الثقافة الشعبية: Women, Politics and Popular Culture

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Women, Politics and Popular Culture

Popular culture has been a fruitful vehicle through which to comment on the state of women throughout the world. Examples like Marjane Satrapi's novel, Persepolis, the work of Finnish artist and choreographer Maija Hirvanen, or Malaysia's everywoman's music videos (to name a few) provide creative commentary on the impact of politics and culture in women's lives.

How effective do you think such artistic or pop culture engagements with politics are at presenting women's political messages and concerns? Or, is an intervention by public intellectuals such as Susan Griffin more adept at conveying the importance of these political struggles?

Michael DeLong
Michael DeLong
الولايات المتحدة الأمريكية

Containment by Cooptation

I think setting this up as an either/or makes the question difficult. Both popular engagements and intellectual engagements have their strengths and weaknesses. There are also those engagements that might defy either category firmly by blending together elements of both. And of course, there are also other types of engagements to consider beyond those two, as well.

That said, one of the potential traps with the popular culture engagement with serious political issues is something along the lines of Barthesian innoculation, which put a different way is containment by cooptation. This is a process whereby the radical potential of an idea or cultural production is negated by its very enfranchisement into the larger culture it is attempting to critique. One could think of the Spice Girls spouting off their easy-cheesy Girl Power message in the '90s. Was there really any sense of power in what they were doing? Moves such as these allow the dominant culture to neutralize the message of feminism by giving it a little pat on the head and saying, that's nice dear, now go buy a CD.

Molly J Serra
Molly J Serra
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Let me hear it for Hip Hop!

I agree that it is hard to separate these parts of media when discussing how effective they are in portraying women’s political messages and concerns. I think it is unfair to measure which is more effective because the intended audiences are very different therefore, the responses will range, as well.

The upper/middle have the ability and means to get a higher educated where they would be prompted to read such intellectual works and/or undergo the risk of taking public stances, while the lower class maybe under more restraints from their employment or family.

From the eyes of a hip-hop lover and believer, many of the upper class would not understand the struggles these pop culture artists would divulge in a song. While some of the cheesy counterparts listed above are overlooked or ignored; Sister Souljah, Queen Latifah, Medusa, and Jean Grae all have strong messages promoting women’s rights and displaying gender inequalities.

These messages hit hard and close to home for the average citizen, who may hear they played on the radio at driving to work, while at work, on the tv, and internet. For me, it’s much easier to remember some lyrics or melody than some academics’ thought process and argument.

U.N.I.T.Y. (Queen Latifah)
Julia Berman
الولايات المتحدة الأمريكية

I agree that political message do not need to be either/or. I really liked Molly's point about repetition and a song being catchy causes it to seep into your brain more effectively than if you're presented the same information in a drier way.

I'm a policy wonk and read huffingtonpost and mydd and those things, and for me Susan Griffin's method of communication is more effective. However, I think we've seen some very good examples recently with the Obama campaign (which I would argue is much more of a feminist, pro-woman campaign than McCain/Palin) of pop culture being used to bolster a message. The "Yes We Can" Video from a few months back and the new one, "American Prayer" have both done a good job of creating debate and showing the wide-ranging appeal of the Obama campaign.

My roommate is from Hawaii, and she and I were talking recently how most of her friends back home didn't go to college, don't know or care about politics, etc. But she said that they're very enegergized for Obama. He generates excitement in youth voters in a way I've never seen. I work for the Democratic Party of Oregon and trust me, no one felt this way about John Kerry.

In my ideal world, politics would come down to policy and not celebrity support, of course. But not everyone reads the paper every day, and people learn and retain information in different ways. My other roommate read Persepolis when I was finished with it, and she loved it. She knew nothing about Iranian history beforehand, and she was so excited that the book taught history in such an accessible way. I think there's room for all kinds of commentary and debate, through all mediums, as long as it's honest and open.

Jessica Reihanifam
الولايات المتحدة الأمريكية

Artisitc Engagements Can Be Greatly Effective

In discussing how effective artistic engagements with politics or interventions are at presenting political message I would have to agree with Molly and Julia. I really do believe that the effectiveness of the message really depends on the audience as Molly mentioned and that both of them can be effective.

I completely agree with Molly when she says that she would much rather listen to “some lyrics” or in my case read a story such as Persepolis, than sit in a class and be lectured on the subject. For me reading Persepolis was really something I could relate to and something that really engaged my attention.

My father was born and raised in Tehran and came to the U.S to escape the war and attend college. For me the Iranian culture is something that affected me growing up. My father was very traditional and though he was not strict to the point of making us wear veils his mentality reflected that of Iranian culture completely.

For this reason I can relate to Marjane’s novel and for me how she is presenting women’s political messages and concerns is really effective. I see what she went through and what women such as my aunts and cousins in Iran still go through today.

Maija Hirvanen’s presentation of “historical symbols of political and social female life” is another great example of how depending on the audience artistic engagements can be effective. Just reading what this exhibit did interested me greatly and I find that the more something catches my attention, the more likely I am to really listen and become engaged. In using the two dresses alongside the film as well as the dance piece, I really think she catches the interest of those who are visual learners. My immediate thought was, what are these two dresses and what do they mean? Her exhibits really present alternatives for people who may find lectures or interventions unbearable.

I think the best way to inform people about problems is by presenting them in a way in which they can relate. I think that artistic engagements and exhibits used to inform people about political concerns make the topics very relatable to different people and are in fact greatly effective.

Masum Momaya, Curator
Masum Momaya, Curator
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Art is not the same as Pop Culture

I think artistic engagements and popular culture engagements are not necessarily the same thing. As we have been researching stories for this exhibition, I've been delighted to come across artistic pieces that have a very rich political analysis embedded in them. In some ways, the arts can communicate what words cannot. And in a culture that is saturated with talk, I'm appreciative of the opportunity to be moved and provoked without having to listen to talking heads. See Body as Art and Singing for Change for some great examples!

الولايات المتحدة الأمريكية

When discussing effective ways of portraying the state of women within different places in the world, I agree with Michael, it is too difficult to determine which one way is the most valuable.

I find both artistic and intellectual displays are important in getting the message across. Artistic means of expression are very good ways to get across messages because, as Molly, Julia and Jessica have all already mentioned, anyone is able to understand art. Intellectual means of relaying messages do not always include or reach out to the less educated.

In my Liberation Theology: 3rd World Women class, we often discussed the importance of verbal communication as a means to liberate the oppressed since so many people who are being subjugated by the religious texts are not able to read them. By making things available for all different types of people to understand, the idea or movement is more widespread and more effectively dispersed. But, it is with the help of intellectual authors such as Susan Griffin that the ideas and movements are formed.

Another positive aspect of the use of art or pop culture is that more people enjoy the medium that the message is being relayed through. I would much rather read 187 pages of Persepolis than 187 of scholarly articles. Watching a funny Youtube video as Julia mentioned, is much easier for most people than watching all of the presidential debates. Malaysia’s Mak Bedeh character is hilarious and as the article said, people were more willing to listen to them because they were just, “cheerful looking Mak Bedahs [which] made [them] look harmless.” Also, in countries where there is a lot of oppression, it can be easier for people to artistically resist than to openly resist by picketing or boycotting. Music is another very important medium, as Molly mentioned. Michael Franti & Spearhead create music that is constantly relying the message of peace, and every year they throw a huge annual festival called Power to the Peaceful. I have gone to every one since 2005 and I have watched as the amount of people who attend has grown exponentially. Whether people are going to listen to the music, eat the good food or shop at the vendors, Michael Franti is able to rely his message of peace to thousands of people.

Overall, I think it is not fair to deem one form or communication as more important than the other, but I do think it is fair to say that arts and pop culture reach a far greater audience than intellectual writing.

Morgane Palomares
Morgane Palomares
الولايات المتحدة الأمريكية

No recipe is perfect...

In my opinion, this question is very hard to answer if one completely thinks one method or tactic must be entirely better than the other, or that it is a must to pick one or the other. Both artistic and pop culture engagements with politics and intervention by public intellectuals provide alternative views to help better understand the certain issue, social movement, or current event.

I think the two should be presented in unison to each other because the two working together makes what ever the message is clearer to understand. Although both approaches can be considered and often time may overlap, I believe it is easier for the general public to become involved or enlightened on women’s political messages through the artistic and pop culture engagement route.

Agreeing with Jessica, in a previous post, the audience is key when trying to have the general public understand these pop engagements (drawing from Maija Hiravanen). In my opinion, Hiravanen’s presentation has a direct audience of whom which she purposely created this piece for. Her attention to who can relate makes her point more effective and I felt that I immediately became intrigued in the overall presentation.

However, believe the approach of artistic and pop engagements have more downfalls or can potentially be more susceptible in becoming tarnished. Building on this, and drawing from Michael’s post, it is very easy for the pop culture engagements to convey the overall feminist message in a less-respectable manner.

Using his example of the Spice Girls, I believe they did bring a wave of women’s empowerment by being a “girl-group” and becoming so famous and dominate in so many young teen (boys and girls) lives. Yet, this group used their sexuality to help them get farther and more famous by wearing shorts skirts, high-heels, a lot of makeup, and so forth. Even though there are many other examples of how pop and artistic engagements are more vulnerable in becoming tainted, it has far more positive outcomes to focus on.

And to conclude this idea, Satrapi’s illustrated book on women in Iran, provides the reader with a less complicated outlook on her experience and can relate with anyone who would consider themselves a visual learner (drawing back to the idea of identifying your audience).

Paola Vu
الولايات المتحدة الأمريكية

I am a person who generally finds intellectual communication of ideas more effective than artistic/pop culture forms of communication, which is why I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Marjane's Satrapi's novel, Persepolis (a graphic novel). Satrapi clealy has the gift of communication because she tells a very complicated tale yet manages to explain it to the reader so concisely and simply. And although it was simply done it was by no means communicating a simple message; I found myself moved by and connected to a struggle and a people that was so foreign to me before then.

Maddie says "it is fair to say that arts and pop culture reach a far greater audience than intellectual writing" and although I agree that they may reach a greater audience, in terms of answering the question of which is more effective I am inclined to see more importance in the intervention of public intellectuals. I may enjoy a funny video or a less complicated explaination but the true heart of the idealogy falls flat without the intellectual complexities in my opinion.

I think what Maddie says about the significant role of visual communication in areas where there is low literacy is great evidence of the effectiveness of presenting women's political messages and concerns through artistic and pop culture engagements with politics, but I think its hard to answer the question without establishing what defines "effectiveness".

If by "effectiveness" the question simply means spreading of a message to more people than perhaps artisitc/pop culture engagmenets with politics is more "effective" in making people aware, but I believe it takes more for a message to be effectively understood and committed to (through intellectual intervention) as a movement or to promote change.

مشترك محذوف

We all respond differently to different forms of expression

Like several others have pointed out, there is plenty of room for both (and other) forms of expression. Several activist organizations over the years have become more creative in their attempts to connect with others and raise awareness for various issues, employing such tactics as street performance, YouTube videos, political public art, or innovative campaigns (such as the “shopping for a candidate” example).

I believe that there is just as much value in approaches with artistic/pop culture perspectives as there is in academic approaches, and more creative forms of communication - such as Satrapi's novel or Hirvanen's performance art - are often more accessible to a much wider population than Susan Griffin's more intellectual discourse, for example, would potentially reach. Communication via artistic expression often helps to bridge social rifts and establish dialogue across cultures and communities in ways that other modes of expression are not able to accomplish. However, as Maddie previously mentioned, it is often the words of people like Susan Griffin that inspire these other creative outlets to take shape, and in that sense, straightforward communication of ideas can be just as influential.

As Michael already explained, both forms of engagement have their strengths and weaknesses, and I agree with Molly that the two different approaches are likely targeted at very different demographics, making it difficult to measure any sort of “degree of effectiveness.” I like what choreographer Maija Hirvanen said about using the concept of “personal as political” in connection to physical performance art (“The body functions in the piece as not only a representation of freedom of speech, but also the path through which the freedom of speech itself is possessed”).

In the end, I think that any method which successfully engages people and spreads awareness about the importance of women’s political messages and concerns should be counted as a good resource in the continuing struggle for women’s rights.

Who decides what counts as intellectual?

What does "intellectual" even mean? I agree with Molly in that this is a term loaded with class biases and I'd also add race and gender. Does it mean having a degree? But that excludes all of those who cannot go to college, mainly working class, people of color and historically women -- are these people without intellect? Does it mean writing a book? That definition excludes all oral cultures -- Greeks greatest philosophers theorized before writing was popularized.

In her book Black Feminist Theory, U.S. academic Patricia Hill Collins analyzes a speech by Sojourner Truth, an activist and former enslaved woman in the 1800s in the U.S., and shows how Truth deconstructed the notion of "woman" a century before feminists did it in academia. Sojourner Truth couldn't read or write.

As for today, there are many intellectuals in pop culture. Molly's hip hop argument is solid. My mind spins with theory every time I listen to a Nas song. His most recent album released in 2008 gives amazing nuanced views of women that I haven't seen in academia. Their rooted in the everyday reality of real women, which I think a lot of academics lose site of as they try to talk about some model of a woman to which they're applying their theory.

I think the inspiring thing about Susan Griffin's work is she uses an autobiographical format. Perhaps her style could be considered pop culture.

La Redhada
La Redhada

Estetica de la Diferencia

En la experiencia que llevamos para visibilizar las temáticas inherentes en la obra de mujeres artistas del Caribe colombiano nos encontramos con una variedad de preguntas por resolver. Mujeres artistas pioneras que vienen desarrollando su obra desde los años 50's, que en algún etapa fueron reconocidas pero que una vez conseguido acceder a las esferas culturales no son contempladas en el arte contemporáneo. En segunda instancia las artistas tituladas, egresadas de las universidades como Maestras en Artes Plásticas pero que no han desarrollado su obra en el contexto inmediato porque si bien son muy pocos los circuitos artísticos, o bien por dedicarse al rol impuesto de la mujer en el hogar, o porque están cansadas de las negativas arbitrarias de curadores e historiadores locales que no entienden que hay temas inherentes al hecho de ser mujer en contextos tan patriarcales y discriminatorios como la Región Caribe. Nuestra apuesta es por la visibilización de algo mas de 600 mujeres artistas que hemos indagado en la primera etapa del proyecto ENVOLTURA. OBRA CORAL...la meta: realizar la primera base de datos sobre la obra de mujeres artistas y a partir de allí influir en políticas culturales con perspectiva de género y llevar a cabo actividades culturales al respecto. laredhada@gmail.com

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