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The politics of pop culture

As I mentioned before, I've been really struggling to stay on course when it comes to blogging these days. My heart is in Gaza right, now, but my fingers tell me I must be here, in front of the computer, writing essays about everything except Gaza.

I'm thankful for the opportunity that Bitch has provided me here. A chance to at least meld what is going on in my life with what I'm "supposed" to be doing--talking about pop culture. Debbie's support at this difficult time has meant the world to me.

What I wanted to discuss was a comment that I received on the thread about Gaza (http://bitchmagazine.org/post/attacks-on-gaza). Specifically it said:

I am really disappointed to see this on the Bitch blog. This has nothing to do with pop-culture and connecting it to feminism is a bit of stretch. I see that it's possible (connecting anything to feminism is possible..) but it seems like Bitchs blog has been exploited so you, La Macha, could post your personal, very biased, borderline anti-Semitic views.

For some reason, this comment reminded me forcefully of the Dixie Chicks. I'm sure most of us are aware of how they were treated when in the middle of a concert, Natalie Maines let those fateful words slip out of her mouth, "Just so you know, we're on the good side with y'all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we're ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas."

The reaction to Maine's opinion was intense, immediate, and often violent. And as the Dixie Chicks note in their song, "Not Ready to Make Nice," "shut up and sing" was a common reaction to Maine's words. Shut up and sing--you're not here to give us an opinion, you're here to entertain *me*, to provide *me* a service. Look pretty, sing perky songs and then shut the fuck up.

This is not an uncommon sentiment. Look at how Barbara Streisand is often mocked for her political fund raising. She's a singer--what does she know about politics! Or how Oprah was even boycotted for supporting Obama during the presidential run. Or how Richard Gere was mocked post 9-11 for espousing his Buddhist faith as a reason to not support the war--and even more shocking, as a possible different road U.S citizens could take over bombing countries.Or how he (and many many others) has gotten banned for espousing political beliefs during Oscar acceptance speeches (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Gere#Personal_life_.26_activism). Or look at how Yoko Ono has faced a lifetime of gendered hatred because of the way The Beatles (specifically John Lennon) became more political and less content with "pop" structures as John became more intertwined in a relationship with her (http://thecurvature.com/2009/01/07/yoko-ono-a-feminist-analysis-addendum...).

Which is really making me consider how 'feminism' interacts with 'pop culture', or more specifically, how 'pop culture' often acts tool used to silence dissent.

Now, before I go on, I want to be clear, I'm not saying that readers shouldn't come expecting a feminist critique of pop culture at a blog/magazine that specifically states it exists as a feminist critique of pop culture. More, I'm asking--what are the rules artists in general and pop artists specifically supposed to follow when it comes to merging political beliefs with their work? And why is that so often it's women artists who are told to shut the fuck up or face the consequences?

What are the rules? If a person/group/organization exists as a commodity (because by definition, that's what pop culture is), does that person/group/organization ever have the right to break through illusion s/he is selling and prove his/her humanity by endorsing politicized causes (for example, supporting the deeply political work of Incite! Women of Color over the more acceptable mainstream Red Cross) or expressing political opinions?

If pop culture is a commodity to be bought and sold--do those doing the selling ever have the right to punch out and do off the clock work? Or is that part of his/her job? To never ever exist as anything other than a commodity that reinforces the appearance that a magical world where political neutrality exists is actually possible?

And in light of these questions, is it possible to make a legitimate feminist critique of pop culture without somehow solidly grounding that critique in the political nature of the real world? Or as fellow Bitch blogger asks (http://bitchmagazine.org/post/an-open-letter-to-the-feminist-blogosphere):

Is there any organization among feminist blogs, other than category, which typically function more for division and ease of surfing? Do we, feminist bloggers, agree on ANYTHING? Or are we in existence the same way, say, culinary blog are - informative for their audiences, community building for those seeking alliances, challenging those who want to learn? Those are all fine purposes, but, I can't help but feel more responsibility than that. Am I alone? As a feminist BLOGOSPHERE, do we hold any form of higher purpose for women's lives? Or do we get wrapped up in our individually wrapped fem-brands and remain set in our preferred ways of blogging? As a collective, can and should the feminist blogosphere strive to serve a unified deeper purpose than others? Is that even possible?

Or, in other words, is there a way to blog about pop culture AND the lived reality of (hopefully) many of the readers of Bitch? Do we dare assume that all readers of Bitch! have never been touched by the effects of colonialism, war, militaristic violence etc? Or that those people are "doing' pop culture in a political way? Is there a way to make a feminist pop culture critique as dangerous as Natalie Maines was to the collective psyche of the U.S.? Or as dangerous as Yoko Ono was and remains to Beatle lovers?

What makes the critiques of those women so dangerous? And how can I get me some of that?

Palestinian poet: Suheir Hammad

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Comments

10 comments have been made. Post a comment.

two cents

You wrote on your original Gaza posting "[b]ut I don't want to get into historical perspectives at the moment, because what usually happens is discussions spiral out of control and a game of finger pointing over 'whose fault this is' begins." This was written directly after you talked about the "extended manipulation of the Holocaust and Holocaust survivors." Well it appears that you started the spiral and it continues to spin.

While the situation in Gaza is horrendous, I believe that the original comment you are discussing here just affirms your fears that this site with its focus on pop culture may not be properly situationed to handle the complexities of the situation. While what is happening is important, you could possibly consider doing a more indepth analysis elsewhere where it can be properly address and then link to it from Bitch.

Additionally, think about your word usuage - manipulation. This can be a very loaded word with many powerful and varied meanings; thus I think the question of bias. Of course there is an array of manipulation going on in this conflict, but you only singled out one side of it and superficially at best. If that "manipulation" line, and that line alone, was said at a concert or award show (which is about all they have time fore), it would probably be taken out of context, further divide the audience and probably lead to a shouting match rather than a civil discussion that would produce a greater understanding that you are aiming fore.

thank you much for your

thank you much for your comment, anonymous. I appreciate that you still have a big problem with my previous post, so I think it would be really great to hear you talk more specifically about why pop culture must not ever break it's assumed veneer of 'neutrality'. Do you have an opinion on that? Why must those who are 'doing' pop culture never 'take sides'? Especially when we are considering that feminists make a point of stating that the personal is political?

Is the personal not political when it comes to pop culture?

La Macha
Editor: Vivir Latino
La Macha on Twitter: http://twitter.com/lamacha

La Macha
Editor: Vivir Latino
La Macha on Twitter: http://twitter.com/lamacha

It is like a walk in the woods or being a doctor

Do no harm. I never said that people or performers should be neutral or that we should assume that role. However starting fights may not be the best option to end fights. And I believe that by addressing a complex issue in this fashion just further divides and starts fights more than it raises awareness. Big problem small problem, that is for you to decide. This is just a comment on how I perceive you as handling the subject matter. How do you reconsile your actions with your "[b]ut I don't want to get into historical perspectives at the moment, because what usually happens is discussions spiral out of control and a game of finger pointing over 'whose fault this is' begins [?]"

Oh, but you're assuming that

Oh, but you're assuming that I am trying to raise awareness. I think that there are much more profound and amazing reasons to write, create, perform, etc, some of those I discussed in this post.

I think our philosophical outlooks are very different here--because I admire and support the women (and men) who have been on the butt end of outrage for standing up for their values--I admire the people who insist on breaking out of or restructuring what 'pop culture' must be.

I do think it's interesting that you find a 'do no harm' outlook to be important to you when it comes to pop culture. I think a lot of people look at pop culture that way. It makes me wonder what the function of pop culture is supposed to be in the U.S. (at least, not sure where you are from! :->)

La Macha
Editor: Vivir Latino
La Macha on Twitter: http://twitter.com/lamacha

La Macha
Editor: Vivir Latino
La Macha on Twitter: http://twitter.com/lamacha

What I find interesting is

What I find interesting is that La Macha is *clearly* stating that the issue is much more complex that what Bitch usually tackles and yet Anonymous is continuously harping on one sentence and blasting her for being inappropriate. Her second post acknowledges that she is seeing and is affected by a wider problem in the world and feels it is more truthful to write about what is happening in Gaza than to talk about the new wii trends or Golden Globe nominees. You have a problem with that - then click on something else that suits your fancy. Why derail the issue? Why nitpick?

No other bloggers here are talking about Gaza. That's pretty wild for a feminist reader to suggest one or two posts about violence on a feminist site is not right and offer a suggestion to go elsewhere and "provide a link" back to Bitch.

You had your two cents fine. Let her have hers.

Anonymous, get a grip and look at the larger issue which is much more complex than Bitch, La Macha's blogging, or your personal autopsy of the fit of site to the writing.

All is relative

One can agree with the opinions of La Mancha without agreeing with how she addressing the issue. She herself admitted the difficult surround this subject matter; it is my oppinion that she did not properly heed her own warning.

As for "harping on one sentence", this posting was clearly an extension of her first posting and La Mancha crearly opened up the door and invited further discussion of that sentence by reposting an earlier comment on it.

If there has been any inappropriateness on my part, I sincerely appologize. However, I stand by comments.

Lastly, I am of the opinion that even if you have the best message in the world, it does little if you cannot properly get the message out in a constructive manner. I am solely writing on how I perseived La Mancha's way of addressing the issue rather than the issue itself.

Isn't this proof

"I think our philosophical outlooks are very different here--because I admire and support the women (and men) who have been on the butt end of outrage for standing up for their values--I admire the people who insist on breaking out of or restructuring what 'pop culture' must be." I just view your words as applying value statements to my comments that I do not have. This, to me, is just further proof that the manner in which you are writing just divides more than it leads to constructive conversation about this issue. My do no harm was applied to how we communicate ideas. If you have a good idea but it is communicated in such a way that it alients itself, was it truly a good idea to raise it in such a manner?

As for the "assumption"

As for line "[o]h, but you're assuming that I am trying to raise awareness." My usuage of awareness was referencing your line "(see Norman Finkelstein and Edward Said for great introductions)" in that introductions are used as conduits for raising awareness from which people can then proceed to more "profound" insights and was not meant to limit the scope of your postings.

I am with you 100% ...& be proud you are "dangerous!"

You are correct to be pissed, and yes, your posts and views are appropriate here on Bitch, and anywhere you damn well please. I am, as always, pleased to see smart people with heartfelt views commenting here and else where, and the last thing I want to see is folks trying to simply make simplistic comments on "pop" culture. And as anyone who has actually read Bitch knows...the magazine is not filled with this type of dribble. Sure, there are comments, stories, items, and analysis of things pop, things not, things in the culture, in the past, art, religion, and all such other stuff, but none of the stories, editorials, info, view points, or interviews are simplified glorified dribble. The writing and editorials, and all the other good stuff is written from various viewpoints, often quirky, always thought provoking and edgy, and even at times rather impressively postmodernish. Even the little odd piece on "my pretty pony" (yes the toy), which was 'modified" over the years by the manufacturer, and seen as more sexualized by the author of the piece (and I had to agree, although I never noticed or thought about it before) was not written as some trivial funny simplistic type of article. However, that certainly does not mean that all readers realized this fact or not, and yes, it did make me chuckle and shake my head a bit, but that's the thing I love about BITCH.

And by the way, I totally understand why your heart is on Gaza right now, as many of us are also very upset by horrid and unimaginable suffering that the Palestinians are facing day to day. How could 3 hours of a window today (or any day) to get fuel, food, water, blood, medical supplies etc... into Gaza be at all sufficient is my question. On NPR this a.m. one of the commentators (may have been from the BBC hour - as I cannot recall) made the excellent point that, in light of what is going on there, it would take about 2 hours to simply get notification to those who could assist in coordinating the pick up, delivery, and even transportation to receive these items, as the people there have been literally hiding. With no electric, no phones, cell phones likely dead, no fuel or gas, and key folks w/ the know how to even coordinate such an undertaking scattered or unable to be found, how could much of anything get done, despite their herculean effort??? The commentator had said that they would have to go door to door looking for these key people to even get help.

So, basically, I say yes, please blog, comment and write here and everywhere. It is totally okay for us to even critique ourselves, and in fact, I think its mandatory and important. If we do not, then how can we possible really have a spirited discourse, grow and learn, and appreciate other views, even if we do not agree. That's what debate is about, and I mean analytical discourse - critical thinking - writing - blogging - expressing - and talking.

So you got a fan in me, and I am sure many others, so its okay to be frustrated, get pissed off, and proper to rant and rave about comments you do not agree with. Your passion is your beauty and strength, and when we all stop caring, I say it is "game over."

But, if anyone reading this still thinks this sort of stuff shouldn't be on Bitch or anywhere else for that matter, perhaps you need a reminder of how things go down the crapper (aka toilet) when one refuses to engage in real discourse, and analyze their world, listen to critique, question themselves, their objectives, their motivation, their own beliefs, one only need to look at George W. and the shit he caused to us (the world, the economy, civil rights, human rights, women, children, workers, senior citizens, the less fortunate, the needy, our reputation globally, humanity, foreign countries/people (war, conflict, unrest, withholding funds from WHO...etc. etc. etc.). etc..... (The following is a connect the dot explanation to those who need it - Georgie filled his cabinet with yes men and a few yes women, and he only listened to positive stuff...and the folks around him, our military, and others that dealt with him have noted that GW only wanted to listen or hear from folks that agreed w/ him, repeated his views, and from those that didn't pursue or discuss anything different than what he wanted to hear.

Love and kisses from one dangerous woman to another! keep on keeping on...and keep your fire burning baby!

PS Anything different or challenging to others is "dangerous." Danger is power, as you are power...passionate power...we need that...and you made me smile tonight. c. fabiani

politics are everywhere and

politics are everywhere and in everything. there is no innocuous pop culture, and there is nowhere that politics should not be discussed. because they are everywhere. 'it's just a song' holds no water when talking about a blatantly sexist or racist song (or a non blatantly one) so why should a blog about pop culture not have politics in it.

interestingly there was just a thread on racialicious, another blog about pop culture, where people were upset that they -weren't- talking about gaza.

i'm glad you wrote this post, though i hadn't read the older one yet.