Rihanna’s Unapologetic Shadow Feminism, part 2
As always, this is pretty raw, first-draft stage material. I welcome your feedback 🙂
Thanks to everyone who has read and given feedback on part 1 of this series! The continued outcry and worry about Rihanna and her album clearly show that she’s hit a fracking nerve. And this means she’s doing exactly the sort of cutting-edge art we should expect of our best artists. As I tell my philosophy students, the most interesting philosophical projects begin by finding what everyone thinks is obviously and irrefutably true (or false), and questioning that assumption: if everyone thinks X is obviously true, then it likely is absolutely not the case, and our work as philosophers is to uncover how X can pass as obvious, and what function the obviousness of X serves (as in: who benefits from the assumption that X is obviously the case?). (Yeah, so, those are my Nietzschean and Foucaltian cards, on the table…) Rihanna has done something similar—she’s called into question something everyone thinks is obviously true/good, namely, this LIO (look-I-overcame!) narrative that requires her to repudiate her abusive black male partner and tell everyone about it in ways that neoliberalism can profit from (For example, white supremacy profits from the sociopolitical work accomplished by the “saving-brown-women-from-brown-men” logic). I want to emphasize the distinction I’m drawing between actual recovery and LIO-style “therapeutic labor.” It is possible to work through psychic trauma in ways that neoliberalism doesn’t profit from, or in ways that make it hard for hegemony to efficiently extract surplus value (i.e., human capital) from it. The LIO narrative is a stock script; it frames “health” in a specific way because the process of becoming “healthy” is the most efficient, profitable means of extracting human capital from our psychic lives. So just because one refuses the LIO definition and process of “recovery” doesn’t mean that one renounces self-determination, well-being, or a bearable psychic life. It just means that you’re evaluating these things according to an alternative script. (At a certain level this makes sense: what is perhaps most helpful for many WOC is precisely not the therapy hegemonic scripts prescribe…) Rihanna is using art to philosophically trouble the politics of neoliberal female/feminine subjectivity.
But before I get back to Rihanna, I need to address Gaga. I have to go through Gaga not just because Stefani Germanotta has in many ways set the tone or script for postmillennial female pop stars, but also because the most prominent, recent academic work on female pop stars and feminism, Jack Halberstam’s Gaga Feminism, begins from her, and not, say, Rihanna or Beyonce (and we can and perhaps should question why Gaga gets all the love, even from the academy, when she’s out-earned by Britney & Taylor, and less prolific and popular than Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, and Beyonce…). I read Rihanna’s darkness as fundamentally different than Gaga’s post-goth monstrosity. Gaga’s post-goth monstrosity is one version of LIO narratives; Rihanna’s unapologetic bad girl damage (what I will later call her “melancholy” refusal to show us she has overcome) frustrates neoliberal attempts at human capitalization; it never generates the “right” sort of surplus value. Even though it definitely generates capital capital for the music industry (and for Fenty herself), Rihanna’s gothy damage does not produce the right forms and or amounts of social/soft capital.[i] Whatever social or soft capital Rihanna’s damage does produce, it does not optimize neoliberal hegemony (rather, it under- or over-drives it). (And, it’s important to remember that African-American female singers have a centuries-old tradition of critiquing capitalism from (somewhat) within, of producing work that works both with and against white heteropatriarchal institutions. Rihanna participates in this tradition that rejecting the politics of purity that would demand black women pursue radical/critical political work only in non-capitalist venues.) So, Rihanna’s work on this album is designed to be plugged into neoliberal circuits of intensification (more and better life for the privileged!); however, once uploaded, it bends these circuits, introducing detours and other effects that inhibit them from functioning at the levels required to optimize the “balance” required to reproduce/maintain white heteropatriarchy. Rihanna’s damage feels like signal but works like noise.
Perhaps one reason why people are vehemently rejecting Unapologetic is because investing in it feels like a disinvestment in themselves? Maybe audiences sense that any investments in this album would not produce the sorts of returns that the would be able to transform into social capital? Maybe it’s this implicit “noise” that turns so many people so strongly off this album? And maybe it precisely these uneasy and negative responses that are the “hard” evidence of Rihanna’s critique of neoliberal hegemonies?
Gaga Feminism & Post-Goth Monstrosity
Jack Halberstam’s concept of “gaga feminism” is the most prominent attempt to account for Gaga’s quasi-gothy feminist style.[ii]It is very helpful in identifying and explaining what is distinctive about Gaga’s work, but its political analysis needs to be pushed beyond what Halberstam has offered thus far. Understanding how Gaga’s post-goth feminism supports neoliberal hegemony will clarify how Rihanna’s gothy melancholy undermines it.
I actually want to distinguish between two ideas that Halberstam tends to conflate: “gaga feminism” and “shadow feminism”. Following Halberstam’s own understanding of these concepts, shadow feminism is the opposite of gaga feminism. Shadow feminism undoes the neoliberal entrepreneurial subject; if privilege = “winning,” then shadow feminism is the practice of losing or failing, of intensifying goth damage. Gaga feminism is post-goth; it finds and mines the silver in the lining of every shadow-producing cloud. Post-goth practice celebrates the monstrosity in us all, and follows the neoliberal imperative to capitalizing on ever-narrower and more-exotic differences. You could think of it as a sort of domestic “xenomania,” sort of like the rednecksploitation TV programming all over basic cable in 2012 (e.g., Honey Boo-Boo, Hillbilly Hand Fishing, etc.), except it targets ever-more-exotic types of queerness. Gaga feminism normalizes certain types of monstrosity; the imperative is to be an especially fabulousmonster (this is what Shannon Winnubst calls the “biopolitics of cool”—one must capitalize on one’s flaws, turn them into markers of idiosyncratic fabulousness). Little monsters’ monstrosity always supports the reproduction of hegemony; in the same way that individuals capitalize on their monstrosities, institutions extract surplus value from this monstrosity. The surplus value might not come in the form of capital; it might come in the form of homonationalist soft power. (For example: unlike “primitive” theocratic Muslim regimes, “we” foster and celebrate our “little monsters” (code for: bourgeois gay and lesbian youth).) It is in this way that Gaga is, as Halberstam argues in his IASPM-US website article, “situated very self consciously at the heart of new forms of consumer capitalism.” Gaga feminism is not a type of shadow feminism; they might look the same, and the former might be the co-optation of the latter, but they offer very distinct approaches to goth damage, with opposed political effects.
(a) OG Goth Monstrosity
Traditionally, goth presents itself as an oppositional subculture. It views mainstream norms and values as oppressive, empty forms of false consciousness. Goths subvert and resist mainstream norms by performing their identities and their everyday tasks in a highly stylized alternative aesthetic. While goth’s posthuman queerness was definitely an alternative to classically liberal humanism, neoliberalism has co-opted and normalized some types or styles of goth damage—Hot Topic (the retail store) and Lady Gaga are two prominent examples of this co-optation.
In goth subcultures there are various traditions of adopting monstrous identities as a means of refusing hegemonic constructions of gender and sexuality. Trans theorist Susan Stryker affirms “monstrous” identity in order to critique humanism’s privileging of supposedly “natural” and binary gender. Michael Du Pleiss explicitly connects Susan Stryker’s trans politics with goth’s posthuman politics of monstrosity:
Stryker appropriates for herself as a transsexual woman—a kind of alien sex fiend—the full powers of monstrosity. ‘Though we forego the privilege of naturalness, we are not deterred, for we ally ourselves instead with the chaos and blackness from which Nature itself spills forth.’…goth subculture articulates modes of empowering monstrosity like that described by Stryker. Like Stryker’s ‘creature,’ goths see no need to mourn the passing of the categories of gender and sexuality as they crumble into decay” (Du Plessis, 166; emphasis mine).
In classically liberal heteropatriarchy, queers and goths register as “monsters.” Both Lady Gaga and gaga feminism play on the commutability between the goth and the queer; Gaga’s “little monsters” are implicitly LGBT youth, for example.
(b) Gaga’s Queer Little Monsters
Lady Gaga’s aesthetics appropriate traditional goth musics and subcultural practices. Her music draws heavily on both classic goth—e.g., Siouxie and the Banshees—and on goth dance genres such as industrial and EBM. Her combination of heavy electronic dance beats with highly melodic vocals updates a formula pioneered by Depeche Mode in the early 1980s. However, while goth music has always defined itself in opposition to mainstream commercial pop (even in the late 1990s, commercially successful acts like Marilyn Manson took direct aim at more conventionally “pop” acts like Britney Spears), Gaga intentionally presents her work as Top-40, radio friendly, chart-busting pop. Gaga’s goth-pop hybrid is most properly understood as “post-goth” music. Gaga’s visual presentation is similarly post-goth. She uses the symbols and imagery of goth—whiteface, bondagewear, lace, Victorian dress/steampunk, etc., but filters them through mainstream high-fashion and design.
Goth subcultures privilege oppositional style and consciousness, whereas Gaga is themainstream. It is this re-centering or mainstreaming of goth that qualifies Gaga as post-goth. Gaga’s point—and a large part of her appeal—is that we are all “little monsters”: dominant norms governing gender and sexuality are unrealizable ideals, so rather than produce a mass of perfectly conforming and disciplined “normals,” heteropatriarchy in fact creates a proliferation of “abnormal” specimens whose monstrous deviance is generally in the “little” details (or, what Foucault would call the micro-effects of power). She domesticates and normalizes the goth/queer monsters that used to be on in classically liberal heteropatriarchy’s margins: they are normally abnormal—or rather, they are abnormal in ways that hegemony can capitalize on. If goth was a critique of classically liberal hegemony, post-goth gaga feminism is the neoliberal co-optation of it. Gaga post-goth feminisms allow neoliberal hegemonies to manage and extract surplus value from superficially “transgressive” behaviors and identities—it allows and in fact encourages everyone who is “anyone” to be a little monstrous.
Gaga feminism regularizes and normalizes certain flavors of monstrosity. “Gaga feminism,” Halberstam explains, is “monstrous” (xii); it includes performances of excess; crazy, unreadable appearances of wild genders; and social experimentation” (xiii). Gaga feminism undoes classically liberal conceptions of gender and sexuality—it appears excessive and monstrous from the perspective of, for example, identity politics. If you think gender is a property of bodies (an identity), treating it as a playfully-composed assemblage makes the gendered individual performing this assemblage appear like Frankenstein’s monster—an unnatural mishmash of components. For example, “gaga feminists will see multiple genders, finding male/female dichotomies to be outdated and illogical” (26). Gaga feminism is a way of interpellating people to neoliberal logics of gender, race, sexuality, and (dis)ability. It takes what they might conventionally experience as monstrous, and re-frames it as a pleasurable, normal experience. Gaga feminism “sells” this interpellation by making it seem like avant-garde transgression. As Halberstam explains,
“we celebrate variation, mutation, cooperation, transformation, deviance, perversion, and diversion. These modes of change, many of which carry negative connotations, actually name the way that people take the risks that are necessary to shove our inert social structures rudely into the path of the oncoming gagapocalypse. Making change means stepping off the beaten path, making detours around the usual, and distorting the everyday ideologies that go by the name of ‘truth’ or ‘common sense’” (143).
Gaga feminism distorts “everyday” classical liberal identity politics and classically liberal concepts of gender and sexuality so that so neoliberal biopolitics can plug right in, no adapter necessary. So-called “transgression” is actually the charge neoliberal hegemony runs from. In this way, then, “monstrosity” is not a critique of or deviation from neoliberal hegemony, but its very condition of possibility.
How, specifically, is gaga feminism neoliberal? Halberstam gives a numbered list of “basic principles” (27), so I’ll follow this point by point. FIRST, if “wisdom lies in the unexpected and unanticipated” (27), it is because neoliberalism’s engine extracts surplus value from transgression, risk-taking, and apparently “chance” occurrences. SECOND: if neoliberalism manages populations (or, it targets individuals only as members of populations), then Halberstam’s principle “…don’t watch the ball, watch the crowd” (27) fits well within this strategy. While other forms of power monitor and manage individual behavior (through execution or panoptic discipline, for example), biopolitical administration addresses itself to populations. It maintains the right overall societal “mix” or “balance” necessary for optimizing the reproduction of privilege. THIRD: neoliberal subjects need to be flexible and adaptable; they must live for the now (YOLO!), and not worry so much about delaying gratification (acting “civilized” in Freud’s sense) for future payoff. So, if gaga feminism holds that “nothing lasts forever, and common sense needs to twist and turn in the winds of change” (28), it is well-suited to the flexible/YOLO subjectivity neoliberalism requires of us. We need to be able to improvise, to exploit each unexpected new situation as it arises, to optimize the payoff we get from each moment. Thus, as Halberstam explains,
it is about shifting, changing, morphing, extemporizing political positions quickly and effectively to keep up with the multimedia environments in which we all live and to stay apace of what some have called ‘the coming insurrection.’ Here and now, our reality is being rescripted, reshot, reimagined, and if you don’t go gaga soon, you may wake up and find that you have missed the future and become the past (29).
This flexible, improvisatory subjectivity that can capitalize on any and every feature of every moment is exactly the sort of behavior neoliberalism requires of individuals. Neoliberalism needs privileged folk to individually “go gaga” so that society (relations of privilege and oppression) stays the same. This is why FOURTH, gaga feminism is, according to Halberstam, “for the freaks and geeks, the losers and failures, the kinds who were left out at school, the adults who still don’t fit in” (29). Gaga feminism is a strategy for capitalizing on one’s flaws. “I was/am a freak, and that makes me interesting, special, and valuable!” In this way, Gaga feminism is part of the “Look, I Overcame” feminism I discussed in Part 1 of my analysis. “I used to think my monstrosity made me a reject, but now I know it’s what makes me cool.”—that’s little monsters’ LIO narrative. They turn their “monstrosity” into social capital.
Gaga does this pretty explicitly. She’s not selling conventionally-sexualized male gazing. Every time Gaga performs a traditionally sexualized female body, she does so in a way that emphasizes it as an object of disgust, not desire. She explains:
Well, yeah, I take my pants off, but does it matter if your pants are off if you’ve got eight-inch shoulder pads on, and a hood, and black lipstick and glasses with rocks on them? I don’t know. That’s sexy to me. But I don’t really think anybody’s dick is hard, looking at that. I think they’re just confused, and maybe a little scared. It’s more [Marilyn] Manson to me than it is sexy.[iii]
Here, Gaga claims that it’s her monstrous posthuman prostheses that are desirable (“sexy to me”). It is significant that she references 90s goth rock star Marilyn Manson on this point. As his stage name indicates, Manson often plays with gender cross- and dis-identifications. Unlike traditional glam (or even hair metal), Manson does not appropriate femininity to increase his sexual desirability; rather, he claims to “tr[y] my hardest to be as unappealing, as unattractive as I could be” (Manson; 1:32).[iv] Gaga emphasizes the desirability of the monstrous; she considers it empowering, not damaging. She’s not selling us scopophlic pleasure (in looking at her body), but the pleasure of “winning” conveyed in/by LIO narratives. In this way, Gaga flips Manson’s traditional goth script: monsters are exceptional, but in a way that intensifies privilege instead of critiquing it. Rather than adopting “monstrosity” as a means of dis-identifying with the mainstream, Gaga domesticates monstrosity and puts it to work for hegemony. Gaga’s work is post-goth because it wants us all (well, all of us who aren’t otherwise relegated to bare life) to be little monsters.
A “feminism on the verge of a social breakdown” (xv; emphasis mine), Gaga feminism participates in neoliberal logics of privilege—the “riding the crest of burnout” or “living life on the edge” logics I describe here. On the verge of a social breakdown, society at large hangs in the balance while hegemony profits from its not-quite-yet-diminishing returns. (“The edge, the edge, the edge, the edge, the edge, the edge, the edge, the edge,” indeed.) “Going gaga” is a form of individual risk-taking that pays of for privileged people, in the form of human capital, and for institutions, in the form of surplus value (of soft power, of hard capital, etc.). On the verge, Gaga feminism maximalizes risk-taking and transgression, carefully monitoring them so they do not ever slip over the point of diminishing returns—they never actually diminish or de-intensify hegemonic institutions or relations. So, when Halberstam says things like “Gaga feminism names…a politics of gender for the postcapitalist world we currently inhabit…Gaga feminism will not save us from ourselves or from Wall Street” (xv), we should take him seriously! It is not just Gaga’s feminism, but “gaga feminism” in general that is neoliberal. To reiterate: neoliberal hegemony wants privileged people to “go gaga”, because this provides the fuel it needs to re-charge systems and institutions supporting white heteropatriarchy.
(c) Gaga’s Post-Cinematic Post-Goth Aesthetic
“…it is also a feminism built around stutter steps, hesitation, knowing and unknowing, embracing your darkness” (Halberstam 62).
Not only is gaga feminism neoliberal; Gaga’s own aesthetic follows neoliberal “post-cinematic” conventions. “Gaga’s “anarchic sense of time and relation” (Halberstam xxiv) is actually a neoliberal arche. Neoliberalism’s “post-cinematic” logic is a co-optation and domestication of classically liberal black and queer critical practices. So, for example, narrative cinema and tonal harmony, which privilege wholeness and resolution, get countered by practices of repetition, looping, and cutting/fragmentation. Neoliberalism appropriates these practices, neutralizing their critical functions and putting them instead in service of hegemony.
So, while it is true that “gaga feminism is…off-beat” and “best represented as a sonic form of hesitation” (5), this “stutter step” does not disrupt neoliberal logics. For example, vocal stuttering—or the post-production chopping of a vowel sound—has largely replaced melisma in contemporary US/UK radio pop. This happens on Telephone(the “eh-eh-eh”s), but we also see it in Rihanna’s “Where Have you Been” (li-i-i-i-ife), and a bazillion other songs. Stuttering and fragmentation are totally normal forms of vocal ornamentation. Think also about the “drop” in dubstep, the moment of silence before the wobble bass comes back with a vengeance. Again, an apparent bug is actually a feature. These “soundscapes full of stutters and clicks” are anything but “innovative” (Halberstam 63). So, Gaga’s Telephone is not, as Halberstam argues, “misleadingly pop in tone” (62; emphasis mine); it exemplifies neoliberal pop quite well, actually. Neoliberal pop—from minimalist ringtone rap, to maximalist brostep—has appropriated “the noisy riot of going gaga” (138), rerouting the “gaga spirit of anarchy” (137) back to hegemony’s own fuel cells.[v]
Gaga got her stutter-steps from Afro-diasporic musical, choreographic, and sartporial practices. Hesitation, cutting, and looping are features of late 20th century black critical aesthetics. Halberstam compares Gaga’s excess to the noisy excesses of black and mixed-race performers, and the noisy interruptions theorized by Fred Moten:
While Moten understands the Black aesthetic to come in the form of unintelligible gestures that are quickly assimilated by a white supremacist logic into the proof of the irrationality of blackness, I define gaga feminism as a form of activism that expresses itself as excess, as noise, as breakdown, drama, spectacle, high femininity, low theory, masochistic refusal, and moments of musical riot.
Instead of assimilating the formerly unintelligible into newly intelligible material, neoliberalism uploads noise qua noise. The “unruliness” of racially/sexually/nationally/gendered subalterns is no longer an impediment to profit and privilege, but the raw material in the manufacturing of human/soft/social capital.[vi]To ears tuned to classically liberal political and aesthetic paradigms, this unruliness sounds like noise; however, in neoliberalism, it works like signal. In fact, neoliberalism cultivates noise (think about how dubstep cultivates acoustic noise). Generating noise as a power source, neoliberalism plugs it back into its circuits so that it amplifies and intensifies signal. What Halberstam calls the “Gaga core of mayhem that disrupts genres, genders, sense, and silence” (IASPMUS) is just this sort of “post-cinematic,” neoliberal noise. “Post-cinematic” noise is actually signal. It is a cultivated transgression.
The mainstreaming and co-optation of these aesthetic values and practices is part of a broader project of domesticating and ‘homonationalizing’ segments of the black/Af-Am population. The quick version of this is: because of changing geopolitical and economic interests, neoliberalism benefits from conditionially including in privilegespecific segments of the transnational black middle class. Philosopher Falguni Sheth describes how blacks get used as a “border population”: “our” inclusion of black people in the nation/state/citizenship is one thing that distinguishes “us,” the good guys, from various flavors of bad guys who don’t value diversity and human rights, like Islamic fundamentalists, the Chinese government, or even certain “backwards” populations of whites within the US. Homosexuality and gay marriage are played to much the same effect. Moreover, by conditionally including some segments of the black population in privilege, hegemony can naturalize and disavow all sorts of racist practices. This conditional inclusion allows white supremacist neoliberal institutions to maximize their racist exploitation of everyone. The mainstreaming of formerly critical black musical practices is one manifestation of this new way black people and blackness get instrumentalized by neoliberalism.
Gaga feminism is a post-feminist, homonationalist strategy neoliberalism uses to convince privileged women (and men) that they are sufficiently “progressive” and “enlightened.” It convinces us that we’re the “good guys,” basically, and implicitly constitutes a category of “bad guys”—e.g., Christian and Muslim fundamentalists, whose pre-modern family-centrism doesn’t mesh with neoliberal imperatives to development, capitalization, etc. Gaga feminism encourages the perception, among its practitioners and ovservesrs, that it’s innovative and avant-garde. Halberstam repeatedly argues that “gaga feminism exists already in small random acts by gaga people who are improvising the revolution” (29), that gaga feminism is about being “unpredictable” (141) and open to randomness. Gaga feminism is supposedly an aleatory feminism, or a feminism of aleatory practices. However, as John Cage’s aleatory works so clearly demonstrate, neoliberalism is a system that controls randomness; it sets up parameters within which superficially random events can occur. Nothing actually random can happen, only what fits within the predefined parameters. As economist/theorist Jacques Attali argues in a 1983 interview with Fredric Jameson, in neoliberalism “the aleatory can perfectly well be conceptualized in a profoundly systematic way: indeed, in modern times it becomes the fundamental component of all theoretical systems.” So, this superficial randomness—the “gaga”—is actually anticipated, controlled for, and above all desired by neoliberalism. To twerk Foucault’s thesis about repression in The History of Sexuality v1: neoliberalism incitesprivileged groups to go gaga, because this gaga does not resist hegemony, but produces it. Gaga may appear to “loose control,” but hegemony never does (and neither, I would argue, does she, really…it takes a highly-trained performer to appear to lose control at just the right moment in just the right way.) Gaga is not anarchic; it is the very arche of neoliberal white hetero/homonationalist patriarchy.
Interpreted in the most charitable way possible, Jack Halberstam’s book Gaga Feminism describes how neoliberalism domesticates certain kinds of monstrosities and queer femme transgressions. Though he seems to use the concepts “gaga feminism” and “shadow feminism” interchangeably, I argue that they are in fact distinct. Gagafeminism, especially as practiced by Lady Gaga, is a post-goth practice that extracts surplus value from gothy shadow practices, and pays that forward to neoliberal hegemony. In contrast to Gaga’s post-goth capitalization on monstrosity, Rihanna performs the more conventionally goth strategy of intensifying damage. Rihanna’s shadowy, melancholic feminism is a goth practice that queers or queerly invests in death, transforming it into something that, when co-opted, infects biopolitical “signal” with “noise.” Sometimes this noise is overtly cacophonous, sometimes it is less explicitly perceptible as noise. The point is that this noise corrupts the payoff neoliberal hegemony expects to get from its investments. You can try to capitalize on this goth damage, but doing so may not return a profit that hegemony recognizes as such. Melancholic gothy feminism counts on co-optation, but makes the opportunity cost too high to make its practice attractive for investors.
In part 3, I will argue that Rihanna’s Unapologeticperforms a neoliberal version of melancholia. Classical melancholia’s pathology is indexed to classically liberal models of subjectivity: the melancholic is one who can’t resolve or get over a loss; melancholia is a failure to progress toward and attain a goal (wholeness, completeness, self-sufficiency). Neoliberalism normalizes ateleological open-endedness. In a context where “normal” subjects are flexible (open-ended) and YOLO-oriented, melancholia manifests as a failure of self-capitalization. Basically, I want to think about melancholia as a critique of LIO narratives.
[i] Some critics of my previous post have questioned Rihanna’s capacity to critique hegemony from within capitalism/the major label record industry. If WOC feminisms teach us anything, it is that a politics of purity only works to naturalize and reinforce privilege. For example, demanding that one completely reject the record industry and work outside capitalism limits genuinely “revolutionary” activity to those with the economic and social advantages to mollify the negative effects of socially “maladaptive” behaviors.
[ii] Halberstam attributes Gaga a “post-punk” lineage and aesthetic; I think this is somewhat correct, but too broad of an attribution. Musically, goth is one of many post-punk subgenres (along with new romanticism, new wave, punk funk, noise, etc.). It’s not entirely accurate to say that Gaga is “post-punk’; she’s a specific flavor of it, namely, goth. She acknowledges debts to 90s goth figures like Marilyn Manson, but there’s also a little Sisters of Mercy and Depeche Mode in her music.
[iii] Quote available here: http://chicagoartmagazine.com/2010/07/god-and-the-%E2%80%9Cgaze%E2%80%9D-a-visual-reading-of-lady-gaga/. Accessed 12 November 2010. My thanks to Doug Tesnow for pointing me to this article.
[iv] Interview available here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgdubZabTdo . Accessed 12 November 2010. My thanks again to Doug Tesnow for sending me this video.
[v] This is tangential to my post here, but important to think about in another context. In Telephone, why does the cross-racial Thelma & Louise-like alliance between Bey and Gaga turn on the murder of a black man? As Halberstam argues, “heterosexuality itself seems like an event in a distant past. The video makes violence against men into it signature and its enigma and it asks, obliquely, what comes next?” (64). Bey and Gaga ride off into the sunset as a sort of quasi-queer interracial feminist couple after they murder Bey’s ex-lover, who is/was a black man. The elimination of a thuggish black masculinity creates fourth-wave/homonationalist feminist subjects. Telephone actually demonstrates the overlap between homonationalism (the normalization of certain gay/lesbian subject positions as a white supremacist tactic) and what I have elsewhere called “postmillennial black hipness.” 20th century stereotypes of black masculinity and black masculine “coolness” are no longer relevant; this is why Bey’s ex had to be eliminated—he, a thug, represented an outmoded race/gender/sexuality politics. The new neoliberal homonationalist politics of race/gender/sexuality no longer considers thug black masculinity as radical or avant-garde; the avant-garde is now symbolized by other, more exotic populations, like third-world women of color, gays and lesbians, etc. Telephonedramatizes this.
[vi] In classical liberalism as in tonality, ‘otherness’ is an impedement that must be overcome. To use Susan McClary’s example: just as the dialectic of enlightenment begins from Odysseus’s conquest of foreign monsters on his journey back home to Athens, tonal harmony works as a conquest of secondary keys by the primary key, with resolution back “home” in a perfect authentic cadence in the primary key. With this in mind, we see the flaw in Halberstam’s question, “What is the sound of fugitivity – what does it sound like when a voice seeks to vacate rather than to occupy, to flee perpetually rather than seek safety, to locate spaces of instability rather than to harmonize?” (IASPMUS). Noise/instability is critical only to an imperative to harmonize. Classical liberalism makes this demand, but neoliberalism does not.
You misunderstood the criticism of your earlier piece. Rihanna should not be condemned for failing to step outside the logic of capitalism, within which we are all complicit; it is the self-described critical positions in academia that should be condemned for normalizing that logic. What could be more neoliberal than searching among the oppressed for the hidden activity of the universal liberal self? It is a banal historical truth that all human beings are agents and that agents can only accomodate themselves to their own oppression with a degree of resistance. The injunction to emphasize such peripheral resistance, rather than the structures of power that differentially circumscribe it, is the prototype for neoliberal academic success. Your conformity to this prototype is particularly distasteful in the case of Rihanna, where industry’s fetishization of violence against women of color is once again reframed as resistance. It is not critical or emancipatory to emphasize the agency of the slave at the expense of her slavery. It is only bourgeois apologetics.
Amazing. So good. Just so, so good.