August 5, 2011 § 1 Comment
Once again I find myself in the entirely …exhausting? weird? whatever, swear words… position of having to distill nearly 300 pages of serious business cultural theory into a digestible blog post designed for quick and easy frankensteining when I’m asked whatever I’ll be asked for the written portion of the breadth exam. In the case of Hard Core, this is a particularly difficult task — Williams is a badass and throughout her analysis braids pubic hairs of awesomeness into g-strings of success. For example she uses feminism to challenge anti-pornography feminists, arguing that the anti-pornography stance, however well-intentioned, reifies precisely the gender dynamics (naturally and necessarily and always-already victimized women subject to and subjected by naturally and necessarily and always-already sadistic rape-monsters aka all men in the history of ever) that the anti-porn crusaders purport to condemn (22). She also eviscerates Freud, basically by reminding people what the crazy bastard actually said– namely, that women are dickless horrors and no wonder men end up obsessing over women’s feet or underwear or whatever. Because somewhere in the recesses of their lizard brains they recall the fateful moment they saw mommy naked for the first time and OH MY GOD WHAT IS THAT DEATHLY HOLLOWS, clearly that’s not the correct sex organ, you know like the one I have, which unlike mommy’s murder hole recalls the wizened nose of a dust-caked marsupial which apparently can’t stop raping, ever, and why doesn’t mommy have one, perhaps it was suctioned off by our Dyson, this is simply too much for my lizard brain to process because what if my penis is next, I must find a way to reinstate the wholeness I once attributed to mommy thereby alleviating my own fear of patented cyclonic suction and/or vaginas lined with razor blades, oh I know, why don’t I pretend her stiletto heels are actually her penis, ah that feels so much better, now I can be a heterosexual. Which is as circular and self-replicating –not to mention blithely ahistorical– as it is offensive and lulzy (46; 54).
And, in perhaps my favorite section, she discusses the history and present ubiquity of the “money shot,” wherein the penis-haver gets down on one knee and professes his affinity and respect for the bright-eyed young lady he’s chosen to tenderly bed. lol jk when he cums on her face. According to Williams, the “hydraulics of ejaculation” (94) may indeed mark the woman as less-than, but it also performs a fetishistic function, framing the act itself as revelatory and worthy of further study (as opposed to knee-jerk condemnation). It is, as she argues, man unable and/or unwilling to take woman into account. It is man so focused on man that the visibility of woman is obscured quite literally by the shadow of teh phallus. Thus the money shot, politically problematized as it may be, makes visible an entire system of relations –Foucaultian power at its most bare– in which women are something to be obscured (117).
In other words there is lots to say and lots to admire about this book. As usual, though, I have to think about where and in which ways I can connect Williams’ argument to my other selections. Foucault’s articulation of the “implementation of perversions” –so easily applicable to the history of pornography– is a recurring theme, and can be likened to Cohen’s claim that “deviance” is both brought about and subsequently condemned by the same spider-webbed social and political forces i.e. power. There’s lots of stuff about no-homo penis-play a la Eve Sedgwick (81), as well as connections to the panopticon generally and Mary Douglas’ positing of a symbiotic, chicken-and-egg relationship between social norm and social aberration (35). As with most of these selections, Williams will be a supporting character if she’s featured at all (we’re talking written exam question), but this is one of those books I’m happy to have read due to I am now smarter for having stuck with it. I’ll take that as a win, NOW LET’S WATCH WIPEOUT.
August 2, 2011 § 5 Comments
The above image pretty much summarizes the tone and content of Guyland, which irritated me more than anything I’ve read all summer. There are four “guys” of indeterminate age (late teens? early twenties? who can tell, all white people look alike) guffawing at something –BROS BEFORE HOS LOL LOL– and probably giving each other handjobs just out of frame. Well maybe not that last part, per Kimmel’s emphasis the ostensibly straight homosociality (as opposed to, say, actual queer desire) that exists between the Peter Pans among us. But boy howdy, they sure are having a great time! And with good reason — “boys being boys” is the subject of this book, and while I do appreciate the sentiment behind its writing, Kimmel does a spectacular job re-inscribing precisely the problematic racial (that is to say, insistently non-racialized) discourses described by Richard Dyer in White – throughout the book Kimmel equivocates between white boys and males generally, arguing that all menchildren, no matter their class, geographical origins, sexual orientation, or whatever, must navigate the same semen-frothed waters known as Guyland, which, despite his assertions to the contrary, seems primarily concerned with the behavioral practices of straight, white middle-class boys from “good” families. And not just any straight, white middle-class boys from “good” families, straight, white, middle-class dudebros from “good” families, specifically of the jock and frat-boy variety.
Hypothetically, then, if the book had been titled “Dudebros: The Perilous World Where Douchebags Become Dickheads,” I’d be much less critical, since really, that’s what Kimmel is describing — even then, though, I’d take issue with Kimmel’s methodology, (and/or lack thereof). After all he’s not looking at the behavior of one particular frat or one sports team or one school, but “Guys” generally, with the one caveat that they fall between the ages of 16 and 26. Kimmel gives no indication exactly who his informants are and how/where/when there is or might be deviation from the apparently Universal Norm of “Guyland,” a term so presumptuous I could wear it as a hat and be the best-dressed woman at the Kentucky Fucking Derby. He does at one point suggest that whether or not “guys” (a term he uses to designate all males of a certain age, but as I said pretty clearly refers to a very particularly raced, classed, and gendered body) deliberately embody the expectations of Guyland, their rejection of Guyland still takes Guyland seriously. Which, sure, ok, there are certain tropes of masculinity that can be mapped historically and politically and with which modern men must contend, either positively or negatively. But those tropes are hardly static; by equating “Guys” with everyman, and positing “Guyland” as the only arena for (legitimate/recognized) masculine expression, Kimmel seems to suggest that modern masculinity couldn’t be otherwise — an assertion that veers awfully close to essentialism. Granted, throughout the book he proposes a number of solutions to the myriad problems posed by Guyland, suggesting that we’re not totally doomed, that something can and should be done. But his simultaneous insistence that guys are just that, Guys, all uniformly characterized by the same pathologies (so “Guy” as predicate nominative as opposed to the fatalistic and adjectival claim that “boys will be boys” i.e. boys will behave like assholes and there’s nothing we can do about it so why bother), suggests that males can be reduced to, and therefore equated with, their “Guyness” — which again, flattens the individual subject to some universal/ized/izing object, precisely what white privilege does to and for white people.
But that’s not all that pissed me off about this book. For one thing, Kimmel devotes maybe a paragraph or two –cobbled together throughout the whole book– to teh homosexuality, which apparently doesn’t fit into the essential nature of “Guyness.” The fear of being/seen as gay is a huge part of Guyland, but this fear is just that, concern for what others might (erroneously) think, not embodied queer desire, not even closeted queer desire. Again, if Kimmel had confined his analysis to straight-identifying boys, then fine. But he doesn’t confine his argument; all guys are the same Guys, and apparently being a Guy in Guyland means acting and being straight. His take on women –who have no choice but to live in and abide by the rules of this monolithic Dickville– is just as problematic, at one point actually suggesting that that the only reason girls would haze/harass/”cyber bully” other girls would be to garner favor with “The Guys.” It is certainly the case that many girls and many women reinforce and re-inscribe misogynist stereotypes, and in so doing help reify heterosexist power. But it would be a stretch, if not outright laughable, to say that all young women are solely motivated by some innate desire to be accepted/desired by Guys. Of course, it does help (somewhat) to consider exactly which young women he’s referring to — just as he collapses the category of “male” into that of a specific raced/classed/gendered “Guy,” he’s citing the behaviors of a handful of sorority girls and universalizes those experiences, or to be as charitable as possible, frames them as being instructive beyond basic anecdote.
To reiterate: it’s not that there aren’t massively important questions buried beneath Kimmel’s mounds of mouldering dudebro. It’s that he lumps an entire sex together and calls it “gender.” But sex is not gender. Gender isn’t even always gender, at least, isn’t stable, isn’t a fixed category, isn’t a thing. It’s a process of being in the world as a body. I could not possibly express the appropriate degree of facepalm, the end.
August 1, 2011 § 3 Comments
Yesterday I read White, Richard Dyer’s totally boss examination of media/cultural representations of white people in Western culture. It’s one of those books that everyone (especially whites) should read, as it addresses head on –and more interestingly, provides an heroic historical account of and for– the way in which “whiteness” somehow became “colorless” (as in, only non-whites have a color, and as I have heard many people lament, a culture), resulting in this weird association of whiteness with universality. White (skin, culture, behavior) is unmarked, while everything else demands adjectives; white is the rule, everything else is the exception. It’s a beautifully and engagingly written book, and/but I’m not saying much about it here because I wrote so much in the margins — connections to Mary Douglas, especially, since whiteness is (historically, politically) associated with purity and therefore has built-in protective mechanisms against anything which threatens to sully the proverbial britches. That is, whiteness can exist only in relation to “dirt,” making racism, or at least racial hierarchization, not just inevitable but that which actually sustains (and, ironically, threatens to destroy) the very category.
There’s also quite a bit in Dyer’s argument which I’ll be using in my dissertation, though I won’t say how or in which sections because I don’t like sharing half-baked ideas. Suffice it to say, this is One of Those Books whose reach extends far beyond these stupid exams. The next few books I’m reading will be like that, actually, since as a human I like to get awful/perfunctory/business things out of the way first. Por ejemplo on this list I initially tackled a) the selections I already owned b) the selections I have no interest in ever thinking about again and c) the selections I suspected would frame the actual exam question. I saved the best and most enjoyable for last, and may just indulge myself with less obsessive liveblogging of those, on account of this shit is starting to give me an ulcer.
July 29, 2011 § 3 Comments
When I first started writing about trolls, a professor of mine directed me –of all cockamamie places– towards Freud. Get it because COCKS. I really wish I had one you guys! At the time I had no idea what shape my project would or should or could take, and anyway was fresh off the PhD-acceptance boat and/so was quite naive in terms of theoretical vetting. Consequently I said yes! Sure! Freud, what could possibly go wrong. As it turns out, pretty much everything; it took me all of two paragraphs to realize that Freud simply wasn’t the man for the job. Largely because his schema is excessively general and, simultaneously/paradoxically way too specific. As some guy said in this book one time, “Any model that claims universality will either be tautological or absurd,” and in this case I’d say he’s guilty of both. And yet here I am, 34 years later, not sure whether to laugh or cry at his inclusion on my Symbolic Power list. Oh well, quisiera presentarle a “Freud.”
First, and perhaps most importantly, jokes serve a critical social function. By releasing all our repressed (and apparently perfectly distributed) pent-up libidinal energy, jokes momentarily lift the restrictions that society (whatever that means) has imposed (101-102). Not only is this release inherently pleasurable, it helps maintain cultural order. Because in the end, we’re all just savages. And by “we” I mean men (and by “men” I mean “white”), though I suppose this is also true for those half-human half-devil menstruation goblins with the tragically inside-outed penises occasionally referred to in the literature as “we men.” As I was saying — without jokes, society would fall victim to its own repression and would subsequently disintegrate. Therefore it would be helpful to think of the joke, and the impulse to laugh at jokes, as a kind of cultural release valve. One that taps into what I call a “social unconscious,” that is, the stuff me and my psychoanalyst friends think about and which we subsequently universalize because why wouldn’t we, it’s what we experience and we’re all pretty cool guys!
Verily there are two basic categories of jokes; “innocent” and “tendentious.” Innocent jokes are ends in themselves, bringing pleasure to all who are lucky enough to experience
my such delightful displays of wit and linguistic dexterity! Here, let me run through 40 pages of puns I find amusing. The second category is the tendentious joke, which harnesses the pleasure of transgression and can be divided into three further subgroups, namely smut, hostile jokes and cynical jokes. In the case of smut, it’s basically always about rape! Men are, after all, men! Every last one of them! All the same! So, when a man tells a smutty joke, what he’s really doing is transferring his sexual rape-energy to some female, either present or implied! It’s unclear how this isn’t completely gay, seeing as such jokes often occur in groups of three or more persons, most of whom are men! But I’m Freud, and I say the linguistic gang-bang is heterosexual! It’s also about the symbolic exposure of latent genitals. Which also isn’t gay, even though jokes consequently allow –if not actively encourage!– groups of men to engage in figurative “sword fights,” if you will! (99-102; connect to Sedgwick)! Hostile jokes, on the other hand, are not explicitly about penises. I mean they’re about penises, because ultimately what isn’t about penises, but it’s less in terms of sexual assault as it is socially-sanctioned expressions of frustration. In short, hostile jokes are a way to minimize that which threatens to consume us. They allow one to release the kraken –as well as recruit sympathizers– without actually having to murder one’s enemies, which is most convenient (102-110)! Likewise, cynical jokes allow one, lol jk you know I mean white men, to mock institutions (including, if not especially, those institutions of which we find ourselves a part) with relative impunity. Without such an outlet, we’d probably shoot up every high school within 300 miles! Because we really are just monsters (110-116).
Actually on second thought, all but basic jests are non-tendentious; the vast majority of jokes, even ostensibly “innocent” jokes, seek to accomplish a separate aim, namely recruitment of some form (132-134) and/or to lift a particular prohibition or inhibition. Furthermore the setup is always a triad, consisting of a joke-teller, an audience, and a butt (143; 155). Jokes are always about violence and/or victimization, as the tendentious joke unites joke-teller and joke-hearer against the butt. Oh and jokes are a lot like dreams, what with their tendency to represent, condense and displace actual experience (164). Also a joke is not the same as the comic. One is made and the other is found, who cares, something about mimetics (181). And humor is something else entirely! Did I mention I’m Freud, and can throw in whatever coke-fueled tangent I feel like, just cuz?
And, scene. I simply cannot tell you how much I dislike Freud. And yet I’m not even that interested in fighting with the guy, which along with “I don’t like you as a person” is one of the most cutting things anyone could ever say. It goes without saying that his work is grossly outdated and deeply offensive to women. But it’s also offensive to men, positing one universally acceptable mode of being for everyone. And let’s not forget, this is a guy who manages to pathologize heterosexuality while maintaining steadfast homophobia. You can only lose, which is boring. In terms of the joke work, my reaction is really just … meh. I mean yeah yeah, tendentiousness. Obviously there’s some of that. But his approach doesn’t allow for any movement, any play, any context other than the one which inheres within his particular worldview. In the end, then, and to return to my quotable quote at the beginning of this entry, it’s not that I think Freud is wrong as much as I don’t think he’s particularly interesting. Because even if you do accept his schema, the resulting analysis is reduced to the simple fact that jokes can be aggressive. Which is sort of like — well no shit, making it more a weak assumption than useful conclusion.
July 28, 2011 § 1 Comment
Oh cool, more groundbreaking theory from fifteen years ago! No comment y’all, I just work here. So! Alexander Doty. According to this human, audience and reception theories –as much as they’re able to sidestep certain tiger traps, for example the empty vessel consumption fallacy– are just a wee bit problematic. Remember, according to a&r theories, meaning isn’t some objective thing — meanings inhere within a given audience, and therefore can be extrapolated from those who watch (and how, and why). And this is great and all, definitely a step forward, but as Doty warns, the postulation of a singular, monolithic audience (even a series of singular, monolithic audiences) opens its own can of facepalm. Because which audiences? Audiences delimited by race? Gender? Education level? Occupation? How many audiences are there? Assuming it were even possible to isolate X number of audiences, how might we explain the racial, geographical, class and gender cross-pollination found within these apparently disparate groups? In other words, how do we account for the fact that members of one audience sometimes respond in similar or even identical ways to members of a different audience, and how do we account for the fact that members of the same audience sometimes respond differently to the same thing for entirely different reasons? In an attempt to address slash sidestep slash outsmart slash transcend these issues, Doty proposes a “queer reception practice” that is capable of going where no audience/reception theory could ever hope to go, due to they’re too unwieldy (straight).
But first, he must defend the word “queer” (which 800 years ago or whenever this was written would have been something he needed to defend/define — less so now, “queer” is an acceptable –and often the preferred– Official Academic Term). In Doty’s usage, queer is less an adjective and more an adverb — it is a theoretical approach to texts (again, text is a stupid word) as opposed to some predicate nominative. In this sense, “queer” refers to all facets of non-, anti- and contrastraight cultural content, not just those which are straight gay (lol u see what I did there) (73). Because it embraces –indeed actually seeks out– complexity, queer reception theory is equipped to handle the various manifestations of cultural convergence (for example gay male affinity for straight female stars) that are just too slippery for traditional theoretical approaches. In a gay little nutshell, then, Doty’s account courts “queer” at every corner — any and all texts can be queer regardless of their origins. In fact, he claims, sometimes the straightest narratives are actually the queerest of all (77).
To summarize, queer reception theory functions to expose and explore moments of GLBTQ pleasure and desire (“in” particular texts and/or “in” the particular viewer); GLBTQ modes of production (what actual people are actually up to); how, where, when, why the queerness of a particular texts shift (given external cultural or historical change); how, where, when, why the spectacle of the heteronormative is exploited and/or undermined. The end!
July 28, 2011 § 1 Comment
In this so-seminal-it’s-almost-annoying essay, Stuart Hall (who’s a pretty cool guy, it’s just that encoding/decoding reception stuff is The Matrix of media theory — it was awesome when it first came out but then every stoner you knew started quoting it as if they’d just discovered some truth about reality, man) complicates the (then) traditional understanding of audience reception –which in a nutshell was “producers make a thing and consumers mindlessly accept that thing”– and posits a much more nuanced approach to the production of meaning. On the supply-side, meaning is encoded in and through and by the overlapping categories of production, circulation, distribution, consumption and reproduction, all of which are produced and sustained by ideological turtles either above or below, and which eventually crap out messages to be decoded by the audience (90/508-) (Hall is speaking specifically about television; per the shitty exam schedule I’m pulling the basic and most widely applicable details from his analysis).
On the “consumption” side of the equation, meaning is decoded –thus created– following three basic schemas — the “dominant/hegemonic” mode, the “negotiated” mode and the “oppositional” mode. So like, one might take a text (movie, film, tv show, whatever; also the word “text” is stupid) at face value, that is, engage in a “one to one” ratio of meaning (there is one message; there is one meaning; the message is unmediated and arrives at the viewer’s doorstop unchanged and unchallenged). Another possibility is that of “one-to-several” ratio of meanings, wherein a particular viewer accepts most of the assumptions made by text X but is able to see “the exceptions to the rule” (102/516). In other words, the viewer is well aware that s/he is receiving a transmission from some other entity, and that this entity may not mirror reality but is close enough; although his/her reaction requires a basic acceptance of the ideological ground rules, it also allows for personal experience, insights and/or skillsets to challenge, skew or enhance the intended meaning. The final response is a “one-to-what?” ratio of meaning wherein the intended meaning is harnessed, reinterpreted and sometimes outright reappropriated to meet a particular viewer’s particular needs (101-103/515-517). From this reception standpoint, a viewer may take a “serious” film and decide it’s the greatest comedy ever made. Which is how I watch almost everything I see, because don’t tell me what to do. Above video related, I’m laughing at all the dick jokes Marc Summers doesn’t realize he’s making.
July 27, 2011 § 1 Comment
Kato knows, and likes you just the way you are.
Robyn Wiegman, “Race, Ethnicity and Film”
Per Robyn Wiegman eleven years ago (ugh), the study of race and ethnicity doesn’t constitute a proper field within film studies, at least not compared to, say, feminist film theory which is its own Thing. That said, race and ethnicity are very important in the history of film. But hold the phone y’all because race is not exactly the same as ethnicity, though historically there’s been some crossover. “Race” –what we now describe as race– reduces surfaces to some universal(-izing) essence and creates/maintains hierarchies based on similar. “Ethnicity” indicates specific cultural difference (language, geographical origin) between groups of people. The concept of race is tied up with the concept of stereotypes. Stereotypes are bad. They contribute to role segregation (the good ones all go to whitey) and role stratification (non-white actors are relegated to the margins, reinforcing their status as “Other” in relation to the central, unmarked white). Even the technical aspects of filmmaking reinforce racialized/racist ideologies, for example by equating universalized POV with the white protagonist(s), or shooting a city street scene in which only white bodies are visible (165). Viewers of the film get sucked into the “segregationist logic” as well. Except they can engage in resistant/counter-hegemonic readings. So it’s like give and take, due to postmodernism. Thank goodness identity isn’t a real thing, maybe (contrast with hooks for maximum lulz). Also Richard Dyer wrote an essay about being white. And there’s this other book that’s good. Just some food for thought, the end.
Angela McRobbie, “Postfeminism and Popular Culture”
At a certain point –McRobbie designates 1990 as the watershed moment– it was decided (passive voice very much intended) that feminism did all it needed to do. We won you guys! Girl power! We can do anything boys can do, just with more style and cuter shoes hee hee! Consequently the term itself become –at least in the popular media/imaginary–redundant at best, and at worst something to be actively repudiated (“I mean I believe in equal rights for everyone,” quoth the wide-eyed female college student to her 36 year-old creeper English Lit TA just before he lunges forward and honks her on the ass. “But it’s not like I’m a feminist.”) Far from mourning the mouldering corpse of feminism, McRobbie takes the zombie route and argues that such repudiation actually speaks to its continuing presence and influence — for one thing it wouldn’t make people so mad if it wasn’t simultaneously recognized as a powerful force (same thing as the opposite of love isn’t hate, but indifference). Plus the same discourse out of which the anti-feminist position emerges often –and simultaneously!– smugly touts female empowerment. So it goes with semi-ironic/deliberately sexist ads which both flout and undermine the charge of sexism. “We dare you to call us sexist,” the ads seem to say, and then show us even more tits because that’s what empowerment is all about. Women doing what they want, when they want! And if they happen to be in their underwear while they’re doing it, even better! Because it’s a free country! Who are you to tell me what to do with my vagina! Oh and what, you have a problem with my “Slutty and Proud” t-shirt? Would it be better if I was home cooking dinner for my husband? Pregnant? In an ankle-length knee skirt like some mousey-haired Sister Wife? I don’t know about you, but I’m a modern woman. I own my sexuality, flaunt it if ya got it etc etc (260).
According to McRobbie, such post-feminist rhetoric can be traced to the ubiquitous yet often invisible (or more accurately, taken for granted) freedoms associated with (usually white) (usually straight) middle class privilege. Under this rubric, young women are free not just to do what they want when they want for whatever reasons, they’re also free not to have to think about where their freedoms came from, nor to whom these same freedoms are denied. Ironically, then, (certain) women are able to reject feminism because they have benefited so thoroughly from feminism (hence McRobbie’s claim that post-feminism implies active feminism). And yet at the same moment that feminist ideologies are invoked, they’re repudiated as relics of a bygone era, a so-called “double-entanglement” which is both progressive and regressive — yet denies itself both (256). And then after a two-paragraph summary of Bridget Jones’ Diary, the essay sort of just stops.
July 26, 2011 § 1 Comment
For the last like eleventy days my reading selections have been entire books. And the funny thing about books is, they take a while to read. So then today I decided to mix things up a bit, take on a couple of individual articles, and was like wow! This [insert article name] only took me a half hour to get through, why in the hell didn’t I think about that when writing my lists. It’s like being from California –13 hours’ drive from bottom to top– and taking a trip back east. You hop in a car and 15 minutes later you’ve driven through 6 states, it’s weird. Anyway! Articles.
bell hooks, “Postmodern Blackness”
This article covers similar ground as audre lorde’s “Master’s Tools,” but does so with considerably less trollishness. In a nutshell, postmodernism is just a fancy term for white people –usually white men– weeping over white people’s (usually white men’s) problems. See chin-whiskered crybaby Fredric Jameson, especially his solipsistic bawwfest about the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. hooks points out that, although self-professed postmodernists give lip service to “the Other” and “difference,” the theoretical country club is as white-bread as ever. Black female voices –of which hooks is one– aren’t given much credence, if they’re even acknowledged. So why bother trying? Well, hooks argues, because postmodernism has some useful tools, most notably its ability to unpack essentialist and essentializing discourse — but not if it continues to reinscribe a white supremacist agenda, that is, functions to silence all those voices it professes to champion. (harkening to the mega-balls awesome move by lorde demanding that her white middle class feminist audience confront their own politically problematic behaviors, for example being all like “brown women are people too!” and promptly hiring several of them to watch their babies and clean their houses) In order to remain relevant to actual “Others” (as opposed to the hypothetical Other of postmodern lore), postmodernism must: recognize and explore the importance of identity, engage the lived experience of “difference” and court an “empowering nihilism” amongst displaced or politically alienated populations. Additionally, postmodernists must –if they hope to have any relevance irl and/or if they hope to do good as opposed to what they’ve always done– be willing to practice what they preach. This is a hard thing, for white people! But hooks has faith, and believes that with some conscientious effort, the striking discordance between (white) postmodernism and the actual world as inhabited by humans could at least be challenged.
Jaqueline Bobo, “The Color Purple: Black Women as Cultural Readers”
Bobo’s article is one of those articles that’s hard to read without groaning — not because it’s boring or not smart, but because it’s so dated. Written in 1988, the article considers how and why media audiences have varying experiences with the texts they “consume.” Bobo argues that audiences are far from passive vessels for media content; despite pervasive Frankfurt-type dick arguments to the contrary, audience members create meaning for themselves, based on their own personal experiences and histories. In order to further this claim –and more broadly to help ground her ethnographic account of black women’s relationship towards the film The Color Purple– she provides a detailed account of dominant v. negotiated v. oppositional readings, the culturally constructed “subject,” as well as textual interpolation and Hall’s related conception of “articulation.” At the time, this was groundbreaking stuff. 25 years later, Bobo’s arguments (and the arguments of those whom she cites, including and probably especially Stuart Hall) have been widely, if not universally, adopted by new/media scholars. These days it’s sort of a given that people are interpolated by the texts they engage, and that textual engagement(s) is/are based in part on the experiences the person brings to whatever text, and that people’s readings often challenge or reinterpret or outright hijack the “intended” meaning of whatever media artifact. In other words, in many circles (certainly those with a foot inside digital/fan culture), arguments which simply argue that audiences have a complicated relationship with media are often met with golf claps. Because what else can you say? Other than cool story. Back to Bobo: what she did was awesome, and either forwards or nicely summarizes a series of seriously foundational claims, on whose shoulders I squarely stand. So as history, thumbs way up. As anything else, well. Thumbs still way up.
July 25, 2011 § 1 Comment
Oh my gosh you guys, some things online are racist (WHAT?????). Like fan communities for this one movie called Song of the South, which is all “black people liked being slaves and are happiest when they’re working for white people, who take care of them even after the War of Northern Aggression, because they’re thoughtful like that.” You probably know the film from here, and/or the Splash Mountain ride at Disneyland. It’s super super racist and raises all kinds of problems in terms of online fandom. Because the fans of this film? Some are icky white-power types, some refuse to see the racism, some just really like the story and don’t see what the big deal is because it’s just entertainment, people –which according to Jason Sperb is a counterexample to the oft-repeated claim that fan texts are all about opening people’s minds to new ideas, and also Utopia. Or whatever the claim is, apparently we travel in different corners of the internet. In this case, all people see and talk about is the stuff they choose to see and talk about. This is a problem because of the whole racism thing. Then again it’s tricky because in many cases people aren’t (deliberately) engaging with or condoning the political ideologies. Course you can’t escape politics, it’s just that you may not be aware when you step in a puddle of hegemony. On account of hegemony is designed to be invisible? Anyway. You guys. The fans of Song often just really like the darn thing, which is a tricky thing to theorize. Because again, even though there’s an implicit argument beneath all that affect, it’s not the kind of argument that makes itself visible. So what should we do? Disney sure doesn’t care, going so far as to turn a blind eye to the more vocal (gross/racist) supporters of the film, because the company stands to turn a profit. Capitalist pigs! But racism is really bad, so we should be careful not to get too caught up in people’s affective responses. The stories might be warm and fuzzy (“it reminds me of my childhood, before mama died, back when papa didn’t drink so much”) but the text itself embodies the worst kind of racist and therefore political ideologies. I mean just because it’s touching doesn’t mean it’s not also offensive. But just because it’s offensive doesn’t mean it can’t also be complicated, and possibly even a teachable moment. So it’s important not to shy away from ambivalent spaces online on account of there’s a lot to learn about fan behavior and we shouldn’t just focus on the shiny happy examples.