Friday, October 18, 2013

On Creative Challenges (Or, Agreeing to Write a Novel in 30 Days...)

Ladies and gentlemen, if you are reading this the day it goes up, we have exactly two weeks until the first day of November. If it's after October 18th for you, that makes it even MORE pressing. And if it's before, well...maybe message me so that we can talk about your glorious time machine.

November is kind of a big deal. First and foremost, it is the month of my birth - let's never forget that. It's usually when the weather starts to get fiercely autumnal and awesome. Thanksgiving pops up, if you're in the U.S. Good movies always come out (Thor: The Dark World and Catching Fire, guys, I die). This year will bring us the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special (I am revived, that I may die again). As if all of this excellence wasn't enough, November also happens to be National Novel Writing Month.

Friday, October 4, 2013

On The Modern Pop Star (Or, I Just Realized The Irony of Talking About Growing Pains In This Post)

First off, the sincerest of thank yous to everyone who did me the honor of reading, and in some cases responding to, my last post. It was a difficult thing to put out there, and the respect and support it received meant the world.

But let's focus on the present now, shall we?

So, the VMAs happened. I largely ignored them. That's not me taking a stand or having a position on them or anything - I just had other things I wanted to do instead. It was that simple.

Then the world...I shouldn't say world, I don't know that for a fact. Cyberworld? The internet and the continental US, for sure, exploded with words about Miley Cyrus' instantly infamous performance with Robin Thicke. Negative words. Positive words. All kinds of words.

I had no words for it, other than that I hadn't seen it and didn't care to. The fallout from the Twerk Heard 'Round the World ebbed and flowed, and I watched it all from afar. At its best, the firestorm prompted interesting discussions about gender roles, cultural appropriation, and the increasingly prevalent and disturbing trend of what has been dubbed, "slut-shaming." At its worst, it gave rise to rampant sexism and the kind of ugly speech that only seems to really come out when the curtain of anonymity that is the internet is drawn. In between was a mine (or a mine field, depending on how you look at it) of jokes.

Here's the thing: I've been trying to take a high road when it comes to celebrity gossip and controversy and controgossip or whatever. Part of the reason is because, for every Real Housewife or Kardashian who makes an active choice to commodify their lives, there are ten other people who just wanted to act or sing or write or whatever and are trying to be people the rest of the time. So yes, in an effort to be a more respectful citizen of the world, I follow the people I enjoy through official means (Twitter, their sites, etc.), where they get to choose which details of their lives will be disclosed, and actively try to avoid all the rest.

On a more selfish level, phasing out the fodder has been kind of good for my soul. Ultimately, celebrity gossip is just gossip, and involving yourself in that kind of drama passively can be just as damaging as being involved in it actively in your school or workplace or whatever. I have to get super hippiesh on you at least once a post, right? Just know that I'm being sincere when I say life's a lot more fun when you avoid inviting negative energy in.

For these reasons, I avoided Mileygate. I don't know the song, I didn't watch the performance, and - perhaps most important of all - I don't know her. Zero was the exact percentage of things I was qualified to discuss about the matter.

Now I have some things to say, but I do so with the disclaimer that this is all my opinion and is more of a reflection on my own experience, because again, I don't know any of the people I am about to mention, nor have I ever met them (aside from Amanda Palmer once, very briefly - she was lovely to me).

Yesterday, I read Sinead O'Connor's open letter (the first - it would seem that at least two subsequent letters now exist) to Cyrus (which you can find here), which the former appears to have been moved to write in response to comments made by the latter about the music video for, "Wrecking Ball," having been inspired in part by the video for, "Nothing Compares 2 U." It was a heartfelt letter, praising the young star's talent and begging her not to let the people she's surrounded herself with convince her that the only way to market that talent is by selling her body rather than her voice.

Amanda Palmer, solo artist and one half of The Dresden Dolls, responded with her own open letter to O'Connor, respectfully raising the counterpoints that, 1) to her credit, regardless of how arguably wise or appropriate her decisions are, Miley Cyrus seems to be running her own show, and 2) it is her right, as a person and a performer, to forge her own identity. To deny her that right, simply because we do not like what has emerged, would be a disservice to all people - young and old, women and men alike - who are trying to find themselves.

Another point that Palmer raised in her post was that she (along with most of us) was allowed to explore her artistic identity from within the safe confines of her room - I believe, "incubate," was the term she used, which I found very effective. Miley Cyrus spent her most formative years in front of a camera. Her image - her actual image - was part of an industry. There is little to no room for a child star to have growing pains, creatively or otherwise, in that situation.

That's what's happening here, if you really think about it. I look at the the pictures and the videos and the rest, and I don't see a, "slut," or even an, "idiot." What I see is a kid saying, "Fuck you, Mom & Dad, it's my life and you can't tell me what to do." It just so happens that, in this case, "Mom & Dad," refers to pop culture.

My growing pains were different, but ultimately they probably arose for the same reason: control. I wanted it, and I didn't have it. It's one of those things that makes being a teenager - or, really, just a person in the world - so frustrating sometimes, and why feeling misunderstood can almost be a perverse kind of release - there's a weird sense of mastery that comes with being the only one who, "gets it."

Now, am I endorsing the image that's being projected? No. I am no more a proponent of using sex as a sales pitch than I am of using it as a weapon. And that's an undeniable part of this - Cyrus might be naked because she just wants to be naked, but she's also consciously taking off her clothes in an effort to move herself to the head of the pop star pack. She's said as much, in an article I unfortunately cannot reference because I neglected to save the link. That's really the only thing I find terribly upsetting about the whole subject, but it's not unique to this situation. I was upset about it before the VMAs, and I'll be upset about it long after Miley Cyrus has either put on some pants or swung naked into the sunset on a piece of construction equipment.

There's an escalating trend of hypersexualization among women in pop music, and it's kind of a bummer. The Irish Times' Una Mullally does a good job of outlining it here, and it's something we should all think about. For me, I think it's indicative of the dearth of modern female pop artists on my radar. At this point in my life, I either wax nostalgic or turn to other genres, but I wonder sometimes how I'd perceive things if I were younger,

This isn't something that can be solved in a blog post, least of all one of mine. And maybe you're of the opinion that there's nothing to be solved at all. Maybe you're right. I suppose, in the interest of wrapping this up, what I can say is that, if you're not digging what Miley Cyrus and/or other folks are up to right now, you have a choice. Turn off the radio, put on your own music, change the channel, stop clicking links. If you're worried about your kids because the image that's being put out there doesn't match with your values, talk to them about it - calmly, and without condemnation. Help them see the value of their own sexuality, and that there are safe and healthy ways to express it. Media is everywhere - you can't control the flow of data anymore, not really, but you can choose how you respond to it.