Music Player

Monday, December 15, 2008

Pole-dancing classes in SLC!

Okay, so this isn't really related to my project, but I couldn't resist posting about it. 

I work at The Front Climbing Club here in Salt Lake, and over the weekend, I found out that pole-dancing classes are now taught in our yoga room!  There are five poles set up in our yoga studio, and the girls who teach the classes even have platform "stripper" heels to borrow for class.  

I thought these sort of classes were only taught in LA...  But apparently Raunch Culture has infiltrated even the Zion Curtain, and now you can pole-dance your way to fitness here in Salt Lake City.   

So...  anyone interested in taking a pole-dancing class, come on down to the gym and check it out! Currently the class is for women only, (sorry guys!).   We don't have any info about the class on our website yet, but if you call the gym, we can get you all the details.  

Friday, December 12, 2008

Track 6: Dance Club as Meat Market?

Written and Performed by Dane Cook

This comedy sketch deals with the dating mecca for young urban adults; a place known as "the club."  Dance clubs are places where they play loud music and serve alcohol, where girls go to dance, and guys go to meet girls.  Comedian Dane Cook's treatment of the club scene is honest and realistic amid his comedic tone.  

Cook begins the act by presenting the male idea of the club by describing his friends;
My friends took me out the other night.  They were like, "dude, we gotta go out man.  Let's go."  I was like, "I don't wanna go out." 
"Come on dude. Lets go get some chicks!"
Yeah?  Just like that? What about that whole middle ground where you're an idiot?!
"No, dude. ..  Let's go get some chicks!"
So they wanna go out dancing, right?  Guys, we go to the clubs 'cause that where you go, the girls go.
 The portrayal of guys here is fairly typical of modern mainstream media- guys are driven by libido to chase these commodified women, casually called "chicks."  The phrase "Let's go get some chicks" sounds, to me like the speaker is hungry, like he wants a product of some kind.  The word chicks could be replaced with 'burgers' or 'drinks.' 

 The speaker seems to consider a chicks a fairly easy commodity to acquire, although Cook disagrees with him on that point.  The dance club has become, at least in some male minds, a kind of store.  At this store, currency is measured by dance moves and good looks, and the products are all on display, for sale to the highest bidder.  

The sketch continues with the female perspective;
Girls go [to clubs] to dance.  You get ready with your friends, "Lets go dance tonight!  Let's just-- fuck guys tonight.  Let's just stand in a circle around our shoes and pocketbooks and let's just dance.  And if a guy comes near us, we'll taser him.  No guys." 
This perspective clashes with Ariel Levy's concept of Raunch Culture.  So what's going on here?  Why aren't these girls throwing themselves at all the men in the club?  My argument is that a club, while often a place to exhibit sexuality and to pick up men, can also be a place just to let off steam every once in a while- a place to hold the fabled "girls night out." 

Everyone needs a break from the constant hunt for love, right?  Even if a girl is happily married, or steadily dating, a break from the role of wife or girlfriend can be pleasant.  Many girls enjoy dancing, so why not dance as a way to escape for an evening?  

Cook continues, humorously reversing the roles of the "girls night out;"
You never hear a guy say to one of his buddies, "Hey, listen.  Mike. Michael. Tonight, dude, I gotta dance.   What?  Chicks? No, no, fuck chicks, dude.  I wanna dance! I just wanna express myself through the art of dance, Mike.  I don't wanna see a chick."
 The humor here comes from the popular ideology that men are always interested in girls.  They may have the "guys night out" involving beer and a sporting event, but does that mean they're not checking out the cheerleaders?  Why do most of the commercials played on ESPN involve scantily clad women?  Because of the insatiable male libido- according to the ideology, anyway.  

As the act continues, Cook revives the theme of commodified women, and discusses the change in the dancing ritual;
Then we [guys] just go to the club and stand over in the corner and stare at you [girls] while you're out there;  Mine, she's mine!!

It's not like the old days where you come up and are like "May I have this dance, please?"  You know?  We just, out of fuckin' nowhere come up,  Pow, Pow! "What's up?"  pow! pow! pow! "You mind if I knock against you with my cock?"  Pow! "Just for about an hour?"
This change in the ritual on the dance floor must be born from the ideology that accompanies Raunch Culture.  In the days of the dance card, women were presumed to be shy, demure, ladylike creatures.  Now, a woman in a club, doing some sexy dancing is considered to be open for business, letting the world know that she wants to dance.  Naturally, customs have changed to reflect this.  If a woman is advertising, however inadvertently, her openness to meet guys on the dance floor, a man cannot be faulted for taking her up on the offer.  

It is also important to consider that "back in the day", one did not simply dance alone- one needed a partner.  Now, it is entirely acceptable to go out on the floor alone, or with a group of girls.   Dancing, along with many other activities, including motherhood, has become partner-optional.  

So, ladies, before we all go out and 'dance in a circle around our shoes and pocketbooks,' let's remember to see who might be checking out our asses.  And gentlemen, remember, 'knocking' into a girl with a your 'denim cock' does not count as a pickup line.  

Track 5: How many dolls does it take to make a single?

Composed by Cee-lo, Sir Mix-a-lot and Busta Rhymes
Performed by the Pussycat Dolls, featuring Busta Rhymes

Honestly.  I don't even know where to start. 

Okay.  Let's begin with the Pussycat Dolls, just as a band, shall we?  I could have written my entire blog on them, focusing on their first album, "PCD," but after realizing how much I would have to listen to their music, I reconsidered.  

First off, I have to let the (pussy) cat out of the bag. (Sorry.  I couldn't help myself.)  There may be six members in this band, but only one of them, Nicole Scherzinger, is a singer.  She sings lead and backup vocals on every track of the record.  I doubt any of the other Dolls even showed up to the studio while their album was being recorded.   The other five members are merely there for show, to be eye candy in the music videos.  

This shouldn't be big news, because the girls don't keep it a secret.  The first page of the liner notes for their PCD album states the fact loud and clear.   If we  step back from feminism for a moment, we can fully appreciate the Pussycat Dolls as the definition of a Postmodern Band.  They are essentially a 1990's boy-band, they don't hide the fact that most of them don't even sing, yet they are incredibly popular.  This should be a huge scandal- remember Ashlee Simpson's lip-synching catastrophe?  Or was that Lindsey Lohan?  Regardless, the sheer artificiality of this band would make Baudrillard's head spin.   

From a feminist point of view, this band is no less fascinating/disturbing.  Surely much of their popularity stems from the number of women involved in the band.  One female singer, no matter how musically talented, or how physically attractive she is, is going to be quite as exciting as a band of six.  

The concept of such a band is surely interesting, but the name of it is truly remarkable.  The term 'pussycat' has been in use for some time, generally in reference to a sexy woman.  Another girl band has called themselves pussycats; Josie and the Pussycats, a popular animated television show in the early 1970's, was based upon the characters in the Archie Comics series, written by Dan DeCarlo.  The girls were often involved in adventures, solving mysteries, and playing gigs- a fairly innocent group.  Josie, Valerie and Melody each played their own instrument and sang- a stark contrast to the new Pussycats.  

And not just Pussycats, but Pussycat Dolls.  It is actually an appropriate title for most of the band, as dolls are mute, inanimate playthings.  

The iTunes store review of the album sums it up nicely;
There's a kind of beautifully perverse brilliance to the Pussycat Dolls.  Not only are they a sextet who got their start as neo-burlesque dancers in Los Angeles, but they make no bones about being a gleefully manufactured dance-pop act. ... There is no pretense that Kimberly, Carmit, Ashley, Melody and Jessica are there for anything besides filling out the illusion that this is a real performing musical group and providing some serious eye-candy for a group that is all about the visuals.
 Well, enough about the band. Let's get to the song. 

Busta Rhymes opens the song with a rap verse about being on the "Prowl for the best chick."  The Dolls come in after his verse, Scherzinger, singing confident and seductive lyrics.

I know you like me, (I know you like me)
I know you do, (I know you do)
That's why whenever I come around 
she's all over you.
I know you want it, ( I know you want it)
It's easy to see, (it's easy to see)
And in the back of your mind
I know you should be on with me. 

This confident and overtly sexual nature, present throughout the song, is a prime example of how women use sexuality to exert power not only over men, but over other women.  This verse encourages the man to claim his sexual freedom, to give in to his sexual impulses and ignore any loyalty he may have to his girlfriend, who appears in the chorus.

Don't cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?
Don't cha wish your girlfriend was a freak like me?
Don't cha?
Don't cha?
Don't cha wish your girlfriend was raw like me?
Don't cha wish your girlfriend was fun like me?
Don't cha?
Don't cha?

This language, while it may appear seductive to a man, sounds downright threatening to a woman, especially if her boyfriend is the target.  The man in the middle becomes merely a pawn, a trophy for whichever girl can outfox the other.  

The trouble with this competition is that the man always wins. The girls compete to keep his interest, they compete to please him, and when he chooses one, the other is left out in the cold.  
 In Ariel Levy's book, Female Chauvinist Pigs, Levy interviews a teenage girl she calls Anne, who is obsessed with her appearance for the sake of garnering attention from boys.  Levy writes
If her looks were a kind of hobby-- if dressing and grooming and working out were things she did for pleasure, then the process would be it's own reward.  But she spoke of her pursuit as a kind of Sisyphean duty, one that many of her friends had charged themselves with as well.  (Levy, 155)
The trouble is that most women, while they take some pleasure in "dressing and grooming and working out," they are motivated by the pursuit of men, by the competition to be the hottest girl at the club.  It's a gamble- the old cliché of keeping all one's eggs in a single basket comes to mind.    

The song portrays women as catty and men as slaves to their libidos- an unfair depiction in both cases.  

Track 4: You're the nicest Witch I know!

Composed by Carolyn Leigh & Cy Coleman
Performed by Frank Sinatra

The original womanizer, aka Ol' Blue Eyes, aka the Chairman of the Board, Frank Sinatra released the single "Witchcraft" in late 1957.   The song is fairly typical of Sinatra's jazzy, crooner style, but the lyrics are more striking than other songs, especially when I've got my rose-tinted feminist glasses on.  

The opening verse sets the tone; 
Those fingers in my hair,
That strips my conscience bare,
It's witchcraft. 

And I've got no defense for it,
The heat is too intense for it, 
What good would common sense for it do?
The effect Sinatra describes here is  the reason so women believe that through sexual temptation and manipulation, they can hold power over men.  In this situation, women do hold some form of power here; they inspire lust in men, and are the key to the satisfaction of lust.  The helplessness of the male in this situation is a result of that lust; and few would know better than Sinatra the power of lust to persuade a man. 

What really interests me about the song, other than the ideology it rigidly adheres to, (Women who look sexy can make men do anything, and the men can't help themselves) is the use of the word "witchcraft."  The term is used slightly jokingly, as indicated by the line later in the song, "There's no nicer witch than you."  However, the point that the term gets across, the indication that women have the power to cast spells over men and that men are defenseless to this magic, is rather telling.  

Consider the chorus of the song;
'Cause it's witchcraft, wicked witchcraft,
and although I know it's strictly taboo, 
When you arouse the need in me, 
My heart says "yes, indeed," in me, 
"Proceed with what you're leadin' me to"

It's such an ancient pitch, 
but one I wouldn't switch, 
'cause there's no nicer witch than you!
I'm a sucker for a blue-eyed crooner, I'll admit, but being called a witch wouldn't be a very effective tactic to seduce or impress me.  The connotations of "witch" are not exactly complimentary.  When I imagine a witch, I see green skin, facial warts, pointy black hats, broomsticks, and cauldrons.  Okay, so there is Glinda, the good witch from The Wizard of Oz, but she is an exception to the rule. 

This song uses the term "witch" to stand in for the "woman" or perhaps "attractive women," a substitution that is degrading to both men and women in this case.  Women described as witches are temptresses, leading men astray.  Men who fall prey to such women are helpless to their spells, unable to refuse the siren's call, which, when you try to escape the all pervasive ideological belief that this is a "natural" phenomenon, is pretty pathetic.  

This song was popular in the late 1950's, a long time ago in terms of popular culture.  The feminist movement was in it's infancy, and most people weren't aware of the misogynistic ideology prevalent during those times.  However, even with the rise of feminism and the dramatic changes in popular culture since Sinatra's heyday, I think the ideology presented by song still holds true.  

I mean, women are still practicing this version of witchcraft, but hems have just risen about a foot, and we're a little more forward about things now; rather than a "sly, come-hither stare," we have pole-dancing.  Both of which get the same message across, really.    

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Track 3: A woman, naturally.

Natural Woman
Composed and Performed by Carole King

In one of her best known and loved songs, Carole King sings that her lover makes her "feel like a natural woman." This sentiment, however romantic, reminds me of the selection from Judith Williamson's book we read entitled "Decoding Advertisements."  One of Williamson's main points in the article, (in case you need a little refresher...) is the transformation of Nature into "The Natural" through technology.  Williamson argues that society "cooks" Nature with the careful application of ideology and the appropriate technology.  

In the case of this song, King presents the "nature" side of the woman, (i.e before the application of ideology / lover)  in the opening lines of the song;

Looking out on the morning rain
I used to feel uninspired
And when I knew I'd have to face another day,
Lord, it made me feel so tired.
Before the day I met you, life was so unkind, 
Your love was the key to my peace of mind.  

Before she is "cooked," so to speak, this woman is uninspired and worn-out by the cruel world.  However, when she finds her lover and gets "cooked" through the ideology of love, she feels at peace, complete, natural.  The connotation of "natural" for Williamson  is an object associated with an inherent quality, an innateness about its existence, when it has, in fact been manufactured.  Of course, Williamson uses this terminology to talk about advertisements for products, but the rhetoric can be applied with a feminist spin here as well, with the woman becoming the object transformed into "the natural." 

In the world of the song, King has been transformed into a "natural woman" by the forces of love.  She continues to describe her transformation upon meeting her lover;

When my soul was in the lost and found, 
you came along to claim it.
I didn't know just what was wrong with me
till your kiss helped me name it.

Now I'm no longer doubtful of what I'm living for, 
and if I make you happy I don't need to do more.  

King describes such a complete rebirth- her lover returned her very soul to her, and when he kissed her, she could find herself.  His presence gives her life meaning and purpose, and she now exists to ensure his happiness.  These lyrics seem to outline and define the modern ideology of love for women.  The relationship she describes here positions the woman in a subservient role to that of her lover- if she can make him happy, then she is a success. 

In the last verse, King describes the payoff of such a relationship;

Oh, baby, what you've done to me, (what you've done to me)
You make me feel so good inside (Good inside)
And I just wanna be (wanna be) close to you,
You make me feel so alive.

You make me feel, you make me feel, 
You make me feel like a natural woman.  

This final verse solidifies the ideology King presents in the previous verses.  She gives her listeners a reason to feel this way, a reward for complete dependence on a man.  It is difficult to argue with such simple and powerful rewards as feeling "good inside," "so alive," and, best of all, "natural."  What more could a girl want? 

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Track 2: Indebted Joyfully

Grand Canyon
Written and Performed by Ani DiFranco

Ani DiFranco is a woman on fire.  I mean that she is a prolific song-writer, a gifted guitar player and singer, a mother, a feminist, an activist, a poet, owner of her own record label.  Many of her songs are autobiograhical, and many are political.  

This poem, "Grand Canyon," mostly a political poem,  speaks to DiFranco's dialectical relationship with the United States of America; a relationship made clear in the opening stanza:

I love my country.
By which I mean, 
I am indebted joyfully
to all the people throughout its history
who have fought the government to make right.
Where so many cunning sons and daughters,
our foremothers and forefathers
came singing through slaughter, 
came through hell and high water, 
so that we could stand here,
and behold breathlessly the sight, 
how a raging river of tears 
cut a grand canyon of light.
 The opening line of the poem feels like a confession coming from a woman who has so often been in opposition with the politics and popular culture present in the United States.  Many of her other works make her opinion clear, through lines like, "Who's gonna be president, tweedle dumb or tweedle dumber?"  and on the discovery of a slave cemetery, "may their souls rest easy now that lynching is frowned upon.  We've moved on to the electric chair."  

The sarcastic tone present in those lines is no where to be found in "Grand Canyon."  DiFranco speaks honestly and plainly, but with a razor edge to her tongue.  

DiFranco makes a point of including both genders in her mention of our political ancestors, the  "cunning sons and daughters,"  who would become our "foremothers and forefathers."  This sense of equality echoes through the rest of the poem.  Where feminists have been labeled as extremist man-haters, DiFranco, who is proud to call herself a feminist, pays homage to both genders.  

DiFranco looks closely at our past and present culture, noting, for example,  stewardesses on airplanes;
Yes I've been so many places, 
flown through vast empty spaces
with stewardesses whose hands 
look much older than their faces
The women she describes here are still in the clutches of a culture preaching the value of youth is greater than the value of age.  Presumably, the stewardesses have clung to their youthful faces by way of lotions and serums, spa treatments, perhaps a chin tuck or an eye lift

 The position of stewardess on a major airline, glamorized in the 1960's, is stereotypically filled by beautiful young women who obey the beck and call of their passengers, bring drinks and fluff pillows.  Flight Attendants, as they are currently called in an effort to be politically correct, were, and still are, rarely men.  The expected role of a woman as a subservient caretaker fits the job description nicely.  

The stewardesses DiFranco describes have begun to age, but their plastic faces do not show their years of constant travel.  Instead, we see their wrinkled hands serving yet another diet coke with ice in a plastic cup.   

In another verse, DiFranco praises the early feminists and activists,  and is 

Shocked to tears by each new vison
of all that my ancestors have done.

Like, say, the women who gave their lives 
So that I could have one. 

People, we're standing at ground zero of the feminist revolution. 
Yeah, it was an inside job, 
stoic and sly, 
one we're supposed to forget, and downplay and deny, 
but I think the time is nothing
if not nigh, 
to let the truth out!
Coolest F-word ever deserves a fucking shout!

I mean, why can't all decent men and women call themselves feminists?
out of respect, 
for those who fought for this?

I mean, look around.
We have this. 

By "this," she refers to the country we live in, the civil rights and equality now present in our constitution.  She stands in gratitude and awe of women like Susan Brownwell Anthony, leader of the Women's suffrage movment, and others like her, brave women who simply believed in equality and freedom for all, regardless of gender or race. 

Where Fergie is playing an Uncle Tom, blinded by the popular ideology and unaware of her  subservient role, yet determined to be the best sex object she can be, DiFranco, in her refusal to buy into the current popular ideology, and her determination to bring awareness of the ideology to to others, she becomes truly empowered as a woman.  

I am reading Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra in one of my classes, and we were talking about how Cleopatra's role as a woman is incredibly different than any other woman in Shakespearian literature.  Some women, like Antony's Roman wife, Fulvia, vie for power with the men, abandoning femininity in their quest for equality.  Fulvia is a warrior, but no longer feminine.  Other women, like Octavia, the sister of Octavius Caesar and Antony's second bride, embrace their femininity, but are resigned to the subservience demanded of females.  Cleopatra manages to be both feminine and warrior.  She is respected, not only for her beauty, but for her mind, for the aura of power surrounding her.  She is famously described by Enobarbus, a Roman soldier under Antony's command;

I think Ani DiFranco is a sort of modern day Cleopatra, and her brand of feminism is concerned with equality.   Women should not be required to behave like men to gain empowerment, but that women should be respected on the basis of their womanhood.   

Track 1: lovely lady lumps

Composed by
Performed by The Black Eyed Peas

In the hit song, "My Humps," rapper of the Black Eyed Peas asks the question:
What you gon' do with all that junk?
All that junk inside your trunk?
To which his female bandmate, Fergie, answers:
I'ma get get get get you drunk,
get you love drunk off my hump.
 This short exchange, repeated as the chorus of the song, encapsulates Ariel Levy's concept of "Raunch Culture," and the idea of female empowerment through sexual acts.  Fergie, in this song and in many others, plays the role of a woman empowered through her sex appeal.  Because she is portrayed as "sexy" she has the ultimate power over men; they fall at her feet, giving her anything and everything she wants.  Consider this verse:
I drive these brothers [fuckers] crazy,
I do it on the daily,
They treat me really nicely,
They buy me all these ices,
Fendi and NaDonna
Karan they be sharin'
all their money got me wearin' fly
Brother I ain't askin'
They say they love my ass in
I say no, but they keep givin'..
Because of her ability to "drive the boys crazy," Fergie is able to collect all sorts of gifts and praises.  She is effectively commodifying her body; trading her "humps" and the pleasures they promise for jewelry and designer clothing.  The "boys"  seem to understand this agreement- buy her a purse, or a pair of jeans, and receive in return all the pleasures of the female body, of this particularly slim, tanned, and toned female body. 

 Fergie never explicitly promises anything, preserving her reputation; but the exchange seems to be understood.  Why else would these "boys" be spending so much money on her?
She even manages to protect her femininity, which, by convention of our culture, means that she should be demure and gracious.  She doesn't ever ask for gifts, and when she is presented with a handbag, or a piece of "ice," one can picture her saying, however insincerely, "Oh no, I could never accept such an expensive gift!  You shouldn't have spent so much on little ol' me!" as she is already integrating her new item into her outfit.     

She continues to protect her feminine virtues in the following verse:
They say I'm really sexy,
the boys they wanna sex me,
they're always standing next to me,
always dancing next to me,
tryin' a feel my hump, hump,
lookin' at my lump, lump. 
you can look but you can't touch it, 
if you touch it I'ma start some drama, 
you don't want no drama.
no no drama, no no no no drama. 
So don't pull on my hand, boy,
you ain't my man, boy,
I'm just tryin'a dance, boy
and move my hump.   
Her threats of 'drama' assert her feeling of empowerment as a "woman in control of her sexuality."  She will dress as sexily as she pleases, driving the boys crazy, but ultimately, she decides who gets to touch her, which lucky man will win her.  

What Fergie fails to see, however, is why she chooses to dress and act in such a way.  Is she comfortable in her designer heels and mini dress?  Of course not- her feet are killing her, and her sequined dress keeps scratching the insides of her arms.  Her feeling of empowerment springs from the male gaze.

 She has become something that every man wants- but only a select few can afford.  The modern ideology; the concept that a woman is good if she can make the men lust after her is hard at work here. Her ability to inspire men to spend money on her is little more than her ability to market her sexuality in such a way that men believe they can buy her.  

Her threat to "start some drama" will achieve what, exactly?  The offending boy will be thrown out of the club by a huge bouncer?  A bone-chilling fate, to be sure. 

Consider the final repetition of the chorus, which is longer than the earlier versions. and Fergie are exchanging lines, Will asking the questions, Fergie answering.  
What you gon' do with all that ass?
all that ass inside them jeans?

I"ma make make make make you scream, 
make you scream, make you scream.

What you gon' do with all that junk, 
all that junk inside that trunk?

I'ma get get get get you drunk, 
get you love drunk off this hump.

What you gon' do wit all that breast,
all that breast inside that shirt?

I'ma make make make make you work, 
make you work work make you work.  
This final exchange emphasizes Fergie's body as commodity.  Using her breasts and butt as a synecdoche for her indicates the overly sexual nature of our popular culture.  She touts her body as loudly any hawker trying to make a profit.   Fergie indicates that she is open for business, but that she doesn't come cheap.  She'll make you work for what you get.  This position of commodity, this role of supplier makes Fergie little more than a glorified stripper, a tease.  

So if you want some of the junk in her trunk, or perhaps some of her lovely lady lumps, boys, be prepared to pay this sexually emancipated, entirely empowered woman.