commodification

The 30-second (or so) videos below have been interspersed with MTV’s regular programming as part of Black History Month. MTV got Cornel West to be their superstar academic and expert on the Black American experience. The videos serve as the occasion for some interesting questions:

First, how do we evaluate the use of Black musicians, actors, and personalities by MTV? Is “representation” enough? Or does contemporary representation look uncomfortably like the representation of the past? (If you haven’t seen it, watch Spike Lee’s Bamboozled.)

Second, what does it mean that Cornel West signed on with MTV with what is, in effect, a mutual endorsement? Do we approve of Cornel West using his significant influence and importance in this way? Is this good from a reformist perspective? Problematic from a radical perspective? Did he “sell out”?

Third, how effective are these spots? I know little about the audience of MTV, but I imagine there are a lot of people who do not know who Cornel West is and are not inclined to offer him immediate respect. Cornel is idiosyncratic. Does your average MTV viewer see a gap-toothed, afro-wearing guy with odd mannerisms called “Professor” (which, we know, could mean anything) as authoritative? Or a buffoon?

Further, what do we think of the spots themselves? Is their content helpful? Do they teach us anything? Do we like what they teach us? Or is it just more empty lip-service to Black Americans?

Watch and tell us what you think:

[vimeo]https://vimeo.com/63979709[/vimeo]

[vimeo]https://vimeo.com/63979813[/vimeo]

Thanks to Richard for the heads up on this one.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Text: “Back then, you didn’t look through your closet for something to wear. You wore your closet. You’ve come a long way, baby.”

Find your voice with Virginia Slims.

This is a Virginia Slims ad from 1978. The picture above is of a woman hanging laundry out to dry and the text says, “Back then, every man gave his wife at least one day a week out of the house. You’ve come a long way, baby.”
I’m using this when I talk about the commodification of the women’s movement and how freedom has been turned into something you buy. I also like the vague “back then,” used to make now seem so much better in every way.

Text:

“Please keep stealing our stewardesses. Within two years most of our stewardesses will leave us for other men. This isn’t surprising. A girl who can smile for 5 1/2 hours is hard to find. Not to mention a wife who can remember what 124 people want for dinner. (And tell you all about meteorology and jets, if that’s what you’re looking for in a woman.) But these are not the things that brought on our problem. It’s the kind of girl we hire. Being beautiful just isn’t enough. (We don’t mean it isn’t important. We just mean it isn’t enough.) So if there’s one thing we look for, it’s girls who like people. And you can’t do that and then tell them not to like people too much. All you can do is put a new wing on your stewardess college to keep up with the demand.”

Dorotha found this here.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jkEw1rsBUak[/youtube] 

This is a nice compliment to our post of the t-shirt with pictures of safety pins on it (an example of the co-optation of punk culture):

When you’re so tough that you are compelled to hang a razor blade around your neck, but not so tough that you want an ouchie.

This one is a nice example, also, of the way in which we “play” with gender by collapsing traditionally distinct ideas (masculine toughness symbolized by the razor blade and sweet femininity symbolized by the heart) (see also sparkly camouflage, trucker hats with the word “princess” written across them, and pink sports jerseys).

Buy the fake razor blade jewelry here (or don’t).

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

This 50-minute documentary is about men who are in romantic relationships with high-end sex dolls. It’s a must watch. There is a lot to see in this movie: objectification of women, for sure; also the sad lonliness of men who don’t want to, can’t, or don’t think they can, be in a relationship with a real woman; as my friend Jason pointed out, the way in which the men project an interest in clothes and make-up onto their dolls; and so much more.

The Real Dolls website is worth a look, too.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Data on the prevalence of cosmetic surgery is notoriously difficult to find. This is data on the five most common procedures, according to one association’s members. Pretty amazing.

Surgical and non-surgical procedures (2006):

10-year comparison:

Most popular procedures by gender:

Found here.


This might be a useful image for talking about the commodification of protest and “alternative” culture. It was being sold at the H&M store in Pasadena. It’s the latest in a progression of the co-opting of the punk aesthetic–first stores like Hot Topic started selling clothing with rips and safety pins and such in them, so you could go pay a lot of money for pre-packaged punk or goth looks. Now it’s gone a step further where they no longer even bother to put a real safety pin in–now you just get pictures of safety pins, meant to evoke that sense of non-conformity in the safest, most easily-marketed way possible, along with your Sum 41 (or whatever their name is) CD.