Sorry, y’all. I’m undergoing an ideological shift and I’m busy studying for orals. I’ll write soon, I promise. I won’t promise that what I write will make any sense.
The period from 1997 to 2002 was definitely the nadir of American culture, and there was no worse place to witness the depths of stupidity the entertainment industry was able to inculcate in the public than Los Angeles. I lived there from late 1998 to 2004, a period that saw half the city’s population face the dilemma of whether to set oneself up at one of the infinite points along the Swingers-to-rockabilly continuum or to shoot all the way past rockabilly, buy a stupid hat and an early model convertible sedan, and get down with the Rob Zombie/Sunset Boulevard Guitar Center/Dave Navarro scene. The other half had to decide between house music and trance. It was real fucked up.
The music scene in town consisted of geriatric swaggarts like the members of Velvet Revolver in leopard printed rayon shirts and flavor savors attempting to resurrect the late-80s hair metal scene for audiences with excessive tattoos who were there the first time and were having just as hard a time as the bands were letting it go, bands made up of other geriatric swaggarts attempting to latch onto the rap rock fad in order to try (and fail) to avoid irrelevance, dance clubs that made the ones in Night at the Roxbury seem sophisticated, and a few bands attempting to create an LA “indie sound” out of the derivative dregs of other cities’ dead garage rock scenes.
I suppose it could have been worse. I could have lived in a suburb somewhere outside of California where people were paying money to see the Barenaked Ladies and the Fun Lovin’ Criminals. I could have been aware that the movie The Big Hit existed. Instead, LA afforded me the chance to avoid knowing anyone who talked about attending Woodstock ’99 or thought the Deftones were the most countercultural shit out, but at a fairly high price: living at the center of the production of the means for national befuddlement, a center to which women and men flocked from all over the country to humiliate themselves in order to participate in that befuddlement.
The late 90s and early 00s witnessed the rise of totally pointless and absolutely thoughtless raunch in nearly every realm of popular culture, as evidenced even in movies like Election that (Davetavius claims — and I doubt) had the potential to be clever but were ruined by disappointing, demoralizing sexual references that were neither necessary nor clever, and were more often than not cruel (and I can’t think of a single other movie released in those years that anyone could even claim had the potential to be clever). Everywhere one looked, there was a video of Fred Durst telling someone to touch his balls and touch his ass, there was a clip of Tommy Lee porking Pamela Anderson, there was a Hustler mega-store opening up next door to Tower Records, there was a guy coming up with a novel way to make himself rich off of the misguided desires of young women for attention in a world in which celebrity was morphing into the only worthwhile pursuit in life and something that one gained by any humiliating means necessary.
The tsunami of degrading stupidity that we now find ourselves drowned in started in LA, and I was there, man. I totally saw it all happen. I wish I could say that about something other than the beginning of the era of the contemporary wave of cultural pornography saturation, but alas…
Like I said, it was real fucked up. Fucked up to the extent that even the efflorescence of hipsterism from 2002 until the time I left town was a relief. I’ve been back here and there since, including for a bit of an extended stay last summer, and it has changed some. The exuberant embrace of Larry Flynt as the city’s mayor of edginess has given way to a general acceptance among everyone in town of the fact that porn is everywhere and that even most of those who balked at the vulgarity of the Hollywood scene ten years ago have given up trying to beat anyone and joined. Few people still have the tolerance for the brazen idiocy of the Durst Era, which has caused the city to settle down a bit, but porn culture is insidious and has made itself at home in LA as a whole — rather than just Hollywood and the valley, as was the case before the mid 90s and the Internet porn boom — to such an extent that one can now treat one’s entire family to a fine dining experience at Pussy the Restaurant in the Century City Mall.
The Century City Mall, despite sitting at the center of the ugliest set of buildings below the Cahuenga Pass, is a fairly high end and comprehensive shopping and entertainment complex, but it was lacking an overpriced Porn Chic/Mexican fusion establishment. No more. Now there’s Pink Taco, a cutting edge LA Chicano culture-themed food studio miles in LA traffic away from both the Hustler “boutique” and the Seventh Veil, where one can indulge in drinks such as the Pink Panties and the Pinche Boboso (fucking creep) for only about ten dollars and score a taco platter in a city awash in excellent $1 tacos for merely $25, all while immersed in the Chicano-as-fuck ambiance created by lowrider bicycles, sad clown airbrush paintings, and (probably) waiters dressed as vatos.
No one has ever accused any joint at the Century City Mall of sitting at the apex of sophistication (rather than tastelessly ostentatious wastefulness), but a restaurant named after a juvenile vagina reference doing so well there as to expand to the far more expensive real estate on the Sunset Strip ought to convince just about anyone that porn culture is, indeed, a reality.
One cannot spend eight years reading books on historical esoterica and four years in graduate seminars on the subject of historiography without being forced to train oneself to maintain equanimity of facial expression no matter how many times one is confronted with the trendiest topic in contemporary social science: agency. It’s a trendy topic because it’s obvious and simple, and it allows graduate students who are short on time (and, often, motivation) to pretend they’ve thought carefully about a reading assignment by raising the objection that the historian has not given enough consideration to the “agency” of this or that group of people or has overstated the amount of agency that group of people was able to exercise. So, I’ll admit, of all of the feminist bloggers on the internet, I probably have the lowest tolerance for discussions of the concept of agency, both because I feel sorry for the dead horse and because there’s almost always an element of delusion, dishonesty, or intentional relativism in any agency argument.
The discussion of agency might make more sense in the realm of writing about history than it does in terms of feminism, mainly because there’s no real agreement on the role of the historian in society. Is a historian supposed to tell us how things got the way they are now? How things were at a given moment? Which things led to which other things? Are historians supposed to use the past to warn us about the present or the future? Offer moral judgments? As the belief that the scientific method is the only true means by which one can know anything has come to dominate western (and — at this point — global) epistemology, and as the belief that only “experts” with expensive and standardized training have the cultural and social authority to tell us anything (and even then, experts are only allowed to have opinions about the very narrow subject areas that they’re experts on), historians have moved away from making grand claims and toward attempting to explain “what it was like” at a given time in a given location while avoiding mention of what came before and after out of fear of being accused of teleological thinking or, even worse, stepping beyond the boundaries of their areas of expertise. They can be excused for that. The academy sets up false divisions between disciplines, geographical regions, time periods, and subjects of inquiry that one must tolerate in order to get the funding needed to read for a living. But what that has done to the field of history is fairly dismal. The world looks fragmented, patterns of oppression and violence seem incoherent and quite possibly unreal, economic exploitation appears disconnected from politics, women look like one percent of the population because that’s how much text ends up devoted to telling their story.
Unfortunately, those who write women’s history are often the worst culprits and are frequently guilty of focusing on agency to the exclusion of reality, telling us these women transcended the limits placed on women as a whole, these women resisted male oppression, or these women made lemonade when men gave them a truckload of horseshit and abuse. Usually, these women end up being an infinitesimal portion of the female elites of a given society who were able to exercise a small measure of freedom and write about it, leaving us with evidence that it happened. I’m all for celebrating women who break out of molds and resist, but not when the celebration covers up a reality that warrants mourning, a covering up that often occurs despite the fact that the broader, oppressive reality is cursorily acknowledged in the introduction to the book.
There’s a balance that has yet to be struck; how do we recover and acknowledge the voices and perspectives that patriarchy, plutocracy, and global capitalism have suppressed and silenced without losing sight of the overarching systems of oppression that left us with that dearth of competing perspectives in the first place? Is it more important to recover those perspectives, or is it more important to call attention to the systems of oppression in order that we might move toward taking them down? Do we focus in on individuals exercising agency in a system that’s fucked, or analyze and critique the system itself?
I’m going with the latter, both as a historian and as a feminist, not because I don’t think the former is important, but because the former, while it might make me feel warm and/or fuzzy, distracts me from the work that has to be done. And because, as a feminist, I’m not beholden to the same set of rules I am as a historian. Feminism needs totalizing theories, not micro-histories or anecdotes of individual agency. The fragmentation of knowledge and the emphasis on detail over systematizing theory is a key component in the continuation of capitalism, patriarchy, and human misery. Marx didn’t care whether one factory worker in Berlin said, “Hey, your theory doesn’t ring true for me. My life fucking rules!”
I’m often told that I rob people of agency by making statements that porn is bad, that rape is an epidemic, that stripping isn’t transgressive, that breast implants aren’t a form of empowerment. I’m tired of making those incredibly obvious statements anyway, but how exactly am I robbing anyone of their agency? I know it’s hard to face the idea that one’s agency is limited in a world in which we’re told we are all individuals with unlimited potential, but please have a look around. We operate within fields, as Bordieu would say, and within those fields, our agency is, in fact, limited. Not by radical feminists, but by those with enough social and cultural capital to set the terms of the field itself (which radical feminists do not have). I might ignore what agency you exercise within a fucked system and choose to focus my energies on the system itself, but I can’t rob you of agency or the ability to exercise it, only the system can. What does agency mean when it’s so limited by pre-existing boundaries? Why focus our energy on congratulating people for agency exercised within a limiting, oppressive social formation instead of calling attention to systemic oppression? Why allow seven women’s agency, especially when it plays into patriarchal oppression, overshadow three billion women’s reality?
I’ve been busy, but I have some posts planned. I’m going to have to review The Blind Side because the world needs my take on it, and I’ve got a few other things to say about the Oscars, which surprises me more than I can tell you because I couldn’t give less of a shit what people in LA think art is. I’ll attempt to get it done by the end of the weekend, though I can’t promise anything since there are flowers blooming in New York and I’m into spring like Lee Greenwood is into America.
I know, I know, you’ve all had enough of the front page of a feminist blog being taken up with posts about football (two of which were written by dudes!), and I promise I’ll get rid of that photo up above and post something soon, but for now I’d like everyone to see this, a really good spoof of that heinously stupid Dodge Charger ad that Kendall and I mentioned in the Super Bowl live-blog.
First the original ad:
And the spoof:
In other news, I’d like to tell anyone who is “disappointed” in John Mayer’s recent behavior that the song “Your Body Is A Wonderland” should have tipped them off to the fact that he was definitely a misogynist, probably a racist, and maybe even a cat molester long before this Playboy interview.
Well, it’s been two years. I might be the slackinest feminist on the internet, but people come here anyway, so I must be doing something right (though I suspect that all I’m doing “right” is letting through annoying comments that people feel the need to come back to argue with).
What lies in store for the ‘chine in 2010? I’ve got a few posts in the queue, but I have no idea what awaits. I’ve outgrown my original mission, whatever it was, and I’ve yet to replace it with anything. I know I plan to add installments 10 and 11 to the porn series, to finish up the Why I Hate Men series, and to continue dashing off snotty recaps of the television shows, commercials, and print ads I come across that strike me as misogynistic/insane enough to comment on, but I can’t say right this minute what the mission statement (or even the intended audience) of this blog would be, which I think accounts for my escritorial laziness of late. I’ve either got to refocus on writing regularly about pop culture in lay terms in order to convince thoughtful passers-by to be willing to notice misogyny, or I’m going to need to take the time to lay out some of the more complicated thoughts I’ve been having about feminism, world economic systems, the international order of nation-states, and frozen yogurt. The former seems a little redundant (though probably more effective in the grand scheme of things), while the latter sounds a bit too daunting on top of school and teaching. I’ll keep thinking about it.
Thank you to everyone who has been reading all along, who just got here yesterday, who contributes to the dialog by commenting and responding, and who supports the cause of dethroning the phallocrats. Thank you to everyone who has supported me this year, be it by linking to me to say I’m awesome, linking to me to say I’m a c-word, linking to me to complain about my comment policy or some particular comment, writing nice comments, writing nasty comments, writing stupid comments, writing paranoid screeds about me on pro-porn websites as if I’m the evil emperor of the internet, making awesome YouTube videos related to my posts, or making hilarious YouTube videos about what a dick I am. I appreciate it all, sincerely.
It all begins anew tomorrow.
I almost made this post a part of the Why I Hate Men series. What I’m about to relate is really that bad.
The Esquire recently came to New York for a visit sporting hair longer than I’ve ever seen on him. He’d been growing it out for several months, but apparently, shortly after returning to California, he got tired of looking like a member of the Volcom street team and decided to go get it cut. The Esquire, a connoisseur of absurd experiences like myself, decided to head over to a new barber shop located near his office, a barber shop called the Alpha Male Barber Spa. Yeah.
He arrived at the AMBS (I’m really into FLAs lately – that’s four-letter acronyms to those of you who aren’t hip to the facts) at 10 AM on a weekday and was promptly offered a glass of scotch and a cigar, because that’s what top dogs are all about, AM booze and stogies. For some reason (maybe he’s only a beta male) he declined the offer and then set about waiting and watching the other men undergo eyebrow waxing, mini-facials, and manicures.
Eyebrow-waxing? Mini-facials? MANICURES? I know, I know. You’re thinking what I’m thinking: Is this a new barber shop for the gays? Haven’t those already existed in LA, San Francisco, New York, and Chicago for, like, a decade? Wait, do gay guys even care about being alpha males? What the hell is going on here? What the geniuses who own the Alpha Male Barber Spa have figured out is that men, who are falling prey to the machinations of the beauty industry in ever greater numbers these days, have been longing for a way to go metro without the taint of faggotism that surrounds traditional salons or barber shops in gay neighborhoods. These men need a place where they can get themselves club-ready without having to rub elbows with women or homos. These men need tits and football with their vanity services. These men need to waste absurd sums of money and treat women like sex objects at all times in order to let people know they’re fucking alpha dawgs! Ruff ruff!
Hence the AMBS, which is, in effect, the Hooters of barber shops. In addition to attractive young women and insincere flirting, the AMBS offers flat-screen TVs at every station so that patrons (oh, sorry, this place is high end – clients) can watch “the game,” door-to-door service (because alpha males don’t fucking drive themselves to get haircuts), brow waxing, mini-facials, “hand detailing” (the non-homo — because it’s automotive — term for a manicure), and royalty-themed packages (The Duke, The Crown Prince, His Majesty, The Emperor), some of which include a cheese and fruit plate. And the services are just as expensive as those at regular salons ($40 for a haircut, $280 for the Emperor package), because alpha males won’t settle for anything but the very best (read: most ostentatiously expensive).
Well, not every guy is runnin’ shit. There are plenty of men who, while they would still like to take advantage of the opportunity to engage in fruity grooming practices without the fear of being called homos, haven’t yet made it into the alpha male tax bracket. Hey, not everybody is a fancy-schmancy San Diego lawyer. Enter Gregg Wilhelm’s outfit, Too Hotties. Too Hotties operates on the same principle that AMBS does: boobs and sports bring facials within the purview of the kind of guy who cracks open a Sam Adams Light after a hard day at the office, takes a swig, and then looks at the bottle with an affirmatory nod. But Too Hotties provides the experience at the level of the everyman, the industrial ice dispenser salesman, the guy who watches Sports Soup, the guy who wants the opportunity to treat women like extras in his own mental spy/action movie but doesn’t quite pull in the bucks for scotch and cigars or door-to-door service.
Too Hotties offers a lot of the same services that AMBS does, but in a decidedly more Coors Light environment. They, like the AMBS, do gray-coverage hair coloring, but their service has an extra manly name (Color Camo, because dyeing your hair is faggy unless you can find a way to relate it to Rambo), and, instead of cigars and single malt, they kick down root beer and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (I swear). They also do kids’ cuts, so you can get yer little man up to speed on what women are here for. No word on whether that’s related to the root beer and PB&J bar (though I suspect not since the photos on the site feature men rather than children chowing down on sandwiches). As if all that weren’t enough, they also offer XM Radio (so one needn’t tear oneself away from Howard Stern for the time it takes to get a manicure), video games, and pool tables.
Too Hotties is truly a barber shop for the Renaissance man. Just check out this mission statement:
In the haircutting world, men have very few choices. They may either go to a major haircut chain where they never get the same stylist twice or they can set an appointment at some girly salon. Neither one gives a man the kind of options he really wants…
It was this realization that inspired three gentleman to found Too Hotties. They wanted to create the ultimate barber shop for men. Not only would they recieve the best haircuts of their lives from the hottest stylists, they would also enjoy complimentary hot towel treatments, hot cream razor neck shaves, before and after shampoos and shoe shines. This would be a place where men would be free to hang out, watch sports on a huge wide-screen plasma screen, shoot billiards, play video games, read magazines, access broadband internet and help themselves to all they could eat at the free PB&J bar. No other man’s barber shop like this had ever been created before. They wanted men to feel spoiled and comfortable in every way and that is what they did. Too Hotties was that dream and that dream has now become a reality.
No shit, man. Who wants to go to some girly salon? What’s more repugnant than having to associate with girls in a way that would imply that you have something in common with them? Men need the freedom to engage in the same activities that they deride women for without having to confront the fact that they’re doing so, and — thank Christ — there are “three gentlemen” out there ready to help them do so. Three gentlemen who know that there’s no better way to show the world that you ain’t no fag (AKA woman) than by engaging in a little good ol’ sexual objectification. Three gentlemen who know that, when women are decorations, men can relax in the knowledge that the wall between humans and objects remains intact, even while displaying levels of vanity that would shock Blake Lively.
Who are these “three gentlemen”? The Too Hotties story is really the story of one man’s vision, and that man is Gregg Wilhelm. Gregg’s inspirational story (also from the site’s about page):
Gregg’s goal is to make a life changing impact in the lives of 50 people through faith, family, business, and philanthropy. His motto: “No one is twice as good, or twice as smart, so I’ll work twice as hard.”
Career highlights: After advancing into upper management and shattering many company records in the insurance industry, Gregg started and owned a highly successful insurance brokerage. After years of travel, Gregg started a family and has spent the last 15 years with Culligan Water where he hired and trained Bill and Chad, and they became a team, and unstoppable force, now turning their full attentions to building Too Hotties, and doing more men’s haircuts than anyone else in America. Gregg has planned and dreamed of starting a franchise since age 14.
Wow. Clearly, Gregg aspires to clienthood at the AMBS. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a man’s plans to provide other men with haircuts expressed in such lofty, aggressive, ridiculous language (and in the third person, no less). But I’m left with some questions. Who the fuck are Bill and Chad? Why do we only get their first names? Are they his sidekicks? Protégés? What are their dreams? How many people’s lives do they intend to make a “life changing impact in”? And speaking of that, why is Gregg limiting himself to changing the lives of a mere 50 individuals? Why not change the whole fucking world, one boob-laden hot lather shave at a time? Considering his achievments in the insurance and bottled water delivery sectors, I feel pretty confident in my surmise (did you know that the noun form of the verb surmise is surmise?) that Gregg’s a real go-getter. I think he can do it.
* An aside: I’m willing to bet $100 that I can correctly guess where at least 50% of the franchises are located. Play along. I’ll say Vegas, Phoenix, Denver, and a few random joints across the South. I checked. The locations: Vegas, Phoenix, and spots in Texas, Florida, Missouri, South Carolina, and Virgina. I win. E-mail me for the address to send the $100 to.
** Do NOT leave this page without clicking the Too Hotties link and checking out the photo section. It’s fucking hilarious. There’s one of the “three gentlemen” with their “girls” that will blow your mind.
OK, maybe that’s a bit much to ask. Still, there’ve been some discussions going on in comments lately regarding what the goal of radical feminism is. What kind of world might come into existence should all of our wishes come true? I’m too busy these days reading other people’s social, economic, and political theories to come up with any of my own (though I think about it a lot), but I’d still like to discuss the various economic/political -isms and how they relate to the most important -ism of all (feminism), and I’d like to hear about whatever ideas people may have as to what the goal ought to be.
We know what’s wrong with the world (male supremacy, racism, class hierarchies, waste, war, Seth Rogen movies, the fact that we’ll never really know who is America’s best dance crew, etc.), but what’s right? In what kind of world would women be liberated from male supremacy? What would it take to put an end to rape, abuse, dehumanization, etc.? How do we get there? Will it require large-scale revolution? Or is it enough just to try to change people’s attitudes and improve our lot within the current system? If that’s enough, how do we best accomplish that? If it’s not, what actions should we be taking? Do we have to get violent? If we do, will we have lost the plot? Is it necessary for a bunch of people to die in the course of a wholesale reorganization of human society? Who will those people be? Who gets to participate in the revolution? Is separatism a viable option? What about the women whose needs it can’t address?
And after the revolution, then what? What’s feasible? Is a global cooperative the desired outcome? Or should we be looking toward creating small communities? If the latter is desirable, then what happens to our current infrastructure and world system, as fucked as it is? How do we provide for ourselves and make the most efficient use of the world’s resources? If the former is desirable, do you think it’s possible, given the language and cultural differences at play?
And, saying we’ve managed to overthrow all hierarchies, then what? How would we prevent the replacement of old hierarchies with new ones?
How do the Internet and the modern media affect the development and effectiveness of radical social movements? Does it make us lazier than radicals in the past? Less engaged or more? Are we too weighted with the debris of consumerism and stupid entertainment to put anything serious together? Does the pace of contemporary life militate against the development of radical social movements? Does the social trend toward anti-intellectualism mean educated (self or otherwise) radicals will end up isolated and silenced? Don’t we need people to take responsibility for theorizing an improved world in order to move forward (not that I’m saying no one is)?
Feel free to address any one or any combination of these questions or to pose your own. And to use one of my questions as the basis for your PhD thesis.
This discussion is absolutely not open to non-feminists.