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From Stephen King to The Last Seduction: uncomfortable things about pop-culture, gender and desire

15 Jan

Since I first started saying words on the Internet, over 20 years ago (so weird), one of the things I’ve heard over and over again is some version of women write about relationships, but men write about ideas. It made me angry then, and it still makes me angry now, even if I get that it’s kind of absurd. But, as I’ve written more and more about pop-culture, what I really find myself wondering the most often is, what the hell’s the difference?

Because stories are about the relationships people have: to each other, to power, to technology; to the state, to money, to hope, to loss; to their children, their parents, to a spouse; to neighbors, to jobs; to loneliness; and, of course, to the stories themselves.

Since the evening I met one of my more recent friends, I’ve been sort of vaguely promising to write her a blog entry about something we both know and talk about a lot: that both being a fan and being someone who writes about pop-culture can be complete a minefields for girls, whether they are 16 or 46.

As women, she and I often have a lot to prove. Namely, that our lives aren’t some big-word version of drooling over Tiger Beat; that we’re not starfuckers; and that our affection for our fannish interests is complex and mature, as if there is some terrible sin in being a twelve-year-old about some things at some times.

The boys we know in the many arms of this business don’t tend to face those particular conundrums and are not expected to self-monitor in the same way, and so there’s a game we play, early and often, called “What would people think of so-and-so if he were a girl?”

As a rule, we don’t answer those questions once we pose them. It’s too unpleasant. And besides, we both already know.

But, yet, we also know that Stephen King once told us that the best friends we’ll ever have are the ones we had when were were twelve. He’s not wrong, I don’t think; there was an absolute shimmering perfection to the relationship I had with my best friend at that age. So isn’t there some good in being a certain sort of giddy?

Isn’t it sort of absurd that in writing about pop-culture, which is something structured through the lens of commercialized teen desire even when it is not marketed to or as about teens, that one of the biggest insults and risks to the women who write about these sorts of topics with any ambition is that of being dismissed as a girl-child of that particular age?

Sadly, even as I am writing about this topic here, I am not sure I truly know how to do so comprehensively. It feels too nervous-making, too forbidden. As if there is some terrible fate in confessing that yes, I am a woman who writes about relationships, because that is what pop-culture is: stories, their construction, and how we desire entrance into them, whether it’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, the train to Hogwarts, a fight to the death amongst children, or a daydream about what it’s like to be a a celebrity or, at least, be seen by one.

They’re all common enough thoughts, but to say them aloud forces acknowledgements that are largely uncomfortable all the way around. When we write about pop-culture we expose desire, wear at privacy, and betray loneliness, in ourselves and others. It’s like when Wendy Kroy in The Last Seduction says “a woman loses 50 percent of her authority when people find out who she’s sleeping with.”

When you’re a woman who writes about pop-culture, about what turns your emotional, intellectual and aesthetic crank, you’re revealing a lot about who you are, what you like, and what you don’t, necessarily, have. The assumptions, because there are always assumptions (as vicious, vicious Wendy Kroy makes clear) tend to flow from there.

Being a woman in the world of entertainment and pop-culture media — or just in the world of fans who have loud opinions and big readerships — can all too easily mean that anything you say positions you as a complainer or a whore, too affectionate and too greedy. It is always different for girls here. When we love things, it is suspect; in the construction of stories the female magician is a witch (or a bitch), while the male one is Chosen; he may pay a price for those rewards, and a steep one, but at least there is an exchange. I mean, you have read Dune, haven’t you? Or Harry Potter?

But at the end of the day, whether it’s too personally revelatory, too suspect, too much about relationship and desire, or too bound up with how people interpret my body, my face and my motives, these are the stories I want to be telling: about how we love fiction, about how we love things we choose to see as truth, and about how we love them both in public and in private — not just through desire, sexuality and fondness, but also through pattern recognition, remembrance, curiosity and, the greatest gift of all storytellers, lies.

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9 Responses to “From Stephen King to The Last Seduction: uncomfortable things about pop-culture, gender and desire”

  1. mikecotton (@mikecotton) January 15, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

    True and finely told, rm. Well done.

  2. Tess (@CanuckleTess) January 15, 2012 at 3:05 pm #

    “As women, she and I often have a lot to prove. Namely, and that our lives aren’t some big-word version of drooling over Tiger Beat; that we’re not starfuckers; and that our affection for our fannish interests is complex and mature, as if there is some terrible sin in being a twelve-year-old about some things at some times.”

    This is the piece that really hit me hard. This PISSES ME OFF. Because how is drooling over Tiger Beat and knowing how tall Daniel Radcliffe is (5’5″ and I’m not even a DanRad fangirl) different than drooling over Sports Illustrated and knowing how many RBIs/hits/homeruns Alex Rodriguez logged the year he was MVP. The ONLY difference is that DanRad’s primary vehicle for entertaining the masses is film/theatre and ARod’s vehicle for entertaining the masses is baseball.

    They are BOTH entertainers whose primary job it is to entertain. And they both train and practice their particular talents and make strategic decisions in their lives based on how to best PERFORM at their jobs. And yet, a woman/girl who has watched the Harry Potter movies dozens of times and stood outside the stage door when he starred in “How to Succeed” and buys Entertainment Weekly when he’s on the cover gets labeled as silly and young and fangirlish, whereas no one even blinks an eye at the dude who spent $100 (or whatever) on an ARod rookie card or $300 on an “official MLB” Yankees shirt and stood outside the statium waiting for an autograph and spends all his free time memorizing baseball statistics. The double-standard is mind-blowing because they are EXACTLY THE SAME. And while the extreme sports fan occasionally gets a bit of a ribbing, it is nothing like the disdain thrown towards women who follow certain actors/singers/bands.

    And guess what? There isn’t an entire type of BAR out there to accommodate fangirls. God, how fun would it be if there were fangirl equivalent to the sports bar? Where I could go and everyone else there would be all ready to watch Glee with me on a Tuesday night. And then the next night I’d go down the block to the sports bar to watch the Canucks game because as much as I love me my Glee I also love my Vancouver Canucks and it’s FUN to go hang out in a crowd of people who feel the same way. And you know what? No one ever makes fun of me when I’m there.

    Hmm… this may be a very good business idea for me to look into… a fangirl bar. It would work. I know it would.

    • deconstructingglee January 15, 2012 at 4:44 pm #

      Oh man, that would be awesome. Can I be your mixologist?

      Actually, in our university town, after Chapel, on Sunday nights, we’d watch Simpsons, King of the Hill and X-Files (X-Files was the real attraction, but the others became part of the tradition) at the pub. It was a really mixed group — the men largely swooning over Scully and the women largely swooning over Mulder. And God help the poor bastard who walked into the bar hoping for a beer unless the ads were on. Because the bartender would tell him to chill the fuck out and wait.

      So yeah, there’s precedent.

    • soukup January 16, 2012 at 12:36 am #

      Dude. You don’t know me, but that is a seriously fabulous idea — I wish I had the loose capital to steal it and do it myself! You were probably kidding, but if you end up doing something with this, tell the internets, kk? I want to play!

    • adelheid_p January 17, 2012 at 5:04 pm #

      I’m in for a franchise in the Pittsburgh area! I think that’s a cool idea, too!

    • sqwook January 17, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

      I can’t believe how what you are saying here has never occurred to me. And now I can’t decide if I’m more sad or angry over the double standard that I as a woman never even noticed in this particular way. Well, let’s say angry.

    • heartofoshun January 17, 2012 at 6:16 pm #

      “This PISSES ME OFF. Because how is drooling over Tiger Beat and knowing how tall Daniel Radcliffe is (5’5″ and I’m not even a DanRad fangirl) different than drooling over Sports Illustrated and knowing how many RBIs/hits/homeruns Alex Rodriguez logged the year he was MVP. The ONLY difference is that DanRad’s primary vehicle for entertaining the masses is film/theatre and ARod’s vehicle for entertaining the masses is baseball.”

      Exactly this is what drives me absolutely wild also! I didn’t get involved in fan culture until I have on the verge of retirement from one of the most misogynist professions (at least it was one I was a young woman) and I was surprised all over again at this stuff–being talked to and about like I was a 15-year-old kid squealing over Tiger Beat!

    • renaissancegrrl January 17, 2012 at 10:11 pm #

      I would probably move from “rare/occasional” to “regular” drinker if such a thing existed near me. I’d make a point of going for Glee at least.

  3. A. Non January 17, 2012 at 11:03 pm #

    …”our lives aren’t some big-word version of drooling over Tiger Beat; that we’re not starfuckers; and that our affection for our fannish interests is complex and mature…”

    This reminds me of my years as a dedicated record collector/college radio dj/wannabe club dj. People who knew me “got” it, but upon meeting for the first time I got a general vibe that girls can’t be serious music fans – they’re teenyboppers when they’re young, or groupies/girlfriends when they’re older. They couldn’t grok that it really WAS about the *music*.

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