Appropriation, or Why Miley Cyrus' Performance Isn't Simply a Feminist Issue

"Appropriation in art is the use of pre-existing objects or images with little or no transformation applied to them." (Wikipedia). 

Is this not what we witnessed; teddy bear onesie, dancing african american women, silly putty bikini, foam finger. Cyrus' body itself, and Thicke's body as well. Cyrus, her choreographers and image-makers absconded these images, and used them. No transformation actually occurred, despite claims from many camps that this was to take Cyrus from little girl to woman, much as oversexed images such as Britney Spears with the snake, or Christina Aguilera in a boxing ring orgy took them from pop princess to mature artist. But let us ponder a moment over the chosen imagery. Teddy bears could not be any less mature; the choice of this image only reinforces her youth and the impropriety of Cyrus' sexual behaviour, rather than solidifying it as a statement of her new found maturity and control over her sexuality. Thicke is just as culpable here; his choice to participate in this charade, to allow Cyrus to gyrate up against him whilst whining his misogynist lyrics at the young girls in the crowd is deplorable.

Priviledged white girl takes on images associated with black culture. Priviledged white boy takes on images associated with black culture. The misogyny is only a part of the picture. They even went so far as to carry oversized cardboard cut-outs of paintings around the stage. Appropriation. Taking the object, the image, without transformation. 

In a way, the misogyny is appropriation too. Not that it is a good thing, mind you, but it is certainly a hallmark of stereotypical hip hop culture, "bitches and hoes" and "bling" gangsta mentality. What we saw was a 21st century minstrel show. Both performers put on their blackface in the form of words, gestures and costumes, and attempted to "fit in" - they took on these images, performed them. 

But this begs the question of WHY. Traditionally minstrel shows in late 19th century Americana were Irish-American performers who were trying to fit in, doing so by highlighting their dissimilarity to the OTHER, in that case, the african american. Eventually, the Irish American worker, once the much scorned member of Northeastern society, actually became the symbol of the American dream, stretching as far forward as the inherent symbolism in the Die Hard trilogy, pitting working class Bruce Willis against European Alan Rickman. 

So what then does this imagery purport to achieve? If it is to follow the same trajectory, it suggests that in some time the definition of the American dream will be entitled children parading around in a highly sexualized fashion, making all those around them objects for use. Entitlement. Achievement through family connections and money, rather than talent and work. 

We can be concerned about the sexuality, the misogyny, the racism. But the larger message underlying is that success doesn't come from what you do, but who you know and where you were born, and even worse....what you can pay to get what you want. Now this is truly something to be concerned about. 

Til Death: Six Wives of Henry VIII - Monster Theatre @ Winnipeg Fringe

Tara Travis is outstanding in this one-woman show written by Ryan Gladstone, embodying 6 wives of Henry VIII along with the king himself with unwavering detail and clarity. The script cleverly posits an afterlife in which all six wivevs and eventually Henry are held together in a purgatory, in which St Peter will allow only one wife in to Royal Heaven - purportedly better than "regular" Heaven. As the women jostle for position, their stories and perspective toward Henry (and their own life's potential) is seen, creating a larger picture sense of the opportunity for women of that time. 

There was still something a bit lacking from the script; it centres heavily on beauty and sex, the ability to make the king happy, which seems to detract from its supposed feminist message. 

Notwithstanding, it is well worth seeing. 

Celebrating Women

It is International Womens' week, which means that there are a plethora of readings, exhibitions, meetings, and the like celebrating the work of women and how far we have come in the last century or so. Simultaneously, there are daily barrages of female image on television, film, advertising, music, quickly regressing this progress in the search for the 'girl' with the best legs, or who makes the most desirable (read: attractive) mate. Club culture is no exception; it is a place where women continue to be valued for the brevity of their skirt and the height of their heels, and go-go dancers have made a resurgence in their underwear-worn-as-outerwear attire. So it seemed to me these worlds collided when I received a facebook invite to an event titled "International Women's Week" at a weekly club night in a Canadian city which will remain unnamed. This night boasted "Free cover for the ladies" and a single "girl-dj special guest" among the male-filled lineup of five. In addition, the night boasted go-go dancers.

Now, take away the event title, and this is pretty standard club-fare; boys' club where the girl sometimes gets to come play, but for the most part is relegated to a status in a skimpy skirt and fur boots atop a speaker. But this event really took things to a new level by labelling itself for International Womens' Week, whilst continuing to offer these demeaning evidences. These people have missed the point to a degree beyond any rational explanation. Is our generation truly that out of touch that it feels something like this might actually empower women and challenge gender roles?

I sincerely hope things like this are isolated. I also sincerely hope that no self-respecting woman shows up.