Kurt Cobain and Nirvana’s Unplugged

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If I were to describe Kurt Cobain and Nirvana to someone who hadn’t heard of them, I’d start with terms like “grunge, rock, hard, and agressive,” but they were much more than that.  I agree with the assertion made in the video “kurt cobain and the female grotesque” by Linnea Zeiner.  Kurt Cobain was an active feminist, but not in the normal sense of the world.  He was radical and chaotic, but with good intentions.  He purposefully dressed in ways that confused the two accepted genders and embraced his feminine side, which he identified more with.  He tried to show that as time is progressing and humanity is evolving women should be given a better share of the world and should be able to protect and provide for themselves without relying on Men.

I do also believe that “Unplugged,” a show on MTV, was culturally significant because it brought many popular artists into a more wholesome and contained world to play their music, usually their hit songs.  This gave a new layer to each band that appeared on the show, and focused more on their connection with the small audience.  Unlike Nirvana’s performance on “Unplugged,” most artists simply played their biggest hits on acoustic.  Even with this simple formula, “Unplugged” was able to show that while some bands change their sound to appeal to the mainstream, they can still put on a personal show at a small location.

Sources:

Zeiner, Linnea. “kurt cobain and the female grotesque.”

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Gender Roles Evolution in Performance and Dancing

2. Examine the gendered and sexualized constructions of the 1960s and 1970s dance floors utilizing Tim Lawrence’s Queering of the Dance Floor. How is mandatory heterosexuality subverted? Consider music, venue, DJs, etc. Within this framework, how do you see the evolution of “The Ball” as portrayed in Paris is Burning (1990)? Does the Ball reinforce heteronormative structures of gender identity (look to Butler in History of Drag Balls)? Or does it perform/accomplish something else?

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Disco in the 1970’s stripped social dancing from all of its sexual norms. The music, the culture, the clothing, and the interaction was all unique. Disco, I think, did not intentionally strip heterosexual control from dancing. It removed heterosexuality as a side effect of giving dancing a different purpose. Disco was more focused on partying and the freedom of a new social scene. Lawrence discusses many testaments that disco was not a movement focused on courting like social dancing in the past. This removal of implied relationships with dance patterns subverted the masculinity.

In a similar fashion balls removed heterosexual norms by giving participants freedom. Their intention was not to be anti-masculine but to be their truth. For example, balls had categories that were very heterosexual like the cooperate professionals and the military uniform competitors.

Balls and disco both reinforce and degrade heteronormative structures of gender. They are both social institutions designed to give participants a space to break norms. In discos and balls it is encouraged to explore different sexualities and gender roles. This exposes people to different structures of gender identities and makes them more accessible. However, they are not normalizing these gender exceptions. They just create an place for observation.  Lawrence says, “What is more, participants in this stratum of New York dance culture regularly perceived their actions to be politically radical, because gay culture was still historically marginal and the practices of disco were understood to be aesthetically progressive.”(Lawrence, 240).  I think that disco and balls are both seen as entertainment which is a separate entity from everyday life. People in balls and disco would participate in extravagant show cases of debunking genders but only for the night. The next day they would go to their day jobs and try to participate in society as an accepted gender role. I think these practices made breaking gender norms like a costume not a reality.  In Paris Is Burning one of the attendees says “in a ball you feel 100% right being gay” but in society it is not the same. So while these institutions gave queerness a space, this space was not in society.

 

 

Keep Ya Head Up (1993)

 

On June 16, 1971, Tupac Shakur  was born in East Harlem, New York, to Afeni Shakur, member of the Black Panther Party. He was also known by his stage names 2Pac and Makaveli. He was an actor, poet, rapper, and activist. He is considered one of American’s best selling artists and many argue that 2Pac was the greatest rapper alive.

2Pac’s song “Keep Ya Head Up” is an expression of the black experience in America during the 1980s and 1990s. It touches upon the struggles black women, men, and youth go through. 2Pac wrote his activist song “Keep Ya Head Up” to promote a change in the treatment and perception of black women. Not only does the song have a feminist agenda, but it also touches upon class issues, racial issues, and Tupac’s personal struggles. “Tupac’s life and political advocacy prove that hip hop music and activism are not mutually exclusive” (Stanford).

 

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Some say the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice
I say the darker the flesh, then the deeper the roots

“Keep Ya Head Up” by 2Pac

These lyrics are meant to encourage self-love and pride in black women, especially those who have darker skin. Light-skinned women have been historically glorified and glamorized over dark-skinned women. He also references the deep history that darker skin carries.

“And since we all came from a woman
Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman
I wonder why we take from our women
Why we rape our women — do we hate our women?”

These lines comment on the demeaning portrayal of women and the hypocrisy of disrespecting them. Women give life. Women are the ones who carry a child for 9 months. Women (typically) raise children. 2Pac is addressing the wrongdoing of abusing, raping, and degrading women.

“And I realize Mama really paid the price
She nearly gave her life to raise me right
And all I had to give her was my pipe dream
Of how I’d rock the mic and make it to the bright screen”

Here, 2Pac discusses his respect and understanding for his mother. He appreciates all mothers for their sacrifices. However, 2Pac also references his personal issues with his mother (which he goes into more depth about in his song Dear Mama). He mentions his mother’s addiction to crack cocaine when he wrote “pipe dream of how I’d rock the mic” and “I blame my mother for turnin’ my brother into a crack baby.” By addressing his mother’s addiction, 2Pac is also underlining the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s that had considerably damaged the black populations of urban cities in America.

“I’m tryin’ to make a dollar out of fifteen cents
It’s hard to be legit and still pay the rent

You know, it’s funny, when it rains it pours
They got money for wars but can’t feed the poor

While the rich kids is drivin’ Benz
I’m still tryin’ to hold on to survivin’ friends”

2Pac writes these lyrics to emphasize the divide between the rich and the poor and their contrasting realities. He asserts that survival is much more difficult and important for the poor due to their many barriers and lack of resources. Furthermore, 2Pac draws attention to America’s greed in prioritizing and funding war instead of its very own impoverished people.

 

Punk Rock Misogyny and Gender Roles

The article states that “Punk could, and did, free women from the more restrictively gendered roles available to them in past subcultures” Can this be true even if there was still a lot of misogyny in the Punk subculture?

While punk is not the pinnacle of gender equality in a subculture it is undeniable that it gave women in the scene a lot more opportunity than they had received in the past. For this reason I believe it gave women more freedom. It gave them a chance to explore their passions and actually be accepted or even successful. Women were given a chance to make money on their own as individuals without a man or a female group. This was a liberating move in the right direction and got the ball rolling for big female artists like Janis Joplin and Patti Smith. Once a few solo female artists gained traction it was a chain reaction to stars like Madonna or Joan Jett and today female musical stars are as common as male. Though the punk scene was vastly male, it was pretty gender fluid. Men looked like women and vise versa. This blurred the gender lines and equalized the two genders even if it was only physical. The author really sums up the impact of the punk movement on gender roles.

“Even if the gender dynamic of the New York City punk scene did not deviate dramatically from that of mainstream America or traditional rock and roll, it allowed for more flexible interpretations of traditional portrays of both masculinity and femininity. Misogynistic displays of overt masculinity coexisted alongside transgender individuals in a musical subculture which allowed women unprecedented access and agency” (Kvaran, 71)

In essence, while it wasn’t equal it was an unprecedented amount of freedom that started a revolution.

 

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Raves: Gender and Sexuality

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The raves of the 90’s up to the present have been presented as temporary wonderlands, subverting mainstream culture and offering hordes of people a safe space to explore their gender and sexuality, contributing to the modern understanding of these facets of identity.  Raves are Electronic dance music(EDM) centered music festivals, usually taking place in large buildings or open spaces.  The history of EDM is also worth noting for its association with homosexuality in the beginnings.

Some of the first EDM music originated in Chicago in the 1980’s and quickly began growing in popularity, “especially among the gay community in Chicago” (King).  The underground and occasionally illegal rave culture that was just blossoming offered homosexuals in Chicago a safe place to embrace their sexuality and meet others who supported them.  In the beginning it started when DJs combined Disco music with electronic sounds with a repeating beat.  Within a decade rave festivals began to pop up around the world, beginning in Europe, but eventually making their way to the US.  The Electric Daisy Carnival (images 7 and 10) was one of the first large scale raves in the US.  These festivals began to multiply, expanding that safe space to reach many more people.

As rave culture grew and began to take its current shape, it developed a central theme of “peace, love, unity, and respect,” offering support and tolerance to every group.  This motto can be seen on the backside of the Nocturnal Wonderland image, where it says “Peace, Love, Unity, Bring on the noise!” (image 2).  One main document outlining this central dogma is the anonymously written “Raver’s Manifesto,” which describes a rave as a “magical bubble that can, for one evening, protect us from the horrors, atrocities, and pollution of the outside world” (Anonymous).  Individuals choose to become involved in a sub culture because of the support or sense of belonging that they offer.  Ravers choose this sub culture to escape from the pains of reality and be comfortable in their own identity.  As it relates to gender and sexuality, individuals can immerse themselves in a crowd of people who accept them for who they are.  This allows ravers to think more about who they are and how they want to be seen in society.  It helps them grow as people, noting that “somewhere around 35Hz [they] could feel the hand of God at [their] backs, pushing [them] forward, pushing [them] to push [themselves] to strengthen [their] minds, [their] bodies, and [their] spirits” in an effort of self-improvement” (Anonymous). The participants are striving to create a more progressive community by bettering themselves and others.

EDM music strives to be futuristic and progressive in its appearance and content, which is why this rave scene has only happened with EDM.  EDM and rave culture is very utopian in nature, constantly striving for a society that does not judge based on sexuality or gender, or any other part of an individual’s identity.  Raves are small attempts at forming this perfect world, if only for a night or a weekend.  Most participants actively attempt to include individuals of every gender and sexuality, to move past social constructs into a more welcoming community.  The back of the Nocturnal Wonderland flyer perfectly describes this, stating that “With your continued support and love we can bridge the barriers that separate us and build a sustainable culture for all to enjoy” (image 2).  Raves actively bring people together, while mainstream society tends to drive people apart.  It is for this reason that so many cling to raves as an outlet from a society that does not accept them.  The focus of this exclusion by society might be for many different reasons, but one focus is gender and sexuality.  In the temporary, non-judgmental community that is created, there are no obvious labels for gender and sexuality.  In the low-light and high intensity environment, these distinctions are blurred and it’s much more difficult to label participants.

Rave culture distinctly subverts mainstream culture’s definitions of gender and sexuality.  One main idea behind raves is to escape from society, taking every opportunity to move away from society into a more progressive community.  Even the depictions of raves as seen through the flyers are very dissimilar to modern life.  The front side of the Nocturnal Wonderland flyer illustrates this with its cartoon character and otherworldly imaging (image 1).  The back side of the Electric Daisy Carnival flyer provides the motto of “One People. One Planet. One Vibe,” referencing the central theme of acceptance and unity (image 7).  At raves, participants attempt to turn their back to society, but without hatred.  They seek to accept all individuals, even those who won’t accept them.  They want to be a central part of “a massive, global, tribal village that transcends man-made law, physical geography, and time itself” without harming or judging those who aren’t a part of it (Anonymous).  This goal has many resemblances to the hippy counter culture of the 1960’s.

The hippy counter culture of the 1960’s also sought to improve society by accepting every individual.  The article “How Ravers Became the New Flower Children” by Becca Rothfeld describes rave culture as the “second coming of flower-power,” referencing the afore mentioned 1960’s subculture (Rothfeld).  One comparison can be made with the events populated by members of the two subcultures.  Woodstock, one of the largest collections of people who identified as hippies, was held in New York and was a significant step, and arguably the greatest success of the hippy counter culture. The Electric Daisy Carnival holds similar importance for rave culture.  It was first held in Los Angeles in the early 1990’s, with a much smaller audience than it typically attracts today.  The Electric Daisy Carnival was the first major, consistent rave in the US.  Like Woodstock it was the prime display of the subculture for a while and was the main event that allowed people to learn about the values and motifs of the sub culture, at least in the US.  Fortunately for rave culture, the Electric Daisy Carnival and insomniac events in general (the company backing many large raves like EDC) fared better than Woodstock, which was not consistent in following years.

There is a significance to the somewhat hidden symbolism on rave flyers.  A prime example of this is in the Nocturnal Wonderland flyer from SDSU Special Collections, the first and second images in this post.  The flyer contains a large amount of fairytale and celestial objects like stars, butterflies, mushrooms, and flowers.  These objects combine to form a motif of acceptance, making the rave seem like a wonderland, appealing to more people.  The backside of the fyler even describes “Nocturnal Wonderland” as a “Global Unity Project,” illustrating the theme of acceptance (image 2).  The mushrooms can be a reference to the drug culture that is typical of raves, bringing participants to experience a wider range of emotions.  The flowers may be a reference to the peace in “PLUR” or even a reference to the hippy culture that shares so much with rave culture.  The Cheshire cat on the flyer, from “Alice in Wonderland,” may also represent a return to more primal urges of participants.  Escaping from the constraints of modern society, ironically through the ambience of electronic music, allows them to explore more of their primal, human emotions to grow more as a person.

Rave culture, since the early 1980’s, has offered a safe community for participants to explore and embrace their own gender and sexuality, among many other parts of their identity, without fear of reproach.  This subculture has been important in shaping modern conceptions of gender and sexuality.  Raves have been able to combine music and community to form temporary escapes from the modern world, which attract participants from every walk of life.

 

Bibliography

Rothfeld, Becca. “How Ravers Became the New Flower Children.” The New Republic, 26       July 2014, newrepublic.com/article/118854/edm-and-hippies-how-ravers-became-               new-flower-children.

King, Gus. “EDM/Rave Culture”. Grinnelle College. N.D.                                      http://haenfler.sites.grinnell.edu/subcultures-and-scenes/edmrave-culture/

Anonymous. “Raver’s Manifesto”

“Rave Flyers.” Between the Covers Rare Books, inc. Rave culture, mid 1990s- early 2000’s.    SDSU Special Collections

 

HACK #4 “The Pill”

The 1960’s and 1970’s was a momentous time for feminist movements.  In 1960 the first birth control pill is released to the public.  In her song, “The Pill” Loretta Lynn protests traditional gender norms by reflecting on the opportunities oral birth control opens for her and the female population.

The song was banned from several different radio stations for its controversial subject matter.  She states that her life had previously been limited by her pregnancies.

“Promised if I’d be your wife
You’d show me the world
But all I’ve seen of this old world
Is a bed and a doctor bill”

As her husband lived his life she found herself at home having babies and raising children.

“All these years I’ve stayed at home
While you had all your fun
And every year that’s gone by
Another babys come”

She is not happy with the traditional life she has lived but is excited about the possibilities this pill has provided for her and the female population.  This was a popular movement for the time.  Women throughout this period were rebelling against the popular expectations of them and pushing for more equality.

One implementation of this the “freedom trash can”.   In 1968 at the Miss America pageant women gathered outside to protest the performance.  As depicted below women threw away bras, hair curlers, home magazines, and other objects associated with traditional feminine lifestyles.  It was their way of speaking out and calling for more rights.  It was a statement, as women, they are not defined by their bras, beauty, or accessories, but deserve equal rights and treatment.

freedom trash can

Sources:

“The Pill” by Loretta Lynn

“The Pill” video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DcdONaKSQM

“Freedom Trash Can” picture: https://www.google.com/search?rlz=1C1CHZL_enUS751US751&biw=1280&bih=590&tbm=isch&sa=1&ei=Bz6eWoasIOrZ0gLuqZD4Ag&q=Freedom+trash+can+miss+America&oq=Freedom+trash+can+miss+America&gs_l=psy-ab.3..0.1744.4486.0.5174.13.2.0.11.11.0.101.188.1j1.2.0….0…1c.1.64.psy-ab..0.13.448…0i30k1.0.bBkPIacJ5Ac#imgrc=J2ZRbrY6rCdtFM:

 

 

Hack #2: Sexualized Women in Dawn of the Dead

 

In the 2004 version of Dawn of the Dead directed by Zack Snyder, the female body is often portrayed as a either a sexualized victim or a sexy heroine that needs saving, both of which are shot much differently than the men of the movie.  For example, in the first picture a woman victim who is completely naked in the middle of a highway and is about to be attacked and eaten by a horde of zombies quickly approaching.  There is no reason that furthers the plot as to why this women is naked, except for the blatant hyper-sexualization of women.  Men who are killed in the film are seen fully clothed and able to fight some zombies off, where as women victims are seen helpless, naked, and afraid.  The breasts and face are particularly highlighted in these shots as they are either shown naked or in a vulnerable position.  This minor character did not have to be killed in this manner as it did not add any plot value to the movie and was just another instance of misogyny in the film industry.  This showcases how the women in the film need to be “saved” by the men in the film who take up arms to fight back the zombies.

In the second picture, this shot clearly highlights the vulnerability of the main actress, while setting her in a semi-sexual light.  By placing her on the bed in a crouched position it attempts to appeal to male audiences that seek to “protect the damsel in distress” from impending danger.  The men in the film are never shot in this vulnerable pose and often shown as tough guys who are able to use their physical ability to fight off zombies. I strongly believe that the movie would not have been as popular without this sexualization/vulnerable characterization of women because “sex” sells in the movie industry.  Typically, men enjoy being the macho guy who comes into to rescue the women and gets a reward so this contributed to the overall success of the movie. Williams states in her article that, “Visually, these ecstatic excesses [of women] could be said to share a quality of uncontrollable convulsion or spasm – of the body ‘beside itself’ with sexual pleasure, fear and terror, or overpowering sadness.  Aurally, excess is marked by recourse … to inarticulate cries of pleasure porn” (Williams 4).  Therefore, males are drawn into this style of movie making as it appeals to a wanting to see women sexualized in pop culture.

Picture 1 Citation:

“Naked woman (DotD).” Headhunter’s Horror House Wiki, June 2005, headhuntershorrorhouse.wikia.com/wiki/Naked_woman_(DotD).

Picture 2 Citation:

“Dawn of the Dead (2004).” IMDb, IMDb.com, June 2005, m.imdb.com/title/tt0363547/mediaviewer/rm3748563968.

Reading Source Citation:

Williams, Linda. “Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess.” Film Quarterly, vol. 44, no. 4, 1991, pp. 2–13., doi:10.1525/fq.1991.