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That the agents of destruction have been women simply telling their stories in public is nothing less than delicious. Women were gossiping, complaining, name-calling, and suddenly the world was listening. (In fact, historians have written extensively on the importance of gossip and its venues, such as coffeehouses, in fomenting previous revolutions.) Each tale that came tumbling out was more sordid than the last: infinite variations on the theme of sexual scumminess. The revelations weren’t exactly new, but the frame had shifted: the handsy boss, the lewd entreaties, the casting couch, were no longer going to be business as usual. Every revolution has its weapons of choice—once it was muskets and guillotines, this time around it’s “sharing” and media exposure. It wasn’t heads that were rolling, it was careers: contracts yanked, deals canceled, agents quitting, e-mail accounts shuttered. Career death is hardly nothing—it’s the modern equivalent of losing everything. (When the Times recently compiled the names of twenty-four prominent men accused of sexual harassment, it did rather bring to mind the spectacle of heads on a pike in a public square. The name conspicuously absent, unfortunately, was our groper-in-chief Donald Trump, who’s thus far managed to slither away from the variety of sexual charges lodged against him.)

About those chopped-down potentates and lords: many of them, one couldn’t help but notice, were not the most attractive specimens on the block: bulbous, jowly men; fat men who told women they needed to lose weight; ugly men drawn to industries organized around female appearance. Men with weird hair. Is it wrong of me to bring this up? We do, after all, move through the world as embodied creatures. I wondered what it felt like, if you’re such a guy, one who’s managed to accrue some significant portion of power in the world but you’re still you—coercing sex out of underlings. When you look in the mirror, is it a great white hunter you see staring back, with women as your game of choice? Sure you’ve won, you’re on top, but isn’t every win a tiny jab of confirmation about your a priori loathsomeness? If sexual domination assuages something for certain men, is it because somewhere inside lives a puny threatened runt, and extracting sexual compliance is some form of recompense? One woman, who’d fought off the advances of a naked, pleading film producer, recalled that he thereupon broke into tears and said she’d “rejected him because he was fat.”

The mantra lately heard across the land is that sexual harassment isn’t about sex, it’s about power. I wonder if this underthinks the situation: Is the man who won’t stop talking about sex a man convinced of his power, or one who’s desperate to impress you with his prowess? Failing to notice the precariousness of power encourages compliance, especially among the women targeted. If recent events tell us anything, it’s that power is a social agreement, not a stable entity. The despots had power because they did things that were socially valued and profitable, but the terms of the agreement can shift abruptly.

This is a great read! “Kick against the pricks” by Laura Kipnis in The New York Review of Books. 

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pretty dead girls

Just a reminder that the amazing Emily Maguire and I will be speaking about the fetishism of female victims and the limits to empathy at a Queensland Writers Centre event at the State Library THIS Friday. Get your tickets here. We’d love to meet you.

There will also be a book signing.

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Layered on top of Ariel’s narrative are the complex themes of violence and shame. Both are constantly experienced by Ariel, as they act externally on her body—by virtue of unfair welfare policies, a bitter mother, closing institutional doors and the occasional confrontation with the father of her child—and manifest as internalized beliefs on what is “normal.” Towards the novel’s opening, Ariel lists out her woman-shames of the physical body and connects them to what that body produces and experiences: art, sexuality, children, debt, success and failure. After witnessing a male doctor sharply slap the newly-born Maia to hear her first cry, Ariel becomes unrelenting in her commitment to breaking the cycle of shame and violence—to living in defiance of that list.

However, all this is complicated by Gore’s commitment to characters as complicated, fully-fleshed people—both inflicting judgement on Ariel while also offering flashes of support and understanding. The grandmother that is embarrassed for Ariel’s situation is also the family member that loves her best. The flighty ex-girlfriend that visits Ariel also leaves condescending poetry. Ariel is a dedicated mother who chain-smokes around her daughter.

From Sara Gregory’s review of Ariel Gore’s new book, We Were Witches in Ms.

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Probably should be watched annually.

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By her own account, Diana was not clever. Nor was she especially good, in the sense of having a dependable inclination to virtue; she was quixotically loving, not steadily charitable: mutable, not dependable: given to infatuation, prey to impulse. This is not a criticism. Myth does not reject any material. It only asks for a heart of wax. Then it works subtly to shape its subject, mould her to be fit for fate. When people described Diana as a “fairytale princess”, were they thinking of the cleaned-up versions? Fairytales are not about gauzy frocks and ego gratification. They are about child murder, cannibalism, starvation, deformity, desperate human creatures cast into the form of beasts, or chained by spells, or immured alive in thorns. The caged child is milk-fed, finger felt for plumpness by the witch, and if there is a happy-ever-after, it is usually written on someone’s skin.

From this excellent essay, “The princess myth: Hilary Mantel on Diana” in The Guardian. 

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Fashion-magazine layouts have a particular feel to them. We know it well: stylized, blank, alluring in an anonymous way, suggestive of sex, but devoid of sensuality or personal emotion. The photographs draw us in, but the models don’t return our gaze. Instead, they tend to wear a kind of frozen, faraway gaze, a look that frees us to gawk unashamedly, without fear of being caught staring. Fashion models feign ignorance of the camera lens in order to signal that we are not their interlocutors, but rather voyeurs whose desires are roused only to be rechanneled toward the items for sale (clothes, jewels, handbags, etc.).

Such photos exist to cast the fetishizing spell of the commodity over us. They create, that is, a dissociative relationship with the viewer. And while Melania Trump was known to have been somewhat stiff as a model, she has clearly mastered that squinty, middle-distance gaze, which she regularly employs as First Lady.

Melania dresses and moves as if she were awkwardly performing a theatrical role, much as Ivanka does. Their oddly stilted presence in political settings seems to transform all occasions, no matter how “presidential,” into advertisements. This is not because they were both once models, but because they cannot stop posing like models. (Ironically, successful models learn to avoid such obvious artificiality, since it makes the unreality of fashion shoots too glaring.)

The Trump women evince a dazed blankness and anonymity that in turn cast doubt on the reality of everything around them.

From “Melania Trump and the chilling artifice of fashion” by Rhonda Garelick in The Cut. 

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