How about a break from world crises for a dose of abject foolishness? The hot new battle in the Culture Wars involves the alleged championing of feminism by singer Beyonce, and its ostensible betrayal by actress Sofia Vergara of “Modern Family.”
First up, here’s the conquering heroine of feminism, Beyonce, at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards:
And here’s the hideously disappointing concession to patriarchal evil made by poor Sofia Vergara, setting women back uncounted decades by standing on a turntable and smiling at the Emmy Awards:
If you think I’m exaggerating the severity of the reactions to both video clips, check out Mollie Hemingway’s roundup at The Federalist, or the archive of social-media anguish collected by Twitchy. This is a really big deal to a significant number of people, some of them professional and semi-pro culture critics.
Now, to the untrained eye, it might seem confusing as to what Beyonce did so very right, and Vergara did so very wrong. Understanding the reactions requires an appreciation for the dippy post-modern power-relationship theories bubbling through modern American collectivist thought. Everything is hyper-politicized now, so layers of deep meaning are plumbed from even the most innocuous and lighthearted moments. What’s really funny about this is that everything Beyonce says and does in her video clip, to say nothing of the costumes she and her dancers are wearing, is supposedly neutralized by the word “FEMINISM” flashing in giant illuminated letters behind her. Also, she’s friends with Obama, so she must be a feminist icon. This “deep” cultural analysis is awfully superficial, isn’t it?
It’s even funnier if you pay attention to the lyrics in Beyonce’s songs, as Mollie Hemingway did:
Guys, guys. Seriously. You won???t believe this. So on Monday night, Beyoncé had a 15-minute medley performance at the MTV Video Music Awards. It was what you???d expect from Queen Bey these days ??? a stage full of back-up dancers in ???naked stripper??? costumes gyrating on strip poles, one of the most amazing collections of derrières I have ever seen, songs about performing oral sex in the back of a limo, a song about having a guy ???tear that cherry out??? (complete with the word ???cherry??? in big letters as the backdrop), a song that tells women who don???t respect Beyoncé sufficiently to ???Bow Down Bitches,??? S&M themes, intimate acquaintance with much of Bey???s crotch ??? you know, the usual. I mean, it wasn???t totally usual in that Beyoncé???s toddler child was in the audience to witness all this dry-humping and simulated getting-down, but other than that, your typical Beyoncé.
Vergara’s skit, meanwhile, is poking fun at the men in the audience, not the actress. The whole point of the routine is that putting the comely Ms. Vergara on a turntable makes an otherwise dry speech watchable. It’s a playful dig at the shallowness of male viewers. She’s the one doing the digging. The notion that she was somehow bullied into this, when she’s one of the most successful actresses on television and has consistently demonstrated a lively sense of humor about her good looks, is painfully stupid. Looking over that Twitter freak-out makes me wonder if some of Vergara’s critics have ever seen an episode of “Modern Family.”
As for the examples being set for young women: if you have a choice between wearing a tasteful, expensive dress and standing on a turntable to make a joke, or doing whatever Beyonce is singing about, I believe most American mothers would join me in strongly urging their daughters to choose the turntable.
What this is really all about is tribalism, gesture politics, signifying cultural identity by making the “approved” choice. There’s a strong element of Know-Nothingism running through left-wing politics. Refusing to study the details of whatever situation you’re yelling about is supposed to signify passion and authenticity. That’s been true in everything from Texas Senate candidate Wendy Davis’ opposition to abortion laws she didn’t bother to study, through gun-control zealots who proudly refuse to learn anything about the guns they wish to regulate, to those who reflexively applaud the “FEMINISM” sign without listening to what the woman standing in front of it has been saying. Those who are trying to hold up Michael Brown of Ferguson as a “civil-rights icon” grow visibly angry at the notion of contemplating what he was actually doing when he had his fateful encounter with the police; you’re not supposed to complicate their narrative with details. Refusing to take account of the details is considered a badge of sincerity. You demonstrate loyalty to The Cause by refusing to ask questions about it.
Feminism is a particularly strong example of Know-Nothing philosophy, because it’s become entirely about tribal identification and obedience to designated political leadership. The actual meaning of the word “feminism,” in either historical context or at the current moment, is nothing compared to its symbolic power. To be blunt, the current political agenda of left-wing feminism is mostly about sexualizing girls at an early age to separate them from their families, conflating promiscuity with independence, and singing the praises of a maternal State that can absolve both men and women of the consequences of biology. Much of this has been tailored to line up with the ideology of collectivism, and the political needs of the Democrat Party, which is banking very heavily on the single female vote.
Modern feminism is also highly aggressive and exclusionary; it does not take criticism well, and it’s very big on telling people to shut up, because they have no right to voice their opinion about feminist issues. (It’s not just men who get this treatment, as any conservative woman ritually stripped of her womanhood and dismissed as a witless tool of the patriarchy by power feminists can tell you. However, if you want to watch a man get the treatment, just hang around in the comments forum to this blog post for a while.)
Strip away the sexual aspect of liberal feminism, and it’s just another way to teach a group of people to think of themselves as put-upon victims who cannot defeat their shadowy oppressors without collectivist power. Add the sexual aspect back in, and you’re talking about an effort to teach more than half of the population to view themselves as victims, which is a very bold play. And of course, you’ve got the old left-wing trick of making people view sex as the only meaningful expression of liberty, a tactic which has been working very well for decades now, especially with young people.
Maybe one of the reasons for the visceral anger at Sofia Vergara’s comedy skit is that it seemed so old-fashioned; it’s something a Golden Age glamour gal with a good sense of humor might have done, and Vergara has that old-fashioned elegance in spades. “Progressivism” has little appetite for anything old-fashioned.