I love pop culture. It is like an aphrodisiac to me. It brings me so much pleasure. It is simply titillating. I realize that perhaps one is not supposed to “love” popular culture since it is popular and it is much classier to be in love with something not “popular”, less trashy, more “high class” or “high culture”. But, I come from the lower end of the class/culture spectrum and I prefer to stay there most of the time.
But, that is neither here nor there. My interest in popular culture, in part, is that it is a much more effective educational tool than most of the crap we do in education – in my opinion. This is not to say that what we do-do in education is worthless, only that students aren’t much engaged in it, it doesn’t captivate them, it doesn’t amuse them, it doesn’t excite/anger them. I mention something from “high culture” to my students and they look at me like I am crazy. I provide an interesting academic article and it is ok, but I relate it to popular culture (i.e. reality shows) and the conversation is off in rather interesting, provocative, and educational ways.
Yet, popular culture gets such a bad rap. Parents often times hate popular culture, especially TV, the most. In watching Real Housewives of New York, I was reminded of this as Alex said she and her husband did not allow TVs in bedrooms – sad day for their kids. I was also reminded of this when watching CNN and the Mom-Brigade was all in a tizzy because Nickelodeon would not remove Chris Brown from the ballot for a Kids Choice Award. Nickelodeon officials said they would not because the show is about “Kids Choice” and therefore would not intervene stating something to the extent that “the kids put him on the ballot and they, the kids, will decide who actually wins the award”. Of course the Mom’s retorted saying that Nick is not controlled by kids and that “kids don’t have the ability to make all decisions on their own”. I understand the mom’s concerns so I don’t want to be seen as a mom-hater. I just think they can get ridiculous sometimes as we all can I suppose. I want to explore the mom argument further for its implications in education. [Please note, after writing this, I learned that Chris Brown has removed his name from the ballot which adds more to this in my opinion]
The mom’s argument is that Chris Brown has set a bad example for young boys, that rewarding him the award would be awarding his behavior. Of course such an argument 1) assumes the kids understand what happened or even cared and 2) negates everything he did to get the nomination. Are we not allowed to fuck up without totally fucking up our lives anymore? The moms seem to want only “good” representation and good “role” models, but what exactly is good representation or a “good” role model? Chris Brown was not nominated because he is a great boyfriend, he was nominated because he is a good performer and in my opinion a rather good model for certain things.
But, let’s talk about the mom argument because they invoke the power of “popular culture” to educate and educate “wrong”. They demonize that which I love in order to make their point. In such demonizing of course they would probably hold up “other” more “upstanding” individuals who most likely have just not gotten caught. They would perhaps point to PBS for its wholesome representations, representations that will not pervert their kids and should be embraced as such. Their arguments seems to rest heavily on the notion that their children are innocent, that children need to be protected when perhaps such a stance is not fair (to us or children).
Now, before I go any further to take on this discourse around the Chrianna fiasco, I want to note that I am not arguing that violence against a person, any person, is justified. I do not think Chris should have beat up Rhianna, so move past that – that’s not my argument. My argument will engage this controversy, but to make it more complicated, to perhaps show that we are all victims and victimizers?
My interest is in the way that the mom’s invoke the victim narrative of the “female” but see no problem with the multiple messages that they might be sending young girls. They appear to want to send the message that it is not ok to allow someone to beat you up or violate you in any manner (be that physical, verbal, emotional). But, in such a lesson they propel forth another lesson - teaching perhaps that girls are still the weaker sex…that they need to be protected by a “universal” sentiment that “you shouldn’t hit a girl”? While I agree with the explict lesson, it is the implicit lesson(s) that is(are) ignored that concerns me. What is the cost of positioning the “girl” as weak, as needing a “universal principle” to protect her? What is the cost for the “girl” and what is the cost for the “boy”? Does the boy learn to take such violence from a girl rather than hitting back? (I hit back when I was a boy and when told not to hit girls, said whatever, if she hits me I’m gonna hit her back cause she’s bigger than me)
Does such rhetoric teach girls to be defenseless? Does it teach boys to be chivalrous (sexism in disguise)? Does it fail to recognize the complexity of human relationships – that in moments of passion people do irrational things and in doing so need to seek reparations afterward? Does this lesson teach boys or girls to walk away from relationships after such emotion-laden experiences? Does it fail to show that love is not always easy, that love can be violent? Diddy (Sean Puffy Combs), recently on Ellen, expressed his concern over this affair noting that relationships are difficult and things happen in them…people get emotional, people make mistakes, people fuck up. The difference, as he discusses it, is that 1) these are public figures and 2) the rest of us keep it quiet, don’t talk about it in our own private lives. Why don’t we talk about it? Why don’t we admit that humans are not entirely rational, that humans get emotional, that humans lose control and in recognizing this move away from shaming someone for such an action and talking about ways to ward off such an incident from occurring again? This talking of course may not cure the “problem” but it may take the scandal out of it allowing more people to see that “shit happens” and while “shit happening” is not an excuse for what happens (reparations should be made, apologies should be give) it should also not be an excuse to make an example out of someone or not talk to someone anymore. In talking with Patti about this, she said that NPR just had a story on abuse where an “abuser” couldn’t get help to change – turned away for being the victimizer and as such victimized, branded much like we brand sex offenders and put them on registries (I won’t go there now).
Yet, the issue gets more interesting if we move away from the mom’s and to various other discussions about this issue. Rhianna and Chris have subsequently gotten back together. Many see this as absolutely ridic (that’s the cool way to say ridiculous). I think it is what it is. I think if they love one another and want to work through these issues, repair the trauma and damage, then I say go get ‘em. Yet, others have scorned Rhianna for making such a decision – some saying she is suffering from “battered wife syndrome”. First, why do we have to pathologize her decision to return to the man she loved, who made a mistake? Now, this is not to say again that his actions were “cool” or “justified” – they happened and if we all look deep within ourselves we can find things that we have done that were not very nice, perhaps violent to an Other (physically, verbally, emotionally). Second, and this might get me in trouble, is it possible that (some of) those who go back to “battering spouses” (male or female) do so because of the thrill, because they get some pleasure out of such situations. Or perhaps even that their love overwhelms their rational senses? Now, obviously this is a bit difficult to swallow, but what role does pleasure and desire play in decisions made about our relationships with an other? Some engage in such actions consciously (S/M) but perhaps others find such a relationship, either unconsciously or due to an unwillingness to express it consciously because of the scorn such a statement might cause, titillating, exhilarating, pleasurable?
Basically, if we engaged popular culture and the ways it positions subjects can we engage students with issues that are so often simplified? What would it mean to not pathologize men or women who keep going back to an abusive relationship? Or to look at such cases much more closely? To produce a different story about love? It is easy to look at such high profile cases and to in a sense displace the issues by doing so…but in such displacement do we lose the opportunity to implicate ourselves in these issues, to take a look in the mirror and see that we are all fucked up and that’s ok...that the issue perhaps, as Kincaid notes, is the story we are being told and we need to write new stories, new descriptions of issues?
In further thinking about this issue, I was re-reading a chapter by Judith Butler (2004) where she discusses heterosexual jealousy in light of the “inescapable ways that heterosexuality and homosexuality are defined through one another”. In her exploration she discusses the ways in which a man’s woman lover wants another man and in such a dynamic the “male” exposes the inability for passions to be mutually exclusive – that his (our) desires are simultaneously heterosexual and homosexual [in part I believe because as Lacan notes “desire is the desire of the Other”].
How you ask? In that by being enraged at his woman lover he may desire in part, to be in her (imagined) receptive position and in such a position see her not as taking on the feminine position, but actually exposing his imagination of her in “a position of passive male homosexuality”. He is enraged in part because he imagines himself in her position, a position disavowed in a homophobic symbolic, but cannot take on such a position…illustrating heterosexual and homosexual desires or passions where desires are never mutually exclusive.
So, why do I add this? I add it because I want to explore how her argument could illuminate different possibilities in reactions to “cheating”. Many reports note that the “jump-off” between Chris and Rhianna started from a text from another woman. In seeing this text, Rhianna became enraged and in response Chris became enraged – violently assaulting her. Unlike, but related to, Butler’s example, this one places the female as the one who originally becomes enraged but in such a rage provokes a rageful response. Heterosexual jealousy still rears its head, but in a slightly different dynamic. It is the male who, as is traditionally seen, is the one doing the cheating and exchanging/using women. While Butler then focuses on the male homosocial and homosexual bond and desire wherein male rage emerges in part out of the disavowal of the homosexual and the inability to be such…can we read the Chrianna incident as exposing the lesbian homosocial/sexual bond and desire also? Did Rhianna in her rage, imagine herself not in the passive feminine position (she was not getting from Chris by his being with another woman) but in the active masculine position (that Chris was imagined to be in) where she was not just pissed that her man was cheating but that she could not enter such a position, that she could not, in a homophobic symbolic, engage in such a relationship with another woman? Was Chris’s response then, in part, a homophobic one where he did not imagine Rhianna in an adulterous relationship with another man, but with another woman as she took on the active “masculine” position – eliminating the “male” dynamic in the relation and “hurting” his male “masculine” ego. Was his violence in part against the homosocial and homosexual passions and desires of the “lesbian” that were operating simultaneously in Rhianna’s response. This is not to say that either are "homosexual" merely to ponder the contradictory and multifaceted aspects that desire may have...Chrianna, because of their current "status" are merely place markers for thinking about this contradictory and multifaceted read.