Thursday, May 12, 2005

Best. Lecture. Ever.

The other day, I had the best lecture ever. It was about popular music and gender. Here are some of my hazy recollections and notes, which will hopefully make it clear to you all why it was unquestionably THE BEST.

  • general points were made about the ridiculous tendency to reduce the plurality of popular music into the binary opposition of rock/pop, with its value-laden correlations, authentic/synthetic, masculine/feminine etc. Along with the tendency to valorise rock and denigrate pop, there is the related tendency to privilege the musical passions of young men as ‘male connoisseurship’ while denigrating the musical enthusiasms of young girls [and perhaps also The Gays]. Leading to a situation where women struggle to be taken seriously as creators and consumers in rock. Also, the tendency to bind women in [the devalued form of] pop tends to allow a situation in which female performers are too easily presented as mouthpieces of the pop machine. All of which contributes to discounting women as musical innovators. Bastards. And I was thinking, if the dismissive 'not real artist' pop thing impacts more negatively on women than men, you know I want to be able to argue against it. So luckily I was reading an interview Salman Rushdie did in the 80s in which he said "One of the things about the Indian tradition is that the performer and the creator are almost always the same person. The idea of performance as being central to creation is present in all Indian art. The dancer is the artist, for example, and not simply the exponent." Yep, I'm taking that as artillery.
  • a brief history of the Riot Grrrl movement was provided, and I started freaking out with excitement when I realised that I was in a lecture that rightfully held KATHLEEN HANNA up as an authority. Loved that. Loved that so hard. Although I knew she was in Bikini Kill before Le Tigre, I had not yet made the effort to recognize how uniquely AWESOME that is, eg. Bikini Kill and Bratmobile actually created the zine “Riot Grrrl” with its catchphrase “Revolution. Girl Style. Now!” and then Riot Grrrl became the name for the whole organised grassroots political network of zines and music and meetings she was involved in, even though she was uncomfortable with that one label being taken to represent a diverse contested and debate-filled movement, etc. Anyways, I got even more excited when the lecturer started talking about Melbourne’s Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and I was like, “hey, Claire’s sister was involved in that when she played bass in that band…” and then the lecturer trumped me by going, “Now we’re going to listen to a song from Hecate”, and I completely SPAZZED OUT! Because Hecate was the band my friend Claire’s older sister played bass in for long enough to have a backstage run-in with Courtney Love, causing my warped teenage mind to settle on a stupidly low opinion of La Love which required years of accumulative breakthroughs to fully rectify. But hey, I came through when it counted. Anyways, yeah, for a few weeks back in Year 9, me and Claire stood around on the rooftop garden at school with one earphone each listening to the Hecate album after Claire was all like, “my sister just joined this band!” And I was like, “COOL!” And it WAS cool, especially this one song that I would make Claire play over and over…And you’ll never guess, but that is precisely the song that the lecturer chose to play! Amazing. So I’m sitting in my lecture grinning and, despite the huge time lag since last hearing it, mouthing the words – “By myself/ I never nee-eed/ No one else…” – and just generally having major flashbacks and appreciating just how awesome that song is. Oh yes, IT IS. Anyway, the lecturer moved on to the backlash that occurred towards the Riot Grrrl movement eg. “it’s all about fashion, it’s all fluff; it has nothing to do with substance” which was not true, but, after the Riot Grrrl-ers generally eschewed talking to the mainstream media they lost control of their image and so the popular view - as filtered through a media that trivialised Riot Grrrl’s political activist-y foundations - became distorted. And this distorted view began to have an impact within the movement itself, creating hostility, jealousy etc, in a movement originally intended to engage women in rock music on their own terms.
  • anyway, the lecturer argued that Riot Grrrl’s impact on rock values meant that it was no coincidence that at the end of the ‘90s…along came GIRL POWER. With the Spice Girls borrowing much from feminism and providing an ideal counterpoint to lad culture. Girl Power meant taking control of your life and, significantly, promoting this as fun. It was a powerful and accessible form of feminism and young girls were the largest consumers of it. It was criticised as being a naïve and simplistic false ideal, and for encouraging girls to revel in and put forward their sexuality, and for feeding into and reproducing the universal awareness of women primarily as bodies, but the lecturer argued that old school feminists didn’t ‘get’ Girl Power and the way it was embraced by girls. It wasn’t about cultivating the male gaze as a source of empowerment, it wasn't about pleasing boys - it was about pleasing yourself / loving the Spice Girls to bits and wanting to be all feisty like them. And anyway, “the celebrity feminine is not the sex object imagined by traditional feminist cultural studies; her relationship with the media is one of mutual exploitation.”
  • so right on cue, Kylie Minogue as a CASE STUDY!!!! How many lectures have you been in where the lecturer has said, “and now we’re going to look at Kylie Minogue as a case study”? Anyway, so women currently dominate mainstream popular music, and where women are highly visible, the way they are represented is significant. Is today’s female popstar role model a positive or a negative thing? There is a debate about it. It’s a schism that divides feminism, apparently. Anyway, critics initially wrote off Kylie as an incidental pop pawn, and a media focus on her bottom rather than her talent risks her being treated as a body rather than as an interesting artist. There is concern that despite people's undoubted ability to read more depth into a Kylie song/video/production, the generalized effect is one of body-focussed feminine glamour. So what about girls who aren’t fabulous? Is this dominant female pop form alienating to them? Can they be female pop artists? Blah blah. All open questions. Anyway, Kylie’s success and longevity - attributed by one commentator to her mix of control and graciousness in her professional/creative collaborations - also reflects women’s growing power to control their image. And Guy will like this bit, as it so mirrors his own view – people feel they know Kylie and have grown up with her while she ingeniously maintains a sense of intrigue.
  • final lecture highlight: footage was shown of parts of interviews not included in the final cut of the ABC series Love Is In The Air, with the following delicious tidbits - (1) Deb Conway explaining that the unequal time limit for male and female performers in being considered 'past it' can be traced to a general attitude about reproductive age, that “As long as you can squirt, you can do anything”; (2) Angie Hart talking about touring Aussie pubs as a female lead singer, and telling the story of a gig in Gove where one guy spent the whole gig standing right in front of her with his dick out and screaming ‘FUCK OFF!’; (3) [and this is the best one] Marcia Hines talking about seeing Kylie in concert, and I quote, “Credit where credit’s due. Girlfriend works hard…I’m very proud of Kylie. ‘Go Kylie’. That’s all I can say.” OH MY GOD. Incontrovertible proof that she was already like this BEFORE Australian Idol! It’s pre-classic ‘classic Marcia’. In fact, I cannot believe how set the Marcia template was before Australian Idol ever gave her an outlet for making the performances of everyone else, ever, ALL ABOUT HER. You go Marcia. You are one consistent sister-girlfriend.
So that was the lecture. Meanwhile, WHAT THE HELL, RENÉE?!! From Jack White to… Kenny Chesney???? Girlfriend. No.

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