context is yr pal

Anyone who’s ever read this blog or listened to me talk for more than ten minutes probably knows I love me some feminist cultural studies. Even when I’m drunk. Especially when I’m drunk, sometimes. A friend of mine found this out the other night when we were discussing horror movies and he happened to ask what I thought of Twilight. I believe my response was roughly along these lines: “FUCK THAT ABUSIVE-RELATIONSHIP-ROMANTICIZING ANTI-WOMAN FUCKING BULLSHIT, TELLING SOMEONE THEY’RE YOUR PERSONAL BRAND OF HEROIN IS FUCKING CREEPY AS ALL GET OUT” and on and on for quite some time. I think we eventually changed the subject to Xasthur or something, which was good because otherwise my head might have exploded.

Anyway: so I like feminist cultural studies, but sometimes I don’t like reading feminist cultural studies stuff on the internet. The main reason for that is regularly seeing analyses that are may very well be well-thought-out and accurate, but lack any sense of context.

Some examples:

1. This post by Lisa Wade at Sociological Images, which shows that a black doll being sold at Wal-Mart costs less than a white doll. Wal-Mart claims they were just trying to move inventory, pricing the black doll lower when it didn’t sell as well. I agree with her conclusion: “Companies make and sell products in a context. Following market demands is not opting out; often, it reproduces the status quo.” However, I was honestly kind of baffled by this:

Walmart, however, could have chosen, in this case, to opt out of profit maximization. The market isn’t physics; a company doesn’t have to follow its laws. Walmart could have said, “You know, putting the dark-skinned doll on sale symbolically values whiteness higher than blackness. Perpetuating that stereotype isn’t worth the money.” That is, they could have decided that anti-racism trumped profits.

Yes, in theory, that could have happened. But consider Wal-Mart’s track record with any kind of ethical concerns, especially when those concerns are at odds with maximizing profits. Is it really a big shocker that they were being racially insensitive?

2. Some of the recent talk on the feminist bloggernetz about Lady Gaga and Beyonce’s joint video “Telephone”. Some of the criticisms I can get behind: the “no, really, I don’t have a peener” stripdown at the beginning (nooooo! Lady, why do you have to succumb to idiotic pressure to prove you’re a Real Woman(TM)?), the clumsy and obvious product placement (if you’re gonna do that, go all out, Wayne’s World style). What I don’t understand are people who are shocked, shocked at the B-movie-ish “sexy women’s prison” theme. Yes, there are many things to criticize about that trope. But considering the weird kidnapping narrative in “Bad Romance” and the cop fetish in “LoveGame,” is it really surprising that Gaga (or her handlers/production team) would choose such a plotline?

3. When I was on Livejournal, I was in one of the feminist communities. Every year, around Christmas, someone would post something along the lines of “hey, isn’t ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ a little date-rapey?” My answer was: yes, that song does kind of creep me out, but so do many beloved popular standards from that era. (I stated this once and was immediately warned by a moderator for “minimizing.” Have I mentioned how little I care for concerns about people’s tender feelings when it comes to intra-feminist debates? Just stating that again, here).

I want to stress that my issue is not with fact that people were making critiques of the things I mentioned. I personally think it’s a good thing to have your analytical brain on all the time. Hell, I hate Wal-Mart, I would be happy if I never again heard “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” and although I have a guilty love of Lady Gaga’s public persona (yeah, yeah, shut up) I sometimes think she is trying way too hard to be shocking. What annoyed me about those critiques was that they seemed to treat their subjects (Wal-Mart’s racism, Gaga’s prison fetish, the creepiness of “Baby It’s Cold Outside”) as surprising anomalies when, considering their context, they’re not surprising at all. To use my last example, I think it’s a lot more constructive to say something like “‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ is one of many examples in popular music where the woman in the song is portrayed as needing to be wheedled into a romantic encounter, which is sexist and annoying,” than to say “Man, that one song is really sexist! If only people would stop popularizing that one song!”

Considering context is a key part of creating oppositional strategies. Certainly, it’s good to get pissed at certain songs, movies, and public figures making idiotic statements, but remember that what they’re expressing isn’t usually the isolated ravings of a moron. That shit is usually part of a larger pattern of assholery, and needs to be addressed on that level as well.

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~ by Smellen on March 14, 2010.

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