Tagged: Liz Lemon

“Why you procrastinate girl?”: Azealia Banks’ “212″ and negative reinforcement

At some point during the winter holidays, I found myself in an airport terminal checking my Twitter feed. Sarah Jaffe tweeted that she wakes up to Azealia Banks’ “212″. By the end of my first term at Madison, I integrated it into my morning routine. It’s forward-looking pop that’s brimming with attitude. Banks’ filthy mouth rivals her pop star’s ear. No wonder you can buy t-shirts emblazoned with the song’s oft-quoted lyric. I hope Karl Lagerfeld paid for one.

Mainly, “212″ made me feel good. It made me feel 50 feet tall on my afternoon jogs. It made me feel invincible as I was wrapping up term papers and posting students’ grades. It made me feel good while drowning out crying babies or trying to wrap my head around Judith Butler’s “Contingent Foundations” on the bus. It still makes me feel like the pedestrian bridge is my runway when I’m heading over to Memorial Library from Vilas.

But I began to wonder why I felt good listening to “212″. Look, I’m not anti-pleasure. Let’s celebrate our bodies. Let’s enjoy each other. Let’s play. But as a feminist, I think we have a responsibility to account for how our pleasures are constituted, what they mean, and if they harm or exclude others. So I could easily pull apart the elements that make it a great pop song. Any well-constructed pop song can withstand such deconstruction and usually does without its permission.

There’s Banks’ giddy delivery. She thrilled that she’s getting away with lines like “cock-a-licking in the water by the blue bayou.” There’s the beat, of course, coupled with passages of relentlessly inventive, unfolding, interlocking hooks. And there’s oh so much fun queer sex at play that I don’t even care or notice if I’m being dominated. Actually, I like it! The song’s deceptively simple melody and complex production design reveals itself gradually upon repeated listens. It is rich with “details and decisions that” according to Tom Ewing, “suggest a scary degree of pop talent.” And like any good piece of pop art, it’s projectable. It sounds like a dystopian rave remix to “Miss Mary Mack.” It sounds like a dance party at zero gravity. It sounds like tripping balls, making crank calls, and scissoring on the moon. It transcends all of these empty proclamations.

But as a feminist, I wondered how or if I could justify liking this song, or if that was missing the entire point. I couldn’t figure out how I felt about the song’s trash talk. Which of course made me think about all of the other female MCs I love who could teach graduate seminars on the subject. Trash talk is the foundation of battle rapping. Importantly, it’s something women in hip hop engage in with one another as well as with their male counterparts. Roxanne Shanté took on Sparky Dee and UTFO. It’s also integral to the process of star formation, uttering a self in opposition and from an elevated platform (at least seemingly) of her own making.

Does trash talk fit into feminist practice? This is a follow-up question to another issue I’ve posed on this blog: how does feminism account for feminists who don’t get along with each other? I don’t like to think of any feminist as my enemy, but I knew at least one in my early twenties who is no longer my friend. How does feminism account for that? Sisterhood is about collaboration, but collaboration is hardly utopian. Even people with the same goals will radically disagree and may even make each other angry. I try to be kind to myself and not negatively compare myself against “more successful” colleagues in my small moments. As a feminist, I feel it’s my duty to be supportive or, if I can’t be so noble, at least not petty. But I have as much “Imma ruin you, cunt” in me as I do “I guess that cunt gettin’ eaten.”

But I’m stuck in a dead end. I wrote a term paper about anti-fan discourse around Zooey Deschanel last semester. One of my professor’s critiques was that I seemed unable to engage with my own anti-fandom. Which is true. I actively avoided engaging with it because I didn’t want to confuse my hatred of “Zooey Deschanel” (as sign, as image, as marketing tool) with my relative lack of knowledge about Zooey Deschanel, person. I know some infuriating things about her that suggest I would hate her as a person, but I’m not sure where to make the distinction. And I’m worried that the entire exercise might be misogynistic.

“212″ uses the word “bitch” constantly, almost as a preposition. It also treats the n-word like a preposition, which is a different but related issue I don’t know how to address. I’m aware that I contribute to a publication that reclaimed “bitch” for feminist purposes. So long as Bitch continues to publish work by people like s.e. smith, Aymar Jean Christian, Alyssa Rosenberg, J. Victoria Saunders, and Audra Schroeder, I’ll remain proud of that. But I’m deeply ambivalent about such appropriation.

I get the tactical reasons behind it–steal and repurpose words that have been imposed on you. But on the one hand, I do not like and do not abide being called a “bitch,” “slut,” or “hoe” as an ironic term of endearment by girlfriends. I don’t think it’s cute. I think it’s oppressive. I feel the ground shift beneath me each time I hear it on a lunch date or at happy hour, as though the subtext beneath the sweetly delivered pejorative is “Imma ruin you, cunt.” All of the sudden an innocent meet-up is a game of chess and I lost my queen. Yet on the other hand, I can’t count how many times I’ve used those words on myself. 30 Rock fans, remember that cutaway gag where a dolled-up Liz Lemon looks in the mirror, yells at herself for sweating, and calls herself a bitch? I only laughed because I recognized an ugly side of myself in the joke.

I may (and do) mouth the words “Imma ruin you cunt” on the way to class and in the middle of the run. But the bridge to “212″ is what gets me. It’s the only sung moment, and appropriately, the only truly vulnerable moment. Banks questions her own bravado, laziness, and expendibility. It’s a heavy moment, and one she cannot dwell on because the beat carries her away. As it should. These moments of self-doubt are necessary, transformative, and recurrent, but we can’t be paralyzed by them.

In some ways, “212″ is a mirror image of Gwen Stefani’s “What You Waiting For?” There’s a major difference between the two songs, of course. “212″ doesn’t end with a gong or indulge in Orientalist notions of Japanese women’s sense of style. Imagine my horror when I was rocking out to it for the fifth time and realized she wasn’t singing “Your hair is sure cute, girl. Damn, you’ve got some wicked style.” Stefani’s desire to “go back and do Japan, give me lots of brand new fans” should’ve been a clue. Or the video. That’s how pop gets you.

“What You Waiting For?” is about Stefani’s fear that she’s an imposter and can’t create new music as a solo artist after years of fronting No Doubt. It’s in the verses that she calls herself a stupid hoe. The bridge is where she imagines herself past the self-loathing and back on stage. Where the comparison doesn’t work is that Banks isn’t colonizing Asian women for personal gain (on that tack, I await her M.I.A. collaboration). But where the comparison does have some salience is in how Banks spends most of the song bragging, talking shit, acquiring sexual favors, and dominating people except in one instance where she’s not sure if she’s worth it. Banks and Stefani have to confirm for themselves that they matter so they can keep on dancing. So do we. Sometimes we need a pop song to help us move forward, even if the reasons why we dance are never innocent.

Things I learned from giving a college lecture on race and girlhood with Kristen at Act Your Age

White girls Ellen Page and Zooey Deschanel; image courtesy of blogs.citypages.com

 

Yesterday, I gave a lecture with Kristen at Act Your Age, a friend and colleague since we got to know one another as masters students in the media studies program at UT. We actually didn’t become friends until our second semester with the program, as I was pretty shy during the first semester and was working full-time. But I knew I liked her from the moment we met at a department mixer when she said that she hoped grad school wouldn’t be like that scene in Ghost World where one of protagonist Enid’s classmates shows off her “found object” tampon in the teacup art piece. I’d estimate that our friendship really developed during the thesis process, as we shared an adviser and second reader. Of course, working at the same 9-to-5 keeps us close, as does working with Girls Rock Camp Austin

I may never have admitted this to her before, but I heavily relied on her as motivation when we started collaborating. The first time we worked together on a project was for a Flow column we wrote about 30 Rock‘s Liz Lemon and her negotiations with power. Earlier that summer, I was asked by a friend who worked at Latinitas to give a talk about how girl pop stars are represented in music videos. I accepted the offer, which I later bailed on when I had a bout of depression and felt like I couldn’t possibly put together a valuable educational resource. I’ve always been ashamed that I let my friend down and had such little faith in my abilities at the time. So I figured if I worked with Kristen, maybe we could maximize each other’s potential. I’d like to think we have. 

I should note that we also work well separately, though I ask for her feedback on my projects and am  available as a springboard for her. That said, I really like to work with her, less so now because I feel like I need her as motivation, but because 1) we like to model that women can successfully come together and share responsibilities on projects and 2) we like proving that “important” work doesn’t have to be done in isolation. Also, I just like her. 

So we’ve worked together for a while, both on GRCA stuff and on other academic pursuits. We wrote a column together, moderated a roundtable discussion for the 2008 Flow conference, and put together a panel for SUNY Cortland’s Reimagining Girlhood conference this fall. Thus, when our friend Curran invited us to give a guest lecture for his race and media course at UT (a class that transformed me when I took it as an undergrad), we of course accepted. 

This was a bit out of both of our comfort zones. Kristen never gave a college lecture before. I delivered one for my thesis adviser’s undergrad class on gender and rock culture when she was presenting at SCMS. But that was a very different set of circumstances, for even though I organized the screening materials, I lectured on a reading she assigned. Kristen and I created this lecture entirely on our own, picking the topic, readings, and presentation materials.  

We selected the intersection of race and girlhood as our topic, paying particular attention to the exnomination of whiteness and the cultural construction of hipster girls and appropriations of girlhood in contemporary American film. Our case studies were Juno and (500) Days of Summer

 

 

Curran (wearing a Shonen Knife shirt because he’s awesome) generously introduced us to his class, plugging our blogs and referring to us as experts. As humbling as it is to be called an expert by a friend whose academic work you admire tremendously, I recognized that we do know a lot about our topic. Kristen wrote about two of the films we discussed in the last chapter of her thesis. I wrote about a few of the films for conference papers. We’ve talked about many of these texts on our blogs and have seen most of them. 

The lecture represented both of us well. Kristen studies mediated representations and sociological surveys of girlhood. I look at convergent music culture from a feminist perspective. Add to the fact that we’re both white women who were both white girls and heavily problematize white privilege and class in our work, and this lecture was basically as close to a scholastic mash-up as you can get. Add our PowerPoint to the mix and you can even listen to it like Girl Talk or The Hood Internet or play it like X-Men Vs. Street Fighter. Plus we call shit on patriarchy and white privilege. Here’s what I learned. 

1. I like building PowerPoint presentations. As Kristen created the one we use for GRC, I wanted to give it a shot and it’s a really effective tool when used properly. 

1A. Of course, it was not news to me that I would stay up until 2 a.m. futzing with layout design. I know myself. 

2. It’s exciting and weird when people write down what you have to say. 

2A. As a result, I’m always going to have to remember to slow down when I talk. 

3. It’s great to watch a colleague be in total control of herself when presenting information. Kristen’s a clear, succinct conveyor of ideas. She’s also patient and calm and clearly has a lot of personal investment in the process, which will make her a great professor.  

4. No bullshit, but I’m great at it too. It feels natural to me. I have much to learn, but I’ll be a great professor. 

5. It’s fun to volley. I kinda knew this from GRC workshops, but sometimes I worry that she carries my weight when I blank or get flustered. This time, I feel like the back-and-forth was breezy and perfect. 

5A. I need to be kinder to myself and recognize that we both share the work and bring out the best in each other. I definitely did that yesterday. 

6. It’s delightful to apply complicated theories from the readings to the lecture topic, especially when the students nod along and seem to get it. It lets you know that you picked the right material and make sense explaining it. 

7. Revisiting essays when selecting readings is fun, as well as a good yardstick for what you’ve learned during the interval between now and the last time you read the piece. 

8. Clips and images really help illustrate points and trigger related ideas. 

9. We forgot to talk about Ghost World! Oh well. Next time. We didn’t talk about TV at all, but have so many texts to discuss. 

 

 

10. This was a quiet group, but I think a lot of the students were into the topic and got something out of the lecture. They may have, in fact, actually learned something. To be witness and have a part in that process is the best part of all.

Check out my Bitch entry on Liz Lemon’s ringtone

Seriously, this is one the best screen caps of all time; image courtesy of hallucina.blogspot.com

It’s now week two of the “Tuning In” series. Today, I focus on Liz Lemon’s ringtone. It’s “Fuck the Pain Away” by Peaches and therefore awesome.

My thoughts on Debi Withers’s “Adventures in Kate Bush and Theory”

Cover to Adventures in Kate Bush and Theory (HammerOn Press, 2010); image courtesy of debi-rah.net

Today’s post is a review of Debi Withers’s Adventures in Kate Bush and Theory. I’ve actually been holding onto it for a while, as Withers was good enough to have her publisher HammerOn Press send me a copy (my hunch is that a previous entry on Bush’s The Dreaming, wherein I cited her essay on Lionheart, got me the free wares). I read it a little over a week ago but amid all the SXSW revelry, didn’t get a chance to review it. I wanted to have a clear head when drafting an appraisal, so here goes.

For those unfamiliar with her work, Withers is an English queer feminist cultural studies scholar who focuses on music culture. She also puts theory into practice as a contributor to musical projects like Drunk Granny and Voice Tribe. Much of her scholarship has focused on Kate Bush, out of which this book was formed.

Adventures is a fun read that embraces feminist and queer theory while making it accessible to folks who haven’t gotten down and dirty with Luce Irigaray. As someone who doesn’t consider herself much of a theoryhead and always looks for a practical application when reading such works, I appreciated that Withers provided such an interesting subject to attach theoretical abstractions to. Importantly, Withers makes clear that she will not be talking about Kate Bush the musician, but rather Kate Bush the personae, which she refers to throughout as the Bush Feminine Subject (BFS). While I think the term potentially turns the subject into something of a monolith, the distinction must be made and the use of the musician’s given name cannot suffice. As Withers is astute to point out, there’s a big difference between Kate Bush and “Kate Bush.” Never a strictly autobiographical writer, Kate Bush penned songs about girls in incestuous relationships with male siblings, Houdini’s wife, unborn babies, Wilhelm Reich, Karen from The Red Shoes, Peter Pan, Catherine Earnshaw, burglars, aborigines, gay bon vivants, and mothers of dead soldiers. “Kate Bush” embodied them, often modifying her own singing voice to do so. She often recorded and performed these characters with a flair for the dramatic and drama’s inclination toward camp.

The Bush Feminine Subject is cheeky, no?; image courtesy of tumblr.com

Withers cherry-picks from Bush’s catalog, forming a life cycle out of thematic elements in The Kick Inside, Lionheart, Never For Ever, The Dreaming, and The Red Shoes, as well as the final movements of Hounds of Love and Aerial. According to Withers, Kick represents the birth of the BFS, along with coming-of-age preoccupations like menstruation (“Strange Phenomena”) and young love, whether doomed (“Wuthering Heights”) or forbidden (the title track). Lionheart is a showcase for the artist’s preoccupations with performance, disguise, camp, maturation, and sexuality, which all often take on queer associations. Never For Ever marks a transitional period, demonstrating at once her interest in costume and mistaken identity (“Babooshka”) while at the same time insinuating a politicized awareness toward modern life, best exemplified with “Breathing,” a song delivered by a fetus who is aware of the nuclear fallout its mother is trying to live through.

From here The Dreaming comes to represent the artist’s ongoing personal evolution. Withers argues this is attained through politicized awareness of other cultures (the title track), the reinvigorated investment with one’s own (“Night of the Swallow,” which acknowledges Bush’s Irish heritage), the commitment to being receptive to knowledge (“Leave It Open”), as well as struggle (“Sat In Your Lap”) and resistance (“Get Out Of My House,” an anti-rape song that draws The Shining, turning the house into a metaphor for the female body). In addition, The Dreaming is also concerned with the process of metamorphosis, most often involving people turning into machines. As this was Bush’s first sole production credit, this theme takes on personal connotations about the artist’s relationship to her work. Finally, Withers argues that The Red Shoes (and Bush’s accompanying short, The Line, The Cross, and The Curve) symbolizes the suicide of the artist, drawing from the lore of the Hans Christian Andersen tale as well as the 1948 movie by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (for an in-depth reading on the movie, Matthew Dessem’s essay for Criterion Contraption is as good a place as any to start). As Withers argues that artistry transcends mortality, the subject is reborn with Hounds of Love‘s “The Ninth Wave” and disappears with Aerial‘s “A Sky of Honey,” the final movement off Bush’s most recent album, which was released twelve years after her previous studio offering, The Red Shoes.

I’m not sold on structuring the artist’s work this way, as I think that at times Withers pushes the interpretation of the life cycle onto Bush’s work, though I do understand from working on a master’s thesis that the process of organizing a larger body of work to fit a document is a problematic one. And while I understand why Withers wants to focus attention away from Hounds of Love, Bush’s best-known album, I feel she does a disservice by glossing over certain albums.  The omission of The Sensual World is particularly troubling, as Bush believed it to be her most feminine work. Furthermore, it contains songs like “Deeper Understanding,” which is concerned with the potentially humanizing and dehumanizing connotations of digital interactions and fits nicely into Bush’s work on The Dreaming.

As subjectivity is a key theme in Withers book, I’m pleased at how she unpacked the identity politics evident in Bush’s ouvre. Withers is quick to point out Bush’s interest in camp, performance, and ambiguity, as well as the matter of vocality, all of which suggests elements of queerness in her work. Vocality is a particularly interesting matter, as Bush often sang as multiple subjects and tended to sing across age ranges, gender and sex catagories, and orientations depending on her subject in any given song.

In addition, it’s important to note that Bush has a big queer following. Men like Rufus Wainwright and Alan Cumming have professed their fandom, as have publications like Out. More importantly, Withers brings in her own sexuality into the discussion and argues that lesbians also have quite an affinity for Bush, a fan base and culture that Bush acknowledges and celebrates in certain songs and music videos.

Withers makes a comparison between Xena and the BFS in the "Babooshka" video and I concur; image courtesy of madley.com

I also appreciate Withers interrogation of race and nationality and how Bush’s position as a middle-class, white British woman is a problematic one. At times, Bush is something of a fetishist and voyeur of the other (particularly of East Asian, South Asian, Middle Eastern, and African/African American culture). Given her country’s problematic history with colonialism, this obsession takes on even more troubling dimensions. The matter of the nice white lady is a problem I run into all the time as a feminist (and nice white lady). It’s a matter I brought up when discussing Joanna Newsom’s latest album and it’s an issue that informs my ambivalent feelings toward other white feminist icons like Liz Lemon (for more recent offerings on her, I’d recommend reading Sady Doyle and Amanda Hess’s recent conversation following Doyle’s Tiger Beatdown piece on the subject).

While I enjoyed Adventures, I wish Withers would’ve contextualized the subjective nature of Bush’s fame. In the UK, Australia, and parts of Europe, Bush is a pop star of considerable renown, achieving commercial and critical success I’d estimate somewhere between Björk’s slightly-left-of-mainstream status and Madonna’s superstardom in the states. But in America, Bush is strictly a cult phenomenon. She did receive some recognition for minor hits like “Running Up That Hill,” “Cloudbusting,” and “Rubberband Girl.” Early videos like “The Man With The Child In His Eyes,” were a part of MTV’s original rotation schedule. “Don’t Give Up,” a duet she recorded with Peter Gabriel, has been featured in television and film and has been covered extensively. Similar things can be said of “This Woman’s Work.” Maxwell’s cover of the song was used in a routine for So You Think You Can Dance? that was meant to raise awareness about breast cancer.

Yet, Bush never really crossed over in the United States. She may have been on Top of the Pops but she was a hardly a fixture on the American late night talk show circuit. She never landed the cover of Rolling Stone, much less been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Many people may not have heard of her, though her influence has carried over to contemporary acts like Tori Amos, Bat for Lashes, and Joanna Newsom. In short, she’s a cult figure here.

Tori Amos, a successor to Bush's legacy; image courtesy of wikimedia.org

Bat for Lashes' Natasha Khan, pictured on right with former Ash guitarist Charlotte Hatherley, clearly shares Bush's investment in eccentricity, drama, exotica, and Britishness; image courtesy of nme.com

Thus, when reading the book, it was hard for me to take Bush’s celebrity as a given. By putting such a focus on the albums and what they suggest about the BFS’s trajectory, I kept wondering about the actual Kate Bush behind it and how such an eccentric, challenging musical figure was so widely accepted in her home country. While Withers acknowledges the anomalous conditions that allowed for Bush’s success, I was left wanting to greater sociohistoric context. What other artists were popular at the time? How was Bush able to produce her own material? What was her recording contract like? Who did she work with? Did early supporters like Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour sway the buying public? How were her videos received, and how did they intervene as the musician became more reticent to grant interviews and tour following the release of Lionheart? Did her unfounded reputation as a reclusive madwoman sensationalize her and thus make her a (shudder) hot commodity?

Also did much of Bush’s fame rest not only on her ability to meld feminized forms like piano-based folk singing with the masculinized practices of punk’s commitment to DIY ethics and confrontational sexual politics, but also with her clear indebtedness to glam? It’s no coincidence that she studied dance with Lindsay Kemp, who worked extensively with David Bowie, most notably during the Ziggy Stardust era. Yet like Bush, glam was far less ubiquitous in American popular consciousness in its time than it was in Great Britain. While Withers does provide some context, I think she presumes her reader to be British. Thus, I wonder how accessible this book would be to other audiences outside of Western Europe.

Like many Brits of her age, Kate Bush was quite the glam enthusiast; image courtesy of soundingproject.files.wordpress.com

That said, for those who are die-hard Bush fans, nascent appreciators, or life-long feminist theorists, this book is one to add to the shelves. Open the book, throw on a record, and let the debate continue.

Peggy Olson’s mirror game

Note: The following post is about a scene in season three of Mad Men. I know that some readers have not gotten this far in the series, or have begun watching it. As a result, I’ve tried not to include spoilers in my analysis of a scene in last Sunday’s episode. However, the scene involves the film version of Bye Bye Birdie, which does indicate where the show is in terms of its historical time line.

As you may have been able to glean from a previous post about Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon, I follow Mad Men, AMC’s original series about advertisers who work at Sterling Cooper, a Manhattan-based agency, and the people who try to love them in the 1960s.

I’m not a super-fan, but the show does make for chewy television. The 1960s is one of my favorite periods in American history and they plumb its depths and margins. Thus, I keep waiting for a phone call at work from some beleaguered production assistant to the LBJ Library. The acting is great, the visual style is sumptuous, the writing is sharp and often surprisingly funny, and the writing staff (despite creator-show runner Matthew Weiner’s authorial presence) has a considerable female personnel. And though sometimes Mad Men can be heavy-handed, it tends to balance these moments with subtle, at times shocking period details or character developments. Also, I really appreciate that I can empathize with almost any character.

One character who I whole-heartedly empathize with is Peggy Olson, a young steno turned copy writer who, unlike many of the women at Sterling Cooper so far, seems more interested in a corner office than an engagement ring. Actress Elisabeth Moss has said that Olson is a feminist and I concur. I love her refreshing lack of sentimentality, her toughness, and her persistence in sticking up for herself, which is hard to do when your male co-workers are looking for dollies when you think of women and girls as real people.

I always root for Peggy Olson; image courtesy of examiner.com

I always root for Peggy Olson; image courtesy of examiner.com

This brings us to last week’s episode, wherein Olson is trying to create a campaign for Patio, Pepsi’s prototypical diet soda. The folks at Pepsi want to latch on to the popularity of the movie version of Bye Bye Birdie, which stars the exuberant sex-bomb-in-the-making Ann-Margret. Basically, Pepsi envisions ripping off the movie’s opening sequence (which you can watch below, along with the reprise).

This campaign is something the boys are all too happy to help cast. Her boss, Don Draper, thinks it’s a no-brainer because men want her so women want to be her (I suspect Draper is phoning it in here because he doesn’t like the product, its ridiculous name, and doubts the future of a company he helped build, but I will refrain from commenting further).

Peggy objects to this direction, decrying the planned campaign (and Ann-Margret’s performance) as phony. Peggy wants to tap into why women and girls would like this product, while most of her male contemporaries seem to want to project how they feel about women onto female consumers.

And then things get interesting. At home, Peggy launches into her own impromptu performance in front of her mirror while getting ready for bed. It’s a TV moment so delicious, awkward, and fraught with ideological tension that it makes me impatient for the day I can play the clip in a lecture or a conference presentation. Slate’s TV Club has evaluated the scene with many other journalists and bloggers, along with some problematic character developments that I won’t comment on at this time (though, if you know what I’m talking about, I like Amy Benfer’s read on it). Here’s my take about why I love this particular scene.

1. Yes, there is an element of aspiration to Peggy’s performance. While others have commented on this, I don’t think Peggy necessarily wants to be Ann-Margret so much as figure out the mechanics of her performance and why men seem to want women and girls to be like Ann-Margret. She wants to work through it. And while she’s not a convincing Ann-Margret (in fact, she’s a terrible Ann-Margret), I don’t think she wants to be.

2. This disassociation with Ann-Margret seems further evident in the sarcasm in Peggy’s performance. While at times she tries to genuinely play Ann-Margret, much of her performance seems to mock the original. Once again, I think Peggy’s saying that she doesn’t want to be Ann-Margret and commenting on the performance’s artificiality. In others words, she seems to be taking the piss.

3. Yet, she’s also a little sad that she can’t be Ann-Margret. There have been other moments in the show where her colleagues have made fun of her for seeming harsh and mannish and, therefore, not sexy. Sometimes, she swallows their barbs. Other times, she spars. Sometimes, at other women’s urgings, she dresses or behaves in a more conventionally feminine manner. But I think her inability to channel Ann-Margret doesn’t suggest that she’s not sexy so much as comment on the limitations of this notion of female sexiness, as well as its lack of attainability (possibly even for the actresses who seem to possess it). Because, to me, Peggy is sexy, especially when she takes control, makes a transgression, declines a compromised offer, or bucks the established order of things. Thus, she suggests sexiness is elastic (something Ann-Margret herself would do at the end of the decade with a beguiling, damaged performance in Carnal Knowledge).

4. I love how arrhythmic and unnatural this scene is. I love that we see Olson stop mid-song, forget the words, re-remember dance moves, squint to study her performance, and then finish the song abruptly so she can finish brushing her hair.

5. Finally, Moss’s performance adds an additional layer of delightful inquiry. I’m always fascinated by scenes where great actors play characters who are bad actors (for an terrific example, see Julianne Moore’s performance as Amber Waves acting with Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights). It may look easy for actors to deliberately act badly, but assuredly it isn’t. It seems even more difficult to convince an audience that the character is doing the bad acting and not the actor. That it’s a woman playing a character she inhabits fully playing a character she can’t inhabit fully because she recognizes that it’s a deceitful, potentially damaging construct makes for very chewy television indeed.