Tuesday, December 16, 2008

True Life: I'm Looking For My Mother

For this assignment I watched an episode of MTV’s “True Life.” This episode was called “I’m looking for my mother.” The episode focused on two individuals. The first is Debra, a young woman from Sacramento, California who is about to graduate from college. According to the show, Debra was taken away from her drug-addicted mother and put into foster care when she was five. She has tried to get in touch with her mother before, and to her knowledge her mother is currently homeless. Debra is portrayed as a successful, upwardly mobile, hard-working young black woman who wants her mother to be present at her college graduation. She decides to try and find her mother and drives from Sacramento to San Bernardino, where she believes her mother is living. With the help of her cousin, it takes several days of looking through the streets, motels, and homeless shelters before she finally is able to find her. One of the first things Debra does for her mother is take her clothes shopping and gets her a hotel room for some bonding. However, once inside the room, Debra broaches the subject of rehab, after which her mother demands that Debra take her back to the place where she (her mother) had been staying. Debra had hoped that her mother would come back to Sacramento to live with her and attend her graduation, but her mother refuses, though she does promise to attend the graduation. However, when it comes time for the ceremony, her mother doesn’t show up. Still, Debra is happy to be surrounded by friends and family and claims she'll never give up on her mother.

The second story focuses on a Richard, a teenage boy from Scottsdale, Arizona. Richard lives with his father and half sister, and hasn't seen his mother since his parents divorced when he was a toddler. Although he appears happy living with his dad and seems to have grown up in a supportive household, Richard is primarily fueled by a curiosity to know why his mother left and what it would be like to have a relationship with her. I surmised that he hoped that his teenage status and having grown up would facilitate the beginning of a new, fun, relaxed but grounded relationship with his mother. He first attempts to use the Internet to get in touch, but after that does not work, he gets in touch with his uncle who gives him his mother’s phone number. They speak on the phone, but his mom isn't terribly enthusiastic about the idea of him coming out to visit her. She cancels shortly before Richard's scheduled to fly to Florida and see her and then stops answering Richard's calls. Richard decides to wait a few months before reaching out to her again in hopes that his mom will be more receptive in the future.

There were a couple things going on in this episode. First of all, the use of racial tropes played a significant role in this episode of True Life. In particular, stereotypes about drug addiction, homelessness and foster care were employed in telling the story of Debra’s mother and creating the context through which she left her. Debra’s mother is homeless, has been addicted to drugs for a very long time and had 11 other children before they were taken into foster care, facts that were mentioned several times throughout the broadcasting. This particular contextualization of motherhood within a racialized framework is juxtaposed against Richard’s situation, where there is no reason given for his mother’s absence. While both mothers are eventually and ultimately depicted as monsters for leaving their children, MTV’s investment in certain racial tropes to tell a more “interesting” story at the expense of Debra’s mother is evident.

The show also displayed a desire on the part of the wronged children to return to family values as defined by religious fundamentalism/right wing politics. Ultimately, both of the children were portrayed as abandoned, yet they were depicted as notable, heroic figures for never giving up hope. Both Debra and Richard, despite the securities and privileges their lives have provided them, benevolently want to know their mothers, and want to take care of them even when they don’t have to. Additionally, the way that family was displayed in the advertisements, in dialogue with the “reality” displayed on the show, further emphasizes this desire to “return” to the nuclear family and the values that allegedly come with it. The children are depicted as on the “right path,” not just in having securities and ambitions, but in also in relentlessly trying to get through to their mothers, reminding these women of their primary obligations as mothers first and foremost, and grounding themselves in the moral groundwork to do the right thing, something their mothers obviously lack in their continued abandonment of their children.

What I Leared From This Class...

I think the most important thing that I took from this class was how to make an analysis through a critical, feminist lens. To me, this entails thinking about things together in ways that traditional disciplines don’t do. I understood feminism today as being invested in approaching the matrices of oppression and the existence of hierarchies that affect everyone, by approaching how they particularly affect the lives of women all over the world. Because of interlocking oppressions, we have to do an intersectional analysis, one that looks at gender, race, sexuality, nation, etc, which is to say, a feminist analysis. Therefore, to have a feminist lens is to approach our analyses intersectionally. In this way, the “personal is political”—something Minnie Bruce Pratt talked about in terms of feminist scholarship demanding that the personal be considered with the political as a legitimate way of creating (situated) knowledge(s) and understanding our world. The most salient example of this for me was when we read about violence against women and paired that with global capitalism and the global economy. We read about how violence against women is seen as a private, personal domestic issue, but as we saw with Seniorita Extraviada, it has political and global repercussions. To me, this is where the importance of praxis comes into play. By thinking intersectionally, we demand an employment of feminist theory and practice together to create change.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

What I'm taking away.....

Over the course of the semester, I’ve learned a lot about what it means (what it takes) to be a woman in this corporate capitalist patriarchal society. More importantly, I’ve become conscious of my role as a traditional woman of color within a feminism framework. I grew up in a culture that doesn’t value women, a culture that will rather have boys over girls, and one that operates to maintain inequalities against women. In taking this class, I began to see parallels between how women are treated in mainstream America and in my culture and it made me realize how far behind my culture is in creating gender equalities --- how much more my culture have to work in order for men and women to be treated equally, if that will ever happen. This class provided me with the terminology to talk about patriarchy and it has helped me rethink my position as a woman in my culture. It has empowered me to think about possibilities that my culture would have otherwise pushed under the carpet as a way of silencing me and other women.

In addition to positionality, I’ve also become more aware of the power that the media have in generating information and selling ideas. I feel like there is really no other way to make the class understand issues concerning race, class, and sexuality if we don’t resort to the media. The media filtered a lot of these ideas that are consume by people who because they don’t have the privilege of an education, don’t understand (or are not made aware) of the fact that these images/ideas are wrong. As as result, these are important issues that we don’t think about because our society consumes so much of our time and feed us with ideas that have been somewhat “normalize.” When a little girl sees a thin beautiful model on television, she’s going to embrace the idea that being thin means being beautiful. When a man watches porn and see a woman begging to be f***., he’s going to think all women wants it. In taking this class, I began to be critical of images that I see everyday in the media and have challenged myself to look at these images from different perspectives.

Not only were the media tools in the class a great way to shed light on theory and practice, the guest speakers were also a great way to expose the class to inspriing people who work to resist by pushing for gender and race equalities. Maria Isa was inspiring to me because she is young yet already has accomplished so much in her life. In addition, it was also good to see young women of color resisting against their traditional cultural values to fight for what they believe in.

Most men think that “feminists” are a bunch of extreme angry women. In that case, maybe I am a feminist. After taking the class and learning that things I thought were “normal” really isn’t, I get easily offended when I see distorted images of women in the media and get angry when my male friends converse with me in ways that suggested they knew more than me simply because I was a woman. This is how one of my male friend attempt to silence me. He cautioned, “You’re thinking too much, don’t become an extreme feminist.” This just made me realize how easily our system of oppression against women can be easily maintain and perpetuated. Not only do women have men telling them everyday about how they should or shouldn't do, they are also feed with images and ideas from the media depicting how they should act and behave. As a result, most women live not knowing how to express their fustration for being treated unfairly or how to resist against structural system of inequalities.

This class, however, made me aware of these issues of inequalities and empower me to think about ways I can resist agasint it. I'm thankful for this class and for the way that this class was taught because it challenged me to think about issues that concerned my everyday life and has made me more aware of my role as a woman.

Friday, December 12, 2008

what i learned in this course

I think what this course has taught me is to look at the way I interact with the world around me differently. Before taking this course I feel like I looked at most things, especially images of women in the media for simply their face value and this course has opened my eyes to the problematic ways in which women are represented. I think one of the things that had the biggest impact of me was the activity we did analyzing women in advertisement. It really made me think about the fact that women are not represented for what they actually are, but are displayed in a manner that makes them appealing to a male gaze. I thought seeing some of the ways that women, especially women of color, are reedited when put in advertisement to express certain ideals. It was interesting to see how women are airbrushed to look lighter skinned, thinner, and are displayed in sexual poses that make them appealing to men.
Also really interesting for me were the book reports we did about non-profit organizations. My chapter on the effect that non-profit orgs have on women and the ways they promote violence toward women was really interesting. I had never thought about the problems that non-profit orgs present. I had always seen them as socially beneficial and had never thought of the problems federal funding and a non-profit status can affect the work they are able to do. I guess the book was kind of depressing but presented important ideas that I was glad to see and overall made me look at a lot of things differently.
All in all I found the class really interesting but felt like we didn't have enough time to cover all the important issues. But that is how that goes I guess. I feel like the class has made me look at things entirely differently and while that at times has been really difficult for me I think it was something I needed to do and in the long run will be something about my liberal arts education that I will continue to value.


In reflecting upon my journey through my second-to-last semester, I realize that I have filled in many more of my intellectual "grey areas" in these past several weeks; not only have I finally reached a place of comfort in summoning the term “intersectional” in daily conversation – but I am now better able to articulate my own hopes for change… I would have to put it out there that this was my most emotionally-engaging course “ever”’, and that this distinction within my own history of coursework was well-combined with the situated/positional knowledge model!

One observation I made (with regards to myself) was that I had begun to listen more than speak in our class. As I realized the extent to which my own theories had lacked to fully explain or problematize an event… I realized the importance of adapting what others are saying (because you’re doing that anyone) more effectively to my understanding is crucial to developing my own critical capabilities.

But, if I had a few things to request more information on in future iterations of this course… coming from what I wanted to understand better… I’d start with Gender as Performance – I think that the answers to a lot of my remaining Grey Areas lie in understanding the construction more thoroughly. In a more personal note, I’d like to see the lack of queer representation in the mainstream media flip OVER.

Then, the water that we’ve been in, and trying to conceptualize, will run out and then we’d have to explain everything, really, really fast! (Actually… I’ve learned kind of the opposite through this semester: that tolerance/acceptance/justice must work both ways, and that extreme patience and willingness to work hard is still a prerequisite to building any lasting alliances for positive social change.

Overall, I wish that Macalester could have hit a stock market fluke so that we could keep courses like this continuing and improving – and despite a lack of that much cash-money – I know that the real moving power is in the minds of people. aI am really interested to hear back about my Media Analysis paper for the above reason – what does the very limited mainstream representation imply for the rest of our community?

Another type of learning that I’d be interested in pursuing within such a dynamic course would involve the use/creation of Case Studies; I would really like to learn more about feminist organizations, their roots, their interconnections, etc… I also think that looking at the orgs mentioned throughout our Women’s Lives text could point us in a few good early directions!

post-course reflection

This semester I have, on multiple occasions, been wowed by how personally I connected to the course material. On a literal level I learned how to blog, which has been very valuable to me. I formulated all of my thoughts for my media journals on a blog and I am now involved in a J-term class that is going to convene over blog space because geographic limitations prevent us from discussing in person. Writing all my media journals on a blog felt risky for me because of its public nature, but I'm glad that I chose to explore a new format. Our location exercise and our work with Theatre of the Oppressed was similarly stretching in this way. They all united and solidified the intersections of theory, practice and praxis for me in this class. I had done some Theatre of the Oppressed before but it was much more personal exploration and I'm really glad that we took the time to explore the emotional and reactive sides of theory that effects the lives of our classmates. I will also take away from this class a vocabulary with which to academically and theoretically describe top-down systems of power and especially the industrial complexes of prisons and non-profits. I'd been hearing a lot of terms like NPIC and PIC thrown around at Macalester since freshman year, and knowing the definitions and creative ways (like blogging, interacting with reality tv and media systems) in order to talk about issues like what it means to be a feminist and declare it and defend against mysogynist systems of power and male privilege in an articulate manner. I'm so glad that the extra room given in this class allowed me to spend the semester interacting with this class. Thanks to everyone for a great semester.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

what i learned in class

This class has done exactly what I hoped to get out of it: broaden my understanding of the ways hierarchy interacts with my mind, my relationships, my communities, and the world at large. Bell Hooks has a passage that encompasses many of the things i have applied to and taken from this class. The "philosophical notion of hierarchical rule and coercive authority that is the root cause of violence against women, of adult violence against children, of all violence between those who dominate and those who are dominated" (Bell Hooks) The divisions that occur along racial, gendered, and sexualized lines operate in similar hierarchies to class and authority; being cognizant of the multiple oppressions that are usually present in a hierarchical relationship is the first step in dismantling those hierarchies. Reflecting on Dreamworlds as a watershed point in this class makes me think of the realization that my viewing of the women's bodies in those videos was a hierarchical relationship; my male heterosexual gaze was being privileged as the gaze of the consumer/controller/viewer. The media and advertisement that is produced and distributed is constantly reproducing patriarchy; it is an important step in fighting patriarchy to constantly be deconstructing the images i see in my mind. I identified as a "feminist" before this class; now I apply a much more focused feminist lens to the images I see and the situations I am a part of.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

What I Have Learned...

I will admit that on the first day of class I am very excited to be there, but at the same time I was anxious to see what was awaiting me. Never before had I been exposed to feminism. I come from a white middle-upper class suburb in Missouri, and feminism was just something that wasn't around...

For me, this class has provided an invaluable foundation. I feel as though I now have the tools I need to critically analyze my surroundings and draw meaningful conclusions. Prior to this class I think my identity was something I was comfortable with but probably not confident with. After covering all that we did in the class I do feel confident with myself and feel like I have so much more to contribute to other aspects of my life whether it be my personal, academic, private life, etc.

I now have an understanding of why things are the way they are in our society and why it is that things stay that way and how it is that things can come to change. I have come to appreciate how it is that we can take theory we learn from books, i.e. Butler's work on gender and apply it to a media form like drag show like Dykes Do Drag and make connections: PRAXIS. At first I struggled with grasping onto the idea of praxis and what it does, why it's important. However, now I feel comfortable with it and am discovering ways it comes into play everyday in my life.

I am also very appreciative of the media-heavy focus this class had. At first I thought having all of the media incorporated into the class was just a cool way that Rachel liked to teach, but of course now I understand how it is that media is everywhere, all the time, and is always working to promote some agenda. I truly believe everyone should be equipped with the skills I now have in order to receive, analyze, and make accurate interpretations of media. This is becasue media informs us as a society on so many levels - beauty ideals for women and men, the imbuing of capitalism/consumerism, etc.

I also discovered new outlets through which people can express themselves. I thought Maria Isa was very inspiring. She came in and told it like it is and showed us how it is that she does what she loves while also sticking to her beliefs and advocating for those things.

I was also blown away Rosa Clemente when she came and talked to us at the capitol when the RNC was going down. I just remember thinking to myself how off the charts she was, and how everything she had to say was way interesting and insightful. She really got me started off thinking about a lot of things that I would never have thought to check out. I think that is big part of this class too...being exposed to things that you don't know anything about, and maybe are even a little uncomfortable with and just diving in and going with the flow to see where it takes you. One of the things I wasn't sure about was the location exercise. That was something real and very personal that I did that I was nervous about but very glad that I decided to do afterwards.

I also feel like I have a much better grasp on the ideals behind social justice and social service. If you would have asked me a year ago about the topic I would have said, "Yeah, that's nice, umm cool, help somebody out." I don't know, I just never realized just what all goes into non-profits and 401(c)(3)'s and how they function.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Reality Tv Analysis: Tila Tequila

For this assignment I re-watched an episode of the first season of A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila, which originally aired on MTV in November 2007. The episode, titled “Welcome to the Family” follows Tila as “she travels to the hometowns of the final four to meet their families and reveals to them she's bisexual” (mtv.com). As Tila travels to New Jersey, Florida, Oregon and New York to visit the contestants and their families, she continually focuses on how the families might react to her. She says things like, “I bet they haven’t brought a girl like me home before!” and “They’re going to find out I’m a bisexual and if they don’t like it, peace out!” The episode seemed to be about exploring how people react to “difference.” At each location, Tila would go out of her way to act inappropriately (by making overly sexual comments to family members, giving one contestant’s grandmother a lap dance) and to ask leading questions that focused on how shocking she was (“Is it shocking to you that I’m a bisexual?” “Do you think Bobby could ever really fall in love with someone like me?”). The two families of the female contestants were accepting and unsurprised by the news of her bisexuality, presumably because they already knew their own daughters were gay. The two families of the male contestants, however, were predictably “shocked” and uncomfortable, and the mother of one contestant told the camera in a one-on-one “At first I felt like I would just throw up!” After visiting all the families, Tila eliminates one of the male contestants, saying that she could never fit in with his conservative family because she’s not “traditional." Tila giving Dani's grandmother a lap dance.

SallyAnn Salsano and 495 Productions, whose previous work includes episodes of The Bachelor, Extreme Makeover: Wedding Edition, Secret Life of a Soccer Mom, produced the episode. Salsano has also produced many of the Tila Tequila “specials” and follow up shows. A Shot At Love with Tila Tequila debuted at No 1 in its time period across all of cable in the network’s target demographic of persons 18-34. The season one finale ended with 6.2 million viewers, making it MTV’s most watched series telecast. Tila Tequila, whose real name is Thien Thanh Thi Nguyen, is a Singaporean-born Vietnamese American internet celebrity, reality TV performer, model, entertainer and singer. The commercials during the episode were for Ortho-Tri-Cyclen birth control pills and Gardasil, the female HPV vaccine. These ads indicate that the targeted audience is female, and the other ads for new cell phones from Sprint and AT&T indicate they are targeting teenagers and young women (an ad for a phone with advanced texting capabilities read “Instead of OMG say what’s really on your mind”).
I found it interesting that the targeted audience was female, because the show is all about male fantasy about and desire for Tila Tequila, and Tila’s interest in women is dealt with in a somewhat exploitative, voyeuristic way. Perhaps because it’s a show about finding love, they assume women and girls will be more interested. The comments online underneath the episode were all from female viewers, commenting on how hot the male contestants were or voicing opinions on who Tila should choose.
The sixty-minute episode was chock-full of moments ripe for feminist analysis, from the comments of Tila and the contestants to the constructed plot and the larger messages that emerged. To start, the “final four” are all white and embody the spectrum of gender performance: a hyper-masculine man, a man framed as “sensitive and nice”, a hyper-feminine woman and a butch woman. Narratives of masculinity as it relates to class are clear in the multiple clips we see of Bobby (the “nice” guy)’s one-on-one with the camera. He expresses anxiety about coming from a rural, working-class background and Tila’s possible rejection of him based on his class status. He fears that rich oil executive Ryan can “give her more” than he can. This reinforces the idea that real manhood relies on money and power and the ability to take care of and provide for women.
The whiteness of the contestants and the varying degrees of heteronormativity present in their families allows for the construction of Tila as a racial and sexual Other. The white heteronormative reaction to and negotiation of the racialized, sexualized Other is a main source of comedy in the episode. Tila’s performance of the Other and her seemingly deliberate baiting of the families left me wondering if we are supposed to be laughing at the families or at Tila. Dianne Raymond writes in Popular Culture and Queer Representation, “It is now homophobes, not gays and lesbians, who are vilified or ignored, and often the test of a character comes down to how well he or she deals with a friend or family member’s coming out” (Women’s Lives 187). This seems to be the case in this episode, and the camera zooms in and flashes repeatedly the facial expressions and initial reactions of the family members who are shocked and displeased with the news of Tila’s bisexuality. The overall message seems to be one of acceptance of bisexuality, as the two families who were initially overtly homophobic express their acceptance of Tila in their one-on-one’s with the camera at the end of her visit.
We also witness the normalization of male sexual aggression when Tila is visiting the family of rich oil executive Ryan at his mansion in Trenton, New Jersey. During dinner with the family, Ryan abruptly says he wants to finish showing Tila his house, and takes her to his bedroom. He literally picks her up (she’s very petite), throws her onto his bed, and jumps on top of her. She protests, saying that his family is downstairs, they should go back, etc. but we quickly cut to them making out. In her one-on-one with the camera, she says, “It was hot, him taking control like that, being in charge and throwing me down.” In his one-on-one, he boasts about “giving her a taste of how things go in my bedroom” and adds as an afterthought, “Hope she liked it.” This reinforces the messages that women like it when men are sexually aggressive, that Asian women are submissive, that “No” turns into “Yes,” and that whether women have an enjoyable experience of sexual encounters or give consent doesn’t really matter. It also reinforces the idea that sex is best when spontaneous, and with no discussion between partners of their bodies and their likes and dislikes.
The narratives of race, class, gender, sex, and relationships told in this show are particularly damaging because the target audience is teenagers, who are in the process of figuring out what it means to be male or female, who may be struggling with their sexuality and sexual identity, and who are highly susceptible to the messages of mass media.

What I learnt in class/ Bonus Assignment

The class was a great “journey” for me. I have never studied feminism and when I started the class I felt not in place. Talking about feminism and gender discrimination was something that I have never discussed with my friends. It is always hard to talk about feminism as every person has their own vision and experiences on the topic.
What I learnt in the class is to accept feminism of something that cannot be explained with a sentence or several sentences. Feminism can offer main ideas and concepts and can give examples from the history or people’s stories but there is not a clear way of perceiving male-female relationship or to explain why women act in a certain way or men in another.
I learnt to express my ideas in a blog. It was a great way of getting to know some other people in the class. Reading ideas of others, made me realize that I think like some other people in the class as well as how different I am from other people. I even expressed my thoughts of some class discussion on the blog, trying to give my opinion on some of the class responds.
The beginning of the course made me interested in the way the course is lead. My trip to the Capitol and meeting with Davey D. and Rosa was great for me. Somehow, my car broke the same day but it is just luck. There is much that I took from the meeting with Davey D, who really intrigued me with his story how radio advertisement works and how everything is based on the money. Rosa thought me on how you can become an official party in US and what does that mean. It was a great experience and I took a lot out of the trip.
Another big thing that I learnt is to look for specifics topics in media. I was not searching for certain titles connected with feminism and for the journal I was intrigued with reading feminism titles across Internet and newspapers. I got interested in several articles in MacWeekly as well, which surprised me and were very much adding to the course. The media journal helped me to pick a topic for my media paper and my final paper as well. I learnt to search for potential topics anywhere and I figured out that if you have in mind something, it is much easier to find it in media. There is so much information (most of it useless) that goes through media, so you should know what you search for in order to be able to find it and use it.
Learning more about feminist concepts and ideas brought me interest in learning more about how my identity connects with feminism and how I perceive feminist ideas. That combined well with feminist and Hip-Hop. I like rap music and I usually don’t put a lot of effort into examining the lyrics. The lyrics are not important as the beat and the popularity. At the same time it meant a lot to me to look at the lyrics from a different point of view.
Next thing I learnt was something that shocked me: it was the way that Hip-Hop artist act in their videos. I have seen many of these videos and I have always accepted everything as normal hip-hop video – well that is not right. I have never thought how that does change my perspective and how it changes women perspective. Dreamworld 3 is a great movie and I really found it amusing. I couldn’t agree with some parts but I learnt that I need to spend some time watching some educational videos on the topic in order to get to know a different perspective.
Definitely my favorite part of the semester was when we had Desdemona and Maria Isa. They brought a different light in the class. They told me a lot of a world that I didn’t know that exists and I have never searched for it. Both of them were great and I thought that they have great talent.
I learnt that there are classes that can “work” better if people sit in a circle as well as that one person can bring a message not with words by with using positioning people in a special way. It went much more successful that I thought and I would use it in future as I thought it is fun as well. I think it could be a good team-built activity.
The last part that I will mention is the skills I obtained using the screen-pilot program, taking screen shots from YouTube commercials and writing an AdBust… it was a lot of fun and I think that it made me much more aware of different commercial and the stereotypes used in them.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

My Super Sweet 16: Geri Hormel

I chose Geri Hormel’s episode of My Super Sweet 16 titled, “Rocky Horror Party” because I am interested in many of the issues and ideas associated with The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I was filled with hope and optimism that there might be hint of queerness and non-normative gender roles in this MTV episode. However, reality (pun intended) hit immediately as I found out that I don’t watch enough television to know that I should not have expected Geri’s party to turn out like I had hoped. Geri’s fortune that enabled her to appear on My Super Sweet 16 comes from her great-grandfather’s company, Hormel foods and her grandfather’s invention; Spam.  As Geri eloquently puts it, “my lifestyle is different from other fifteen year olds because my great-grandfather ‘invented’ the Hormel foods company”, concluding that she is “not spoiled, just pampered.”
I was especially interested in Geri’s episode when I leaned that she was of the Hormel family that based their early operations in Minnesota. Hormel is a massive corporation that demonstrates an imperialist mode of control over workers, animals and the environment, all while greenwashing their promotional campaigns in the interest of profit. And as you can see, I have a lot of things to say about Hormel, so I will try not to unfairly criticize the company and Geri’s family for the rest of the paper…

In the episode, Geri constructs herself and is constructed by editing powers as bizarre and a “geek”, suggesting she is an outlier in white femininity. Reading herself into an extension of this idea, Geri decides to have her party’s theme be centered on the cult film The Rocky Horror Picture Show, since the movie, like her “is so outrageous and crazy”. She wants to have “a bloody leg” and sharks swimming in her pool, and in her exact words, “There’s gonna be little people”. An additional demand she makes is that all of her friends should come to the party dressed in drag. Geri’s reasons for choosing The Rocky Horror Picture Show as her theme elides privileges that allow her to temporarily engage and even temporarily identify herself with certain types of “craziness” embodied by drag queens, little people and others who do not neatly fit into normative body standards.

Up until this point, in addition to problematic instances, we can also recognize the subtle subversion of the dialectic of hegemonic masculinity and emphasized femininity that Leigh H. Edwards recognizes in her article, “What A Girl Wants”, as a location of subversive and potentially productive identifications and experiences. Edwards has an optimistic approach to normativity and power dynamics in reality television and makes a conclusion that, “Reality television explores alterations to conventional ideas of gender and related social structures even as it keeps recurring to traditional ‘norms.’” Although I am less optimistic than Edwards about the future potential of these subtle subversions, I will attempt to understand them partially through her framework.

The onscreen caption at this time reads, “Ain’t life a drag?” just before Geri exclaims, “I hired a drag queen named Trixy” (a woman of color drag queen). Trixy, Geri and a couple of Geri’s friends go on a mission to hand out invitations to Geri’s party. Geri has Trixy walk up to her friends’ houses and knock on their doors while Geri and her friends stay hidden and laugh as their friends are confused, shocked and defensive because of Trixy’s presence at their door.
These scenes were difficult for me to watch because of the dynamics, conflicts and interactions of gender, racial, class and sexuality combined with what I felt was an underlying mode of exploitation through objectification, exoticism and fetishization. These feelings conflicted with my attempts to apply Leigh H. Edwards’ optimistic framework, which might recognize the problematic nature of the scene, yet would still define the experience as subversive because of the inherent personal political impacts.

In the next section titled “What a Drag”, Geri goes cross-country to seek out Jackie Beat, a famous drag queen whom Geri wants to be the master of ceremonies at her party. Geri tells Jackie about the party and what she’s expecting and looking forward to saying, “The theme has to do with like, drag queens and I’m gonna have midgets” and “I’m really excited to see how people react when the first thing they’re seeing is a giant drag queen”. Jackie reacts to this and takes back control within the space by making suggestive jokes about money and sexual favors that Geri doesn’t know how to respond to. As this initial interaction between the two ends, Jackie makes Geri even more uncomfortable by asking if Geri has her checkbook ready to pay her in advance. After an awkward pause, Jackie breaks the tension by sarcastically explaining that she was just “joking”.
The first portion of this scene objectified little people’s lives and their bodies by ignorantly using the term “midget”, which is widely understood to be offensive in aiding a societal (de)construction of little people as mere objects or commodities for consumption. I am hesitant to map feminist or queer critiques onto situations in which it can be offensive to project my white, male understanding of feminism. This is exacerbated by the fact that this interaction between Jackie and Geri, and the whole episode has been modified and filtered through MTV’s editing. However, I felt that this scene was one of the few spaces in the episode in which power dynamics shifted away from Geri’s side. In addition to being a drag queen, Jackie is also veteran comedian and we see some of her developed tactics used in this scene to manipulate and deflect Geri’s objectifying approach while still retaining the value of certain parts of their relationship like monetary compensation. I believe that this can be interpreted as a queer and feminist form of disidentification in which Jackie has employed fluid tactics in asserting her own agency in order to navigate and manipulate the hostility directed at her.

Back at Geri’s house, her and a friend, Nicole are preparing props for the party which include full size mannequins. Within the context of talking about drag and drag queens, they are trying to put a mannequin’s torso on to its hips and Geri says, “Nicole, hold her butt”. I hate to make this type of cynical statement but to me it makes perfect sense that MTV would include the clip of Nicole responding, “Ok…I don’t swing that way”.I believe that the producers consciously include clips like this in order to make informal disclaimers or assertions that this episode and MTV as a whole is not supporting any queerness or feminism that can be extracted from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. This figurative disclaimer of heteronormativity serves to hold the attention of MTV’s predominantly white, middle or middle-upper class audience, which translates into higher ratings and more profitable products.

The next section featuring the caption; “Horror show” has Geri bossing her friends around during a practice run through of the party. Declaring, “For my grand entrance, little people are going to escort me into my party”. The (figurative) Hormel heiress points to three of her friends and then to her boyfriend saying, “You three are midgets, and you’re the drag queen”. Her boyfriend reacts with disgust, which is met by a threat from Geri: “if you don’t dress up for me, I’m breaking up with you”. He gives in and is soon dressed in a black cocktail dress, a massive wig and a pink feather boa, opening him up to be the butt of their jokes as they run through Geri’s grand entrance. 
Similar to the previous scene, I believe that some of these clips where non-conforming masculinities and femininities become the subject of jokes are the product of MTV editing in order to maintain an atmosphere of heteronormativity.

Finally…the party!
Geri decides to wear an expensive red dress as well as getting her hair curled and put into a style that seems quite prom-esque. I don’t want to generalize, but Geri and two of her friends present stereotypical MTV “Sweet 16” femininities and are not in drag. Geri asked all of her friends to come in drag because it paralleled how ridiculous and outrageous she is, yet the femininities her and her closest friends perform creates an interesting dynamic.
I thought this was an interesting conflict in the episode, which tried to construct Geri as “geeky”, “outrageous”, “crazy” and generally different from stereotypes of Sweet 16 girls and their femininities. This criticism is coming from my multiply-privileged position, but in addition to contradicting her assertions of bizarreness and implied near-insanity, I feel that by making everyone except her closest friends dress in some variation of drag, Geri became a sort of voyeur/colonizer as she gazed down off the stage upon the crowd. In this situation, although Geri’s ease in wearing a fancy dress is important to recognize as possible fluctuation, Edwards’ framework might have a difficult time recognizing what could be considered Geri’s fluidity as something that is honestly subverting normativity, especially if it is unaware of forces acting simultaneously.
One of Geri’s requests for her guests besides dressing in drag was that they learn to do the “Time Warp” dance from The Rocky Horror Picture Show so that they could all do it together. It is worth noting that during the scene where they attempted the dance as a whole group, the song that was played on the show was definitely not the “Time Warp” from Rocky and I am quite sure it was not even a remake. Although I am not quite sure what I think this may mean, I feel like it could be related to or could literally be another one of MTV’s responses of disassociation regarding discomfort with the possibilities of queer or feminist readings of the episode’s focus on The Rocky Horror Picture Show. By not including the real song, the show erases a radical and important aspect of the film while ascribes a new, normative value upon the “Time Warp” and The Rocky Horror Picture Show as a text.
The party continues and since Geri asked for an exotic animal as a present, her parents present her with a Zorse (half zebra, half horse). I would simply like to point out blatant connections between MTV and Geri’s exoticization/exploitation of drag queens, little people and other non-conforming humans and the colonizing fetishization of “exotic” animals like Alpacas and Zorses. I believe that the objectification, commodification, regulation and imperial-mentality ownership of bodies regardless of shape, size, appearance, location or ability among many other aspects of uniqueness is in direct conflict with the project of intersectional and positionally conscious feminism.Near the end of the episode Geri is walking and holding hands with four of the little people she had hired for her party. Geri’s voiceover declares, “no one throws a bizarre and outrageous party like me”, as she walks through a door without accounting for the chain of people holding hands, putting the people walking with her into a brief moment of discomfort. Immediately following the voiceover, she says, “you’re lagging” indirectly to the people who were caught in an awkward position by her spatial presence.
This scene can be translated as a metaphor that speaks to a dire need for continued positional consciousness, both figuratively and literally.
As I stated before, I was drawn to this episode because of the possibilities of queer and feminist spaces provided by focusing on The Rocky Horror Picture Show as the party theme. However, from the very beginning, Geri articulates thoughts that lead me to believe that her and I do not share a common understanding and relationship to the film and its messages. Geri’s verbal, mental and physical exploitation of drag queens, little people and animals demonstrate a severe need for more positionally conscious and intersectional evaluation and action. Inconsiderate and reckless exploitation, commodification and objectification of all, inter-related non-normative bodies, which flowed throughout the episode including into the final images and departing message illustrates a clear and urgent need to spread feminist and queer forms of positional consciousness and intersectional approaches.

Moorti, Sujata, and Karen Ross. "Reality television." Feminist Media Studies 4.2 (July 2004): 203-231. Communication & Mass Media Complete. EBSCO. DeWitt Wallace Library, Saint Paul, Minnesota. 1 Dec. 2008.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Event Write Up

Profane Existence 19th Year Anniversary Show
My event write up is about the show celebrating the 19th year of the Minneapolis-based anarchist punk collective Profane Existence (PE). PE produces one of, if not the most popular anarcho-punk magazine in the world and has been key in the rise of crust punk, releasing records from many of the world's most popular crust bands over the past two decades. Although it is a generalization, in the interest of being concise, I will be using "anarcho-punk", "crust punk" or "crust" as a blanket term for these types of bands and their lyrics, music, lifestyles, politics and shows. Because "crust punk" is not a term that is widely understood, I will briefly state my thoughts on the scene as a whole before discussing the Resistant Culture show. Before I go any further, I would like situate myself as a white, financially stable male who often benefits from cisgender privilege and I recognize the contradictions and potentially very offensive nature of authoritatively projecting my understanding of feminism wherever I choose.

Crust punk is a sub-genre of punk rock and a lifestyle that is heavily influenced by anarchist and socialist politics that often include but are not limited to anti-racist, anti-sexist, pro-queer, communal, sustainable, animal-friendly, anti-war, anti-state and anti-authoritarian beliefs and practices. The politically radical nature of the music and lifestyles within anarcho-punk communities creates a space that is often open to self-reflection and criticism regarding gender, race, class and other dynamics. A promising aspect is that many crust bands and people who are invested in crust punk music publicly identify as anti-racist and feminist. However, crust punk in the Twin Cities continues to be predominantly white and male, regardless of how radical, inclusive or open-minded these spaces are. In saying this, I want to acknowledge that many other people and myself have observed that crust as a sub-genre of punk is far more diverse regarding participation in bands as well as supporting the music than any other sub-genre of punk. The dynamics within and around these spaces should constantly be interrogated and reevaluated based on multiple feminist and queer frameworks of intersectionality and positional consciousness in order to recognize the limitations and weaknesses, as well as the strengths of collective anarcho-punk spaces.

I would like to acknowledge that I am extremely uncomfortable with reading (my understanding of) feminism into/onto spaces that do not explicitly define themselves as such. I recognize that many radical spaces and individuals oppose these types of categorization, figurative co-optation and literal misrepresentation and it will inherently be problematic to do so. I aim not to co-opt or misrepresent, but to highlight a few of the ways I noticed crust punk bands enacting a translation of what I believe to be intersectional and positionally conscious feminisms.

Now, on to the show…
The bands Parasytic (Richmond, Virginia), Wartorn (Appleton, Wisconsin) and Appalachian Terror Unit (Huntington, West Virginia) opened for the show's featured group, Resistant Culture.

Most of the band members and audience members (like me) were, white, presumably economically stable male-identifying people. A large portion of the people at this show (not just the white dudes this time) fit a traditional crust punk look that opposes mainstream standards of beauty and fashion by wearing mostly black clothes with patches, metallic studs, pins and the occasional tear in the material complimented by intentionally poor hygiene. A relatively unique openness and comfort with androgyny regarding hygiene, physical appearance and clothing is something I have noticed within certain crusty spaces (like this show) that is inspiring and gives me hope that these spaces have a tiny bit of radical potential.

Of the three opening bands, all the musicians were white and almost all of them presented similar styles of clothing and hygiene their crusty audience. While obviously not signifying equal sex/gender dynamics, Wartorn and ATU both have a female-identifying member, presenting a disruption in the normatively gendered punk band stereotype. Wartorn’s female-identifying member plays bass in the band while ATU’s female-identifying member is the lead vocalist and lyricist.

ATU’s 7 inch record, “Armageddon Won’t Be Brought By Gods But By Men Who Think They Are”, invokes a radical anti-authoritarian eco-feminist perspective in addressing regional environmental destruction and union busting corporations. ATU often highlights that their state, West Virginia is embedded in an area with a rich history of early colonial resistance and influential labor struggles. Appalachian Terror Unit’s name alone invokes the importance of this regional history of resistance while ATU are most vocal in criticizing the coal companies who currently are destroying the Appalachian mountains through mountaintop removal and other unsustainable mining practices. In the PE magazine #52/53, ATU’s vocalist Sarah explains why she chooses to focus on regional issues more than stereotypical crust bands while still trying to understand broader issues; “They are all equally important to me because all politics are inter-related in the long run. Largely because we do live in a small town with a mainly non-political scene, for me its all about getting local (and non-local) kids pissed and motivated”. Sarah and ATU’s approach represents what I believe is an intervention in normative crust punk discourse that can be understood as feminist because it recognizes the importance of regional issues, local communities and intersections of multiple local and global systems.
The night’s featured band Resistant Culture comes from Los Angeles, playing what they call “tribal grindcrust”, describing it in their biography on their official website as “the development of extreme and tribal music that has weaved the indigenous flute, rattle, tribal drum, and chant into an organic and flowing tapestry with extreme contemporary punk and metal”. Lead vocalist/gourd and flute player Anthony Rezhawk, female-identifying guitarist/vocalist Katina and their former, now deceased guitarist Jesse Pintado are of indigenous descent which is reflected within their music, lyrics and mission. In an interview posted on the Dorobopirata blog, Rezhawk says Resistant Culture “is rooted in the spirit of indigenous resistance. Any person who has come from a culture that has been colonized by civilization can understand that just to survive as a culture is a deep form of resistance.” This quote alone can be recognized through a feminist, intersectional analytic lens because of the attention given to resistance that goes unrecognized by dominant discourses and their binary oppositions. However, I would also like to acknowledge that even in projecting positionally conscious and intersectional feminisms onto Resistant Culture’s beliefs, I am categorizing (one of the most powerful tools of the colonizer), imposing and making judgments regarding individual lives, experiences and histories. I do not think this is wholly appropriate, yet it illustrates an amorphous connection between the theories, practices and enactments of differently situated subjugated knowledges. 

Rezhawk articulates views of freedom and liberation in an interview on their Myspace blog saying, “We support all struggles for tribal autonomy and survival, we actively support local struggles and indirectly support various struggles throughout the world” and “We believe that nature is the only legitimate power. The essence of nature is anarchic and resists attempts to reduce its complexity under the rule of one person, culture, species, etc”. Although it is highly problematic for me to categorize and label Resistant Culture’s beliefs and frameworks, it is worth noting these ideas parallel positionally conscious, dynamic, anarchist eco-feminism.
During Resistant Culture’s set, the dynamics within the space visibly became a little uncomfortable for some people, exacerbated by a drunk audience member who felt privileged enough to interrupt a moment of silence Rezhawk requested in order for the band to perform a spiritual ceremony that they do before every show. Resistant Culture’s set was amazing nonetheless. They played a few of their older songs as well as newer ones while addressing the song topics during the breaks and finally throwing in a cover of Discharge’s “Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing”.

A slightly outdated Resistant Culture
biography says that Katina’s musicality and presence problematizes multiple stereotypes by “blowing most guys off the stage with meticulous precise effortless playing and a thrashing storm of head-banging”. Katina’s musicality and presence presents what could be understood as a feminist intervention in white, male punk normativity. In another set of quotes that could be seen as paralleling or being directly related to feminism, Anthony talks about their outlook and their message; “A lot of our lyrics focus on the destruction of nature and the oppression of people and animals. We also focus on raising consciousness about the past, present, and future of native peoples worldwide. We believe that we need to deepen our understanding of the state of world and the state of our minds since we are heading toward an uncertain future. Creating a dialog through music for people to discuss new ideas for change and new possibilities for community empowerment is the substance we try to bring to the music world”. Resistant Culture’s focus on survival, the environment and widespread liberation comes from lived experiences and their beliefs and ideas are comparable to and were formulated under similar, yet different situations as more recent intersectional and positionally conscious feminist theories and practices.

I would again like to acknowledge that there are dangers of misrepresentation and recolonization when comparing these views to what I, from my privileged positionality, believe is radical, intersectional and positionally conscious feminism. I aim to draw parallels between intersectional and positionally conscious feminist theory and the frameworks and interventions that come out of lived experiences and subjugated knowledges.

The Twin Cities crust punk scene and more specifically the Profane Existence Anniversary Show aren’t extremely radical, diverse or accessible spaces, but there are interventions happening and hopefully modifying and reclaiming those spaces in the name of true liberation and equality.

Resistant Culture Official Website

Reality TV: True Life: I'm a Mixed Martial Arts Fighter

I watched an episode of MTV's True Life series titled, "I'm a Mixed Martial Arts Fighter." It follows three guys who are training in mixed martial arts to start (or continue) professional fighting careers in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) - style competition.

Ian Stonehouse is a college student Colorado State University majoring in graphic design. He is balancing school and fighting, unable to quit one for the other. He is fighting unpaid matches in order to work his way up to professional status, only able to train part-time. In the beginning of the episode he is on his way to a match. He finishes it cleanly and quickly. He continues to train, and, at the end of the show, wins another fight, which puts him closer to breaking into the professional league.

Frankie Edgar is a professional fighter in UFC, and is preparing for both a fight, and his wedding to his fiancee, Renee, that follows ten days afterwards. He and Renee have been together 7 years together - her reaction to his fighting is denial, it's too much to handle. He's so busy with the upcoming fight that he cannot help Renee plan the wedding. After three rounds, Frankie's opponent is declared winner. It was a fairly clean fight with no injuries. He and Renee marry, and shortly after, discover Renee is pregnant.

Kit Cope won the Muay Thai kickboxing world championship, and turned to mixed martial arts fighting as something new, another venue in which to become a champion. Since switching fighting leagues, he's had three serious injuries, yet keeps fighting. He and his girlfriend, Aubrey, have been on and off for about 2.5 years, mostly because, as he describes, she couldn't understand that he needs distance from her (and emotional intimacy) as fights are approaching. At the start of the show, he has an office job, which he quits in order to train full time for his upcoming fight. He makes 8-9 thousand dollars a month on endorsements in the two months leading up to his fight. He wins the fight, starting him on a course back up toward professional UFC. He moved in with Aubrey after the filming, and then they broke up two months later.

The episode is on MTV's series True Life. I saw the show in the True Life website, which shows no information about production companies, sponsors, or the like. It is, to my knowledge, produced by MTV itself. There were no credits on the internet version of the show. The series shows youth (sub)cultures through documentary-style depictions. The topics are often provocative and more "mature," as they are not part of the public discourse, and sometimes considered taboo. This creates many levels of interest. Younger viewers may be attracted more for the thrill of watching something they "aren't supposed to." Teen and college-age people may be interested for the reason that it covers things they may be thinking about actively, or cultures they may be part of. For older viewers, it is a view into, often, things that younger members of society are taking part in, providing a sort of voyeuristic encapsulation of youth culture.

The advertising on the web-version of the episode was aimed at a younger audience (the two ads were Sour Skittles and Hillary Duff's perfume). Though I think the show is aimed, by different means, at all age groups, the advertising has a particular bend that, perhaps shows more the nature of young people than the actual intended audience of the show. I'm not sure of the tactics of advertisers, but I could see younger people being harder to retain as viewers (their viewing may not be as intentional, or loyal to one show, and they may channel surf during commercials). Thus, the ads I saw.

This episode shows the lives of three men engaging in Mixed Martial Arts fighting, a very masculine, violent, competitive "sport," that rewards with money the beating up (and sometimes death) of one's opponent. The guys in this show appear as "normal" guys...except they beat people up and make money off of it. And, I suppose I would say that's probably true. It is the ways in which masculine socialization comes out that differentiates, or, that is what the show and the producers would have us think. The lens they use shows these men as fighters - fighting takes over their lives, as evidenced in Frankie's line, "I'll enjoy my wedding, but when we come back from the honeymoon, I'm going to be getting right back into fighting." Family plays a close second to fighting, for these men, yet it is implied that that should never be the case for their romantic partners. I believe the show achieves this by condensing the material they collect in the narration process. To make a short, cohesive story, they must leave out all kinds of other details like what the rest of their lives are like outside of fighting and their romantic partners (what do these guys' parents think of their fighting careers?). They become viewed as fighting machines, all we see them do is fight or prepare for fighting, or talk about fighting with their girlfriends.

The show appears to be taking an "objective" stance to this subject - but this is never really the case. They have a specific agenda with producing a show about MMA fighting. It may have no ties to that sport or industry, but it may have to do with the appeal that shows about questionable and provocative subjects hold for the viewers. Just as with most reality tv, it seems, they feed off of controversy, even though they may put a guise over their work of somehow being better than the competition based reality shows, like A Shot at Love, I Love New York, A Real Chance at Love, etc. The thing is...this show is put out by the same network that does a lot of those shows as well, so it cannot so clearly cut ties, in my mind. It may be a different production crew, but that means only different people - they're still getting a paycheck from MTV, all the same.

One thing that really caught my attention was their portrayal of women. The women who are dating/engaged to the male subjects of this show are shown as, more or less, not having agency in their relationships. They explicitly say that they do not enjoy watching the fights, but they don't appear to hold up any resistance to it. In fact, Renee, Frankie's fiancee, actually had to plan most of their wedding on her own, because he was so busy preparing for the fight that was set for 10 days before the wedding (and where were either of their parents or other family in the planning process - or the whole show?). She understood that he would be so engrossed in training that he would be of no mind to plan - it was not shown if she ever put up resistance to this, asking him to move the fight to another date, or asking him not to fight altogether.
Kit and his girlfriend, Aubrey, have a similar situation, with its own problems: he needs his distance from her, and intimacy in general, when a fight is approaching. The way the story is told (by him), they were on-and-off for the better part of 2.5 years, because she couldn't get this point. At the time of filming, they are in one of their highs, and everything seems to be going OK. She repeats what he tells the camera, as if she had memorized it for a test. What bothered me most about this situation was the implications it has about their sex life and Aubrey's intimacy needs, which take a backseat to Kit's fighting. It implies a one-way exchange of power/influence.

Mixed Martial Arts fighting, and the Ultimate Fighting Championship League that it is a part of, act to reinforce and further normalize violence in this society. These fighters are paid to hurt and potentially paralyze or kill other human beings. In that way, violence becomes a way of life, as with crime and the military, violence is reinforced as part of our society because people can make a living off of it, and I don't see much difference or benefit to this form of violence over others. Just as mainstream, hardcore pornography normalizes violence against and domination of women, the fighting championship industry normalizes male violence and competition. It also makes it difficult for some of these men to reject because they are so tied up in capitalist patriarchy - getting paid to perform masculinity.

Race is never directly examined in this piece. The men in the lead roles are white, they fight white men, they date white women. Their friends are white, except for one picture of Frankie's past, when he tried out for the UFC reality show - it was him surrounded by three big, buff black men. That was it! It falls into the same mode of most television where race is untreated, sending a message to most of white America that this is just a "normal" thing (not a white thing). I see some trends within this episode, though I'm not sure that I can articulate it. This is a sport that thrives on white masculinity. Masculinities tied to other races may not value this form of fighting and competition as much, or may not have the privilege to do so, given the history of that race with white society. Such as, black manhood being characterized (in white eyes) by extremely violent tendencies and hypersexuality. I ask, would black men want to participate in this "sport" that only furthers those stereotypes about black manhood? In addition, the men are able to afford to both not have a full-time job in order to train, and also afford to pay the trainers for their services have a certain level of class privilege. If people of color had that class privilege would they want to put themselves at risk by fighting? Do masculinities other than those of the lead roles of this episode, perhaps tied to other races, ethnic groups, sexualities, for example, require members to prove themselves in similar rituals.

In terms of lenses, the production team really did a good job of hiding any motives behind the veil of the documentary style. It simultaneously shows the viewers a subculture that they may have been unfamiliar with - one in which violence is cultivated and rewarded and reinforced as masculine - yet renders it somewhat harmless, by depicting only a very limited range of experience in this culture. UFC and other competitive fighting is very dangerous - injuries range from minor cuts and bruises to dislocated joints, paralyzation, and death. Yet, the most damage sustained during this show was by Kit Cope's opponent, whose forhead he gashed open with his elbow. The only other serious injuries were the one's from Kit's past, pictures of which they showed. That was framed, however, in the light that he was unprepared - he had not trained in mixed martial arts but was going into that league. Thus, he "got what he deserved" seems to be the mentality, but now he's going at it again to prove himself, pushing through physical "discomfort" (i.e. debilitating injuries) in order to do so. In order to reach this pinnacle of a champion title, his limited masculinity essentially forces him to endure physical harm and push himself past his bodily limits. As Michael Messner writes in his book, Men and Masculinities, "men tend to engage in violence and high-risk behavior at much higher rates than do women; and men are taught to downplay or ignore their own pain.... Men tend to pay heavy costs - in the form of shallow relationships, poor health, and early death - for conformity with the narrow definitions of masculinity that promise to bring them status and privilege" (6). This episode is a case and point for Messner's argument.

Reality TV Analysis

The Real Housewives of Atlanta

a) In the hour-long episode that I watched, several enthralling, gossip-filled events take place. The first appearance made by the women featured on Housewives is at an adult sleepover. At this slumber party, the ladies hire a pole dancing instructor and learn how to perfect their stripper moves. There is one white woman on the show, but only the four black females were at this gathering. The following quotes were heard during this segment: "Black women have booty and we shake 'em and we're proud." "Women + alcohol + a pole = a great time, a great time." (I will refer to these comments more later.) 

The white woman on the show, Kim, desperately wants to become a country singer. This episode follows her meetings with a famous producer and a renowned voice coach. Kim is told that she doesn't know what she's doing, but with a copious amount of money, anything is possible, right?

DeShawn has a birthday party with some of the women and they have dinner at a classy restaurant in Atlanta. One of the women, NeNe, gets drunk and starts drama. Her comments toward Kim's singing career cause a great divide amongst the women and ruin "once meaningful" friendships.

Additionally, the women go to a lingerie shop and try on fancy undergarments. They talk all about their bodies and what their respective husbands/boyfriends like to see them in. Kim and Sheree also go to have Botox treatments. Beauty ideals and expectations are briefly discussed. 

Lastly, NeNe wants to start a foundation that would support women who are victims of domestic abuse. Along with other wealthy women, she plans for the "Twisted Hearts, Battered but not Broken" Big Hat brunch.   

b) True Entertainment (an off chute of Endemol, "a global leader in entertainment programming") is the production company responsible for the show. (True has put out various other reality shows, ranging from series seen on Discovery Health to TLC.) Their shows are produced so that they can make money, and possibly so they can reinforce the stereotypes and ideals in the American system. (It is this system, this way of thinking, that keeps the shows in production.) Real Housewives airs on Bravo (a cable channel) at all hours of the day. The newest episodes are always shown at night–the Atlanta season is complete, but "The Real Housewives of OC" airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. central time. I watched Housewives at 10 a.m. 

c) The audience for this show is quite obvious when viewing the commercials. Both young and middle-aged women (particularly mothers and wives) are the primary targets of Housewives and the advertisements that run during the show. Products typically consumed by females, such as makeup and Victoria's Secret lingerie, were seen. Other items, such as Campbell's soup, Verizon cell phones, Frosted Mini Wheats, and KY Lube were presented in a way that would attract Housewives' specific audience. Women, either spending time with their female friends or with their boyfriend/husband, were seen in virtually all of the 30-some commercials. 

d) Where do I start...
Societal expectations are reinforced constantly, starting with the title of the show. These women are housewives; they fill the caretaker role that females are "supposed to." They also rely on their husbands funds to live extravagantly. At the beginning of the show, a viewer sees that the women have a great deal of fun being hypersexual. They are learning how to display their bodies for the male gaze. The quote that I mentioned earlier ("Women + alcohol + a pole = a great time, a great time") was said by a female, but it certainly sounds like a remark that a man would make. This show is directed towards women, but it is filmed and produced with a male gaze (as almost all of today's media is). Laura Mulvey's essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" directly relates to this idea of "looking." She explains that cinema (reality television, in this case) "offers a number of possible pleasures. One is scopophilia. There are circumstances in which looking itself is a source of pleasure, just as, in the reverse formation, there is pleasure in being looked at" (344). The women in Housewives definitely enjoy being seen, and the women (and men) watching the show like to see the housewives. By showing content that is inherently sexual, such as stripping or trying on lingerie, this scopophilia is only intensified. Throughout this scene, it also seemed as though the creators of the show were saying that black women long to be strippers. ("Black women have booty and we shake 'em and we're proud.") The blonde, busty, white woman wants to be a country singer, and for some reason, she was not present at the stripping lesson. Male perspective and racial stereotypes are pervasive in Housewives. 

Another recurring theme in the show is that women are dramatic, gossip-spreading "bitches." The women slander each other, send horrific text messages, and pick fights over minutia. When the group is at the birthday dinner, the women have their husbands alongside them. As soon as the ladies start to bad-mouth one another, the men roll their eyes and appear to be fed up by their wives. Within Housewives, the men are often patronizing toward their partners. The women were portrayed as being generally unintelligent, but the men were knowledgeable leaders. 

Beauty expectations are talked about and the women's desire for perfection is seen repeatedly. From going to get Botox and claiming that "beauty is pain" to wearing minimal clothing when taking pole dancing lessons, the women are constantly showing off their bodies and striving toward what is "ideal." Society's construction of what is attractive can be seen time and time again on Housewives.

Mulvey, Laura. "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." Media and Cultural Studies: KeyWorks. Eds. Durham, Gigi and Douglas Kellner. 342-352

Reality Television Post

Like many people, my guilty pleasure is reality television. I typically follow one show and this semester my show of choice was “The Real Housewives of Atlanta”. I was already a huge fan of the series but as soon as Bravo announced it would be in Atlanta, Georgia I was intrigued. This was the first time Bravo allowed African Americans on the TV show. I was slightly disturbed that African American women who had wealth could only participate on the show if they were in a predominantly Black city such as Atlanta. Bravo paints a picture that there are no wealthy African Americans in California or New York which is completely false. Nonetheless, I was excited and anxious for Black women to have a chance to participate on the show. Although the chance to participate on “The Real Housewives” is to display one’s lavish lifestyle and love of capitalism, I knew the show would be different with African American women. I was proven correctly!

The premise of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” is to follow the lives of five women who live in Atlanta, Georgia. The camera follows the lives of Nene, Sheree, DeShawn, Kim, and Lisa. All of the women except Kim have successful careers in Real Estate or fashion. DeShawn runs her own foundation for young African American girls in Atlanta. Kim, the only white cast member, lives off of her sugar daddy named “Big Poppa”. These women were all friends at the start of the seasons, however, by the end of the show NeNe, Kim, and Sheree have a falling out which ends their friendship. Bravo’s goal is to show us “common folk” how the other half lives. If one watches one episode of this show you will see these women’s spending habits and dramatic appraisals of situations. The women behave like teenagers with access to huge bank accounts. The camera loves the drama and so does the wealthy.

The Real Housewives of Atlanta is aired by Bravo. However, the show is produced by True Entertainment. The executive producers of the show are Steven Weinstock, Glenda Hersh, Shari Solomon Cedar, and Kenny Hull. True Entertainment is known for its love of drama and wealth. True Entertainment is also responsible for the “Gastineau Girls” another reality television about the lives of the New York socialites. The show airs at 10 pm on Wednesday nights intended for an adult viewership. Since the show is produced by True Entertainment which has already put out other reality television, The Real Housewives of Atlanta was already slated to encompass lots of drama and a huge display of wealth. The issue is none of the produces were Black. Therefore, there was no one to take a conscious lens to how these women were being portrayed and how they would fit into a larger conversation about African American women in society.

All of the women drove Range Rovers, Mercedes Benz, and BMW’s. The women had designer handbags and drank expensive champagne. Also, the jewelry in the show was outrageous. These women would wear hundreds of thousands of dollars of jewelry just to attend a party. Also, the women always ate at upscale restaurants. I never saw any of them go to a fast food restaurant during the duration of the show. It is clear that all of the products advertised in the show were for people who could afford these material objects. If the viewers could not afford it, the show is set up to make people want to engage in the lifestyle of the wealthy and elite. All of the women find happiness in their money. This is seen by spending lots of money for hair; make up, nails, and clothes. The women need a lot of money to have the best of everything and the ABSOLUTE BEST OF EVERYTHING makes them happy.

Now that I have given a good premise in explaining the show, I will talk about the episode I viewed. I watched the “The Real Housewives of Atlanta Reunion Show”. The show started off in a very interesting but problematic way. The host of the show asked the women “Did you feel any pressure about representing African Americans while on camera”. This question was very interesting because this was the first time in the history of the Housewives reunion series this questions was asked. The host never asked the Real Housewives of Orange County or New York if they felt pressured to represent white women in a positive light. This already normatizes supposed “bad behavior” from African American women. Even more interesting was the response of the women. NeNe said “No!” because she was concerned with giving Bravo a good television show. NeNe who’s behavior on the show fits with the Sapphire stereotype that follows many African American women in the United States. At one point she mocks Kim’s relationship with Big Poppa calling her a “whore”. She tells Kim “close your legs to married men”, therefore, demonizing Kim’s behavior and sexuality. She ultimately calls her promiscuous and stupid because Big Poppa will never leave his wife. The only woman to say she was conscious of her behavior because of stereotypes of Black women was Sheree. This is a huge issue because it definitely shows a class issue. Many of the women felt removed from these stereotypical images of Black women because they are Upper-class women who do not engage with lower class women on a regular basis. Instead they all live in their exclusive and gated communities. Therefore, their behavior and their relation to behavior is purely a class issue. Their identities are linked to their race and gender, however, their class solidifies how these women view themselves in a larger societal context. This creates a distance between middle class and lower class African American women and the women on the show. Therefore, the lower class women become voyeurs of this lavish lifestyle with no connections to these women because the show never shows how race factors into their lives. Unlike the lower class women who may feel racism on a regular basis, the show is created to show that these women do not engage with a discriminatory narrative.

Another aspect I want to discuss about the reunion show is the comments Kim makes about DeShawn’s barbeque. She said “I don’t want to go to DeShawn’s BBQ and eat chicken with NeNe”. NeNe challenged this by saying “we had lamb and shrimp so I found the comment suspect”. Kim’s comment is embedded in racist ideology. The fact that she assumed that there would be chicken at the barbeque plays on raical stereotypes of food that Black people eat. When NeNe calls her out, she says “I’m not racist. Half of my friends are black”. This response is full of what Stuart Hall calls “inferential racism”. In his essay “The Whites of Their Eyes” he says “inferential racism is naturalized representations of events and situations relating to race, whether “factual” or “fictional”, which have racist premises and propositions inscribed in them as a set of unquestioned assumptions” (91). Whether or not Kim meant this as a racist comment, it shows how certain symbols such as chicken become linked to black people. I am sure Kim isn’t the only person who thinks this. When I search watermelon on urban dictionary. com, the fruit is always linked to black people. As I conclude this post on reality television, the reunion show showed the women fighting more than the other housewives reunions I watched. I can’t help but wonder whether or not the producers of the show wanted to evoke the Sapphire image of these Black women for its white audience. This image is what many white Americans feel comfortable when dealing with images of Black women. The depictions of the Black Housewives were definitely different than those of the white housewives. This season focused more on fighting which begs the question “why”?