Reasons Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

Ok so maybe this link doesn’t have everything to do with our course.  However, I thought it was useful if only for mental health/stress reliever purposes.  Also, some of the people portrayed are representing us as Americans and as human beings and I’m frightened by that.


— Megan Hruska


A Poor, Dumb, Cult

We’ve talked a lot about the framing of rural towns in both the documentary and the Hollywood film about the death of Brandon Teena. While the representation of places like Falls City, Nebraska is not the main point of the film, it has serious consequences. That is, people’s opinions of the individuals involved in Brandon’s death are significantly impacted just by the first impression they get from the films.

Two of the main characteristics of Falls City (as framed by the films) are that poverty is pervasive and that there is an incredibly strong sense of community and sameness. Whether this is the case or not, it leads one to make certain assumptions about the folks who live there. Specifically, when the fact of poverty is the focus, most viewers will assume a lack of intellectual ability as well. After all, why would a smart person be poor? 

It could very well be true that everyone in Falls City lands on the left side of the bell curve. Nonetheless, one shouldn’t leap to that conclusion. But, the portrayal of this rural town makes it difficult not to. So, if the viewer is going on the idea that these are a bunch of poor, dumb, cult-like people, two issues arise.

Primarily, their actions may be excused or understood as exceptional. That is, something like this wouldn’t happen to a gender transgresive person anywhere except in a rural place. Sounds pretty similar to Puar’s argument about exceptionalism in the Abu Grahaib situation, doesn’t it?

Secondly, and maybe more importantly, this framework encourages one to posit the question of whether the people in Falls City actually understood Brandon. This doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with his murder, but it is unfair to folks living in rural communities. Just because this one group of people couldn’t grasp the idea that gender is not a binary construction, doesn’t mean that everyone in rural communities is ignorant of idea of gender as a continuum.

So, regardless of what actually did or didn’t happen or what exactly the murderers’ motivations and intellectual abilities were, the framing of the town and the circumstances ultimately makes a significant contribution to viewers’ opinions and understandings. 

-Mika Baugh 

Madge : The Cultural Icon That Tries (a little) Too Hard

Madonna is the queen of pop.

There is no doubt about this in my mind.

She undoubtedly built the ubiquitous box in which young pop divas are able to squeeze into and conform within. The path she’s paved, beginning in the 90s, has been repeatedly stomped on by the platform pumps worn by recent princesses of pop including Katy Perry, Britney Spears, and the mother monster, Lady Gaga. While Madonna’s archetypal originality and blatantly visible sexual agency (insert her “Justify My Love” music video) is, from one angle, inspiring to a generation of women and men who find strength in sexuality, I find her dedication to diversity and individuality within her work……contrived to say the least.

Now, I might have not thought this until having the opportunity to perform with Madonna the week after having read, coincidentally, bell hook’s chapter within Black Looks entitled, “Madonna.” I witnessed, first hand, exactly what “Madonna attempts to do when she appropriates and commodifies aspects of black culture,” according to hooks (157). I do feel, however, that the Queen of Pop’s commodification not only includes black culture, but any culture that does not fall within the gamut of white and privileged.

The finale of Madonna’s glamorous Superbowl XLVI Half Time show included a reenactment of her famed music video for “Like a Prayer,” black Jesus (Cee Lo Green) and all. Entering rehearsals for the internationally televised event, I found myself excited, nervous, and most importantly, ready to perform the sh** out of one of my favorite Madge songs as a member of a choir that would join her on stage during the finale. It soon became clear, however, that performance ability was not the only thing Madonna’s choreographers (flown in from the big apple, of course), were looking for.

We learned from Madonna’s choreographers that she didn’t want anyone standing near her that to closely resembled her likeness, white and blonde, and from there the profiling continued. Those choir members standing around Madonna on stage included mostly non white men and women, who fulfilled specific height requirements and were conventionally attractive, according to mainstream norms. It became even more evident that some sort of profiling was in place when the famed Queen herself took the time to inspect the faces of those standing within her proximity on stage, upholding the ability to switch people around if she was not content with their appearance. Madonna’s raised platform surrounded by “racial others” symbolically, and literally, highlighted her “whiteness” and de-emphasized their “otherness.”

Madonna’s apparent need to be inclusive and the fact that she “likes to play mother” to those who are racially and sexually deviant from herself, was overtly dramatized before my, and bout 200 others’ eyes during those five or six rehearsals (hooks 163). Not only were her strategic steps in creating a vision of ethnic diversity laid flat on the table with out any sort of discretion, her plan worked. In watching the half time show as a spectator after the fact, to me we looked like your everyday, run-of-the-mill, extremely racially assorted gospel choir plucked out of some picturesque, urban city (whatever that means).

So Madge……I guess your plans were successful. 111.3 million people viewed your inter-racial cast of every day, church going, gospel singing folk who assumingly, unintentionally arrived at the Superbowl half time show, just in time to sing with you. Did your ends justify your means, Queen Madge? I suppose we’ll leave the answer up to the viewers.

-Sally Stempler

Hooks, Bell. “Madonna.” Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston, MA: South End, 1992. 157-64. Print.

Androgyny in Fashion: Progressive or Presenting Old Problems in a New Way?

As presented in a previous post by Lucas, androgyny in the fashion world has become a popular topic of conversation. When discussing the different forms of drag and how the act of drag functions in queer and seemingly “gender normative” societies, I immediate thought of an article I read a few months ago on the use of “gender-bending” fashion.

(Image taken from Grrrl Beat)

Last July, the fairly new online magazine Grrrl Beatpublished the article “Dude Looks Like a Lady: Why Androgyny in Fashion is a Good Thing.”  In this reflection, the author mentions that the recent surge in androgynous modeling that has surfaced before in more subtle ways.

“Flappers from the 20s pushed the limits by cutting their hair short, reducing hemlines, ditching the corset, and openly discussing sexuality. A thin, boyish physique was also associated with the flapper image. Androgyny cropped up again during the 70s when David Bowie released Ziggy Stardust and wore makeup and bodysuits for concerts. 80s metal bands such as Motley Crue and Cinderella also touted an androgynous image with their teased hair, eyeliner, and platform boots.”

Unable to point to a reason for this current exploration of gender stereotypes and fashion, the author suggests that changing frames of mind and challenging the status quo could be the cause.  However, it is then boiled down to the notion that “fashion is fashion.” Whether it has something to do with progressing standards of the fashion world or a shift in the general public’s view of gender, the author wraps her article by stating that, regardless, this resurgence will help to bring issues of gender normatively and performance to a more mainstream audience, in hopes that more people will be forced to confront how important sex is to gender, and whether gender is relevant at all.

On the whole, I agree with the author quite a bit.  I think androgyny in the fashion world has helped to bring about much discussion about gender.  Getting people talking to talk about gender performance rather than creating assumptions about the topic is a step in the right direction.  Nevertheless, and I feel Judith Bulter as well as bell hooks would agree, I think it is also necessary to recognize the connections between these androgynous models and white patriarchal ideals of beauty.  For example, the four models shown below:

Left to right: Freja Beha Erichsen, Eliza Cummings, Agyness Deyn, Stella Tennant. (Image taken from Grrrl Beat)

These “gender-bending” models, with their slender facial structures, silky hair, pouting lips, and thin noses, are all white males that portray the common view of what is considered to be “high class” or “couture” standards for fashion.  Even though each may be challenging the social ideals of gender representation, they are not pushing the limits when it comes to representations of beauty within these gender categories.

-Elizabeth Nash