Writings and Letters

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Tag: fetishism

Your Body is Not Your Own: Brief Thoughts on Patriarchy

Bad Thoughts

Late night at our house in Nashville, my roommates and I sat around the dinner table engaged in a lively brainstorming session. Two of my roommates were trying to develop the concept of their band’s album art. Our other roommate, Melissa, the band’s photographer and friend, sat in on the discussion. I was more or less there to eat my dinner (back then, probably mozzarella sticks) and chime in if the Spirit moved me. The basic concept was related to the more occult qualities (since the band played a modern rock twist with hints of the delta blues, and was inspired by the more gothic aspects of the South centered around the imagery of voodoo, witches, the supernatural) and lore of rock music (i.e. the story of how the Devil taught Robert Johnson how to play the guitar). It was a loose connection between the taboo, the sexual, and the feel-good. In hindsight, it was a confused, simplistic renunciation of mostly Southern Victorianism, and fear of black culture, but that’s really neither here nor there.

Though jejune, the purpose of the artwork was not the problem (not outright, at least). It was where the little group’s thinking ended up that is of note. Of the four of us, the three guys were really spearheading the conversation. The (de)evolution went a little something like this:

“We should have a woman on the front of the album, and like, we should convey that she is moving seductively. It’s like she’s tempting the listener.”

“Yeah. She’s like the sorceress that we’ve fallin’ under her spell.”

“Yes, and we have to free ourselves from the spell. Like the album is that for us.”

“Purging her from our souls. The album is how we do that.”

“Right. And we tell this story through the artwork.”

“I have this scene in my head. You know that old barn off 65? The one that sits in the middle of that field. In Brentwood? Yeah. If we shot near around there. Like us looking for her, and she’s running off in the distance. Then a moonlight shot of her along the fence-line out there, where the trees are, we see her silhouette and then ours chasing after her.”

“Yeah, that’s pretty cool. Maybe we could have like torches or something, or is that lame?”

“It’s a little cheesy.”

“You know, during the witch trials in Salem, they used to drown them to see if they were witches or not.”

“Right. We could like shoot something in the river.”

“Yeah, maybe we end up there.”

“Like we see a scarf of hers, or something, in the water. We highlight it. Go back to the front cover. Like it’s a black and white cover and just the scarf is in color, like red. And then in the river we see the red scarf again floating away.”

“And then the last shot, on the back of the album is like us with shovels. Standing around.”

The three of us were quite pleased by this final imagery. We kept asking one another what we thought, and we all were nodding our heads in agreement. It was a cool concept. Using a gloomy feel of the Nashville wilderness, mixing in the elements of horror, myth, and music to drive a narrative. The way it would be photographed would be cinematic in quality. What was there not to like?

It was at the apex of our euphoria that Melissa voiced her opinion: “I in no way want to cramp your guys’ creativity, and I’m not saying you have to change anything, but as the only woman in this room right now, hearing this conversation, this album art terrifies me.” This statement struck me. But sooner than I could form a thought, she continued: “You introduce fans to this woman. She’s beautiful, she’s dancing, she’s having a good time. She seems innocent. And then you show, through the subsequent photos, her being chased down by five guys through the woods at night, through a river, and eventually being murdered and buried out there somewhere.” She pressed her hand against her chest to help catch her breath. “That is just so disturbing and halting to me. As a woman, I would just be so struck by something like this.”

I cannot speak for my roommates, but from what I remember of their physiognomies, they felt just as shocked and ashamed as I did. Like them, I never considered myself writing a narrative of grotesque objectification and brutality. What disgusted me more about myself was not that I was just completely oblivious to this, but that I had willingly participated in the act. The room fell silent. Melissa felt as though she had done something wrong, offended us in some way. She quickly offered: “I mean that’s just my opinion. You can take it or leave it. I don’t want to shoot any idea down. It’s your album. It’s your music. But I just feel like I need to be honest with you. As a woman, as a friend.” The bandmates nodded their heads and thanked her, canceling any notion that Melissa should feel bad, or that somehow this was her fault.

It was truly one of those transformative experiences for me. In that moment, I became acutely aware of hidden biases and blindspots I held, and the capitulation to certain abhorrent narratives (or “common sense”) of a male-dominated culture. I was perpetuating the same kind of practices and ideas I myself found so despicable. The profundity came from the realization that I did not possess the type of insight I thought I had held for women. And equally important, I learned another example of human complexity. How my roommates and I, we were not “bad guys,” but we were easily making an incredibly poor decision. I’m only grateful Melissa was there to point out the inanity, the cruelty of our imaginations before it became worse. Still, to this day, I think of what must have been going through Melissa’s mind, watching her three friends talk about hunting down and murdering a woman with such enthusiasm. She had to bear the burden for all the those who might come across this album art and experience the same anxiety and heartbreak. For that, I still feel awful.

From here I’d like to expand this thought piece. I’d like to take notions that are grafted to the “bad thoughts” that occurred in the dining room area in Nashville, and extend them to other areas of realization. So that one can see just how these ideas become metastatic when applied to social relations—specifically here in relationship between men and women. Also, I hope to show how patriarchy and our (American) sense of moral actors play together on this topic.

X-Men: Apocalypse

I imagine something quite similar to our “dining room chat” happened amongst the marketers of X-Men: Apocalypse as they planned the outdoor campaign for the film. Only those marketers didn’t have the benefit of a Melissa to expose their blindspot.

Amongst the half-dozen outdoor posters or so, there were two that featured the strongest female leads of the movie: Mystique and Psylocke: in less-than-flattering form. In the standalone image of Psylocke (played by Olivia Munn), she is shown bending forward, arms swung back, hair flowing with her cleavage prominently in the foreground. For Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), she is being choked to death by an Apocalypse two times her size.

XMA_Psylocke2

XMA_Choke

Set aside the fact that both Psylocke and Mystique have always been highly sexualized characters. In the comics, both women are drawn with impossible figures, skin-tight clothes (that don’t make a lick of sense for combat), and are clear projections of the basest visceral hetero-male desires (all of which is rich with its own issues steeped in patriarchy). Set aside that Hollywood was successful in saying: “I see your highly-objectified women images, and I’ll raise you.” So we transform Comic-Mystique, traditionally (or iconically) fully clothed in a white dress (and skull belt), into Film-Mystique, who is dressed, well… not at all. And although Comic-Pyslocke is quite salacious with her tight purple (what I can only assume is) latex outfit, Film-Psylocke ups the ante by cutting out all that unnecessary clothing atop her breasts, leaving them exposed for strategic value one must assume.

Set that all aside.

Focus instead on a very particular issue with these two specific images being displayed in the most public spheres: amongst the images of the most carefully selected models dressed in high, mid, and low-fashion clothes, amongst the shoe ads, promotions for lingerie next to calls for gym memberships, beautifully airbrushed actresses hawking perfumes, skin creams, shampoos and conditioners, eye-liners, jeans, and coconut water (just to name a few). See how these two images from the film, in this deluge of beauty objectification and stereotyping on billboards across the nation (and around the world), can provoke a sense of anxiety and frustration in protesters (who often end up being women). In this proper setting, through the eyes of female consumers, one begins to see these images in a different light: Psylocke is a grossly sexualized character, and Mystique is a woman whose received violence is so meaningless it is utilized as a form of advertising for a movie.

What makes this whole instance even more upsetting is precisely how avoidable it was. In a film where these two characters are on screen for a majority of the time, the marketers had a wide variety of still images to choose from (even from the very scenes these images were taken!) that would have portrayed the women in a more favorable sense. That the marketers did not choose any other scene seems to suggest either willful cynicism (i.e. They did not think the intended audience—read: young males—would recognize the offensive quality of the billboards, or flatly would not care, and ultimately not affect ticket sales.) and thus sexism, or they suffered from a painful ignorance (or more precisely, women suffered painfully from their ignorance). To drive this point further, in the outdoor campaign featuring Storm, the image shows the character shooting lightning out of her hands in every which direction and being a general cool ass-kicking mutant. That the Mystique and Psylocke posters were spared this approach is quite disappointing.

XMA_Storm

This poster replaced several “Mystique Choke Scene” billboards around the Los Angeles area after negative reactions.

Before I go further, though, there is one particular counterpoint raised as a defense of the marketing campaign. It is a line of logic that is regularly used in these types of discussions to a fault (quite often by those who want to pooh-pooh the idea of racism’s continued existence in favor of their colorblind claptrap). The argument goes a little something like this: “But if that was a man Apocalypse was choking, no one would even care. Hugh Jackman goes shirtless in posters when he’s Wolverine, and no one cares. DOUBLE STANDARD! DOUBLE STANDARD! #SEXISM! #SEXISM! #SEXISM! I WIN, I WIN, I WIN, I WIN, I WIN!” Or something to that effect.

It is a tempting argument to succumb to. After all, no one wants to consciously stand athwart equality. But this rebuttal is a sleight of hand. While it speaks of equality on the surface of things, it successfully strips the conversation of all context. Quite simply put: the reason people are not taken aback when Hugh Jackman goes shirtless, or if Professor X was to be suffocated at the hands of Apocalypse is because men do not share the same societal experience as women—not in billboard campaigns, not in entertainment/media portrayals, not in office spaces, on the streets, or at home. To bypass this context makes the counterpoint negligent and unnerving. Particularly, it is disturbing (and perplexing) that the argument purposely disregards the plight of women, and consequently the legitimacy of their concerns, and then uses the violence and objectification against men in a negative connotation as justification for the continual misrepresentation and mistreatment of women.

Lastly, what the above failed-refutation does not recognize is easily the biggest difference between men and women in the world of advertising, entertainment, and most anywhere when the human body is utilized as product, and is the true underbelly of the conversation at hand: fetishism. In hetero-male-dominant societies, men are not coveted. This sexual desire comes from the normative roles of patriarchal society: men are the sexual actors who seek out and perform sex acts (attributes that behave as main identifiers of “masculinity”) and women take on a passive role (as part of the “feminine” responsibility). [Note: Animosity towards homosexuals is often derived from these myopic gender roles, too. Oddly, though, the racialized aspects of these identities often work against people of color, especially the African American community. That’s white supremacy for ya!]

Fetishism is nothing new, nor is sexualized imagery in marketing, and the two seem to combine effortlessly in today’s media—some less so. In certain respects, they are the result of the sexual revolution. For all its apparent accomplishments, one failure of the revolution was to actually revolutionize sexuality. So what we are left with is rhetoric rich with calls to action for liberating the bedroom, or our sexual attitudes, and ultimately having more sex (because there is nothing wrong with sex, per se). This is all well and fine, but it does nothing to curb the perceived gender roles of men and women. The liberation still engenders an environment in which women should feel “free” to openly engage in more sex with men without any consideration to whether or not either side truly wants to. Continuing to define masculinity and femininity through the engagement of sex produces the fetishization of women as we understand it today and, combined with the commodity-obsessed capitalist consumer culture we have in the United States, leads to some odious results (as will be discussed shortly). Because if a woman is to step outside of the realm of normative roles dictated by hetero-male society, she is to be dealt with—often through violence. These two ideas: the woman as sexual object, and the disobedient woman punished: are on display in the posters, surrounded by a jungle of further fetishism.

So let’s return to our marketers for a moment. I’ll take them in good faith and assume they suffered from a similar blindness I had years ago in Nashville—only they put their thoughts into action. They must have looked at both posters and not seen the aforementioned styles of objectification and gender-specific violence. Instead, in all likelihood, they saw a bad-ass female mutant (Psylocke) landing some awesome move in the one case, and the powerlessness of one of the more recognizable, strong mutants (Mystique) at the hand of this next foe. I will go one more step and suggest they wanted to highlight the women in this film as much as the men in a gesture of equality. These marketers, like my buddies and I, were excited about telling this story, proud of their degree of female inclusion, and totally unaware of the potential consequences.

Allowing this type of marketing to continue unchecked is damaging for women both immediately and in the long-term. The whole imagery of woman’s relationship to man is seen in this dual sense: sex and brutality. Through the propagation of this type of advertising, the product is not just the film, but the codification of patriarchal logic. Continuously, we are treated to this logic so that it becomes seemingly innate, and feeds our action, which we then observe in real time as if natural to begin with. Granted, in some vague way, societal/cultural attitudes do have origins, but contrary to what some might have us believe, biological determinism alone does not explain the enormous, concentrated efforts espoused by large swaths of disparate people acting cohesively to subjugate, exploit, or obliterate another. Nor does theology, or any other host of singularly-driven narratives for that matter. Instead, a truth lies somewhere deep within the shrouded past across innumerable nameless people, places, and events that helped create our current predicament. What we do know is that there was some evolution to our current hyper-masculine ethos, and that its continuation thrives on this seemingly connate quality, and moreover, if the proliferation of this type of logic continues, again and again we will see it manifest itself in its most heinous, but predictable conclusion: rape.

Brock Turner

Rape (like patriarchy) is quite antediluvian. The two go hand in hand, as evident in ancient records of long-dead people, tribes, and civilizations. There is debate about whether one can place a “start date” on patriarchy. However, much consent is given to the notion that the transition from hunter-gathering groups into agricultural and eventually industrial civilizations marks the genesis of patriarchy, and rape a key ingredient to its formation. Societies were often realized through various methods of violence, and so too was patriarchy. This violence spread towards women in several fashions—the most obvious: rape. Whether it was through an “exchange” of women between tribes (often through raiding missions) as a form of debt payment, or population control, or the conquest (and enslavement) of women during times of war, rape was a constant in this form of male dominance. It is also hard to recognize the creation of patriarchy without acknowledging the relationship economic strife, the rise of militarization, and the formation of states had in its realization as a fully-fledged way of life. There is an undeniable connection between a failure in the market (often related to scarcity), the threat of the state’s legitimacy, and the rise of military power to regain equilibrium (often through conquest of one sort or another).

Flashing forward a few millennia to contemporary times in the United States, though much has changed (scarcity is not as much a result of nature, but human failure at sharing), we still see the same apparatuses and social customs in their latest regenerative forms: the market (neoliberal consumer capitalism), the state (quasi-republican government), the military (nuclear-powered and technologically advanced), patriarchy realized through the commodification of women and rape. That the contemptible effects of patriarchy still exist in a country like the United States, even in environments of the most affluence, speaks to the omnipresent and well-nigh “natural” essence of patriarchy.

To see how this exists in modern America, in its most disgusting real state, let’s take convicted rapist Brock Turner for example. The case of the former-Stanford student taking an intoxicated and unconscious woman behind a dumpster and raping her until two men stopped him is full of various aspects of coeval patriarchy at play. I’m going to focus on just a few. The first focuses on the idea of scarcity and its relation to patriarchy in the modern era, then shame and the idea of honor, and finally a particular strain of thinking concerning the male and female bodies.

The origins of patriarchy might correlate to humanity’s initial struggle with scarcity, but it is not an effect of dearth today. At least, this is the case with much of the United States. It is certainly true when considering Brock Turner—a white man of considerable advantages. Using Turner to examine and understand concurrent patriarchy leads to a better contemplation of, and in some sense demystifies the deleterious phenomenon. For it was not scantness that led Turner to irrevocably destroy two futures—more so the woman’s. As patent in his father’s call for mercy, Turner came from a notable degree of privilege:

Brock always enjoyed certain types of food and is a very good cook himself. I was always excited to buy him a big ribeye steak to grill or to get his favorite snack for him. I had to make sure to hide some of my favorite pretzels or chips because I knew they wouldn’t be around long after Brock walked in from a long swim practice. Now he barely consumes any food and eats only to exist. These verdicts have broken and shattered him and our family in so many ways. His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.

[Full text here.]

 

Earlier, Turner’s father calls to attention the fact that his son was having trouble fitting in at college (descending from those Midwestern sentiments and sensibilities, a gentler, kinder breed of American, it was hard for Brock to adjust to the strange, uncouth ways of Stanford University—my reading) and balancing both his academic and athletic responsibilities. Eventually, under the tutelage of senior peer pressure, Brock turned to heavy drinking and partying as a form of relief. Set aside the fact that these are anxieties most college students deal with (especially student-athletes) and thankfully a large majority of them are not rapists; and postpone following this logic to its obvious conclusion (every out-of-state student-athlete at Stanford is a rapist-in-waiting, one college party away from shoving parts of himself into a woman who lay inert). Instead, just recognize this as not a real form of scarcity, and that patriarchy has survived into affluence where it is most exposed for how truly inane it is. To put it another way: starvation, destruction of the land, other calamities did not lead to Brock’s decision to unclothe and physically penetrate an unconscious woman right behind a receptacle where people deposit their trash, neither did some agreed ritual of exchange between his family and hers, nor was this woman a form of payment to him. More importantly, women have had to rely less and less on men (starting in the mid-twentieth century for our brave new postmodern epoch) and the gender normative habitats that were created by patriarchy during the conflicts over scarcity.

And yet, the result was still very much the same: Brock raped this woman.

We are then left to conclude we are living in some residual phase of patriarchy (again, at least in more affluent circles of society). Because patriarchy is as much an ideology as cultural thing, and ideologies are hard to kill, this current phase can easily retrograde, but as it stands it affords us the closest examination of the logic of male-dominant societies—now more than ever, less shrouded in the cultural grips of common sense and the status quo.

Many markers of patriarchy’s logic were on display in the case of Turner. One of the more prominent features was the idea of honor and use of shame. Now, rape has deeps roots tied to the social notion of honor, or more appropriately, it is a method through which women (or females of any age) can be stripped of their societal bond; honor has its ties to the idea of self-agency and generally to moral uprightness (in certain respects as it relates to debt—one of the key ingredients to the social fabric). So an act that is forced upon a woman that strips her of these notions helps form a sense of shame and alienation from society—it’s really no wonder then why “honor” used to be synonymous with a woman’s chastity—and it is doubly felt (and meant to) as a cast of dishonor in a patriarchal society for both the woman (who carries no freedom to decide how her body can or cannot be used) and the men in her life (who could not protect her from the violence, one of their main duties). [Note: From here the fetishization of the female body can also slowly develop and expand (women have no autonomy, they are only things to be protected by men from other men), and given time, it is not too difficult to understand why the before mentioned marketing exists around the world.] In addendum, shame is used to inculcate social norms, and as this awful tango of a priori and posteriori goes on, so does the reinforcement of patriarchy.

Apart from the great mental shame that goes naturally with having suffered an act of unparalleled violence like rape, the victim of Brock Turner also suffered from further shaming in an effort to convince the judge and jury of his innocence. Throughout the trial, the woman’s morals were called into question, constantly cast as a demimonde by Turner’s attorney. Whether it was her history of sexual experience or her loyalty to her boyfriend or her lust, the victim was portrayed as impure, and thus dishonest. She had sex before that night in January (!), she may have intended to engage in premarital sex with her boyfriend in her potation-induced state of mind that night (!) and must have settled on innocent Brock when her boyfriend did not materialize. In this double bind, she was simultaneously victim and violator of patriarchy. But as Turner’s attorney wanted the jury to believe (as is custom for a great many defenders of patriarchy’s honor code), the sin of breaking the bonds of patriarchal rectitude was worth scrutiny and disgrace, and the fact that she had been raped was of the utmost secondary consideration. To put it another way: the woman was a slut, and therefore had no honor to speak of, so what difference did it make that she was raped (“allegedly”)? Her humanity was already unworthy of consideration from the start, so why blame Brock?

Branching off from this comes the second argument made by Turner, his defenders, and more broadly speaking those who defend the state of patriarchy. It concerns the standards of the male and female bodies. Or more appropriately, it concerns the helplessness of both bodies. For it was the booze that did it! If Brock was guilty of anything, it was crapulence! Drinking and party culture was what led him to “20 minutes of action” (otherwise known as three counts of sexual assault). He could not help himself. He could not help but take this woman behind a dumpster, expose her breasts and genitalia, take pictures of her naked, still body and send it to his friends, and then begin to penetrate her body. At this point, his mind had slipped through the earthbound realm, unable to prevent himself from continuing on, yet remaining completely aware of the fact that he was definitely not raping a motionless woman. He was just a male body at that point, coerced by alcohol and festivities. So not only is a woman’s body not hers (more so a vessel through which pleasure can be derived), apparently neither is a man’s. And yet, in patriarchal structures, the burden of avoiding such mindless bodily violence from men unto women falls on the woman’s shoulders. One sees this logic throughout male-dominant societies—most grotesquely in cases where the victims of rape are punished with jail time or worse. Though the woman is dehumanized by effect of her body being violated, she must also take the blame for the attack because men have no control over their anatomy, and she should have known better! Known the gender roles (as stated before). That, by the nature of things, men do and have sex, where as women are done onto and experience sex (sometimes less pleasantly than others).

After all, Brock Turner was not an evil kid. His father, lawyer, even (female) friends from high school vouched for him. He had spent twenty years of his life being an all-around “good guy” and never harmed or wanted to harm anyone. So being a rapist just doesn’t fit his modus operandi. There must be some other explanation for such an event to have taken place. Must have been the witch—I MEAN—women!

Many who doubt rape culture, patriarchy, or that they too are a part of this systemic human problem cling to this notion of binary morality. That “good” people do “bad” things is a very difficult concept to accept—for them and us. The turbid quality of human behavior and complexity challenges our ethics and values each day. Failing to recognize this, failing to place blame where it is due, leads to severe misunderstandings, conclusions, and actions. It also furthers patriarchy.

In order to break the continuation, we must change our thinking. Not just about how men and women treat each other and their own, but how humans are capable of wonderful and horrifying thoughts and behaviors, and how decency has to be reified in that fragile nexus between “us” and “them.”

Nashville Revisited

I think back to that night in Nashville a lot. More often, I think about how great it was that Melissa spoke up, and also that we three listened. It was because the setting was affable that Melissa felt her opinion would be at least heard, and thankfully we saw her valid point and altered our course. This consciousness awareness was not only imperative to my growth as a man, but it is exactly what is necessary on a broader scale. More of these conversations must happen not just between men and women, but all permutations, in the kitchen, the boardroom, and certainly the bedroom if we are to grow together and improve how we treat one another.

And let me be even more unambiguous! Melissa is not a stand-in for women writ large. Patriarchy is not the subject of just one particular set of people (an evil mustache-twirling cabal of white men). It transcends gender, race, and sexual orientation. It is not an abstract concept perpetuated by men alone, thus only subverted by the noble efforts of women. This, too, is a narrative we must disabuse ourselves from because patriarchy is not subject to such a simple binary. Even though it tends to work to a man’s benefit over a woman’s, patriarchy is often aided by the efforts of men and women and can be found in most cultures around the modern world. This type of ubiquitous nature does not result from a single hegemony, but rather widespread communal ones. To complicate matters more, it is often perpetuated by actors behaving cluelessly, who are otherwise described as “decent” people. Too frequently, these members of the patriarchal societies aid its perpetuation unwittingly. In an adjunct, the counter-force behaves in a fractured and ephemeral manner—as minority oppositions tend to do. Combining all these factors illustrates patriarchy’s longevity both vertically and horizontally. Allowed to continue unabated, we eventually see it act out in its most brutal, morally repugnant, yet purest conclusions. The response to its existence does not come with simple, straightforward solutions. To counteract such a pervasive systemic issue, the response must be as wide-ranging and persistent with a malleability to match. There also needs to be a rigorous discussion and understanding of human nature and its relationship with societal behavior. This all sounds crude and abstract in many ways, but the key is to open up and carry forth conversations, constantly thinking about these situations at hand.

More and more anxieties about contemporary hetero-male-dominant culture are being expressed, and more ideas of fairness in the social, business, and domestic arenas are being shared, along with greater discussion about the multiplicity of (and at times contradictory) human thought and agency, and this is great. This needs to continue. Although conversations will not simply wash away generations of perceived behaviors, genuine constructive dialog can (and must) lead to ameliorative actions. People are talking about the ills of patriarchy and what we must do to rectify it, as well as dealing with human complexity. The question now is: will we listen?

 


 

 

A lot of the thoughts expressed in this essay were not possible without the aid of some key thinkers that have blazed a trail in gender studies long before me. I’m in deep awe and gratitude to a whole slew of feminist thinkers. Most prominently featured here are Gerda Lerner (The Creation of Patriarchy), bell hooks (Feminist Theory), Silvia Federici (Caliban and the Witch), to a lesser extent David Graeber (Debt: The First 5000 Years), and more generally Judith Butler, Betty Friedan, Simone de Beauvoir, and a whole bunch more I’m leaving out. Without these thinkers, there would not be much meat on the bones of this otherwise gaunt think-piece on contemporary patriarchy. Of course, any faults lie solely with me. My only hope is that I did some justice to this very serious matter.

Lastly, on a personal note, throughout writing about the Brock Turner case and surrounding conundrums, I could not help but regret the fact that the victim will forever be tied to this man and event for the rest of her life, and that for most of us who followed the case, she will only be recognized as “Brock Turner’s victim.” Not Mary, or Celeste, or Vanessa, or Amy, or loving sister, or daughter, great friend, hard worker, funny person, or even: pain in the ass, horrible dancer, traffic violator, etc. etc. In trying to bring her justice, we still manage to void her humanity. There is just something extra disheartening about that. This will not be the sum of her parts, she is undoubtedly strong enough to rise above it and continue on. Her own words lead me to this conclusion. I wish her well. I wish all the women who have felt her pain in one sense or another well. I will continue to try and help change the conversation and raise awareness for all women. You are not alone.

 

 

Tota mulier in… the Market

[Author’s Note: “To say anyone expected the kind of reaction to Camille Paglia’s The Hollywood Reporter article on Taylor Swift to be as big of a hit in the nation as it was would probably be disingenuous at best. But the now famous ‘Nazi Barbie’ article captured the country’s attention and fueled one of the hugest commercial successes ever.

Shortly after its publication, I was commissioned to do a story on the two about their thoughts and reactions. My story never ran. But it just seems like, considering all that has transpired, it’s a damn shame it never saw the light of day. So I’ve included the unfinished work below. Enjoy!”]

“Nazi Barbie: A Success Story”

    On a Tuesday evening I headed to the concert. I was given VIP access and allowed to park in the employee’s lot of the venue. It was a pretty large arena, one I never had seen any musician perform in before, only sports teams. Some fifteen thousands people were amassing outside the doors ready to see the blonde success story take stage that night. Taylor Swift was on the back-half of her tour. It was hard to state whether this was the height of this country-turned-pop star’s vertiginous career, or just another notch on her way to some other dimension of fame and fortune. Young fans clung to their favorite Taylor Swift albums, in their Taylor Swift T-shirts, at the merchandizing booths located all over the arena where they could purchase more albums (available in both CD-discs and vinyl), more T-shirts, Taylor Swift backpacks, posters, Keds, smart phone cases, custom sunglasses, candle sticks, picture frames, towels, Christmas stockings, bracelets, notepads, coffee mugs, and they could carry it all away in their very own Taylor Swift tote bags. In an atmosphere of endless conspicuous consumption of one person, it was hard to imagine anyone could possibly put a dent in this pop culture deity. Yet there I was to interview her about something some critic her fans didn’t even know existed (and probably wouldn’t until she acknowledged her) wrote about her in the entertainment industry’s (at times) third-most popular trade magazine. It seemed so silly, but that was journalism in the entertainment business.

    I was invited to watch the show from backstage. I barely paid attention, mostly checking my phone for football scores and if anyone said anything  about me on Twitter or Facebook. The crowd went exceptionally crazy at one moment when Taylor welcomed Drake and Chris Brown onto the stage during her performance of some song I had never heard before in its entirety. The production that went behind doing a single show was fucking mesmerizing. The level of labor that went into the two-hour show alone was dumbfounding. I could only imagine how much money I could have made off the VIP pass I was wearing around my neck (I mean, someone had to make this thing, too. It was customized, with gold lettering and little holograms and whatnot. Unbelievable.). I probably could have walked away with more than what I was commissioned to do for the interviews and called it a night. But something about integrity, or whatever, denied me that lucrative opportunity and I instead found myself in Taylor’s private room underneath the arena.

    Her manager took me back there before the encore, instructing me I only had a few minutes with her. “She’s very busy, and this tour is really taking a lot out of her. They always do, but she’s doing more shows than she’s ever done before.” I nodded my head, unmoved. “So just be as quick as you can. And no ‘gotcha’ bullshit please. I don’t want to have Security have to throw you out. Ya dig?” I nodded again. He opened the door to her room and let me sit on the couch near her seat in front of the large vanity mirror. “So just sit here and I’ll get her to see you soon. She’ll be there,” he said pointing to the chair. “Definitely don’t sit there when she comes in. That’d be rude. Don’t be rude.” He paused for a moment as if to reflect on his owns words. Then: “Please don’t be an asshole about any of this. Cool?” I flashed a thumbs-up. He left.

    Her table was crammed with every kind of bouquet I could imagine. A few acoustic guitars were leaning against the wall opposite me. A picture of what I could only assume were her parents and a younger Taylor was taped to the mirror. An entire case of Mountain Valley Spring Water was just underneath the table, unopened. Atop was an array of various beauty potions to keep her looks perpetually coeval. One in particular that caught my eye was an “FDA-approved” jar of pink and white hydrous substance that had some unpronounceable medical name to it. It looked like another anti-aging cream. Under the “Ingredients” section were more stupefying parlance, except one term I was able to make out properly: “manatee fetuses.” I almost dropped the jar when the door opened. I collapsed on the couch as Taylor and her manager came in. “OK. So like ten minutes tops, like I said.” I nodded.

    Taylor shook my hand and said hello, asking to be excused for her uncouth appearance due to her perspiration. I tried to set her at ease. After exchanging a few brief pleasantries, we got down to brass tacks.

Me

So by now, of course, you’ve heard about or read The Hollywood Reporter opinion piece. I’m sure you don’t really want to talk about it anymore–

Taylor Swift

And yet, here you are.

Me

Here I am. Have you given this a lot of thought? Do you care to share for the readers? Or do these types of criticisms not get to you?

TS

Well. I have given it a considerable amount of thought, actually. More so than probably justified. I mean I am trying to expand my art in different ways, too. I did just bring Drake and Chris Brown together on stage tonight. I think that was pretty powerful. The fans really seemed to respond to them coming together. I think that’s important for the music community, the fans, and society as a whole. I’m trying to use my music as a medium to bring about positive change in the world. So when I hear, and then read, about this critique of #GirlSquad, it bothers me a little. So, yeah. I’ve been thinking about it.

Me

And what have you concluded? Do you care to share that?

TS

Hmm… I’m still trying to work it out my thoughts in a cogent manner. This tour is kinda taking it out of me, intellectually–you know? It’s hard to try and wrap my head around things with this kind of schedule. But I suppose, to be short, I disagree.

Me

How so? How do you see #GirlSquad as a positive force for feminism?

TS

Well, it’s like this. I brought Drake and Chris Brown together on stage tonight so they could perform Kendrick [Lamar’s] portion on [“Bad Blood”]. And I thought that was particularly moving. When you consider the circumstances in which drove both guys to really be at each other’s throats over Rihanna (whom I adore), and then later Karrueche Tran, two guys fighting over two women. It’s just tired gender roles playing out there. Did you ever get a chance to read Gokova on gender stereotypes and the importance of breaking down those barriers?

Me

No.

TS

I was very moved by it. Especially when considering he wrote it in part to help men and women in Zimbabwe combat the horrifying HIV/AIDs epidemic that was ravaging the country. It’s a wonderful short piece. I’ll send it to you. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes. So like, branching off Gokova, here this guy is talking about the importance for men to understand gender issues are simply not a battlefront for women alone. And that, on top of the oppression of women that patriarchy affords, it ultimately deprives men of their humanity, even though they are often the short-term beneficiaries of it. I mean, there was more to it, but that’s the gist. That men need to realize the negative impact they are suffering from as a result, too. I then I read this stuff between the two guys and I was like: “C’mon.” Right? So bringing them into the #GirlSquad, so to speak, was a big move. And I guess I just don’t understand what detractors have against that.

Me

OK. So do you think the crowd really got all that?

TS

How do you mean?

Me

I mean, that’s a particularly deep reading of two bros hugging it out tepidly on stage next to these fans’ idol.

TS

I don’t know if I’m their idol.

Me

OK, but you’re someone to these little girls–

TS

Boys, too.

Me

Sure. But mostly girls.

TS

Eh. I don’t know. But OK, whatever, go on.

Me

Right. Well… I suppose I’m wondering do you really think little tweens are going to understand the significance? Or… is it really as significant as you want it to be? I mean. This isn’t the “Jamaica Smiles” concert. You’re not Bob Marley standing on stage uniting the leaders of the JLP and PNP.

TS

I never claimed that. That’s on you.

Me

But you do think uniting Drake and Chris Brown on stage in front of a bunch of kids is going to stand as a larger representation of overcoming patriarchy?

TS

Yeah. Why not?

Me

Because twelve-year-olds aren’t reading Gokova.

TS

Doesn’t matter. They are seeing the moment happen before them. They see the representation of uniting over pettiness. That’s going to speak to them. I can’t, in the middle of my act, just bust out Mainardi and Goldman for them and explain the intricacies and permutations of sexism inherent in the system. They didn’t come for that. They came for “Mean” and “22” and all that. Not to be lectured about feminist theory. So, if I can drag out people and shed a positive light, however small the moment is, that acts as a contradiction to the horrid apparatus they’re subjected to on a daily basis–because they are. If young boys and girls see two grown-ass men get on stage and embrace and stand in front of them and acknowledge what they were fighting over (women) was stupid and primeval, then maybe they can return to their schools and recognize the pettiness they are either being subjected to or perpetuating in their lives. That’s what #GirlSquad is all about. That’s why I bring people out on stage. And share about my friendships on Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter and all that. It’s about promoting a community. That’s why I brought Drake and Chris out tonight, and had them sing together on “Bad Blood.” Like, hello? The song’s called “Bad Blood” and here two guys who don’t like each other and getting together to share this moment, and embrace. They are overcoming a moment. And those fans are going to see that, and that’s going to resinate with them.

Me

But didn’t you write “Bad Blood” about Katy Perry?

TS

Oh Gawd. No. No that’s not true. I’m sick of hearing that.

Me

Sorry. Another woman then?

TS

Whatever. I wouldn’t read too much into that song, OK? It’s pop. It’s supposed to be enjoyed, consumed. Don’t read too much into it.

Me

But… that’s kinda the point. You want kids to read into the embracing and the hanging out with celebrity friends, and see those moments in a larger context of promoting equality… but then not see the picayune songs in anything other than their confectionary quality, disregarding elements of pettiness and anxiety over falling in line with a popularity culture and reductive gender roles. I think, in part, that’s what Paglia was driving at. That these moments are so facile, mockable they end up only adding to a counterproductive, or self-defeating, or confused narrative.

TS

Hmm. I guess I just don’t see it that way.

Me

How do you see it then?

TS

#GirlSquad is about equality. At least in the sense that I’m trying to show positive female relationships in a very toxic atmosphere. And it’s no different from the things Paglia was championing in her piece. I mean… “Girl Power” is a better representation of women’s rights than #GirlSquad? Fuck. Off. [The] Spice Girls were made up in some British boardroom for fuckssake. At least I came up with this. She wants to call me bourgeois for communicating my message through social media platforms, but she’s writing in The Hollywood Reporter. [Exhales in disbelief] She thinks I’m effeminizing the word “Squad”… what about Nazi Barbie then? What about claiming I’ve lost my solidarity with other women because I’m no longer pumping out kids and cleaning up around the house with all the other seraglios. That’s not an effeminate approach to viewing our society and gender roles? So, like, I’m a bad guy because I take some selfies with Blake Lively, and other gals… and that’s adding to the anxiety and isolationism of women in the country… but saying we should try and reunite to a period in time that formed the origins of our subjugation… and like that will help end our suffering? What the hell? The community of women was constructed as a direct result of our exclusion from patriarchal society, only to allow us to be used when it was deemed fitting by the male bourgeois community… I mean, have you read Gerda Lerner’s The Creation of Patriarchy? Shit, I mean even Engels was writing about this back then… if he could grasp this, how is it that Paglia is totally ignorant of it? That we should be studying male bonding techniques and learn from them… because they “…have escaped the sexual jealousy, emotionalism and spiteful turf wars…” that women have not. Are you fucking kidding me?! I just pulled two jack-offs on stage to show how dumb they’ve been for pissing all over one another because they both nutted on the same girls. Kanye disparaging Amber Rose because she wasn’t as classy as Kim K[ardashian]? Please. PLEASE. Nazi Barbie… what a fucking asshole.

Is it a cursory agitprop I’m doing? Sure. Guilty. I mean the contradictions abound, man. I don’t know how you want me to account for all of them. I mean this is the stuff that just eats me up. It’s easy to shit on hope, man. It’s really fucking easy. Maybe I am guilty of being glib. But I don’t think so. So what? I like taking photos with girls, and trying to promote a very simple message of sorority and fraternity. I’m trying to combat petty mean girl mentalities–the exact kind of bullshit Paglia is guilty of. [In a bad nasally impression] Taylor Swift is taking a cliquey approach to empowering women and helping the cause. That’s gross. I don’t like that. Let’s call her a Nazi Barbie. Are you out of your mind? I really just don’t get it. I don’t get how I’m guilty of backsliding women into cattiness and thwarting the movement, but she calls me a fucking Nazi Barbie and claims we should model ourselves off of men and harken back to the days when we were mid-wives and second-class citizens and somehow she’s the voice of reason here? Are you fucking kidding me? Why? Because she’s not “dumb” Taylor Swift? Because she has a column in The Hollywood Reporter? Because she’s been spouting this bullshit for so long?

What’s her beef? What’s her justification? Sure, they’re perfectly attractive women and have spent endless hours with scores of beauty teams to help perfect their looks so they can fit inside a mold that ultimately satisfies that tingle in every guy’s pants, and engenders further reductive labeling and expectations for little girls and what not. I get it. I really do. We’re all entrenched in this system, though. It’s like Earth to fucking Camille: you’re not living outside the system, pal! None of us are. So if I try to make the most simplest of optimistic gestures by corralling some other flawless celebrity babes to join my cause of #GirlSquad, to help women out there try to band together, then what’s the problem, right? Why am I the bad guy?

Me

I’m not sure Paglia was saying it quite like that.

TS

Did you read the damn article?

Me

Yes.

TS

Well then you know I’m not misreading it.

Me

But… I don’t know. I guess I’m at a loss. If you understand all this, if you understand the crisis you and others suffer and the contradictions that set you and others back, and how difficult all those are to break through… then… why not do a little more with the #GirlSquad? Why not have intellectuals, or regular everyday women and girls, more men, all contributing to your idea, why not do that rather than parade out celebrities on stage or in photos without any context other than the nebulous #GirlSquad label attached to it? You haven’t really defined what #GirlSquad is. It could totally be what you are saying right now and no one would be the wiser. Or most wouldn’t. Certainly not your tween fans. Wouldn’t it be better to just put it all out on the line? Say what you’re really trying to get after? I mean, what are you afraid of? Losing contracts, people’s perception of you? What’s the significance of #GirlSquad if it’s just going to be so limited?

    Taylor’s physiognomy was pensive. She thought about her next words. In seconds, though, Swift’s manager entered the room. My time was up. Taylor smiled and thanked me for coming out to the show and talking to her about the subject. I thanked her for her time.

***

    Meanwhile, in the sleepy town of El Segundo, at the headquarters of Mattel a board of directors were plotting the next new hit of their young girls’ toy line: the Nazi Barbie collection. Based off the excitement generated from the THR article, the board felt they could capitalize off the buzz. Nazi Barbie came equipped with some of the most well-tailored outfits ranging from black to red to white and had some undeniably attractive accessories: a Luger 9mm, Storm Trooper helmet, a mansion in the Bavarian Alps, a remote control Volkswagen convertible,  personal Reichsadler flag, an easy-bake oven, buttons with the Parteiadler and SS death head insignia, and much, much more! Almost as effect as all the accessories was the storyline that accompanied Nazi Barbie. Thirty-six individualized “paths” were available for any little girl who played the freemium online and app-based games Mattel provided. All the stories ended with Nazi Barbie throwing a successful (of course) Nazi Party where all the inhabitants (especially the incredibly handsome Herr Ken) congratulated Nazi Barbie.

    The Nazi Barbie became uncontrollably popular. It took hold of the imaginations of little girls across the nation. It was by far the most popular Barbie product Mattel had sold in decades. It doubled the corporation’s stock. Camille sued, claiming copyright infringement. Mattel countersued, and eventually a settlement was reached outside of the court. No store could contain the doll or its products on the shelves for more than 24 hours. Mattel trucks were attacked in the middle of the night on the side of interstates or rest stops. Congress passed an emergency bill that allowed Mattel truck drivers to carry armed weapons with them at all times and were authorized to use lethal force on anyone who threatened the safety of the property.

    American Girl tried to benefit from the craze, too, with their own special brand of American Nazi Girl dolls. No one seemed as enthused about little girl dolls based off Fritz Kuhn, George Lincoln Rockwell, Henry Ford, and Charles Lindbergh, though.

    The success and proliferation of the Nazi Barbie toys was for all intents and purposes a huge and total commercial success. However, it did not go without its unpleasantries. Just before Mattel started shipping the doll to Canada, England, Germany, India, China, South Africa, Australia for test runs before international release, reports from all over the country were coming in about little girls being admitted to treatment centers because of their addiction to playing the freemium games, some took out loans from the Barbie Bank and now were as high as thirty thousand dollars in debt, others spent away their parents’ life savings, a few attempted armed robbery. More were allegedly getting sick from what their parents claimed were noxious gases coming from the Volkswagens, but when they ran the Barbie Smog-Check accessory (priced at $60) for the car the results always came back “Super-Positive!” In Kansas, a little faction of fourth graders defected from their class and began invading schools around the district, crying out something about “living space” as they busted into rooms and raided the cupboards and lockers for more Nazi Barbie outfits and bauble, once stabbing a teacher with a weaponized protractor (she survived her wounds). In Illinois, girls with American Nazi Girl dolls found their toys strung by the neck in the bathroom. The violence to the American Nazi Girl dolls was rampant. Some were found with burnt hair and melted heads, others dismembered. At one school in Mississippi, several girls found their dolls out back behind the school buried in a shallow grave with tiny bullet holes in the dolls’ backs. Girls started bleaching their hair without adult supervision leading to chemical burns and loss of hair. One article told the story of a little girl in West Virginia who tried to soak her entire body in bleach in order to be: “as pure as Frau Barbie.” In fact girls from every state were being hospitalized for trying to perfect themselves to the standards of Nazi Barbie. Tweens were found huddled in the corner of their rooms, strung out on tiny Nazi Barbie medicine cocktails, haunted by the image of their beloved.

***

    I reached out to Camille Paglia to speak about Taylor Swift’s comments and the recent success of the Nazi Barbie. Her publicist informed me she was very busy working on the script for Nazi Barbie: The Movie and wouldn’t be able to talk for very long. We spoke over the phone. After a quick congratulations, she thanked me and began telling me about the difficulties of writing a screenplay for the film. That her work was continuously sent back because the studio and Mattel wanted her to stick to the storyboards and character bios the toy corporation’s room of writers created, and that (if she was unable to comply with their vision) they could always get Christina Hoff Sommers to finish the script for them. So she was under a very tight deadline. “If it wasn’t for these manatee embryos, I’d hate to imagine what that might look like.” I thanked her for her time and summarized what Swift had to say.

Camille Paglia

She said all that?

Me

Yes

CP

Wow. I’ll admit. I’m a little more disappointed than before.

Me

Why’s that?

CP

It’s is abundantly clear to me that Taylor is suffering from the conventional feminist view point on a lot of things. I mean Mainardi, really? I knew Patty, we used to romp back in the seventies. She’s such a goddamn whiney prude. That’s a role model for her? No wonder she’s setting a bad example for everyone else.

Me

So you don’t think Swift has any point?

CP

Of course not. You see. I’m rock ‘n’ roll. She’s pop. She’s going to follow the simplest forms and methods and get by spewing that back out to the masses in the most obnoxious and superficial fashion imaginable. I’m rock ‘n’ roll. I play by different rules. That’s why I rub her the wrong way. I’m Led Zeppelin. She’s… Barbara Streisand. Get it?

Me

Well couldn’t you say that Led Zeppelin is pretty mainstream?

CP

Well… maybe now. But if you think about them at the time, no. You’re young. You’ll learn. I’m totally on a different level playing field than Taylor. Are you kidding me? Hello? Let’s get it together here. She read some books on whatever and thinks she’s knows some shit. Oh wow! Another person in their twenties who thinks they know it all. Get out of here with that crap.

Me

OK, but I think she makes two interesting points I’d like to talk to you about: 1) that you state in the article that feminists, or more precisely women feminists?, are too quick to blame men for their own faults and that women should admire and base their relationships off of male companionships, but she feels as though that is a form of idolizing the very structures that led to women’s plight in the first place; and 2) that you are just as guilty of superficial feminism and pettiness by labeling her a Nazi Barbie. That might all be rock ‘n’ roll, but it really doesn’t address her points. Care to discuss?

CP

You’re probably a huge Taylor Swift fan, aren’t you?

Me

Actually, I’m more of a Katy Perry guy, myself.

CP

Figures.

Me

How so?

CP

Come on. Don’t play dumb with me. It’s OK. I don’t care. You’ve got a dick. It’s all right. It’s like that one Rammstein song… how does it go? I love that song: [Singing in a bad German accent] “I’ve got dick-a, you’ve got a pussay. So what’s the problem?” Isn’t that how it goes?

Me

Uh… yeah, something like that.

CP

What’s the problem, big boy? You don’t like a little rock ‘n’ roll? Don’t worry, I’m not trying to fuck you over the phone. I’m too old and too gay anyway. But I’m not like these awful prigs you’ll come across at NOW.

Me

Uh… I love rock ‘n’ roll. I just don’t think you’re answering the questions at hand.

CP

What were they again?

Me

Let’s just start with the first one: do you not see a problem with telling women they should behave more like men, or male culture?

CP

I didn’t say that. I didn’t write that. That’s not true. You need to get your facts straight.

Me

But in the article you are stating the importance of female bonding is necessary because women have abandoned the old social structures that were in play which formed their communities, and now they are at the mercy of the “paparazzi culture” and “hypersexualization” and the “piranha shoals of the industry” but don’t you agree that the system in which all three of these areas exist is the same that forced them into their communities in the first place? Just a different manifestation of patriarchal society in which women are objectified and harassed by their male peers and scrutinized by females who try to hold themselves to these same standards. That is to say: don’t you think the problem is that women are comparing themselves to the male culture, which is what leads to their anxiety, their loneliness is directly impacted by “male malice.”

CP

Oh man. Another fucking moral Crusader. No. It’s not a guy’s fault that Taylor Swift pals around with other impossibly beautiful women, taking pictures, acting like little girls, sticking their tongues out and blowing kisses, and wearing all those hot, tight clothes, with their tits mashed together, legs and midriffs flashing, asses and vag’s nearly visible, all like something you’d find in a million different porn flicks. Projecting these images all over social media and so forth, isolating and making little girls that look nothing like that feel even more excluded and vulnerable. It’s not your fault Taylor Swift is doing this and making these girls feel like shit. Why are you defending her?

Me

Well if you want to take a sample of one, then I agree. I’m not the sole problem. But Swift isn’t doing that necessarily either. Those images are being utilized by the market, a market that is gearing particularly to males and which understands women will have no choice but to follow along with, it’s just a highly complicated form of fetishism of the female body, utilized and marketed to the appetites of male culture. You’re just sitting on the opposite end of the contradiction.

CP

Yeah. The winning side. Look. If you want to be a self-hating male, go right ahead. If Taylor Swift really wants to make a difference for women, especially young girls, maybe she should stop taking meretricious selfies and making cutesy, tootsy smiley faces and goofy looks and try to change the fucking world. She’s part of the problem.

Me

But aren’t you, too?

CP

Excuse me? I don’t have time for this bullshit.

Me

But you acknowledge the problems of inequality and the objectification of women in contemporary society, and yet you are claiming that the construct (or those who benefit directly from it) has no responsibility, but the burden of change rests on the shoulders of those who suffer. You’re not blaming the victim here? How can a society which is the cause for women’s alienation, the one that creates the callous paparazzi culture and renders the female body merely a tool for further exploitation not be at least partly responsible?

CP

Well men can be thrown into the meat grinder, too.

Me

Sure.

CP

Well then there you have it. Males are just as vulnerable to the market as women. So why in the hell is it their fault? Why can’t women work together and get past the sexualized market system?

Me

Because the market is devised to benefit men, not women. Sure, sometimes men become vulnerable, too. That’s not being disputed here. What’s being disputed is whether or not it is fair to hold women to a standard that disregards factors that add up to the disparity they deal with. Couldn’t the loss of solidarity women feel today be just as likely due to advancements of technology that lead to a “socialized” autonomy in which everyone is focused on themselves through the “sharing” market? Everyone can share their pictures, opinions, even labor time, they can all become friends with anyone in the most remote sense with the click of a button. Couldn’t that mixed with a further expanding neoliberal political economy, libertine social atmosphere, and all the while a continued industry that panders to the most basic impulses of men, couldn’t all of that contribute to the isolation and fear women feel in society? Isn’t that completely out of Taylor Swift’s control?

CP

It’s not her fault! Fuck. But she and all her other gal pals need to understand that they need to push past the superficial dilettantism they are promoting with their absurd social media bourgeois bullshit! It’s all bullshit. They aren’t doing anything to help the cause in any genuine, sustainable fashion. Fuck. Can’t you get that? How is liking a photo on Instagram going to combat the paparazzi culture? It just enables the fucking people to want more, you just cut out the middlemen in that instance. That’s about it. But that’s not enough. Why can’t you get that? Why is that so hard? She is supporting a jejune point-of-view that says [in a poorly constructed Valley-Girl Taylor Swift voice]: Look at me doing this little cutesy thing with this other Amazonian goddess, aren’t we cool? Isn’t this just like the coolest? Feminism, y’all! We’re fighting the totems of oppression one selfie at a time! Are you joking? Come on. Get real. She leaves her point void by virtue of this crude, thoughtless act.

Me

Isn’t that exactly what you did with the Nazi Barbie comment, though?

CP

Oh give me a break! It was a 1000-word opinion piece and everyone picked up and ran with two goddamned words. Two! Out of a thousand.

Me

Yeah, but your larger point was lost by the fact that everyone honed in on Nazi Barbie. Any point you were making, no matter how partially valid, got lost by that incredibly facile, offhand comment. Swift might be guilty of promoting silly publicity campaigns to better improve her career and ultimately not be aiding the women’s movement. But so are you.

CP
I’m not going to sit hear and get lectured by some lame, stupid self-hating popinjay. You don’t get it. I’m rock ‘n’ roll. I’m rock ‘n’ roll, and you’re easy-listening crooner bullshit. You just don’t get it. Come out of your shell and join me in the chaos, baby.

    And then she hung up.

***

    I walked out of the theater. It was dark, and cold, snow began to fall as evident in the thin layer coating the ground. So I pulled up my collar and zipped my jacket. The marquee shined in glorious purple, pink, and yellow neon. The black text read against the florescent white: NAZI BARBIE: THE MOVIE.

It wasn’t as bad as everyone was saying. The Rotten Tomatoes score was hovering around 14%. The plot was indecipherable, something about an evil group of “Party Poopers” trying to stop Nazi Barbie and her friends from throwing the greatest Nazi Party that could have ever been had. At least there were some character motivations, but each scene really seemed to set up another shameless corporate shill. I wanted to think about it all properly, but it was late and I was tired.

All I managed was to recall what I saw in the credits: Directed by Michael Bay. Written by Camille Paglia. “Bad Blood” by Taylor Swift.