thoughts on Pew’s latest report: notable findings on race an pirvacy
thoughts on Pew’s latest report: notable findings on race an pirvacy
banangolit, Rachel Hyman:
Shoplifting Poems From American Apparel
I first ran across the book Shoplifting From American Apparel in a bookstore ca. 2010. The title and cover design caught my eye and I wrote it down in my phone, which looked like this. That was the first I heard of Tao Lin. I did not buy the book, because I was (and still am) a college student with no money. I did not shoplift the book. I did not read the book until ~2 years later. I probably did not go into an American Apparel store until ~2 years later, either. I have never bought or shoplifted anything from American Apparel. I have an iPhone now.
In 2012, Shoplifting From American Apparel was made into a movie, directed by Pirooz Kalayeh and starring Brad Warner, Jordan Castro, Noah Cicero, and Bebe Zeva. It is “part absurdist documentary and part cinematic realism.” The IMDB page that I hyperlinked spells it “absurdest,” which makes me laugh, as if this was the most absurd documentary of any documentary. I don’t know. Maybe it is. I haven’t seen the movie.
It is 2013 now and I’m trying to forget a lot of things. If you go to the website for the Shoplifting From American Apparel movie, you are presented with a finite number of options. If you click the “Shoplift” button, you can watch a director’s cut, or download the movie, or download the director’s cut. I noticed that the download links go to YouSendIt pages. I used to use that website to send music to friends, in like, 8th grade. That year I was probably sending Green Day, NOFX, a lot of pop punk and punk music.
Another button you can click is Remix. The first line on the page reads, “You are watching a video about a movie. The video makes you feel that you can remix the movie.” There is also an embedded video in which Pirooz Kalayeh and Brad Warner encourage you to remix scenes from the movie, upload your remix, and post a link to the movie’s Facebook page, so that they can then post the link on their site.
They also tell you that you can type poems right into the website, in that yellow-on-black retro videogame-esque text, to be screenshotted, posted on the Facebook page, and judged by the formidable gang of Jordan Castro, Noah Cicero, Heiko Julien, Matt Sherling, and Beach Sloth. The top 5 poems will be read at the Spreecast website launch party on May 19th.
I spent ~2 minutes looking through the folder of my own poems to try this out. I think the idea is that you remix the material from the movie, but I would say I’m not really in a position to do that right now. I decided a poem called “the great decline” seemed most fitting in terms of the aesthetic of Shoplifting From American Apparel, or at least the book, anyways. This was a collaborative and flarfed poem with Banango co-editor Justin Carter, probably written partially on the phone hyperlinked in the first paragraph. That poem is the third photo in this post.
I encourage you to watch the movie and write poems on the site and share them on the Facebook page. This is a nifty cross-media…type…thing. The book begat the movie begat poems. Something here about everything decaying into poetry. What will the poems, in turn, generate?
by Will “Glasspopcorn” Neibergall
Some of my close friends will confirm this if necessary: I’ve said some inappropriate and inflammatory things about Kathryn “Kitty” Beckwith. Besides making the occasional snide comment about her music, I’ve been calling her Kitty Pryde for a couple months despite her decision in January to drop the “Pryde” (more on why that matters later). Still better known by that name, she released her music video for “Okay Cupid” on May 9, 2012 to fanfare from the New York Times, Rolling Stone and others. I was editing and preparing my own video for the single “Goin’ Hamburger” at the time.
Kitty and I were Facebook friends, so once I was aware of the potential of her video’s appeal, I reached out to her via chat to work on something with a like-minded teenage meme rapper. She was obviously pretty busy with press, so the message thread never really took off. To date, “Okay Cupid” has almost 867,000 views on YouTube and “Goin’ Hamburger” just topped 51,000 last week; I guess you could make the simplified albeit successful argument that my main problem with Kitty is jealousy. What we were both doing was a funny (perhaps insufficiently critical) but honest teenage approach to internet-age hip-hop: a niche that better suited her than I.
As Kitty embarks on a summer tour with Danny Brown, I’ll be entering my senior year of high school and probably still talking mad shit. This isn’t a review, though, and I’m not going to use Kitty’s success to score some academic capital (because, as she’s noted, I’d probably fail anyway).
Admittedly, the first time since her breakout music video that I actually thought of Kitty as a living, breathing human being before an entity that exists to entertain and excite on a base level (an image conditioned into my subconscious by meme rappers like Lil B and Kreayshawn) was when my friend Ian tipped me off to one of her more ominous Facebook status updates, posted early on March 24 after a performance in Vancouver:
As can unfortunately be expected from a post like this anywhere on the internet, sexist judgment reared its ugly head in the comment section as fans blamed the incident on lapses in Kitty’s responsibility or trivialized her emotional reaction:
My question is: would comments like the above have been made in a different public forum, outside of the internet, in response to a similar incident? How would the numbers compare? Or, more acutely: would commenters like the above have reacted the same way to a different victim?
The political question of feminism is far from irrelevant anywhere, even in today’s purportedly “post-ideological” western landscape. The answer is yes, that when confronted face-to-face by a victim of sexual violence, there are many men and women alike who will even today say things like, “Wear a more conservative outfit,” or “Invest in bodyguards,” or, more unfortunately, “You should have liked it.”
Still, it’s more uncontroversial now than ever to say what’s true: that to expect Kitty to play shows in a [literal or figurative] “security bubble” is to strip moral culpability from potential violators in the audience and to strip Kitty of her own inviolable status as a dignified human being.
If it’s less controversial now to say in any forum that sexual violence is the foremost way that people are threatened in their control over their bodies and their lives, does the context of Facebook change anything? Probably not, though it might make detractors a little more brave. I think what separates a situation like Kitty’s from the rest of the multiplicity of scenarios that are up for political and feminist scrutiny is the nature of Kitty’s agency as not only a real, vulnerable person but also a popular entertainer and public personality.
To borrow a line from feminist philosopher Judith Butler’s 2009 book, Frames of War: When is Life Grievable?, “…we cannot ask and answer the more commonly understood normative question, regarding how best to represent or to recognize…subjects, if we fail to understand the differential of power at work that distinguishes between those subjects who will be eligible for recognition and those who will not.” In contradiction, the first question has kind of almost been answered in contemporary western politics, as life has been arranged so as to define a clear and mostly respectful position for female (and other) bodies and the agencies that control them, while the second, more basic question has been all but discarded.
Our politics aren’t perfect; while feminist perspectives are certainly eligible for recognition in the west, progress on seemingly obvious issues like reproductive rights has been slow. Still, especially in more open social communities like those found on the internet, breakthroughs are being achieved constantly in the popular approach to patriarchy and masculist sexual domination (as an aside: Reebok recently dropped their sponsorship of rapper Rick Ross following a line in Rocko’s “U.O.E.N.O.” alluding to date rape. While this may seem like an obvious course of action to feminists today, it seems like ten or fewer years ago Reebok’s decision calculus might have been dramatically different).
The political is, in a sense, beginning to approach the second, more basic question by way of dogma, and academics on the left embrace this; it was illuminated in a recent lecture by Slavoj Žižek (of course), who said, “Let’s take rape. Sorry, but I wouldn’t like to live in a society where you would have to argue all the time against rape. I would like to live in a society where the fact that rape is unacceptable is simply part of our substance, it’s automatically assumed, so if somebody plays these (we all know them) stupid and tasteless games, ‘Oh but I really enjoy…’ you don’t need to argue against. The guy just seems like a weird jerk, eccentric, stupid, whatever. I argue, the moment you have to reason, we are already lost.” While the persistent and, hopefully, dogmatic inclusion of women and feminists may make it seem like all necessary ontological bases have been covered, an examination of Kitty’s situation indicates otherwise.
Her decision in January to change her pseudonym is the first indication of what I mean by that. In a January 11 profile, the A.V. Club speculated that the name change was forced due to Marvel’s copyright on the name of the X-Men character with which Kitty used to share a nickname, but I like to think that something else is at work there, even if not intentionally or consciously. The “D.A.I.S.Y. Rage” EP press release, published by the Daily Swarm, announces the name change in parenthesis: “She’s growing up (now it’s just Kitty), she moved to the Big City and she fell in love…”
First, I think anyone who is familiar with Kitty’s aggressively public presence on social networks like Twitter and Tumblr would have been fully aware of any legal altercation between Kitty’s management and Marvel; that’s not the kind of thing that Kitty (who has previously boasted about turning down an appearance on America’s Got Talent, engaging with inconsiderate promoters and being approached on Facebook by clueless artists and producers) would usually ignore. Second, even if the reason for the name change was a legal technicality, the way it’s framed in the press release seems to inextricably link it to Kitty’s growth as a person rather than as a performer. Kitty is a real nickname that Beckwith has presumably identified with for a long time; maybe it’s more confident, affirming, or humanizing if that’s what Kitty is looking for in reaction to fame.
In the world of hip-hop especially, where names are variable and inconsistent yet strong indicators of an artist’s identity (artists like Diddy who change their monikers frequently have been replaced in recent years by rappers like Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane and Tyler, the Creator, who are simultaneously known by a few different stage names), it’s interesting to consider Tracy Clayton’s analysis of names in response to the treatment Quvenzhané Wallis received at the Oscars because of her difficult name: “Naming and names are important because they are entwined in our identities and the ownership of us and our bodies. We name things that belong to us. We name our children. We name our pets. We name our cars and our plants and our stuffed animals and even our hair. The act of naming and/or re-naming something is absolutely about power and control, and this is something that slave owners knew very well–a standard practice in ‘seasoning’ and ‘breaking’ a slave was assigning them Anglo-Saxon names. This established that those men and women were, without a doubt, property of their purchasers, and completely severed them from the identities they knew.”
When the substitute teacher gets our names wrong in roll call, we correct them because names matter; deciding how we are going to identify with or respond to a name is one important way in which we assert that we are humans with power over ourselves. My self-empowering gesture of referring to her as Kitty Pryde three months after the name change takes on a more sinister implication following this analysis. After going viral as Kitty Pryde, with the release of her EP Kitty thought, of all possible concerns, that it was time for a new name. Kitty’s focus as a newly popular performer was not one of marketability (Kitty is slightly less googleable than Kitty Pryde) or even of a significant change in the nature of her content but one of representation.
Further, and contrary to what I’ve probably told my friends a thousand times, her music isn’t empty of reflective ontological or moral speculation. One of her best songs, “$krillionaire (feat. travie mccoy) (feat. All american rejects)” (from the aforementioned EP) is centered around a hook of sorts, in which she pleads to the listener, “Why you wanna fuckin’ undercut me like I’m Skrillex hair?” It’s funny and appeals to the least introspective of her young fans, but it’s poignant, surrounded by references to struggles like wetting the bed, abusing prescription drugs and playing tug-of-war with fame and fortune (“I hate everyone that wants to be a millionaire, so frickin’ bad, so frickin’ bad… / I wanna be a millionaire so frickin’ bad”). Similar themes are explored elsewhere on “D.A.I.S.Y. Rage”, in tracks like “R.R.E.A.M” (“I like to be the trending topic, the pound key / even though my hives break out when they hound me”) and “UNfollowed” (in which Kitty explores the idea of a violent romantic relationship that requires her to accept her vulnerabilities and yield to a man’s power in order to realize her own desires).
It’s no surprise that Kitty’s most interesting music came post-“Okay Cupid”, as attention made her more reflective of what it actually means to be a normal, young, female human being with things to say that a lot of people on the internet will actually care about. In another post-“Okay Cupid” Kitty Pryde track, “Orion’s Belt”, guest Riff Raff raps, “When it comes to hateful words, I got skin like a rhinoceros / diamonds on my binder, fourth grade I was immaculate,” before boasting about his emerald earrings and that he “could’ve played for the Toronto Raptors.” Believe it or not, Riff Raff and Kitty Pryde have a lot in common; after all the tweets, funny interviews, blog coverage and idiosyncratic performances, it might be hard for some fans to remember that they’re looking at a real person with interests and insecurities.
It’s alarming when Kitty publicly highlights these insecurities in reaction to real violence, as it ought to be when anyone, female or male, is subject to violence of the nature that threatens a person’s control over their own body and mind. Since the clothing incident, which appears to have now been erased from public record, Kitty has tweeted about being called a “bitch” and made to clean the floor of a venue by a promoter in response to her behavior onstage. This incident seems to reflect issues that are unique to women in the world of hip-hop and musical performance, seeing as men in the industry are subject to significantly less scrutiny - Kitty calls herself “Nipsey Hussle plus a little pixie dust,” but Nipsey Hussle (sans pixie dust) incited a fight at a show in my hometown last year that ended in a deadly shooting. By comparison, Beckwith’s love of shooting confetti from the stage sounds more like safe fun than a punishable offense.
Additionally, a couple of days after the clothing incident, Kitty tweeted and posted to Tumblr about her power over herself being threatened by journalists who describe the physical details of her body at length to readers. What exactly makes journalists think it’s okay to sexualize Kitty’s act and assert a kind of body-negative dominance over her? Is it a return to the political question (meaning that those who abuse Kitty and other performers physically and emotionally are pathologically ignorant of the moral responsibilities of personhood) or is it a return to the ontological one (meaning that the abusers, for some reason, have a skewed vision of what it means to be a person)?
As of the time I’m writing this, I quit rap last night. After the release of my most recent music video (which is growing in influence at a respectable rate, even by Kitty standards) and a performance at a local Phoenix music festival on 4/20, I’m disillusioned with the presumptuous nature of the hip-hop community (predicated on the kind of groupthink that has led to journalistic misrepresentation of Kitty based on her race and gender) and the effects of the “memeification” of performers that Kitty seems to be confronting head-on in her new music. The fact that Kitty is still going and has met with such success illuminates another commonality between her and Riff Raff: when it comes to hateful words, she has skin like a rhinoceros. But when this performer, the subject of an idealized vision on the part of both her fans and her detractors, is the subject of real sexual violence, how are we to respond? In general, how ought we respond to the sexual victimization of any public personality or celebrity in the internet age?
While it’s very possible that all of the abusers we’re talking about are sociopaths, disconnected from life in a number of different ways, it’s more likely that the problem is one of ontology. The reason that Butler’s vital second question, the one that concerns the determination of eligibility for personhood, hasn’t been properly addressed is because a “human meme” is not more than human but actually less. If we can all agree that no person may be raped, and no person may be violated, and no person’s body may be commanded by another, then the next step is to ask: who will we consider a person, who won’t we, and why?
This is why I hypothesize that, had the five commenters shown in screenshots above seen the same status update posted by a family member, friend or casual acquaintance, their reaction wouldn’t have been so callous. We have to think of artists with public personalities not as things that exist for our entertainment and to receive our praise but as humans with uniform human moral agency that choose to use their time and their resources to express their feelings. If an internet-based pop culture driven by memetics can’t give us this introspection, maybe it’s best to do without.
UPDATE (5/3): Strangely enough, Kitty wrote an article for Noisey about Danny Brown that touches on a similar subject. I know too little about what actually happened with Danny Brown to really connect his situation to Kitty’s in any meaningful way but what Kitty had to say was interesting:
“Like anyone else, Danny wants to be respected as an artist and a human. Like any other male, especially those in the public eye (and especially those who spend a lot of time talking about licking vaginas), he wants to be respected as a “man”…I’m mad that a person thought it was okay to pull another person’s pants down during their performance in front of about 700 other people. I’m mad that a person thought it was a good idea to perform a sex act on another person without their consent. I’m mad that nobody made her leave. I’m mad that Danny had to actually wonder what he was supposed to do at that point. I’m mad that when I went home and said I had no respect for that girl, I was attacked for being a “slut-shamer” (after literally leading a girl to his hotel room at 3AM at her request) and, even more outrageously, for being jealous of the girl who sucked his dick. I’m mad that when two dudes pulled my pants down onstage, other people got mad too, but when it happened to Danny the initial reaction was like one big high-five.”
Kitty’s examination of sexual violence in hip-hop based on her recent experience is taking place on a couple of different levels…first, the primary level of moral concern with the unwanted sex act performed. Second, the added moral confusion to be considered when the victim is male because of the lack of precedent for solidarity and sympathy in such situations. Danny Brown’s predicament adds a dimension to the startling analysis above, demonstrating that if the response to sexual or other physical violence against a public personality isn’t nonchalance, it will probably be excitement or entertainment.