It’s really been over two months since my last post? Wow, time flies on the other side of the semester. After SXSW, I went to a conference and then it was Spring Break and now, well I’ve posted my students’ grades and gotten my own and Memorial Day weekend (along with WisCon and Christeene’s album release party) is just around the corner.
A lot has happened in those two months, hasn’t it? We keep losing great musicians (First Etta, then Whitney! Levon! MCA! Duck! Donna! Chuck!). Dan Harmon lost his job. We’re edging toward a recall election here in Harmon’s home state, which means I’m seeing a lot of Scott Walker’s hairy forearms in ads where he lies about job creation (vote against him June 5th). Kanye made a movie. So did my friend Brea. A few friends had kids–two of them made a set of twins together. Some friends came to visit. Annie Petersen wrote a piece for the latest issue of Bitch. I completed the first year of my PhD program.
I’d like to once again thank the people who came out to Get Off the Internet during SXSW and supported us financially or emotionally (often, it was both). As I was but one player and often not the engine driving the train, I’d also like to thank Tisha Sparks, Jax Keating, and Lynn Casper, who I would work with again in a heartbeat. I’d next like to acknowledge why I got off the Internet. This was a busy semester for me. We hired a new faculty member to our program. We brought in five new students for the fall. And we are sending off four graduates.
I also took a cultural theory seminar, a seminar on feminist research methods, and a seminar on director Agnès Varda. The first two were really tough classes and I wanted to make sure I was present enough in my studies to do justice to the reading material and the seminar papers I produced. The third course, as my friend Mary put it, was dessert. Varda’s a damn treasure. After each screening I was so full and giddy from feasting my eyes and brain on this filmmaker’s dizzyingly brilliant work that I often needed to savor the moment, which usually meant talking for hours with Mary. I also pitched a book proposal, which may or may not get picked up.
It also promises to be a busy summer for me. I’m working on a book chapter for an anthology and revising a term paper for publication. I’m also serving as acting co-editor for Antenna–my program’s media studies blog–for the next three months. I’m going to be an instructor for the first session of Girls Rock Camp Madison. I’m doing preliminary research on two projects I’m planning to turn into term papers (and then articles, because that’s how the game works). I’m going to Console-ing Passions to talk about Zooey Deschanel anti-fandom. I’m grading for some cash during the summer, and (like my partner) vying for some temp work as well. Hopefully I can score a little freelance money too. I’m prepping the class I TA next fall (goodbye, Intro to Public Speaking! hello, Intro to Television!). I’m going to spend some quality time at the Center for Film and Theater Research, because it’s ridiculous that I haven’t gone over there at any point this school year. I’m plant-sitting for my girl Sarah and I hope nothing dies. There’s other stuff I want to keep on the low for the moment. And I’ll be watching Girls because y’all, we need to talk about Girls.
I might also get some coffee with a former student because I’m that kind of instructor. You know, the kind you can call by her first name. And today I’m making a cat cake with Mary for the Varda seminar’s end-of-the-semester party. Well, and for Zgougou obviously.
But I miss writing. I miss being in the conversation. I miss sweating over a sentence in my pajamas. I miss the immediacy of having my fingers fly over an opinion. I miss you. I miss this part of me. So my plan is to adopt a MWF posting schedule. I have a back log of stuff to write about–those pieces on Before Sunrise and Chavela Vargas I promised, as well as Norah Jones and Faye Wong’s film work with Wong Kar-Wai, Girl 6, seeing YACHT and EMA in concert, and stuff I don’t know I want to write about right now.
I’ll say one more thing about this blog’s future. I’m taking a digital production course this fall. I’m not sure what all of this will entail, exactly. Since I try to go into at least once class a semester without a paper topic in mind, I find the uncertainty rather thrilling. But part of the point of this class is to get graduate students comfortable with TAing a new course on the subject that we’re offering in Comm Arts for undergrads. I’m absolutely taking this class so that I can TA the intro class later. For one, I think media scholars should have a handle on production.
For another, as a feminist media scholar I’m invested in closing the gender gap in university production programs and I think this is the next logical step. I fully take to heart Mary Celeste Kearney’s charge to melt the celluloid ceiling (y’all–she presented a paper on this at SCMS and went on a rant about this later at the conference #stillmymentor #whoiwanttobewhenigrowup). But one of the objectives of this course, as I understand it, is to have us work on media projects. All of my work in that class will go toward this blog, most likely toward developing a podcast series that I’ll launch in earnest after I finish course work the following spring. So keep that on your radar.
Finally, I thought I’d close with some stuff I’m listening to–at least when I’m not listening to Rihanna‘s Talk That Talk or the new Beach House record (sidebar: this thoughtful Pitchfork review once again proves that 2012 is critic Lindsay Zoladz’s year). Though I abstained from blogging, I never took off my headphones. Also, Sarah said she was looking for some summer music. So let’s kick out the jams.
That Grimes record is good y’all. It’s, to use music critics’ parlance, a grower. Her other records are good too and this song is not my favorite on Visions (it’s “Be A Body”). But I like that this video was shot at McGill (Canada reprezent), that the album art recalls a Routledge book that’s been masterfully defaced by a bored college student (Claire Boucher knows her audience), that this song–stripped away of its electronic affectations–basically sounds like something Roy Orbison would write, and that we get some naked, riled-up, male, sports spectator booty in the video. I hope you kill it at Pitchfork, Claire.
Santigold’s Master of My Make-Believe is an early contender for Album Art of the Year. So good. Like Annie Lennox before her, Santi White masters the art of passing as both male and female, and occupying the slippery space within the binary. I wonder how different the video for “Disparate Youth” is from Duran Duran’s “Rio” and “Hungry Like the Wolf” and if it’s because–to extend the comparison–Santigold is Simon LeBon-ny enough to wear floral prints with stripes while not using the shoot as an excuse for sex tourism. Then I watch it again.
Is THEESatisfaction’s “QueenS” video of the year? I think so. Party of the year? Without rival. Music journalist and personal heroine dream hampton directed the clip and I just love it. I smell the incense, I love the outfits, I’m humbled by the level of self-possession and skill with home decor. I also love their bell hooksian way with capitalization. awE naturalE is one of my favorite records of the year. So mellow, so subtly sexy, even more subtly complex, and so self-assured. This is music for brainy, grown-ass people. If you’re ever wondering what I listen for in a record, I listen for music by women and girls who know who they are and are open to share it with you; guitars optional.
As a culture of pop music engineers, the Swedes know their way around a groove so well that this song once again convinces me that we should buck the career Republicans and demand socialized health care. Charli XCX wrote this song and it would fit in Robyn’s canon, but it has its own snarl that I can’t get enough of. Bottom line: I’ve jogged to Icona Pop’s “I Love It” and I’ve toasted Lindsay Zoladz’s freelanciversary to it as well. It gets results. It’s that good.
Staying on the Reynolds piece for just a bit more, I wanted to give the nod to Maria Minerva because she’s got an album called Cabaret Cixous, she’s completing a masters in art and theory at Goldsmiths, and because if you really want to refine a search for music you think I’d like, focus on women who play electronic instruments. Just as I believe that the rural United States has a special relationship to punk, so too do I think that working with synthesizers and sequencers can be an inherently punk gesture. If you only need to know how to play three chords on your guitar to have a band, you often need even fewer faculties to play electronic instruments. When David Bowie began working with Brian Eno, they’d amass a bunch of keyboards for the studio and throw out the manuals because they didn’t want to know how to “properly” operate them.
Following my friend Ricky’s example, I’m a champion of the Shondes. Power pop should, above all else, hold sorrow and triumph closely in each hand yet not so tightly that both emotions slip through your fingers. Based on their music alone, this Brooklyn-based quartet has a profound sense of empathy. I recently caught them at a show in Madison, wherein bassist-lead singer Louisa Solomon made the following observations: 1. as you wrap up your 20s, more people you love die (preach, girl) and 2. as “Give Me What You’ve Got” intimates, women can be mean to each other. She offered both of these observations as inquiry, which is why I love her and this special band.
K.Flay gets my-my dark moments better than everyone and nobody can hellllp. Also, off-trademark Muppets.
If you follow Rookie, then you know those grrrls are spearheading this Scottish goth-pop outfit’s comeback. And just in time for tube top weather (help me embroider an upside-down cross on mine, Rookie staff).
And if you want to know what I’m cooking in my kitchen, that’s none of your business unless I invite you over for dinner. But Little Dragon is usually the soundtrack to time spent stirring the pasta, sauteing the onion, and sprinkling the white pepper.
Summer is ready when you are, y’all.
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.
November is not the cruelest month, but it certainly is the busiest if you’re in school (or writing a novel). Followers may wonder where I’m producing new content. Truth told, it’s basically all in three Word docs. I’m currently drafting three ~25-page term papers, which are all due the same day that I proctor and grade the final for the class I’m teaching. In case you’re wondering, I’m writing on Zooey Deschanel and feminist and womanist anti-fandom, music and male anxiety in relation to Saturday Night Live‘s brand identity, and the function of score and sound in Kelly Reichardt’s “quiet” filmography. By no means am I complaining. I’m just busy.
However, you can read some of my recent work elsewhere. Bitch Magazine’s Underground issue includes my feature on female music supervisors, along with some reviews I wrote. And just this morning, Racialicious posted my essay on the Lizzies, the girl gang in The Warriors. Check it out, and make sure you read Julia Caron’s great piece on Florence + the Machine and white supremacy.
Earlier today, I watched Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. It came well-recommended and I’m pleased to say it didn’t disappoint. Its length was earned. Roger Deakins’ blurry, jaundiced cinematography was predictably inspired. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ score was great, particularly at its most dissonant. Brad Pitt and especially Casey Affleck were affecting in their portrayals of a haunted Jesse James and the deranged man who kills him for a multitude of terrifying reasons. They were also accompanied by one of the more accomplished supporting cast of male actors I’ve seen in recent memory. Sam Rockwell’s performance as Affleck’s tormented brother Charlie makes me wonder why the Academy continues to pass him over.
I’ve never been particularly interested in Westerns as a genre. At the risk of being a gender essentialist, it seems like people who have a personal connection to Westerns were introduced to them by their fathers. I’ve never had that bond. To add to which, I have little invested in the classical representation of the idealized version of the rugged outsider (in my head he’s John Wayne) and all he supposedly represents about the promise of American male ingenuity.
That said, I’ve been watching a lot of them lately. In addition to James, I completed the first season of Deadwood and watched John Hillcoat’s The Proposition, which Cave penned. I enjoyed James Mangold’s remake of 3:10 to Yuma and await the Coen Brothers’ take on True Grit this winter. This interest may be due to generic texts that problematize this figure and his surroundings. Without seeing any John Ford movies (yet), I get the sense that these concerns may not be a recent phenomenon but could just as easily define the genre as the image of the lone gunslinger.
I was somewhat disappointed by The Proposition‘s screenplay. The production design struck an elegant balance between beauty, austerity, and brutality. The acting was predictably great given the cast’s pedigree. I was pleasantly surprised that Cave gave depth and dimension to Emily Watson’s character Martha Stanley, the beleaguered wife of Ray Winstone’s British officer, who is charged with taming an unruly Australian outback and orders an Irish criminal (Guy Pearce) to kill his noxious outlaw brother (Danny Huston). I certainly found the subject matter interesting, particularly its depiction of racial and ethnic tensions resulting in Great Britain’s colonial practices and the resulting prejudicial treatment of the continent’s indigenous population. I just got bummed out when Winstone would evoke Dorothy Parker by wondering aloud what “fresh hell” Australia would bring or the lack of distinction between Pearce and Winstone’s characters’ speech. Cave’s grandiloquence obliterates differentiation.
Dialogue in Westerns is often a problem for me. There seems to be such fetish in recreating an authentic version of antiquated vocabulary and turns of phrase, particularly when the words are being said by irascible outlaws and pioneer men. This is a problem both for screenwriters and actors, who seem to relish in giving period dialogue added bombast. I always think about how silly Emilio Estevez’s Billy the Kid sounds in Young Guns when he requests a piece of cake with “the sweet frost” in all seriousness. But when Jeremy Renner’s Wood Hite claims his legendary cousin loves him “like the Good Book” in James, both the writing and delivery are masterfully underplayed. It’s also particular to his character, and certainly not something Affleck’s Ford would say.
Yet even when we focus in on the psychological unrest of that figure, we still tend to consider him as exceptional in some way. We foreground him and leave his women in the saloon, boudoir, or kitchen. They can entertain, tend bar, provide earthly delights, or put together meat-and-potato dinners on end. One reason Deadwood is exceptional for me, apart from its labyrinthine dialogue, is the centralization of female characters who bring nuance to traditional roles and step outside the designated vocations of wife and whore.
On this charge, I can’t give any points to James. Mary Louise Parker is good as James’ wife Zee, but only scoops potatoes, meets Ford with an incredulous gaze, and grieves the murder the title promises. However, I do find Zooey Deschanel’s role as Ford’s wife Harriet Evans a smart move for the actress. Ford opens a saloon and courts burlesque dancer Evans following the murder, which he briefly tried to capitalize on with staged reenactments before his brother’s suicide. The role is basically a cameo, but gives Deschanel an opportunity to showcase her singing talent, further market herself as a music-savvy indie darling, and add an experimental Western to her résumé. If only she was given more to do than twirl fans and provide moral support for a killer.
Hello everyone. So, I’m giving a lecture on Friday with Kristen at Act Your Age for a friend’s class at UT on race and the media. We’ll be talking about whiteness and girlhood in contemporary American film, primarily because girls are often assumed or represented as white. We’re paying particular attention to Ellen Page and Zooey Deschanel’s turns in Juno and (500) Days of Summer, the latter text being held up as an instance of girlhood appropriation. After reading through Spin‘s 1997 Girl Issue and putting together clips and our PowerPoint presentation, apart from being overwhelmed by the whiteness, I was reminded of my girlhood.
In the interest of sharing, here are some clips from my youth, many of which we’ll be discussing. Please feel free to share. Also, as we’ll obviously be problematizing the exnomination of whiteness with regard to girlhood in our lecture, I’d also encourage people to challenge it themselves and offer mediated images of girls of color.
A few weeks back, I watched Jonathan Khan’s 1998 feature Girl for the first time with my friend Erik, who loved Blake Nelson’s young adult novel of same name as a teenager. He had the great idea of doing a grunge movie night, screening this one with Singles and Bodies, Rest & Motion, though I’d also like to through in Gas Food Lodging, as I haven’t yet seen it. Apparently, Girl suffered considerably as it transitioned into another medium.
For one, it was released about four years too late, not accounting for a fickle market that, by 1998, tired of grunge and was starting to cultivate a backlash against The Spice Girls. It also drew obvious narrative parallels and stylistic similarities with ABC’s My So-Called Life, which made it feel all the more dated. For another, David E. Tolchinsky’s screenplay appoarently lost much of the novel’s singular tone that rallied many fans around the book. I worry that this may happen with Stephen Chbosky’s screen adaptation of his 1999 novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower, though my concerns also stem from finding the source material derivative and unworthy of much of the praise it recieved.
Finally, the end product itself was terrible, lacking especially in terms of writing, directing, and acting. Starring many B- and C-level actors like Portia de Rossi, Selma Blair, Tara Reid, Sean Patrick Flannery, Channon Roe, and Christopher Masterson, the film rests on Dominique Swain’s incapable shoulders. Remember when Swain beat out thousands of young actors for the title role in Adrian Lyne’s Lolita? How did that happen, exactly?
I almost thought about not writing an entry on Girl, as there was hardly anything positive to write about it. Privileged white girl Andrea Marr (Swain) inexplicably has everyone fall in love with her, including Brown University, square frenemy Darcy (Blair), rebel girl bassist Cybil (Reed), music journalist (Roe), and rock god Todd Sparrow (Flannery), even though she’s shallow, narcissistic, and not especially bright. The movie follows her last semester of high school, as she plants her freak flag to follow Sparrow and his band, The Color Green. She becomes his groupie for a while, but ultimately decides she’s putting his needs before her own and breaks up with him before starting college. Since I just read Pamela Des Barres’s I’m With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie for a Bitch entry on Zooey Deschanel’s efforts to adapt the memoir for an HBO series, groupies are on my mind.
Also, I’ve decided to write a post on the movie because Kristen at Act Your Age and I were recently asked to give a guest lecture for an undergraduate class at UT Austin this summer. Since the course is on race representations in media culture, we’ll be focusing on whiteness and girlhood and movies and television shows that feature young cisgender female characters who are interested in music. Thus, Girl needs to be considered, if not for its individual merits, but to provide further context for the evolution of hipster girls and manic pixies dream girls during a period where post-riot grrrl was becoming post-feminist in teen movies.
An interesting contribution the movie provides is sidekick character Rebecca Fernhurst, played by Summer Phoenix. Intellectual, deadpan, more obsessed with records than boys or fashion, and already over the next big thing, Fernhurst in some ways recalls Daria Morgendorffer and anticipates Juno McGuff and Norah Silverberg. A running joke in the movie is that Fernhurst is the girl always out of frame in a picture while Marr is in the center. For this music geek, she’s the only character in focus.
“Tuning In” signs out today with an entry on Zooey Deschanel’s HBO project on Pamela Des Barres’ I’m With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie. Thanks for all the support, especially attentive readers with insightful comments and the wonderful women at Bitch. These two months have been a blast!