Rockcrit and A-Mama Ann Powers thinks way too hard sometimes

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Wisdom of Tyra

I might not be able to watch "Top Model" this season. The girls are just too damn boring. The plot's already spinning out, with the upfront bitch (Jasleen), the stealth bitch (Renee), the wacky punk rock maybe-a-lesbian (Jael), the Christian (whatever her name was, she's history). I loved "Top Model" for the unique intersection of class, race, and gender issues it offered -- its very subject is femininity, and watching how so many different young women, from ghetto fab to heartland honey, played that out, has been really informative. Not this season, though.

However, I also watch "Top Model" for the Wisdom of Tyra. A while back (after the class-race-gender stuff started getting repetitive) I realized that I would always wait for Tyra's lectures and pep talks. Why? Not to laugh at someone who takes fashion seriously -- they're a dime a dozen on TV these days, and heck, it's just as worthy of serious consideration as rock criticism. No. It's because of this: to hear Tyra Banks expound upon the life of a supermodel is to witness someone creating a philosophical stance in real time. Tyra's not just giving fashion tips; she is building an ontology. In fashion, she sees the human endeavor -- the struggle to transcend one's fate, the tension between one's limits and one's dreams, the demands set upon those who would live in harmony with their chosen community. It's just so deep.

Sometimes her lines are funny, sometimes they're overblown and even kinda dark. She can camp it up, and she's been doing more of that lately (which I don't love). But when she's about to send a girl home, she always has that face, that Tyra stare, that says, this is no laughing matter, ladies. This is capitalism; this is democracy; this is the heroine's quest.

I think Tyra might be the new Ayn Rand.

So said Rand: “My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”

So said Tyra: "Congratulations. You're still in the running to be America's Next Top Model."

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Mother-Daughter Plot

So Starbuck "died" on Battlestar Galactica. I'm a bit off watching the show but keep somewhat apprised of the plotline. Here's what seems so obviously notable that somebody's probably posting about it on Slate right now:

Starbuck dies and her death is posited as a sort of reconciliation with her distant, cruel mother, whom she'd rejected in order to survive emotionally. In Grey's Anatomy,"Meredith almost dies but lives via an afterlife-lobby reconciliation with her distant, cruel mother, whom etc etc. So.. you have damaged women reconciling with their distant mothers as the absolute key to life and death.

Starbuck and Meredith represent the young working woman, the ascendant heir of second-wave feminism. This emblematic post-wave don't-say-I'm-a-feminist has run a few gauntlets, but those tests were rarely gender-related (I'm talking about skills-related tests, not the test Starbuck endured regarding her fake child, which deserves its own blog entry). She ha been able to develop her talent without much question of whether or not she's worthy, and their own barriers to success have to do with their own emotional damage.

In Meredith's case, she's a wimp (but mirrored by the preternaturally strong Christina, I LOVE YOU CHRISTINA, who has her own mama issues). In Starbuck's case, she's macha. But both are, above all, accomplished -- their professional triumphs (Meredith succeeding in surgery, Starbuck bombing the frak out of some Cylons) are always the high points of the show, while their emotional "triumphs" remain ambiguous and tentative.... though I fear that McDrippy is going to get down on one knee for Meredith soon, ruining everything.

These narratives make the viewer suspicious of the mother-daughter relationship, responsible for so much pain, while quietly asserting that those same distant or cruel relationships actually made stronger women of the damaged daughters. The Evil Mother is the motivating force. Not only is this prime fairy tale material, it's a neat summation of how many young middle-class women feel about second-wave feminism -- it opened up the doors, but also failed in acknowledging the vulnerabilities that so often still cause women to self-sabotage. It gave, it took, it left our young warrior girls in the lurch.

Rest in peace and a million pieces, Kara Starbuck. I really hope you don't turn out to be a cylon.

Friday, March 02, 2007

This time, I ponder...Pretty Ricky

Here's another LAT piece that I think might have gotten lost in the shuffle. The headline's all wrong, by the way -- the piece is about how R&B popsters are invoking the early 1990s as a way of looking beyond (or before, maybe) their own lascivious moment.