In March, I presented in the film podcast Bonnie and Maude‘s live show, YOU ARE HAIR. Yes, it was all about hair. Now you can watch the clip, interspersed with my visuals, below. (You *should* watch the whole thing. But to watch mine, select “Playlist” in the upper-left-hand corner and choose video #3.)
In my talk, I discuss the winter wave of celebrity pixie cuts, focusing specifically on Beyonce and Miley Cyrus–how they debuted their cuts, and how they were constructed in their music videos. Enjoy–and he sure to check out the rest of the night’s program here! Special thanks to Kseniya and Eleanor for hosting and producing these clips!!
click the pic to listen to “Bow Down” at Huffpost.com
Beyonce’s inauguration performance, half-time show, and the recent release of her new single “Bow Down” have provided grist for the production of an enormous amount of writing.
Or, to use another metaphor:
Beyonce’s inauguration performance, half-time show, and the recent release of her new single “Bow Down” not only made waves, they have left a wake of scholarship and criticism behind them.
As the whole country, and certainly the popular media, have accepted Beyonce’s Napoleonic christening of herself as “Queen Bey,” these last three Beyonce experiences have spawned conversations about whether Bey is a feminist, post-feminist, capitalist feminist, black, black enough, the Queen of Pop, ratchet, anti-feminist, and so on. A few days ago she released “Bow Down,” which commands the listener, “Bow down bitches, bow down bitches.” You know. ‘Cause she’s the queen. And you ain’t.
If I have any argument to make in this post, it’s that Beyonce knows she can say whatever she wants and the whole country will flip their shit about it. Whatever her use of “bitch” signifies about feminism, post-feminism, or anti-feminism, the one certainty here is that Beyonce used it on purpose and knew it would problematize our picture of her as a Michelle-Obama-hugging-post-racial-feminist. Because Beyonce has her image on lock.
Mostly what I want to do here is simply marvel at the size and scope of the cultural conversations generated by this song, that halftime performance, that inauguration lipsync and non-apologetic press conference. As pop culture scholars, we should be thanking her for pushing the envelope, rocking our boats, giving us something to type about. And here I defer to my colleagues and offer a selection of rockin’ readings about Queen Bey, listed in order of how much they fascinate me, though all are fascinating. (I didn’t find boring links for y’all!)
Ok, here we go:
Maco L. Faniel contextualizes Beyonce’s “Bow Down” in southern rap history and aesthetics (Maco L. Faniel Blogs)
Mark Bittman eviscerates Beyonce for her PepsiCo endorsement deal (fascinating for Beyonce’s cultural saturation, even into the food column – The New York Times, “Why Do Stars Think It’s O.K. to Sell Soda?”) (I also wrote about that post before)
Rahiel Tesfamariam and Joan Morgan sound off on Twitter about “Bow Down’s” use of “bitch” (check out their whole feeds from 3/20 and 3/21)
RN Bradley considers “Bow Down” as a flirtation with the ratchet (Red Clay Scholar)
Avidly examines the masks of Beyonce’s face, at the Superbowl and in the more distant past (Avidly, “On Beyonce’s Face”)
Guthrie Ramsey argues that the scandal over Beyonce’s inauguration lipsync is part of a historical American obsession with authenticity (Dr. Guy’s Musiqology, “Beyond Beyonce Gate: Looking for the American Authentic”)
Anne Helen Petersen decodes Beyonce’s Tumblr and then argues for Bey’s ambivalent relationship to feminism (ok, these could be at the top of the list, but I link to Petersen all the time, so read those other great scholars first- Celebrity Gossip, Academic Style, “Decoding Beyonce’s Tumblr”)
GQ’s cover story on Beyonce has no philosophical problem sexifying and celebrating Bey simultaneously (interesting mainly for the sexy pics and the philosophical problems raised, but not acknowledged- GQ, “Miss Millenium”)
David J. Leonard thinks haters on the Halftime Show are enforcing a “politics of civility” (NewBlackMan, “Beyoncé, The Super Bowl and the Politics of “Civility””
In the wake of the Super Bowl, Gawker’s Rich Juzwiak christens Beyonce the King of Pop (Gawker, “Beyonce Knowles is the King of Pop”)
Ann Powers argues that Beyonce’s Super Bowl show is kind of the apex of black American female pop performances (NPR, “The Roots of Beyonce’s Super Bowl Spectacular”)
Sophie Wiener suggests that Beyonce is probably, but not neccessarily, a feminist (The Atlantic, “Is Beyonce a Feminist?”)
1. Spend some time with the Table of Contents. What does it teach us about the subject matter of this book? About the questions Cone will ask?
What is Cone like as a speaker? What are his aims in this text? Anyone look at the year (1972)? Context?
Explain that even though this book is hard, it gives us a theological vocabulary with which to discuss “I’ll Fly Away,” “Spaceship,” “Jesus Walks” and “Never Let Me Down”
2. Groups of 3-4: After we all read pp. 5-6 together, split into 5 groups and each group is responsible for fully understanding and explaining to the class one of the 5 claims Cone makes about black music:
Black music is unity music. … Black music is functional … Black music is a living reality. … Black music is also social and political. … Black music is theological. (Cone 5-6)
Speaking of which, what’s the difference between theology and religion? What does it mean to claim the spirituals are “theological” as opposed to merely religious?
3. Listen: “I’ll Fly Away” + Spaceship”
What does “I’ll Fly Away” add to “Spaceship”? In other words, what might we miss in the latter if the former was excluded?
Do we see any concepts from Cone resonating in “Spaceship”?
1. Collect their first final papers! Then congratulate them, then… reflective writing!!
List the different steps you took to write this paper, as though it was a lab report, from receiving the assignment through turning it in today.
Which step was the hardest and which was the easiest? Why?
Assess your process – not the product but the process. Did you set goals? Did your steps work? Would you change them?
2. Discuss Cone ch. 4 “God and Black Suffering” and ch. 5 “The Meaning of Heaven in the Black Spirituals”
What is the relationship between faith and suffering in the spirituals? What attitude to the spirituals take?
What are the multiple meanings of Heaven Cone sees in the spirituals?
What kinds of questions does Cone ask of the lyrics he analyzes?
3. “Jesus Walks”
“God show me the way cuz the devil tryna break me down.
I wanna talk to God but I’m afraid cuz we ain’t spoke in so long.
Jesus walks with me…
Can we apply Cone’s questions to Kanye? What is the image of God he gives us in his lyrics, or of Jesus? What about the devil?
A music video makes choices about how to represent a song: is it literal; does it draw our attention to certain storylines, sounds, or themes; how is the artist positioned in the video, if at all; etc.
Compare 2 versions of “Jesus Walks” video, asking above questions of each.
LESSON PLAN 5.2 (meet in computer lab)
1. Cone- “The Blues”
What’s the relationship between the spirituals and the blues?
p. 100 Cone says the two genres share the same “ethos” – what does that mean?
What does Cone mean by absurdity? “But absurdity int he blues is factual, not conceptual. The blues, while not denying that the world was strange, described its strangeness in more concrete and vivid terms” (101). What, in the view of the blues, is so absurd? “The blues…recognize that there is something wrong with this world, something absurd about the way that white people treat black people….The blues caught the absurdity of black existence in America and vividly and artistically expressed it in word and suitable music.” (112)
2. Introduce a PARADIGM SHIFT: From doing primary source work to secondary source work
Remind me what primary vs. secondary sources are?
In the first part of class, we wrote about primary sources and read texts that wrote about primary sources. (Anderson had his transcripts, Cone has his lyrics.) But now we are going to write about primary sources and secondary sources together, just like Tricia Rose will in the next book we read.
Strategies for using secondary sources: VERBS!! Verbal weapons with which we wage our wars!! acknowledge – add- admit – agree – argue – assert – believe – claim – comment – compare – confirm – conclude – contend – declare – deny – dispute – emphasize – endorse – grant – illustrate – imply – maintain – note – opine – point out – reason – refute – reject – report – respond – suggest – think – write
3. (For today, everyone had to analyze a music video of their choice and post it on the class blog.) Teams of 2: pick a post neither of you wrote, read it, watch the video. Then summarize the author’s take on the video and challenge or expand their analysis using 3-5 of these verbs.