Modern pop princess Katy Perry received national attention for her hit single “I Kissed a Girl”, generating both media scandal and controversy. Since then, Perry’s image has become increasingly more “outrageous” through her lyrics, music videos, wardrobe, etc. However, the “outrageous” quality of Perry’s image is arguably less and less “outrageous” as the “outrageous” and “strange” have become a popular commodity in mainstream media, while remaining within the boundaries of acceptable hegemonic “disruptions”. In this sense, Katy Perry’s performances are not outrageous, but rather they bank on the commoditization of popularized politics as a means of gaining notoriety. It comes as no surprise therefore that “I Kissed a Girl” would gain media attention- it profited from current politics surrounding queer issue; released in 2008, the same year as the infamous “Prop 8” debate. The song rides on the coattails of the gay controversy while remaining within the lines of “acceptable hegemonic disruptions”- paradoxically unable to function as true “disruptions” because of their acceptance by dominant ideologies. Employing the “preferred reading” discussed by Stewart Hall, Perry’s “Kissed a Girl” reads as a liberal, pro-gay performance supporting the acceptance of non-heteronormative orientations/encounters. Within the context of a preferred reading, Katy Perry appears to defy gender norms by embracing her “queer potential” and setting a “queer friendly” example for listeners and fans. However the mere representation of an (arguably) “queer” lifestyle/experience does not necessitate the performance as radical or as challenging the current strait, patriarchal hegemony. Just as Chambers argues that one “cannot make political judgments about tv shows based solely on its ‘identity-ingredients’” (Chambers 86), the political temperament of Perry’s video does not rely solely on its “representation” of queer material. By participating in an oppositional reading, Katy Perry does not only fail to challenge gender norms or normative sexualities, but actually perpetuates a white, heteronormative, hegemonic, and detrimental view of queer experiences. “I Kissed a Girl” trivializes and undermines the legitimacy of lesbian/bi identities through the establishment of Perry’s straight identity- constantly repeating the fact that she “hopes her boyfriend don’t mind it”. If her “boyfriend” didn’t “mind” it (as the song suggests) it implies that a “girl-girl” kiss is less of a threat than the experience of a heteronormative kiss- as though saying, “if its girl on girl, it doesn’t count” (an extension of this being “lesbians and bisexual women don’t count”). The video uses queer experience not as an act of defiance but as yet another object of voyeuristic pleasure- a “lesbian’s” sexual encounter that “means nothing” but serves to visually stimulate a male audience in much the same manner discussed by Chambers with regards to The L Word. Further, Katy posits that same-sex kissing is “not what good girls do”, not only identifying herself as a “good”, white (and implied Christian) girl, but also suggesting that any woman who seriously identifies as queer is inherently “bad”. She follows this line with “just wanna try you on”, defining queer identity as something as easily removable as an item of clothing- again undermining queer legitimacy, as well as stabilizing Perry’s identity as a “good” girl who’s simply trying out a gay façade. This self-identification as a “good” girl also subtly indicates a “virgin/whore” dichotomy when set against Perry’s implied definition of “bad” girl (aka lesbian/bisexual). The video exploits an already abused stereotype of bisexual women as sexually loose and/or immoral whereas “stereotypes” of white women imply an inherently “virgin” chastity. While a preferred reading might argue that the video converges the two so that the line of virgin/whore is blurred, Katy Perry actually denies their “blurring” by never actually kissing a girl in the entirety of the video and by ending the music video in an image of herself waking up next to the supposed boyfriend, implying that all previous scenes were nothing more than fantasy. Katy Perry then draws the line between mentally exploring sexual deviance and physically enacting sexual deviance, with the suggestion that sexual exploration is “okay” as long as it doesn’t manifest in reality; the former defined as “acceptable” behavior for white chastity, the second- loose, whorish, and socially deplorable.
Lastly, the video maintains images of the “ideal” female beauty- while Katy herself is brunette, a majority of the women featured are white, blonde, blue-eyed, and all are markedly thin. While there is one woman of color represented, she sits mostly in the background, while images of white women are zoomed in on by the camera’s lens. This reiterates popular misconceptions that the queer community is comprised primarily of white individuals, while statistically this accepted “fact” is wildly untrue. These images of white women “exploring their sexuality” also exhibits Perry’s catering to particular niche markets- white male viewers whose sexual arousal may be heightened by images of “good” white girls participating in “taboo” activity. The video reinforces the hegemonic ideology that white women are more desirable, denies people of color queer voice, and at the same time suggests that queer sexualities within white women are more provocative because of their inherent “white innocence” (Campbell)- paradoxically assuming that women of color are inherently more sexually deviant (and therefore less “scandalous”).
“I Kissed a Girl” is a clear demarcation of what is acceptable, and therefore successful, and what is not according to the implicit rules of a patriarchal, white, straight hegemony. The same similarly applies to the achieval of the “American Dream”- a strange and impossible ideal to navigate. America is the “Land of Opportunity”, but only for those who embody the accepted societal norms of dominant ideologies aka- white, hetero-normative, gendered, reasonably wealthy, etc. While there is a level of diversity within the hegemony, it remains a carefully constructed diversity that fails to threaten the current patriarchy. The “American Dream” therefore does NOT extend to all individuals, but only those privileged enough to receive the opportunity. Even the “success” so desired in the “American Dream” is defined in standards set by the dominant hegemony- the ability to assimilate necessarily determines ones “success” in America. The American Dream stands therefore as a hollow shell, an empty ideal of freedom, success, etc. that caters only to a very narrow range of individuals, locking out all those that cannot or do not conform to dominant ideals.
For Further Study: Katy Perry's "Fireworks"
For Further Study: Katy Perry's "Fireworks"
- How does this video embody the "post-" mentalities critiqued in the Tyra Banks article? Consider the message that "self-confidence" can withstand all adversity, that you can "rise above" issues of sexism, racism, bullying, etc. Is this attitude practical when systems of oppression remain within at an institutional level? Does Katy Perry's video ignore the institutions through which such oppression remain possible?
- None of the narratives within the video represent any people of color- instead they are all white, reasonably attractive individuals. The only people of color within the video are represented as thugs, beating up on a young white boy. What does this choice of representation say about the message in "Fireworks"? How does it reflect a larger societal mentality?
Katy Perry's UR So Gay (and you dont even like boys)
This one just opens up a whole can of messy little worms....
Hall, Stuart. Selections from “Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices.” 225-275.
Samuel A. Chambers, “Heteronormativity and The L Word: From a Politics of Representation to a Politics of Norms, in Reading the L Word: Outing Contemporary Television, ed. Kim Akass and Janet McCabe (I.B. Tauris, 2006): 81-98.
Gavin J. Campbell, ""I'm Just a Louisiana Girl": the Southern World of Britney Spears." Southern Cultures. 7.4 (2001): 81-97. Print.