not in our stars, but in ourselves
You may have heard that Nicki Minaj – one of the best rappers of all time, male or female – was ever so slightly miffed that her video for “Anaconda” failed to receive a Video of the Year nomination from the MTV Video Music Awards. She took to Twitter, explaining that she was upset to be snubbed when her video and song had been nearly inescapable; had spawned millions of memes; and had revolutionized the way many women regard their own physiques and sexuality. I mean, for a pop-rap song, that’s not bad. That should, by merits, have garnered a nomination at the very least. And yet, Minaj continued, because she’s not like “other” pop starlets – thin and white – her achievements weren’t considered important enough to contend for the top prize. Are the VMAs silly? Yes. Was the snub a symptom of a larger, more systematic problem? Absolutely. Onika was exactly right.
Well, guess who thought this entire series of tweets was about her: professional ~*~nerdy girl~*~~ Taylor Swift. She assumed that Minaj was subtweeting her, since her (inferior, incoherent, uninteresting) “Bad Blood” was nominated for VOTY, and claimed to be hurt: all I’ve ever done is support you, Swift cried. Pitting women against each other is so not like you, she continued to wail. Minaj told Swifty that Swifty must not know how to read, because none of this was about her – but of course, now they’re “beefing” with each other, according to the media. Minaj has apparently been favoriting lots of shade thrown at Swift, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is that, fortunately, most of the thinkpieces to erupt out of this nonsense have been in support of Minaj while criticizing Swift for being a whiny brat. In an effort to regain control of the narrative, Swift has apologized, of course – but if you think that was sincere, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.
This has all tickled my sense of schadenfreude, in a week when it was already overstimulated due to the GOP falling all over itself to condemn noted bankruptcy declarer Donald Trump, as you might imagine. I have never liked Taylor Swift, either her music or her persona. She may be a perfectly nice person in real life (I doubt it, but I don’t know), but I haven’t bought her earnest sweetheart-next-door act for one minute. I was unimpressed, but not surprised, when she said earlier in her career that she didn’t believe feminism was necessary because anyone can get what they want if they just work hard enough; I was unsurprised, but not impressed, when she changed her tune a few years later and said she was definitely a feminist, and definitely all about girls helping each other. She’s gotten some good press for throwing lots of money at sick and needy fans, and some bad press for being a dick to photographers at her shows. Most of the bad press had died off – until this new explosion.
She’s one of many representatives of what I like to call Buzzfeed Feminism: an unholy blend of white feminism, “self-care,” and a blatant disregard for the well-being of anyone besides yourself. Two of my other least favorite people, Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer, also exemplify this particular form of “feminism.” It’s never about interrogating any real power structures or systems. It’s never about using their privilege and voice to call attention to issues that affect women other than themselves. No, it’s about hiding behind the mantle of “feminism” to justify their own selfishness and short-sightedness. Just because you build an entire comedy routine, or TV show, or movie, on having all the sex you want – even if you’re “not conventionally attractive” – is not groundbreaking or interesting in and of itself. Nicki Minaj, in her Cosmopolitan interview, insisting that all women should demand to be brought to orgasm by their partner every time they have sex – that is much closer to groundbreaking and interesting. Beyoncé’s entire self-titled album centering around the concept of feminism, female autonomy, celebrations of female sexuality, and insisting that others treat each woman like a queen (“bow down, bitches”), is much closer to groundbreaking and interesting. Just in case you wondered. Taylor Swift casting a bunch of pretty pop nothings in her video (which is about taking down a rival female? like????), Amy Schumer calling herself a “trainwreck” but cleaning herself up to be nice and heteronormative by the end, or Lena Dunham’s entire oeuvre: not groundbreaking, not interesting, not feminist. Indeed: I would argue that all three of these women, in their careers up to now, have done plenty to uphold the sexist (and oftentimes racist) power structures that they pretend to want to dismantle.
Let’s start with Swift. What are her songs about? I don’t claim to be familiar with every song on every album (because, in addition to everything else, I just don’t care for her music), but I think the gist of it is “me, me, me.” I am better than this other girl you’re dating, so you should date me. I am feeling so great at age 22, and love what the world is like for me. I’m gonna shake off any and all criticism, because none of that matters to me. I’m not trying to say that singer-songwriters shouldn’t write about subjects that they understand personally. Of course they should. Sometimes, singer-songwriters – like Neko Case – find much more interesting topics when they gaze up and out at the world, instead of at their own navels; sometimes, singer-songwriters – like Joni Mitchell – write and sing about profoundly personal experiences, with tremendously affecting results. But the constant stream of I’m-number-one rhetoric in her songs, paired with her not-so-secret Mean Girls public persona, makes me think that Swift has a long, long way to go before she’s any kind of effective champion of feminism. Right now, she’s a champion of herself. Would that have been a radical act for a female celebrity in, say, 1950? Sure thing. We’ve moved on a bit from then, however.
As for the two alleged “comedians” I named – Schumer and Dunham – I will confess, once more, to finding each of them about as funny as grandma being pushed down the stairs (to borrow Gregory Peck’s description of the script Arthur Miller re-wrote for Let’s Make Love). The few times I’ve even cracked a smile at Inside Amy Schumer, they were entirely due to her guest stars: the constellation of comedic actresses in “Last Fuckable Day” or the dozen comedic actors in “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer.” It had very little to do with her, or with the concept behind either sketch. It was just her good fortune to be friends with talented people. As for Dunham’s baby, Girls, I absolutely cannot stand it. Unfunny, self-serving tripe. If I wanted Brooklyn hipster humor, I would much rather watch Broad City, which is often laugh-out-loud funny, and fiercely feminist without patting itself on the back for it. Even at that, however, the less I hear about Brooklyn, the happier I am. Call me a grumpy Boston Brahmin; you’re right, and I don’t care. Setting aside my non-enjoyment of their comedy, however, I still see little to applaud in either of their schticks. In both cases, it’s simply “me, me, me.” Schumer: “I don’t wanna tie myself down! I wanna get drunk! I’m kinda plain looking, and haha I have fat arms! I can still get laid any time I want! Haha! Also, I like making fun of racist white people, but it’s in such a way that it kinda sounds like I’m the racist and I’m making fun of people of color! Hahahaha!” Dunham: “Uuuuhhhhhhh, it’s hard being a grown-up, so I’m gonna fester in a state of arrested development, and still act like a whiny 18-year-old even though I’m at least 10 years too old for that nonsense, and trash all the opportunities I’ve been given as a white cis educated woman from an affluent family, because I’d rather live life like it’s summer camp in Brooklyn, and refuse to grow or learn or anything.” I find them both boring at best, irresponsible at worst. Oh, and most definitely not feminist.
I’m going to backtrack a little bit here, because I haven’t quite explained what I mean by “Buzzfeed Feminism.” To unpack it a bit, in the terms I outlined above: white feminism is “feminism” that focuses solely on the concerns of white cis straight women. (Certain strains of white feminism, rooted in the lesbian community, are also pretty harmful and myopic – but they’re not what I’m here to talk about right now.) You might say, “Well, what’s wrong with that? Women! Helping each other! Yay!” The problem is that feminism must be intersectional in the 21st century. I cannot worry only about my own experiences with inequality, whatever they may be. I need to broaden my focus, figure out why I experience that inequality, and find out how to change the social/governmental/institutional system so that neither I nor any other woman experiences any such inequality in the future. My feminism needs to include advocacy for people of color, gays and lesbians, and transgender individuals – because however tough I might think I have it, they have a much, much harder road ahead of them. I am privileged, with white skin and a relatively lofty socio-economic perch from which to view the world. It would be irresponsible (there’s that word again) for me not to try to use my position to elevate others.
“Self-care” might seem like an innocuous thing, and even a positive thing. And truthfully, it should be. You should try to take care of yourself. However, you shouldn’t shun every adult responsibility while surrounding yourself with glitter and cupcakes. Sometimes you need a treat, but sometimes you also need to grow the fuck up and face your fears and problems. If you need help, find a way to ask for it. Ignoring something while you eat lotus flowers, fiddling while Rome burns – that all might seem fun, but it’s not the way to a better and happier life. “Radical self-love,” as some of its proponents call it, is a way to stick your head in the sand. And it’s usually not very radical. It usually involves buying lots of things, and eating lots of things, in an effort to fill the void you feel in your soul. That’s not self-love; that’s self-medication. We’ve all been there – but don’t pretend it’s helping you or anyone else.
As you can tell, these two points feed directly into a blatant disregard for anyone but your own damn self. How does all of this relate to Buzzfeed, you might ask? If Buzzfeed were still the land of listicles and time-wasting quizzes, I wouldn’t care all that much. In the past couple of years, however, it’s shifted its focus: from dumb viral content to dumb viral content with a “message” and an “agenda.” There’s Buzzfeed News, which does land genuine interviews with genuine people in the news. There’s Buzzfeed Ideas, which features longer thinkpieces about “ideas” that Buzzfeed’s various contributors have when they examine the loud, teeming, buzzy zeitgeist they’ve helped to create. And of course, there’s Buzzfeed Weddings. Some of the cutesy titles on the page now, when I just looked at it: “12 Reasons You Should Have A “Jurassic World”-Themed Wedding“, “Meet The Couple Who Are Heating Things Up On Instagram“, “Daughters Try Their Mother’s Wedding Dress” – I mean, you get the idea, I hope. I’m going to self-harm if I look at many more of these. What’s wrong with getting married, you ask, incredulously? What’s wrong with thinkpieces? What’s wrong with providing millenials with a news source as well as an entertainment source? Nothing, on the surface. I believe in love, and I wouldn’t mind getting married (strictly at City Hall, however; none of this wedding industrial complex for me, thanks). I am obviously not against thinkpieces in principle, since I’m writing one right now. (Sort of.) I support better-informed young people, of course. But the underlying editorial mission at Buzzfeed seems to be staunchly opposed to self-critique, self-growth, self-examination. It’s all about self-adulation, self-congratulation, self-comfort. And, I must say, it all seems very much by and for white people. They feature people of color, on their staff and in their articles, but never in the quietly diverse way that, say, Grantland does. It’s all gawking, all falsely inflated, all self-serving. Meanwhile, it’s all very pro-capitalism and pro-consumerism and pro- all kinds of things that work, very diligently and very consciously, to keep women and people of color firmly locked in their places lower on the totem pole. Fuck that.
And guess who’s often been the darling of Buzzfeed. The darling of Buzzfeed past, the darling of Buzzfeed present, the darling of Buzzfeed future. Yawn. None of them has anything to say. None of them has shown that they care about anyone or anything besides their own damn selves. That would be fine, if they were just approaching life like Kanye and proclaiming that they’re each a god, but they’ve gotten so much cache for being “feminist icons” – and they’ve bought into it! They believe their own hype, just as Buzzfeed seems to believe it’s now a legitimate website with Serious News And Views. Any time any of these ladies is criticized or questioned, they pull a great big sad and wait for their friends to rush in to defend them. (Buzzfeed doesn’t seem to care what anyone thinks, because “thinking” is not the point with Buzzfeed.)
I like to think, however, that these post-Beyoncé times are going to bring an end to the false feminism of these beige ladies and their empty words. They’re welcome to join in; they just have to pause for a moment, listen to someone besides themselves and others who do nothing but reinforce their own point of view, and work with everyone else. In the meantime, please let the superior artists and human beings speak, sing, dance, rap, whatever. Don’t try to shut them down just because they make you feel bad. Listen to them, and try to learn something.
N.B. My criticism of these three does not mean I support or endorse any of the tired misogyny in the press, attacking them for being “slut” or “maneaters” or “fat” or “ugly.” Everyone is allowed to have as much consensual sex as they (and their partners) want; everyone is allowed to go through a bad relationship or two before figuring out what works; everyone is allowed to be happy with how they look, regardless of whether that look meets the narrow definition of Western beauty. I hope that Taylor, Lena, and Amy all have as much fun in their personal lives as they can stand, and feel happy and confident in their own skin. I’m not that much of a killjoy.