Monday, July 18, 2011

KATY PERRY POP PRINCESS


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 fa├žade.  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"


Critical Questions:

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
                                                Additional Video:
                              Katy Perry's UR So Gay (and you dont even like boys)
This one just opens up a whole can of messy little worms....

                                                        Works Cited

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.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Blog #2 Stop Global Warming Through Consumerism!! Buy Buy BUY!

                                              Diesel's "Global Warming Ready" Campaign
1. Preferred Reading:
            The Diesel Company, an Italian clothing manufacturer catering to a primarily young, middle-to-upper-class demographic, launched the “Global Warming Ready” campaign in the end of January 2007, in the midst of growing concerns for the current environmental crisis and less than a year after the release of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”. In conjunction with the printed texts and advertisements, Diesel used an online media base to encourage the purchase of Al Gore’s film, to give helpful tips on cutting down their personal emissions, and to post video advertisements promoting both their clothing line and global warning awareness. This particular image depicts a potential post-global warming world in which the models must adapt to the new (almost post-apocalyptic) surroundings- a specifically eastern/foreign locale. The decision to portray a “global warming scenario” as a means of advertisement informs the viewer about the possible catastrophes induced by global warming as well as depicts the Diesel Company as environmentally conscious. Additionally the image, in conjunction with the text “Global Warming Ready” suggests that consumers of Diesel products are also aware of the environmental crisis in addition to their awareness of current fashion trends. The image and the campaign encourage viewers to be both environmentally aware and proactive in the face of the current global crisis but to also keep a sense of optimism about the continued existence of life’s luxuries in spite of this- these luxuries being defined as “love”, “friends”, “sex”, “parties”, and the indulgence in consumer products (see video advertisement). These luxuries cater directly to Diesel’s key demographic- young, reasonably wealthy men and women, validating a youth class identity in which individuals have the means to possess both a political/environmental education and still enjoy the “friends, sex, and parties” popular to their age.
            One of the key selling points within the image is the depiction of a romantic encounter; further supporting the campaign’s message that life still continues after environmental crisis. In fact the dramatic atmosphere of setting makes the romance all the more beautiful and poignant. The setting of China (evidenced by the Great Wall) is already exotic to American audiences and is made even more fantasized by the sweeps of sand burying the majority of the monument. The potential affair being witnessed by the viewer, juxtaposed against a foreign and desolate location seems therefore more impossible, and subsequently more romantic- they have no food, no home, but with just their love (and their clothes) they can survive any potential “storm”. In cohesion with this representation, most all of the “Global Warming Ready” campaign prints focus on indications of romantic affairs amidst a fantasized global environment. The depictions of love do more than just give inspiration and hope in a time of environmental crisis, they create a very common connection of love with materiality. The text subtly implies that if the viewer purchases Diesel products, then they will become sexually alluring and experience a similar romantic encounter. In this way Diesel takes advantage of a political and social economy in which material goods and consumerism converges with personal desires and achievements such as love, happiness, success, friends, and beauty- discussed by Martin Roberts in his analysis of “What not to Wear”. With the last edition of the slogan “Diesel for Successful Living”, the brand blatantly suggests that their products are integral (or even the cause of) a “successful”, and therefore “happy”, life.

2. Negotiated Reading:
            The Diesel campaign has made considerate effort to make environmental awareness fashionable and “hip”, appealing to their key demographic consumers (young, white, middle to lower-upper class individuals) through aesthetically alluring, romantic imagery. However, this marginalizes people who do not fall under this demographic category and thus the campaign’s “cause” is limited to only those who purchase Diesel products, pigeonholing the global warming crisis as a problem only addressable by the youthful, wealthy, and white. While Diesel website encouraged people to engage in energy saving actions/activities such as walking to the shops, unplugging your electrical guitar, etc., these actions have little bearing on whom such an expensive consumerist lifestyle is financially unfeasible. The image, while presenting the hope of love/life after an environmentally devastated world is also endanger of trivializing an environmental crisis by using it as a platform for a commercial businesses.  The campaign must balance a symbiotic relationship between clothing/consumerism and environmental consciousness, but teeters towards the position of parasite- feeding off an impassioned and frantic global society.
            The image also presents a multicultural face, providing representation to people other than white. While the aim to present a variety of cultures is evident, the text fails at establishing a specific culture, and the people presented (while people of color) are considerably light skinned and lack any identifiable ethnicity. This results in a rather fictional presentation of cultural representation so that while Diesel has attempted to include racial minorities, they are pushed into a very narrowly defined identity and an environment which has been exoticisized as a means of furthering a romantic narration.

3. Oppositional Reading:
            Both the Diesel campaign and this particular advertisement ostracize and marginalize nearly every group that doesn’t fit into the dominant ideologies of the straight, “White Supremacist, Capitalist Patriarchy” identified by Bell Hooks. The Diesel advertisement  harkens back to Orientalism and supports an offensively monolithic portrayal of “the East”- converging iconic images of China’ Great Wall and iconic images of Middle Eastern countries through stereotyped “sand dunes”.  Diesel denies the independent cultures of either and instead reproduces Imperialistic ignorance. This monolithic interpretation of “the Orient” extends  to the people represented in the text; both exhibit distinctively “ethnic” qualities, yet these qualities are vague and understated- identifications of a particular race left entirely ambiguous. This ambiguity again denies independent culture and races and instead presents a homogeneous, culturally ignorant overview of people of color. These models are significantly lighter skinned- connoting that a lighter skinned body is more desirable than a darker one, even perhaps more successful (as implied by the slogan “for successful living”).  Diesel seems to be throwing dominant hegemony back into the faces of people of color by suggesting, “you can be successful” if you are lighter skinned and buy our (expensive) clothing, which only the wealthy and typically white people can afford. This attitude sets up a paradox that is impossible to manage- your success is determined by your ability to whitewash yourself with our clothing line, and yet our clothing line does not cater to your financial budget. Further, the image suggests that even if you do manage to purchase Diesel clothing, you cannot attain full assimilation into European culture- this image is the only one of a series of Diesel images that represents people of color, and they are forced to occupy a location deemed “appropriate” for their (ambiguous) race. This denies the existence and citizenship of people of color in “white-dominated” Western countries, continuing the racist ideologies of White Supremacy.
            The Diesel “Global Warming Ready” campaign also trivializes the global warming crisis by making it a subject of commoditization, a thinly veiled abuse of an environmental issue as a means to turn a profit on a summer clothing line. The depiction of potential global chaos is made light by the suggestion that consumers should continue to spend money and accumulate material goods. Specifically, Diesel suggests that consumers should continue to spend money on fashion; a commodity that should/would be the last thing on anyone’s mind in the event of mass flooding, sand storms, etc. Further, Diesel’s depiction of their fashion line as being “Global Warming Ready” reads as a disturbing joke- in this image in particular, the female model’s clothing would be entirely laughable within the reality of the suggested environment, substituting practicality for sexual allure. This substitution of sexuality and manufactured “love” dominates the entirety of the image- substituting a romanticized and wistful global warming scenario, rather than the chaotic and horrific reality of global warming’s implications.
            Lastly, Diesel’s advertisements give a narrow definition of female sexuality, as well as marginalize the queer community through the exclusionary representations of heterosexual romance. The woman is scantily clad and substitutes sexuality for practicality, as evidenced by heels so impractical she has to sit down to empty them of sand. The Diesel slogan of “successful living” suggests that this is a model of not only successful living, but of successful femininity, indicating that if a woman does not purchase Diesel clothing, she could not posses sexual allure, success, love, etc. Further, the woman is represented as passive, subject to both the gaze of the viewer and the gaze of the anonymous and leering male a few feet behind her- what was originally supposed a “couple” is actually entirely ambiguous, another example of a woman caught under a man’s voyeuristic gaze (and implying that this is a “successful” role for women).

Sunday, June 26, 2011

All About Me

1. Name: Lauren Wolf, Nickname: n/a (Lauren works just fine)
2. Going into my 4th year- planning for a 5th year
3. Double Major: Drama & Studio Art, Minor: Art History
4. American English and Jibberish (if that counts)
5. N/A
6. I think the answer to this is N/A, although a lot of my art classes seem to contain a lot of cross-over...
7. Two reasons- I consider myself an active feminist and have wanted to take a women's studies class since my first year at UCI, but had not had an opportunity until now. It also happens to fulfill a GE requirement, which is always a plus.
8. Draw, read, watch WAY too much instant watch on Netflix, relax with friends, eat as much food as possible...
9. I pretty much like everything that isnt country or rap...but particularly Mumford & Sons, Spoon, Postal Service, Adele, A Fine Frenzy, Pomplamoose, OkGo....I could probably keep going...
10. My favorite movie is Life Is Beautiful. Although Benny and Joon is a close runner up. Also, Princess Bride is a classic. Fight Club also= awesome. Ironically, i'm not a fan of romantic comedies...and yet my top 3 movie picks have elements of romantic comedies...
11. Dr. Who, Torchwood, Pushing Daisies, Better of Ted, Family Guy, Buffy, Bones, House, Firefly...i'm not very good at narrowing things down...
12. uhh....My Life is Average (www.mylifeisaverage.com)- it always brightens my day. I also just recently discovered the blog "Stuff White People Do" (http://stuffwhitepeopledo.blogspot.com/) and while its fairly old, the material is excellent (and relevant to the class).
13. Above= Picture of me. I'm the one with red hair. and a matching mustache. I do not have this mustache in real life.
14. This is a trailer for Doctor Who- one of my favorite TV shows. The BBC kicks ass.