Problematic Things I Enjoy – I Kissed A Girl

Okay so the genesis for this (maybe-series of posts) post comes from my talk of Watchmen on Friday and the why I love it and think it’s a seminal work in comics despite my many issues with it in regards to race, gender and sexuality. So the point is to highlight something that is problematic but I still enjoy. Because we all have those things that we know are bad and have issues but that we like anyway. I think that it’s hard to be the “perfect” activist, you’re gonna like things that you know further an agenda you don’t agree with. I deal with this by dissecting and acknowledging the problems in the things because by doing so we can rob it of a lot of it’s power. When we know the message that’s trying to be communicated to us we can counteract it more easily in ourselves and friends.

Just my theory, you may disagree.

So the problematic thing I enjoy in this post is Katy Perry’s hit song – I Kissed A Girl. Oh beat and rhythm that I love is it possible to numerate all the ways the lyrics go wrong?

These lyrics froth with issues that include – a lack of female agency, a devaluation of lesbian relations and sexuality, treatment of women as only sexual beings unworthy of names, a continued preoccupation with what her boyfriend will think as opposed to what she feels like after this experience, the use of lesbian sexuality as a ploy to titillate therefore ignoring any validity in those feelings, encouraging bi-phobia and detrimentality to the acceptance of bisexuality as a valid identity choice because it can all be written off as experimentation. And possibly a lot more I haven’t picked up on yet, feel free to point them out, yet despite all this there’s something about the music and the sound of Perry’s voice (the deep tone of it) that I really like and I’ve been listening to the song on repeat.

If you haven’t seen it or heard it, here’s the video:

There’s something about the chorus and the way it’s produced that makes me want to move my feet even though I cringe at the calling of this other girl “an experimental game” and the continuing reference to “I hope my boyfriend don’t mind it”. Now I’m sure some think it’s just a cheeky fun song and I should lay off but pop culture influences everything around us and we ignore the things that gain popularity at our peril.

Verdict: So problematic that I refuse to give her some of my hard earned money in any way but I’ll shake my groove thing to it in the privacy of my own room and discuss the problems with others who enjoy it.

Off-Topic but somewhat related Coda: 

Now for politics and validation of alternative sexuality I much prefer Jill Sobule’s song of the same name. The story of two married women who end up finding more pleasure in each other than in their loud, annoying, brutish husbands. They have agenc, they make the decisions and from Jill I can take it because she’s made a career of commentary and satire in her songs. Jill is mocking the belief that lesbianism is a fad or stage of development whereas Katy seems to mock lesbianism itself. Jill Sobule, in case you don’t know, is a brilliant sarcastic singer-songwriter who’s been around for years. She’s articulate, quirky, off-the-wall and always interesting her songs. You might know her songs if not her, she’s a two hit wonder in mainstream music hitting it big with I Kissed A Girl & Supermodel – a sarcastic look at starvation and obsession with pop culture and models particularly.
Jills Sobule’s – I Kissed A Girl

6 responses to “Problematic Things I Enjoy – I Kissed A Girl

  1. Wow, you know, that video REALLY undercuts even the ambivalently-minimally feminist-ish message of the lyrics. I was imagining, when I read about this on another blog and your description before I hit “play”, a setting very much like “The Bronze” with Faith hitting on anyone and everyone regardless of DNA delivery systems, a daring, slightly-inebriated fired-blood “experimenter” like, well, a couple of coworkers I’ve known in the past, all very modern and heated and strobish.

    Instead we get…what, a spun-sugar vision of a Victorian brothel? And talk about your “performative lesbianism” – only there really ISN’T any lesbianism onscreen, not even performative; there’s just a lot of displaying of soft-focus peachy thighs and shoulders of girls in tights and corsets, a moe version of Toulouse Lautrec, really. It’s just all “male gaze” – no images to match up with the imagery of the words at all!

    (Granted, it isn’t as Dada as the bunch of cows wandering around in the video of “Sweet Dreams” which I have, after finally seeing it this past year, after loving the song since I first heard it on the radio at Pier 1, worked *very hard* at scrubbing from my memory – but it hardly makes any more sense!)

  2. bellatrys-
    Yeah, I probably didn’t have that disconnect between song and video because the first time I heard the song I was watching the video. But now that I think of it a lot of my distaste for the song (even though it makes me wanna shake it) probably comes from the video and the way it’s so obviously crafted the attract and cater to the male gaze. There’s not even the hint of agency that’s there in the song because it’s all…well you said it best “a spun-sugar vision of a Victorian brothel” with performative lesbioanism up the wahoo.

    Ugh it drives me crazy because with a few word changes and a new video it didn’t have to be quite so offensive but no they wanted the maximum titillation of straight men and no hint of sexual agency for the women.

  3. “performative lesbianism” is such a great phrase

  4. “performative lesbianism” is such a great phrase

    Unfortunately, Kate, I don’t remember where I heard it first – I wish I could claim the coinage! – but it was the perfect encapsulation of the bizarre disconnect I experienced between the “threatened” response of men I knew to *actual* lesbians, with all the epithets, denunciations, invalidations and so forth that have gone on since forever, and this “Mmmm, lesbians!” response of so many fanboys (genre and non-genre mainstream media) to these situations and depictions for titillation that didn’t a) resemble anything created *by* actual lesbians *for* lesbian enjoyment or reflection of queer experience, b) didn’t do anything for the side of me that is pretty solidly in the middle when it comes to the Kinsey Scale, c) looked just like everything else created to appeal to the straight male audience for plasticized T&A, only 2x like the Doublemint Twins.

    I guess it’s kind of like the relationship between “Wild West Show Indians” and real Native Americans in our media culture: one group is real, requires consideration, confronts the status quo by their very existence and must therefore be hostilely Othered but mostly ignored (e.g. the fury that still exists over Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee and other such “revisionist” history) while the other is completely made safe for consumption by the dominant group, reduced to a caricature and put on display as entertainment, the way that the first captives were for the amusement of the royal courts…

    Ugh it drives me crazy because with a few word changes and a new video it didn’t have to be quite so offensive but no they wanted the maximum titillation of straight men and no hint of sexual agency for the women.

    The funny thing is, Naamen, that so many straight guys *do* find the idea at least of dominant women doing their own thing “tres hott” – look at all the Aunty Entity fanboying out there! All the Faith adulation! but noooo, they couldn’t even be *that* mid-80s daring.

    I forgot to comment on the other video, btw – it was obviously trying to be both subversive *and* non-threatening on the surface at least, with the emulation of Tim Burton’s fake pastel suburbia, and succeded much better in being subversive and expressing female agency, with the way the singer would use wilder guitar riffs to indicate her excitement, and the whole bit with “the girl next door” getting cast as the replacement Knight In Shining Armor over Fabio-look-alike in the fantasy sequences.

    It was obviously meant to be a light-frothy take on the notion of “Bored Housewives In Suburbia Seek Sexual Release – With Each Other!” which itself is a twist on the Postman Rings Twice trope, but it wasn’t about catering to the Male Gaze…

  5. The kind of hula popularized on the Mainland (and worldwide, really) in the 20s-60s is exactly this “safe for consumption” style. It’s called hapa-haole (which translates kind of as ‘half white’) here in the islands. With the Hawaiian Renaissance in the 70s and on, a really vital tradition of hula has had a spectacular resurgence, drawing on both ancient and modern traditions.

  6. What? You’re kidding!!!1!

    –Next thing you’re gonna be telling me that hula hoops aren’t REALLY an authentic Hawaiian tradition either…

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