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Afternoon Delight! A movie I just watched. Here are my thoughts.

This movie has a plot: A wealthy white heterosexual Jewish Angeleno (they do keep harping on the Jewishness… but then so do I) couple is unhappy. A stripper enters. The wife is enticed–but in what regard? Does she wish to “reform” the young stripper as a mother/savior or have sex with her as a sexual sex-desiring person? How humanly complicated! That is the plot.

This movie was directed by Jill Soloway, the younger of the Soloway sisters, a sibling unit I enjoy. I have hitherto been more aware of older sister Faith Soloway’s weirder, queer-er Internet comedy but this movie directed by the more mainstream Soloway was quite nice. They even wrote a chapter in a book together! I am envious indeed of the idea of complementarily creative, collaborative sisters.

I was drawn to this movie for the role confusion. I came away from this movie with a MISSION, the same one I always have: to spread the gospel of humdrum human complicatedness. There is no “role confusion” but growing and changing! Our histories influence us, but do not determine us. Social convention and received notions of ‘normalcy’ precede us and form (i.e. straitjacket) us but cannot contain us. We contain multitudes!

What is sold as SENSATIONAL, subversive or brave is really quite usual. People are complicated. Their motives are mysterious. Because of the existence of the unconscious, we are not even aware of, nor in control of all our desires. We are not linear. This is my understanding of identity. It shifts. Our desires are overlapping, miasmic; they change as we do. But as a culture, we are not sold this narrative so when the real life flux happens (such as feelings we weren’t prepared to have, and for which we have no context or template), we are surprised. Or maybe that’s too cynical.

The wife does not understand what role she is assuming towards the stripper. She feels like her mother, behaves with her like a sister yet contains a strange inchoate desire for her. So how does she communicate this? Like the rest of her class in this particular milieu (wealthy white Jewish professionals and non-working wives), she communicates herself tensely and frantically in jokes. There’s a lot of wired, frenzied joking in the movie. The idiom of her group is defensively jokey. Compulsive, mirthless joking is a major way rules and etiquette are maintained in this social world. To my ears, a lot of the dialogue feels overly gushing and fake but maybe well-intentioned. “I LOVE YOUUU” is shrieked to someone a character barely knows, “OH MY GODD!” is hollered about something that’s not a big deal. In any number of possibly awkward situations, the characters assume ‘awkward’ as a default mode. They are ACUTELY AWARE THAT STUFF IS AWKWARD AND IN THEIR DISCOMFORT IT’S LIKE THEY MAGNIFY THEIR EXPERIENCES OF AWKWARDNESS WITH ALL-CAPS JOKES. I’d like to think that these characters are basically good and just really nervous, trying to show goodwill and support through what looks to me like overcompensating good cheer that sounds so fake, but which I imagine isn’t intentionally malicious. It’s like they live in a kind of defensively, carefully stylized awkwardness that makes fun of itself as awkward in order to distance itself from questioning the apparent awkwardness’s origins or usefulness. Like, why is a situation awkward? Because a person feels nervous, inadequate, embarrassed? Seems smarter to explore the feeling than slap it away with a joke.

But I do this all the time! Surely, many of us use jokes and intellectualization and outright anger to defend ourselves against discomfort. It’s too easy to call ourselves Good and the characters Bad and solely blame Others for their blindness and small-minded liberal hypocrisy. And I find it too tempting to construe of the constant joking in this movie (and in this world, as well as our own worlds) as solely defensively serving to protect the characters from experiencing their real pain, real human contradictions, etc. I think it’s better to remember that just as desires are diverse, strategies for coping are diverse. Everyone has individual, particular methods for dealing with pain and shame and embarrassment that follow collective class patterns. I want to remember that diversity exists in how people feel and express feelings, as well as the feelings themselves.

I found the herd mentality in this movie frustrating: the girls in one pack, the boys in another. The creation of difference and allegiances and fetishization of the Other. In this world, boys and girls can’t be friends, can’t really relate to each others’ experiences, are hierarchically arranged into working men and non-working women, must only desire each other, and of course the only players are white wealthy able-bodied people. Plus, they’re all Jews! (here I over-identify with The Jews and am embarrassed)(see: “Jews in the U.S. The Rising Costs of Whiteness”!). But this bifurcated, mob-mentality world is also… OUR world! We all belong to groups, even groups of outliers.

I have no intention (but no infallibility neither) to fall into the absolutist, patriarchal trap of externalizing extremes. I don’t think a) THESE people are followers whereas I’M such a brave, lone wolf, that I exist in “pure” isolation like a Wild West cowboy or that b) good can’t come out of a collective, that the culture created of any group is fundamentally dangerous, that the mythical stand-alone American is better than some corrupt Commie collective. I don’t believe in such extremes, which being extremes, naturally belong together on two sides of a spectrum so far apart they’re practically touching. The good liberals in this movie are good American conformists, ignorant and sex-obsessed. I don’t think herds, mobs or classes are the main problems here. Fear of discomfort (the wife feeling weird about the stripper, the husbands playing separately from the wives) is the larger issue. Within any group structure, fear emerges differently but it emerges all the same. These characters don’t really deal with their fear. They are too afraid to be afraid. Instead they make jokes. Instead of confronting attraction, they frame it as “motherly.” The wife is trying to “save” the young sex worker in the storied vein of powerful white missionaries with savior complexes before her.

This movie is a nightmare of wealthy white liberal prudery and thoughtless gender segregation (Girls night out! Boys Only surfing expedition!) that sensationalizes-stigmatizes sex, conceives of it as oppositional and heterosexual or at least heteronormative. Within this squeamish world there is the usual sex-negativity that accompanies sexualization (“sexually repressed to the point of being sexually obsessed” as opposed to sexually accepting) and what some (therapists) would call a neurotic unconscious fixation on jokes within a unrelentingly calcified sense of AWKWARDNESS that is unescapable, a paralyzing pattern that can’t be broken. The characters are very, very tense and proper in a liberal, “We’re all having a good time/we’re not prejudiced” kind of way. They are very titillated by sex and threatened by sex work, reflexively invested in “saving” rather than understanding the young stripper (I’m using stripper and sex worker interchangeably–what I mean is they met her while she was working as a stripper, which could be constituted as sex work, but she also does sex work besides). To them, she is not a complicated person with complicated feelings. She is just a victim (or a whore). The main characters who think themselves liberal-minded apply the most classically patriarchal, reductive paradigm to women ever: virgin or whore, good girl or bad girls; save the children. Zzzzzzzz.

Here are my major takeaway points from this movie!

  1. Insulation is a stupid thing. Getting too enmeshed in any ideology, buying into any credo within any class is dangerous. “I am a good liberal”; “I am a good feminist film critic”; “I am neutral”: None of these statements is wholly true! It is, I think, better to challenge oneself, on occasion, rather than become calcified in one’s beliefs. The characters in this movie are not good or evil, just blind bigots, like all of us sometimes.
  2. Aw-shucks humor can be a very effective defense, not necessarily helpful: It is easier to joke than to delve. It is easier to mock one’s awkwardness through increasing stylized awkwardness than to challenge oneself to be comfortable with discomfort. It is so easy. I’m doing it right now.
  3. There is potential for fluidity: Would that our culture allowed for porousness in how one feels about oneself and feels about others. To shift in one’s identity or orientation as one changes tastes and ideas and foods is a humdrum human thing, I think. Why not? We’re not already dead. We change! I often think, if ANYONE can be a sexual option for you (rather than just the assigned sex group), what does that do in terms of responsibility? Like, if you COULD be attracted to anyone, what does that do in terms of your conception of yourself, what kind of person you are? If you COULD have sex with anyone, how would you go about it? We’d all have to learn new pick-up lines, by which I mean: Respect. If it’s not just about cooties and gross sex and dirty scandalousness and BOYS HERE and GIRLS THERE, what does that mean for how our culture talks about sex? Perhaps sex would not be conceived of as adversarial and dissimilar TEAMS but as individuals who exist within many intersecting groups who can explore/attend to their own desires and respect the desires of others.

This movie was cool. There were complications. There were no enemies. ‘The Enemy’ is a quality that anyone can possess, a kind of surety where humility is more helpful. ‘The Enemy’ is like a spirit! A human spirit. But brought on quicker by too much money and isolation in mainstream media.

An investigative tale of gender expression, amateur art history and Yokology writ by Harry and Dan in the recent past (2012)

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SEX AND CRIME FOREVER

A discussion of photographs from the 2011 Vanity Fair Oscar Party featuring Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez

Prompt: How Does A Feminist Read These Pictures?

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Harry: Why don’t we start with what we see in the pictures? Looking at the one on the left, I am struck by Selena Gomez making eye contact with the camera. It’s actually part of her thing, and theirs together:

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In a way, it’s revolutionary. Women in posed photographs rarely make eye contact with the camera: it turns them into subjects, where women in photographs are supposed to be objects. My favorite perpetrator of this practice is celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz. Her photoshoots in Vanity Fair nearly always include men in suits, looking at the camera, and nude women with their faces obscured:

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At least, that seems to be her trend in the past couple of decades, which makes her Ono/Lennon Rolling Stone cover so striking:

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I want to compare that image with the Bieber/Gomez image, but I think you want to start a little earlier in history, Dan?

Dan: Male domination of women in Western culture (in turn, the utterly dominant culture of the world, after five centuries of colonialism, imperialism, and globalization) is so complete and foundational that we have to go a long way back to uncover and discuss its roots and implementation. The girth of this history is what still even now makes images like that of Gomez cradling Bieber to her chest hold such immediate, subtle, challenging power. I believe to fully explore the meaning of this picture, we are going to have to go back before recorded history.

The beginning of western art history is actually archaeological. European excavators have found a family of anatomically exaggerated statues of mother goddesses:

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Feminists, anarchists, and many historians agree that such sculptures likely represent a matriarchal period in human history, before the codified rules, roles and religious texts brought on by agriculture and society.
Where spirituality and pre-religious, pre-scientific explanations for natural phenomena may well have been matriarchal (women’s ability to produce and nurture life facilitates worship and social power), new religious doctrine sought to codify divinely supported positions of men in charge, leading to male deities with texts and rules that bound women to what has been their place ever since.

Harry: And I’m guessing the art that we dig up reflects this cultural shift.
Dan: Yes. Moving feverishly through art and time we come to the massively influential record of Christian art.

Such art is the foundational text for the bulk of our images today. The familiar virgin/whore dichotomy that feminists are still struggling to dismantle is structurally supported by 1500-year-old art tropes. Women are portrayed as either Mary or Eve, virgin or whore.

Eve is a negative symbol of the dangers of the pre-Christian, prehistorically time of gender equality. Christian interpretation of Eve’s responsibility for humanity’s expulsion from Eden is one of the foundational justifications for religious patriarchy. By backwards reasoning, the serpent itself becomes a woman, the root of all evil:

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Women’s bodies then become the Garden, transgressive places of disastrous temptation that must be restricted at all costs. Only Mary is exempt—she remains a virgin even after bearing Jesus. Hers is the impossible standard of virginity that Western women have been told to live up to. Anything less than an immaculate conception is a tainted dirty sin. Emphasizing the difference between Mary’s holy act and women’s sinful lives, in art the Immaculate Conception was traditionally portrayed with a standing Mary surrounded by glowing light or angels:

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The standing devotional Mary is magically and virginally impregnated by the almighty, while Eve’s artistic descendants are nameless supine prostitutes:

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Only a shameless strumpet would look directly at the viewer, her client.
Harry: Are the women’s bodies bodies, or are they gardens? Are you saying that they are simultaneously human and feminine AND more elaborate symbols?
Dan: I’d actually go so far as to posit that Mary’s unique virginal status was invented to solve the problem of valuing a female religious figure in a religious social culture intentionally set up to demonize women and justify their continued subjugation.
Harry: So Mary’s body, in western art, is an Argument.

Dan: She is so separate from all other women that her depictions are often gender- inverting, because the two most powerful and oft-repeated images in Western art involve Madonna and the infant Jesus:

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and the Madonna with the dead Jesus, the Pieta:

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The mother and child strengthen and deify motherhood, one of the only traditionally acceptable roles for women in Western society. Even though they ostensibly only celebrate motherhood, these images are profoundly interesting for their gendered content. The male Christ, who is often shown with an adult face, is infantilized, and for just this part of his divine, powerful life he is at the mercy and in the literal hands of a momentarily powerful and holy women. A cursory list of other modern-day pieces influenced by this transgression would include Giorgione’s The Tempest:

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and Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother:

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In the case of the Pieta, this symbol of death, regret, powerlessness, and human sorrow is stereotypically feminine. It is the image of the aftermath of all patriarchal wars. It is the long reality at the end of momentary excitement, a surprisingly subversive image of wasted youth, potential, and helpless maternal sorrow. It sees women’s place as reactive, passive, succor, like Sandburg’s grass: healing, reflecting, and mourning.

This is the literal iconography behind Leibovitz’s Ono/Lennon portrait. There’s no chance that two prominent 20th century visual artists like Leibovitz and Ono would not know the same basic art history that I learned from Wikipedia. The position of Lennon and Ono details the couple’s rejection of traditional gender roles, reflected in their early-70s bed- ins and Lennon’s late-70s self-description as a “house-husband.” The single image captures their dynamic with the immediacy of art in the way their theoretical pronouncements never could. It is an image of helpless need.

Harry: I definitely read the same vulnerability you’re talking about into the Gomez/Bieber picture, too. In the picture on the left, she is looking at the camera and he isn’t; he’s showing his affection for her, and she is aware of the camera. He’s also younger than her. When this picture was taken, he was 17 and she was 19. She was an adult, and he wasn’t. Both built careers as children that they are trying to shed as they evolve into adult performers. This past year, he was accused of paternity; the common joke was that everyone knew the child couldn’t be his: he’s a child himself.

This dynamic makes the picture on the right so striking, for me. He has dived, face-first, into her breasts and has his hand cupping her rear. His hand on her body is reminiscent of all of the worst guys I went to high school with, whose Facebook pages are filled with photos of them grabbing their girlfriend’s breasts, when they can be bothered to not give the camera the finger. In this light, Bieber’s face in Gomez’s breasts seems less a willingness to be nurtured and more an act of possessiveness. Their points of contact radiate some kind of sexual charge.

Dan: I think that’s too strong; the image is extremely maternal, to a nonsexual extent, to me. I wouldn’t insist on the sexual charge. Like in the Ono-Lennon portrait, the pose is intended to invoke and have the same iconographic effect as a religious painting. Additionally, Lennon’s nudity, in contrast to clothed Ono, calls back to (and deconstructs) another historical trope of Western art, which I mentioned earlier: the nameless prostitute. Harry: I’m not sure we can suggest these images deconstruct an icon of a sex worker but are also nonsexual. But I do see the power dynamic at play that I think you’re referring to. Selena has her hand on the back of Justin’s head. Usually, this is a move we see during oral sex – the hand on the back of the head means the Classic Bottom in oral sex (the person having their genitals stimulated by their partner’s mouth) is in some kind of control, or at the very least participating in power play.

Selena Gomez, putting her hand on the back of Justin’s head, is controlling the situation – she is pushing his head into her breast. But she is not looking at the camera here, and she is not looking at Justin. And this, I think, is the central question posed by the picture. Where is she looking? What is happening in her head? What is Gomez thinking?

Dan: Yoko Ono is also not looking at the camera or at Lennon.
Harry: Yeah, exactly, but I think at this point the two pictures can’t be compared too strongly. Remember that the Ono-Lennon portrait is a photograph by Annie Leibovitz; the Gomez-Bieber one was posed in a photobooth at a Vanity Fair party. For all intents and purposes, Gomez and Bieber are the authors of their own photograph. So what did Gomez want us to see when we look at her looking away?
Dan: Indifference is maybe the first interpretation of both Ono’s and Gomez’s off-screen looks. This is a distinctly masculine gaze – we’ve all seen movies about hardmen, resigned to their fates, prisoners of their pasts, staring through and beyond the women who want to hold them down and change them, who want to cling to their side and save them from their terrible duty.

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Ono’s and Gomez’s looks are extremely cinematic: resigned, mind-made-up, thoughts elsewhere. The Leibovitz image also connotes post-coital indifference, with Lennon curled up and helpless, begging for nurture and affection, and Ono cold, lifeless, and uncaring. She was rejected immediately and continuously by the media and public for her nontraditionalness.

Harry: In the Gomez/Bieber case, there’s actually more symbiosis than in Ono/Lennon. They almost seem to be cooperating. Bieber’s hand on Gomez’s ass stakes it out as property: I own this ass. But Gomez’s hand on Bieber’s head, pushing him closer into her breast: I own this activity.

Dan: Whereas Ono and Lennon are enacting the assumed and still-prevalent popular understanding of their relationship as the subjugation of a beloved man-child to a primally terrifying Other. Our culture is still deeply afraid of returning to the matriarchal domination of childhood and the prehistoric past. So are these photos revolutionary feminist acts?

Harry: I think so, in different ways. I think that Ono and Lennon are engaging with the culture, and replicating and deconstructing artistic and historical tropes; they are the classroom. Gomez and Bieber are still just young people being young people, allowing themselves the detached irony that is their privilege and right and exposing comfortable vulnerability in him and arch subjectivity in her; they are the practice.

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Dan Pasternack studied World War I and Art History at Wikipedia University, but did not graduate.
Harry Waksberg holds a BA in Projecting Cunnilingus-Descriptive Rap Verses Onto Photographs of Disney Stars

A boon indeed:

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BARBS COMING OUT : A QUEER COTILLION

Now on display at Fleisher Art Memorial

* Dec 6, 2013 – Jan 31, 2014 * 

719 Catharine St, Philadelphia, PA 19147

 FREE/videos/merriment/lipstick? (heck yes, there’s lipstick)

 

Stay tuned!

On January 22nd, we’re having a performance art-dance party (with special guests!) in the Sanctuary of Fleisher Art Memorial.

 

About Us:

BARBARISM is a multimedia project developed by Sarah Secunda and Rebecca Katherine Hirsch that produces visual art, time-based media and manifestos designed to expand the understanding and experience of individual multiplicities within absolutist social hierarchies. BARBARISM aims to challenge injustice through comedy, caricature and art-as-activism. Our works create new possibilities of being through the embodiment and performance of possibilities. By expanding the concept of ourselves through alternative representations of gender, we seek to expand the realities of identity, interdependence, power and desire.

 

Find Us on the ‘Net:

vimeo.com/barbarism

facebook.com/Barbarism007

http://barbarismvideos.tumblr.com

https://twitter.com/ArtBarbs

 

BARBARISM

Sarah  & Rebecca

You know how some people chase tornadoes? I CHASE SPARKS. It’s less about sex than fantasy than unfulfilled need than need as overdetermined as sex as fantasy, as, as, as. This kind of flirtation profits off numbers, the spectre of an audience, the spectre of myself as strong, not scared/owning fear/being fear. I am the scared girl, hence I am not scared and now I want to play! fortified by the hopeful stability within me and tension around me. Tightrope flirtation! back-and-forth who’s-it-gonna-be flirtation! I whip it up when it’s not there, fan it when it is creating a big frothy lustshake out of the tiniest seeds of a promised something-or-nothing. Tension: I tend to it (but it needs a release, too much and it just starts to ache).

Congregation: Amen!

* n. A short sentence spoken or chanted by a priest and followed by a response from the congregation.

I wrote this here article about BARBARISM on The Qouch: The Queer Psychoanalysis Society….

“When holistic personhood is not culturally valued, the interpersonal result of intrapsychic discomfort, people are disembodied into parts that evoke amorphously scary feelings which are metastasized into cruelty and misdirected onto the part representing the person.”

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Pride and Prejudatass exegesis HERE.

“Psychoanalytically, Prejudatass is a bacchanalia of defenses! This Darcy reincarnation relies on intellectualization and Otherizing to displace and combat his feelings of insecurity by scapegoating immigrants and dandies, thus divesting himself of responsibility and instead assigning blame to socially inferior parties.”

pandp

Gender-upending multimedia outfit BARBARISM is steppin’ out, turnin’ heads!

newbarbs

We have an exhibition at Fleisher Arts Memorial Dec 6-Jan 31 (reception is Dec 6; come one, come all!).

We’ve been doing some presentations at The Plastic Club, Womynsfest, Permanent Wave Philly at Eris Temple Arts ; we’ve been published on Certain Circuits and The Qouch : The Queer Psychoanalysis Society. We’ve been collaborating with Never Forget Radio.

We made some Vines.

We’ve also belatedly entered the Internet age! We now have these cool new Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook apparatuses.

Follow, tweet, tumble upon us!  (we long to be tumbled)

BARBARISM

Sarah + Rebecca

 

or: radical acceptance and/within awareness of entrenched inequalities!

It seems only a very bad intersectional third-wave feminist would begin a meditation/analysis/voyeuristic voyage into the self only thinly covered over by the pretext-guise of the new Miley Cyrus video without railing about racism, but the very first lens through which I viewed this video was one of shameful self-identification and screen memories of being 20.

I realize this is a luxurious position. But I imagine lots of people look at situations from various places of privilege depending on race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, education, etc., so let’s rope in these plebeians, who are also ourselves.

I don’t think Miley Cyrus is a bad person. I don’t know how much involvement she had in the making of the video, the song, her image, the world in which she lives. She could just be a pawn, or she could actively be operating against the interests, safety and health of innumerable individuals. I would like to ask her, but I cannot.

Her new video is pretty unremarkable but it provides the sight of a pretty young woman having fun with friends, a nice enough beat and that ho-hum eroticized enveloping of everything that reminds me very much of how I felt when I was 20. I appreciate being reminded of that feeling, when I first felt like I had a little bit of freedom and could indulge stupidly and dreamily in the idea and actuality of the sex/power daze.

I fantasize that Miley Cyrus, being free of her father’s direct influence, is finally taking her own imperfect steps to adulthood! not as a good little credit to her family/father, etc. but as her own wild ‘n crazy adolescent! This could be nothing but my own projective fantasy, but I find it hard to believe that all people don’t extrapolate universally from their own personal experiences. “Calling something objective is a subjective statement” said someone at a psychoanalytic conference of my ma’s once.

Perhaps I should provide some philosophical foregrounding to my argument: I consider myself a realist. I contain multitudes–often contradictory–and I am probably more pollyannaish than I acknowledge. So here I come! With acknowledgments. I don’t believe in the existence of an absolute truth. I don’t think anyone looks at anything outside the prism of their own experiences. You can’t divorce the book from its author. If it’s not an autobiography, it’s an allegory. We are all influenced by ourselves, our dreams, fantasies, sources of shame and humiliation, etc. And that’s the way I see it. I’m a psychoanalytically-inclined feminist and I am nothing if not conflicted and into it.

Miley Cyrus’ video is kinda boring (but we’re all kinda boring) and it also includes a lot of problematic elements, as we feminists say. Let’s condemn the problems and educate the practitioners, not scapegoat the people caught up in the action, especially when they’re 20, female and we have no personal reason to begrudge them.

There’s a long tradition of white artists, especially musical artists, brazenly stealing from their black counterparts who are less high-profile and have less cultural reach or capital such that the co-opted work of these white artists is sold as the white artists’ original work because, by virtue of being white, white artists can reach more people. Many people will never see the contributions of the original artists. Classic canonical examples of white usurpers are Elvis and the Beach Boys. This is a legacy in which Cyrus is clearly falling into.

But modern-day white artists who co-opt black music like Justin Timberlake or Eminem don’t get slandered and chastised the way young female ones do. It is telling that Lena Dunham or Twenties flappers or any young female person of child-bearing age who brazenly flaunts the social order by not operating as a selflessly and impossibly virginal childbearer for the patriarchy are blamed where male artists are not. I don’t want to merely blame girls for failing to be perfect or profiting off something that is not natively theirs, nor do I want to merely blame Justin Timberlake nor Eminem! I want to talk with them.

In this new Miley Cyrus video, we see her as she is: a very wealthy, white and famous artist appropriating the artistry of primarily young, black, poor women. Miley is privileged on account of race, class. She is underprivileged on account of gender.

The video contains many elements that make one wonder. “She thinks she’s so cool” and “it’s so derivative.” I can see how these sentiments might prove annoying, but they seem unsatisfying as reprimands because

A) of course she thinks she’s cool! she’s 20! or:

B) of course she doesn’t think she’s cool! that’s why she’s reaction formation symbolically singing it from the rooftops!

C) Why shouldn’t one think one cool? if one doesn’t, who will? I like to think she’s responding to accusation of non-coolness and reclaiming space, away from her family or Disney, not just operating out of nowhere.

Why should she claim her self-worth histrionically by ‘thinking she’s cool’? Worth should be claimed without reducing anyone else’s worth. Worth does not depend on the enforced worthlessness of others.

I want to talk about sex as rebellion. What is there to be sad that hasn’t been said before? She’s asserting her self via her sexuality. Great! Now, of course, it could be said that her sexuality is being expressed in a very traditional-for-2013 way, but that’s just the thing. ‘Sexuality’ and ‘tradition’ are always in flux. This video might have been totally unorthodox  and un-feminine and utterly rebellious in 1913. It might seem totally derivative and unoriginal and dependent on the patriarchy for approval now, according to some, but it depends. For my taste, it’s pretty tame and traditional in that she seems to be more (externally) sexy (conservative!) than (internally) sexual (feminist!), but these ideas are so slippery, overlapping and dependent on reference points that are constantly changing.

Is this video derivative? Sure. Off the top of my head, it reminds me of Fiona Apple’s “Criminal,” all the fake death in Santigold “L.E.S. Artistes” and, of course, Lady Gaga. But what is the larger point? If something has been done before, why is that upsetting, or disgusting? And do we behave as virulently when a male artist does the same?

I am reminded of Erikson’s developmental stages (as supplemented by Newman & Newman). At 20, Miley Cyrus is currently in the  Later Adolescence stage, wherein her psychosocial crisis is one of Individual Identity v. Identity Confusion. Of course, she’s experimenting with roles, reevaluating herself, playing around with the tools she has available (before realizing she has new tools, or discarding obsolete ones, those not native to her, etc, etc.) to achieve (at some future or n’er reachable point) autonomy.

In other words: She’s 20! Give the kid a break! Which doesn’t mean: Let us all be brainless doormats. People can be allowed freedom to discover! and grow! while also receiving new information about relativity, social context and (really, I’m discovering this is difficult to grasp for a lot of people which doesn’t mean we should give up but rather that we reevaluate how we educate–and not berate–people) racism, sexism, privilege, power and all those kyriarchal intersecting oppressions and how WE TOO can make the world a better place by challenging conventions, not operating according to harmful plans we did not create and which do not serve us.

My feminism contains the crafting of empathy, not just the combating of oppression, which is to say: I find it impossible to fight oppression without empathy. I find it impossible to be fully in support of anything without also having reservations, and healthy skepticism. My feminism is not fanatical or dogmatic. My feminism reneges on itself. I think that makes it better! Or at least more authentic, and less likely to be tempted toward the other side. If one-strike feminism, as I understand feminism that doesn’t take into account contradictions and demands perfect adherence to doctrine, is all brain, it is extreme, and then it is more likely to be bought over by the other diametric extreme. I mean, haven’t we all known someone like the Miley of this video? Or been some part of that Miley? Isn’t the actual Miley Cyrus asking herself the same question, perhaps inspiring the creation of this video, this celebration of sex, self and fun that is inadvertently appropriative, racially insensitive and just seemingly unaware?

I feel very protective of and constantly curious as to the feeling expressed by this video: the appearance of show-off sexiness and freedom and impudence, the classic late adolescent announcement of worth and having a worthy, cool body and worthy, cool friends (black friends! EXOTIC friends, hence I too am exotic, and worthy). This video says “I’m doing all this stuff and I’m still ok! Perhaps the patriarchal Christian culture/family I grew up in told me girls and sex were inherently bad/dirty and yet I still feel good and I’m still here! Sex and me are both OK! So let’s celebrate by dancing in the pool, touching on our bodies!” et al. This is an important feeling. The desire for worth and the celebration of worth as one grows into an adult. What I perceive as being the issue here is the cruel necessitation of Others that reduces people to signifiers of unbridgeable difference and exoticism as an appendage to oneself and fully for oneself, not allowing other people to be people and not Others with their own desires for worth and celebration on their own terms and not as pawns.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is both a) everything is relative, we all want to be worthy individuals and b) there is a hierarchical and corrupt system of power at work that privileges some people at the direct expense of other equally worthy people with the same goal. I don’t believe there had to be a winner and a loser. We can all coexist. But my (totally realizable) fantasy of giving equal credence to all who desire worth MUST take into account the corrupt existence of power differentials. We all want freedom! But we have very different and unfair opportunities to achieve it, based on sex, race, class, etc.

Thus, it’s vital to talk more about race but not at the expense of gender. I want Miley Cyrus to explore and express her sexuality, in however trite or uncreative or awesome or uniquely felt way! And I also want the wide unacknowledged swathe of primarily black, working-class girls to have the same luxury and not be punchlines or punching bags, etc.

In a patriarchy, all women who express their sexuality (and all men who fail to live up to the impossibly anti-human standards of masculinity) are stigmatized with labels like slut and whore and etc. They hurt! no matter how artificial and meaningless the labels, and despite the knowledge that nothing is inherently anything since everything is dependent on context and sexuality is great or awful depending on circumstance and that name-calling reveals more about the name-caller and the culture that created the cruel names than it does about any human behaving like a human. Because these labels hurt, they fulfill the function for which they were intended: they shame women into inaction and/or irresponsibility. To rebel against the slander is to acknowledge that the social purpose of the stigma is to silence women into subservience so that patriarchy is maintained.

In a white supremacy, all non-white people are stigmatized with racist labels and socially/institutionally/psychologically internalized mandates of animalism that is manifested is sex and violence. The social function of these stereotypes is the maintenance of white power. As per pseudospeciation, the dominant white group slanders the non-dominant group into submission by deeming them inferior and inhuman, hence neutralizing the threat of the powerless and absolving the powerful of guilt. Of course, the slander and labels are totally artificial but their impact isn’t. Stereotypes are particularly pernicious because their lies are reified/realized when all other options but sex and violence are closed to non-whites on account of the stereotypes that were originally fabricated to dehumanize them.

Sexism and racism are different phenomena but oppressions fundamentally resemble each other because they all operate on the same principle: Shaming and stigmatizing the Other into silence so they do not hold power.

I want to create space for all people to go through their embarrassing comings-of-age and not be condemned by feminists, or common misogynists/racists, anyone scapegoating and dehumanizing anyone else and denying them human worth in order to feel worthy themselves and maintain bodily and/or political power over another human being. Education over castigation!

In the spirit of ‘blame the system, not the victim,’ I think it better we not begrudge Miley but challenge society not to operate hierarchically and projectively, blaming everyone but themselves.

Instead of relying on outdated ideas and easy bigotry, we should talk about cultural awareness, respect for those who are non-white, non-male and celebrate sexuality and vulnerability, allow for embarrassment and uncreative but evocative music videos ‘cause we all learn in our own time and if it works, it works. Humility, humanity and inclusion can make us happier and less liable to hurt other people for our own problems.

And finally, I personally don’t mind that Miley twerks but I do wish that more women, men and everyone valued sexuality and bodies and dancing and reading and hanging out and that humanness wasn’t cause for censure and slander, that black women in particular were afforded respect and admiration. If a white lady wants to do a dance that is born of a non-white experience that is specifically undervalued and cruelly stigmatized by a misogynistic, racist society, I think we all need to understand the social-historical context. My social justiceness wants people with privilege to use it for good! And actively work for people less privileged at the forefront. And my psychoanalytic projective identificationness (what’s going on here is I’m making up words) wants to let people make their own mistakes and be guided, with respect and warmth. I think these two desires dovetail!

If we’re just condemning Miley, we’re falling for the bait-and-switch. Since we’re not  condemning Justin Timberlake and innumerable other racial accessorizing male artists, we’re not adequately challenging the intersections and contradictions of both racism and sexism. I can’t get behind blaming the practitioner without adequate attention paid to that culture that created her.

We’re all part of that culture and have inherited corrupt ideologies about human worth that blame sex, women, people of color and a plethora of others for the problems of the repressed white male-coded authority which surely was itself victimized by other traumas and prejudices. (no one wins in the kyriarchy, not even the winners.)

So let’s break this cycle! We’re all locked into a system that tells us to blame other people (Miley! black folk! et al.) instead of confronting our own fears of being “derivative” adolescents afraid we’re uncool. We’re on a conveyor belt, recycling the same old drivel and hurting other people because we’re so afraid of ourselves. We’re sexual! We’re violent! We may not make the best music videos but we learn to be better by kindness, not castigations! And now we have the tools to change. A revolutionary move (that doesn’t work in a vacuum, but it’s a good start): Being nice (foremost to ourselves and hence Miley Cyrus).

Addendum: Love these thoughts from Lachrista Greco of Guerrilla Feminism!

And this is my favorite analysis of all.

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