Tag Archives: stereotypes

The Game Rewind (and Revise)

3 Mar

Last night, CF Asha and I chatted about BETs The Game. We discussed our overall opinion of the series as a whole and the Tuesday (3/1/11) episode specifically. As Crunk Feminist we pay particular attention to the linkages of race, gender, and popular culture and ask for the writers and producers to do better. We posted the edited transcript of our conversation below.  (Note: It’s a bit long, but its a chat so should be a quick read).

Ashaf: Where should we start?
Chanel: well i think the Meagan Good (Parker) thing is a good place
Ashaf: But the season begins with Parker slapping the hell out of Malik. Sometimes I’m not sure whether I should take umbrage at the violence or accept it as part of kink culture. Are there lines? Am I being provincial?
Chanel: I don’t remember the context of the first slap. Was it sexual?
Ashaf: They were having sex on a toilet I think.
Chanel: lol. But they’re doing a lot of slapping this season. Didn’t Mel slap the shit out of Derwin last night?
Ashaf: Yes. Melanie got her slap on a few times last night
Chanel: That’s some lazy ass kink writing. The way they participated really wasn’t in a way that disrupted any kinds of sex norms, which is what I think is interesting about kink. This kink was on some Usher shit.
Ashaf: On some Usher shit!!! Bwahaha!!!
Chanel: what’s that song where he wants her to be the man for the night? Trading Places. Anyway in that song he does this whole thing about how he wants her to take control and give it to him like he usually gives it to her, but then in the end he takes control back. And some kind of way this kind of kink is similar because it seems to be controlled by male sexual desire.
Ashaf: Male desire definitely controlled Melanie’s attempts to liven things up last night. Did you see her face after the other woman kissed her?
Chanel: That whole thing was a shitty ass mess and did nothing for the overall goal of the season
Ashaf: What is the overall goal of the season? PLEASE clue me in
Chanel: i feel like this season really wasn’t thought of when Mara conceptualized the show.
Ashaf: I think they’re just trying to stay on television by cramming in as many stereotypes, booty shots, and pseudo-dramatic scenes as they can.
Chanel: I think that what we saw at the end of The Game’s run on the CW was supposed to be its ultimate ending that would have taken several seasons to get to. Now that it came back they have to try to create drama. But it would be much more useful if they were highlighting some Other Side of the Game (shoutout to Badu) that we didn’t know about. They are really pulling straight from the ESPN headlines and not even doing anything interesting with what they portray
Ashaf: Yes. The same formula won’t work here– especially when the show picks up two years later…
Chanel: They are using the headlines as a measure of authenticity as opposed to actually being authentically relevant to the lives of the viewers
Ashaf: I read an article that suggested that the Game was ahead of its time because the things that they were portraying eventually actually happened on reality television… Now they are behind those headlines, and it looks a little cheap, not cheeky.
Chanel: That’s so true. But it’s sad because these are the only places we have any form of representation. We are not on regular TV at all
Ashaf: But that’s why I’m so thirsty!
Chanel: i mean i feel like through the realm of cable television we have the power to really take some kind of power in our own hands and control the African American cultural representations. Cable television has a little more freedom than regular television because each channel tries to cater to a particular audience as opposed to a broad audience—so BET to black audiences
Ashaf: Yes!!!! And I thought The Game would be really powerful because it was OUR show– brought back by popular demand, not a major Network’s decision.
Chanel: but then that makes me wonder, what the game is saying to a largely black viewing audience, especially about male/female relationships and about black women. So for me, it’s largely becoming a disciplining project for black women. It’s providing a sort of measuring stick for us to adhere to.
Ashaf: Yes. Another way to tell black women how to get, keep and treat a man. Still, I wonder if the changes were the network’s decision or if they really just had less money and fired the good writers. The show looks like the writers meet in a living room and don’t belong to a union.
Chanel: yes! We totally need to know about the production
Ashaf: what about the rape scene last night?
Chanel: omfg. The rape scene
Chanel: that shit pissed me off on so many levels
Ashaf: Level one: Did she really “cry rape”- as in take a saying literally? Is that what people do? I wish that somebody came knocking on the door every time a woman cried rape…
Chanel: As if that what’s rape looks like though- screaming and throwing things. Sometimes sure. But that stereotyping of the reaction to rape is deeply troubling and leads a lot of women to blame themselves or wonder if it even happened because that wasn’t their reaction
Ashaf: Even if we give that horrible performance by Parker a pass and believe that she coerced Malik into sex with that move, what does it mean that the coercion was glossed over? He cried a few tears on a naked model before the show ended. But that was all. Coercion and rape were both jokes last night.
Chanel: Because certain bodies are unrapeable. Men and black women- these bodies can never be raped. So Malik wasn’t raped because men can’t be
Ashaf: Yes yes yes
Chanel: and for Parker, that just perpetuates the idea that black women cannot be raped because they either asked for it or are lying.
Ashaf: Especially those who claim to be raped by those with a great deal of power. We all know that powerful men have hearts– just like Malik. And golddiggers will try anything to make them fall.
Chanel: and speaking of the connection to the headlines, was that not that whole Kobe thing?
Ashaf: Yes, it was the Kobe thing. Recycling some questions from the public about Kobe’s rape trial: Why would Malik have to rape her when women throw themselves at him all the time?
Chanel: [difference being on the body of a black woman. and that connects to the history of the jezebel. the black female slave couldn’t be raped because she was hypersexual and was always already desiring and wanting some dick. Parker wanted sex so bad that she threatened rape to get it. I wonder if they’ll ever show that on the show. A football player actually raping
Ashaf: They lightweight showed one form of sexual exploitation last season when Malik revealed that he had a room full of videos of women, and that some of them didn’t know he was taping.
Chanel: oooooh yeah. I remember that shit. Surveillance at its finest
Chanel: i just worry about the implications of such representations. We’ve been blogging about this in the way that first black women’s experiences of sexual violence are never talked about and second when they are talked about they are deeply problematic. So in this case, she uses rape as a tool of manipulation and unlike a golddigger that wants his money she is hypersexual and only wants sex. But it’s still contributing to these archetypes of black womanhood that keep getting reinscribed and fed back to us (shout to Patricia Hill Collins)
Ashaf: It is strange that violence against women has never been addressed in this show that is all about athletes and their wives and fans… So why is it Malik’s character that gets used for all the “deep” stuff– absent fathers, tolerance of homosexuality, now coercion, rehab…? Is he supposed to be the most hypermasculine?
Chanel: He is supposed to be the representation of stereotypical black male athletes. The problem is they don’t really problematize this representation. Like it could be done really differently and good by pointing more closely to the structures that create such a representation. But instead they just drop that shit in and it sounds so familiar (single mom, drugs…) that it doesn’t call us to be critical. I’m thinking of a show like The Wire that did that particular well (though still left women and girls invisible and marginalized at best)
Ashaf: Right! I was going there. Earlier, they were doing some interesting things with his character… The Michael Eric Dyson guest appearance, the big girls episode… even the (hastily written) homosexuality episode. Now there’s no snark left.
Chanel: yes. That episode was good. It was one of the only times we saw black gay men on TV that weren’t there for comedic fodder
Ashaf: But even the gay episode was kinda comedic, right? Like is that really how gay men get down? They just read some signs then rub up on somebody from behind? That was kinda about heterosexist phobia that all gay men really want is to sleep with straight men…
Chanel: o yeah. I didn’t really remember the details of the episode. But you’re right. It was very flat representation. Even the model saving him provides a binary opposition for Parker and we get another good girl/bad girl thing happening where we are told to view one as evil and one as good. They ain’t slick with their constructions.
Ashaf: Yes– definitely the good girl/ bad girl shit going on. And what does a good girl want? To help the suffering man– even if it means jeopardizing her own sobriety by messing with another addict. What does the bad girl want? To satiate her own desires by any means necessary– cheating on her husband, crying rape-literally-, and coercing Malik into sex and cunnilingus. What was that “cat got your tongue AGAIN?” shit?
Chanel: I also want to touch on the threesome thing. I think it really showed (while not problematizing) the way that we as women continue to see ourselves as projects to be worked on. So even when our partner isn’t expressing dissatisfaction we go off and work on ourselves. Derwin didn’t ask for any of that, but she felt that she had to be better to keep her man. I feel like she’s having to do a lot of changing to keep him in ways that she didn’t have to before.
Ashaf: Yes. Harveyism. The message is that the marriage’s upkeep is up to the woman. I mean she literally dropped everything to “take care of” her husband. What does it look like to take care of a millionaire?
Chanel: how the hell he gon make her go to church?
Ashaf: Right! And when did he become the “head” of the household? He was so corny for all those seasons, but they were more like equals… both focused on doing their own thing and trying to figure out how to love and coexist.
Chanel: yes! How to love and coexist. I hate that Mel lost a part of herself to become one with him. I don’t believe that marriage is about two halves becoming whole. It is about 1+1=2
Ashaf: That is good addition, but in popular culture, love begins with subtraction. Black women need to take away a lot of things before they find “the one”– their attitude, their independence, their high standards and aspirations…
Ashaf: Last night, the women in competition trope was so loud!
Chanel: yes. Too loud. Where is the sisterhood?
Ashaf: Melanie’s competing with unknown groupies, with Derwin’s former lover, with the random woman at the club… She didn’t go through with the threesome because she felt jealous.
Chanel: *snaps*
Chanel: seriously. Melanie’s character has changed drastically
Chanel: she was always messing things up but i feel like before she was searching for self
Chanel: I’m not sure what she’s doing now
Chanel: it’s all out of fear of losing him. So really you’ll do ANYTHING to keep your man?
Chanel: you can miss me with all that. Seriously
Ashaf: I wish the producers would figure it out. The Janae thing is old (more competition!), Mel should have got used to it by now, and should even love Derwin’s son. Med school was a space for tension in the previous seasons– now she’s done. Her hair was sassy before. Now she looks like Weavonce.
Chanel: I feel like she’s become Kelly Pitts’ former character. The way she conducts that Sunbeam stuff is so unlike her. I also didn’t like that Melanie’s measure of progressiveness was tied to having a threesome. She told the woman something like “i thought i was the progressive woman but I’m not.” sooooo [not having a threesome] discounts your progressive politics?
Ashaf: Progressive is following your own desires, sweetheart, not fashioning your desires after what you imagine men will like.
Chanel: i mean i don’t think she’s progressive (well the show hasn’t shown that) but what does that have to do with that scene? And i feel like in some way it ties sexual activity to feminism. I mean they didn’t say feminism but i know they were lumping us in to that
Ashaf: I think it has to do with boiling down discussions of sexualities to discussions of tolerance. I am all for the no-bullying campaigns, but discussions of sexuality have the potential to queer lines… when we only talk about tolerance we are really talking about being politically correct (I don’t see sexuality. We’re all the same)
Chanel: but i know I’ll keep watching and hoping for it to get better
Ashaf: So what do you say to the person who asks why we don’t just change the channel? Why is it worth writing about? I gotta have something to tell my parents:)
Chanel: because we believe in it its potential and we have previous seasons to back up our beliefs. If we really felt that it was too far gone, we wouldn’t write about it. There is so much power and necessity in talking about sports
Ashaf: I think it’s also because pop culture is a form of education. People don’t want to criticize what they enjoy, but they are learning all along. This show will educate the jurors on future rape trials and that’s scary to me.
Chanel: so true! Pop culture matters in so many ways. I just really want complex representations of blackness in all its forms
Ashaf: Yes… crying for complexity
Chanel: depending on how this is received we can think about briefly talking about The Game every Tuesday

Advertisements

Why I Am Watching “The Game”

17 Jan

“It’s so crazy how these fans are so embedded and … attached to these story lines,” Tia Mowry said. “They actually think Melanie and Derwin are real.”

I was one of the 7.7 million viewers who tuned in to watch The Game’s resurrection on BET last Tuesday.  And I will also be in the number, along with most of Black America, who tunes in tomorrow to see what happens (Will Melanie tell Derwin that DJ is his child? Will Kelly and Jason have make up sex already and get back together? Will Titi blow up Malik’s spot and tell the boss he is freaking his wife?  Will Malik apologize for turning out Titi’s girlfriend? Will Tasha keep up the friends with bennies relationship and risk her heart for good sex?). 

I must admit that part of the appeal of The Game in the past was the relatability of the characters.  I believed (in) them.  I could see part of me or someone I knew in them.  They made sense.  I laughed with them, cried with them, felt for them.  As a spin-off of Girlfriends, I felt like I already knew them.  But the return of the show and the return of the characters left me feeling somewhat ambivalent and confused.  I don’t know who changed more in the two years since the show was cancelled on the CW, me or them?

The characters have become so exaggerated and embellished that they are hardly likeable anymore.  Somehow the ambitious, independent, supportive women have been morphed into golddiggers, (potentially) trifling baby mamas, insecure damsels, and vengeful enemies.

Looking back, the original characterizations were woman-friendly.

Melanie was the privileged young woman who much to her parents chagrin fell in love with a college football star and later followed him to California to begin his career.  She was determined, however, not to lose her identity in his and prioritized her own dreams of becoming a doctor, enrolling in medical school and postponing marriage until she achieved her goals.

Tasha Mack was the epitome of strongblackwoman.  She too held on to her identity with tightly grasped fists, embracing both her pre-millionaire teen-mother-of-a-football-phenom-son- self with the go-getter-sports-agent-entrepreneur self.  She pursued her own business in a male-dominated field and rarely held her tongue.  She was proud of who she was and where she came from and negotiated womanly needs with her financial aspirations.  Sometimes too Sapphire-like for long-term relationships, she was unapologetic for her sass and entered relationships heart first (head last).

Kelly was the quintessential white Barbie-doll trophy wife who rose from humble beginnings to marrying the black football player. She struggled with her identity as a woman, wife, and mother independent of her husband but played the supporting role of yes-woman.  Towards the end of the last season she began to finally find and embrace an identity of her own, outside of her marriage.

The women were decidedly different but their friendship made sense.  They made sense.  They were all so very human—and their issues, tangible.  But two years later, they are hardly recognizable.

I had high hopes for the season premiere.  And clearly I was not alone.  There were countdowns, watch parties, facebook conversations and Tivo recorders set in eager anticipation of catching up with the characters we had come so close to knowing, the characters that Tia Mowry says we find so “real.”

I was, however, somewhat disappointed.  I am not overly concerned with the storyline of the show (though that could clearly be talked about) because I realize that after a two year hiatus they had to do something to fill in the space and bridge what has been going on between then and now (though, admittedly, I wish the show would have picked up exactly where it left off, with Melanie and Derwin’s makeshift wedding in the hospital chapel, welcoming his new namesake to their family, John Legend’s soft, melodic voice whispering “this time I want it all” in the background…but I digress).

I feel like the characters became caricatures, empty shells of their former selves.

Perhaps the writers are taking their cues from reality shows about athletes and their girlfriends and wives (a la Real Housewives, Basketball Wives, Football Wives, etc.) where the more over-the-top the better, the more flamboyant, loud, and stereotypical the higher the ratings—but I am hopeful that things can/will turn around.  These characters are redeemable.

Since when does Melanie decide that staying at home and posing for magazine covers will fulfill the drive and ambition that led to three years of medical training?  Since when does Tasha Mack seek self-definition through a man?  Since when does Kelly become so self-absorbed, money-obsessed and vengeful that I can hardly stand her? Since when do all of the women become defined by their relationships (or lack thereof) to men, without even the comfort of each other (friendship)?  (At least in previous seasons they could rely on their sister-friends to help them through the breakups, disillusionment, identity crises, etc.)

Admittedly part of the appeal of The Game is what keeps me tuning in to reality television shows.  I get invested in the characters and I care about what happens to them. 

I am equally critical and curious. 

As a feminist, I will keep watching The Game because I want to see if they will redeem the characters.  As a consumer, I will keep watching The Game to see if Melanie keeps her dirty little secret.  Either way, I have the DVR set and ready for tomorrow’s episode.

Sticks, Stones & Microphones

4 Oct

I can still hear a whisper (song). Arms oval. Neck curled. Hips sway to the familiar southern bass from a black (male) speaker rapping to me the dance floor.  Before I could face the voice coaxing me to move, he drops his hook—a line about a violent sexual fantasy, a common come-on echoed in hip hop club culture.  Still.  Arms raised, I am arrested by his lyrics likening sex to a beating. He wants to “blow my back out.” His lines are in step with other rap courters recounting sexual conquests by the penetrative acts of cutting, bussing, stabbing, screwing, hitting, pounding, smashing, thrashing, tapping, or slicing my body (into parts).  The hearty bass thump with the choreographed slow motion flutter from the strobe light stages a sensual seduction, or what he describes as “making love” in the club. But, love in this space is an illusion. It is a manufactured special effect similar to the one simulated by the strobe light.  It is this conversation between the flashing light and darkness, between bodies and sound, where I am swayed by a melody of misogyny.

Over the years, I have developed coping strategies to “manage misogyny.” In the past, I defiantly put an “X” in the air

Wayne and Drake perform at BET Awards

while walking off the dance floor, persuaded the deejay to play more woman-friendly songs, or created other words to replace the ones I could not bear to hear. Each year, I emotionally prepare myself to watch the BET or MTV awards. As a new crop of crooners emerged, I began listening to more R&B than rap to no avail.  The love songs don’t even love me. These days, I find myself storming out of clothing stores and restaurants, feeling accosted by the background sound taking over the physical and psychic space. I cannot turn off or tune out all of the car stereos, metro ads, or highway billboards where these images and words have become commonplace. Just how much hate can one woman tolerate?

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and I want to take time to reconsider the matter of words.  I want to think about the weight they carry in the everyday lives of black women.  More than a discussion about our love-hate relationship with popular culture, I want to take seriously the way misogyny impacts our relationships with menfolk and ourselves.  “Managing misogyny” has become an unwanted, collective group experience for women and girls of color from the hip hop generation(s). Language that humiliates, demonizes, objectifies and threatens is a form of violence.  It is verbal and emotional abuse accelerated and intensified by mass media technologies that make it so pervasive and systematic it is virtually inescapable. We know how language impacts our lives. We are witnessing how the state deploys labels such as terrorists, insurgents or enemy combatants to dehumanize (and kill without accountability). What about the words echoed by the black (male) speaker and transmitted by state-regulated media to dehumanize black women and girls? How does the language of hip hop sustain an environment conducive to our continued sexual and gender exploitation? Rap misogyny is verbal abuse.  Let’s name it. Let’s call it what it is because we’ve spent too many years feeling silenced by it.

Words hurt.

~ Aisha

This month, consider the language of popular hip hop music within the context of violence:

From the U.S. Department of Justice website: Domestic violence can be defined as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.

Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.

  • Physical Abuse: Hitting, slapping, shoving, grabbing, pinching, biting, hair-pulling, biting, etc. Physical abuse also includes denying a partner medical care or forcing alcohol and/or drug use.
  • Sexual Abuse: Coercing or attempting to coerce any sexual contact or behavior without consent. Sexual abuse includes, but is certainly not limited to marital rape, attacks on sexual parts of the body, forcing sex after physical violence has occurred, or treating one in a sexually demeaning manner.
  • Emotional Abuse: Undermining an individual’s sense of self-worth and/or self-esteem. This may include, but is not limited to constant criticism, diminishing one’s abilities, name-calling, or damaging one’s relationship with his or her children.
  • Economic Abuse: Making or attempting to make an individual financially dependent by maintaining total control over financial resources, withholding one’s access to money, or forbidding one’s attendance at school or employment.
  • Psychological Abuse: Causing fear by intimidation; threatening physical harm to self, partner, children, or partner’s family or friends; destruction of pets and property; and forcing isolation from family, friends, or school and/or work.

Nicki’s World

26 Aug

As BET gets set to air its documentary about women and hip hop Monday, I am finding my 30-plus, old school feminist-self working hard to gear up to get down with the over-the-top, lyrically layered, brand savvy rapper that is Nicki Minaj.

The self-described Barbie is inescapable. She works every rap and R&B hook, and changes her looks to fashion what could be categorized as camp, cultural appropriation or classic sexual objectification.  Until Minaj, I’ve managed to safely maneuver around mainstream new millennium starlets because they offered no more than a cookie-cutter replica of the unique hip hop dynamism I remembered.  (See the links to artists below.) Likened to Lady Gaga for her eye-catching performances, this former theater student is adept at staging media spectacles, such as autographing breasts, adopting different voices, and orchestrating a coming-out tweet to squash rumors about her bisexuality for those who might have misread the Remy Ma viral video confession from her masculine persona, Roman, as Nicki Minaj. You can call the latter a cop-out or a capitulation to a commercial model that demands that all women perform hyperfemininity period. As I enter Nicki’s world (slowly and with caution), I am not only considering the ways she uses her body, but I am thinking of three ways her performances of race, gender and sexuality instigate a feminist engagement with the popular.

1.  Beauty and Postfeminism

Postfeminism advertises the sexy, smart, economically successful self-absorbed it-girl from a post-patriarchal world where politics are defined by “style wars” rather than issues of gender inequity. Here, beauty and postfeminism seem to be disconnected from critiques of consumerism, gendered labor, or political citizenship.  On the one hand, the look-good-feel-fine empowerment that Minaj offers feels as lifeless as the dolls she suggests every girl wants to be—you know, the nonspeaking, decorative, plastic bodies to be handled and watched. Then again, I can imagine her Barbie thang as her way of injecting a sense of beauty and wonderment for homegirls, like herself, who’ve had to create other worlds to escape the ugly one they lived every day. In either case, Minaj has managed to capture the attention of young women—hook, line and stiletto.

2. The Lady and The Freak

In what could be described as a post-Tip Drill moment where folks are “manning” the line to distinguish the ladies from the freaks, Nicki Minaj is not the only one who is creating personas to perform otherness. As Roman Zolanski she can express desire for another woman, and as Harajuku Barbie she can perform a sexualized Asian girlhood without damaging the central “brand” or image. Beyoncé is another celebrity with a freak persona. In big hair and tall heels, Sasha Fierce does Beyoncé’s “dirty work.” Both entertainers talk about a sense of freedom—which is almost always connected to sexual freedom.  Celebrity aside, ordinary young women on and off screen are crafting “real” and alternate/virtual identities as a response to the increased policing of their bodies through this hip hop binary. Rather than marking public/private bodies, young women like Minaj are now describing their “real” good bodies and their fake freakish ones. In our sincere efforts to “free the girls,” it is possible we might have caged our “real” sexual selves.

3. Camp, Celebration or Cultural Appropriation

From her Anime-inspired Vibe magazine cover, her Harajuku Barbie persona, to her recent music video, Your Love, where she plays a geisha girl (among others), Minaj reprises dated stereotypes about Asian women that suggest desirability comes in part from submissiveness or obedience.  Costuming conceals and reveals her body, and both frame her as the exotic; the hand gestures she does in separate scenes either to seduce her lover or to fight her foe are grafted from other forms of popular culture depicting Asianness. I can remember the debut of the Harajuku Girls shadowing Gwen Stefani at a music awards show. Then, folks flipped about a white woman co-opting Asian culture and parading other women (as objects of her imagination).  Yet, as Minaj mines the visual landscape to reinvent herself, her Afroasian encounters – whether camp, celebration, or cultural appropriation – remain unchallenged.

add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

%d bloggers like this: