women who ‘look about 12’ when they remove their makeup. FFS.
1) youthful appearance is neither an index of beauty nor a cardinal female virtue;
2) infantilisation, much?;
3) adult femininity is not a mask you paint on;
4) if what you mean is ‘appeared emotionally vulnerable’,pleeease at least make a token attempts to allow that quality to adults and to convey it in its adult complexity. ‘With her face bare of makeup, she looked about twelve’ and endless variations on the theme are just LAZY.

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Ok, so i read Kickass recently. Admittedly i’d just had my nose broken and was therefore more than usually fragile, but still, I really disliked it. Just found it horrible. I figured no way would I go see the movie. But people whose opinions i’m predisposed to trust have recommended or appreciated it, so i’d be really interested in other people’s responses.

I think what i disliked about the comic, and these things may be very different in the film, was: a) how unsympathetic all the characters (bar Hit Girl, who’s ten and admittedly pretty cool and funny, and The Girl, of whom more later) were. Kick-ass was just..unlikeable, inconsiderate, intolerant, and not even in a funny way. None of the characters seemed to be able to get beyond the fucking chips on their shoulders, or even recognise their existence, and simply projected them outside onto others, whom they then physically hurt. Nothing was ever acknowledged or dealt with, lots of people just died in nasty ways. Which is fine, but not a very significant,meaningful, pleasant or interesting endpoint.

b) all the ‘bad guys’ or victims seemed to be racial ‘others’ and defined by their ‘other’ness, by which i mean – given the racial profile of the WASP-y main characters – to belong to distinctive races and nationalities than mainstream american Christianity. Eg: Italian mafia bad guys, Puerto Rican?! or Hispanic street gangs, big black dudes with dreadlocks who present a visually amusing contrast to a tiny white girl. Funny maybe, if you like that kinda thing, but politically and ideologically a bit shit.

C) all the violence seemed so pointless. Nobody was defending anything meaningful or worth saving; unless racial profiling is taken as the reason, in which case OH MY FUCKING GOD NO. the authors seemed to take pleasure in recreating visceral violence for no significant reason and then encouraging us to dismiss the effectively conveyed human pain and find it situationally funny. I don’t particularly enjoy that.

D) Apparently in the film Kickass got the girl, which makes the whole thing so much worse. In the comic he doesn’t, and yet we’re somehow meant to feel sorry for him, despite the fact that he’s spent the last however long abusing her trust.

E) the main female character with non-romantic agency (Hit Girl) is, whilst a culturally amusing creation and probably the most likeable person around, bar The Girl, brainwashed and directed by someone else (male), and explicitly leaves her agency behind in a search for domestic normalcy.

F) The Girl is actually pretty cool, and she does tell him to fuck right off at the end, which is kinda awesome, and i think we’re positioned so that approving of her is a non-confrontationally alternative reading. She seems ‘nice’ enough, but partly due to the ‘gay men do makeup and girltalk’ stereotype the comic’s also perpetuating, she’s also a cardboard cutout, and not a particularly thoughtful one at that. She’s essentially shallow, and way too stereotypically ‘girly’ to count as a three-dimensional human being. They watch America’s next top model, soaps, go shopping, try on hats. BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT BEING A GIRL OR A GAY MAN IS DEFINED BY, obv. Even her sympathetically portrayed sympathy (heh) for his supposed rentboyness or dilemmas about telling his family is a) insinuating she’s a bit stupid so’s not to get it, and b) not entirely her own, the product of her mother who runs a shelter for ‘women who’ve been abused.’ Her rejection of him (whilst entirely justified, and another aspect of the book’s whole ‘real life ain’t like the movies, you fucker’ schtick…) can also meant be read as a bit ‘awww, shame, poor boy’. all these things annoy me.

G) FFS. ALL GAY MEN ARE NOT STEROTYPICALLY GIRLYGIRLS WITH COCKS. DAMMIT. Gay men are not defined by being the only guys that like to talk to or hang out with girls, while the ‘realmen’ are on the streets hurting people, and people of all different genders can be close in so very many different ways. Sure, some guys and girls *are* like that, but why pick the obvious cliche and not something a bit more interesting/different/godforbid stereotype-challenging? IT’S JUST LAZY. Even if your schick is saying ‘it’s not like the cliches cos he doesn’t get the girl- which he does in the movie? – why not reinforce this point by writing outside them or implicitly questioning their boundaries? Dammit.

Opinions/debate welcomed, that was just off the top of my head. It’s been a long time since i’ve read an author who seemed to punish their characters so much and *enjoy* it.

THIS IS WHY HASSLE ON THE STREET UPSETS ME. I want to be seen, and recognised, for what i really am, and the rest of the bollocks just highlights the ways in which i’m not.

from Courtney E Martin, Perfect Girls & Starving Daughters:

We become unsure of our own sight so early on, convinced that the only accurate view of ourselves is outside ourselves. We search for signs that we resemble the mold…we feel, in these brief, fruitless encouters, like we are being seen, when really we’re just being noticed. The difference is significant.

Being noticed is ordinary, fleeting and impersonal. Being seen is extraordinary, lasting and intimate. Being noticed is common and only skin-deep. Being seen is rare and profound. It is what happens when you stay up all night talking in a stranger’s car because the conversatin is so good you forget to reach for the door handle. Suddely it is light and your stomach is growling and your future feels as if it is laid out in front of you like a highway in the desert…Being seen is when your gitrlfriend asks ‘Why do you seem so sad?’ before you realise that you are, in fact, sad. Being seen is rarely about physical beauty [although i think for me it is sometimes about seeing the beauty in the physical]. Being seen is never about being buff or thin.

Being noticed, by contrast, is easy. It is par for the course for most women, especially young, to be noticed, a deeply ingrained ritual of our culture. Men watch. Women are watched. In our reality-tv culture ordinary girls, as well as models and actresses, become accustomed to being objectified….It seems we are all after the same goal, getting women naked and on display…

I’ve been seen, and now i have that middle paragraph tattooed on my soul.

Ah well. C’est la vie. Maybe, one day, being glimpsed sometimes, fleetingly, will be enough?

In response to this article, by a columnist I habitually agree with and for whom I have a great deal of respect, i became so angry in that fierce Somebody Is Wrong on the Internet (or worse, in the paper) way that you do, I was forced – at 1am! – to actually join the trollfest that is the comments. Ms Penny may be right about the film in question, I haven’t seen it, but given the extent to which it’s been condemned by contemporary burlesque performers, she’s not the only one hating it for precisely those reasons. Given her impressive journalistic integrity, her failure to engage with this surely fundamental point is surprising.

I’ve become very interested in the world of burlesque recently (as well as, y’know, my girly-pole-dancing past), and may possibly have in a moment of temporary and ill-advised abandon (as it happens, at the glorious Bar Wotever cabaret) agreed to contribute to the fabulous Lashings of Ginger Beer Time. Largely because of the joy which burlesque performers frequently take in challenging, deconstructing and undermining contemporary gender and sexual stereotype. Ruby Blues removes an 18th-century corset and gown, and then two enormous red feather fans, to reveal an eight-inch dildo, and spray champagne over herself and the room in parodic and paradoxial orgasm; a lady whose name i blush to confess I’ve forgotten retells the immaculate conception as lesbian erotic encounter;Ophelia Bitz bends gender and expectation as easily as she does her glorious voice; Dusty Limits turns ‘I will follow him’ from Sister Act into a sinister stalker’s anthem, neatly inverting gender role and orthodoxy as he does so. Lashings’ first London performance was picketed by feminists who thought just as Ms Penny seems to, and went away entirely converted. To suggest such artists are simply ‘a glib titillation parade, lapdancing with a retro aesthetic’ is both patronising and just plain wrong.

Ms Penny is undoubtedly right about the values of the industry that produced Burlesque the movie. But about the subversive, perverted, challenging, playful subculture it claims to represent? Hardly. As Ms Bitz pointed out on Women’s Hour only last week, there is so much more to burlesque than that film. Ms Penny makes the same mistake as Hollywood there. To conflate a Hollywood interpretation – the product of an industry often manifesting precisely the values she erroeously ascribes to burlesque – with burlesque itself, particularly in this country, is anathema to many current burlesque performers.

Most disturbing of all, to me, anyway, was the article’s concluding sentence: ‘If you want to feel sexy, have sex – and if you want to be empowered, join a political movement.’

With respect, that’s bollocks, to use a technical term. It’s possible to be manipulated into sex in all sorts of circumstances that are the opposite of empowerment – and if recent events are anything to go by, joining a political movement (eg, the anti-cuts movement) has left a lot of people (me included) feeling disillusioned, disappointed, disenfranchised and depressed. Not to mention, in some cases, with serious injuries inflicted by the much greater power of the state. To assert the simple act of having sex – willed or otherwise, respected or otherwise, with lover or partner or stranger or friend – with ‘feeling sexy’, or the possession of political impulse or thought with an ’empowered’ ability to act on or change the world accordingly, is oversimplifying in the worst way. To assume any mode of outward behaviour – be it sexualised performance or political protest -of necessity reflects or creates any kind of universal psycho-emotional reaction in any given individual is nonsense. And to deny any woman – in a world that’s still to a greater or lesser extent a patriarchy – any possible opportunity for authentic self-expression or any arena in which to challenge monolithic misogynist assumption seems shortsighted at best.

If you want to feel empowered, think about kinds of power you want to have and how they might best be achieved. Write, speak, find allies, discuss how desired changes could happen, or existing spaces of power be celebrated. If you want to feel sexy, consider what you as an individual find sexy and act accordingly. If that includes donning a corset and strap-on and giving an intensely erotic gender-, mind- and body-bending musical performance, so be it. I’ll certainly be in the audience, as analytical as i am aroused. And I’m far from being alone.

For anyone interested, here’s the talk I wrote for the porn & feminism discussion in Oxford last night. If the  other speaker hadn’t got on a train to Bath, it might have been more sensical; the first bit is just headings to riff off in refutation if necessary…:

Practical problems with eliminating it

Fantasy isn’t reality

Perfectly plausible men sit at home wanking rather than going out raping women

Binarises and essentialises the genders – big strong threatening men and poor cowering women

Industry, regulation, etc – if you bring things into the mainstream they are taxable and shit.

Writes women into the passive role

You’re assuming all porn is het.

How dare you impose your own (patriarchal) constraints on other genders’ sexual expression?

Chicken/egg argument – while bad porn may open up space for dysfunctional relations to women, whose to say cause/effect are that way round?

‘Generation gap’ arguments probably have more to do with difference in experience levels between late teens/late 20s: if ppl are focused on conquest rather than connection, they probably wd’ve been anyway, regardless of watching porn

Talk proper – or one version of it – begins here:

I had no idea what Matt was going to say, and so when I was writing this I scooted over to the Anti-Porn Men website to have a look. A lot of the stuff seemed to hinge on a) heterosexuality and b) assuming ‘porn’ equalled ‘bad porn’. [For example: because I am a good little journalist, I followed a link to Wendy Maltz in Therapy Today, writing about her experiences with porn as a sex therapist.  Admittedly, she and her husband wrote The Porn Trap: The Essential Guide to Overcoming Problems Caused by Pornography (HarperCollins, 2008), so I wasn’t expecting a completely neutral viewpoint, but still, I was underwhelmed.] (on the anti-porn men network), Maltz, therapist as she is, assumes that *all* porn ‘portrays sex as a commodity, people as objects, and violence, humiliation, and recklessness as exciting’; all porn is ‘self-centred, sensually blunted, loveless sex’. Which is frankly bollocks. She throws away her porn novels, for example that notoriously unsensual, impersonal and objectifying travesty Lady Chatterley’s Lover, whose perceptibly sex-positive narrative is précised on Wikipedia as: ‘Lady Chatterley moves from the heartless, bloodless world of the intelligentsia and aristocracy into a vital and profound connection rooted in sensuality and sexual fulfillment.’ Not everything that depicts sex is objectifying and damaging. Nor does it depend in the type of sex: hardcore BDSM pornographer Pat Califia is as romantic as they come […] showing love and sexuality as healing and redemptive, sometimes all the more so for including bullwhips.

A lot of the problems Maltz, and others, choose to blame on pornography – young people growing up unsure how to negotiate the fantasy and reality divide, or to manage the emotional side of sex – strike me as not so much problems caused by the porn (because, once again, teenagers pre-interwebs arrived at puberty fully emotionally mature, secure in their own varied sexualities and with absolutely no issues around negotiating society’s expectations of sexuality whatsoever) as issues about communication, intimacy and social expectations. Strikes me that giving teenagers access to trusted adults and a social reality who don’t have hang-ups or taboos or expectations about others’ sexuality – and respectful representations that validated and endorsed their various sexualities – is a much more important goal for us as a society than handwringing about access to porn. (And also, while I’m at it, ‘radical feminist is neither an insult not a synonym for anti-porn, Wendy.)  

PORN AND COMMUNICATION AREN’T ANTHESES. Some of my most communicative relationships have been with men who were regular porn users. If one of the problems supposdedly ‘resulting from increased access to porn is that (het) men are secretive about porn and it’s supposedly damaging their relationships, then by all means let’s open up the relationships, make discussing porn and sexuality normal and acceptable rather than a guilty secret. Because, y’know, sixty years ago when porn was supposedly less violent, there was so much more gender equality. Men were tender, communicative and saw their partners as equals. (That was sarcastic, anybody who doesn’t know me well.) With the best will in the world, as per my favourite t-shirt, I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that.

If you want to wipe out the mainstream het porn industry, then go ahead. Not quite sure how you plan to do it, or how you’d prevent the obvious resurgence of unregulated and probably even more exploitative pornography, but that’s fine by me. But equating all representation of sex ever with objectification and damage is frankly ridiculous. A lot of mainstream, heteronormative internet porn is shit, I’m not arguing. It’s dull, exploitative, prescriptive, formulaic and sometimes inexplicably and non-consensually violent. But the answer isn’t a blanket ban on pornography. It’s to make better porn. If it’s a problem that porn functions as sex education for a whole generation now – which it does – give proper sex education in schools about the emotional aspects of sex as well as the biological, facilitate open and honest communication, and *make better porn*. Make porn that shows people of all genders (cos there aren’t just two) as desiring equals. Make porn that’s consensual, and consensually violent if you want. Make porn with safe sex and rough sex and tender sex and weird sex and just about everything else. Make porn where people communicate. Because if heterosex isn’t intrinsically misogynist and evil – I’m not even sure how you could construe queer sex as misogynist and evil, and queer sex exists, you know – then representing it isn’t, either. Maybe the way it’s currently represented is often constructed that way, so change it, don’t ban it. There are other ways.

All of this equating ‘porn’ with ‘bad and exploitative porn’ is immensely damaging on lots of levels. It completely ignores the immense potential for sex-positivity and education that good porn could offer. And to demonstate that actually, ‘representing sex’ doesn’t have to equal ‘objectifying damaging and evil’, here’s a list of contexts in which porn really isn’t objectifying and damaging and evil, but joyous, intimate, liberating, sex and body positive, and a load of other things too. For the record, I’m not convinced that ‘heteroporn’ necessarily equals ‘bad porn’, either: there are some sites out there, often run and produced by women, who use volunteer models who choose their own activities and shoot scenes freestyle, including friendly interaction with producers and other models before and after the shoot: burningangel.com would be one example, although its quality is quite variable. But there are several contexts which I felt deliberately resisted or problematised the notion of all porn ever as meaningless, unemotional, and objectifying, and here they are…

1)      Historical porn. I’ve written about this at much greater length on the Lashings of Ginger Beer blog, which you shd all check out if you don’t know it, cos it rocks. Basically, there’s a night in London called Artwank which shows porn from 1895 to roughly 1960, and it’s brilliant. I wanted to get some clips, but Ophelia Bitz, the curator, is doing Erotica, so it’s the trailer or nothing. (I do have it, but it’s tiny clips, so you don’t get much of a feel for it – how pushed for time are we? Do people want to see it?) So, erm, yeah. Sex here looks loadsa fun, nobody’s coerced or violated (not that I have any problem with clearly consensual coercion, ftr), everyone has real noticeably realistic bodies, not conforming to any particular cultural stereotype, people laugh and smile and eat (and also, btw, reverse gender dynamics). There are fewer close-ups than standard het porn today, you can see a lot more than just anonymised body parts, people are people.  It’s refreshingly unformulaic: blowjobs don’t necessarily mean deep throat, and so on. Of course, there are no guarantees that the actors were not secretly being exploited, or in fact living in a society I’d argue could be vastly more sexually oppressive than ours, but they certainly seem to be enjoying themselves. And frankly, given that sex is represented in these vids as something fun and mutual, I’ll forgive the participants for not having thrown off the shackles of patriarchy yet. Most of the stuff I’ve seen is Artwank’s tbh, but there’s a site called RetroRamming that’s dedicated to vintage porn. Unfortunately, it’s subscription only except for 7-second sample clips and no way can I afford to pay for my porn, so I certainly can’t vouch for its content, but if you’re interested there’re another couple of Artwanks in January and February at the RVT, I shall be going with as many fellow reprobates as I can, and you’re more than welcome to join us. Facebook me or something. I don’t bite without pre-negotiation.

2)      Anyway. Next up in the list of non-[evil] pornography, my personal favourite, queer porn. Queer as encompassing the whole LGBTQ spectrum. Writing this talk on Friday night, I commented on everyone’s favourite social networking site that although my sexual experience has predominantly (although by no means exclusively) involved cis men, the majority of porn that I actually found arousing was queer, and the response was universal, including that from cisgendered heterosexual men. The majority of straight porn is soulless, formulaic and awful. Queer porn has people genuinely doing stuff they’re enjoying and making is up as they go along, and it’s really fucking hot. This seems positive for everyone, but I think the independence and variety of queer porn is particularly important when it comes to porn as educative.  Strikes me as really important that young people – or in fact anyone whose sexuality is fluid and evolving regardless of age or anything else – are able to see representations of bodies and sexualities like theirs. One huge advantage of rule 34 is that representations of pretty much everything *exist*, and so anybody concerned about their attraction to a particular gender or a particular sexual proclivity can go out there and find it. If you’re worried because you fancy girls or boys or genderqueer people or you or your partner is trans or you’re one of the debated percentage of people born to some degree intersex or you feel in any other way differentiated from the heteronormative mainstream, there are people like you on the internet, having sex. And in my experience, sites focusing on a specifically queer audience tend to do so a lot more respectfully and joyously than a lot of mainstream het sites.

( I’m focusing rather on women and those of genders other than cis male here, because the impression I got from the anti-porn men’s website was that it was concerned primarily with heteroporn and its representation of women, but I’m pretty sure that queer masculinities and porn is a whole other lecture, partly because in my head I’ve written it.)

There’s an awful lot in this category, so I’m just going to pull out a few sites which I think are doing awesome and very feminist-friendly work. First up is Nofauxxx, which probably a lot of you will’ve heard of – it was set up by Courtney Trouble, who seems pretty much the fairy godmother [..] of all things queer and netly, in 2002 as ‘a space to explore sex beyond straight, gay, lesbian and gender binaries’.  It mixes alt, gay, lesbian, straight, trans, kink, and BBW stuff in pretty glorious harmony, and has featured some of my favourite genderqueer and trans porn stars, people like Jiz Lee and Buck Angel. A lot of it is also quite consent-focused, which is pretty awesome. Pretty much the whole Trouble network is awesome, actually. It also includes next recommendation, Queer Porn Tube (which has brilliant free stuff! Google it…), which does pretty much the same exciting combination of stuff as NoFauxxx, but amateur and for free. In fact, I think if I could get people to go to just one site, that would be it, because the sex is hot, but it also has things like 20-minute fisting instruction videos and a 26-min butch/butch scene called Yes Please which really eroticises consent. It’s the visual equivalent of someone like my beloved Patrick Califia, who writes queer, usually kinky porn a lot of which involves non-normative and transgendered bodies. All these – particularly when they’re free and thus accessible – seems to me to be doing something incredibly important. They portray alternative sexualities as joyous and loving and fulfilling, as well as acting as a kind of how-to manual for everything from sexual acts to consent negotiation. The world, and queer sexuality, would be a poorer place without them. Next site is something slightly different, but something else I think is really important – it’s abbywinters.com, which uses – I quote – girl next door types, women with various, non-enhanced bodies that don’t conform to any particular type or shape or size. Some are shaven, some aren’t. It’s mostly solo or girl-girl stuff, although there seem to be a commendable variety of presentations within that – not everyone’s femme, for example. And what they do is leave the cameras rolling, so you get the sex, but you also get the intimacy and the conversation as well. Its schtick is ‘natural’, and it does it ever so well. Again, it’s big on full-body shots, and short on invasive close-ups, and the girls in couples or groups seem genuinely to know and be comfortable with each other. There’s lots of laughing, silly jokes, and occasionally getting covered in clay. Whilst some of it’s downright bizarre, and I’m sure it’s possible to argue that the girls’ willingness to share their sexuality with the world is in some sense a dysfunctional reaction to the problem of patriarchy, or that associating sex with other people’s genuine emotional intimacy rather than one’s own is problematic, in terms of representation of sex, it’s fun, comfortable and human.

Lastly, because I am running out of time, is another personal favourite, Shine Louise Houston’s Crash Pad Series. Which won several Feminist Porn Awards, by the way. To quote Houston, ‘there is power in creating images, and [I think it’s necessary] for a woman of colour and a queer to take that power.’ She uses it to showcase – another quote – ‘real dykes, femme on femme, boi, stud, genderqueer and trans-masculine performers, transwomen, transmen, queer men and women engaging in authentic queer sexuality, whether it is with safer sex, strap-on sex, cocksucking, kink and bdsm, gender play and fluidity’, and the site does exactly what it says on the tin. All the performers choose their co-stars, and the site is a joyous and affirmative space for those of alternative sexualities as well as, well, pretty damn hot. Some, although by no means all, of Crash Pad Series’ content is kinky, which leads me neatly onto my third category of ‘not exploitative, actually’ porn, kink.

 

3)      It may seem a bit incongruous to say that BDSM porn – an acronym usually held to stand for bondage, dominance and submission, and sado-masochism – is actually notably less exploitative, when it focuses so explicitly on the manipulation of sociocultural power dynamics for erotic effect, and frequently physical violence. If you want me to talk about practising it and feminism and empowerment, I’m more than happy to, but it’s a bit of a diversion, so I’ll leave it for now. In the context of porn and representation,  I wanted to, uh, bring it up because kink is a culture that (ideally, and when it’s working) runs on and is powered by consent, and this comes through in its pornographic representation. Of course, a lot of the amateur stuff is unregulated, and BDSM dynamics often hinge on the appearance of coercion, so it’s hard to see consent negotiation, so I’m going to focus specifically on the those sites that come under the umbrella of kink.com, undoubtedly the dominant –[…] pun intended – professional kink site on the web. Based in San Francisco, it does pretty much everything, gay, straight, fetish, various bdsm specialisms. Most of its output is too much for me, frankly. But hearteningly, it also has admirable ethics, an extensive list of models’ rights and rules for directors, and specifically highlights all models’ consent to various acts and experiences during the shoot. [Note, eg, the extensive and nuanced rules regarding crying, no.17]. A number of acts that come up repeatedly and with (at best) questionable consent in a lot of ‘normal’ mainstream het porn are explicitly banned here. Models have a safeword [we know what that is, right?], and an alternative for if their mouths are otherwise engaged, and a number of acts are specifically banned. Crying from pain, or during forced blowjobs, for example, immediately halt the shoot. Likewise any activity resulting in bleeding, choking or coughing. Any person on a shoot is encouraged to halt scenes to check on a model’s welfare if they feel it necessary, and downtime including reassuring the model that they can safeword is compulsory, while taunting is banned. The importance of aftercare is highlighted, and each clip includes a pre-scene interview that establishes age, consent, limits and preferences, and a later post-scene interview where the models discuss their experiences. Of course, I cannot personally guarantee that no model has lied. But every site under the kink.com umbrella emphasises the importance of consent in sexuality and the authenticity of its models’ desires, whatever their gender, and given that I’m fundamentally opposed to assuming the right to pass judgement on anyone else’s sexuality, I think that’s the very opposite of exploitative.

So, yes. There’s also het amateur porn – I hesitate to pronounce on anything both so widespread and so unregulated, but I’d like to think that at least some of it features people who genuinely want to fuck each other doing things they genuinely want to do because they genuinely enjoy them, and not simply going through the motions […] with a complete stranger. Above all, though, if you want to see porn being done right, with willing and sex-positive participants, watch some queer porn. Some of it models communication and consent to an extent that warms my heart. And other bits.

 

Just because I can, here are some of my favourite sex-, porn- and/or feminism-related blogs

www.sexisnottheenemy.tumblr.com http://purrversatility.blogspot.com/
http://courtneytrouble.com/myblog/ http://lashingsofgb.blogspot.com/
http://jizlee.com/wordpress/ http://intersexroadshow.blogspot.com/
http://pandorablake.com/ http://siliconevalley.tumblr.com/
http://pervocracy.blogspot.com/ http://bitchyjones.wordpress.com/

Scott Pilgrim

Posted: September 16, 2010 in Culture, Psychobabble, Uncategorized

*sigh*

There are many many ways in which Scott Pilgrim is a good movie. Concept, editing, visuals, popcult refs, dialogue (sometimes), humour – it could have been brilliant, and there are some ways in which it is. In those ways,it is – it looks good, it’s sharp as hell,it does all sorts of clever things with visual tropes and analogy, and it’s funny as (or could be). However, as far as I can see, they seem to bypass ideology and character. Time is limited, so I’ll do this in bullet points, but these factors really damaged my enjoyment of the film, except in the sense in which I was frantically taking illegible notes of why it bothered me:

1)      Scott’s an insensitive jerk. Almost invariably so. Being an insensitive jerk is not enough to make a well-rounded or likeable character. It’s perfectly possible to create a likeable character who has his heart in the right place and occasionally gets it wrong, or *can be* an insensitive jerk but tries hard and gets over it, but Scott manages neither of these things.

2)      Why would insanely hot girl want to be with him? (oh, factor in favour of the film, Ramona is *totally* hot and not abnormally skinny, which is good. True, she’s also uni-dimensional, a plot function rather than a human being, and so ‘mysterious’ as to be a cipher – all we know about her as a person is that she’s dated 7 crazy people, we see her only in terms of her relation to – mostly male – others and she gets no interiority, but still. Kudos to the non-skinny.) She’s simply there to provide a foil for Scott and a motivation for his self-development. Like all the other women in the film, even Kim in the end, her ultimate function is to have a romantic relation to Scott, to allow him to prove his ‘nice guy’ness.

3)      Because if you’re a bloke and you apologise for cheating, everyone’ll smile and pretend it didn’t happen. Honest. I’m the last person to proclaim monogamy as the only solution, but ffs. Dishonesty, cowardice, deceit, manipulation, not cool, and not quite so simple to mend as just saying ‘sorry’.

4)      Men choose, women are chosen. Women have to wait for the men to fight itout and then go with the victor, cf Ramona at the end. For men (Scott) the process of maturation is learning to fight for themselves. Men get to assert (I want you out of my house, I want a record deal, I want that girl, etc etc.), women have to surrender (see below).

5)      Women can only get what they want by surrendering any right to or desire for it. Like that conclusion. Ramona presumably wants Scott, so she tells him she can’t be with him because other people will get hurt and walks away. Knives, who’s wanted him up till right then that second, who’s just started a number of fights for him including several with Ramona, then says she doesn’t want him any more because she’s ‘too cool’ (she is, of course: further good point, she gets to grow over the course of the movie, conveniently for this sudden ending) and watches him walk away to his happy ending with another girl.

FEMALE VIRTUE IS SELF-SACRIFICE, FOLKS!! Cos yeah, we’ve moved on since the c17th…

6)      Queer fail. Stereotypical gay clichés – predatory gay male thing, gaybestfriend there for rel advice, gay men shout things about clothes. It’s not that I mind the use of familiar tropes, just do something ideologically interesting with them, don’t just spout’em like they’re gospel! Also, possible dismissal of bisexuality as coherent identity?

7)      Racefail. Orientalism, the whole ‘can you even date outside your race’ thing; dragons, BME people only in antagonistic or supporting roles. Again, no problem with using tropes – Oriental assassin girl, eg – big problem with lazily repeating them.

8)      Self-assertion always seen in terms of masculinist aggression. Little space for women to publicly assert themselves.

As I said, there were many good things about the movie – it was funny, and there’s so much of it I’d really *really* have enjoyed if I could have liked Scott even a lil bit, and there were some ideologically nice touches (eg: Ramona saying she’s changed her mind about sex, but reserves the right to change it again. Distressing possibility much of audience would read that as her being fickle or manipulative or prickteasy, or take Scott’s response as ‘nice guy’ rather than the only possible response in the circumstances, but still, full marks.) And the ladies are pretty damn cool. And yes, again, it’s funny. But. But but fucking but (and no, not in an anal-sex-reference way.) I wish I could switch off the critical part of my brain, it’d make life a lot more comfortable, but this stuff matters. Because I want kids who watch this stuff to believe that girls deserve as much agency and interiority as boys, and gay or bisexual or queer people as much as heteronormative people, and BME people as much as white people, and in mainstream cinema, that ain’t happening.

Gaga Forever, or, GTFOIA*

Posted: June 21, 2010 in Uncategorized

Oh, the postmodernist reflective glory of it all.

I’ve always been a Lady Gaga fan somewhat despite myself. I held out a while: despite the frustrating catchiness of Paparazzi and Just Dance, despite the kinky undertones of Poker Face, I was *determined* that liking somebody quite so purely and unashamedly popular, populist and pop-orientated was totally below my largely obscure, melodic and alternative-orientated musical dignity. And then there was Bad Romance, and she got me. That wonderful rolling backbeat, the sheer unashamed kink of the song and the video, the surprising cleverness of the lyrics (who else could fit a nod to Hitchcock and a cock joke in the same two words?), the captivating brutality and simplicity of it all- I was sucked in, and I haven’t looked back. Even songs I hated on first listen (Telephone, what the FUCK was that all about?) were lifted by the wit, self-awareness, humour and cultural commentary of the videos into something I actually enjoyed listening to.  Kinda like magic, but mostly in latex. There are still a significant number of songs I actually can’t stand, but Gaga herself, bless her cotton socks, um, twelve-inch stilettos, I would fight to the death for.

Many reasons for my personal dedication. There’s her unabashed sexuality and self-assertion, there’s my personal affinity with her take on femininity and what it means, there’s her taste in shoes, her playboy mouth, her sexually explicit and knowing songs, her strange combination of earnestness, humour and savvy, my baseline admiration for *anybody* willing to be that weird, that kinky, that vulnerable and that experimental in public, my empathy with her food issues and the psychological pressures that inevitably result from the way she chooses to use her body, and there’s the subject of this post, my sheer frustration and annoyance at the inevitable and infinitely predictable backlash now that she’s fairly established rather than the up-and-coming kookster that she used to be. Be a bit fucking *original*, folks. If you’ve always had an intense personal dislike for her music or her projected personality or the artificiality of her constructed personae or aesthetics, then fair dos, I can see why she wouldn’t be everybody’s cup of tea. But the sheer number of articles out there (and people one meets) saying something along the lines of ‘she used to be clever but she’s not original any moreand thinking they’re clever is just fucking ridiculous.

But it doesn’t just piss me off because I find it unfair or because I disagree, although both those things are true. It pisses me off because I think we, as a culture, *need* Gaga.

Partly, because she seems to be the only mainstream person out there doing what she does as well and as unashamedly and as carnivalesquely and *bizarrely* as she does, and *what* she does seems to be precisely what she set out to do.I like and need Gaga the same way I like and need fetish clubs or Camden Town, because she/they are spaces for and full of ‘freaks like me’, for the freak in everyone. (And I find it endearing how devoted she seems to be, genuinely, to her fans; the adorably loopy monster mother/little monsters thing, the way she’d actually come out and make that ‘freak’ speech on Ellen, her twitterfeed, etc.)

But not only that. She does other things too. Her sheer popularity, frustrating as it must be to those untouched by Gagaphilia, means that girls (and boys) growing up have her as another competing voice in the clamour telling them who and what they have to be to grow up, to be acceptable, to be loved. She seems to reach everyone, from kids taken to her gigs by their parents (I met a mother on a train, a lawyer,  who took her 7 and 5 year old children to every tour ‘because she puts on such a good show’) or who steal my walkman every time I go to their parents’ for dinner so they can listen to Telephone on repeat, who might not even understand the lyrics but mouth words of self-worth and self-assertion anyway, to tweenagers and teenagers faced with the well-nigh-impossible task of trying to grow up comfortable in their bodies and their sexuality amidst the overwhelming commodification and commercialisation of everything sexual in contemporary culture, have her voice in the background saying implicitly not only that being weird is ok, but that you’re worth something anyway.  Not only implying that ‘I always felt like a freak, be a freak, it’s ok, you’re still loveable, and hell, being a freak’s made me a fuckton of money by now’ but also saying women have the right to define their own desires and sexuality (Bad Romance, Teeth, I like it Rough, Poker Face), that they have worth, that she understands feeling that one *doesn’t* have worth (Dance in the Dark), that they have the right to choose and don’t have to submit to men just because they want them (Teeth), that they can choose to have sex promiscuously if they want and it’s not necessarily a bad thing if nobody gets hurt/is taking it seriously (Lovegame), that romance isn’t the be-all and end-all, that they have the right to be treated decently (Telephone). That if expressing themselves involves wearing dresses made of hair or bubbles or a full-length white cloak or bright red eyeshadow or painting a lightning bolt across their faces, then that’s cool and they can do it if they want. (To one of her gigs, if nothing else.) That at the end of the day they have the right to power, even if it’s dangerous (cf the end of the Bad Romance video, where the enslaved, manipulated, alluring Gaga actually shoots the very man who she’s enticed to buy her with her breasts. Fucking A.) There are other women out there doing this kind of thing – Pink, for example, makes similarly humorous/emotionally loaded videos and did a fabulously hot and sexually loaded duet with Peaches containing the immortal line ‘we’re all pink inside’ – but she lacks both the attention Gaga’s OTT aesthetics draw to femininity as a contemporary cultural construct and her sheer *weirdness*, not to mention the unabashed mainstream pop appeal (I don’t know many tweenagers who’ve heard of Pink. All those I know – admittedly not many – know and like Gaga).  Without Gaga, who’d they have? Florence and the Machine, if kids are into that kinda thing, but honestly, the Sugababes? (Anyone wants, I’ll do a feminist dissection of the lyrics I link to there. Go on. I dare you.) Ke$ha? I fear for the world. Gaga gives teenagers an example of somebody in control of their own representation, using it to challenge cultural norms, and being lauded and loved for it, and this cannot but be a good thing. (Not only that, but for adult eyes, the artificiality of her aesthetics draws attention to the extent to which authentic or appealing femininity is perceived to require such artificiality, and therefore how many demands contemporary culture places on girls. Whilst i’m sure that your average 8-year-old is not down with the critical theory sufficiently to parse this, they might just go away with the message that wearing weird shit and painting your face is fun if you feel like it, but you don’t have to do it.)

So what’s the problem with her, then? Afaics, the main objections seem to cluster around two main points, 1) ‘she’s just not original any more’ and 2) ‘it was all a marketing construct anyway.’ I shall take these in reverse order. Yes, maybe it is all a marketing construct, she’s really a shallow bitch and doesn’t give a shit about her fans, she’s just a good actress projecting an intentionally goofy persona on the advice of some canny adman somewhere. It’s all a marketing ploy and you’re very clever to see through it and to have figured it out, you know much more about the world than I do and I bow down before you. However. I also don’t give a shit. Even if it’s a cleverly constructed illusion of a real, vulnerable, suffering person trying to grow up and express themselves and have ideas and analyse how the world works and figure out what femininity means and what food means and what the body means and who they want to be, it’s a *good thing* that that illusion is out there, because it is real and valuable that people, particularly young people, have a figure like that to identify with. That they have an idol whom they can believe loves them and values their individuality and wants them to be their freakish selves. (Scroll down her twitterfeed to see what I’m on about.) That somebody out there with power and a voice is on their side. Even if it’s a cleverly constructed illusion, she offers us not only some rather catchy music and enjoyable videos, but also the spectacle of somebody struggling to marry the reality of life with who they think they ought to be and sometimes getting it wrong, but never apologising for their desires or their sexuality or their ridiculous taste in clothes or – really – themselves, and that is an *important* role model.

And the ‘not original any more’ thing. This seems largely prompted by Alejandro, although if somebody wants to link me to interesting things written before this I’m all ears (eyes). Because it’s a bit like Madonna in the 90s. Well, cultural imagery gets recycled, folks. That’s what it’s FOR. It gets recycled and its meaning change every time and a simple image gets overlaid with the echoes of all its previous incarnations. And Gaga *knows* this.  She *plays* with it, most notably in Telephone with its feminocentricity and product placement (cultural commentary anyone? that video’s been quite legitimately described as ‘the biggest budget semiotics essay in history’), which is funny and silly and incredibly over the top and plays with and inverts all the tropes of maternity and feminine caring/feeding and authority and feminine vulnerability through sex appeal and heteronoromativity as it uses them. And no, Alejandro’s not funny in the same way, but it’s not meant to be, by the sounds of it(second essay down) it’s about a baseline tragic identification with and isolation from a minority group who’re still the subject of great hostility in the US and elsewhere, and it’s *not* funny in the same way that a video that basically depicts the successful and hugely enjoyable inversion of contemporary gender/power relations is. And yes, it looks a bit like an early 90s Madonna video.  (If you can bear to, there’s some discussion of its symbolism and references halfway down this page, which makes it clear that at least the echoes are entirely intentional.) But it doesn’t look a lot like a contemporary Madonna video (wtf happened to Madonna, anyway??) and would any of the aforementioned young people needing a role model be watching the 90s incarnation, or be able to perceive the same sense of identification if they were? I doubt it, unless they’d followed a link from Gaga. And yes, she may or may not be hugely musically original, that’s not my area of expertise, but she’s a hell of a lot catchier than most of the other poptrash they play in the gym, and her videos a lot funnier and more self-aware, and how much more musically original than Bad Romance is it possible to be these days?

Also, I can’t help noticing that a lot of  the Gaga-bashers I’ve come across are men, and straight men at that. (Given that one of the lady’s most notable features is her absolute refusal to play heteronormative, to construct her sexuality like it’s exclusively aimed at heterosexual men, or even to create space where it could be constructed thus, it’s hard not to infer a degree of ‘but i don’t *get* it!’-type sour grapes…) My intelligent, educated, sexually aware female friends, on the other hand, are mostly as devoted as I am to the whole idea of having Someone Like Us (even if that’s middle-class and privileged and prettyish and all the other things we don’t like about ourselves, or I don’t, anyway) out there expressing herself, exposing herself and sending herself up like that. We love Gaga because her desires, her awareness of the commodification of her body and its adornment, her passionate sexuality, her intelligence, her awareness of and yet subjection to the cultural tropes surrounding her, her complete battiness, reflect elements of our own. And there’s nobody out there who does it like she does. Or has better shoes.

*Get The Fuck Over It Already.