Sunday, February 11, 2007

SHAME: What Happened to Your Pants?

When I read Kay S. Hymowitz's Wall Street Journal commentary on the recent rash of celebrity exhibitionism, I turned to my friend Kat for what I knew would be a nice counterweight.

Hymowitz is disappointed in American women, starting with Britney Spears. All young -- and old -- women who would bare themselves physically or emotionally for an eager public perplex Hymowitz, a fellow at a conservative public policy thinktank called the Manhattan Institute.

Does Hymowitz veer too far into the judgmental? Do stars like Britney and Lindsay know what they're doing when they get caught sans underpants by paparazzi? Here's what Kat thought:
I think most people are running around this U.S. of A. deeply, deeply ashamed of themselves. As well they should be. In my case, I am ashamed of the (recently realized) fact that I need people to tell me what to do.

Like Sir H. Masticator, for example, who lovingly bestowed this writing assignment on me. And the reason I need people to tell me what to do is because if left to my own Pavlovian, naturally-selected devices, I spend my working day obsessively clicking and re-clicking approximately thirty bookmarked internet sites like a mental retard, stuffing the inner emptiness with celebrity gossip and reality television blogs. I spend my leisure time watching Extreme Makeover re-runs (which are culturally important) or American Idol (which I hate myself for) or Top Chef (which I love myself for) until it occurs to me that I’m wasting my life. So I take two Tylenol PM to hastily escape this uncomfortable state of zombie-shame.

But then I dream. I dream about hanging out with Paris, and we’re both auditioning for American Idol and I get pissed off because I notice that she’s taking performance-enhancing drugs (along with her Valtrex) which just isn’t fair. So I tattle on her to Simon and Paula and Randy, who are super supportive about it all, and then Simon and I end up going out on a date at Liquor Lyle’s where we get 2-4-1 Summits and it’s very romantic. Then I realize that Simon is not really Simon but my former superhot super who likes to visit me in my dreams with his mechanic’s jumpsuit and dreamy, crazed face and it just feels so right. At least until a certain Girls Gone Wild googly-eyed monster pops out from behind the bar yelling “Show me your tits!!” and shoving shots of Sour Apple Pucker in my face. Paris is dancing on the bar sans underpants, undulating and intermittently revealing her oddly misshapen buttocks – which are visible from the front – creating a jarring visual experience indeed.

Because this is what it’s all about. Surreptitious peeks of Tits and Oddly-Misshapen Buttocks and Camel Toes and Vaginas. They pervade the sick yet titillating, pathetic yet addictive, tongue-in-cheek yet sinister visual universe of celebrity gossip blogs. It was Ms. Brit’s recently exposed vagina bits, however, that instigated a wave of popular cultural criticism from pretty much everybody. It was “the last straw” apparently, for lots of folks including the mastermind behind one of her top fan Websites who shut it down in response to the public baring.

And somebody named Kay S. Hymowitz who got all hot and bothered and decided to take action by writing an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal. [read it here.] More on her issues later.

So Ms. Brit was out clubbin’ and the paparazzi captured an up-the-skirt shot of her bare cooch while she’s squirming around in the back of a limo. And everybody freaked out because she wasn’t wearing underpants, which provided ironclad proof that she’s a dirty whore and a bad mother and an out-of-control lunatic and probably an alcoholic and drug addict. And maybe she is some or all of these things. But the fact that it was the no underpants that instigated the discourse of moralistic judgments on all manner of her wayward ways is a bit disturbing to me. I started to feel like I was in a courtroom watching Jody Foster be interrogated for wearing clothing suggestive of wanting to be gang-raped.

Obviously I have my own fiery opinions on things. I also happen to honestly believe that her vag flash was accidental. Which is weird coming from a cynical jerk like myself. Some of Brit’s critics didn’t seem to care either way because the no underpants of it all was enough. And others – i.e. Ms. Hymowitz – simply assumed it was intentional. And indeed many gossip authorities, including the internet gossip queen Perez Hilton, have said that certain cases of celebrity nudity are likely intentional – especially when the mishap seems to happen repeatedly (Lindsay Lohan’s crotch).

To that, I say: How the hell does he know? Has he not worn underpants under a mini skirt and tried to exit a limo hundreds of time surrounded by throngs of “stalkerazzi” with cameras directed up his skirt? I’ll even take it a step further and say that if I were a celeb who suffered an originally accidental flash, I might later claim the flash as my own doing. And I’d do this because: a) nobody wants to be made a fool and b) claiming the act provides some sense of empowerment which is an attractive option compared to being a humiliated victim of the paparazzi. So there.

And this relates to all of this “sex tape” stuff as well. For example, when your sleazy ex-boyfriend is going to shop around his home-made videotape of him fucking you from behind and there’s nothing you can do about it then what else can you do but try to act cool and make some money off of it?

But I digress. Luckily I don’t believe in sex tapes of any kind. And I’d bet that Kay Hymowitz doesn’t either. In her WSJ opinion piece, Hymowitz lambastes what she sees as an exhibitionist trend among young ladies in Hollywood who “stage their own wardrobe malfunctions.” The freeballin’ antics of these naive gals, she contends, further reinforces the “first rule of contemporary American girlhood” which is “to show that you are liberated, take it off: liberty means responsibility ... to disrobe.”

She throws Brit – along with a host of other girl celebs including Courtney Love, Lindsay Lohan, and Tara Reid – into one big, simmering pot of misguided girl-power stew. My prob with this is that obviously each incident and context and person is unique and I find the ASSumption that all of these acts were intentional a little hard to believe, as mentioned previously. For example, if you were privy to the Tara Reid red dress “Frankenboob” mishap, you would also seriously doubt that she would have purposefully showcased her freshly scarred and distorted areola to the world – all the while smiling like a discombobulated idiot.

But what pisses me off the most about Ms. Hymo is that she assumes that these gals are not only doing these things on purpose, but they are all doing it for the same reason (as though Courtney Love and Lindsay Lohan belong to the same book club). She says these girls are naive (Courtney Love?) and suffering from false consciousness. She tells us (and them) that by flashing their privates they are making some kind of misguided quasi-feminist gesture of sexual liberation. She cites the infamous Girls Gone Wild girls as well, which is interesting, too, given the class-action suit filed by a number of girls who claim to have been drunkenly coerced into shedding their clothing and even engaging in sexual acts by sick pervs like Joe Coke-eyes.

Of course the other side of the female agency coin is female victimization; and it’s not right to flatten anybody’s subjectivity or agency or intent into an either/or mold: I don’t doubt that some of the GGW girls took great pleasure in their exhibitionism. And some might have gotten off on it at the time, and then later regretted it. The point is that there are not only two choices here: girl power! ☺ or victimization ☹. God knows there is all kinds of gray in that diode.

I may sound like I’m trying to sell you a slice of pro-victim pie here, but that’s only because the flavor of all the hubub has been so overwhelmingly in the opposite direction. Sure celebs manipulate the media, but the media also manipulates them and each instance of manipulation needs to be considered in context and with respect to social power. And in this case: gender and social power. Just because celebs are insanely wealthy and get to tell everybody what to do and get whatever they want doesn’t mean that they are somehow immune to culture by being exempt from cultural conditions of being a young woman. And if Hymowitz had any understanding of third-wave feminist theory whatsoever, she would have known that feminist agency is not an either/or proposition and thus she would not have not written such a stupid, infuriating piece. (SNAP!).

She says Brit “underestimates the magnetic force field created by intimate sexual information and violates the logic of privacy that should be all the more compelling in a media-driven age.” Interesting that she should mention privacy – given the “stalkarazzi” pretty much are up in these people’s grills 24-7 with big phallic lenses poised and ready for a glint of nip or an exposed thong or an unattractive facial gesture or an opened mouth full of McDonald's fries or some unsightly cellulite. Shouldn’t the paparazzi be front-and-center in this discussion? Get out of the bushes, ragazzi! And then shouldn’t we talk about the origins of the voracious cultural demand for these kinds of images in the first place?

Maybe it’s the remaining cultural fall-out from our beloved Janet Jackson’s SuperBowl boob shuffle that has hardened all of our hearts so. Maybe it is because we now really, really hate celebrities as more charisma-less, unattractive idiots get to be rich and famous for no reason at all. Or maybe we really are genuinely disappointed with Britney. Maybe we’re disappointed that she isn’t grateful for her fame and fortune by acting like a classy starlet should. Maybe we’re disappointed that she no longer attempts to conform herself to a superficial celebrity image/brand/icon, a beautiful size 0, smiling and poised and grateful and nice.

Britney’s naughty behavior disturbs our own rags-to-riches dreams by destroying the illusion of celebrity as a cultural ideal: an achievement that allows people to transcend the messiness and material constraints most of us deal with in everyday life. We’re disappointed in Britney because she’s not ashamed of herself: she’s not ashamed of showing her messy, base working-class roots. And the appearance of her vagina evokes our outrage because the vagina continues to symbolize the epitomy of feminine shame: sexual depravity, impurity and sin. We need to keep our vaginas concealed, hidden, politely ignored. Much like class, y’all.



Blogger leinenkluegel said...

i'm not wearing any underpants RIGHT NOW! :) much love, y'all.

7:36 PM  

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