product: music

Cross-posted at Osocio.

We’ve been covering the saga of Russian protest punk group Pussy Riot for over a year now. The feminist collective performed guerrilla musical protests around Russia against Vladimir Putin. One in particular, in a church, ended with members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina sentenced to two years imprisonment for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”. The human rights implications of this sentence attracted much worldwide attention, with Amnesty International and celebrities like Sting, Yoko Ono and Madonna speaking out for the women.

But something else happened. The “Free Pussy Riot” movement, with its iconic knitted balaclavas and provocative language, became a popular meme. The cause célèbre was even appropriated by the fashion industry.

Which is what makes this video by Blush lingerie an intriguing conundrum. While it legitimately promotes the freepussyriot.org fundraising site to help the women, it is also promoting a product using a woman’s sexuality as the bait:

On the first anniversary of the Pussy Riot concert in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, the Berlin based Lingerie label blush supports the free pussy riot movement with a sexy protest march through icy Moscow (-15° C). Support Freepussyriot.org!

This is no Femen action, in which women’s bodies become weapons of protest. It is a commercial for sexy underwear that pays for its appropriation of a radical feminist cause by directing people to that cause.

Is this irony?

Tom Megginson is a Creative Director at Acart Communications, a Canadian Social Issues Marketing agency. He is a specialist in social marketing, cause marketing, and corporate social responsibility. You can follow Tom at workthatmatters.blogspot.com.

Cross-posted at Racialicious.1The Harlem Shake is a syncopated dance form that first appeared on the New York hip-hop scene in the early 1980s. In 2012 music producer Baueer created an electronic dance tune, unfortunately calling it The Harlem Shake. Baueer’s song inspired an Internet meme in which people rhythmlessly shake their upper bodies and grind their hips in a tasteless perversion of the original dance.

This fake Harlem Shake meme has become so ubiquitous that it has been “performed” by the English National Ballet, and gone further globally with a video from the Norwegian army, and in Tunisia and Egypt, where the song and imitation dance has become a protest anthem.

The irony of an African-American cultural relic being white-washed to the point where other people of color perform its bastardized version is not lost, and this takes on a whole new level as teams with majority African-American members such as the Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets add to the fake Shake canon.

A major problematic of this meme is that it takes an already marginalized group in America, one whose history and culture has often been appropriated and co-opted in fetishistic ways by the white majority, and makes a mockery of not just them, but an entire dance tradition.  This is not lost on residents of Harlem, many of whom recognize cultural appropriation and malrepresentation when they see it:

In spite of a number of calls online from African-American writers, artists, scholars and supporters like myself to bring attention to the real Harlem Shake, every day there is instead a new group adding to the misappropriated dance. When you Google “The Harlem Shake” you must scroll through pages before you reach any posts about the actual hip-hop tradition.

This literal erasure of black culture and its replacement with an absurdist movement and meme needs to be considered in light of African-American oppression and institutionalized racism in the United States. Supplanting the sinuous artistry of the Harlem Shake with frenetic styleless arm flailing and hip thrusting is yet another brick in a grand wall of symbolic and structural violence that further relegates an entire culture to the margins, both on and offline.

As the Harlem residents said in response to the meme: “Stop that shit.”

P.S. Here’s how to actually do the Harlem Shake. 

Sezin Koehler is a half-American half-Sri Lankan informal ethnographer and novelist living in Lighthouse Point, Florida.

2Over at Feministing, Maya Dusenbery made a great observation about the conservative response to Beyoncé’s Super Bowl halftime show.  Conservatives widely criticized her for sexually objectifying herself.  She made her “sex appeal the main attraction,” said one commentator, who said that Beyoncé “humping the stage and flashing her lady bits to the camera” made her “sad.” Another said that her performance was “tasteless and unedifying.”

Dusenbery notes that the definition of sexual objectification is the reduction of a person to their sex appeal only.  And, ironically, this is what the conservative commentators did to Beyoncé, not something she did to herself.  Sexual objectification is not found in a person’s clothing choices or dance moves; instead:

[Objectification is] watching Beyoncé’s show — where she demonstrated enormous professional skill by singing live, with an awesome all-women band I might add, while dancing her ass off in front of millions of people — and not being able to see anything besides her sexy outfit.

Indeed, these conservative commentators are arguing that Beyoncé’s talent can only be fully be appreciated in the absence of sex appeal (whatever that might look like).  And that is the problem. Dusenbery continues:

These commentators reflect a “culture in which too many people seem to find it difficult to understand that it is possible to simultaneously find a woman sexually attractive and treat her like a full human being deserving of basic respect.”

Right on.  To me, Beyoncé’s performance — along with those of her band mates and fellow dancers and singers — embodied strength and confidence; the pleasure of being comfortable in one’s own skin and the ability to use your body to tell a story; and the power that comes from being admired for the talents you’ve worked so hard to cultivate.  I don’t see how you could watch this and only see a sexual object:

Via Racialicious.

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.

As a sociologist who happens to DJ — or is that the other way around? — I’m always curious to see how DJing is depicted in popular culture and advertising. Ever since the 1970s, when the disco craze helped push the prominence of DJs into the public realm, disc jockeys have become iconic symbols of nightlife culture. Within the milieu of the dance floor, DJs serve as what Sarah Thornton once described as “orchestrators of a ‘living’ communal experience.”

As such, the image of the DJ standing behind a pair of turntables has become ripe for appropriation by liquor and cigarette companies in particular. For them, especially in print ads, the DJ serves as a visual shorthand for any number of values they want their product associated with: culturally hip/cool, entertainment/musical mavens, the source of good times, etc. However, when it comes to that shorthand, this Smirnoff ad from last summer may have come up just a little too short.

At first glance, this image of a DJ working the turntables, with a cleavage-baring admirer looking on, seems uncomplicated: Smirnoff promises a fun, sexy time. However, a closer examination of the mise en scéne yields some instant problems.

  • There are no records on the turntables.
  • There’s not a mat on the turntables. Especially in a nightclub setting, DJs always use felt mats that sit between the platter and record. This not only protects the vinyl surface from the platter but by reducing friction between the record and platter, the DJ can “slip” a record into play at just the right moment. Hence, felt mats are called “slip mats.” In short, it’s very strange to see a turntable without a slip mat.
  • There’s no needle on the turntable arm. Therefore, even if they had bothered to put records on the turntables, Mr. Hip DJ wouldn’t have been able to actually play them.
  • There’s no visible DJ mixer. The mixer is absolutely crucial, allowing the DJ to switch between two audio sources, i.e. what makes “disc jockeying” possible to begin with. Normally, the mixer would sit between the two turntables so its absence in the image is conspicuous.
  • The gesture — hands posed over both turntables — doesn’t make sense; it’s not a pose that any DJ would ever employ. Normally, you would have one hand on a turntable, the other hand working the mixer but no nightclub DJ would  be manipulating both turntables, simultaneously. He looks like he’s trying to play bongos. (A scratch DJ, aka turntablist, may work both turntables for certain techniques but scratch DJs aren’t typically nightclub DJs – hard to dance to someone scratching).

When this ad made its rounds on social media, theories were bandied about to explain just what went wrong in this ad. The most plausible explanation is that the Smirnoff campaign selected a stock image hastily but that still opens up the question of how no one, from the original photographer, to the people in the image, to the people working on the Smirnoff ad itself, seemed to realize just how ridiculous this image was. It’d be akin to a car ad where someone is pretending to drive a car… from the backseat. With the wheels missing. And facing the wrong direction.

Of course, the vast majority of people know what driving a car is supposed to look like. One conclusion one might draw from the Smirnoff ad is that while the basic image of a DJ has some resonance in the public imagination, as a practice/craft, DJing isn’t actually well-understood at all.

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Dr. Oliver Wang is an associate professor of sociology at Cal State Long Beach. He contributes regularly on music and culture for NPR’s All Things Considered, KPCC’s Take Two, the LA Times, and KCET’s ArtBound. He also writes the audioblog Soul-Sides.com.

Cross-posted at Racialicious.
Sociologist Jooyoung Lee is writing what sounds like a truly fascinating book. Titled Blowing Up: Rap Dreams in LA, it follows a series of young Black men who are trying to make it as rappers.  “Together,” Lee writes, “their stories show how rapping — and Hip Hop culture more generally — transform the social worlds of urban poor black youths.”

The video below gives us a taste of his findings.  In it, he’s asked why he thinks rappers are “so maligned in our culture.”  He explains that it’s because people often “take violent and misogynistic lyrics” literally.  Doing so, however, is to misunderstand “how the creative process works.”  He goes on to explain how one of the men he studied was pressured by a music label to cultivate an image that conformed to stereotypes of young, urban Black men.

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.

For the last week of December, we’re re-posting some of our favorite posts from 2012.

In “Rock in a Hard Place: Grassroots Cultural Production in the Post-Elvis Era,” William Bielby discusses the emergence of the amateur teen rock band. The experience of teens getting together with their friends to form a band and practice in their parents’ garage is iconic in our culture now; recalling their first band or their first live show is a standard element of interviews with successful rock musicians. Bielby traces the history of this cultural form, which appeared in the 1950s. In particular, he argues that social structures largely excluded young women from full participation in the teen band phenomenon.

Though young women were involved in many other types of musical performance, the pop charts featured many successful female artists in the 1950s, and girls listened to music more than boys, rock bands emerged as a male-dominated (and predominantly White) musical form. One important reason was parents’ concern about the rock subculture and the lack of supervision. Parents might be willing to let their sons get together with friends and play loud music and travel around town or even to other cities to play in front of a crowd, but they were much less likely to let their daughters do so. Gendered parenting, and the closer regulation of girls than boys, meant that girls were less likely to be given the chance to join a band. So while boys were learning to take on the role of active producers of rock music, girls didn’t have the same opportunities.

Yunnan C. sent us photos she took of two shirts at an H&M store in Toronto that made me think about Bielby’s argument:

As Yunnan points out,

This, as fashion, enforces this idea that being in a band and playing music are for guys, limiting women to being the passive consumers and supporters of it, rather than the producers.

The shirts don’t just cast women in the role of fans; they specifically frame them as potential groupies, whose fandom is filtered through a romantic/sexual attraction to individual members of a band. Communications scholar Melissa Click argues that female fans are often dismissed because there is a “persistent cultural assumption that male-targeted texts are authentic and interesting, while female-targeted texts are schlocky and mindless—and further that men and boys are active users of media while girls are passive consumers.” While the image of the groupie is as well-known as that of the band, the groupie is usually viewed skeptically, seen as someone with a superficial, inauthentic appreciation of the music, “a particular kind of female fan assumed to be more interested in sex with rock stars than in their music.”

So the H&M shirts reflect gendered notions about who makes music (there were no shirts saying “I am the drummer”) as well as the idea that women’s appreciation for music and other forms of pop culture should be expressed through affection for a specific person, a form of fanhood that ultimately stigmatizes those who express it as superficial and inauthentic.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

James Mollison, the photographer who brought us Where Children Sleep, has a fantastic series called The Disciples in which he captures die-hard music fans (he calls them “tribes”).  The results are a great example of the power of sub-culture.

 

Mollison photographed fans of Madonna, Iron Maiden, Kiss, Dolly Parton, 50 Cent, The Casualties, and many more. You should go check out them all..

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.

Alexandra O’Dell, a student at North Idaho College, does a great job of integrating data, interviews, and images in this 11-minute video about the sexualization of young girls in the media:

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.