Baby, It’s a Wild World: Navigating Popular Culture as a Feminist.

Recently, a friend questioned why I listen to Stone Cold Steve Austin’s podcast when he’s a known intimate partner abuser. He makes a fair point, as I have shunned Sean Penn and Michael Fassbender movies and R. Kelly and Chris Brown’s music (not that I really had an interest in them to begin with) because of their woman-hating ways. But by the same token, I listen to 2Pac, John Lennon and Prince despite knowing their histories of similar assaults.

I replied that you can’t watch, listen to or read anything these days where the creator and/or their characters haven’t committed a crime or moral transgression. There’s Woody Allen, Game of Thrones, Michael Jackson and, to varying degrees, Bryan Singer, Fassbender and Halle Berry of the current X-Men film.

A lot of the pop cultural morsels I’ve mentioned above I first consumed before I knew about their creators’ wicked ways. I got into professional wrestling and all its problems, rap and hip hop and their misogynist lyrics, and the Beatles and MJ as a teen whose feminist ideals were in their infant stages, but by no means as staunchly militant as they are today. It’s easy to make the conscious effort not to consume products made by artists whose questionable morals you’re already aware of, not so much when you’ve already got a passion for them. (I’ve had conversations with people in recent weeks who did not know about Singer’s rape allegations nor Fassbender’s violent streak; their inner torment about liking something made by someone reprehensible [or at least someone who’s committed reprehensible acts] was evident in their pained, conflicted responses.) When I pointed this out to my abovementioned podcast friend, he asked whether that meant I thought I was exempt from examining the issues with famous men being rewarded for their transgressions just because I happen to like the stuff they produce.

“Absolutely not,” I replied. But by the same token, if we were to avoid problematic pop culture, we’d never leave the house!

I think the most important thing is not to make excuses about the problematic pop culture we choose to consume. I can’t say if I’ll continue to listen to Austin’s podcast but if I do I’ll be sure not to be hypocritical about it. No excuses here.

Related: Why Are Famous Men Forgiven for Their Wrongdoings, While Women Are Vilified for Much Less?

Elsewhere: [The Smoking Gun] Stone Cole Steve Austin Roughs Up Girlfriend.

[Lipstick Alley] Flashback: Sean Penn Beat Madonna for 9 Hours in 1987; Charged with Felony Domestic Assault.

[TMZ] Girlfriend Fears Inglorious Basterds Star.

[Village Voice] Read the “Stomach-Churning” Sexual Assault Allegations Against R. Kelly in Full.

[MTV] Chris Brown Police Report Provides Details of Altercation.

[Lipstick Alley] Why Isn’t Tupac Remembered as a Rapist?

[Listverse] Top 10 Unpleasant Facts About John Lennon.

[Daily Mail] Sinead O’Connor Talks About Punch Up With Prince.

[Vanity Fair] Mia’s Story.

[Jezebel] Game of Thrones, Sex & HBO: Where Did TV’s Sexual Pioneer Go Wrong?

[Wikipedia] 1993 Child Sexual Abuse Accusations Against Michael Jackson.

[Slate] What We Know So Far About the Hollywood Sex Ring Allegations.

[People] Collision Course.

[TheVine] Can a Feminist Love Professional Wrestling?

[TheVine] Wonder Why They Call U Bitch.

[Social Justice League] How to Be a Fan of Problematic Things.

TV: Glee “Dance with Somebody” Review.

 

This was one of the best Glee episodes I’ve seen in a long time.

I’ve never been a big Whitney Houston fan, so I was a bit iffy about how they’d integrate her songs into the show’s storyline (or lack thereof. Did you notice Quinn was only in one scene last week? Maybe she wasn’t coping physically with her newfound paralysis, but they could have at least mentioned it.), but it was done perfectly. Glee managed to address the issue of holding troubled stars up as idols (Michael Jackson, anyone?), the changing relationships of the Glee kids as they near graduation, and Quinn’s disability, and sew Whitney’s songs seamlessly into the story.

Part of the reason I’ve never liked Whitney is because her music seemed to bypass me. “I Will Always Love You” was getting airplay when I was young and I discovered “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” on the club scene in my later years, but other than that I never got what all the fuss was about. Glee’s versions of “I Have Nothing”, “So Emotional”, “Saving All My Love for You” and “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay” gave me a new appreciation for Whitney’s music. Who knew she had so many songs?

My favourite aspect of the episode, though, was Quinn being brought back into the fold, this time with a new love interest.

Quinn’s paralysis is something that has the potential to go horribly wrong. I was disappointed that in the first episode after her accident, she was all optimistic and grateful to be alive. From the dismal tidbits we’ve been given about Quinn as a character (her obsession with being prom queen, her former life as Lucy, and her scheme to win back her adopted daughter), it wasn’t realistic. Now that Quinn’s struggling with her physical therapy and dealing with feelings of worthless- and hopelessness, I’m starting to get behind this plotline a bit more.

Could there be an unlikely romance brewing between the dreadlocked Christian homeschooler Joe (I always thought his name was actually Jesus!) and  Quinn?

Related: Glee “Michael” Review: Oh My God Can’t Believe What I Saw When I Turned On the TV This Evening.

The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Original Song” Episode.

The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Born This Way” Episode.

Images via PutLocker.

TV: Glee “Michael” Review—Oh My God Can’t Believe What I Saw As I Turned On the TV This Evening.

 

We’ve come to learn that when Glee devotes a whole episode to a star (Madonna, Britney Spears)—bar the second Lady Gaga episode—they pretty much go the Rock of Ages route: pack as many songs into the episode as they can without giving much thought to the dismal story lines developed in previous episodes.

I thought, in their “Michael” episode, they went the other way: using whichever Michael Jackson songs they had access to that resembled the character’s plotlines to insert into the show. Unfortunately, this meant such dull MJ songs as “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” and “Ben.”

 

Rachel Berry is included in both of these renditions, and she admits at the beginning of the episode that she’s never really “gotten” what Michael Jackson is all about like the other New Directions’ have.

It seems the Glee writers don’t really “get” him, either (although, do they really “get” anything?), because they would have used songs like “I Want You Back”, when Sam serenades Mercedes, instead of “Human Nature” (which is a stunning song and perhaps the only example of where the writers chose melody over meaning); and when Artie gets all riled up over Blaine’s rock-salt-infused slushie attack at the hands of the Warblers, “They Don’t Really Care About Us” might have been more appropriate than Michael’s duet with sister Janet, “Scream”:

“What do you expect from us; we’re people. I know the rest of the world may not see us like that but when they tease us and throw stuff at us and toss us in dumpsters and tell us that we’re nothing but losers with stupid dreams it freaking hurts. And we’re supposed to turn the other cheek and be the bigger man by telling ourselves that those dreams and how hard we work make us better than them? But it gets pretty damn hard to feel that way when they always get to win.”

 

By far the best performance was the Warblers’ Sebastian and Santana’s Michael-off of “Smooth Criminal”, featuring 2 Cellos, who played at Elton John’s gig and did the same version of the song!

And, for old time’s Michael’s sake, here are the other songs from the episode:

 

 

Related: The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Britney/Brittany” Episode.

The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Born This Way” Episode.

Rock of Ages Review.

Images via Put Locker.

Amy Winehouse’s Death: They Tried to Make Her Go to Rehab, But She Said No…

 

From “For Amy” by Russell Brand on his website:

“Now Amy Winehouse is dead, like many others whose unnecessary deaths have been retrospectively romanticised, at 27 years old. Whether this tragedy was preventable or not is now irrelevant. It is not preventable today. We have lost a beautiful and talented woman to this disease. Not all addicts have Amy’s incredible talent. Or Kurt’s or Jimi’s or Janis’s, some people just get the affliction. All we can do is adapt the way we view this condition, not as a crime or a romantic affectation but a disease that will kill.”

Of course, Brand has a unique insight into Winehouse’s condition, as he used to be an addict himself.

He’s definitely right in saying society should not be romanticising drug addiction and death. And it’s certainly sad that she died so young, but I’m a bit conflicted about the whole situation.

She was ridiculed in the press and the butt of jokes, especially after her most recent attempt at a comeback, in Serbia, where she appeared to be drunk or high, or both, and addressed the audience as Athenians, I believe. And now that she’s dead, everyone wants to remark on what a fine young talent we’ve lost. The same thing happened with Michael Jackson. No one gave a rats ass about these people until it was too late.

But, on the other hand, if an addict can’t get clean, and doesn’t want to get clean, it’s no one’s responsibility but theirs, at the end of the day.

How many chances did Winehouse have to get clean? How many chances has Lindsay Lohan had? Corey Haim? Courtney Love? Pete Doherty? Anna Nicole Smith? The list goes on.

Yes, I understand that addiction is a disease, and we should try to help people afflicted with it like we would those afflicted with diabetes or schizophrenia. After all, addiction is a mental illness of sorts, and the two often go hand in hand.

And Brand writes that making drug addiction a crime is the wrong answer. “It is cheaper to rehabilitate an addict than to send them to prison, so criminalisation doesn’t even make economic sense,” he writes.

But we’ve all read the literature: drugs cause addiction. So why take them in the first place? To be cool? To cope? ’Cause you’re bored?

I can’t pretend to understand, as I have smoked less than five whole cigarettes in my lifetime, I’ve never been drunk, and I’ve never taken drugs (except for an accidental bite of a hash brownie, but that’s another story!). I have people in my life who are recreational drug users (some are very long-term recreational drug users), but I don’t approve and I can’t pretend to understand. Why would you knowingly do something that could—and probably will—kill you?

I’m not really sure where I stand on the issue: my gut reaction is to say that Winehouse has got no one to blame but herself, but my compassion for people with mental illness other than addiction, and those who have slipped through the cracks, makes me feel like this is not just a black and white issue. Can you feel sorry for some people, but not for others?

Maybe those reading this could shed some light on this issue? Have you had experience with addiction or are close to someone who has, and what are your views on the issue?

Elsewhere: [Russell Brand.TV] For Amy.

Image via Amy Winehouse Picz.

TV: Witch Trial—Burning at the Stake on Charmed.

 

2009: The year Michael Jackson died, 173 people perished on Black Saturday, and America’s first black president, Barack Obama, took office.

However, in Charmed’s imagining of a futuristic 2009, 1999’s flashforward episode “Morality Bites”, witches have been exposed and are now being burned at the stake.

Phoebe is set to burn for taking justice into her own hands and using her powers to avenge a friend’s death, “seeking to defy human nature with her way of life”.

Fastforward two years to 2011, and it’s not such a different place.

Uganda tried to push through the Kill the Gays bill, women still have to march in (Slut)walks to exert freedom of sexuality and reject blame for sexual assault, and Australia is still floundering over a carbon tax.

I’ve written on this here blog before that sometimes I get the feeling the world is regressing, especially in terms of the environment and reproductive rights.

We still vilify those who dare to lead a lifestyle outside the norm, whether it is viewed as a “choice” or not. In Charmed’s fictional world, witches could be seen as a metaphor for the “other”: people of colour, the gays, people with disabilities and, most pertinently in 2011, transpeople.

The episode could also be a metaphor for the death penalty.

When Phoebe kills baseballer Cal Greene for killing her friend, she takes the law into her own hands, and is therefore sentenced to death. An eye for an eye.

Before Phoebe accepts her fate and submits to burning alive, she tells her executioner, Nathaniel Pratt, that while she’s paying for her crime, there will come a day when he’ll have to pay for his, too. While the death penalty isn’t an issue in Australia (if it were I’d be—controversially, perhaps—for it. However, there seems to be something sickly satisfying for victims and their families to see a perpetrator rot in prison for life… Jaycee Duggard’s abductors, anyone?), the question of who decides if a person dies and who administers the lethal injection (or in this case, “gathers the kindling”) remains. And how can a person live with that on their conscience.

Charmed may be all fluff, unrealistic demon-fighting outfits and “nipple fats”, as my friend Eddie noted, but every now and then it does deal with the big issues, consciously or not.

Related: Ain’t Nothin’ Gonna Break My Slutty Stride.

Rihanna’s “Man Down”: Revenge is a Dish Best Served in Cold Blood.

Images via Wikia, Gamespot, PPP The Power of 3, Hopeless Obsession.

Book Shop: Book Now, Bendigo.

So this review was originally going to be about Bendigo’s Book Mark, which still remains the best secondhand book store I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting.

Such gems I’ve managed to find there are Mick Foley’s rare first novel, Tietam Brown, and a $7 copy of Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk. I scoured the shelves for over an hour looking for that one. When I took it to the counter, the man who served me marveled at it being left on the shelves; he’d put all Jackson-related literature on their website to be sold at an elevated price after his sudden death.

But perhaps my friend Hannah and I left it too late on a Saturday afternoon to visit the shop: they close at 4pm and we got there at 4:05!

So we decided instead to venture over to Book Now, located at 1 Farmers Lane, opposite Rosiland Park. There’s no denying I’ve gotten some good titles there before—a first edition of The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving springs to mind—but I find it a bit stuffy and overpriced for a secondhand book store.

However, this weekend’s trip yielded some fantastic finds for both me and Hannah. Hannah is studying to be a doctor in Russian history and social sciences, so she took home a book on Nicholas II of Russia, and his wife Alexandra Fyodorovna, parents of Anastasia of Russia, and Atonement by Ian McEwan.

I knew Book Now has a large collection of Joyce Carol Oates books, so I rummaged through them in the vain hope of finding My Sister, My Love, a recent novel based on the JonBenet Ramsey murder. And low and behold, I did find it resting on a shelf right up the back of the shop.

My Book Now trip was pretty much complete after that, however I did spot some Armistead Maupin titles, and picked up a few of those. (To be honest, I own so many of his books I wasn’t 100% sure that I don’t already own The Night Listener and Maybe the Moon. But at $6 a pop, who am I to complain if I do?!) Finally, I stumbled across Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth and decided to add that to my ever-growing pile.

So what began as a somewhat disappointing afternoon when Book Mark wasn’t open, ended as a surprisingly great one, with four new additions to my bookshelf.

Bendigo only has a few really good bookstores, so if you’re ever up in Central Victoria, visiting the Bendigo Art Gallery (stay tuned for more this afternoon) or the Golden Dragon Chinese Museum, pop on over to Book Now or Book Mark.

I know I will on my next visit.

Related: Evolution of the Bookshop at the Wheeler Centre.

In Appreciation of Mick Foley.

The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving Review.

Is There Really a Beauty Myth?

Armistead Maupin in Conversation with Noni Hazlehurst.

Elsewhere: [Book Now] Homepage.

[Bendigo Book Mark] Homepage.

Image via Book Now.

Music Videos: Who’s the Copycat Now, Katy Perry?

Lady Gaga copped a lot of flak for reappropriating everything from Madonna’s “Express Yourself” to Hieronymus Bosch to Michael Jackson’s white gloves, but at least she waited more than five minutes to use them as inspiration. What’s Katy Perry’s excuse for blatantly ripping off Gaga’s “Born this Way” video, replete with mythical equine figures, rebirth and alien-esque cheekbones, for her “E.T” video?

And so the feud between Perry and Gaga rages on.

Related: Lady Gaga: Taking Inspiration from The Wizard of Oz.

Whipped Cream Feminism: The Underlying Message in Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” Video.

Katy P. VS. Lady G.

Elsewhere: [FlavorWire] A Guide to Signs & Symbols in Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” Video.

Images via YouTube.