Monday, June 27, 2011

Jam Sesh

I will be traveling across the treacherous Atlantic seas come September, to our Statue of Liberty’s homeland (and will blog about it, worry you not). In honor and preparation of my bon voyage, I have been reading about French women and food, feasting my eyes on the country’s finest drawings, and listening to Carla Bruni. Though I have not yet familiarized myself with her full discography, I’ve recently downloaded the album Quelqu’un M’a Dit, which does not disappoint. If the beautiful language was not enough to make me swoon, Bruni sings her sweet and sad melodies with a voice that is intimate and soothing and evokes a slow curiosity. With her songs, I can celebrate the sun, cry quietly, look through old photos, or dance my pants off with small and happy steps. Perhaps the transformative quality I sense in her music is partly due to the fact that I understand nothing of what she’s saying. I should probably begin to use Google Translate. But, I think I’ll wait a bit longer to let the mystery linger…

Enjoy a nice tune off the aforementioned album!

To make up for Jam Sessions lost in the midst of springtime, I would like to present a second artist. Lulu and the Lampshades initially caught my attention with this video, which remains to be one of my favorite Youtube gems. They have released just a few songs (so catch 'em before they're hot), and I assure you they will make you want to sing and frolic in an open field of fresh strawberries. And aren’t lovely harmonies all we really need in the summer?

Peace, Love, and Jams,


Sunday, June 19, 2011

I REALLY hate this guy...

If you're not familiar with the story of Roman Polanski, he's a highly successful Polish-French director who's won Oscars and all kinds of other awards. He was also accused of raping a 13-year-old girl more than thirty years ago, and after pleading guilty to the charges of unlawful sex with a minor, he fled the country to avoid harsh sentencing. In 2009, the U.S. asked Switzerland for his extradition when Polanski arrived in an airport there, but the Swiss government refused, making Polanski a free man who's managed to avoid punishment for his crime. If you want more information, The New York Times has a concise version of the whole thing here.

I tried to upload a YouTube video where this REALLY COOL guy talks about the whole thing, but it wouldn't work so here's the URL:

Just another sad example of the patriarchy hurting our ladies...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Ya Killin' Me, HuffPost.

The Huffington Post is on a role this week posting (in my opinion) not so great articles targeting women within their recently added headline subsection 'Women'.  Topics include: fashion, cooking/homemaking, diets, love, lust, marriage, etc. Because women aren't interested in anything else, right?  Oh, wait, there's an article about the gender wage gap, but they blame the issue on the inability of women to negotiate for what they want, and their answer is for women to be more like their male coworkers (but not too much or you'll seem pushy).  Classic double bind. But, my favorite is this one.  Watch out, ladies. If you have sex too early, you might never be able to hold onto a man, AND WHAT COULD BE WORSE THAN THAT?!

Happy reading,

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

They're all covered in mud!

The Real L Word?

Did anyone happen to catch Showtime's new season of The Real L Word on Sunday? The show’s first season followed the lives of high-profile LA lesbians: their relationships, their social interactions, their careers. While it was a bit racy at times, it didn’t compare with this season’s blatant and seemingly unnecessary sex scenes, full-on nude shots, and a general focus on sex that wasn’t present last season. After finishing an episode, you’re left with that icky feeling when you’ve seen something that should have been private.

I’m confused by the show, because I always thought it catered to women. Turns out this season seems to be more catered to men. Many of the women I know who watch porn like the story and the build-up; they don’t immediately want to see two women having sex, but would rather see what comes before the sex and then see the sex. The Real L Word’s sex scenes often occur suddenly and without warning. In one scene, two of the characters are in a car driving to one woman’s house, and all of a sudden they’re having sex, with nothing blurred out, and the audience sees everything. I mean everything. It’s uncomfortable to watch and not in the least sexually appealing, at least to me or the two other women with whom I watched the show. The sex scenes don’t show any kind of emotional interaction or affection, but rather hook-ups whose graphic nature disturbs the flow of the show.

In The Hollywood Reporter’s interview with the show’s co-creators, Ilene Chaiken and Jane Lipsitz, both claim that sex is used to demonstrate to the audience the depth of some of the relationships on the show so that the audience has a truer picture of these relationships. In response to a question about where the line is between using a sex scene to tell a story versus using it for shock value, Lipsitz comments:

“Without getting incredibly graphic, I feel like it’s the context of the sex scenes. In the first episode, Sara represented the forbidden fruit for Whitney and to make that point resonate we showed a sex scene.[1]

I understand where she’s coming from with this comment; sex is an important part of life and the relationship she’s referring to in the show was based largely on the sex. However, what about the scene where one character is masturbating after the women she liked had sex with someone else? The scene had no relevance to the rest of the show; an interview beforehand expressing the character’s feelings would have sufficed. How about another scene where one character is about to get in the shower and the camera follows her walk to the bathroom so the audience sees her entirely naked? What’s the point of that shot? To show that lesbians have breasts and vaginas too? I was watching the show with my mom and sister and all three of us were confused and disgusted by these scenes. It feels voyeuristic and wrong to see something so personal on a show that follows the lives of real women, with real jobs, desires, and relationships. I realize that they signed up for the show, and I’m not opposed to porn, but porn for the sake of porn is one thing; real women being portrayed largely in terms of only their sexual relationships and desires feels wrong to me. This portrayal ignores many of the other things that make them individuals and their relationships interesting and unique.

What offends me so much about this season is that it overly-sexualizes lesbians in a society where women, and often lesbians, are already extremely sexualized. Every man’s fantasy is to see two girls doing it, and with The Real L Word, these dreams become a reality! While the show claims to illustrate the reality of being a lesbian in a big city, is this truly reality or simply the same stereotype about gay women that we still can’t seem to shake?

Some Light Thinking for 2 a.m.

Why is it that women feel the need to be so many people’s caretakers? I’d like to think that it’s a just an unrealistic oppressive stereotype to justify our patriarchal society. However, it seems to be quite truthful. I’m often witness to it, and guilty of it. But I can’t help to sense a double standard in this. It seems so normal for women to want to please everyone around them; the famous, “I can’t say no.” But as sought-after this quality is to men (and to Hollywood), it also seems to be the root of nagging, which women are strongly criticized for. If women aren’t nurturing, their femininity is undermined, but being too nurturing considers them to be suffocating.

Please comment with some insight. I feel that I’m missing something big here, and I’d like to analyze this further. And you, beautiful readers, are just the people to help!

In the meantime, I’ll be enjoying the cool spring temperatures that have been gracing my side of Pennsylvania and thinking about how much more often I should be posting on here.

Lots of love and lots of jam,


Friday, June 3, 2011

Rockin' Feminism: Ellen Willis

Lately, I've had numerous discussions about the daunting task of analyzing pop culture, more specifically pop music, from a feminist standpoint.  While I understand how inherently influential pop culture is in our society, attempting to analyze every bit of what we see on television or hear on the radio or read in a magazine seems to be such an exhausting and overwhelming undertaking.  And with songs out like Katy Perry's "E.T." (with lyrics such as 'Wanna be a victim/ Ready for abduction'), I often feel discouraged by the messages pop culture seems to be sending and wonder if its even worth our time.  But, perhaps my mentality is flawed.  Maybe such analyzes are necessary, and I'm just being unjustifiably pessimistic.  Many influential feminist writers, in particular, Ellen Willis, have devoted their lives to dissecting pop culture under a feminist microscope.  

I wish to center this post around Willis, as she seems to slap my idea, of the unworthiness of pop music of critical analysis in terms of its societal relevance, in the face. 

Ellen Willis is known as the first true pop music critic.  Her column in The New Yorker was the first of its kind as she dove deeply into the works Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, The Rolling Stones, Cat Stevens, etc.  Her writings are the offspring resulting from the marriage of her greatest passions: her infatuation of popular music and her social and political activism, grounded largely in her engagement with feminism.  Willis respected pop culture as a tool for political and social movements; her criticisms were deeply rooted in genuine appreciation for the artists and their work.  Her critiques illuminated the cultural relevance of rock music and were accessible to both general music enthusiasts as well as sophisticated artistic scholars.  Willis catapulted music into the prestigious halls of artistic criticism.

She is quoted as saying, "Popular culture carries the burden of our emotions about race, feminism, sexual morality, youth culture, wealth, competition, exclusion, a physical and social environment that feels out of control."

One of Willis' ideas that I find most interesting is that an artist's persona is their fundamental creation.  Much of her writing focused on who the artist was and how the 'self' is reflected in one's music.   This concept is especially apparent in her critiques of Bob Dylan as she writes, "Dylan is... shaped by personal and political nonconformity, by blues and modern poetry. He has imposed his commitment to individual freedom (and its obverse, isolation) on the hip passivity of pop culture... His songs and public role are guides to survival in the world of the image, the cool, and the high. And in coming to terms with that world, he has forced it to come to terms with him." She captures the introspective nature of Dylan's music; an element often over looked by fans and even other critics.  Of Janis Joplin, Willis says, "Look, this (rock) is a boy’s genre, and here’s this woman who comes in and flaunts her subjectivity and makes her own personality. She’s not simply playing with the band, Connie Francis style… This is a feminist act."  Willis explains Joplin's empowering construction of her 'self'.  On the other hand, while Willis was able to love Patti Smith as a rock-and-roll heroine, she criticized her identity. She claimed Smith’s “androgynous, one-of-the guys image” was problematic. “Its rebelliousness is seductive, but it plays into a kind of misogyny that consents to distinguish a woman who acts like one of the guys (and is also sexy and conspicuously ‘liberated’) from the general run of stupid girls.”  It is analyzes like these that encouraged critical thinking about what our music was saying about the artists who created it and what it meant for us as individuals and as a society.

Okay, enough Ellen Willis praise.  Lucky for all of you, NPR has a way of consistently publishing stories that are strangely relevant to my life, so for a more comprehensive look of Willis' work, see the full article here.  She also wrote extensively on pro-sex feminism and reproductive rights and a whole bunch of other awesome stuff that I don't have to time get into.  Google her.

Anyway, I'm curious if such a concept (the significance of the artist's self) is still alive today?  I mean that was the 60s, what about current pop culture?  Is it worth taking seriously?  Does music have the same cultural relevance as it did then?  If so, what do 'artists' like Rihanna or Lady GaGa say about our society?  What kind of 'self' is reflected in their music?  Can 'S&M' be seen as empowering or strictly objectifying?  Is it all about perception? 

Clearly, I have many questions, and I want to hear your thoughts.

Do we need a Ellen Willis-esque critic today? Someone to delve deeply into pop culture and find deeper meaning (if there is one) in our music.  If so, who's up for the challenge?

Stay funky,