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. But don’t worry. Pink Taco loves women. (Sorry, I meant tits.)
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.