I also think it’s not operating in a vacuum: it affects men, too, even if not as directly as women.  But men have their own dystopia with which to grapple: borne of the ubiquity of digital, streaming porn.

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With the rise of New Media, porn has become ubiquitous, free, and amazingly accessible — and that ubiquity has come to structure both sexual and gender relations.  In this era of ubiquitous porn, men deal with an equally contradictory ideologies of masculinity that call for them to be sexually aggressive, dominating, and muscular….while also abandoning physical labor (because it’s not longer a feasible lifelong income) and not being misogynist assholes.  You shouldn’t beat your wife, but rape jokes, those are chill.  You should be romantic with the lights on, but when they go off, you should behave like a porn star, because that, at least as far as you’ve seen, is what women want.  Objectifying women is Bad, but seemingly every media text, including those directed at women, openly invites you to do so.   

The overarching contradiction: how do you live life as a feminist — espousing the straightforward ethical belief that women are equal to men — when the world that surrounds you pummels you with encouragement, both implicit and explicit, to act and think otherwise?

Which is why I love Don Jon.  I get the critiques: it’s somewhat hamfisted in its use of repetition to emphasize points; I agree with those who say that the “guido-face” of the performances compromise its power.  But it’s the first text I’ve seen that both honestly and extensively interrogates the realities of both living in the post-digital porn world….and trying to forge relationships with women living within the postfeminist dystopia.

Let’s look at the life of our main character, Jon:

As he says in the trailer (and the beginning of the movie), “there’s on a few things I care about in life: my body, my pad, my ride, my family, my church, my boys, my girls, and my porn.”  

My Body: American culture — and not just ‘guido’ culture — dictates that the dominant understanding of “hot” = “jacked.” Now, “jacked” is an exaggerated physicality that’s actually a fetishization of the working class body: a body that looks like it labors.  But since most of those jobs of disappeared, most men, working class or otherwise, go to the gym and lift heavy things in order to approximate the bodies that their jobs would’ve created for them.  Jon is a working class guy, but he works, in his words, in “service” — he bartends.  But in order to obtain a desirable body, he has to spend his off hours doing pull-ups.

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My Pad/My Ride: Consumption isn’t somehow a new part of masculinity.  It’s a holdover compunction — what you own, and how it’s kept, says something about what kind of man you are.  But you have to consume in a very particular way: consume too much, look like you care too much, and you’re feminized.  There’s a brilliant scene between Jon and Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) at a Pier-1 type store, shopping for curtain rods.  After helping Barbara in her own consumer fantasy, Jon excuses himself — not to go sit in the car because he’s bored, but to go get some Swiffer pads.  He maintains his apartment diligently — how else is he going to make his one-bedroom pre-fab apartment look good? — but Barbara is absolutely aghast that he do something as unmasculine as clean his own floor.  The real sin, in fact, is buying the Swiffer pads in the first place, committing the ultimate sin of emasculating yourself in public.  But it’s a double-bind: consume, but look like you don’t.

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My Family: Jon’s mother lives in a fairytale.  Some people have complained about the facile characterization of the parents, but I think it serves a pretty compelling purpose: clear distillations of the first wave of postfeminism. It’s doubtful that Jon’s mother ever “gave up” on feminism (we only see her cooking dinner; we have no indication that she works outside the home) but her life seems to rotate entirely around her son’s ability to fulfill a fairytale.  To come home, in her words, and tell her “I’ve found her.”  A beautiful girl, a beautiful wedding, beautiful babies.  She’s already had her supposed fairytale — which resulted in a home where her husband yells incessantly and watches football instead of engaging with others — so she remaps the scenario on her son.  He brings home the “perfect girl” (read: the type of girl her father finds attractive and her mother finds appropriately feminine), but the problem is that that girl is nothing but a set of attributes that add up to “perfection.”  As Jon’s sister points out in her one line in the film, “she doesn’t actually know a thing about you.”  She’s too busy being a princess, and cultivating the “perfect relationship,” to pay attention to anyone else, even her counterpart.  But more on that later.

Last crucial point: Jon has clearly adopted his fetishizing tendencies from his father, who mirrors him in both looks, wardrobe, and temper.  As we learn from the story of Jon’s parents’ “meet cute,” his dad saw his mom and said “that’s mine.”  His attitude towards women is thus one of fetishization and possession, of dominance and control.  He may not be watching as much internet porn as Jon, or any at all (he doesn’t know what a TiVo is), but the porn attitude is a natural extension of his gender politics.  But he’s also not happy — and neither is Jon.

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My Church: The film is not unsubtle with this point: Jon is a hypocrite.  Every week, he drives to church screaming obscenities, punching in windows with rage.  We never hear the sermon because Jon never really hears the sermon — church is all ritual and symbolism.  We see the stained-glass windows; we seem him making the sign of the cross and kneeling.  He goes to confession, but treats it as a game to be won or lost, visibly pumping his fist when he receives five fewer Hail Marys and Our Fathers than the week before. Church tells him he is a good person simply for attending, not for actually acting out the principles of Christianity.  Appearance, not acts.

My Boys: Don actually seems to have pretty healthy male friendships, all things considered.  Sure, all they talk about are women, and spend most of their time rating those women based entirely on their physical attributes.  But you don’t see much of the traditional tension in films like these (and life): how to still be a “guy’s guy” when you’re devoting your life to your girlfriend.  Jon’s friends build up his masculinity — he’s better at “smashing girls” than both of them; he’s taller and better looking — but they also ratify his life choices.  When Barbara breaks up with him for watching porn, his friend supports him in his belief that that’s ridiculous.  Chances are, if these movies would’ve shifted focus, these men are dealing with the same impossible contradictions that affect Jon.

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My Girls: These are postfeminist girls.  We only really get to know Barbara, but she’s the part that stands in for the whole: reared on rom-coms that suggest that consumption and self-objectification, with the ultimate end goal of a fairytale wedding, is the path to happiness and fulfillment.  She’s a virgin and a whore, a ball-buster and a princess; she gets what she wants….only what she wants is not only self-serving, but hollow.  Granted, we don’t see figuring out that that life is hollow.  But our only grown woman is Jon’s mom — a woman who clearly sees Barbara as a kindred spirit — and who, as emphasized above, now fulfills herself with the fantasies of the next generation.  When Jon points out that Barbara spends just as many hours engrossed in her own implausible, destructive fantasies (read: the rom-com), he’s not wrong.

My Porn:  Jon has never known a world without porn.  When Esther (Julianne Moore) asks him if he’s ever masturbated without porn, he honestly cannot think of a time.  His sexuality was entirely shaped by porn and the dynamics it celebrates.  But he can’t find pleasure with actual women — probably because he’s acting out the scenarios he’s seen in his videos, scenarios that look fulfilling but, in practice, are just the opposite.

But it’s not entirely Jon’s fault.  Postfeminist women have been equally affected by the ubiquity of porn: teens are now reporting that they’re expected to engage in “porny” behaviors (I’ll let you fill in the blanks yourself) very early on, in large part because their partners have been immersed in media that depicts and normalizes those behaviors (or at least makes them standard).  A woman thinks that men want a porn star, so a woman behaves like a porn star.  Her pleasure is faked; his pleasure is never what he wants it to be.  Lose, lose.

Jon tries to quit porn, but soon discovers that porn surrounds him: the objectified, fetishized female body has become so normalized that even women’s magazines, exercise videos, and fast-food restaurants use it to sell products.  Again, this isn’t anything new, but it’s amplified with each passing year.  How can Jon give up porn and the sexual dynamics it promotes when seemingly every piece of media invites him to continue the practice?  The anti-porn feminists used to say that “porn is the theory; rape is the practice.”  That’s powerful rhetoric, and I’m not sure I entirely agree.  But I do think that the idea of “porn as theory” is incredibly compelling, especially given its current ubiquity.  It becomes the de facto guide for how you should treat a woman in the bedroom,which consciously and unconsciously dictates how you’ll treat women outside of the bedroom.

I realize I’m treating porn as a monolithic being.  There’s a fair amount of porn that’s not aggressively masculine, focused on male pleasure, or reifying the dynamics described above.  But most porn — the dominant form of porn — is just that.

But that’s not even the real problem.  The real problem is that porn, and the mainstream “children” of porn, tell you to behave one way — and another strand of media tells you to behave another.  It’s like the virgin/whore complex, only for men: let’s call it the prince/dick dichotomy.  A guy must both be what women want him to be (kind, respectful, willing to be a stay-at-home Dad, generous in the bedroom, takes up half of the household chores, a feminist) and what dominant, porn-influenced says he should be (aggressive, disarticulated from the domestic, selfish in the bedroom).

To be clear, women contribute to this dichotomy.  Think of Marnie in Girls, speaking about her ostensibly perfect boyfriend: “It’s like he’s too busy respecting me that he looks right past me and everything that I need from him.”  What she “needs” from him, at least at this point, is for him to act like a dick.  When an dickish guy comes on to her (“The first time I fuck you, I might scare you a little, because I’m a man, and I know how to do things) she’s so turned on that she flees to the bathroom to masturbate.  But the dick turns out to be much to much of a dick — he doesn’t satisfy her in bed, as much as she really wants that scenario to bare out, and he ignores her outside of it.

The digital porn guy wants a fantasy that doesn’t exist, but the postfeminist girl wants one as well.  Usually, movies don’t deal with this impossibility, but that’s precisely where Don Jon excels: it shows just how unfeasible the ideology has become.  The montage of Don Jon undergoing a furious, seemingly weeks-long masturbation marathon isn’t hot; it’s dystopic.

In my recent presentation on the postfeminist dystopia, I divided my analysis between texts that know they’re dystopic and those that do not.  Girls knows it’s highlighting the contradictions; Revenge does not.  Jersey Shore doesn’t know it’s highlighting the contradictions of digital porn masculinity, but  that Don Jon clearly does.   That’s why it so clearly interrogates porn, which usually goes unnamed in depictions of contradictory contemporary masculinity.  Instead of shying from it because it’s dirty or unacceptable, it faces it head on.  In that way, it’s a spectacularly honest film, which is part of the reason I can forgive it its various faults.

But Don Jon also offers a sort of solution.  It isn’t giving up porn, exactly, so much as embracing an understanding of sex and love outside of the ideologies of porn masculinity.  Society is the way that it is; there is no outside of ideology.  But you can choice to negotiate your own way within those existing ideologies, and the more texts like this highlight the dystopia, the more these dominant understandings of “proper” behavior, sexual and otherwise, are compromised.   Don Jon doesn’t advocate for a life without porn, per se.  But it does suggest that a life immersed within it is no fantasy — for men and women alike.

 

Taste, Class, Fetish Object: The Curious Case of Olivia Wilde

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It’s easy to dislike Olivia Wilde.  I should know, because I’ve done it for the last decade with very little effort.  And it’s not because she’s beautiful — I have tremendous affection for dozens of beautiful stars — and it’s not because she had those horrible bangs as Marisa’s girlfriend on The O.C.  My dislike stems from a general feeling of beige vapidity: she, like the rest of her similarly proportioned & styled cohort (most notable members: Megan Fox and Jessica Biel) has presented herself as the plaything of blockbuster boys, a Barbie to be repositioned, given less and less clothing, and stand around and look side-kick-ish.  In Alphadog, in Year One, in Tron, in Cowboys & Aliens. . .on the cover of Maxim, GQ, and Esquire. . .it’s the same song, fiftieth verse.  She’s so objectified that it bores me.

 But look closer, I’ve heard — she’s smart.  She’s from a well-established family.  She was an Italian Princess.  She reads!  What I want to think about, then, is the way in which these twin understandings — of hotness and culture — twine together to form a sort of antidote, or at least alternative, to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.  She’s the new Thinking Man’s Pin-Up, similar to the Gillian Flynn’s “Cool Girl,” but with the distinct connotations of glamour and class that accompany our current understanding of Classic Hollywood.  And her popularity, specifically with men, reflects the complicated cultural politics of the moment — specifically, the desire to be a male feminist and reject the notion of the very notion of pin-up. . . . . and the ubiquity of the male gaze, which trains everyone — men & women, audiences & celebrities — that beauty isn’t beauty unless it’s fetishized.  Olivia Wilde is the compromise of the enlightened man (or woman) who can’t help but live within patriarchy.   If you’re going to make a woman into a sex object, in other words, at least she’s a smart woman — and makes you feel better about it.

The intelligence wasn’t always that clear.  When Wilde first popped up on the cultural radar, her image was almost wholly defined by sex.  First, there was her high-profile turn as a bisexual on a network television show, which prompted the following lead for a cover article in Complex Magazine:

 Olivia Wilde turned heads when she tongued-down Mischa Barton on The O.C., but now this sex-oozing 22-year-old officially steals the show in Alpha Dog. Complex caught up with the No.1 stunna and got her to spill the beans on full-frontal nudity, making out with Mischa, and what’s eating Emile Hirsch (hint: not her!).

And then there was her body.  There wasn’t much of it on display in The O.C. — mostly a lot of skinny arms in tank tops — but there soon was.  Just take a look at the series of photoshoots from this middle section of her career:

 

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Choice quote: “I’m happy being sexy.”

 The photos were all sex —  I don’t think I could find a better contemporary example of fetishization — but the articles and interviews were keen to distinguish her from the likes of Fox and other eye candy.  Five themes, repeated again and again, established her class:

 1.) She’s from intelligent stock.

Not just smart, but high brow, investigative journalism stock.  Her parents are “lefty journalists” Andrew and Leslie Cockburn; her grandfather is “lefty journalist” and novelist Claud Cockburn, who was buddy buddy with Graham Greene and fought alongside Hemingway in the Spanish Civil War.   We’re not talking “stringer for the local paper” journalists — we’re talking in depth overseas investigative reporting on the Middle East, nearly a dozen books to their names reporters.

 2.) She herself is intelligent.

She went to one of the most elite boarding schools in the U.S., and was ready to go to Bard before she convinced her parents to let her spend a year in Hollywood.  But the intelligence is mostly modeled through acts, not words: she went to boarding school; she arrives to an interview with a heavy tome in her hand; she cites intelligent, older female actors (such as Christie) as her role models. She “performs” intelligence incredibly skillfully, with quotes like  “I think I have a strong journalistic streak in me—I’m really critical and analytical” and, concerning how she changed her name at the age of 18, ‘It’s not a renunciation of my parents – God, no. I go around bragging about my incredible family. But I wanted a pen name and I was inspired by Oscar Wilde, as he never compromised his identity even in the face of persecution. And he’s a fellow Irishman.’

I don’t mean to suggest that Wilde isn’t actually intelligent — it’s hard to know, really, actually, as hard as it is to really “know” anything about a celebrity — but that the signifiers of intelligence are all there.

 3.) She’s married to a Prince.  

Sure, they got married at age 18 in a school bus. I get that they were quasi-burn-out hippies. But you know what betrays class, and the opportunities it affords? Marrying an Italian Prince and becoming a Principesa.  Her sister-in-law was A GETTY.  They had a CASTLE, which Wilde talked about freely, at least before their divorce:  I’m into European history, so it’s exciting to trace our family back to the 14th century and beyond. How many people get to say “This castle has been in our family since the 1400s”?  Her very prominent gold ring was even embossed with her husband’s family seal.

 4.) She has taste.

Money + Education = Taste.  “Good” taste — highbrow taste.  Thirty years ago, highbrow taste meant opera, poetry, avant garde theater.  Today, at least within the realm of celebrity, you can signify highbrow taste through evocations of the classic and the vintage.  She doesn’t have a Land Rover or a BMW — she has an ‘58 Chevy, which was a close second to her “dream car,” the ‘54 Bel Air.  Her Chevy, which she periodically drove to premieres, was “a little funkier looking than the Bel Air, and I was like, That’s more like me. I love it. I love my car.”  She loves Oscar Wilde; her favorite actress is Julie Christie; she wears a bracelet with a Pablo Neruda quote.  (Neruda: the new Kahlil Gibran?) (But is Neruda actually now middlebrow? DISCUSS).

Sometimes, like when she’s promoting a new (highbrow) play in the (highbrow) New York Observer, she’s depicted wearing turtlenecks, almost entirely from the neck up, as if to encourage us to focus on her brain, not the body that made it famous.

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Usually, however, the discussion of her background, education, and taste are paired with images that aggressively fetishize her.

The problem was that none of Wilde’s films worked.  Seriously: that list above, the one that starts with Alphadog, is like a roll call of notable flops of the last ten years.  Lainey Gossip even gave her the worst insult a gossip columnist can give, asking “Why IS Olivia Wilde?” (Translation: What makes her a celebrity despite lack of merit?)

Wilde’s films may not have been delivering, but she gave good gossip: after breaking up with her husband in 2011, she was seen with every hot male star in town.  Gosling, Pine, Gyllenhaal, Cooper, Timberlake — she was playing all of them.  Her flirtation with Timberlake was especially notable, given his recent celebration from Jessica Biel — a star who, as Lainey was keen to point out, would’ve loved to have the sort of work (and play) that Wilde was getting.

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Somewhere in there, she met and fell in love with Jason Sudeikis, right as rumors of Sudeikis’ role in January Jones’ pregnancy began to circulate.  (Jones still opts not to name the father of the child; Sudeikis is adamant that the child is not his).

Wilde’s career was stagnant.  She was working like crazy — in 2012 alone, she appeared in Butter, Deadfall, People Like Us, The Words, and The Longest Week, but apart from Butter’s persistent appearance on my Netflix homepage, her work was distinctly below the radar.  And not “highbrow art fair” below the radar, but “trying to be good but actually mediocre” below the radar.  And therein lies the inherent contradiction of Wilde’s image: for someone with such good taste, how did she keep picking such bad roles?

At some point, Sudeikis told her to check out the work of Mumblecore darling Joe Swanberg, who happened to be casting for a new movie, Drinking Buddies.  Swanberg’s movies had made waves in indie, film festival circles, but were by no means mainstream.  Wilde pursuing the role was like Halle Berry doing Monster’s Ball, Entourage’s Vince doing Queen’s Boulevard, or Tom Cruise doing Magnolia — a way to change the conversation people were having about her.  It wasn’t a Terrence Malick film, but it was something.

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And, to be fair, Wilde is pretty great in the role: she plays a total Cool Girl, so cool, in fact, that she’s the manager of a microbrewery, the only girl in the entire building.  She wears sexy jeans and tank tops and Chuck Taylors; her hair is relatively unwashed and always up in a ponytail, and her only make-up is a smear of eyeliner.  She flirts mercilessly with everyone she works with, she ices out her boyfriend, she has that light of charisma that attracts everyone into her orbit . . . . and makes every other girl feel self-conscious, less-than.  It’s extremely easy to dislike this type of girl, both in movies and in real life, but Wilde — and Swanberg’s direction — help paint the reality of her situation, the self-deception and hollowness of it, in a way that, at least for me, definitely worked.

Drinking Buddies is receiving a limited release, but most people will watch it, as I did, on VOD or iTunes or whatever, as it is the perfect VOD movie: just cute enough, just thought-provoking enough, just beautiful enough, that when you sit down on a Friday night you’re like this, this is what I want to charge to my boyfriend’s cable bill.

But Drinking Buddies won’t get Wilde an Oscar nomination or anything close to it.  It’s just enough indieness to help bring her textual personal in line with her extra-textual one: to better match the girl onscreen with the girl who reads books and campaigns for Obama and dates Jason Sudeikis.  Critics, though, are making it hard for her: a recent review in The Dissolve, the exact sort of publication that she would want endorsing her, claims that

 Wilde delivers a credible performance as a woman whose external brassiness and rock-star swagger bely an underlying vulnerability, but she nevertheless feels painfully miscast. Wilde possesses an exotic, otherworldly movie-star beauty that makes her a natural for popcorn fare like Cowboys & Aliens, Tron: Legacy, and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, but seems distractingly out of place here. Casting a glamorous movie star might be good for the film’s commercial prospects, but it harms its aspirations to verisimilitude.  

She’s too pretty, in other words, to be in anything other than a blockbuster.  But I think this is a minority opinion: the vast majority of people want beautiful people playing all of the parts; screw verisimilitude.  But the film makes you feel better about liking her: see, she is smart; she does have better taste than Cowboys & Aliens.  It’s not unlike how I defend The Gos: sure, he did The Notebook and it’s a piece of schlock (that I will watch over and over again), but then he went and did Lars and the Real Girl and Half Nelson — and that’s how you know he’s a man of integrity and intelligence and worthy of my desire.

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In Lars and the Real Girl, Gosling is almost unrecognizable, hidden behind twenty extra pounds, thick sweaters, and a Dad moustache.  In Drinking Buddies, Wilde might not be glamorous, but she is still very much her beautiful self, and her body is still on display, arguably unnecessarily.  She runs around the beach in a small black bikini and goes skinny dipping, her body belying the amount of dark beer she consumes on a daily basis.  Cool girl indeed.

This division between “classy” and unclassy stars is nothing new: even in silent Hollywood, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, once married, became paragons of class and good taste, hosting salons in their Hollywood mansion that included Einstein and various Presidents.  Garbo was classy because she was European; Norma Shearer was classy because she was married to studio exec and very upright and proper.  But Clara Bow was flirty and bouncy and refused to lose her Brooklyn accent — she tromped around town without stockings and loved to go to USC football games.  She played working class girls; she wasn’t scared to have fun and drink out of the bottle. Furs and jewels don’t make you classy, especially with a look like that one below.

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 Joan Crawford was totally unclassy until she married Douglas Fairbanks Jr.; Gloria Swanson made everyone forget about her unclassy days as a Bathing Beauty and married a Marquis. Bette Davis was classy because she was from New England and the stage; Katharine Hepburn was classy for the same reasons, plus the fact that she was a snob.  Jean Harlow was super tacky, with her platinum blonde hair, her guileless vampiness, and her dalliances with gangsters.  Hedy Lamarr was classy because she was Austrian; Betty Grable wasn’t because she was solely a pin-up.

Most Popular Pin-Up of WWII: Still not classy

Most Popular Pin-Up of WWII: Still not classy

Look at that list, and you see that class and glamour meant shielding your body — suggesting, rather than flaunting, sex. . . . and cultivating an image that hinged on acting ability, witty dialogue, and intelligence.  Sex objects, however — the ‘It’ girls — were the opposite.

This dichotomy has muddled somewhat post-studio system.  Jane Fonda, for example, moved between images defined by sex and others defined by activism, but she rarely occupied both simultaneously.  Olivia Wilde is arguably the closest we’ve come to the conflation of the two qualities: body and mind, both beautiful; the classy and the pin-up, all in one.  (The other recent example = Rachel McAdams, who I first called the thinking man’s pin-up five years ago).

The problem, however, is that this bifurcation endures.  Because no person is “just” their body or “just” their mind — but even in our allegedly progressive moment, it’s impossible to combine the body and the mind.  It’s not the Virgin/Whore dichotomy, but it’s close: a star is either a Dumb Bombshell or a Homely Smart Girl.

I still don’t know how to feel about Olivia Wilde, but maybe the reason I feel so unsettled is because her image, and its evocation of both intelligence and beauty, is so rare.  But a beautiful smart girl, that’s threatening: who knows what she’ll do.  Which is why, of course, she must be fetishized — visually reduced to the sum of her beautiful parts, even as the interview that accompanies the piece proclaims her aptitude and taste.

It’s a negotiated victory, and one I’m hesitant to celebrate.  Our stars, and the ideologies their images embody, are reflections of ourselves, and the ideologies that structure our lived reality. Wilde — and, by extension, all of us — can break the dichotomy — but only if we still play by the rules.  Lean In indeed.

Scandals of Classic Hollywood: The Book, The Update

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You know why I haven’t posted anything for a month? Because I’ve been writing the crap out of my book.  And now, having just sent in the middle section to my editor, is a good time to pause and tell you a bit about it, how it’s going to be different from the blog posts, and how I’ve been putting it together.

As many of you know, it’s being published through Plume, which is an imprint of Penguin Books.  I have a fantastic editor there whose idea of what the book would be was very much in line with my own, and after signing the contract in December, I spent the Spring (and my luscious two week Spring Break) putting together the first third of the book, which details five major scandals of the silent era.  The book is set-up in “volumes,” each with two or three scandals/stories/stars, but whose stories rotate around the same theme: Clara Bow and Rudolph Valentino are in one “volume,” each with their own chapter, but the overarching theme of the volume is SEX (and desire) SCARES PEOPLE.   I call all the silent era stuff, which I turned in sometime in April, “the first chunk.”

Since Whitman’s graduation in mid-May, I’ve been working on “the second chunk.”  There’s the “Blonde Menace,” which covers Jean Harlow (You guys! The scandal! I had (only a very limited) idea!) and Mae West, and an as-of-yet unnamed section on classic Hollywood romances.  Next up: sad sack ’50s masculinity and deviant ’50s femininity, in all its various valences.

When people ask me about the book, I say it’s an academic-popular hybrid: I’m researching everything the way I would for an academic text, not to mention drawing on the years of Hollywood and cultural history I’ve consumed over the last ten years, but I’m writing in a style that’s purposefully at odds with many academic texts.  In short: you don’t have to have attended graduate school to understand what I’m saying.  It’s somewhat akin to the the tone of the posts on The Hairpin, but in the words of my editor, “less bloggy” — there’s no all-capslock (SORRY I KNOW I LOVE IT TOO), no asides about my personal life.

If you’re one of the people who mourns that loss, have no fear, I’m going to keep disclosing embarrassing things about myself, probably in all caps, for the rest of my internet life.  But recall that I hold a weird, tenuous place in the academy: I really like being a professor, but I also really like writing outside of the academy: I take it as an ethical obligation to take the knowledge that the government has in no small part funded and make it accessible outside of the so-called Ivory Tower.  That’s not dumbing my stuff down, per se, but providing proof that the Humanities, writ large, have a place in the future of education in this country.  But in order to prove that, at least right now, I understood that I needed to talk a bit less about the Boys of My Youth.

For the posts on The ‘Pin, I always do a fair amount of research.  I think popular misconception is that I just pull this stuff out of my brain — which, I mean, that would be rad — but I usually spend about a week collecting details and thinking through the place of the star and his/her scandal.  I watch the movies I haven’t seen; I rewatch the important ones I have.  If there’s a milestone academic article that’s been written about a star, I revisit it and think about how I can do (hopefully a lot more) than simply reiterate the points within.  But I never felt the need to read everything, know everything. 

With the book, I’m still not obsessed with knowing everything — that’s how books don’t get written, after all — so much as reconstructing the star’s reception, at the time, the very best I can.  I avoid star biographies, as they often read like hagiographies with a very solid dash of unsubstantiated rumor.  What matters to me, and what I’m committed to writing, isn’t what “really” happened so much as how the story of what happened unfolded — and the industrial and cultural specifics of why it unfolded the way it did.  Because here’s the thing: all the people who know what “really” happened are dead.  People who carry those stories along with them are unreliable.  I’m not an investigative journalist, and have no desire to “get to the bottom” of these stories.  Rather, I’m more invested in what each star scandal says about the time, what we expected and tolerated of our stars, and the fascinating mechanics of Hollywood and the gossip industry that manufactured specific narratives that sometimes worked very well, and other times not so much.  This stuff is so juicy and fascinating, just not in the way we’ve come to expect star tell-alls to be.

But if you read and like Scandals of Classic Hollywood, or this site, you know that already.  So how am I excavating how these stars, and the scandals that surrounded them, were mediated at the time?  Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to — at least not without a lot of expensive trips to archives.

But three things have changed: 

1.) I have access to all of the major newspaper coverage of the United States in PDF form.  ProQuest, I can’t thank you, and my college library that pays so much money for your services, enough.

2.) I have access to full text searchable fan magazines via the Media History Project, which scans magazines that have gone out of copyright.  I need to write an entire post on how this site has revolutionized both my star studies classroom and my own work, but here’s the concise version: most libraries don’t collect or archive fan magazines, because they were cheap, pulpy, and feminized.  Thus the only way to get your hands on one was to either hope that your library had microfilm of Photoplay (which some did, because it was the People Magazine of old school fan magazines) or travel to the Herrick Library in Los Angeles, or buy them via eBay.

But magazines pre-1945 are expensive — we’re talking anywhere between $20 and $100 a piece — on eBay, in part because there’s a huge collecting community of the hand drawn covers.  For my dissertation, I had to rely almost wholly on microfilm of Photoplay from the UT library; for this project, especially the stuff from the ’20s and ’30s, I have half a dozen magazines to choose from, including magazines directed at different class levels, thanks to MHP.  Here are some choice examples from New Movie Magazine, the most popular fan magazine in the early ’30s and also one of the cheapest, sold at Woolrich’s –

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3.) I’ve received funding from my college to buy a crap-ton of post-1945 magazines on eBay.  The Media History Project currently only goes up to 1943, which means that for some stars, I have a pretty big gap.  I’ve returned to the Photoplay microfilm (this time at the University of Washington), but post-1945 is such a crucial time in scandal meditation, as the power to control the narrative shifted from the studio, working in close concert with the gossip press, to the star.  I need scandal mags (of which I already have dozens, thanks to some careful estate sale shopping in Austin), I need fan mags of all sorts, I need stuff from “popular interest” press, aka Saturday Evening PostLife Magazine, Coronet, Look, Time, Newsweek, I need stuff from more niche publications – Ebony for my research on Dorothy Dandridge; Ladies Home Journal and McCall’s for my work on ’50s femininity.   Most of the last half of that list I can get via Inter Library Loan, as they’re are middle class publications and thus deemed worthy, historically, of collecting and archiving.  Life Magazine is even gloriously available, in full color, via Google Books.

But what I can’t obtain through the library, I buy: thus a constant stream of very Granddad’s-basement smelling magazines have been arriving at my door.  Because sellers rarely list the table of contents, I have to rely on luck to see if the piece promised within is a one page pictoral (unhelpful) or a five page profile (very helpful).  Either way, these magazines are usually around $10, and they’ll prove very useful in future classes.  Now I just need to come up with a nerdy star scholar database to figure out all that I have.

So what do I do with all this material?  I’m a type-A researcher, which means that I read it all, figure out recurring themes and crucial details, come up with a quasi-outline, and then transcribe pertinent passages, along with citation (this is key, whether you’re writing a 2 page paper or a book — when you transcribe quotes, never forget the citation).  I use Scrivener, a wonderfully intuitive program that allows me to create little mini folders, and mini documents within them, of all the stars and the themes, events, etc. that compose their images. Then, when I write the piece, I can split the screen in half horizontally and keep whichever set of notes I’m working with visible below.

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I write fast but sloppily — I like to sit down and pound out 3,000-4,000 a words a day — and then I go back and clean it up, buffing out the ridiculousness, making the narrative more coherent, figuring out how to put in a compelling personal detail that I’d left out.  I tighten the prose, try to make myself sound like less of a blowhard, and take out any accidental super-academic-speak.  Then I send it to my editor, who takes a few weeks to go through it with a fine-tooth comb and sends it back to me for more revisions — some on the level of the word, others pertaining to the overarching sweep of volume as a whole.  I hate the edits (it’s like pulling teeth — I can sit there and stare at an edit for an hour convincing myself that it can’t be done before finally just doing it) and love the first drafts, but editing is what makes a string of words into writing, and I’m very fortunate to have someone so generous and perceptive serving the role for me.

After I finish a chapter, I go back and do it all over again.  It’s a great way to avoid the tedium (transcribing for two weeks would give me carpal tunnel) and, since I have to read piles of material, I can readily do that outside, in my sweet lawn chair, while watching my tomato plants grow.  It’s not a bad summer — and I’m completely amazed by how much I thought I knew about each of these stars and didn’t.  My hope, of course, is that you will be too.

I’m turning in the final draft, final edits and all, at the very end of August….which means publication sometime in Spring or Summer 2014.  Get excited, and thanks, as ever, for your support.  Questions about the process? Let me know below!

The Enduring Postfeminist Dystopia of Bachelorette

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I’ve written about postfeminist dystopia before — specifically, as it applies to Revenge, which now seems to be withering on the vine in its second season on ABC.  But just because Revenge isn’t succeeding doesn’t mean that the dystopia it manifests isn’t alive, thriving, and doing some very complicated ideological negotiation.

Here’s what I said about postfeminist back when I wrote about Revenge:

Postfeminism is, most explicitly, the idea that feminism is no longer necessary.  Feminism accomplished its goals in the ’70s and ’80s, and we’re ready to move on and just “be” women, whatever that means.  (Suggestions that we live in a “post-race” society often hinge on the idea that a black president means that racism is no longer an issue in our society, let alone a defining issue).  We don’t need feminism, we just need “girl power” – a very different concept than the “grrl power” that undergirded the Riot Grrl movement of the early ’90s (which was, itself, a response to the rise of postfeminism).  Postfeminism is forgoing freedoms or equal rights in the name of prettier dresses, more expensive make-up, and other sartorial “freedoms” to consume.  Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman is postfeminism manifest — a self-sustaining (sex worker) who meets her prince, who will allow her to consume (and become her “true” self).   Sex & the City is postfeminist.  Bridget Jones is postfeminist.  27 Dresses is postfeminist.

In short, the idea that consumption and self-objectification (which usually leads to romantic monogamy) = equal rights and equal treatment is postfeminist.

In text after text of the last twenty years, postfeminist philosophy, for lack of a better word, is portrayed as the path towards happiness and fulfillment.  Until, in a text like Revenge, it doesn’t.

Since I wrote that post last year, I’ve come to seem postfeminist dystopia all over the place, perhaps most poignantly in Girls (see also: The Mindy Project).  Here’s what it’s like to live in the world that postfeminism brought us, Girls suggests, and shit if it’s not a mix of impossibile contradiction, the impossibility of being both a sex object and a self-respecting woman attempting a career, ostensibly independent yet wholly dependent upon the validation of societal structures that privilege very specific types of bodies, attitudes, skin colors, and attitudes towards consumption.

Here’s the implicit, if never explicit, message of these dystopian texts: if this is what first and second wave feminism was for, if this is what our REJECTION of feminist was for — this SUCKS.

Crucially, however, these texts are never explicitly feminist.  They’re not didactic.  They might not even mean to project the message they’re projecting.  But it’s like a great New Yorker profile that never tells you what to think about the subject; rather, they just let the subject live his life, say his piece, transcribe it, shape it, and let you make the devastating judgment yourself.

Your eyes, however, need to be open.  Otherwise, it just seems like “real life,” and we all tell ourselves all sorts of stories to justify and perpetuate the way “real life” operates.  In other words, our media projects ideological norms — and sometimes they do it in a way that suggests that everything’s working well (see: postfeminist fantasies, enumerated above), but at some point, the seams of these productions began to stretch and fail.  Postfeminist is an ideology of how women should be in the world, and all ideologies are contradictory, impossible, unlivable, and impossible to replicate in real life.  But we still like to consume things that suggest that they are achievable — hell, that’s how aspirational, capitalist-based media culture works.

At some point, however, they stop working.  The veneer begins to crack, with the unseemly underbelly emerging.  You see this in occur in the form of noir in the ’40s and ’50s, a clear counterpoint to the glossy depictions of post-World War II consumerist culture.  You could even say that postfeminist media itself was a response to the ways in which feminist media, at least in its fractured 1980s manifestation, failed to adequately address the lived realities (and fantasies, and desires, and struggles) of women’s lives at the time.

People throw a tremendous amount of criticism at Girls (some of it very earned, re: privilege/race).  But some is rooted with general disgust at the depiction of sex, relationships, living conditions, struggles with career decisions, etc.  Girls’ picture of life is not pretty: it is uncomfortable and fucking rough.  And that’s part of the reason I love the show: it’s honest, if not always holistic, about what it’s like to be a 20-something (straight, white, privileged, educated) woman in the world today.  Because I am a straight, white, privileged  educated, woman, I feel a tremendous amount of identification with the characters; the shame, the humor, the competition, the difficulty of maintaining female friendships, all of it.  But that shit is ugly.  And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that its primary artistic force is a smart woman with an “untraditional” body shape, simply because she has investment in portraying the destructive disconnect between how we wish postfeminism manifested and how it actually does.

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Bachelorette, too, is ugly.  It is also the product of a woman – Leslye Headland — who apparently has not yet produced enough (save, oh, a cycle of seven plays) to merit her own Wikipedia page.  The plot is straightforward: four girls were bestfriends (or frenemies, depending) in high school.  They called themselves the B-Faces which, by all accounts, seems appropriate.

There’s The Off-Beat One (Lizzy Caplan), The Ditz (Isla Fischer), the Ice Queen (Kirsten Dunst), and the Fat One (Rebel Wilson).  (I’m not trying to be offensive here — that’s how they’re defined for us).  Each has grown up into the adult version of that stereotype: Caplan is a bit of a fuck-up who hooks up with random dudes that she loathes; Fischer works at Club Monaco and inadvertently insults the customers; Dunst is ostensibly living the perfect life, complete with med school boyfriend, but is a pile of passive aggressiveness, flat out aggressiveness, and discontent; Wilson, the bride (and the unfunniest of the lot, here) is concerned that everyone thinks she’s too fat for her hot husband-to-be.

They come together for the wedding, which includes an impromptu bachelorette party the night before.  But even before the bachelorette party, it’s clear that life is complicated and shitty for all of our postfeminist bridesmaids:

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Gena (Lizzie Caplan): She fell in love in high school (with Adam Scott — dude, I can get behind that); they had sex; she got pregnant; she needed an abortion.  Scott’s character didn’t show up to the abortion, so she had to have her best friend take her — a moment that traumatized her, led to the demise of her relationship, and has stuck with her since, with the implication that she can’t invest in a serious relationship because of the trauma.  Instead: she does a lot of drugs, wears short dresses, and eats very little.  Postfeminism encourages women to think of their bodies, and the objectification and sexualization thereof, of a means to power — and, of course, romantic coupling.  Feminism sought to give women control over their bodies and reproduction — which is why Gena could a.) have sex before marriage without ‘ruining’ her life and b.) have an abortion — but living with the realities of abortion in postfeminist culture, that’s fraught: you’re expected to move past that moment and resubmit yourself to the male gaze in order to gain power.  And so Gena does — she regiments her body, she wears short dresses, she does all the things you’re supposed to do to get guys.  And she gets them, but she hates them, and hates herself.  She’s figured out how the contemporary romance economy works, but it’s utterly unfulfilling to her.  But she’s also internalized it: when grown-up Adam Scott tells her that he loves her, he’s so sorry, he was a coward and was too sad to come to the abortion, she’s still reticent to believe him….in part because she’s become so accustomed to a certain type of behavior from men, a type of behavior instigated by her own self-objectification.  Also: no apparently job, because her sense of self-worth has, understandably — given the ideology in which she resides — become secondary to how she looks and her ability to attract men.

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Katie (Isla Fischer): WHERE DO I START.  As becomes clear over the course of the film, she has creative skills — she can sew, she understands tailoring, she has an eye for design.  Where she’s accumulated that skill is unclear, but now she’s using it half-assedly working retail at Club Monaco and maxing out her credit cards.  Actual skill — and a vocation that might give her pleasure — has been traded for a service job, helping other women max out their credit cards in an attempt to keep up with the dictates of fashion.  Women’s fashion sells a version of what femininity should be: in the case of Club Monaco, that version is svelte, put together, feminine, intended for a closely regimented body, and expensive.  The irony, of course, is that Katie can only afford its fashions — and its version of femininity — because she receives an employee discount; what’s more, she’s so in debt that she’ll never be able to quit her job and actually investigate her talents.  It’s the double-bind of postfeminism: empowerment through consumerism turns into stifling debt that ensures docility and dis-empowerment in the work place.

Katie’s guy issues are laughable, if they weren’t so plainly reflective of the realities of postfeminist dating.  She’s self-objectified, and expects to be treated accordingly.  When the “nice guy” former-nerd who’s had a crush on her since high school takes her back to the hotel and declines to have sex with her — because he likes her TOO MUCH and doesn’t want to have sex when they’re both drunk — she feels rejected.  Postfeminist sex culture in a nutshell: self-objectification leads to objectification, e.g. hook-up culture.  On every campus where I’ve taught over the last seven years, I’ve heard (mostly female, also male) students bemoan “hook-up culture” and the sort of behaviors it requires, but REAL TALK: hook-up culture is, at least in part, the legacy of postfeminism.  Sexual freedom + sexual self-objectification = hook-up culture.  That sort of sexual freedom can certainly be empowering, but it can also, especially after several years immersed in that culture, be profoundly empty.  I’m not a prude; I’m not suggesting that everyone my age should be married (I’m certainly not) — but I am suggesting that the lack of intimacy “liberated” by postfeminist culture is unsatisfying, as clearly evidenced by Katie’s tears.  Hooking up, and the implicit validation from male’s, is the measure of validation — not actual pleasure (see: Girls).

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Regan (Kirsten Dunst): Regan’s postfeminist dystopia is the most stereotypical, and the most stereotypically horrible.  She has a “perfect” boyfriend, she has a “perfect” volunteer diversion, she has “perfect” party-planning abilities.  But she’s also soul-less, mean, hates her boyfriend, doesn’t really like her friends, and resents her best friend for getting married before she does.  She has power, but its a power built on divisiveness.  She’s willing to sacrifice friendship (and the potential for feminist coalition) for her own reputation.  She helps her good friend plan her wedding, but only because she’s so bitter that she’s not the one getting married first.  Her postfeminist fantasy is in stark contrast to those of Katie and Gena: she’s fulfilled the domestic, the passively feminine, the body-regiming qualities required of her, and she’s so unfulfilled that she’s PISSED.  Regan’s anger is just on the surface throughout, and periodically bursts forth — in moments that we, as an audience, are supposed to consider humorous or, alternately, just bitchy. But she’s a bitch because ideology is fucked: she’s done what her culture, her media, her resultant ideals told her to do — and it SUCKS.  She’s so unsatisfied, so angry.  We don’t even know what her job is — because it DOESN’T MATTER, because postfeminism could give two shits about your job.

Like Marnie in Girls, she wants a guy who’ll just have sex with her and “show her her place” — but that sex proves ultimately unsatisfying, in part because both Regan’s and Marnie’s potential and sense of self make that type of sex feel good in the moment but sour in the aftermath.  Postfeminism suggests that passivity and the endurance of patriarchy is AWESOME; in the moment, that may be true, but over time, it makes you feel approximately the same way I feel after eating a quarter pound of candy corn.  In other words: barfy, hollow, horrible.

Ultimately, I’m fascinating by what I’m labeling as a new genre of postfeminist dystopia — a genre to which the makers of these films may or may not ascribe.  It matters little whether these filmmakers or actresses know what they’re doing, though.  Instead, what matters is how clearly they’re articulating the various dystopian valences of postfeminism.  Whether they realize it or not, they’re poking holes in the ideology — and that, and the conversations it engenders, including this one, are what matters.  Bachelorette isn’t a perfect film.  It’s very funny, but it’s also terrifying.  My hope, then, is that you’ll be able to watch it — and other texts that speak to the postfeminist dystopia — and experience both.

Nashville Roundtable to End All Roundtables: Round Two

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YOUR PERFECTLY LIT RAYNA/DEACON SHIPPING PHOTO:  

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YOUR ESTEEMED PARTICIPANTS:

Karen Petruska
Simone Eastman
Jane Hu
Allison Wright
Jorie Lagerway
Jia Tolentino
And me, AHP.

AHP: First off, I’d like to acknowledge that the show has finally hit a bit of a stride. There was a period there — oh, about seven episodes ago — when I was just like SEPARATE ALREADY.  And then Rayna went two-stepping with Liam and had to have that moment by herself in the bathroom [BEEN THERE, RAYNA] and things just started rolling. At last.

Jia: I am trying to think of a better way to phrase this, but… Gunnar and O.C. Luke are totally going to bang. In my mind at least. That scene when they cheat death and get all ecstatic and screamy as the train rolls by?

Jorie: They are for sure going to bang.

 Jane: Homosocial bonding! (And all those scenes from old films where a passing train so obviously signifies pent-up erotic desires.) (AHP: Good Hitchcock call, Jane.) (Jane: Yes! Hitchcock, Renoir, and my favorite BRIEF ENCOUNTER.)

 AHP: O.C. Luke! THAT’S WHERE HE’S FROM!

 Jia: He is 33 and does not look a day older than 33. Luke, actually, is a helpful reference for me (in terms of characters getting rewritten out of left field) as I process Dante’s INSANELY QUICK and HIGHLY HILARIOUS character transformation from Mild, Reasonable Sober Companion to High-Powered Major Label Pop Star Manager. Over the course of the last episode, Dante’s hair got 500% greasier as he fully inhabited his new Addicted 2 Biz life. I cannot wait for this very unrealistic storyline to just explode all over the place, although I am sad for Juliette, because she has regressed back to her Toddlers & Tiaras persona. (Allison: I like to think about character consistency from one role to the next, so the same Jay Hernandez who was Brian Chavez in Friday Night Lights has somehow become Dante. And the same Chris Carmack who was Luke Ward in The O.C. has made it to Nashville. And obviously I think of Juliette Barnes as an extension of Claire Bennet from Heroes.)

 I am also sad for Scarlet, even though Gunnar is being nice to her, because in the last few episodes she has reached new heights of drippy milkmaid passive “I’d be much happier if I could just make you dinner and clean the house” bad-accent Wig Madness. I hope she gets an assertive hair-wardrobe-and-attitude makeover on Rayna’s label (YAY THAT PLOT).

 SE: Scarlett kind of reminds me of a Lifetime movie lead, but I can’t decide if she’s the Lifetime movie lead who boldly remakes her life in a “becomes the man she wanted to marry”/Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves kind of way, or in a “Lifetime as the ‘Women Having A Hard Time Channel’” kind of way, like at any moment she could say/warble, “But he’s a GOOD MAN!”

 Jane: Oof, Scarlett’s character is almost painfully stock Sacrificial Maiden, and while I’m excited for the Gunnar/O.C. Luke (aka Nashville Will Lexington), I wish it wasn’t at the sake of Scarlett. (That knowing look on Gunnar’s face when Scarlett flounces away, happy that Will has been a “good influence” on him.) Like, very many levels of character sacrifice here! And I want to trust Khouri, but, yes Jia, Scarlett makeover a la Thelma — anytime now.

 KP: I’m concerned about Scarlett/Gunnar in that I actually prefer them singing together (they are sort of making me feel better about the break-up of The Civil Wars). The music is one of the best parts of the show, so if that is ever threatened by plot, I sort of get annoyed. (AW: Yes, Civil Wars! I heard a rumor they’re getting back together. Fingers crossed.)

 Also, does anyone else agree that Panettiere is becoming a much better singer? Seems less nasal now.

 AHP: I feel like she’s still nasaly and a bit too Carrie Underwood on the power ballads, but I love it when she’s doing the quiet Deacon-inspired stuff — “Consider Me” is gorgeous. They’re also doing an okay job with getting around the, er, frailty of Connie Britton’s voice (see: “Stronger than Me.”)

 Jorie: I think we mentioned this last time, but the frailty of Connie Britton’s voice is actually kind of destructive to what is ostensibly the central conflict of the show. Cuz Juliette is actually better than she is. Especially, as you said, when she sings with Deacon.

 KP: I’m gonna step in here to ask if country singers need good voices.  I know Carrie Underwood has us all thinking that, but isn’t frailty a great attribute in a country singer.  I know she’s Mrs. Coach, so I’m likely super biased, but I sort of love Connie’s voice.  It is much more vulnerable and poignant. Her singing (like her acting) requires risk.

 AHP: My subjective opinion based on nearly two decades of country music listening: yes.  In fact, I can’t think of a single female country star (or male star, for that matter) without a powerhouse voice.  Taylor Swift, maybe, but that’s another story.  The problem is that Britton’s supposed to be the Faith Hill in this equation battling it out with Carrie Underwood, and Hill has effing PIPES.

 KP: I liked that Juliette fired her manager. I think that could have been a good way to go — how does a child star grow up (important, useful topic for the actual world), but instead they’ve chosen to go down a less satisfying track.

 Jorie: Can we discuss why Scarlett wears a wig? She has hair. WAIT. The Civil Wars broke up?!

 KP: What does her actual hair look like? … Oh, sorry to break the news, Jorie. It is pretty tragic.

 Jorie: I have no idea what her real hair looks like, actually.

 Jia: (I am doing some Clare Bowen research right now and A. her Twitter is actually 50% cupcakes [that is a joke I would have made up about her but it’s true] and 50% adorable photos of her and her menagerie of animals, B. she was the lead in an Australian production of Spring Awakening, with Cate Blanchett as the artistic director! I hate musicals! But I would have LOVED to see that!)

 Jane: Compulsory Defense of Musicals Interlude: WOWWWW. I would love to see that, and if Bowen played Wendla (originated by Lea Michele of Glee fame) then we know she can handle nuance. Can someone please make Scarlett’s character just a wee bit more round, and not on the verge of tears all the time? (Also recently learned that Spring Awakening is a DUNCAN SHEIK production, but that makes soooo much sense. “The Mirror-Blue Night”? So Sheik.) (Jia: She was Wendla! [And my hate of musicals comes solely from having spent my entire childhood putting my hair in sausage-curl rollers for them.] And I actually love that Spring Awakening was Duncan Sheik — if there was a more naturalistic pop sensibility to contemporary musical theater, i.e. Nashville basically, everyone would get on board. I think the band Fun. is a flop sophomore album away from writing a decent musical. ALSO, ALSO, the actor who plays Gunnar is British – so Scarlett, the accent, PLEASE!) (Jane: FUN IS WRITING A MUSICAL? That makes so much sense; the lead singer’s voice screams musical theater (no pun intended), and I think his uncle has roots there? OK, Jia, the next time we meet, we will have a Musicals With Pop Sensibilities marathon. You will be converted; I can already tell. Aaaand Musical Interlude Scene.) (Jia: Sadly that is just my Fun. fantasy. Let me conclude my off-topic interlude here with THE MOST FUNNY clip of O.C. Luke dancing to Rooney and singing very terribly – hiding, clearly, the polished country twang that he unveils on Nashville.) 

KP: The thing with the hair is that it reinforces the whole unrealistic Disney Princess nonsense.  Disney Princesses are faux feminist, so the idea that Scarlett has to be fragile, beautiful, and soft (as represented by the hair) bums me out.

Jia: DO we think that Scarlett is going to hook up with Luke? Whose name is WILL, I keep forgetting, but he will always be Luke to me. I feel like such a complication is inevitable–they are inserting him into the Scarlett-Gunnar relationship in a very direct way. I would like to see Scarlett do something selfish and bad, is why I’m asking this.

 Jorie: Do you not think he and Gunnar are going to do… something?

 Jia: I WISH! I wish they would just all have a threesome, to be honest, and Luke and Gunnar have more intense chemistry than a lot of other couples on the show! But, you know… doubtful.

 Jorie: I live in a delusional world where, until it doesn’t happen, I believe network television will do things like put the two hot guys with great chemistry in bed together and have the milkmaid come in with breakfast and just join them. But yeah, probably not. And in that case, I would say she would hook up with Luke, but this show is SO BAD at making people who should be having sex (for story’s sake, for melodrama’s sake, for entertainment’s sake) have sex.

 Jia: Definitely. I also wonder if Luke is a sign that Avery is getting written off soon. That was a bit of a low point for me in terms of plausibility, when he burned those master tracks in a trash can like he was Taylor Momsen on Gossip Girl or something — I don’t think the writers really know what to do with him.  (AHP: JIA I AM DYING)

 Jane: I was wondering why they were still keeping Avery around — I mean, they show even had the out of firing but, but they’re keeping him so… I think there’s some dramatic criss-crossing left to happen there.

 SE: It’s because he wears a leather thong necklace.

 AHP: Well that’s it Simone, now that we’ve discussed the leather thong necklace, this Roundtable is Complete.

 SE: Kill your idols, etc etc.

 Jorie: But wait: Avery might turn back into a human now that he is forced, Tyler Perry style, to face good clean working class work. (Jia: TYLER PERRY STYLE *faints happily*)

 KP: Yeah, I think they know they have a good actor as Avery, and he has a lovely falsetto. So if they can find a way to redeem him, he can someday sleep with Juliette (cause this show ultimately has the personal goals of all characters subsumed by sex).

 Jorie: It claims to have all the personal goals of all the characters subsumed by sex. But then it doesn’t do it right. I couldn’t care less who Juliette sleeps with, since she clearly will sleep with every male cast member eventually. But either put Rayna and Deacon together, or move on. Make something actually shocking or interesting happen. Be more like Scandal. I’m frustrated with the show. I agree with AHP that it’s hit its stride more, but still could be so much better.

 Jia: I have a feeling, though, that the sustained and excruciating separation of Rayna and Deacon is going to carry this show from season to season, as much as I wish it wouldn’t.

 Jorie: But it’s not excruciating. That’s the problem. It’s gone on so long I don’t care. Although I am happy to see Deacon happy. Poor guy never catches a break.

 KP: (raises hand) I care about Rayna and Deacon.  Though a flashback episode (please, done better than #TVD and that one Gilmore Girls episode) would be sort of awesome to fill that out–why Rayna betrayed her lover of years to find security with the most boring man on the planet.

 Jia: True. They’ve lost a lot of momentum. And gained a Labrador puppy. I was quite pleased at the shamelessness of that. “Meh, let’s just give him a puppy or something,” said some writer in response to “How can we keep the audience interested in Deacon now that he has a girlfriend that people will like but not root for because she ain’t got that Tami Taylor steez.”

 Jane: I find this genre of character so interesting, Jia! The romantic obstacle between the two fated lovers that isn’t captivating or interesting enough for us to hate (or love).

 AW: I really hate that Deacon’s girlfriend is also the CIA agent’s wife on The Americans. Like, cannot handle it. She doesn’t have a big role in either, but it still freaks me out. If the shows were not on at the same time, I would apply my rule of linear progression referenced above and just say that the CIA agent’s wife became a veterinarian after divorcing him–or she entered witness protection and this is her new life — but the concurrent viewing precludes that.

 Jane: But she does have the sort of Semi-Clueless Significant Other vibe in both roles, at least!

 AW: True–she is consistent. Which makes it even easier to believe it’s all the same person.

 KP: I loved the scene with Deacon and Rayna in the hospital. Yes, the elevator kiss was super hot, but I prefer these two as friends nevertheless. For a woman as confused as Rayna, it is nice to have one person get her. Speaking of, the sister is getting redeemed a bit, too. I wish they could pull that off with the father — give him something more to do than laugh evil-y.

 Jorie: YES. I loved that scene. It was tortured and nice and appropriate. While the sister’s turn around is abrupt, I get that your dad having a heart attack could soften your edges temporarily. Plus, it seems like she’s going to take his place as schemer in chief. Which brings me to AHP’s topic list: Powers Boothe acting like he’s on Deadwood. Yes. What’s up, Powers Boothe?

 Jane: When Boothe sat down in his leather armchair — glass of whiskey in hand — before his blazing fireplace, I felt like I was getting a glimpse of Don Draper’s future.

 KP: I am not familiar with Powers Boothe, but everything I read tells me he is a great actor. Wish the show knew that.

 Jorie: I wish the show knew that about the whole cast. See above re: Scandal. There is SO MUCH POTENTIAL. It just doesn’t have the writing chops. There is a moment or two in each episode that I really like, and the rest, meh.

 AHP: Here’s what I like about what’s going on with Deacon and Rayna: it’s what actually happens when you’re friends with someone whom you’ve loved and lost. They’re best friends, and they know and understand each other in a way that no one else will. Rayna is seriously lonely — her sister is suddenly offering all sorts of insight and Rayna is suddenly heeding it — but, as is all too typical on network television, here’s a lady with NO FEMALE FRIENDS.

 KP: Postfeminist BS Bingo. No female friends.

 Jia: No kidding. Scarlett, too – that brief gesture towards female friendship when Hailey bought her a Cleavage Dress and took her out on the town was so quickly stifled by Gunnar’s Boner of Rage, which was my least favorite Gunnar moment in the show to date. Actually, it might be a more general failing that people on this show – aside from Rayna, who is good at warmly insinuating history in brief moments of interaction – just do not appear to have many friends, period. Fame and power are isolating, sure, etc, but that’s not enough of a justification – it’s like in literary fiction when characters ostensibly don’t hold jobs.

 KP: So here’s the show’s dilemma — some real potential, and from what I can tell, reasonable success with the music. So how do they get more viewers? Do they want the country folks, and if they do, what makes them happy? I hate when a show is in search of an audience, because they just throw pasta on the wall without realizing they forgot to put the pasta in the water in the first place.

 AW: Speaking of tension with Deacon and Rayna, how long are they going to draw out the paternity issue? Deacon rescues Maddie (the older daughter?) during the stampede at Juliette’s concert, he hangs out with her (and the new girlfriend) during Rayna’s concert, acting all fatherly. When is the big reveal? (Jane: Oh man, during that hug, I thought Rayna was going to look down and have a moment of “that’s the family I could have had” and stumble through the performance or something, but it was very much taken as a given! And Rayna’s tears by her father’s bedside at missing all those years they could have had? Is Rayna going to hint do the same with Maddie?)

 Also, I wonder how everyone consumes the show — do you have TV, watch it live, DVR it, wait until it’s available online, etc? And do the answers to this question get at KP’s question re: increasing viewership?

 SE: I watch it in Hulu binges when Grey’s Anatomy and SVU both have an off week. (Those are the weeks when I think, “I really miss my friends.” Which.)

 Jane: Same! Hulu binges, so it’s not at the top of my list, though I am haaaanging on. (I missed a few episodes during that deep lull and might even recommend that to future viewers?)

 Jia: I do not have a TV, but I solicit TV access from a friend for this show – Nashville and basketball are the only two things that I will get in front of a real TV for. I will say, though, I have a sense of this show as having a much broader audience than I would have expected – or maybe my college best-of-bro friends are just anomalously broadening their taste from Workaholics and the like – but I’ve been surprised at the demographic variety of the people I know who watch it.

 AHP: I watch it via Hulu on my iPad, but almost exclusively while exercising.  It is the PERFECT exercising show.  I’m also somewhat surprised by how many of my (female) students watch it — probably because a.) it’s on Hulu and b.) I got them all addicted to Friday Night Lights last semester. NOTE TO ABC: YOUR 20- AND 30-SOMETHING AUDIENCE IS WATCHING VIA THE HULUS; DON’T GIVE UP ON THAT PLAN.

 KP: Hulu but not so much a binge.  My partner watches with me, but he’s not really that into it.  If I didn’t make him, he wouldn’t watch.  And is that a possible issue, too?  Is there a reason for guys to watch this show? I mean, Deacon is sorta manly, but while we complain about Scarlet, at least the other females are relatively in charge of their lives.  Are there any 3D male characters on this show?

 AW: I have been wondering the same thing about Girls, though my question there expands to include what men who watch that show (if there are any) think of the representations of themselves vis-a-vis dating. I’m not sure there’s a similar question to be asked here, though maybe there is and I’m just not ferreting it out.  (AHP: I don’t know where it’s sourced, or if it’s just internet legend, but apparently 60% of Girl’s audience is male.  Fascinating).

 SE: I think this is an important question but I must first insist that we introduce Lean In analytic. WHICH LADIES ON THIS SHOW ARE/ARE NOT LEANING IN? Part of me thinks all of them are. Like, Juliette, for all her rebel bullshit, is leaning in, right?

 Jia: Juliette leans in so hard all the time. Every morning Juliette wakes up and tells herself to lean in at such a deeply acute angle that her powerless childhood (which here can be pictured as a congealed bowl of trailer pink mac-and-cheese) can never again haunt her in the present. Rayna’s hair is the ghostwriter for Lean In so there are no issues there. However, Scarlet only leaned in for this solo contract because her Authoritative Man gave her approval to do so. (SE: Connie Britton’s hair: never not leaning in. Also, congealed mac-and-cheese is kind of the best, so you CLEARLY MEANT Tuna Noodle Helper.)

 AW: Scarlett totally leaned in once she got the head nod from Gunnar!

 SE: Isn’t that the real problem with Lean In, that the Leaning Lady has to have always already had a dudely head nod before shit takes off?

 KP: Dude(tte), that is so troubling.  Could Sandberg only lean in when that little pipsqueak Facebook founder let her?  The parallels there are troubling (yet apt).  Scarlet needs help, STAT. Like, cutting off her hair, Felicity-style, help.  Like, being killed and having her twin sister take over, unbeknownst to everyone around her.  Like, is there any help for this character other than her voice (which hides a great chest voice most of the time)?  How about this–let Deacon and Rayna be starcrossed forever (that’s fine with me–the tension works).  How about letting Deacon mentor HIS ACTUAL NIECE? Now that could be interesting, and there would be no nonsense about his trying to sleep with her, like every other storyline on the show.

 SE: Can we talk about what this show does with/about addiction? I say this mostly because I am “watching” Elementary while I work and that show ALSO has a “sober companion.”

 KP: Really enjoying Elementary (though not sure why Angelina’s ex always seems to be shouting).  That is all.

 AW: I have not seen Elementary (I have also not seen Deadwood, which I realize is a travesty that must be remedied immediately) but I do watch Nurse Jackie and Californication, two shows that very clearly address addiction. This seems like the Disney hand-holding, didactic version. Of course, it’s network compared to Showtime. How many characters struggle with addiction? Deacon, Coleman, Juliette’s mom. Anyone else? Juliette’s mom seems to struggle more than Deacon and Coleman, at least in the present. Are we to make anything of that? (I’m trying really hard not to make it about gender and/or class, so mostly I want y’all to save me from myself here.) (SE: You are perfect and beautiful.)

KP: Ways to improve this show: 1) no more sex. For any characters.  Only longing, which is more dramatic anyway.  2) Scarlet is only allowed to sing with Gunnar, though in all other aspects of her life she must make her own choices. In fact, she should start telling him how to live, cause his choices are crap. 3) Avery needs to be redeemed.  That actor is too cute not to be on the show.  And I’m sorry, Annie, but “Kiss” is a damn hot song. 4) More about songwriting, performance anxiety/mechanics, and the business of music.  The damn thing is set in Nashville, so let’s get some insider dish (beyond dumb guest star spots that give the guest stars nothing to do).  5) More scenes with Rayna and Juliette, as long as they never cat fight or enact any other cliches. Genuine jealousy, competition, understanding, achievement, collaboration only. 6) More of Rayna’s sister being a real person, not a cartoon. She can be conflicted (but I’m a business woman, too, and therefore must make money!!), but she still needs to be, you know, a human. 7) Dad should have died. Sorry, but the character was never developed beyond the twirling mustache. He and Teddy should accidentally shoot other in a twisted sex game.

 AW: Booth should have died, YES. Great idea to have Deacon mentor Scarlett, though I want to see Scarlett and Rayna write and sing together. And I want to see Scarlett leave Gunnar and live alone. Figure your shit out, girl. I wonder if the writers are shying away from the music industry in an effort to appeal to a broader audience in the same way that FNL writers avoided too much football talk. “It’s not really about football” (except of course it was).

 KP (cont):I actually really, really, really like Nashville.  I think Mrs. Coach has a character with interesting conflicts and a great acting partner in Deacon. Juliette has redeemed Panettiere, which is pretty much all I need to say about that.  Gunnar and Scarlet have great (musical) chemistry. How albums are made. What are the challenges of the business.  How hard it is to balance work and home.  All of that is awesome.  So just go do that and cut the silly melodramatic.  I’m a girl, and I like romance, but I don’t need dumb. [Oh, and Ms. Khouri--you are working with your husband.  I imagine that is an interesting relationship. So put Rayna with Deacon, and let them act out your life for us. That would be a damn good show]

 AHP: [DROPS MIC; PICKS IT UP AND PASSES IT TO THE REST OF THE INTERNET]

 

 

Jennifer Lawrence as Gillian Flynn’s “Cool Girl”

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jennifer-lawrence-oscars-press-room-photos-2013-17_zps780f5864I love J-Law; you love J-Law; everybody loves J-Law.  Or so seems to be consensus following last week’s Academy Awards, where she tripped up the stairs, made a self-deprecating speech, performed authenticity and humility without seeming tri-hardy, reacted amazingly to Jack Nicholson in the awards press, and gave the best responses to banal post-award reporter questions in the history of banal post-award reporter questions.  She was, in a word, charismatic.  And she differentiated herself from Anne Hathaway, who seemed, according to whom you ask, calculated, too happy, ingenuous, too performative, etc. etc.

In the week since the awards, the battle between these two types of contemporary female stardom have battled it out in the pop culture opinion blogosphere.  If you’re interested, check here, here, and here.  Posting these arguments to this blog’s Facebook page, I was impressed with the reaction, characterized by a recoil at the idea that both types of stardom, and the negotiation of femininity they represent, can’t co-exist.  TRUTH, READERS, TRUTH.  As several of you pointed out, no one is comparing Daniel Day-Lewis and Christoph Waltz or Ben Affleck and Ang Lee — there’s room for plenty of men at the top.  But when it comes to women, we’ve got to pit them against one another.  There’s a long tradition of this “women against women” strategy: see, for example, the crazy, entirely-press-fueled “war” between Garbo and Dietrich, or, more recently, the enduring attempts to pit Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie, both powerful women in Hollywood, in a fight to the death for Brad’s affections.

To be clear, I have zero problem with articulating one’s dislike or like for a particular star.  When we talk about the stars we like and dislike, we’re associating their images, and what they represent, with ourselves.  The things we like — television shows, music, stars — are signifiers of our own personality.  To like Jennifer Lawrence, to like Anne Hathaway, is to say volumes about the type of contemporary femininity you admire and with which you would like to associate yourself.  With that said, I don’t think that lambasting the person with whom you don’t want to associate yourself is very productive.  Be a fan all you want, and articulate why you don’t like another star, but don’t be an ass, and don’t frame it in terms of “there can only be one!”  There can be many.  The more, the better.  Anne Hathaway’s image is not one to which I do not cotton, but that doesn’t mean that I think she’s a bitch, worthless, or should retire.  In fact, she’s really f-ing talented.  But just like you can admire an argument and not agree with it, I can admire her and not “like” her.

But I do want to unpack the unadulterated affection for Lawrence, whose “star” performance has been framed as wholly natural, authentic, and unperformative.  Hathaway molds her image; Lawrence just is.  In truth, Lawrence, with the help of her publicist and agent (who have been lauded all over the place in the trades) is just good at appearing to not perform.  She shares this attribute with the most enduring stars of old — Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Katharine Hepburn, early Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts.  In our current moment of hyper-manipulation, we cling even more to those who can seem wholly unmanipulated.  And I’m not trying to be a asshole when I suggest that Lawrence understands that what’s she’s doing, in terms of madcap honesty, will further her career and brand.  She’s smart.  She’s savvy.  I don’t think she’s a conniving, manipulative star, but I do think that she is very much cognizant of what she’s doing.

Lawrence’s particular negotiation of “naturalness,” skill, emotion, and femininity wouldn’t be popular at any given moment in time.  It’s very specific to our current cultural moment, in which the “cool girl” fills a specific ideological function, adhering to a paradoxical understanding of what a woman should and should not be, a peculiar negotiation of feminism and passivity.

The best articulation of the “cool girl” comes from Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.  I have some serious problems with this book (is Flynn a misogynist? DISCUSS.) but as Mallory Cohn, one of the smart commenters on one of the Facebook posts about this topic, astutely pointed out, Lawrence is the embodiment of the “cool girl” persona perfectly described by Flynn’s heroine.   Here’s the passage in full:

Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.

Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl. For a long time Cool Girl offended me. I used to see men – friends, coworkers, strangers – giddy over these awful pretender women, and I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them. I’d want to grab the poor guy by his lapels or messenger bag and say: The bitch doesn’t really love chili dogs that much – no one loves chili dogs that much! And the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be. Oh, and if you’re not a Cool Girl, I beg you not to believe that your man doesn’t want the Cool Girl. It may be a slightly different version – maybe he’s a vegetarian, so Cool Girl loves seitan and is great with dogs; or maybe he’s a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed, bespectacled nerd who loves comics. There are variations to the window dressing, but believe me, he wants Cool Girl, who is basically the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain. (How do you know you’re not Cool Girl? Because he says things like: “I like strong women.” If he says that to you, he will at some point fuck someone else. Because “I like strong women” is code for “I hate strong women.”)”

Again, I’m unsure if Flynn hates women or if this protagonist hates all women, but the outlines of this “cool girl” resonate, do they not?  That’s because it’s a product of ideology, and ideology is always super contradictory and falls apart under inspection.  The cool girl is a guy’s girl who also loves sex.  She’s masculine yet super feminine.  She’s all the “good things” (read: amendable to contemporary patriarchy) about girls and none of the “bad things” (read: ball busting, interested in her own destiny, willing to advocate for her own rights).  But that’s how the media, and more specifically, stars, work: they provide us with examples of “real people” who are proof positive that images like “cool girl” exist.

Lawrence is a powerful, beautiful woman who also thought that Seth McFarland was “great.”  This infuriates me, but it works perfectly with her image: she’s no ball-busting feminist.  She’s chill.  She can take a joke.  She is, as People Magazine recently declared, the woman that all women want to be like and all men love.  She’s the effing cool girl.  Only time will tell if she has to hew to that image or breaks out of it entirely.  For now, however, we need to think about what our adoration of that image represents — and complicate our unadulterated affection.  I still love her, but I need to continue to think about why.

Beyoncé, Feminism, Ambivalence

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First things first: I like Beyoncé.  I like her songs.  I think she’s a great dancer and a phenomenal singer.  She and Jay-Z are incredibly skilled at controlling their own images, and if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know how I love an exquisite case of star production.

What bothers me, then — what causes such profound ambivalence — is the way in which she’s been held up as an exemplar of female power and, by extension, become a de facto feminist icon….effectively the patron saint of every feminist blog, including the non-explicitly feminist blog to which I regularly contribute.  And let’s be clear: Beyoncé is powerful.  F*cking powerful.  And that, in truth, is what concerns me.

But let’s explore the feminist/empowered woman case:

*Over the last decade, Beyoncé has repeatedly broadcast her independence, fiscally and physically.  She refuses to hew to (white) body ideals, because her body is “too bootylicious.”

*She (and Destiny’s Child) believe women should be “independent” and self-reliant.  To wit:

The shoe on my feet, I’ve bought it
The clothes I’m wearing, I’ve bought it
The rock I’m rockin’, I’ve bought it
‘Cause I depend on me

*Aforementioned song was the theme for Charlie’s Angels, a film (ostensibly) about female empowerment, vis-a-vis fighting.

*The song “Survivor” is about women perserving through break-ups and thriving in the aftermath.

*She released a song called “Girls Run the World.”

*Three years ago, she owned the feminist label, but “in a way.”  Her explanation: “My friendships with my girls are just so much a part of me that there are things I am never going to do that would upset that bond. I never want to betray that friendship, because I love being a woman and I love being a friend to other women.”

*She told GQ: “You know, equality is a myth, and for some reason, everyone accepts the fact that women don’t make as much money as men do. I don’t understand that. Why do we have to take a backseat?” she says in her film, which begins with her 2011 decision to sever her business relationship with her father. “I truly believe that women should be financially independent from their men. And let’s face it, money gives men the power to run the show. It gives men the power to define value. They define what’s sexy. And men define what’s feminine. It’s ridiculous.”

*Jay-Z is taking her hyphenated name (they’re both Carter-Knowles).

*She was awesome at the Super Bowl and broke the electricity.

Other misc. arguments: she is powerful, she is strong, her thighs are strong, she has a Sasha Fierce alter-ego, she has shown the music business what’s up while not being Taylor Swift.

 

The unsettling thing, then, are the contours of Beyoncé’s feminism — which is only coincidental, not owned, feminism.  In the Destiny’s Child’s era, it is commodity feminism — which is to say, postfeminism.  As many, many scholars have persuasively argued, the ability to buy commodities — the vast majority of which only serve to further subjugate women to men — is feminist, then feminism is a word without meaning.  In the Beyoncé qua Beyoncé phase, it oscillates between fantasy (“Girls Run the World”) and striving-towards-monogamous-coupling  (“Single Ladies”).  To refresh: “Single Ladies” is not about how being apart from a man is awesome; rather, it is about how men fail to secure what they want.  Bemoaning and satirizing men’s inability to commit to monogamous relationships is not feminist; it is, in many ways, regressive — the inability to “put a ring on it” is denigrated; by default the ability to “put a ring on it” is celebrated.  I’m not saying that feminist can’t be married.  But placing “putting a ring on it” as the ultimate — I don’t need you to to tell me that that’s problematic.

Beyoncé says, in the pages of GQ, that she wants women to be financially independent, claiming that financial independence will help women change what’s declared sexy, and then she poses on the cover like this:

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…I can’t help but feel ambivalent.

 

As she puts on a superb Super Bowl show, but does it in outfit that basically taught my lesson on the way that the male gaze objectifies and fetishes the otherwise powerful female body….

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…I can’t help but feel ambivalent.


Because Beyoncé does, indeed, hold a tremendous amount of power.  She is revered by men and women alike.  She is not “too much” in the way that other female artists are — she’s not too weird like Gaga, or too abrasive like Nicki Minaj.  She’s struck just the right tone between empowered and, let’s be clear, objectified.

Her status as object was driven home during her performance at the Super Bowl, which just happened to coincide with my re-reading of feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and the Narrative Cinema.”  If you’ve taken a film class, you know that Mulvey, and this essay in particular, is the most influential essay in all of film history.  It effectively built film studies as a discipline, inspiring enough response to differentiate film scholarship from what had, to that point, been predominantly rooted in either communication or English.  Today, people chide at the mention of this essay, in part because it’s so polemic — as Mulvey herself admits — and inspired so many effective, persuasive critiques.  But the fact, or rather, the guiding principle, remains: The Male Gaze is the structuring element of all cinema.  And not just cinema, but television and filmed performance, broadly speaking.

To summarize a complex and nuanced argument, Mulvey argues that women become powerful — in part through their lack of a phallus, and the threat that represents — and the way to neutralize that threat is actually quite simple: either punish them within the context of the narrative (think film noir or horror films and how sexualized, powerful women get the ax) AND/OR turn them into sex objects, primarily by fetishizing (read: doing close-ups on) various sexualized parts of their bodies.  They become less powerful; less-anxiety inducing — a sum of beautiful parts, rather than a ball-busting whole.

Beyoncé submits herself to this gaze, over and over again.  I feel like this is a painfully obvious argument.

 

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And before you say that men make her do this, remind yourself that she controls her own image.  These decisions are HERS.  No matter how many times she throws you the Sasha Fierce look, no matter how much leather she’s wearing, the fact remains that she’s dressing herself, preparing herself, willfully submitting herself, to her own sexual objectification.  We fancy her a self-realized subject, but before the gaze of camera, she becomes an object, defined, no matter how much her look and her power seems to argue against it, by her to-be-looked-at-ness.

To some extent, I can’t blame her: her power stems from her ability to temper her power with her own objectification.  She can say “Girls Run the World,” but so long as she wears that outfit at the Superbowl, it’s not threatening, because girls will never actually run the world.  She can say that women should become financially independent so that they can determine what’s sexy, but so long as she appears on the cover of GQ adhering to the dominant ideals of what is sexy, she’s a non-threat.  She can pose for pictures looking strong and returning the gaze, so long as she also poses for pictures like the ones above.  Her power is evident but highly negotiated, effectively innocuous, even toothless: am I actually just describing mainstream contemporary feminism manifest?

During this past week’s Super Bowl discussions in class, my ambivalence to Beyoncé’s image was met with resistance.  The resistance was, at least on the surface, one of defensiveness: Beyoncé is awesome.  No doubt, students.  She is, as I say at the beginning, a tremendously skilled singer, performer, star.  But there was a secondary reaction and defense that soon emerged.

To summarize: Yes, Beyoncé is objectified.  Yes, she caters to the male gaze.  But that’s the reality of the current moment.  That’s the game.  So she acknowledges it for what it is, and she runs it.

These students are not wrong.  In fact, they are very, very right.  Beyonce is so successful — and so tremendously, universally likable — precisely because she reconciles the ostensibly powerful with the objectified.  Because these days, it’s not cool to be a non-feminist.  You can’t disavow it strongly, publicly.  Awesome women — POPULAR women — are strong women.  And I want to be very, very clear that I see the ways in which Beyoncé is strong.  And celebrating that strength is part of our current cultural moment.  But we still live within a patriarchal culture; one within which norms of female behavior and appearance are very clearly circumscribed, even if only implicitly.

And that implicitness is what makes it all the more insidious, all the more dangerous: Beyonce appears feminist.  She appears to be a role model.  But in reality, she’s playing within the boundaries.

Now, some may argue that that’s the way to make progress: do what you can. Manipulate. Understand what society demands of you, then exploit it.  Exploit men, exploit what they think they want.  And I agree: that was a viable way of affecting progress…..in the 1880s.  In the 1920s.  Even in the 1960s.

But we are, to be blunt, fucking past that point.  To play within the boundaries, however effectively, is to reinscribe the legitimacy of those boundaries.  Either you believe those boundaries are legitimate and will be with us for the foreseeable future — and, as a result, it’s silly to challenge them — or you believe that they’re constructs and thus deconstructable.  Either you think that a negotiated feminism is good enough, or you’re brave enough to ask for more — of yourself, of Beyoncé, of others who you idolize.

As I told my class today, this isn’t simply a question of representation.  The way we think and revere women on the page and on the screen has very real, lived ramifications.  If women are rendered implicitly passive, to-be-looked-at, inherently and necessarily sexualized — and if we agree to that, explicitly or implicty — that agreement has all matter of manifestations.  Manifestations for which we must be held responsible.

When we look at the material realities of patriarchal culture — the persistent wage divide, endemic spousal abuse, the very public fight on the part of Conservatives against women’s rights — it’s easy to say that we disagree with all of those things.  Obviously I’m in favor of women’s rights.  It’s much harder to see how our own equivocation about what it means to be a “powerful” woman has led to the persistence of those issues.

Beyoncé will still sing songs that we like.  But that doesn’t mean that we have to like the negotiated comprise — between feminism and objectification, between subjectivity and objectivity — her career so clearly represents.

What I Know For Sure About Jake Gyllenhaal

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(vis-a-vis Taylor Swift’s Red)

Has blue eyes (“State of Grace”)

You never saw him coming (“State of Grace”)

Is your achilles heel (“State of Grace”)

Took your virginity (or some approximation thereof) (“State of Grace”/”Red”/”Treacherous”/”Trouble”/”I Almost Do”)

If you have feelings for him, they will take the shape of metaphors involving colors (“Red”)

Is good with his hands (“Treacherous”)

Is trouble (“Trouble”)

Clarification: is trouble when he walks in (“Trouble”)

Has a new girlfriend (“Trouble”)

Wears belts with notches (“Trouble”)

Has a plane? To fly you places you’ve never been? (“Trouble”)

Still has your scarf in his desk drawer. That smells like you. (“All Too Well”)

Played t-ball (“All Too Well”)

Has a sister (HOLLA, MAGGIE G!) and a mother who tells stories about him (“All Too Well”)

Also glasses and a twin bed and a refrigerator with a light. (“All Too Well”)

Dates 22-year-olds. (“22″)

Has a chair by the window, looking out at the city (“I Almost Do”)

May or may not wonder about you (“I Almost Do”)

Has a telephone that you almost call almost every night (“I Almost Do”)

Is very active in dreams as concerns the touching of faces (“I Almost Do”)

Likes to break up and get back together like a 14-year-old boy (“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”)

Is one of those awesome guys who needs space after a month apart (“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”)

Music tastes: Indie Records > T.Swift (“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”)

Just to be clear, is never ever ever ever getting back together with you (“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”)

Adorable fight resolution tactic: put on a football helmut while fighting (“Stay Stay Stay”)

Carries groceries; finds 22-year-old amusement endearing (“Stay Stay Stay”)

Repeated, sad-faced refusal to put you on the top of his list (“The Last Time”)

Responds positively to jokes on the door (“Holy Ground”)

Fits poems like a perfect rhyme (“Holy Ground”)

His face = in every crowd (“Holy Ground”)

Has love as big as New York City (“Holy Ground”)

Dancing is not worthwhile without him (“Holy Ground”)

Has long handwritten note in pocket.  Right now. (“Sad Beautiful Tragic”)

Incites sadness, beauty, tragedy (“Sad Beautiful Tragic”)

Has green eyes?  (“Everything Has Changed”)

Has freckles? (“Everything Has Changed”)

Has a simple name? (Everything Has Changed”)

Eyes look like coming home? (“Everything Has Changed”)

Doesn’t like it when you wear highheels (“Begin Again”)

Doesn’t get that song (“Begin Again”)

Unchivalrous, untimely (“Begin Again”)

No really: doesn’t think you’re funny (“Begin Again”)

Probably is listening to this album on repeat just as much as I am (“Annie’s Deep Thoughts, 3 pm, Day After Thanksgiving 2012″)