Monthly Archives: December 2013

Beyoncé, Booty, and Feminism

Close-up of Beyoncé

1990 Madonna called. She wants her whole steez back.

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Beyoncé is a superb entertainer. One minute, her voice is the piercing blare of a trumpet and the next, it’s the gentle lilt of a cello. Of course, her body is equally as flexible, just as exquisitely crafted, and almost as thrilling to witness. Unassailable talent allows her to occupy an enviable position at the peak of pop culture, and she’s used that lofty site as a promontory from which to speak directly to the hearts—and importantly the egos—of millions of females who have come to see her as the embodiment of the ideal woman: talented, strong, and sexy. Queen Bey is a feminist icon, and she deserves to be one. However, there are those who would have us believe that BEYONCÉ, her latest album, marks her biggest step thus far in a retreat from the forefront of the feminist movement.

I say that those people are either overwrought feminist pedants or overly inhibited conservatives. Or they’re idiots. ‘Cause you know, there’s always that element.

I mean, look, the woman made some songs about being a strong woman. OK, she made quite a few of them. Hooray! Also, she’s managed to have a ridiculously successful solo career for more than a decade, when most acts appear and then disappear so quickly that you wonder if that’s why they call it pop music. Hooray again! Oh, and she’s seemingly happily married to a really rich and famous guy and has a cute little daughter, too. So now all of this somehow makes her a standard bearer for modern feminism? Or at least modern black feminism?

I’m sorry, but no. All it means is that she is a woman who has lived the kind of self-determined life that the foremothers of women’s equality envisioned for their sisters and daughters…and that she’s aware of that fact. I don’t doubt that Beyoncé honestly wants to encourage girls and women to think of themselves as self-sustaining, dynamic beings who are fundamentally equal to any man, but Elizabeth Cady Stanton she ain’t.

Perhaps a parallel example will assist in illustrating my point.

After he helped invent gangster rap, but before he started making feel-good movies, Ice Cube made a lot of passionate, pro-black music. Was I disappointed as I gradually watched Cube melt deeper and deeper into Hollywood, to the point where he’s actually game to do comedy bits with Conan O’Brien, possibly the whitest looking dude ever birthed? Not no, but hell no, ‘cause I never once got his vaguely menacing, yet somehow cherubic visage confused with that of Stokely Carmichael’s.

In the same way, members of the Yoncé Ate Sasha school of thought need to relax and understand that by releasing this album and the accompanying videos she didn’t forsake some kind of feminist mission, because dude, she never had one. Beyoncé doesn’t owe little girls, working mothers, the queens at the MAC store, or anybody else anything except good music and a good show. To the extent that she chooses to inspire a sense of inherent beauty within young women or to write lyrics that help generate female self-confidence of any kind, it is a good thing. Her decision to tilt the content of her art a little more towards sex in the bedroom…or the kitchen…or the limo floor…does nothing to negate her expressions of feminist positivity.

I fail to see why anyone’s in a tizzy over Yoncé’s sexy lyrics and skintastic videos at all in the first place. Curse words. Who cares? Bathtub intercourse while inebriated. Zzzzzz. Fleeting shot of supermodel’s tongue grazing the upper half of Beyoncé’s right mammary. Yawn. Allusion to oral sex and errant ejaculate (see Lewinsky, verb). Getting there, but let’s not phone the Thought Police just yet. Multiple potential references to anilingus…OK, sure that’s freaky. But hell, it wasn’t even explicitly stated. That’s just my interpretation. Other artists get far nastier on a regular basis, with no playful metaphors or euphemisms acting as prophylactics during their aural sex romps, so the only thing I’m left with is the idea that this new album is shocking folks only because Beyoncé’s behind it.

That begs a question for all of you grooooown women out there: What’s worse, a sexist man who won’t let you fully realize your multi-faceted identity or a feminist woman who doesn’t want you to display more than one side of it? Recall Yoncé’s sample of author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie reminding us of exactly what a feminist is:

“Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.”

So, even if Beyoncé isn’t leading the vanguard of 21st century feminist freedom fighters, forsaking her because she’s being just as loud about her sexuality as she’s been about female empowerment is unnecessary and unfair. In the end, it’s perfectly fine for her to sing of self-determination while shaking her fine ass in peek-a-boo shorts. After all, she woke up like this.

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You Ain’t Got the Answers: Part Two

What's a king without a crown?

What’s a king without a crown?

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In my last post, I ended with a reference to Kanye’s um…somewhat emotional interaction with radio host Sway. And when I say emotional, I mean fucking Megatron is reincarnated and he’s looking for Starscream. Seriously, you could’ve heated like 20 working class Chicago homes for the winter with the fire coming outta Yeezy’s nostrils during that interview.

That brings us to writer Christiana Mbakwe’s take on the Kanye Problem. First, let me say that she at least treats her subject with enough respect to acknowledge his positive attributes and the potential value that his recent protests can provide. Still, she argues that this positivity is being obliterated under the weight of his woes, the origin of which lies in some type of mental disorder, whether it be autism, PTSD as a consequence of his mother’s death, or heck, even drug addiction. Yes, you read that last one right. To Ms. Mbakwe, that Hennessy botttle at the Taylor Swift incident and subsequent behavior over the years are signs that he’s “unravelling” and desperately in need of a therapist. This makes me wonder how often the British Ms. Mbakwe gets to party with Afro-Yanks. If she did, she’d know that when celebrating, some brothers hug a bottle of Henny harder than they hug their girl…even if she does look like Amber Rose.

But hey, maybe dude is a little mental. So am I. And so are you. Psychological scars are the cost of living. I have no doubt that the death of Donda West still affects Kanye deeply, and anyone who doesn’t allow him that either grew up on Vulcan or got the wire hanger treatment one two many times. However, when we leap past acknowledging emotional difficulties and their concomitant bad behavior all the way to diagnosing someone as mentally ill—based solely on cherry-picked media moments in a life lived in public—we head into dangerous territory. At that point, it becomes all too easy to marginalize a person with unpopular views. Just label them a ranting madman and POOF! Watch all of their credibility slide away like so much blood on a leaf.

Seriously kids, there’s just insufficient evidence to say that Kanye is crazy. Does he have anger management issues? Yes. He should learn to contain and focus it because, unfortunately, many of us can’t see past the rage to glean the truth and significance of his words. Does he declare his own genius too often? Probably. While I’m totally on board with reminding these muphuckas of who the hell they’re dealing with, if you overdo it you chafe their delicate little egos and trigger widespread outbreaks of Tall Poppy Syndrome. This explains why folks get so up in arms when Kanye compares himself to heroes like Steve Jobs. What the detractors can’t seem to understand is that when Kanye likens himself to those people he’s not literally saying that he’s just as great or has done anything that’s just as important as any one of them per se, but that he dreams in the same expansive way and needs someone to help him realize his vision.

Steve Jobs (and Steve Wozniak AND Ronald Wayne) got Apple’s first computers built with financing from a vendor who took a leap of faith and filled their order for crucial components based solely on the word of a would-be first customer. Even then, Jobs was eventually booted out of the company in disgrace and didn’t reappear at the forefront of business for a decade. His return to reshape the consumer electronics industry only happened because Apple bought NeXT, his struggling company, and brought him back home with it. Likewise, you might not even know the name Michelangelo today if it weren’t for the rich and powerful Medici family who gave him commission after commission from the time he was a young man. Jesus of Nazareth was scorned, homeless and executed as a criminal, but now his worldwide faithful call him the King of Kings. He owes that not to a miracle, but to his follower Paul, possibly the best marketing guru ever, whom he never even met.

Each of these men displayed varying degrees of talent for their chosen vocations at the onset of their moments of truth. It ranged from undeniable in the case of Michelangelo, to unproven in the case of Jobs, to still disputed in the case of Jesus, but they all eventually succeeded in making a legendary impact. Without major support however, their visions would have withered and died and their names would have crumbled in the unrelenting winds of history.

The notion of getting it done yourself is a fantastic motivational tool, but it’s just that: a fantasy. No one gets it done by themselves. The idea that great entrepreneurs are self-made is a myth that’s central to the American consciousness, but to take a large scale commercial vision from concept to reality in an insular, exclusive, and capital intensive industry like fashion requires a patron. Kanye is searching for that patron. Should he find one, he may succeed in breaking down walls and democratizing high fashion. Or, he may just break down. We’ll never know unless somebody helps him do his thing, just like somebody helped Steve Jobs and Michelangelo. Oh, and Jesus, too.

Amen.

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You Ain’t Got the Answers: Part One

"Who gone stop me, huh?"

“Who gone stop me, huh?”

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A couple of months ago, I wrote a piece on Kanye West and his frustration with his inability to break into the fashion world. I thought that would be that. In the last couple of weeks however, I’ve watched the anti-Yeezus stream grow into a river threatening to flood the internet. The deluge has consisted of nasty one-liners, thoughtful psychological profiles, and everything in-between, but it’s all had one thing in common: overwhelming negativity.

The Wall Street Journal’s Christina Binkley seemed to delight in underscoring just how hard of a time Mr. West is having. While her scathingly sarcastic piece took pains to underscore just how unimpressive Kanye’s designs have been thus far, she largely chalked up his failure to penetrate fashion’s inner circle to his inconsistency. “In order to be sold, clothes have to be produced,” she reminded us.

I’m no expert on the fashion industry. I mean, I don’t know Ricardo Tisci from fucking Ricardo Montalbán. Still, to these eyes what Ms. Binkley conveniently seems to be overlooking is the fact that for clothes to be produced, one must have access to a means of production. In addition, once the clothes are successfully produced, one must have access to a means of distribution. The fashion industry is not the technology industry. You can’t just rent office space, buy a couple of computers, put up a site and start looking for yacht club memberships. Producing a fashion brand at the level Kanye desires requires substantial capital and, apparently, some imagination on the part of the investor. No offense to the relative success of Pharrell Williams’ Ice Cream and BBC lines, but if I hear one more comparison between Yeezy and Skateboard P’s fashion pursuits I’m gonna pop an ollie into a boardslide…on somebody’s fucking head. Pharrell’s joints are streetwear brands. I’m sure Kanye could get the money to start one of those faster than you could say “cultural ghettoization,” but our boy is aiming for Ralph Lauren style and status.

So, in order to achieve the consistency Ms. Binkley chides him for lacking, he needs a shit ton of support from one of the handful of people who controls the gears of production and distribution…and he’s not getting it. That’s why, after rather cogently and calmly answering the question of why he can’t just do it himself on New York’s Hot 97 radio station, Kanye went BANANA NUT APE SHIT on radio host Sway’s show when asked the same thing.

I’m publishing the second part of this piece on Friday. Press the little button up there on the right and subscribe to make sure you get the whole story!

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