Discover

Ask Natasha | Who am I supposed to look up to anymore?

Who am I supposed to look up to anymore? —Kim, 30

A: As females, we’re supposed to read/watch fem-genre entertainment. Let’s look past the gender-normative and diminutive titles we’ve given Chick Lit and Chick Flicks and instead look at the trends within these groupings and how they describe us. No longer are we choosing a SATC character to be, or a Liz vs. Jenna (or for the younger generation, a Liz Lee from My Life As Liz, and even younger still, Carrie Bradshaw, but the one from The Carrie Diairies), because everyone is a Carrie, or a Bridget Jones, everyone is the mythical Tina Fey, Lena Dunham, Rebel Wilson, and Kristen Wiig, and everyone is all the am-I-right-ladies standup comedy in the biggest grossing chick flicks, the underdog romances. Is this progress? It’s easy to say a female writer in a TV network of men withstands familiar trials and tribulations to the everywoman because every woman as a passionate dissatisfaction with her workplace, but it’s less easy to this character’s successes are very familiar at all, which means we’re simply identifying with self-deprecation.

We’re calling ourselves Cathys, even if we’re hot. I mean, I’d more likely empathize with Cathy’s “AAACK!!” than with Carrie’s “So there I was…” even though I’m a writer in New York, and no longer an office assistant in the suburbs, but I’d rather not have to choose. I, for one, have never chosen Angelina or Jennifer. I like and dislike basic components of each female prototype. Angie has the drive and the exuberance of the bitchy goth in high school and Jenny has the optimism and evenhandedness of the rich cheerleader. Jolie also has the scary adoption/philanthropy thing and the quiet distaste for other women. She’s the action star, and even in Girl, Interrupted and Hackers she was mean to the other females. Aniston has the whole pouty-girl-next-door thing, which means she’s unlucky in love, too—she can’t find a man because he’s probably the asshole right under her nose. She’s a romantic comedy, a not-perfect but good enough option, like Rachel, who ended up with… Ross.

The real problem is that we can’t see the real Rachel, and so we’ve made generalizations about her privileges. There are levels to her as there are to her character’s creator, or any writer. But we also can’t see the real Jennifer Aniston, or the real writers who re-imagine Aniston for us in gossips. Anne Carson once described this dilemma, when speaking of her own poetry and its “failures” to an interviewer for The Paris Review (2002):

“I do think I have an ability to record sensual and emotional facts and factoids, to construct a convincing surface of what life feels like, both physical life and emotional life. But when I wrote things like ‘The Glass Essay’ I also wanted to do something that I call understanding what life feels like, and I don’t believe I did. I also don’t know what it would be to do that, but if I read Virginia Woolf or George Eliot describing emotional facts of people, it seems there’s a fragrance of understanding you come away with—this smell in your head of having gone through something that you understood with people in the story. When I think about my writing, I don’t feel that.”

And from where was the fragrance emitted? In Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, it was the writer’s writer-character, the biographer, who comes to life in his first description of Orlando, as we are told the dimensions of each the subject’s physical features, creating a disjointed picture of a generic face. And in George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1871), we get to know George, don’t we? I mean, we get to know every character, and well, but after all of it, it’s life’s fragrance we are left with, and not one chick’s total self is fully constructed. In Eliot’s The Lifted Veil (1859), she writes about her own lifted anonymity as an author (when the public found out she was a female), and describes the same passionate dissatisfaction her best characters possess as she tells of her young adulthood:

“I read Plutarch, and Shakespeare, and Don Quixote by the sly, and supplied myself in that way with wandering thoughts, while my tutor was assuring me that an improved man, as distinguished from an ignorant one, was a man who knew the reason why water ran down-hill.’ I had no desire to be this improved man; I was glad of the running water… I did not want to know why it ran; I had perfect confidence that there were good reasons for what was so very beautiful.”

Anne Carson would no doubt feel the same way. There is no way to show the subject, the effect it has, and its cause or reasoning, without giving up some essence of its existence within our understanding of it. We can see one character in focus, but not the rest, and then it shifts. Or all of the characters were only around to reflect the author’s true feelings. In fact, Eliot is famously quoted as having said, “You may try but you can never imagine what it is to have a man’s form of genius in you, and to suffer the slavery of being a girl,” but it was one of her characters who said this, in her last novel, Daniel Deronda (1876). But we all know who this was really about, am I right ladies?

In all of the describing and depicting, by the way, Brad Pitt is simply read as the stand-up father, the brilliant actor and the drop-dead catch at any age. Look at any male protagonist in a chick flick, and add up the similarities. The prototypes are less nuanced, but in becoming overly simplified, they become more desirable. So, the females in chick flicks have range, but they’re sentimental and need fixing, while the males are colorless, but at least they’re consistent. And then there are the endings. There’s always a stupid wedding scene when some men save the kooky ladies from their own self-sabotage. Many a TV series, too has ended with a marriage, and look, now they’re not around for us any more. Instead of viewing the wedding as the perfect ending to a hellish single life, we should see these unions as warnings: the fun is over. And Devil Wears Prada-type movies can stop implying that being married to work is less healthy than being married to a person. Work is scary and unreliable but so is everything.

Recent Posts

NHU DUONG SS17 WORK COLLECTION FT. KARL HOLMQVIST

What is a piece of clothing that “works”? Who is working whom? Is the one who poses the one who actually “works” hardest? The S/S 2017 collection of Berlin-based, Swedish- Vietnamese designer NHU DUONG entitled ‘WORK COLLECTION’ plays with the ideas of professionalism, leisure and appropriateness through a range of garments that are inspired by work outfits and hobby uniforms. Overalls, raw denim outfits, kung-fu pyjamas, biker pants, baggy tights and gloves, bomber-jackets, bomber suits,… [read more »]

Preparing to Welcome the Chthulucene | Agustina Zegers

Preparing to Welcome the Chthulucene is a text made up of living exercises to accompany Haraway’s theorization of the Chthulucene and her upcoming book Staying With the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Haraway posits that not only should we name the Anthropocene carefully (including the terms Capitalocene and Plantationocene within its narrative) but that we should also be using this crucial ecological timeframe to move towards a dynamically multi-species, “sym-chtonic“, sym-poietic future: the Chthulucene.… [read more »]

Laboria Cuboniks in Conversation

Laboria Cuboniks is currently a group of 6 women working together online to redefine a feminism adequate to the twenty-first century. They collectively wrote Xenofeminsim: A Politics for Alienation in 2014. Here, in conversation with Postcontemporary Issue guest editors Armen Avanessian and Suhail Malik they discuss the dissatisfactions and limitations of historical feminism and the importance of theorizing “the future” as a feminist project. Armen Avanessian and Suhail Malik: The initial formulation of your political… [read more »]

Situating Global Forms: An Anthropology of Cosmopolitan Science

Aihwa Ong, interviewed by Armen Avanessian and Suhail Malik Constructing Globality Armen Avanessian and Suhail Malik: Your anthropological research pays close attention to specific emerging and inventive configurations of globally-constituted modernization, particularly in East Asia and its diaspora. Throughout this work you identity many ways in which ‘things that used to be fused together — identity, entitlement, territoriality, and nationality — are being taken apart and realigned in innovative relationships and spaces by neoliberal technologies… [read more »]

Ways Of Living ⎮ Arcadia Missa

Ways of Living, curated by the team behind Arcadia Missa, moves beyond the home as a site of political contestation and into the working place, the artist studio, the public sphere, and nature. While so-called ‘social practice’ taught us that any attempt of art to engage with issues outside its own institutional reality are easily coopted into the mythologizing machinery of individualism and patriarchy, art still possesses an ability to address issues far beyond the… [read more »]

What is at Stake in the Future? | Alex Williams & Nick Srnicek

Every ‘future’ inscribes a demand upon the present. This is so whether at the level of human imagination, or within the sphere of political or aesthetic action necessary to reach towards their realisation. Futures make explicit the implicit contents of our own times, crystallising trajectories, tendencies, projects, theories and contingencies. Moreover, futures map the absent within the present, the presents which could never come into actuality, the wreckage of dreams past and desires vanquished. Futures… [read more »]

Dog Plays | Hayley Silverman

Hayley Silverman’s “Dog Plays,” an ongoing series in which a cast of untrained dogs take on the role of characters from a range of pop-culture texts, disrupt the canon of identities traditionally represented in Hollywood as they are re-inhabited by animals. Calling on artifacts ranging from Richard Linklater films, to science-fiction thrillers, to Depression-era musicals that rhapsodize class difference, these performances investigate how our understanding of narrative, authority and identity transforms when we project stories,… [read more »]

A poem by Ser Serpas

ripped apart you rip me apart collage million dead collage donde queda mi cuerpo el temporal como dios en mil partes clothing as point of impact a totem is a wrap around a city as it is engagement with one’s surroundings and engagement with that which has been worn out discarded and filtered into alms buckets and newly tagged i wear my surroundings on my feet when it wears out i see only my vantage… [read more »]

DISCREET Call for Participants

DISCREET – An Intelligence Agency for the People The 9th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art invites you to apply for one of fifteen spaces open to individuals interested in taking an active part in a three-week-long public workshop conceived of by Armen Avanessian and Alexander Martos for the formation and development of a civil secret service organization. Held from June 22 to July 11, 2016, the workshop brings together renegade experts from art, theory, technology,… [read more »]

Parent and Parroting | Nancy Lupo

Each year retail displays are readied in preparation for the gestation and labor of the catch-all holiday season before floating into a colorless postnatal celebration of mundane plenty. Capitalism’s sympathetic pregnancy makes for a cold and lifeless pas de deux, at times humorously inseparable from the vitality of social milestones. In Parent and Parroting, Nancy Lupo continues with a series of interventions into commercial products and industrialized food. Her interferences often reveal or reconfigure the… [read more »]