Thursday, October 4, 2007

the rape of britney spears


That got your attention, didn’t it? I paused as I wrote it, looked it up to make sure I wasn’t completely far fetching this one, and indeed, saw that one of the definitions of rape is the “violent, destructive, or abuse treatment of something,” I realized that I am not off. Not in the least. I read it and thought, yep, that is what’s happening to Britney Spears, on the daily, for everyone to see. And because no one is fussing in the least about this (save for a “crazy” YouTube fan), we’re all complicit and participating.

Of course, I am not supposed to care about this. Though Britney and I are both twenty something year old women, I am black, poorer college educated and an artist. Those first two commonalities—age and gender—however, are enough to keep me interested in what happens to her.

I think of her partly because she’s been thrust in my face, whether I want to see her or not. And anytime I can awarely tell that I’m being inundated with any kind of image (or image of a person), I start wondering.

Strange how 2007 has spelled the demoralization of Spears, against a specific landscape of young, rich, blonde haired (Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie, Paris Hilton, and lets throw in Anna Nicole Smith who is older than them but significant all the same) white women. Though they have all had exhaustive on-screen and on print time this year, Spears eclipses them all as her fall from pop “icon” graces, fall from sanity, and fall from mothering have been well scrutinized.

Though there have been equally important mediated events regarding black women, in this one week, no less (Anucha Browne Sanders victory over Isaiah Thomas and Madison Square Garden in the sexual harassment trial, the tragic death of Nailah Franklin, a younger black professional woman from my hometown that got perhaps more press than any other missing black woman prior to), I turn to Britney. It feels odd. Because, again, I am not supposed to care.

Comic Sarah Silverman jokes that at 25, Spears has accomplished everything she’s going to accomplish in life. That her demise has garnered interest and reaction from so many makes me wonder if there could ever be anything political to get people this up in arms. Then again, there is something quintessentially political about how she has been treated.

Classic media critique arguments offer that there is as much to learn from what is given the lion’s share of attention from what is not. Perhaps there are countless other events that are wilder craizer and stupider than anyone could ever project or imagine Britney to be—the current health care, educational and military systems immediately come to mind.

You get the feeling that she’s being positioned as, made an example of what you’re not supposed to be (Think of how Jerry Springer’s immensely popular talk show became a site for us to look down on poor/working class peoples). Fat, classless, poor mother, wild, pop tart, crazy, stupid—all signifiers that have either been outwardly said or implied about Spears. Yikes.

Being young and female have not simply made her fair game to be regularly picked apart, they have determined the tone in which it has happened. It’s been quite harsh—when she performs, her body is up for debate. When she does illogical things as a parent, she’s questioned. She cuts her hair and her mental health is questioned. Most of us can’t have a “serious” discussion about her because the mere idea of her is considered silly. A spectacle indeed.

It is not to say that she hasn’t actively participated in this spectacle—clearly, she’s repeatedly made decisions that, in part, have added ignition to her public demise. No, the partying, drinking and drug use probably weren’t wise decisions. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a teen or twenty-something who doesn’t face these same issues, directly or indirectly, as a part of their newly adult lives.

In the same way that professional athletes are simultaneously loved and hated for their entertainment functions and how much they get paid to entertain us, people “hate” Britney now. As if her money should somehow buffer her from these things that frame the rest of our daily, average lives.

In a remarkable blurb in the NY Daily News (10/4/07), Forbes.com was quoted as having analyzed six months of celebrity magazine covers (Us Weekly, Star, etc.) on which Spears appeared on 18. While Jennifer Aniston (another younger, rich and famous blonde white woman)’s face gracing the cover of the mags boosted sales to 5 million copies, apparently Spears causes sales to slump. That this is even the focus of the article speaks volumes about the sort of scrutiny and expectation toward young, blonde women that is acceptable. Would we ever hold any male celebrity to this particular type of scrutiny?

As a black female, I’ve always been somewhat aware of society’s odd, historical relationship with young, blonde, white women. But Britney’s recent travails make it impossible not to notice that there’s something off here. It makes me uncomfortable.

Suddenly, the literal and figurative deaths of Marilyn Monroe, Jon Benet Ramsey, and Anna Nicole Smith make sense. Though the particulars of their lives and deaths vary, in many ways, they were marked as soon as they were born white, blonde and female.

I don’t know that it’s extreme to say that the pop culture machine is “raping” Britney. But as my mom says, “You gotta call a spade a spade.” True, she is being picked apart and dissected because she is a rich celebrity. But the way in which it’s happening is because she is young and female.

And that we simply sit and watch doesn’t help.


tokumbo bodunde
10.04.07


(I played the professor card and made my Racism & Sexism students read it in class)

Friday, April 13, 2007

black girls face: r. kelly (preview)

about one year ago, i completed the film i had always wanted to see but got tired of waiting for someone else to make. here's some snippets of it:



i purposely included the black female subjects of this documentary trying to figure things out and make meaning while they spoke. that's real to me. in watching a nation and media obsess about an older white man's remarks about younger black women, i realized that when racism and sexism are the topics, we are allowed very little space to just think and express something outside of guilt and resentment (white folks) or anger and resolve (black folks). anything outside of these emotions exceed the limits of mass media, particularly tv.

the issues underpinning the imus drama can't be resolved or even fully understood in mainstream media, mostly because mainstream media thrive mostly off of eruptions--events that ultimately become spectacles that inundate more than they inform. as far as imus went, i found myself as interested in how the story was reported on as much as the story itself.

one of the most frustrating things is the continued insistence of mainstream media to rely on perspectives from black folks who are older and/or male. to refer to al sharpton at every eruption is almost as offensive as the eruptions themselves. another reality that keeps becoming more and more clear is that if a white man is the perpetrator (imus) or accused perpetrator (duke guys) and the target(s) is black and female, the problem is consider a "racially explosive" issue and is quickly addressed. but if the perpetrator is a black man, its like the infraction didn't happen.

and i am talking about r. kelly. it's going on 5 years since he's been charged with child pornography--younger black females as the targets--and he has not seen a trial. i quietly bring and re-bring this up, not because i have a vested interest in seeing r. kelly being admonished in the same ways that imus was (as an aside, i'm not convinced firing him was necessary). it's more because as a young black woman, i care about what's being implied in all these eruptions, particularly when they have to do with my peers.

rather than glamorize what's being implied, i'll just tell you my goals for the documentary--they are purposely the opposite of what all these eruptions suggest.

show our faces,
show us being vulnerable and pensive,
show us processing,
show us as female.

then we can draw some more appropriate conclusions about black girls and women.

tokumbo bodunde
04.13.07

Sunday, April 8, 2007

united black girls



..is the title of an exhibit i (finally) got to see a couple of weekends ago. a mixed-media display of art exploring "representations of the Black woman in popular culture."

well...this has been my thing for a long hot minute. so of course i was ecstatic to witness it. my homegirl jessica had a piece in it, as did 5 other black female artists. my favorite was a piece by omya alston that "unleashes a verbal assault" on the viewer by having us look at ourselves in a frosted mirror whose only reflective parts are offensive (at least to some) terms that are often leveled at black women in particular.

parts of my face were cut out by the words "ghetto bitch", "project ho", "punany for sale", "video ho", "slut", "hoochie mama", and "babymama" among many many others.

i was stunned. not just at the quiet verbal assault, indeed, of those words. but more at the number of them that were specifically about sexuality underscored by economics. i wish i could recommend the exhibit--it closed, unfortunately, before i could help get the word out about it.

with a mirror as the medium, those words could be attributed to any group--they stared everyone in the face. you literally had to strain to see who you were in that mirror amidst the clutter of denigrating terms. and even when you caught a glimpse of yourself, it was always within those words. god, now that i think of it, that mirror was like "hey, welcome to being a black girl." i'd even go so far to say that this "mirror" is there whether we're conscious of it or not.

regardless of your identities, it'd be difficult not to take the issue of black female oppression seriously when it's all up in your face like that. it's everyone's problem and everyone can participate.

(oh, art rocks!)

i keep this exhbition in mind as the fracas ensues over radio personality don imus' statements about rutgers female basketball players ("nappy headed hos" who look like the [male] "toronto raptors"). i doubt this will receive the attention of michael richards "n-word" incident, not that all of that was productive attention anyway. but it will be evidence of what is allowed toward black women, particularly in media and popular culture. as was the norbit movie. as is r. kelly's "alleged" improprieties and pending court case.

one of the most unnerving things about imus' words was the ease with which he accessed them. they were not simply mean, random words that popped in his head so much as they were tried and true ways of conceiving of black women.

as we figure out policies and actions to take against all of the above and all that is related, we really gotta figure out ways of how to have other things pop into folks' head when they think of black women. you know, like complex, beautiful, intelligent and loving--the stuff that is actually true of us.

i, for one, am trying to get this r. kelly project jumping off again. what you gon' do?

http://mefeedia.com/entry/2319099/
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17999196/

tokumbo bodunde
04.08.07

Thursday, March 8, 2007

the female experience of racism


I was intrigued when I heard another Black woman use the phrase that is the headline of this article. It sounded different from sexism. And it could just be all words at this point, but whenever I see the larger-than-life ads for Eddie Murphy’s new movie “Norbit,” the phrase rises to the surface again. The ad features two images of Murphy — one as a meek, glasses-donning version of himself and the other as a severely overweight Black woman who’s pinning him down. This particular image of a Black woman is where I have to acknowledge the female experience of racism.

She is the fat, dark-skinned, loud and unattractive bitch. She is positioned in “real” life and in the movie as the opposite of the Thandie Newton-ish slimmer, lighter and sweeter Black woman. She is comic relief. She is who no one, even those of us who are, wants to be. She is undesirable. She has her historical predecessors, from early American television and cinema.

She ain’t new.

Her image, however, consistently gets green-lighted as an appropriate form of comedy for the masses. Comedian Mo’Nique, bless her soul, had a popular television show in which she essentially was that woman — fat, loud and undesirable to the desired man of the show. She has one foot in those old Tom & Jerry cartoons — she’s always screaming. She’s been the character of countless comedic routines for an easy and reliable laugh.

This version of oppression is completely de-politicized, as is anything once you bring being female into the conversation, particularly when it has to do with looks. Be assured though, that if the traditional experience — the male one — of racism were displayed on billboards as if it were comic, the usual suspects would raise hell. When Jesse, Al, and some women, begin marching and addressing a movie like “Norbit,” I’ll believe that we’re getting somewhere.

I don’t know if I can wait for a march though. The mainstream representation, if there ever was one, of the female experience of racism is limited to trite debates where light-skinned and dark-skinned Black women are positioned against each other — √† la India Arie/Alicia Keys of a few Grammys past, or Jennifer Hudson/Beyonc√© of “Dreamgirls,” or, hell — and this one probably slipped past the radar of most — Angela Bassett/Halle Berry when Bassett explained that she passed on Berry’s “Monster’s Ball” role because she felt it was one of a prostitute.

With these instances as the context, is it any wonder that people might scoff at the notion of “the female experience of racism”? It has been the challenge of Black feminists galore to take on something people don’t realize exists. How do you explain the irony of “Norbit” opening to the number one spot on its first weekend while “Dreamgirls,” a movie that at least attempts to consider different versions of Black womanhood, stood at number 10? Or that “Dreamgirls” has helped restart Murphy’s career, and he follows with “Norbit”? We barely have the tools to consider that, once they are absorbed into the mass media marketplace, there is not much difference between Mo’Nique, Big Momma from the Martin Lawrence movies and Nell Carter from the ’80s sitcom “Gimme a Break.”

It doesn’t make a difference if it’s an actual woman, or men performing in suits, it doesn’t matter if a white person produced the image or not. The totality of these images reaching our eyes and minds via Viacom, GE or Disney all have racist and sexist implications.

It is political. Don’t be fooled by the fact that it seems like this is about looks. It’s not. It’s about humanity and economics, as racism has always been. I know Black women who look like Murphy’s female character Rasputia in “Norbit.” They are all beautiful, complex women who, as a result of real conditions in this world brought on by racism and capitalism, are overweight.

To repeatedly exaggerate us on the big screen as if it were reality and just to entertain everyone is wrong. As is being told in a multitude of ways that being Black, female and overweight is synonymous with being loud, unattractive and undesirable. It is not merely a matter of depoliticized self-esteem. It is an unacceptable, systematic practice of disregarding and disrespecting a significant and specific part of the population.

With the limits that this notion of Black womanhood imposes, everyone misses out. We narrow who we consider for a number of roles, from who we can date to who can lead all of us. So, while a number of us fixate on whether a black or a woman has a shot at the White House, I refuse to act as if we, or our experiences, don’t exist or matter.

tokumbo bodunde
03.08.07