Lady Gaga, as seen through the lens of de Certeau

The picture above Gaga meat suit.jpgshows pop star Lady Gaga wearing her famous meat suit to the 2010 VMAs. This is a stunt that is very typical of this A-list celebrity; in fact, it is the platform upon which she builds her brand. Gaga is known for deviating from normal pop culture trends, and, this could be argued from two views. Horkheimer and Adorno would argue that she is just another pop star that is being used as a commodity purely for our consumption, but in reality she is an individualistic artist that creates art to evoke an emotional response.

The brand that Gaga represents is unprecedented. She is a very talented musical artist that produces ordinary pop music. But, what makes Gaga stand out is the image that she represents outside of her song lyrics. The visual art that she produces such as music videos, live performances, and live appearances clash with the normality and familiarity of the music that she produces. Her music is typically described as upbeat, lively music with a catchy chorus that would win a spot in the top chart for popular music. This same description could be applied to Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, or Britney Spears. What makes Gaga unique, however, is the juxtaposition of her music versus her image and the visual art she presents. This would qualify Lady Gaga as a pioneer in her field, although there is still the overbearing domination of popular culture that is governed by the  capitalism enforced by large industries.

Some would argue that Gaga is not producing true art because her products are produced to be consumed by the media and popular culture. Horkheimer and Adorno would argue that, although her style seems to deviate from the established normality, it is actually just a variation of normal pop culture that is already defined. Her music contributes to large music industry corporations, and no matter what style she represents, they would define her as still a part of this mass culture industry. This would not place Gaga on the outside of the normality, but on the contrary, her music and style would fit perfectly into the established social hierarchy that is defined by large corporations in dominating industries. Although this is true in some cases, it does not apply to Gaga. Instead of complying with established normality, Gaga deliberately defies these implicit regulations. This is more accurately defined by the de Certeau’s theory of strategy and tactic.

De Certeau would describe the position of Gaga as using “tactic,” which opposed the “strategy” that is enforced by mass media. This means that although capitalism exerts an overbearing force on modern art and music, Gaga is exploiting this to her benefit in order to enhance her reputation. Her famous stunts, such as the meat suit, are either protests that bring awareness to the populace, or they are just pure art that is intended to evoke an emotional response. Although Gaga does not dominate the popular culture industry, her aesthetic combined with her musical talents deviates from the norm, and subverts the established system that attempts to govern the populace.

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The Tactics of a Vacation

Vacations are a lot of fun. They are guaranteed to us in both school and work. Most students and workers also get some portion of the week off, in the United States this is known as the weekend. We look forward to these periods as an escape from the daily routine of our lives. Instead of working, we do stuff that we want to do (I use working to mean both the daily routine of workers and students). Applying Certeau, it can be said that working is a strategy employed by capitalism, while weekends and vacations are tactics used to subvert the capitalist need for work. However, these vacations are a false tactic given to us in order to further cement the foundation of capitalism within society.

Capitalism is no longer how Marx described it. Marx based his theories of capitalism on the notion of labor time of a worker in a factory. For example, someone in a factory would work for eight hours per day, five days per week. This is not applicable to the labor time of middle/upper class white-collar workers. Professions that fit into this categorization include professors, programmers, architects, and lawyers.  Franco Berardi, an Italian philosopher, called this new form of capitalism “semiocapitalism.” Labor time is no longer bound by when one punches in and out. Instead, people within these jobs are always working. They are given long-term projects where it is expected that they bring their work home. It is impossible to divorce the work in these professions during periods of rest as their labor is cognitive in nature.

Since work can no longer be delineated within hours per day, vacations are no longer vacations. How we treat vacations has now changed. People bring their work with them when they take a vacation as they are forced to. Additionally, there is a decline in the amount of paid vacation time used (Langfield). There is a mentality that it is shameful to take a vacation. Yet, people still look at vacations as an escape, even if they are not really used. They are now a false promise. This shows that vacations cannot be considered a viable tactic as it is not used as it was once intended. Vacations are thus a calculated concession on the part of capitalist institutions.

Even if one takes a “typical vacation,” this act feeds into the mass production of cultural goods. People go on vacations and support capitalist systems. This is evident if one goes to Disneyworld, or as Jamaica Kincaid pointed out, visits a foreign place. People go to these places to escape their lives, yet as depressing as it sounds, there is no escape in semiocapitalism. Horkheimer and Adorno offer a much more compelling explanation of culture that can be applied to vacations. The culture industry is consumed during these vacations. This culture industry is then used to make the capitalist means of production stronger. For example, Disney produced movies that became ingrained within American culture, and then people go and visit Disneyworld during their vacation. These movies fit into the mold of cultural goods produced for the masses. Other features of the culture industry, such as televised sports events, are targeted for consumption over the weekend and are used as a vehicle to promote commercialization. Not only do people not take their vacation time, but also when they do, they only make capitalism stronger by participating in the culture industry.

Capitalism has evolved to form a positive feedback loop by using vacations as a false means of escape from its system. Vacations are not tactics as a true tactic would require subversion of a system. However, typical vacations are still trapped within capitalism, ultimately showing that it is very hard to escape from this system.  I do believe that the points outlined above can very well explain why there are people in their mid-twenties to late thirties that quit their jobs and decide to vacation for an extended period of time. It can also be used to show why so many more people want to work in Silicon Valley as opposed to Wall Street. Some questions to consider would be where do traditional workers fit within this analysis? Is there an example of a vacation that can be used as a tactic against the system of capitalism?

Works Cited

Langfield, Amy. “Unused Vacation Days at 40-year High.” CNBC. 23 Oct. 2014. Web. 8 Dec. 2015. <http://www.cnbc.com/2014/10/23/unused-vacation-days-at-40-year-high.html&gt;.

FEEL THE VAPOR

If you’re not familiar with the musical genre Vaporwave, you probably don’t have anything to worry about. It’s not necessarily a “real thing.” This musical phenomenon brought on through the minds of mostly amateur producers on their various digital audio workstations has become sort of a meme on some parts of the internet. For a brief example, if you’d like one, I suggest that you watch/ listen to this:

This is probably the most popular (in a very subjective sense of the word) Vaporwave track around right now. But nobody would really be surprized if after experiencing the vapor you are still left wondering what exactly you just listened to or looked at. The heart of (and joke of) the whole genre is centered on “aesthetic,” often stylized A E S T H E T I C. Much of vaporwave is actually supposedly based on anti-consumerist ideals and uses imagery and soundbites from “easy listening” or muzak from the late 80s early 90s in a distorted fashion to expose its artificiality or lead listeners to think about things in a new light. The material that these artists edit and distort is often pulled from similar sources, notably roman sculpture, early digital art, advertisements and japanese characters. The latter two are interesting to examine. Colonialism, like consumerism, is one of the tennants adopted by many “imperialistic” nations, like the US, France, and UK, thus one begins to see connections to be found between these two things. Through colonialism and its derivative forms, we see the integration of the principles of the colonizing nation into the consciousness of the nation being colonized. Japan is certainly an example of the products of American colonialism. Both Japan and South Korea are the two east asian nations that the west sees as the most “civilized” i.e. western i.e. similar to “us,” and less like countries like China or North Korea (“them”). This is alrgely because of our military history with these two countries. Japan was invaded and partially destroyed during WWII, and occupation forces remained there for many years after as the US so graciously helped build the country in our image. South Korea was an area of interest to us once the threat of communism began to spread, and was our ally/ protectorate during the Korean War. We similarly have provided aid to them since to create a buffer with the hostile communist forces in the north. It is for this reason that these nations have developped to be more similar to the west; we have made them that way.

So back to the topic at hand: Vaporwave. Most of those producing this music are American, so their use of katakana is appropriation in its own right, but with a certain purpose in mind. As previously stated, this music was made as a sort of reaction to the hyper-consumerism that some see in the west today, so in order to point out the artificiality of all this, material from these countries that we have effectively colonized is used to show the extent to which this was taken. Especailly by showing footage of what previous decades were like, we as a modern audience are made even more aware of the surreal nature surrounding these advertisements. And while we are not necessarily in a position to judge, we get from this a sense of the artificiality: Is this “real” asian culture?

Another example here illustrates this point. SAINT PEPSI or as he is now know, Skylar Spence, has compiled snippets of japanese television ads in this music video (and yes, if anyone is aware of this, this is technically “Future Funk,” but is nonetheless a sort of subgenre of Vaporwave). Amid the majority of japanese faces, we also see many white ones. This really overtly shows the idealization of western culture. In thses advertisements, people are sold not only clothes, but a certain lifestyle: that of white westerners.

The semi-colonization of these nations is something that we generally take for granted, or perhaps fail to notice because of its convenience; because of the military origins of these pseudocolonies mean that we have two democratic allies halfway across the globe that are economically some of the most influential countries in the area, aside, or course, from China. And while these modern musical genres may not be taken seriously by many (myself included) it is certainly important to consider the significance of their message: while our life may be good, there are negative implications of producing so much that is in reality empty.

Wu-Tang Clan: Master Martial Artists or Dojo Dummies?

There are parallels to be drawn between the Wu-Tang Clan’s incorporation of Chinese martial arts films and Edward Said’s analysis of Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park, Jane Austen and Empire. More specifically, we must compare the Wu-Tang Clan’s treatment of the film to Austen’s treatment of Antigua. The comparison reveals that both the Wu-Tang Clan and Austen are guilty of exploiting foreign ideas and cultures in their art — for better or worse.

We must look at the sense of morality employed by the Wu-Tang Clan and Austen respectively. Said contends that Austen views Antigua as an entity that is “‘out there’ that frames the genuinely important action here, but not for a great significance” (1122). Said is alluding to a sort of disrespect here, arguing that Austen is using Antigua inappropriately. He is essentially saying that Austen is compounding the view that the island merely symbolizes Bertrams’ drive for property and wealth without playing an actually significant, telling role within the plot. It is tempting to make a similar conclusion concerning the Wu-Tang Clan’s use of Chinese martial arts films – is the rap group’s use of audio clips from the films enough to show proper appreciation, rather than wrongful appropriation?

The Wu-Tang Clan’s entrance into the rap scene was explosive and remarkable, to say the least. With the release of their first album, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), the group showcased all of its unique, appealing personalities through hard-hitting vocals and memorable lyricism. It was a winning combination, with the group from New York building upon the strong foundation they received from the album’s critical success to become one of the most legendary rap groups in history.

But a big part of the album’s success was its heavy incorporation of Chinese martial arts films. Even the title of the album is a reference to the 1978 movie The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. This was a new feature to say the least – mainstream rappers had never before looked to east Asian influences to include in their music. (Though this nuance appeared less frequently in the group’s later work, one member of the Wu-Tang Clan, RZA, directed his own martial arts film based in China, in 2012: The Man with the Iron Fists.)

Each song on Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) incorporates some sort of element from a Chinese martial arts movie. For example, the introductory song begins with a few words of speech from the 1983 film Shaolin and Wu Tang (hence the group’s title, Wu-Tang Clan):

The words, exactly, are:

“Shaolin shadowboxing and the Wu-Tang sword style. If what you say is true, the Shaolin and the Wu-Tang could be dangerous. Do you think your Wu-Tang sword can defeat me?”

“En garde, I’ll let you try my Wu-Tang style.”

The speech here is well used. It sets a violent, in-your-face tone; what follows are gruesome lyrics over an abrasive instrumental, as group member RZA urges listeners to “Bring da motherfucking ruckus”.

Take the seventh track on the album, “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta Fuck Wit” for example, too. The first words heard on it come from the 1977 Chinese martial arts film Executioners from Shaolin: “Tiger Style!” This is a reference to a fighting technique. Again, the matching aggressiveness that follows is obvious – just look at the track’s title. RZA, in this instance, goes on to instruct fellow group member Method Man: “Hah! Lebonon, step up, boy! Represent! Chop his head off, kid!”

The Wu-Tang Clan, with their first album, knew they only had one coming-out party. They wanted to be ‘out there’ and give the rap scene (at least New York City’s) a product that was never experienced before. They went about doing this by being ultra-aggressive, and introducing this style with confrontational, violent words from Chinese martial arts films. They could have used an endless amount of quotes from American films, but looking to a place as far away as China for such inspiration was never done before. It was another note of uniqueness, and it worked marvellously. The album sold, and was received extremely well.

All that said, it is not known which came first: the Wu-Tang Clan’s obsession with Chinese martial arts films, or their aggressive music? If the aggressive music resulted from their obsession to recreate the tone from these films that they enjoyed, then I would consider that rightful appreciation. If they were aggressive to begin with and merely tacked on the quotes from the films to add an exotic feature, then that would constitute wrongful appropriation.

There is some serious grey area here – we do not know if their intentions came from a place of genuine admiration. As aforementioned, RZA went on to direct a martial arts film but the Wu-Tang Clan’s incorporation of Chinese martial arts films subsequently decreased. The violent words of Shaolin fighters made rather more erratic appearances in their discography following the release of Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).

The thin line between proper appreciation and wrongful appropriation continues to exist in the hip-hop industry today. The Wu-Tang Clan were not the first to call upon an earlier time to influence their music – it is believed that rappers’ diss tracks (in which they purposefully insult and degrade other rappers) originated from the popular, playful game “the Dozens”, which involved individuals from impoverished Black communities trading insults until one quit and a winner emerged. More recently, the now renowned Drake has attracted controversy for his covers of songs “Sweeterman” and “Ojuelegba”. In both, he speaks patois, the Jamaican slang language, though he has no Jamaican heritage. Moreover, the song “Ojuelegba” is actually Nigerian in origin.

Clearly, the conversation is there to be held in the present day, as well.

 

Works Cited

Said, Edward. “Jane Austen and Empire.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004.

 

AA on AA

affirmativeaction-350.jpg

Affirmative action is often misunderstood, especially on college campuses.

Stepping back to look at the history behind affirmative action…. the policy, crafted in the 1960’s, was meant to decrease discrimination and inequality in educational institutions and job applications. Initially, it was created under President Kennedy in an attempt to address the discrimination that Blacks still faced in society.

The process is still evident in college admissions processes and in the job market today.

So why, when the policy became more and more prevalent, did the universities’ populations become 10-15% Asian Americans while the same ethnic group constituted only 3% of the general American population? With such a huge amount of their offspring being educated at higher learning institutions, Asian Americans should be thrilled? Right??????? Wrong. The ethnic group often referred to as the “model minority” due to their academic success and social behavior quickly became split on the effects of the policy. In fact, there is a huge disconnect between Asian Americans’ stance on affirmative action.

It was all fun and games until the institutions realized the growing amount of Asian students began to heavily outweigh other minorities. Overly qualified Asian applicants began to be denied from institutions solely because they were Asian and the institutions wanted to leave room for underrepresented minorities. **Cue the problems**

The denied Asian American students jumped on the anti-affirmative action movement with the white students that saw their rejection as a result of their race as well. This division of the ethnic group, along with the whites, began to see themselves as victims of affirmative action. The whites’ use of Asian Americans in their anti-affirmative actions advertisement and marches pitted the Asian American ethnic group against other minority groups such as the blacks and Hispanics. If the deeper-rooted issues in the Asian American ethnic group are addressed, “it represents greater political opportunity to affiliate with the other groups whose cohesions may be based on other valences of oppression” (Lowe). Rather than choosing sides, the inequalities in each group should be acknowledged and addressed in order to relate to the struggles of other minority ethnic groups, such as blacks and Hispanics. Through their eyes, affirmative action only benefitted blacks and Hispanics and hurt qualified Asian Americans.

In reality, the Asian American ethnic group was being homogenized. Lowe exerts that, “we (Asian Americans) are perhaps even more different, more diverse, among ourselves” (Lowe). “Asian Americans” encompass individuals from different generations, cultures, nationalities, tongues, and histories. Giving all of these individuals one box that puts them in one category homogenizes the group and oversimplifies their widespread backgrounds. While Chinese Americans suffered from affirmative actions, Pacific Islanders and Southeast Asian segments of the “Asian box” on applications was severely underrepresented. These students came from rougher, underprivileged backgrounds and didn’t have the same opportunities as other Asian American groups.

So what is the answer? Should there be more than one “Asian” box on applications to ensure the acknowledgment of every subaltern group in the Asian American ethnic group? Is affirmative action an effective way to bring a diverse student body? How much is too much of one ethnic group?

In all honesty, the overarching question is this: why is it expected for all Asian Americans to have the same opinion on affirmative action? More often than not, Asian Americans come from many different backgrounds, countries, and families. Their heritage, tradition, language, and age can alter their view, so to think that they would all have the same perspective is preposterous and only proves Lowe’s point homogenizing the American Asian ethnic group is a misrepresentation of the group as a whole, which is comprised of many unique and different individuals

 

 

Work Cited

Lowe, Lisa. “Heterogeneity, Hybridity, Multiplicity: Marking Asian American Differences.” N.p., n.d. Web.

“What Exactly Is Affirmative Action?” Affirmative Action : Asian-Nation. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2015. <http://www.asian-nation.org/affirmative-action.shtml&gt;.

GBF: How Different Forms of Homosexuality Function in the Modern Patriarchy

gbf movie soundrack image

One popular trend that originated in the 90’s is the concept of a Gay Best Friend. A Gay Best Friend, or GBF, defined in today’s context, is a male-born homosexual that now expresses feminine qualities. These feminine qualities may often be exaggerated. A Gay Best Friend implies an extravagant, theatrical, and stylish individual. Because of these characteristics, Gay Best Friends are desired for their utility. They serve the purpose of providing friendship for feminine women over common ground such as shopping, style and gossip. This highly coveted relationship seems identical to a female homosocial relationship, but it is structurally very different in that the GBF is accessorized rather than appreciated.

The idea of a Gay Best Friend arises from women’s desire for a mock homosocial relationship. Since they typically express femininity, there is much common ground shared between the female and the Gay Best Friend. The most distinct quality of a Gay Best Friend is the manner in which they behave. A Gay Best Friend provides a woman with a secure, platonic relationship with a masculine figure, without the social pressure for a romantic or sexual relationship. Also, the Gay Best Friend usually expressed exaggerated versions of their perception of femininity. Women often covet these hyper feminizations because they often express dominating features, which are typically coveted by a woman who is disheartened by the oppressive forces of the patriarchy.

All self-identified homosexual people are subjected to the patriarchal-based homophobia that exists in modern society. In the case of homosexual men especially, the line between homosexuality and homosociality is very distinct, and this can be explained by the necessity of homophobia set by the patriarchal mechanism of heterosexual relationships (Sedgwick 698). Homosexual males threaten the foundation of this structure and because of this, the social presence of homosexuality has become taboo. This inspires a lack of confidence and fosters embarrassment of their sexual orientation. The Gay Best Friend differs in that they hold confidence in their sexuality. Some people may distastefully label them “flamboyant”, but, to some this may just translate so confidence. This differentiates them from other homosexual individuals, because their considerably “disagreeable” lifestyles should cause them to oppress their sexual tendencies, but instead they choose to take pride in both their sexual and gender identities. This is what differentiates a stereotypical Gay Best Friend from other homosexual males.

So, you would think that they would closely identify with females through their gender expression, and sexual preferences right? Actually, the answer is no. Although they express feminine qualities, Gay Best Friends structurally serve a different purpose than females in society. Homosexual individuals lie as outcasts in the patriarchal model whereas females serve the purpose of being the submissive companion for masculine men. A GBFs attempt to express their perception of feminine characteristics often tend to be a dominating form of the already existing social-norms expected of women. For instance, the “edgy” or ”sassy” presumption associated with Gay Best Friends is actually more masculinized in contrast to the expected “docile” and “submissive” nature of females. This quality is the basis of a structural difference that exists between the female and the Gay Best Friend. So, even though women and GBFs share similar mentalities, the ideologies forced upon them cause them to be structurally different individuals that serve different functions in society.

So, taking into account all of the different functions each gender and sex serve, there is not a comfortable place in the patriarchy for the Gay Best Friend. They are forced into a limited and foreign category, one that consequentially caricaturizes their assumed qualities and accessorizes the essence of their being. This result is a trendy, superficial desire for individuals who express these qualities while overlooking the patriarchal oppressive forces that are exerted upon them.

Janet Mock, as seen through Judith Butler and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

Judith Butler’s careful consideration of trans individuals in relation to her theory of gender as an “act” brings me to the case of Janet Mock, a prominent trans woman who has garnered renown for her revealing, enlightening autobiography Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More (though I must add that she is acclaimed for being a distinguished journalist in her own right, before her autobiography was released). In considering Mock, we must consider Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s views on “male homosocial desire”, which she says is “the radically disrupted continuum in our society between sexual and nonsexual male bonds” (709). The radical disruption that Sedgwick speaks of is caused by homophobia, as individuals engage in it to disrupt male bonds and maintain a patriarchy governed by heterosexual men. We must also consider Judith Butler’s main argument, the crux of which is this: “Gender reality is performative which means, quite simply, that it is real only to the extent that it is performed” (907). Gender is, according to Butler, an “act” (908). One is not merely a man or a woman but acts as either role to define their own gender. Mock’s experience as a trans woman reinforces Butler’s theory of gender through performance and appearance, and counters Sedgwick’s beliefs concerning the use of homophobia against strictly “male homosocial behavior”, as she finds her own ways to act as a woman and must fight against homophobia in her efforts to engage in female homosocial behavior.

Butler’s theory brings forward interesting intricacies concerning trans individuals, and she recognizes this: “Indeed, the transvestite’s gender is as fully real as anyone whose performance complies with social expectations” (907). Mock, for a long period of time, struggled to fully express her trans identity and find the best, most complete way to “act” her gender. This is best exemplified by her initial forays into the dating world, when she was dealing with the fine line concerning her appearance and the truth that she was attempting to conceal. In her autobiography, Mock details her first date with Adrian, a man whose “lustful gaze… further validated my womanhood” (158).  The date was a nervous affair for Mock, at least initially: “But as dinner progressed, my nerves subsided, and I fell into the groove of a girl on a date with a guy” (158). Therefore, we can see that “acting” a gender has much to do with environment and company. The quality of these conditions determine how the individual can best express their gender. This is reinforced by the fact that Mock’s definition of womanhood is derived from “watching the women in Dad’s life cook and cackle in the kitchen” (65).

As Mock’s life goes on, she embraces more apparent ways of expressing her movement across genders, as she starts a hormone treatment and begins dressing in a more feminine manner. She practically outright supports Butler’s theory concerning the importance of “acting” a gender, especially through her appearance: “I clutched tightly to my green Keroppi folders and my size-too-small jeans and my arched brows, and when I could grow my hair long enough, my side part. These elements, though small and insignificant to passersby, made up my girlhood, and I fought hard to ensure that they were seen” (124).

Mock’s emergence and eventual coming to comfort and normality as a woman was undermined by homophobia. Sedgwick argues that homophobia is used to balance and combat the “male homosocial desire”. In Mock’s case, however, she encounters homophobia in her efforts to engage with the “female homosocial desire”, as she wants to be a woman among women (709). This struggle is compounded by Mock’s father’s initial reaction to her exploring her gender identity, as he abandons his daughter and dismisses her life journey, saying that he would not support it. (He eventually comes around to reaffirm his unconditional love for Mock). Mock’s experience with her father speaks volumes of Sedgwick’s belief that “patriarchies structurally include homophobia”, if we are considering her father as a one-man patriarchy (698). How do you think Mock herself would interpret Sedgwick’s key theory concerning homophobia’s role against homosocial desire? She would obviously read Sedgwick’s work with great intrigue, to say the least.

Mock would read Butler’s work with intrigue, too. “My point is simply that one way in which this system of compulsory heterosexuality is reproduced and concealed is through the cultivation of bodies into discrete sexes with ‘natural’ appearances and ‘natural’ heterosexual dispositions,” Butler writes (905). Mock agrees with Butler’s statement here, as she has felt automatically maligned by greater society for changing her bodies from its “natural” appearances to fulfill her non-heterosexual (and therefore non-“natural”) sexual desires. “It was a balancing act to express my femininity in a world that is hostile toward it and frames femininity as artifice and fake, in opposition to masculinity, which often represents ‘realness,’” Mock writes (124). What it would take for trans individuals to have their bodies and sexualities be defined as ‘natural’? Will it take a formal deconstruction of the word ‘natural’, or what it means?