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I'm deeply saddened that I find this noteworthy, but I have to say that, in my albeit limited survey of Queen's music, I have found remarkably little in the way of condescension, objectification and misogyny directed toward women in their songs. I'm still waiting in dread for the inevitable sexist stereotypes to crop up and drop my opinion of them, but so far they seem on a level with Men Without Hats. That is, they care less about slagging more than half the population and more about doing what they love: making music! 

Take, for example, Queen's Killer Queen. It's a character sketch of a rich, powerful woman who has expensive tastes and an indomitable will. After an enumeration of her expensive preferences in company and cuisine, the lyrics describe her as "Dynamite with a laser beam / Guaranteed to blow your mind / Anytime"  -- i.e., she's attractive and sexually powerful, but she doesn't threaten, piss off or annoy the speaker. He calls her "dynamite," in the sense of "highly skilled at what she does," "sexy" and "explosively awesome." He wants her to blow his mind!

Even the verse in which she's compared to a cat comes across as laudatory. While woman:cat similes tend to connote peevish competitiveness [cattiness] and sexual objectification [qua pussy cat], the simile here calls the woman "playful as a pussy cat."  The verse describes how she pursues the speaker avidly, then suddenly stops, "temporarily out of gas." The speaker recognizes that she's playing a game -- "all out to get you" -- but doesn't think she's a cocktease or playing hard to get. No, he goes along, happy to play with the woman. The song ends with an acknowledgment of the woman's irresistible effect on the speaker ["Recommended at any price"], as well as listeners ["Wanna try? / You wanna try..."]. It's very obvious that the song Killer Queen is sung as a tribute by a dude who desires, respects and perhaps even loves a woman for traits that other people would probably deride.

...People like, for example, the Rolling Stones. The Stones' analogue to Killer Queen would have to be Stupid Girl, in which the singer sketches a character similar to the Killer Queen. The woman in Stupid Girl dresses expensively, values material goods ["...she digs for gold"], pursues men aggressively ["...she grabs and holds"], etc. The singer even trots out a feline simile: "She purrs like a pussy cat / Then turns round and hisses back."  Heck, the Killer Queen and the Stupid Girl are probably the same person, just described from different points of view.

While the speaker in Killer Queen thinks that the woman is the best partner he's had, the speaker in Stupid Girl absolutely loathes the woman. It's right there in the title of the song! Finally, the comparison of the woman to "a lady-in-waiting to a virgin queen" implies that she's close to power, but actually lacking it, really just a glorified servant. Furthermore, the virginity of the queen in the simile passes by association onto the woman, connoting sexual inexperience, coldness and inaccessibility. The speaker clearly can't stand the fact that he desires this woman, so he projects all his hostility onto her and vilifies her for being interested in people other than himself. [Gee, I wonder why? He's such a catch! :p ]

In my imagination, this is how the story goes: There's a young woman -- let's say her name is Regina ;) -- born into wealth and power. She's neither particularly good nor particularly bad, neither particularly selfish nor unselfish, just a person of average character. She really enjoys her material privileges, though. She knows that her wealth and attractiveness give her a certain license, so she exploits this in her active, assertive search for romantic and sexual partners. She always has the flashiest and latest and best and most expensive of everything, and she carefully, deliberately cultivates her status as trendsetter. She holds meetings with her staff, for example, where they go over long-range ramifications of, say, choosing vegetarianism. For another example, she has a panel of people who critique every outfit she wears, looking not only for high quality, coordination, fashionability, originality and daring, but also for rip-offs, appropriation, offensiveness, copyright infringement, etc. Regina has a reputation for being somewhat mysterious and reclusive, but this is mostly because she spends so much time analyzing every more in private before she makes it in public.

Regina's work pays off. People wear what she wears, eat what she eats, travel where she travels, support the causes she supports, While not an actor or singer or model or fashion designer or hereditary titled person, Regina hangs out with all the coolest of all these groups, or, more precisely, they seem to hang out with her because they want her awesomeness by association. In short, she has become one of the most powerful people in the country. As a style icon, she has enormous influence to shape the most basic aspects of people's lives, from the contents of their closets to their moral considerations. Regina shamelessly enjoys this power.

There are two people -- let's call them Freddie and Mick ;) -- who represent the divergent opinions that the public has about Regina. Freddie recognizes Regina's achievements. He understands that people in Regina's position are neither inherently sexy nor glamorous and that Regina has carefully crafted the role of style icon for herself. He realizes that the creation and maintenance of such a status requires a lot of time, money and energy, and he's impressed by her ambition, acumen, intelligence and hard work. He notes that, while she does not have a traditionally defined profession, she has turned "style icon" into her own demanding, full-time job. And, of course, like many people, Freddie feels the effects of Regina's glamour. Her quick movement through dating/bed partners just proves to him that she's admirably lusty, playful, fun-loving, probably "dynamite" :D in the sack and exhausting to anyone she moves on from. He lusts after her; he has a huge crush on her; he thinks she's amazing and really enjoys their friends with benefits hook-ups. If anything, he has a little hero worship going on that keeps him from seeing Regina as an imperfect person, like him.

On the other hand, Mick contemns Regina as an airhead heiress who does nothing and is famous for being famous. In his eyes, she wastes her fortune on trivial tokens of femininity, like clothes and cosmetics. Her assertive pursuit of sexual and romantic partners makes him think that she's a slutty whore...and also a frigid b***h because she declined to date him after having sex one night. He hates her because she's a woman who has the temerity to be happy without him in her life. It goes without saying that Mick is, of course, a miserable, wretched excuse for a human being. :p
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I kind of pity the copywriters for Design Toscano. They have to make all that tacky shit sound alluring and justifiably high-priced. Look DT -- you either want things like a suit of armor t.p. holder or you don't. You're preaching to the choir. Don't waste your limited stock of two-bit adjectives on us.

Take, for example, a sentence from their copy for Ravishing Rachel [who's in the Sexy Temptresses category, along with the ass-flaunting Temptress Witch Christmas Ornament]:

"Cast in quality designer resin, this large-scale, display-quality indoor sculpture transforms any home bar, entertainment area or recreation room into something truly magnificent!"

"Quality designer resin": as opposed, I guess, to all that shitty, no-name resin that floods the market these days?

"Large-scale": Isn't that redundant, given that the title indicates that it's "Life Size"?

"Display-quality": Seriously...why would you buy a Technicolor rendition of a very stiff, cartoony woman flashing her tits if not to display it?

"Transforms any home bar, entertainment area or recreation room": So you're admitting that your target consumers for these are sleazy misogynist straight white cis dudes who throw around obscene sums of money in an attempt to compensate for their utter lack of redeeming traits? Superb! I'll take 10!!!

"Truly magnficent": I don't think that is the word you're looking for. May I humbly suggest "alarming"?
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This Band Aid stinker is the most colonialist, objectifying, racist, condescending piece of shit ever. I mean, seriously. African people experiencing hunger, starvation and food insecurity are even explicitly referred to as "the other ones," thus distanced and separated from the ostensible audience of the song, which is privileged [non-African] listeners from colonizing countries who have enough to eat. I understand that the song is trying to contrast the want of some people with the plenty of others, but the words that the lyricists use make the people in need sound practically subhuman.

I also really love how an entire continent is portrayed as a miserable monolith. No one's ever happy -- "...the only water flowing / Is a bitter sting of tears" -- in part because the weather's rotten ["that burning sun"] all the time. The entire landmass is apparently omitted from the water cycle, as there are no rivers there...or any precipitation, for that matter. Most tragically of all, everyone on the continent has no idea what date it is because they suffer a grievous calendar shortage.

Of course, the song portrays the solution to this dire lack of date tracking as colonialism: "Let them know it's Christmas time and / Feed the world." Yeah, have a sudden attack of white guilt and throw food at those ignorant people down there...or at least throw money. Your donations will magically function as a civilizing process that will turn them into devout Christians who can tell time and appropriately worship Our Lord and Savior the Son of God Capitalism.

Holy shit, that's a wretched song.

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Warning: Coercion, disregard for autonomy, objectification, misogyny, etc., etc., etc.

I just read about yet another one in Slate, wherein technology columnist for the New York Times David Pogue made a fake movie trailer about his relationship with his girlfriend. Then, as the Slate columnist L.V. Anderson writes,

"In case you don’t have the inclination to watch the video: He produced a five-minute movie trailer for a fake romantic comedy based on his relationship with Dugan (starring two good-looking Broadway actors in the lead roles), which he convinced a movie theater to play for Dugan (and all of their families, plus some unwitting strangers) before a feature-length film. He hid three cameras around Dugan’s seat before she sat down so that he could record her reaction. At the end of the trailer, he led her to the front of the theater, gave a short speech about how wonderful she was, and asked her to marry him."

Longer coverage [and the horrible video] here: http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2012/08/31/david_pogue_nicki_dugan_marriage_proposal_it_should_never_have_been_publicized_.html

So, not only was it a public proposal, but it was a secretly recorded public proposal. She was under SURVEILLANCE. Even ickier, as Anderson points out,

"Pogue timed the filming of his faux trailer in such a way that Dugan had to say yes in the span of about two seconds, or else the trailer would stop making sense. (He’d humbly pre-recorded a jubilant celebration.) "

There...the subtext has become the text. Pogue [and, by extension, all of the other guys who engage in this public proposal crapola] expects his fiancee to agree. At the same time, with Pogue's proposal, as with others, the assent from the fiancee is actually irrelevant. As the rigid structure of Pogue's fake trailer demonstrates, it's all about the happy day of the one who proposes. The expectation of the fiancee's yes gives her no room to say anything else. The show must go on! Let's have a party, for the guy has just acquired a new accessory [=wife]!

Ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh.
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I couldn't use the NYT's form to send a message directly to the reporter who wrote that horrible article about trans women of color on Christopher Street, so I E-mailed the public editor, the executive editor and the president with the following:

I’m writing to express my disgust with Sarah Nir’s July 24th article about trans women of color on Christopher Street: “For Money or Just to Strut, Living Out Loud on a Transgender Stage.”

This article is just as revolting as the NYT's coverage of Lorena Escalera's death.

Do you seriously think it's acceptable to refer to the trans women of color in the article as "exotic...parakeets?" The term "exotic" is just a racist dogwhistle for "different and, therefore, unacceptable." Meanwhile, comparing women to birds dehumanizes them in a dismissive, sexist way. Thanks a lot for perpetuating the oppression and bigotry aimed at trans people and/or people of color, especially women!

I urge you to write about trans women and/or women of color with respect, treating them as equal human beings. Given the NYT's track record, though, I doubt this will occur.

EDIT: I just alerted GLAAD's Aaron McQuade, Director of News and Field Media, about the NYT's poo-flinging. I did this because he was the one who wrote on GLAAD's site about the NYT's poo-flinging at Lorena Escalera. Also going to submit an incident report on GLAAD's site.

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They just published another article about trans people, called "For Money or Just to Strut, Living Out Loud on a Transgender Stage." It's about young trans women of color on Christopher Street in the West Village in New York City. In the summer nights, some of them gather in this area. They enjoy the freedom to express their fashion sense and/or their desires openly. They do the usual activities covered under the rubric of "hanging out" for twentysomethings: talking, eating, dancing, arguing. Some of the women are sex workers.

I want to know more about the motivations of the women who moved here because they found it safer and more welcoming. I want to know more about the class conflict that they experience when they earn small money doing sex work in the vicinity of expensive condos. I want to know more about the daily lives of the women, activists and sex workers alike, who congregate on Christopher Street after dark.

And, thanks to the New York Times, I will never learn any of this from their coverage. I don't know where to start on how disgustingly problematic it is, so I'll start with the title. Calling the women's hang-out place a "stage" implies that their activities are false, untrue mimicry. Since the women in the article are, you know, living their damned lives,   the use of theatrical terms suggests that their lives are trivial and second-rate...probably in implicit comparison to the lives of the owners of the extravagant mansions lining the street.

The rest of the article goes on and on about how the women look, how they style their hair, what they wear, even comparing them at one point to "flocks of exotic — if risqué — parakeets." Hey look -- it's dehumanization! Where have I seen that before? Oh yeah, in the reprehensible NYT coverage on the death of Lorena Escalera, who shared some traits with the women in this article: she was a trans woman of color in her 20s, and she had done sex work in the past.

Time for another letter, calling out the NYT's racism and cissexism. I should really cancel my subscription.
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I've been reading Fearfully and Wonderfully Made: The Remarkable Journey of Siamese [sic] Twins from Slavery to the Courts of Europe, by Joanne Martell. It's a biography of conjoined twins Millie and Christine McKoy, who were born into slavery in North Carolina in 1851. Owned/Managed by a variety of people during their lifetimes, they toured with sideshows in both the U.S. and Great Britain as singers and dancers. They died in 1912.


Discussion of rape, dehumanization and sexual assault behind the cut. )
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Earlier this week, I fired off an enraged letter to one of the authors of a NYT article about the death by suspicious fire of Lorena Escalera, a trans woman of color. The article was a vile cesspit of sexism, transmisogyny, transphobia, racism, bias against sex workers, stereotypes, objectification, dehumanization, othering and probably many other forms of bigotry that I am not currently picking up on.

The NYT responded to the criticism with vacuous, unsympathetic justifications that positively reeked of unexamined privilege. GLAAD analyzed the paper's response, accurately describing many of its shortcomings. I should note that the GLAAD critique does not, however, recognize the NYT's bias against sex workers in the article about Escalera.

If the NYT really wanted to, as it claimed, "capture the personal [story]" of Escalera, why didn't it do what most writers of articles about dead people do and incorporate information from people who actually knew her? Some people among her social circle of friends, family members and fellow performers at the House of Xtravaganza would have provided comments on what they remembered her for and how much they missed her. Instead of interviewing the neighborhood ignoramuses who had no respect for Escalera as a woman or as a person, the NYT should have sought out quotes from people who saw her as she was: a fellow individual deserving respect. But no...the paper merely perpetuated multiple axes of oppression by selecting a narrative of dehumanization.
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Wow, the NYT is the gift that keeps on giving.

Lorena Escalera, 25, died in a suspicious fire in Brooklyn, NY, last weekend, and the NYT was much more interested in her body, her clothing, how sexy her neighbors thought she was, her trans identity, her occupation as a sex worker and her participation in the House of Xtravaganza performing troupe and other details not directly relevant to the case.

Pam's House Blend pointed out just a few of the problems in the coverage here.

I sent a form E-mail to one of the article's authors, Al Baker, containing the following:

Your coverage of this story is sexist, transmisogynist and generally disgusting. Your inclusion of Escalera's trans identity is irrelevant to the tragedy of her death by suspicious fire. You add insult to injury by quoting a neighbor who misgenders her. Furthermore, the details about Escalera's appearance and sex life add nothing to the story, except to reinforce the stereotype of trans women as objectified prostittutes. The dehumanization exemplified in this coverage directly contributes to the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of trans and gender-variant people every year. We deserve better.
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How awful is this commercial? Not only does the male protagonist clearly privilege the alcohol over the woman, but he doesn't give a care that the woman is smothered in the couch. That's not funny.
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If you see anyone wearing this costume, flee immediately in the opposite direction, or you may be inflicted with misogynist douchebaggery. The porno-worthy pun is bad enough, but the inflatable female as accessory just puts this costume into new realms of badness.
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Is it porn? An anti-abuse PSA? An ad for a kinky sex club? Nah...it's just part of Declare Yourself's "controversial" print campaign to encourage voter registration. I take it to task on SocIm.
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Feministing links to a recent PETA  "demonstration" outside City Hall in Memphis during Vegetarian Week. With a mostly naked man and woman splattered in red paint and wrapped in plastic wrap on an 80 degree F + day, PETA is apparently demonstrating that inhumane, degrading treatment of non-human animals may not be okay, but inhumane, degrading treatment of people is perfectly fine. Mike Brown, photog for the Commercial Appeal, who photoed the event, agrees with me on the astounding levels of hypocrisy and sadism demonstrated in PETA's stupid, sexist tactics. Aforementioned photo is below the cut. Take the link about Mike Brown for complete context. I previously discussed objectification of women as meat here. 
modernwizard: (Default)

If you want to see a show driven by the power of all-around masterful performances married to a strong, character-driven storyline, check out American Gothic, now available at Hulu. It is an ensemble story of sweet Southern corruption in which forces both good and evil fight for control of a young boy's soul. 

On the good side there's recent Yankee transplant Matt Crower, played with quiet self-possession by Jake Weber, who is such a dry and gentle character in Medium, haunted by his wife and child's death in a DWI accident he caused. There's also Gail Emory, investigative reporter, played by Paige Turco with brooding dignity reminiscent of Yancy Butler at her best, returning to town to look into her parents' suspicious deaths 20 years ago. The boy himself, Caleb, is played by 10-year-old Lucas Black in a startingly intense performance [I love those little, low, dark eyebrows!] that's pretty realistic for a TV depiction of a 10-year-old boy.

On the evil side there's schoolteacher Serena Coombes, played with sexy, slimy relish by Brenda Bakke. And there's Lucas Buck, played by Gary Cole, who is my latest favorite actor. I first noticed him as the Boss From Hell in Office Space, Lumberg, but here, in the starring role, he really gets to show how hellish he can be. As the classic devil, Buck's character operates on fear, doing good things for people, then asking them to pay him back, or else they meet gory demises. He also has an unnerving habit of popping up whenever someone is thinking about disobeying him. He creates a black hole of influence that it seems impossible to escape from. 

The cheesy special effects and fast-motion weather hammer this point home, but Cole's eternally genial front really makes the character work. Even when he's threatening you, Buck does so in a gentlemanly way, which makes his cruelty even more effective and insidious. Cole plays Buck with a certain broadness that comes from his comedic experience, but he also projects such charisma and power that Buck always remains a magnetic and menacing presence. It's a magnificent performance.

Not a perfect show, by any means, American Gothic suffers from a dearth of fully fleshed female characters. While all of the male characters have multiple dimensions, the women remain kinda flat. Gail's the Plucky Gumshoe archetype, and Merlyn, Caleb's dead sister, is the Pure Moral Compass archetype. Tertiary characters are also problematic. In Damned If You Don't, for example, Carter Bowen and family do a favor for Sheriff Buck, which entails letting an escaped con into their house. Said con goes after 15-year-old Poppy Bowen. Wife Etta Bowen ends up dead. I strongly objected to the way that Poppy was portrayed not by the con, but by the SHOW itself, as a Lolita-licious sex object.

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Subject: Vacuum cleaner ad below, ganked from Inventorspot. Sorry...I don't have a larger version, and the only context that I have is that it's an ad for a German appliance. Too good to pass up, though.

Topics of discussion: "sex sells," objectification, gender roles, mainstream commodification of BDSM subculture, differences between advertising norms in different countries.

Ready, set, discuss!!
modernwizard: (Default)

I got this for Copyranter, a copiously illustrated stream of snark about modern advertising. Fun fun.

Last year Svedka Vodka [?] advertised on phone booths in New York City with some transgender robots. Svedka_Grl, a cute robot, claims, "I'm a gay man trapped in the body of a fembot." I don't buy it. He should just be able to buy some mechanical attachments. If humans can modify bodies that they feel trapped in, why can't robots who are made to be modified?

I will accept the trope of using the objectified female form to sell something unrelated, like alcohol, but why mention gay men? To do so puts the viewer's mind into a series of mental contortions to figure out what exactly that means. [It means that the bot will come on strong to straight guys because it's a "trapped gay guy."] It may be memorable, but it's not clever or humorous or useful. [Here's an example of a funnier use of transgender imagery -- offensive, yes, but also funny. Incidentally, why is it the vodka ads that show such penis-o-phobia?] Svedka apparently wanted to put "gay" in there to be edgy and hip, but they come across as copywriters flinging words wildly against a wall to see what will stick.

modernwizard: (Default)
...Here are some observations from Feministing about the objectification of women to promote meatless eating.

As Feministing points out, using objectified women to sell meat is nothing new. [Here's one of my favorite examples, a Carl's Jr. commercial starring Paris Hilton, a hose, a car, a bucket of suds and a hamburger.] But apparently animal-rights activists, vegetarian organizations and vegan organizations exploit the same tropes as well. For example, here's a commercial from the super-nutball, super-sexist PETA in which Alicia Silverstone comes out of a pool, naked, in slow motion. Somehow, this sells vegetarianism. In a press release about Eva Mendes posing naked for their "Fur? I'd rather go naked!" campaign, PETA, unsurprisingly enough, calls Mendes "one of Hollywood's sexiest leading ladies," "a regular red-carpet knock-out" and, just for some useless "hot-blooded Hispanic" stereotyping, a "sexy Latina." The print text makes it clear that Mendes does not appear as someone you should pay attention to because she decided to abjure fur out of compassion or humanism or rational decision-making. You should pay attention to her because she's glamorous and attractive, and she doesn't wear fur, and do you YOU want to be just as glamorous and attractive as she is? PETA, while supplying my two examples, ain't the only offender of such sexist, objectifying bullshit. See the Feministing entry for details about a vegan strip club [???!!] and the group Vegan Vixens [????!!!!].

Ann Friedman, post author, sums up the screwiness: "[U]sing the "ideal" female body type -- something men want and women want to be -- as an incentive to go vegan...is deeply fucked up, especially because there are dozens of real, compelling reasons to switch to a vegan lifestyle -- none of them based on sexist bullshit." 

P.S.: Here's a super special bonus article from Salon, analyzing the misogynist, objectifying tactics of the popular Skinny Bitch "secret vegan ambush" cookbook.
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"It's nice to have a girl around the house. Though she was a tiger lady, our hero didn't have to fire a shot to floor her. Wait...the metaphors get even better...I mean, stupider! )

Eat me!

Nov. 20th, 2007 10:50 am
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I am disturbed, amused and still carnivorous after checking out Suicide Food, an illustrated survey of self-sacrificing animal illos.
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I've never commented on ads before, although I've always enjoyed Ms. magazine's back page where the inflammatorily sexist ads are rounded up for my viewing pleasure. However, I was poking around online, reading about the controversy [as, for example, on the blog of Bob Garfield, columnist for Ad Age] over the Heineken draught keg TV spot ... In this ad, the robot woman supposedly does a C section on herself and brings a draught keg out of her uterus.

For the record, I would like to say that I am truly torn about the ad.

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