Just a couple of things stewing around in my head tonight. The second one in particular shows the central tragedy of a liberal arts education: it gets harder and harder to enjoy things qua
I think it's so interesting to see the marketing machine at work. There's a musical artist I've really grown to enjoy, name of Corinne Bailey Rae. She's a young woman from England, plays guitar and sings some of the silkiest, smokiest lite R&B, all with this lovely light lilt thanks to merry old England. I first ran across her... 9 months ago or so? It was through an ad on the All Music Guide
that included an audio component, in this case the lead track off her self-titled album ("Like a Star"). I listened to other clips, decided I had to have it, and ordered it used from some 3rd-party Amazon seller; the album hadn't even been released in the States yet. So a couple months went by, and I kept seeing her crop up. First when her album was released in the US, then a couple of quick features in tv ads, you know, light marketing stuff. And now finally, she was the featured musical artist on the in-show ep of Studio 60
during tonight's ep of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
. [Apologies to non-viewers, for whom that sentence may be confusing; there's this show-within-a-show thing that gets a bit tricky to enumerate.] It's just fascinating to watch the machinery unfurl, is all. Plus I think she's quite talented, so I'm glad to see Ms. Rae get so much exposure.
I'm not sure if I can deal with Margaret Cho anymore. It really pains me to say this, because that woman has made me nearly piss myself with laughter more times than I can count. But it's her gay politics that are throwing me off. Now, this will sound odd to anybody who has even a passing familiarity with Cho's work, because she's militantly gay-friendly. She is a gay icon, folks. But her brand of gay pride is just... ossified. OK, this isn't making any sense, let me do it by way of an example. In the last section of her show Revolution
, which I was listening to as I washed a mountain of dishes tonight, she talks about how she would love to have a gay son. And at one point, she makes this joke [light paraphrase, due to cloudy memory]: "And he would be a boy scout. And he would teach the other boys how to light a fire with nothing but two sticks and a back-handed compliment."
First off, cards on the table: it's a funny line. I laughed. And hey, I'm all about gay boy scouts lighting fires with aptitude and whatever skills they bring to the table. But it's also a really telling line, because it's rooted in a very particular, stylized conception of the Catty Gay Man. Like most of the rest of her gay-based humor (and arguably the rest of her humor as well, but I'm not approaching that point here), it has recourse to a set of fixed stereotypes. One could argue, of course, that this is the nature of the beast: in Anglo-American stand-up, much of the discourse is mediated by a certain caricatural lens that enables the comic to make broad statements out of particulars. The excuse wears thin in Cho's case, however, because her purpose is not solely comedic; she also, in her own words, would like to start a liberal revolution of tolerance. This means that she can't complacently expect her words to be evaluated only in the venue of comedy; they're subject to broader social pressure.
And in the light of the broader social pressure, it's not a beneficial discourse. Rather than promoting a true equality, in which individuals would be free to express themselves in whatever manner they deemed fit, Cho ends up positing a system that defines a limited number of roles. Instead of making a principled break from the constraints of society, she just ends up reinforcing a new orthodoxy. And for those of us that aren't particularly enamored of the roles available in her system, it's no less restrictive than the old one she wishes to depose.
Backhanded compliment, indeed.