Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Core Response #3: Exploring Late Capitalism and Audience Fragmentation

Sarah Banet-Weiser's "What's Your Flava?" invokes a lot of difficult questions, namely one that I've struggled with recently: what are we to do with countercultural movements that, because of the salience and public value of their ideology, are eventually co-opted for capital gain by the very forces they seek to dismantle? This phenomenon certainly isn't new - there's an interesting article here at Jacobin about how something similar happened to the riot grrl movement - but with the immediacy and accessibility of the Internet, the speed at which conscientious citizens are able to find an issue to mobilize around and at which corporations are able to channel said mobility into a marketable corpus of material self-expression has essentially leveled out. A brief survey of tags on Tumblr related to diversity or social justice, for instance, uncovers a huge pool of politically galvanized consumers, over half of whom are between the ages of 18-34. [2] Much like television's strategies of narrowcasting, any sizable group of people with clearly differentiated interests represents a heretoforth untapped direction for the flow of content generation to follow, and the emergence of a new niche demographic that falls into a traditionally lucrative age range is cause for pursuit. This isn't just unique to film and television: the Jacobin article points to music's struggle to keep counterculture and capitalism apart, and in video games it can be seen as recently as 2014's Social Justice Warriors. Because gaming is still in the infancy of its social consciousness, it remains to be seen whether questions of social justice can be matured and extended beyond superficial satirical treatments, but considering the medium's tendency to stumble into the film industry's problems in its historically blind attempts to copy it, I am rarely hopeful.

Banet-Weiser's identification of Dora the Explorer as a political figure employed strategically by Nickelodeon to diversify its market profile and increase its cultural capital by representing a programming model that is both inclusive and "good business". The show is laden with a wide breadth of Hispanic and Latino tropes that are unified, incompletely and unconvincingly, within the marketable and panethnic Dora; culture is respected and "difference" is "embraced" [1], but only in unchallenging ways, because to have Dora speak to children at their level about race doesn't fit into the "market imperative". In this state, the show is simply another example of careless narrowcasting that aggregates the supposed representational wants and needs of an audience typically shortchanged in the politics of visibility and molds them into a product that fits with this wide market concept of diversity but is unable to extend its treatment of the demographic beyond familiar cultural stereotypes. Are counterculture and market diversity doomed to cannibalize themselves infinitely under models of capitalist content creation, diluted continually in an attempt to reach a growing and thus increasingly fragmented audience? Is there any way to avoid this model's transformation of signifiers of cultural difference into stereotypes meant to assure us of our own belonging?

Works Cited

[1] Banet-Weiser, Sarah. “What’s Your Flava?: Race and Postfeminism in Media Culture.” Interrogating Postfeminism: Gender and the Politics of Popular Culture. Eds. Diane Negra and Yvonne Tasker. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007.
[2] "Infographic: Who's Really Using Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram in 2015". January 12, 2015. Adweek. Web.

Core Response 4: Viewing TV Both Ways

Others have posted on the questions surrounding media visibility and its historical relationship to modes of empowerment, and Stefania brings up an interesting point at the end of her post that:
We can reach a Todd Gitlin kind of conclusion based on representations of women in popular TV programming, but we can also see how increased visibility on the importance of women in TV and conveying feminist attitudes, and the recent proliferation of what scholars like Sarah Banet-Weiser are calling “popular feminism,” can change things for future generations.”
TV, as this dynamic site of representation, acts as a kind of turf war among feminists (1st, 2nd, 3rd, post) as well as thinkers of critical race theory, examining the various “double entanglements” that it presents. I agree with Stefania and Sarah Banet-Weiser that “the twenty-first-century context of postfeminism and the present celebration of urban images have encouraged a lineup of children's shows [I would add adult/mature shows as well] that feature strong, smart girls and multicultural casts.” [i] However, in the same instance, “this progressive ideology works as a more general market imperative”[ii] and a way for network’s to reformulate their brand identity and address their audiences as cultural citizens by “target[ing] aspects of personal identity such as race as a way to be inclusive.”[iii] In some circumstances, celebrating difference in generalized ways as to present “marketable global citizens.”[iv]

Looking at Dora the Explorer, Banet-Weiser explains that because Nickelodeon frames the challenges to dominant stereotypes within normative social conventions the show can remain palatable for a broad media audience.[v] Or more specifically, the show “utilize[s] Latino "themes" as part of the program but in a safe way so as not to alienate Nickelodeon's predominantly white, middle-class cable audience.”[vi]

Banet-Weiser’s comments here drew my attention to an article in New York Magazine written by Eddie Huang earlier this year.[vii] In it he imparts some of the difficulties and aggravations in the development of his memoir to a TV show (Fresh Off the Boat), citing a fear that the show might appear as “a reverse-yellowface show with universal white stories played out by Chinamen” (Huang).  This led to slight confrontations over certain jokes and segments, and what he felt was becoming the show’s overly positive affirmation of America through an Asian American family. Despite some of the difficulties in its inception, Huang by the end of the article begins to reconcile his problems with the show, writing, “The only way they could even mention some of the stories in the book was by building a Trojan horse and feeding the pathogenic stereotypes that still define us to a lot of American cyclope.”[viii] And he even touches upon the network’s propensity to embrace and reinforce difference as a broad means of identification, “It takes a lot of chutzpah to launch a network comedy with a pilot addressing the word chink, yet it works because it’s the safest bet the studio could have made. The feeling of being different is universal because difference makes us universally human in our individual relationships with society.”[ix]

[i] Banet-Weiser, Sarah. “What’s Your Flava?: Race and Postfeminism in Media Culture.” Interrogating Postfeminism: Gender and the Politics of Popular Culture. Eds. DianeNegra and Yvonne Tasker. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007. 218
[ii] Ibid. 222.
[iii] Ibid. 218.
[iv] Ibid. 221.
[v] Ibid. 222.
[vi] Ibid.
[vii] Huang, Eddie. “Bamboo Ceiling TV.” Vulture (New York Magazine). January 12, 2015. < http://www.vulture.com/2015/01/eddie-huang-fresh-off-the-boat-abc.html>
[viii] Ibid.
[ix] Ibid.

Core Response 4: Feminism Yesterday, Feminism Today.

In the network of shared ideas and assumptions, feminism is perceived as a politically and academically charged term unwelcoming to men and other general populations possessing limited knowledge on this topic. In a post-feminist climate operating within a neo-liberal social structure, female subjects are expected to perform individuality by mastering “self-monitoring practices” by investing in commodified self-care products such as “self-help guides, personal advisors, lifestyle coaches and gurus…” (McRobbie 260). Television is unfortunately complicit in promoting this apolitical self-reliant culture through the flow of advertisements inundating spectators with visuals of human subjects buying into the notion of assembling the ideal self from a package of fragmented pieces of expectations. What does it mean when media presents women as assuming more complex roles and users of social media taking those representations as the ultimate achievement for gender equity? For instance, a few months ago, an online movement where women expressed their need for feminism prompted many to share their thoughts and reflect on why more conversations are necessary. At the same time, some women argued against feminism, claiming that their autonomy and positive interactions with men was sufficient enough to make of them independent productive citizens. As Banet-Weiser writes, framing gender issues within a popular cultural framework threatens to dismiss those concerns and present them as post-feminist (207).

            Examples of post-feminist ideology are visible in certain televisual genres. Sexualized advertisements become modes of post-feminist female empowerment and individualism; Victoria Secret undergarments are hidden tools of success and independence. Another slippery subject would be the commodification of feminist ideologies in the media by celebrities who capitalize on emerging fads. In fact, even bell hooks is critical of certain public personas on television and music labeling themselves as feminists because they do not necessarily adhere to hooks’ notions of what it means to be a feminist. However, to be neutral, one must consider the generational differences between the feminist movements and understand that previous efforts are not adaptable to the multiple feminisms operating simultaneously. In taking the Mary Tyler Moore show as an example, the political climate of the 1970s and the feminist movement of that time embodies a particular movement of independence and the need for recognition. In a broad address here, that feminist movement worked towards placing women within male dominated structures. Today, the feminism on television is particularly different than previously experienced in the past decades. In shows such as How to Get Away with Murder, a more complex reading of feminism presents itself in analyzing the intersections of race and class. Unlike the feminism of the 1970s, one of the contemporary approaches to feminism seeks to question the role of women in systems of power. Even today, conflicting notions of feminism unfold in the media and women are making choices in how to lead their lives and question the systems of oppression. Contemporary feminisms on television are in conflict with post-feminist ideas, but as these differences are acknowledged, the more complex conversations can there be in the public sphere. 

Core Response #4: Postfeminist Commodification and the Beyonce Conundrum

In her essay entitled “What’s Your Flava: Race and Postfeminism in Media Culture,” Sarah Banet-Weiser argues that “the contradictory media representations of girl power and urbanization function as a particular kind of politics and as such work to constitute audiences as particular kinds of cultural citizens” (223). Discussing how corporate media strategically employs “diversity” casting and images of “powerful” women to appeal to broader audiences and encourage consumption, Banet-Weiser illuminates the ways in which popular culture has constructed a view of the United States that assumes a postracial and postfeminist landscape - one in which the goals of the civil rights and women’s liberation movements have been achieved, and the critiques offered by these movements no longer need to be assessed. In this environment, race and gender are marketable and consumable traits, divested of their inherent political implications (203). The result of this postracial and postfeminist logic is that signifiers of race, gender, class, etc are construed merely as fluctuating traits among individuals to be celebrated, rather than as traits that are implicated in, by, and through larger structural forces of power. Consequently, critiques addressing inequalities between races, genders, etc, are  often construed as irrational and unfounded. The election of an African-American president assures us that the United States no longer has a “race problem,” and the existence of exceptionally successful women, like Sheryl Sandberg and Hillary Clinton, “proves” that women can “have it all.” Yet as Stefania notes in her post below, the images we are fed of these exceptionally successful individuals ignores the struggles (both historically and presently) women and non-white communities must overcome to even be afforded a slight opportunity at cracking through the many glass ceilings in their ways. And while a few individuals may be able to reach the top, communities of color continue to be disproportionally affected by socioeconomic inequality, the prison-industrial complex, hiring discrimination, and lack of access to the resources necessary to be upwardly mobile. 

Banet-Weiser’s connections between the postracial and postfeminist discourses in popular culture are particularly important, as debates over the “correct” way to practice feminism continue to take place within feminist circles, and these debates are made even more complicated when the history of racial subjugation is taken into account. One of the more interesting debates that has unfolded recently has been over Beyonce’s self-identification as a feminist, and what Beyonce’s image means for a liberatory feminist politics. Beyonce has received heavy critique from a number of (often white) feminists who see her sexualized performances as a misguided understanding of female liberation. They have argued that Beyonce’s image continues to cater to the male gaze, thus reifying patriarchal norms while masquerading as an autonomous choice of individual expression. However, a number of non-white feminists have asserted that Beyonce’s ownership of her own sexuality is radical for a woman of color. In a piece for Natural Hair Mag, freelance writer Aphrodite Kocieda (who holds an MA in Communications and Gender Studies and is the creative force behind the webseries Black Feminist Blogger), deconstructs the tendency of white feminists to criticize the sexualized performances of artists like Beyonce and Nicki Minaj as counterproductive to Black liberation. Kocieda notes a knee-jerk reaction from well-meaning white feminists to link sexualized imagery of African-American women to the history of slavery and colonialism, and the specific ways in which African bodies were objectified through these processes. The idea is that these images propagate the dehumanization of the Black body, but for Kocieda, these critiques deny any kind of agency to the artists doing the performing, and continue to conscript our understanding of Blackness through a white-centric gaze. Kocieda calls this “The Baartman Effect,” a reference to Saartjie Baartman, who was taken from Africa and displayed in "freak shows" because of her different body proportions. Kocieda defines The Baartman Effect as “the idea that black women’s bodies were only created when white people first saw them. We became socially and historically relevant through slavery, and because of that, we can’t possibly exist without the gaze of whiteness. Within this configuration, white people seemingly have the right to define black women’s images forever because they created them.”  

Herein lies the Beyonce conundrum: on the one hand, Beyonce’s status as a performer, whose body and image is commodified and sold by nature of her profession, risks reifying patriarchal norms by catering to the male gaze. This risk is further complicated (and perhaps even overdetermined) by her blackness and the still unresolved legacy of slavery, which makes the commodification of her physical body even more troublesome. At the same time, Beyonce’s unapologetic ownership of her own sexuality, and her agency in deciding when and how she will perform, arguably offers a radical rescripting of the production and distribution of the image of Black womanhood. As Professor Brittney Cooper commented to NPR, “[Beyonce asks] us to think about what it means for black women to be sexual on [their] own terms.”    

 In an article written for Salon, Cooper continues, “Beyoncé’s feminism, like all of ours, is evolving, offering her a language to understand what it means to be a black woman in this moment in history with the level of power, capital and sex appeal that she possesses. That she both embraces and grapples with the language of feminism so forthrightly is something worth applauding.  And what I learn from her and appreciate her for is that she provides a grammar for unapologetic black female pleasure in a world that only loves black women’s affect, verve and corporeality, when white women like Iggy Azalea, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus adopt and perform it.”  

In the postracial, postfeminist landscape, it becomes increasingly difficult to theorize what a radical anti-racist, feminist, and truly egalitarian project would look like. How do we begin to break free from the structures of patriarchy, white supremacy, capitalism, and heteronormativity, when these structures continue to adapt themselves and appropriate commodified versions of feminism and diversity, masking their continuing existence? The Beyonce Conundrum is just one example of the (im)possibility of imagining what an empowered representation of Black womanhood would look like within the context of these hegemonic structures. 

-Eszter Zimanyi 

Core Response #2: You Go Ms. Arquette!

“Post-feminism positively draws on and invokes feminism as that which can be taken into account, to suggest that equality is achieved, in order to install a whole repertoire of new meanings which emphasise that it is no longer needed, it is a spent force (McRobbie, p.255).   It is shocking to me that anyone could think that feminism is over or no longer needed or that gender equality has somehow been achieved.  I find this to be strikingly similar to the issues of colorblindness that we discussed a few weeks ago. 

I think the Hooters episode of Undercover Boss that one of the groups shared last week is a primary example of how this conception of accomplished gender equality gets promoted as a reality.  While the CEO of Hooters can acknowledge “Jimbob’s” outrageous, demeaning treatment of his waitresses, he fails to see that the company’s foundation of objectifying women’s bodies while they literally serve people (typically men) goes completely ignored and is treated as normalized.  Much like the article we read about the Ugly Betty episode in which whiteness and white privilege is never addressed, the Undercover Boss episode also refuses to address the objectification of women and the male gaze in operation that the entire infrastructure of the Hooters corporation relies upon.

The perception that the goals of feminism have been accomplished was challenged on a mass scale this year during the Academy Award ceremony, particularly during Patricia Arquette’s acceptance speech in which she called for equal pay for women and Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez joined in an impassioned support of this call.  This response was later poked fun at by host Neil Patrick Harris claiming that “Meryl Streep suddenly realized she was underpaid”.  Neil Patrick Harris’ privilege as a male permits him, and wrongfully so, to make the issue of equal pay for women an individualized topic that somehow women who are paid well are not allowed to be a force of support for their gender.  In fact the day after the Oscars on Yahoo’s home page there was an article (written by a man) that was a deliberate combatting of Patricia Arquette’s claim, entitled “Working women earn more than Patricia Arquette may realize” (See Full article posted below).  The article insisted that because the pay gap between men and women is less extreme than in times past that it is a non-issue.  I think this article and its claims are an example of what McRobbie said as a “thorough dismantling of feminist politics and the discrediting of the occasionally voiced need for its renewal” (McRobbie, p. 256).  Why shouldn’t someone in Arquette’s position or Streep’s position be allowed to be a voice for women and use the stage of the Oscars to speak to something that they are passionate about and invested in?  Instead of being treated like they have no right to speak to this issue because they have money, they should be praised for coming to the forefront and standing up to an issue that is so regularly and easily brushed under the carpet of the public’s consciousness.  In my opinion, those who have money and security have even more obligation to speak up, take a stand, and work towards change because they too occupy a space of privilege where their jobs are not going to be at risk if they speak out.

Meryl Streep is actually personally involved in the advocacy of a new History of Women Museum, which is in the works to be created.  She has personally invested over 1 million dollars into this project as she holds the view that so long as the stories of women have been written and given importance only through the perspective of men, then the full complex understanding of women and their achievements cannot be realized. The idea behind this museum is to give the stories of women and female figures a voice and perspective that comes from a female point of view.  I think it is such an important concept and project because as McRobbie reminds us, “there is little trace of the battles fought, of the power struggles embarked upon, or of the enduring inequities which still mark the relations between men and women” (McRobbie, p. 260).  It is so disheartening to think that we have “airbrushed [these struggles and events] out of existence” (McRobbie, p. 260).  I’m with Meryl and Patricia; it’s time for women to tell their own stories and each other's stories.

Core Response: Broad City and Proximity to Blackness as Feminist Expression

Sarah Banet-Weiser’s essay “What’s Your Flava?: Race and Postfeminism in Media Culture” offers great context to discuss one of TV’s foremost examples of contemporary feminism negotiated via racialization -- Comedy Central’s Broad City.

Banet-Weiser examines generational schisms between types of feminisms. She says,

“...postfeminist popular culture is more accurately antifeminist in its trajectory. Postfeminism, understood in this manner, is thus a different political dynamic than third wave feminism, which is positioned more overtly as a kind of feminist politics, one that extends the historical trajectory of first- and second-wave feminism to better accommodate contemporary political culture and the logic of consumer citizens. Postfeminism, on the other hand, is as McRobbie puts it, “feminism taken into account, a process in which feminist values and ideologies are acknowledged only to be found dated and passé and thus negated. (206)

I believe that Broad City is situated somewhere between third wave feminism and postfeminism, not only through its gender politics, but it’s proximity to Blackness, an oft-utilized tool for non-Black people to legitimize their leftist political leanings. 

Broad City was created by and stars Jewish millennials Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer. The show is a half-hour comedy sitcom and is celebrated as a feminist and progressive.  Its feminist identity is central to not only the show’s diegesis, but it’s critical standing and audience reception.  Articles include Broad City: Feminism 101, according to Abbi and Ilana,” and “'Broad City's' Ilana Glazer And Abbi Jacobson Are 'Totally Feminists' among others and Bitch Magazine has co-signed. It is positioned as an heiress to third wave feminism -- Jacobson and Glazer have interviewed riot grrrl icons Sleater Kinney for NPR. But according to the New Republic, “'Broad City,' TV's Best Comedy, Is a Post-Feminist Barrage of Bathroom Humor and Romantic Flubs.”  
The show’s ideological and generational questions surrounding its feminism are negotiated via racially-coded characterizations, plot-lines, and materiality.  Most of this is through the character of Ilana. She smokes weed all day (which, yes, is not necessarily racialized) and is clearly influenced by and plugged in to Black culture. In Season 1, Episode 2, Ilana gets Abbi into an ad-hoc money-making mission so that they can buy Lil Wayne tickets (and the necessary pre-game weed) and during a break in Washington Square Park, Ilana fantasizes about hanging out with Queen Bey and BadGalRiri, a dream that ends with Rihanna “going down on her.” Ilana has a casual sexual relationship with a Black dentist, Lincoln and when getting fancy she dons a weave ponytail. Additionally, there are episodes titled “Pu$$y Weed” and “Fattest Asses,” the former being being a reference to the frequent hip-hop linguistic tool of dollar signs substituting for S’s and the latter indebted to the fact that Black culture (in the U.S. but also globally) generally praises and privileges big butts. In “Pu$$y Weed,” Ilana stops by Lincoln’s dental practice while he is operating on a 7-year old Black girl and Lincoln asks her how she could forget so many important things. Ilana tells the girl “don’t ever do drugs,” which I think subconsciously derives its humor from the fact that in a room with 2 Black characters, a young White Jewish woman is the one whose life is dictated by illegal drugs, the young-ish Black man is a successful pediatric dentist, and the young Black girl is innocent (which young Black girls never really get to be). Ilana’s proximity to Blackness is what gives the show authenticity (Also, the opening theme is hip-hop song “Latino & Proud).  This is also interesting in that it’s proximity to Blackness is the primary way that the show legitimizes it’s feminist cred and disavows the Whiteness of it’s stars but the character’s Jewishness is a distant, distant second.  

"Proximity to Blackness” as a tool to legitimize progressive identity is something that should be explored in scholarship but also pop culture conversations. See also: Workaholics and Das Racist/Himanshu Suri & Tom Haverford on Parks and Recreation (Desi relationship to Blackness is particularly interesting in the U.S. and the U.K.).

Some notes:
  1. Ilana’s queerness  also figures in the mix as a site for third wave feminist expression, but it is acknowledged but never really explored, which ties it to postfeminism
  2. It should be noted the second season has led to conversations surrounding the show’s racism, transphobia, and homophobia.
  3. Ilana’s  roommate is a queer Venezuelan immigrant (who doesn’t have U.S. citizenship). This adds layers to the show’s racialized aspects.

Banet-Weiser, Sarah. “What’s Your Flava?: Race and Postfeminism in Media Culture.” Interrogating Postfeminism: Gender and the Politics of Popular Culture. Eds. Diane Negra and Yvonne Tasker. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007. 201-226. Print.

Will HBO Now catalyze the next transformation of traditional television viewing

Very soon, you won't need a cable subscription to watch your favorite HBO shows during their scheduled broadcast. Teaming up with Apple, as its primary carrier, you can stream live HBO. Anticipating a possible flight to their products, Apple has decreased the price of the Apple TV by almost 30%. The CEO of HBO Richard Plepler has called the move a "millennial missile."

What does everyone else think about these advances made by HBO and Apple? What do you think are the potential future effects on television and streaming culture, now with this corporate partnership?



Deadline Apologized For The Diversity Article, So Everything Is Fine Now

You can read snippets and commentary from the AV Club here.

Or you can read the whole thing.

Either way, the question is, would they have cared if there wasn't a public outcry about the article? Or would they have just continued to think it was okay to say that actors of color are stealing roles from white actors that they don't deserve? My guess is, the problem would have never occurred to them.

Joshua Alston for the AV Club's analysis of the situation seems to back up this idea:
"Hollywood has a nepotistic, network-driven culture that incubates, then normalizes deeply entrenched discriminatory attitudes against performers of color... Andreeva’s story isn’t really a case of tone-deafness in that it accurately captures the tone of Hollywood; it merely exposed that tone, to which Deadline’s editors have become accustomed, to the mortified public-at-large."
I actually worked in TV casting for a number of years, and the general public would be disgusted with how we talked about people. As a requirement of the job, we completely reduced casting candidates to things like their race, weight, and gender. It was gross, and I'll be happy to never return to that world. Unfortunately, that world doesn't appear to be going anywhere. It's things like this that make me question - is this really the world I want to work in?

Monday, March 30, 2015

The real MarchMadness: Where are the girls?


As a female athlete, this issue has frustrated me my entire life. Where are women's sports on TV?

Growing up I wondered where the Michael Jordan or Derek Jeters (or fill in the blank of several hundred other male sports stars) were for female athletes... and sadly, you could count them on one hand (Mia Hamm, The Williams twins and more recently gymnasts Shawn Johnson and Gaby Douglas). But all of those names rose at a time when they were at their highest level of competition on a worldwide stage. Not March madness. Not even a regular match.

Would anyone even know that both the mens and women's tournaments run at the same time? No.  Could you watch a women's game easily if you wanted to? No.
What are we suggesting here?

GIRLS WENT THERE (without saying so)

I've been following Girls since it started in 2012. When I first watched it, I loved it for its quirk, its explication on the twenty something period of uncertainty, its comedy and at many moments, the relationships these girls have. And as a writer, there have been some episodes that really inspire (such as the Pilot, the finale of Season Two "Together, the "Beach House" episode of s03 and much of season four). I won't deny the lack of diversity in Girls as a whole, and see that Lena Dunham as a creator has backed herself into a redundant hole.

But that's not why I'm writing this. I'm writing this because in season four, episode 6, "Close Up" Girls surprised me. They talked about abortion in a way I haven't seen on television thus far. It wasn't an after school special kind of episode, nor was it patronizing or stigmatizing.
Mimi Rose, Adam's new girlfriend, stood by her choice to have one. It was dramatized wonderfully without feeling like an artificial plot device to force a discussion or raise eyebrows. From a writing standpoint, it was well incorporated into Mimi's character arc, and in a larger sense, resonated with the choices (or lack thereof) the other girls were making in their own lives.
Here is a little blurb about it:


Here comes my oxymoron: it was noticeably seamless. Which leads me to question, is this seamlessness simply because it was on HBO which allows more content freedom?

Core Response #5: What's more (post)feminist than The Bachelor?

Core Response #5: What's more (post)feminist than The Bachelor?
~Bobby Sevenich

Before reading McRobbie, Banet-Weiser, and Butler's articles exploring the ambiguities, complications, and debates surrounding postfeminism, I assumed the term referred to an imagined state in which feminist ideals were deemed antiquated or non-applicable. In this case, I equated the prefix "post" with the notion that the significance of the base word is no longer reflective of current ideologies. That is not to say that "feminism" was misguided or wrong, but rather that our society's preoccupations have shifted or transcended beyond what the term "feminism" encompasses—not that I believe this is true. Banet-Weiser deftly articulates the problematic nature of postfeminism and corroborates the pitfalls of my reductive understanding: "The danger, of course, in labeling something as "post" is that this prefix implies that whatever it modifies is somehow over" (Banet-Weiser, 214). Jess Butler nicely examines the current culture through the lens of the postfeminist ideology. She extends upon Banet-Weiser's examination and asserts that postfeminism "is not (just) a resentful retaliation of against earlier generations of feminist, or is it (just) an empty celebration an empty celebration of feminine consumption" (Butler, 44) and observes that postfeminist—while linear, backlash, and sex-positive (43)—also privileges white middle-class heterosexual individuals and relationships and reproduces inequalities of race gender, and sexuality.

Reality TV is a place in which societal ideals—good or bad—are put on display and even hyperbolized, so it seems appropriate that Reality TV is able to help us clearly see “postfeminist” characteristics. Butler offers a list of six postfeminist qualifiers that can be applied to readings of media texts/narratives. Even though The Bachelor has been exhausted as a case study, I would like to propose that the show—which is shockingly excluded from Butler's compilation of postfeminist texts—is a (or "the") superlative microcosm to observe Butler's postfeminism tenets at work.

The Bachelor, in a very simplistic summary, celebrates sexuality and the restoration of heteronormative rhetoric, behaviors, and interactions. Butler first points out that postfeminism believes that gender equality has been achieved and activism is no longer necessary.  As evidences, the female contestants on the show almost unanimously uphold this ideal and claim that they have achieved what they personally and professionally desire through their own acts of agency. For example, a woman may attests that she is looking for love and has decided that—up until starting the show—has not found it for herself. Additionally, under the guise of authentic romance, the show confirms the physical and sexual differences between the contestants and the bachelor for whom they are all vying. Visually and narratively, The Bachelor gratuitously showcases these differences. Heteronormative relations and values are retained throughout the narrative of the show. It also posits that if a woman/girl want to succeed and effectively win over the bachelor, she must enact her own beauty regimen, take responsibility for her own behavior, and manifest what she wants in the future—in other words, she must decide if she is competing for the "right reasons." Each contestant must strategize and adopt a "self-promotion" mentality. In the process, she must capitalize on her distinctiveness. Finally, The Bachelor reinforces the prioritization of consumerism; each female contestant is gleefully commodified and presented to the bachelor and the spectator's viewing consumption through various means (daily challenges, group dates, one-on-ones, fantasy suite endeavors.

Later in her piece, Butler identifies postfeminism as a classification that does not benefit the non-heterosexual/middle-to-upper-class/white (Butler, 47). The Bachelor assumes whiteness as the epitome of the American population and TV viewership. We can see this exemplified in in each season; not one Bachelor (or Bachelorette) has been a person of color or from any socioeconomic background below middle class (to my knowledge), nor have any of the finalists or winner represented anything other than whiteness, though some may argue otherwise. What's more, the show has not entertained the idea of having a non-heterosexual conceit nor reworking some of the heterosexual criterions. Butler explained that postfeminism does not however, completely exclude persons of color, so long as they are prepared to conform to the general characteristics of postfeminism. Typically, every season has at least one contestant of color—who is inevitably required to stand in for all people of marginalized identities but must still uphold the values of the show, such as consumerism and femininity. This contestant stays in the completion just long enough to create an impression on the bachelor(ette)'s (and our) consciousness. Once they prove “visible,” they are conveniently eliminated to make room for a feasible winner. When they are jettisoned, there is usually an unspoken parallel narratives implying that their "non-whiteness" is the only reason it didn't work out, even though they attempted to assimilate as best as possible.

I worry, however, that the next season of The Bachelorette will depart from these notions of postfeminism, considering the male contestants first vote on which woman they want to fill the position of the bachelorette. This reverts the power the bachelorette is customarily supposed to have and gives it back to the male(s). Ultimately, this undermines the women's authority and shifts the show back to sexual objectification—if it ever surpassed “objectification” in the first place.