Retroactive Distractions

heart bum edit

Pic by Jan Wells


Ten years or so ago I had a MySpace page where I spewed love-hearts and vitriol for different aspects of pop culture. It was a way of re-visiting my fanzine making days, but with uploads instead of Pritt stick. When you landed on my page ‘Art Bitch’ by CSS played automatically, and I spent most of my time there searching for music and friends I hadn’t seen for years. It’s weird that enough time has passed for early-days social media and all its naivety to feel nostalgic. MySpace was actually pretty ace until they re-branded it, the home page took 3 minutes to load, and everyone’s stuff got deleted (including classic blogs by my brother like ‘Soap Dodger Ruined Our Christmas’). Then we all fucked off to Facebook, Twitter and various blog platforms. I don’t really understand how MySpace carries on, but it does.

Finding myself in something of a muddle just recently, and in dire need of distraction, I was rummaging (in the computer sense) through old photos and files, and happened upon drafts of a few blogs I’d posted on there. They’re all rather trite and random, from a review of the film 300 (which I can barely remember seeing) to a confessional piece in which I apologise to Jamie Klaxon for drunkenly abusing him (but abuse him again in the process of apologising). Oh, and how I bullied a group of children into helping me meet Mark Owen (before we knew about him and Gary being tax-dodging bell-ends).

I figured in the next few days, weeks, whatever, I’ll re-post some of these old blogs. This will serve as both personal, indulgent distraction and reminiscence, almost certainly peppered with a good deal of cringing.

To think The Klaxons are retro, nostalgic fodder now. Who saw that coming?!*

(*answer: EVERYONE. They made one good album then tried to turn Bacofoil into a fashion accessory).


Ageing Disgracefully

I’m going to make shallow judgements on women and their appearance in this post, which is a crappy thing to do, but we all do it on a daily basis, to ourselves and others, it’s ingrained.

I recently turned 46 and had a moment of “Wow. I’m closer to 50 than 40, now…” which I realise is daft, even arbitrary, but we all age with a mix of fear and fascination, right? We’re changing all the time, mostly subtly, peppered with moments of “Shit the bed, where did that crevice come from?” I’m intrigued and even derive pleasure from my sprawling grey hairs, how some are wiry and spiral vertically, whilst others zig zag sideways like my ‘80s crimpers have been at them. But then I’ll despair a little at the fact cellulite is starting to appear on my arms (the rest of my cellulite has been around long enough to really not give a shit). On the plus side I still don’t have any grey pubes.

As women, ageing is inevitably tied to the tiresome spectrum that is sexism. We ain’t no George Cloonies. We’re not allowed to simply get old, there are a variety of internal and external pressures to ‘fight’ the ageing process. And it’s a double-edged sword, as you’ll be demonised for trying too hard or for not trying hard enough. You no longer get wolf-whistled when you get older (unless it’s from behind then followed by an embarrassed ‘sorry’ when they see you’re old enough to be their Mum) and, even though it’s pretty great not having to decide whether to a) ignore it b) swear at them or c) employ some of the superb tactics shared via #EverydaySexism, it’s also directly linked to being ‘over the hill’ (unless you are cougar MILF, of course, lucky you, eh?). Society doesn’t value middle-aged and older women the way it should.

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Yes, that account is called ‘UK TV MILFS’ FFS…


The recent focus on Susan Sarandon’s knockers is a case in point. Some people will say “she looks good for her age” (when in fact she just looks bloody good) whereas others are decrying and denying her natural form. Some people only like to look at fake tits and on younger women, they can’t handle this amazing 69 year old confidently carrying her cleavage. My knockers high-fived each other when I saw those pictures of her, I was so happy. Others were unimpressed, like this article tagged ‘sad sagging Sarandon’ -that reckons “Sarandon isn’t the only, too-old-to-wear-that celeb who has bared it all on the red carpet or gone over the top in inappropriate situations. Other actresses have tried holding onto their youth by wearing outfits that no one wants to see them in”. Pfffft. Possibly even worse than this, Piers Morgan waded in, because we all value his opinion on women’s appearance, don’t we?

I love these women, they’re breaking stupid ageist, sexist rules. I have a little crush on Jessica Lange at the moment. Also in her late 60s, she hasn’t succumbed to Hollywood homogeneity, and wears her own skin with pride, her beautiful arms and hands wrinkled, veiny and strong. She is one gorgeous woman, but I’m guessing plenty would disagree and just see an older woman who hasn’t even bothered with botox (as far as I know, she looks naturally wrinkly and fab to me). Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda are also flying the flag for older women in the sitcom Frankie And Grace, because – Shock! Horror! – women in their 70s can still have sex!  Kim Novak on the other hand got serious stick at the 2015 Oscars because she has gone down the plastic surgery route, which in itself is an issue, as former Hollywood ‘starlets’ probably feel the pressure to mess with the natural ageing process more than anyone. A surgeon – someone who makes shit loads of money out of our obsession with appearance – comments that she’s gone from ‘dainty and feminine’ to ‘masculine and over-inflated.’ Yeah mate, she’s also gone from 25 to 81.

If you’re in or near Yorkshire, go visit Cartwright Hall in Bradford where an exhibition of photographs by Nancy Honey celebrates 100 Leading Ladies – 100 women aged over 55 who also happen to have defied gender stereotypes and made huge achievements in their respective fields. Though I can’t relate to most of them (there are a lot of Baronesses and Countesses in there who, inevitably, are mostly white) it’s still pretty cool, and on until April 10th.

And have you come across Iris Apfel, yet? She’s 94, furiously funny, funky and rocks massive bangles like no one I’ve ever seen. She also advises “I think you can be attractive at any age.” Go find Albert Maysles’ documentary about her, it’s well worth a watch. She’s precisely the sort of inspiration we need to age disgracefully, raising a middle finger to all those pressures and being true to ourselves.


Guilty Pleasures

In Roxane Gay’s collection of wonderful essays Bad Feminist, one chapter ‘Blurred Lines, Indeed’ explores her responses to the pop song Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke (amongst other things). Until now I’ve somehow managed to avoid both the song and the video, but have been very much aware of the stir they generated. Now I know why. The song, apparently, is about women really wanting it, and, apparently, Thicke is the man for the job. He alludes to his considerable appendage, big enough to cause some damage, but I’ve never seen his willy, so I can’t comment (and also don’t care).

What interests me is this. Gay says: “As much as it pains me to admit it, I like these songs. They make me want to dance. I want to sing along. They are delightful pop confections. But. I enjoy the songs the way I have to enjoy most music – I have to forget I am a sentient being. I have to lighten up.” Her use of the phrase ‘lighten up’ is deliberate, as women are often advised to lighten up when confronted with sexism/voyeurism/misogyny.

I find this idea, that we can simultaneously enjoy and disapprove of pieces of pop culture, quite fascinating. In my old film studies days we talked about ‘reading against the grain’, of being intuitively oppositional in how we respond to some films, scenes, characters.  I’ve certainly found pleasure in things not intended for me as a white, working class woman (formerly girl), and sometimes that pleasure is critical, even a little twisted. Somebody actually said to me once “You can’t like that, you’re a woman” – apparently I wasn’t supposed to like early Scorsese, it was confusing for this bloke and made him uncomfortable. I wrote about the complexities of audience responses for an In The Picture publication back in 1996. My article was called “How I learned to love Starsky and Hutch and remain a feminist” (because my life revolves around those fictional boys). Sometimes we derive enjoyment from things not intended for us. Sometimes we have seemingly incongruous responses. I discussed this with my 14 year old son, who commented that our relationships with pieces of culture are like our relationships with people – we can get along quite nicely with people we are fundamentally different to, we can agree to disagree, but still function and have a meaningful friendship or working relationship, even if we may never be ‘best’ friends.

We used to think of audiences/consumers as passive. We’re not, we know that now. I actually delight in knowing that I can simultaneously denounce and celebrate the 1970s machismo of my childhood heroes, and laugh at the pathetic way women are often portrayed or positioned. In her book Black Looks, bell hooks talks about how prejudices evident in film (of course applicable to other forms of popular culture) can be ignored, or laughed at, or interrogated. Some of us (not everyone, for sure) can take a song like Blurred Lines and interrogate the undertones of sexual violence in the lyrics, challenge the representations and ogling of women in the video, yet still have a little boogie to it in the kitchen if it comes on the radio. And other people probably feel very uncomfortable about that. Our responses are not uniform.

I’m sticking with old school here, but let’s take Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls. Do not be mistaken, I suspect the man is a total cock, but the majority of that film had me in stitches (and one scene in particular did not). It was a long time ago, I may feel differently if I saw it now, but at the time I wasn’t offended by the various stereotypes and horrendous rape-revenge clichés, but found most of it laughable. I took great delight in laughing at it, and therefore can say I enjoyed it. It was like Fame, but more shit, and with nipple glitter. I was not its target audience and did not consume it as intended. I think this is ok.

But we all have our moments of discomfort, right? Where, like Roxane Gay, we find ourselves enjoying something we know we shouldn’t, or we’re simply not sure of. As a teenager I loved the album Milo Goes to College by Descendents, but a lot of the lyrics made me uncomfortable. On the song I’m Not a Loser the final verse goes as follows:

You arrogant assholes
Your pants are too tight
You fucking homos
You suck, Mr. Buttfuck
You don’t belong here
No way you fucking gay
I’m not a loser!

I was never sure whether they were singing in character, mocking the American jock stereotype, or whether they really were young, brattish homophobes who needed to grow up? I wanted to believe it was the former, so I could continue to listen to it (it’s super catchy). All these years later (and listening to the album again as I write) I discover other fans discussing this issue in the comments section on Song Meanings. The band themselves say a lot of the songs they wrote were fictional, so I’m inclined to think they were mimicking and mocking homophobes. But I still can’t sing along with those lines.

Musician Nadine Shah tweeted I’ve been innocently singing this song for years not taking any notice of the lyrics..oh dear” accompanied by a link to the song If You Wanna Be Happy by Jimmy Soul. It’s probably what we’d call ‘of its time’ as it’s basically saying marry an ugly girl if you want to be happy, they cook your meals on time and give you peace of mind, whereas pretty girls just make you feel small. Nice! Similarly, my friend Emma loves and laughs at the song Lucretia MacEvil by Blood, Sweat and Tears in spite of what she calls ‘deep misogyny’.

I’m sure we’ve all done and said things we later feel embarrassed by, even ashamed. And I’m sure plenty of artists feel that way about some of their work, whether it’s in the public domain or not. I have a very strong memory of using a racist term in the school playground aged 8. Another girl immediately pulled me up on it (this was 1978, good for her!) and I felt ashamed and apologised. I was repeating something I’d heard at home, but suspected was wrong. All these years later it still makes me cringe.

We can be naïve and/or ignorant about many things at any point in our lives. Putting it out there as a piece of pop culture means it’s always there to remind you of who you were, but also, in some instances, how far you’ve come.  I’m thinking specifically of Beastie Boys. They first achieved success as brattish teenagers. They sang about girls cleaning their dishes and doing their laundry. They had scantily clad women ‘perform’ on stage with them in cages. For a long time this defined them, and how we perceived them. But over time they grew up, their song writing and performances matured, they became more socially and politically conscious and active. And in the song Sure Shot they rap this:

I want to say a little something that’s long overdue
The disrespect to women has got to be through
To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and the friends
I want to offer my love and respect to the end

So give Mr Thicke a few more years. He could surprise us. Or he may not.