Wednesday, September 14, 2011

backlash + the beauty myth: first impressions

Recently, I had the opportunity to read Backlash and The Beauty Myth in close succession. Worse (or better, perhaps) yet, I chose to reread The Transparency of Evil and The History of Sexuality in concert with Faludi and Wolf. The result, as those close to me will attest, was an overabundance of conversations centered on sentiments such as “the world is going to hell” and “I’m so angry about the culture of the nineties.” Indeed, Faludi and Wolf created a haunting picture of the world into which the women of my generation were born. Below I have written some preliminary thoughts on my experience and reactions to the aforementioned texts. However, more than just the feelings of anger and hopelessness Wolf and Faludi stirred within me, their accounts of the third-wave woman’s complex condition inspired several avenues for musical and cultural research--avenues I look forward to exploring over the next several weeks.

I would encourage everyone to engage with these texts, difficult and uncomfortable though they may be. A wise man once said, “you can never be truly free until you understand your conditioning.” Go. Read!

Cognizant only of image, commodity, and base sensations, we drift through a gray peril punctuated by unsettling sameness. Our experience has flattened and spread. Although once noble, the present condition of humanity represents a toxic leak contaminating the sacred, the pristine and the immaculate. Where the child was once a capsule of potentiality and hope, she is now, since the most recent fin-de-siecle, disfigured, grotesque. Like the prodigious birth, like the sixteenth-century horror, like the aberration of unmitigated otherness, late twentieth-century youth entered a world of hostile categories vigorously enforced by a virtual reality and a subtle violence.

We learned that being alive was being abused. We learned that to suffer for beauty was a kind of perverted noblesse oblige. To be thin was to be virtuous and extremes of asceticism and hedonism were strict poles by which we were to model our lives. The uncompromising binary was queen; we were taught that the ideal woman existed in constant conflict: at once living the second-wave dream while yearning for the mystique of feminine docility and domesticity. We learned that to be a woman was to maintain a tenuous balance and willingly endure its pain. We learned to expect violence.

I’ve been ruminating on these two texts for some time, trying to make sense of them within the context of my own socialization, but also within the realm of musical practice. To be a musician is to enjoy a similarly paradoxical relationship with sacrifice, violence and victimization. We inflict the invasive violence of sound upon our spectator while instigating simultaneous symbolic self-immolation. Articulating the phenomenology of music-making is something best left to the experts (Turino! Peirce!), however the body emblazoned by performance constitutes one facet of a complex force-relationship. While we perform music we perform a cycle of violence: our frustrations, our woes, our years of practice transmute into an act of assault; we violate our audience as we have been violated.

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