Why does pop culture culture reduce women and men to such limiting stereotypes? Why are reality TV’s stock characters (The Desperate Bachelorette, The Angry Black Woman, The Douchebag Dude) so regressive? Find out in the town that creates them at the L.A. book launch for Reality Bites Back! Expect critical media commentary, revealing insights about gender in pop culture — and lots of laughs.
The authors will read from and sign their books. And after: schmoozing. What could be better? Oh, it is free.
Katy Perryis at the top of the pop star game with her latest single California Gurls currently at #1. As it turns out, if you have a catchy tune no one really questions or cares about the lyrics which is in this case is good for Katy Perry because she says nothing of any substance. At all. This, however, shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise seeing as her claim to fame was “I Kissed a Girl”, a song that did nothing but sell a girl-on-girl heterosexual male fantasy in the form of a CD. Go figure. Granted, she does write *most* of her own lyrics and therefore is the only one to thank for the enlightening and empowering messages young girls are consuming all over the country right now:
Bikinis on top
Will melt your popsicle
Oooooh Oh Oooooh
To be quite frank, I don’t personally understand the appeal to her music as I find it to be beyond lame. It is a classic example of just how devoid of originality and substance our pop culture landscape is and it does a perfect job of keeping women in an overly sexualized one-dimensional category. It is songs like this that reinforce our ever growing need for more sheroes and a deconstruction of the messages that we are financially supporting and constantly consuming without batting an eyelash.
In a recent Jezebel post by Dodai, the pop message is explained crystal clear:
Tale as old as time: Love me; I’m pretty! Her cupcake boobs and suggestive frosting-licking are campy fun, though disappointing on some level, since the only message seems to be: I am here for your consumption. Eat me.
As if the lyrics weren’t ridiculously dull enough, the cupcake filling shooting out of her cupcake breasts left me at a complete loss, extremely confused and in search for some sort of justification. Upon further investigation and a quick visit to Wikipedia, I learned that Katy Perry had quite the religious upbringing, raised by two Pastors. In fact, she started singing in her church at the age of nine and her first CD was a self-titled gospel album. So, naturally after her tweet blasting Lady Gaga’s new video this past week as “blasphemous” I couldn’t help but spot the irony. I mean, it’s kind of hard to miss in a skintight rubber dress.
The fact of the matter is that Katy Perry (lame music and all) is extremely popular right now. Whether she likes it or not she is a popular public figure and by default a role model for young women and girls. What exactly does it say about our present female ‘role model’ that the best she can come up with are insipid, sexually explicit lyrics that promote her as nothing more than a Candyland piece waiting to be eaten up by Snoop Dogg?
I’ll add an 11th: Thou shalt recognize intersectionality in every component of media representation, sniffing out and calling them out on colorism, homophobia, heterosexism, classism, racism, ageism, ableism etc.
What would you like to add? Lets make it a full-fledged manifest(a).
Season 1, episode 16: Home: Mercedes is confronted with the cheerleading coach’s demand that she lose weight and wear the signature Cheerios short skirts. Despite initial protest, Mercedes attempts to fit the mold by starving herself and ends up fainting in the cafeteria.
Her struggles with self-doubt and a negative body image are not only revealing and honest but offer moments of insight. I appreciated the scene between a crying Mercedes and a pregnant Quinn. Quinn encourages her to be herself, a strong, confident and beautiful young woman. Quinn also poses a question to the viewers: why is it that her own pregnancy has prompted her to treat herself better by eating right and nourishing her body when she was not willing to do it for herself?
Many of the torturous diet and exercise rituals we are willing to endure and often pursue with much gusto in the name of thinness are nothing short of dysfunctional and abusive. Those rituals are accompanied by a tremendous amount of negative self-talk.
You know that self-talk. Disparaging comments you make about yourself as you look in the mirror or grab parts of your body that society thinks could be thinner or more toned (or more ____ , or less____; the list is endless).
One of the powerful and empowering moments of this episode comes not only from Mercedes’ ultimate rejection of the beauty myth and the cult of thinness when she sings Beautiful in front of the whole school but Quinn’s lingering question that urges us to ask ourselves why we don’t treat ourselves better.
The typical American watches four hours of TV and is exposed to 247 commercial messages each day. This includes print ads, commercials, and billboards. The life expectancy of an American woman is 80.4 years. This means that the average American woman will be exposed to 7,248,462 commercial messages in her lifetime, and she will have watched 117,384 hours of television. But are the messages sent in the media accurate?
In talking to other teenage girls about the depiction of women in the media today, the vast majority agreed that no, women are not accurately portrayed, and yes, there is a problem. They also agreed that this is most apparent on television shows.
Let me start off by saying that whenever I read about online and cell phone phenomenons such as “sexting”, I feel old. I was in high school only 10 years ago, but the current culture feels so far removed from what I grew up around. There were plenty of rumors about people’s behavior regarding sex, drugs, and relationships, but they were just words, nothing more. All teenagers in all periods of time have acted reckless, made stupid decisions, and made mistakes. Except now, those mistakes live online, on computers, in a digital chip forever. There’s no escaping – pictures meant for one person can be shown to hundreds of Facebook friends, and profiles and pages deleted are stored in Google cache, long after they’re gone. There seems to be these two parallels running at the same speed – risque and sexual behavior starting at younger ages, as technology makes communication easier and faster.
I started thinking “Have we learned nothing from the Paris Hiltons and Kim Kardashians of the world?” Of course it then occurred to me that mainstream media, and the treatment of these women is part of the problem. I’m not saying they should’ve been slut shamed or torn to shreds, but the way it was handled doesn’t exactly set a good example. Paris Hilton went from being an anonymous heiress to a household name (again hit television show, movie roles, spokesperson, etc.) What did Kim Kardashian get after her sex tape was “leaked?” A hit television show on E! and countless offers to be a spokesperson, cover model, etc. So far network heads, corporations, and publications have shown that you get rewarded for this kind of behavior.
Like I said, the answer isn’t slut-shaming, but maybe the answer is not rewarding these exploits or at the least not paying attention? I got annoyed the other week when I read the Huffington Post writing about Brandon Davis’ tweets about ex-girlfriend Mischa Barton. “Why is the media still giving this asshole a platform?” I wondered. The question isn’t just “Why were these women rewarded for their sex tapes?” But like Davis’ tweets, “Why were the sex tapes a top story in the news in the first place?” The media is our educator – they get to set the norms. So what is the norm the average 15 year old girl is growing up watching? Girls Next Door, Pretty Wild, and Keeping up with the Kardashians, just to name a few. I grew up watching Daria and Buffy. Quite a difference in the last decade, no? Not everyone is lucky or educated enough to be as media literate as us.
The pop culture landscape is flooded with endless streams of hypsersexualized images, with images targeting younger and younger audiences, and personal sexual exploits that would concern any parent resulting in reality TV careers. What’s a young person to do? The messages are conflicted and inconsistent. The news reports the latest story on sexting or a tween sexual exploit shared on Facebook and at the next turn a new celeb-wannabe gets rewarded with fame and fortune for the same behavior.
As parents are less able to keep up with all the new technological innovations that make this behavior easier and faster, teenagers expose every aspect of their lives through social networking, the two combined create a problem that just seems to be spreading instead of slowing down. Combine this with the contradictions of the media environment and one can become overwhelmed, searching for answers.
We need to be educated – in technology, in the long lasting effects of this behavior, and in having a critical eye when it comes to magazines, TV, movies, and music. It’s important not to forget about the influence the media can and does have on our society and culture.
Whether or not you subscribe to a tabloid (or a number of tabloids), read them occasionally or only skim the covers as you make your way through the check-out stand (even Whole Foods carries a select few, such as Us Magazine), tabloids matter. They matter because they comprise a component of our pop culture environment, like it or not.
You may scoff at the rags, belittle them, feel disgust and/or frustration, you may have boycotted them entirely (good for you!), but (you know this was coming, right?) plenty of other people read them. They do inform a large segment of the population. Don’t you want to know what messages are being constructed and disseminated?
When I attended Z Media Institute in 1997, I was in a full-on boycott of the mass media. I’d shut the cable off, stopped buying tabloids and I even stopped flipping through them when I got my nails done. I was done. I felt great. In fact, I felt smug about my choice and my intellectual elitism. Mass media? Pop culture? Nope. I’d moved on and I was above it. And then Michael Albert started talking about the NBA.
I think he could tell how surprised some of us were by his intricate knowledge of professional basketball and his affinity for Michael Jordan. Michael Albert was my favorite teacher at the institute (besides the workshop I attended with Noam Chomsky). He taught all sorts of cool media theory classes and I was heavy into theory those days. I respected him and was sorta oogley-eyed. His status as an out-and-out NBA fan didn’t match up with his intellectual, activist and anti-mainstream persona. Without any prompting on the part of his surprised and speechless students, he went on to explain that as an alternative media activist he couldn’t just turn a blind eye to the mass media. He could examine it critically, limit his level of mediation and even enjoy parts of it. Why would he want to completely distance himself from and consider himself superior to mass culture, pop culture? How could he expect to relate to the rest of the population? How could he speak the same language and create change if people perceived him as an intellectual snob in an ivory tower that viewed their hankering for some end-of-the day programming?
Of all the invaluable things I learned during my time in Woodshole, MA, this conversation has remained with me in incredible clarity. My time at ZMI changed me and Michael Albert’s talk on activism and the NBA changed my approach to activism, my understanding of pop culture and my to relate to and resonate with the “average” mediated individual in immeasurable ways. And, it allowed me to have a little more fun.
So, unlike a lot of you reading this, I do read tabloids. It’s part of my job as a media critic and an educator. I need to know what my students are subjected to. What are they reading? What are they watching. In essence, what are they consuming? It allows me to speak the same language and use examples that are relevant to them. This allows me to connect with them and create a shift in consciousness.
Aside from creating more interesting, often entertaining, and relatable lectures, *I* want to know what messages and images are being constructed. These messages and images shape our social values. I’ve been a student of media literacy for 15 years, I consider myself a conscious media consumer and I limit my level of mediation but most people I interact with don’t fall into that category. I’m talking about my neighbors, the people at the market, the gym, the drivers next to me on the 405.
In the end, whether or not you read the tabloids, tabloid messages help frame our culture. With that said, I have decided that beginning with last week’s tabs, I am going to examine the covers of at least 2 tabloids and find out what they’re saying. It may seem trivial or superficial but tabloid talk matters. Aren’t you curious to see what they’re telling thousands of people each week?
Well, lets take a look:
“Tabloid talk” was inspired specifically by these two covers from last week. Interestingly enough, both covers featured women exclusively. But that’s nothing to get too excited about. The dominant themes are: weight and body image (you’re either too thin, a plastic surgery freak or a body project success), relationships with men (endings and beginnings) and the girl-on-girl feud. Oh, and there’s a brief mention of Kate Gosselin and it’s not good. For more on all the “Kate-hate,” check out this article at CNN with commentary by WIMN director, Jennifer Pozner.
Sound familiar? Yeah, because I posted covers from a few weeks ago that had countless cover stories of warring women (women are never really friends, right?) and post-baby bodies.
How does this compare to older cover stories? Again, lets take a look at this 2004 tabloid cover from my personal archive:
Hmm, not much has changed, has it? I always find the examination of tabloid covers and advertisements more powerful when viewed as part of a larger spectrum of images. The seemingly mundane or superficial focal points become more powerful when viewed collectively.
So, let tabloid talk begin. It will be my weekly online content analysis. Complete results will be tallied and posted in 56 weeks.
As young girls and women,we’re bombarded with images of women that have little else but beauty and boys on the brain (the former required to win the latter). I’ve said it time and time again, I firmly believe that we need a new set of female role models that are manifesting social and political change in the world, girls and women that are intelligent, inspiring and bad-ass as hell.
Tobie Loomis fits the bill. Tobie boasts an impressive resume. She’s an independent writer, director and producer, an activist and an advocate for equal rights for all. She is an active member of Women in Film (WIF), advisory chair of the WIF International Committee and co-chair of the award winning PSA Production Program, a program that mentors young filmmakers in developing their craft as writers, directors and producers.
Both programs do incredible work in supporting and empowering young woman to develop their creative voices, something that is absolutely essential in a media landscape dominated by corporate conglomerates that limit information diversity and a culture that still relegates women to the margins of cultural discourse. To encourage young women to develop their voice, to celebrate their voice, and create a forum for expression is an incredible gift to all girls and women that are seriously starving for new images of girls and women that relay stories that are timely, relevant and authentic. Haven’t we had enough of the one-dimensional images promoted by reality television and most of the pop culture landscape? I know I have.
In addition to the work Tobie does in the area of film and creative expression, she is Co-Executive Director of the ERA Today campaign with Kamala Lopez, director of A Single Woman that was recently screened at W.A.M Los Angeles. Their campaign was recently presented to the Veteran Feminists of America in Dallas last month.
Tobie is an excellent example of the types of women we need to know exist and are working on creating creative content that inspires and ignites while simultaneously advocating and working for social and political change.
Feminism has been declared “dead” AGAIN! Yawn. Apparently, this time, it’s death was found among popular culture. Feminism has been declared as dead, unnecessary, and outdated after all the great advances feminism has brought women. After every wave of feminism, the media would report hearing feminism’s last breath.