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.

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.

AA on AA

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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;.

“Bad Blood”: How Non-intersectional Feminism Harms Minority Women Everywhere

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The most publicized drama surrounding this year’s Video Music Awards features Hip-Hop artist Nicki Minaj, and Pop singer Taylor Swift.

After seeing that her videos were not nominated for either Video of the Year or Best Choreography, Minaj took to Twitter to vent about her disappointment of the nominee selection committee for this year. She tweeted about how the majority of nominations for Video of the Year feature women with slim physiques, which notably contrasts with the women in her video, which all have thick body types. Taylor Swift saw this rant as a personal critisism towards her “Bad Blood” video being nominated for Video of the year, and she defensively replied to the tweet by scolding Minaj for supposedly attacking her. Minaj then replies by clarifying that she was not directly referencing Swift, and that she was instead addressing another issue, one that Taylor should have been able to identify and acknowledge. Swift tried to quickly change the subject, but the damage was already done. She had already revealed her ignorance of the subject Minaj was addressing, which is the discrimination against black female artists in today’s context.

The “Anaconda” video broke records by attracting 19.6 million Vevo views in the first 24 hours after being released. This video featured dancing in various fashions, with a large focus directed towards their thick body types. The choreography features dancing such as twerking, and other dance moves that accentuate their non-traditional body types. These features qualified the video for a nomination for the “Best Female Video” and “Best Hip Hop Video” categories, but despite the record breaking views and the appraisal from the media, this video was not nominated for any of the “big” categories such as Video of the Year and Best Choreography. For this reason Minaj publicly expressed her dissatisfaction in this year’s nominee choices, and she identified the problematic discrimination used against her in this case.

The problem that Minaj is addressing is the discredit that black female artists face. While Minaj’s video is considered entertaining, it is not viewed as a legitimate art form. It qualifies for more specific subcategories such as Hip-Hop or Best Female Video, but these categories do not coincide with the white, male dominated culture of today. Hip-Hop has a connotation of black culture, and this paired with the label of female implies a lower-class citizen. This means that anything created by and for these demographics is automatically discredited as an art form. Lorde would describe this as degradation of art, and she would attribute this degradation to the inability to recognize difference as an enriching quality rather than a deteriorating deviation (Lorde). In order to understand a foreign art form, one must understand the culture and background which influences said art. This would lead art to be fully appreciated within its context.

This is a problem that Minaj immediately identified, but others were not so quick to see this inequality. When Taylor Swift defensively replied to Minaj’s tweets, she was demonstrating that she did not fully understand the problem that was being addressed. Swift describes herself as a feminist, but one problem with modern feminism is that many white women fail to address the further disadvantage that face women of color. Because of white privilege engrained into our society, the default for women’s rights benefit white women more often than not. Lorde rigorously critiques this problem, as she explains that ignoring the differences of race perpetuates these inequalities and disadvantages. Instead of helping the progression of all women, this type of feminism only works in favor of white women (Lorde). Failure to address an issue actually does nothing to relieve that issue, even though it may seem so. This twitter instance is an example of how the non-intersectional feminism movement of today creates a façade of progression and security for all women, even though this force is only working towards white women, who naturally benefit and hold power over the entirety feminist community.

Pretty Hurts (Just Ask Beyoncé)

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As one of the most recognizable and influential women in the music industry, Beyoncé startled and touched millions of fans with her “Pretty Hurts” music video in 2014.

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This dark video is set in a beauty pageant, the ultimate modern measurement of a woman’s exterior beauty. The chilling, soulful ballad follows the pageant participants from far before the show to highlight the extensive preparation that goes into the pageant process. Each woman is manipulating her body in attempt to be thinner, have better makeup, wear flattering clothing, and achieve the perfect hair. From spray tans, teeth whitening, bulimia, cotton ball diets, and extreme exercise, the women are doing everything they possibly can to be the most appealing to the judges, all of which are males. At one point, a male judge is shown taking notes on the women, critiquing their flaws as they stand smiling and waving, selling themselves for acceptance.

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Every person orchestrating the pageant is a male. Irigaray says, “just as a commodity has no mirror it can use to reflect itself, so woman serves as reflection, as image of and for man but lacks specific qualities of her own. Her value-invested form amounts to what man inscribes in and on its matter: that is, her body” (Irigaray). It is the men that decide which traits are appealing and write the questions for the women to answer at the pageant. The men’s expectations and pageant standards seem like the only way for the women to find meaning and success, so they resort to unhealthy and life threatening habits in order to feel a sense of acceptance and self-worth. After all the pain, adjustments, and emotions, Beyoncé still doesn’t win or meet the standards.

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In another scene, Beyoncé is shown in front of her numerous pageant trophies that overlook her room. These trophies are objects that quantify her worth, which are given to her as a prize for her beauty by the male judges. This scene raises the questions of “is all the pain worth the prize?” and “does she feel complete?” Similar to the trophies, the women stand on the stage during the competition in the same positions, smiling, done-up, lined up like trophies. Irigaray states that women are, “objects that emblematize the materialization of relations among men.” (Irigaray). These women have turned into the men’s objects and commodities. They might as well be trophies. By shaping their appearance and gearing their existence toward pleasing males, their body is not even their own anymore.tumblr_nasitfTSOS1tk76tdo1_r2_500

Although this beauty competition seems patriarchal and makes it easy to point fingers at the males involved, the women are not lifting each other up and banding together. The very first scene, the participants are sizing each other up in the dressing room, snarling at each other, and promoting unrealistic standards. Not once does a woman smile when she’s not on stage. Although these women are in the same position, experiencing the same pain and pressure, they act as individuals and don’t acknowledge the existence or pain that they all share. Lorde notes that, “unacknowledged class differences rob women of each other’s energy and creative insight” (Lorde) and “refusing to recognize difference makes it impossible to see the different problems and pitfalls facing us as women” (Lorde). The women are not only battling against men, but against each other, and ultimately, themselves. If they isolate themselves, they fall even further into the downward spiral in the video.

The video ends with a clip of young Beyoncé Knowles winning a pageant and flashes back to the Pretty Hurt’s pageant, showing that the same standards and pressure exists throughout a woman’s life from the time she is a child virgin to the time she is a grown woman, dressed in scandalous clothes and sexually exposed.

Works Cited

Irigaray, Luce. “Women on the Market.” N.p., n.d. Web.

Lorde, Audre. “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining the Difference.” N.p., n.d. Web.

Pretty Hurts. Perf. Beyoncé. Columbia Records, 2014. Music Video.

You, Me, and the University

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The university is both an ideological state apparatus and an institution of power. Its subjects are the students that attend the university. It imbues to students the ideology of education. The main way that both of these aspects are realized is through the use of grades.

In particular, grading systems are panoptical. Students are within the university to learn and work. The university wishes to produce the best students that it can. It does this through multiple methods, but one that is particularly interesting is the use of curves. These curves are able to change the grade that one receives in a class so that the distribution of grades are better aligned to the goals of the university. Another aspect of curves is that they are put into effect at the end of a semester. This means that students do not know how much their grades will be curved or even what their actual grade in a class is. For example, in my introductory biology class, I known that there will be a curve of the final grade. However, I have no idea what the magnitude of the curve will be or if the average in the class will stay same or become less/more. The simultaneous visible and unverifiable nature of curves is an example of discipline within the university. It makes its subjects much more efficient and “cut-throat.” I would much rather get a ninety-five on a test and the class average be a fifty than get a ninety-five and the class average be a ninety. Education becomes a subtle form of capitalist thought where the end goal is to use competition to increase efficiency. In an ideal world, everyone receives A’s in their classes. However, not everyone can receive 4..0’s. The value of a 4.0 is directly related to the GPA of the other students in a class. This is panopticism par excellence. Students are assigned numbers that define their ability to adopt the ideology of the university. The GPA is then used as a primary qualifier for students applying to other universities, thus extending the power that these grades have over one’s life.

The relationship of grades to an individual also relates back to how the university interpellates subjects. It can be imagined that the classes within a university are smaller arenas of power where the teacher is the sovereign. Our desire to receive good grades all comes from a basis of being recognized by these sovereigns. An example of this is seen in my biology class, where I was overjoyed when the professor wrote on my last test “Good job Camron!” In a lecture class of about 150 students, this hailing from the sovereign was something of great significance. It is not a regular hailing between two equal subjects, but rather two people in different states of power within a larger institution of power. Not only is this phenomenon isolated to just a single class, but also to a student’s entire career within a university. Graduating at the top of one’s class is the ultimate form of recognition that the university can give a student. It is one of the best ways that universities are able to maintain their power. They create the desire to be recognized in order to create the need to attend a university.

It is not really possible to change the ideological state apparatus aspect of a university. I also don’t think that this is a bad characteristic either, but that is definitely something to be contested. A more interesting discussion would focus on the aspect that grades have as a form of discipline within the university. This is seen in the average GPA of a university. I have heard that there is grade deflation at Vanderbilt. This is especially important as many other institutions of the same caliber as Vanderbilt have grade inflation. Critics of grade deflation say that this practice makes it more difficult for students to get into prestigious medical/law/business schools. Is grade deflation only enhancing the power that grades have over students? Are grades even a good metric to evaluate how much a student learns? Is competition a beneficial aspect of the educational process? All of these are important questions to consider as we are all within the university and are affected by its power.