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Mixed messages,
or, The incoherent text.

They’re not showing those Hallie Kate Eisenberg commercials before the movies anymore, but seeing a flick in a Portland theater hasn’t gotten any better. You pay your $5.25 (because honestly, who pays full price these days?) and then you sit down for a good six to ten minutes of commercials. Before the previews. And after that interminable waiting period where the screen is filled with slides from local low-budget advertisers (and those inane movie trivia squibs from Pepsi [if you live in a Pepsi town] or Coke [if you live in a Coke town]) and an audio feed is run of recently released pop hits, with the names of the artists, albums, and labels carefully enunciated, should you be moved to swing by the Sam Goody on the way to the parking lot.

And the last couple of times I’ve gone, they haven’t shown those Foundation for a Better Life PSAs, either. Which is kind of a shame; they’re slick and smarmy, yes, but still, it’s better to see a big bald biker shamed (a little, and genially) into being nice to a couple of little old ladies than it is to see the long-form brilliance of that ad for the new Volvo SUV.

Of course, even a simple PSA celebrating gratitude (pass it on!) can be more complex than it first appears:

Accompanying the opening strains of “Born to Be Wild” (a countercultural anthem of the late 1960s, prominently featured in 1969’s “Easy Rider”), the video opens with typical MTV-style of quick, staccato cuts. We see first a longhaired biker, and then a series of bikers, from various angles, hopping on their motorcycles, in front of a 60s-style diner, to the opening lyrics of the song (“Head out on the highway, looking for adventure,” etc.) A large, muscular biker, a skinhead who bears more than a passing resemblance to the wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, finds that his bike has stalled. Frustrated, he hops off the bike, gestures angrily at it, and galumphs to a pay phone, aggressively digging in his jeans for some non-existent change. Concurrently, on the left side of the screen, two small and elderly black women exit the diner and wobble on down the street. They approach the payphone as the lyrics tell the listener to “take the world in a love embrace.” Just then, the biker turns to them, and peevishly announces that the “phone’s taken,” evidently fearing that these elderly black women are in the habit of using public phones. One of the elderly, bespectacled black women looks at him with obvious concern, and diagnosing the situation, offers up some coins, as her voice creaks out the question, “Will this help you?” To the strains of “we were born, born to be wild,” the biker, a bit startled, examines the coins, and takes off his sunglasses. We see his face slope downward and soften. Softly he says “Hey, thanks.” The two women smile, and as they wobble away, he says, “I appreciate it.” As this biker puts the coins into the payphone, the graphics “Gratitude,” and “Pass It On” appear on the screen with the Foundation’s ID, just as the voiceover reiterates the words on the screen, and the name of the sponsor (The Foundation for a Better Life). Apart from the simplistic moral tale, a number of iconic reinscriptions have occurred here. First, both the denotations and connotations of the song, “Born to Be Wild,” and its most famous setting (in Easy Rider) have been flipped on their “heads.” “Easy Rider” chronicles the life and death of two “long-haired” bikers who take LSD with hookers while in a New Orleans graveyard. They also smoke a bit of marijuana, and as drug couriers, are essentially assassinated by rednecks in the segregationist U.S. southland. The main characters played by Peter Fonda (Wyatt “Captain America” Earp) and Dennis Hopper (Billy) function as iconic magnets for overt conflict over the implicit boundaries of “the American Dream” throughout the film, as they ride from Los Angeles to New Orleans, on their way to Mardi Gras. They are not symbols of unity and social harmony.
Likewise, the “biker’s” skinhead appearance in the FBL’s video gives him an “Aryan Nation” patina. As iconic skinhead, it seems very unlikely that elderly black ladies would approach such a figure. Given the decades of hostility between white supremacists and the black population of the US, a more realistic response would have been to quickly pass by the pay phone, saying nothing. Obviously, that’s not what happens in the video. What occurs is a recoding of these icons and histories into a structural-functionalist consensus (over gratitude and all the other common and desirable virtues). In doing so, they well illustrate Gomez-Pena’s claim about the shape of a corporatist multiculturalism that “artificially softens the otherwise sharp edges of cultural difference.” But why? And, why now?

(Of course, the Volvo commercial is in its own way fun to dissect: note the sexual subtexts in each “sighting”: the young son dreams of escape on the Loch Ness monster; the adolescent daughter dreams of a unicorn; the mother dreams of seeing Elvis driving a convertible down a desert highway [which—tangent—makes me think a) of James Dean, not so much Elvis and b) raises (tangentially, yes; those Harley Earl Buick commercials do it much more directly) the perennial question of why on earth car manufacturers try to sell modern cars by hearkening back to older models that were pretty much without exception better looking]; and the father’s dream is rather notably absent—are his dreams not worth commenting on? [Has he been stiffed?] Are we supposed to make the inference that this new Volvo SUV is his dream—thus, on the one hand, backhandedly remarking on the paucity of his imagination [an impractical thing, suited only for impractical people] while suggesting that only his [practical] dreams are deserving of reification? Are the dreams of the presumed norm, those white, middle-class, family-headin’-up men, to be kept private, hidden, safe, unknown? And whether that’s empowering or disempowering depends on context and strategy, of course [and the commercial rather wisely leaves both entirely in the reader’s hands]. —See the fun you can have before they show the trailer for the latest Jim Carrey vehicle?)

But! It’s the context of Regal Cinemas as digital pipeline snarfed up by predatory Native-American-heritage-drillin’ Qwest-ownin’ Bob-Dole’s-hand-shakin’ evil-white-capitalist guy, to be used to pump heavily coded crypto-fascist feel-good agitprop into the eyeballs of millions of captive moviegoers—it’s that context that makes it so terribly funny (to me, at least) that, when we went to go see The Two Towers last month, before the previews, before the ads and the PSAs, while we were finding our seats and they were showing those slides of local advertisers and inane movie trivia, and playing over the speakers snippets of new releases (artists and labels and album titles carefully enunciated, so you can remember them when browsing the aisles at the Barnes & Noble after the show), and right after the latest smooth smooth R&B sensation, they announce their next song is from a Russian pop duo: “All the Things She Said,” by t.A.T.u. (The generic announcer spelled it out: Tee. Ay. Tee. You. Clearly. Carefully. Although I imagine most people will end up calling them “Tatu.”)

And I’m all mixed up
feeling cornered and rushed
They say it’s my fault but I want her so much
Wanna fly her away where the sun and rain
Come in over my face
wash away all the shame
When they stop and stare—don’t worry me
’Cause I’m feeling for her
what she’s feeling for me
I can try to pretend, I can try to forget
But it’s driving me mad, going out of my head!

Russian lolitapop lesbians in their panties. Pass it on.

—I should maybe provide some context.

Volkova Julia Olegovna and Katina Elena Sergeevna were low-level toilers in the Russian youthpop industry, a sort of second-string mirror of the Disney-Orlando nexus that gave us the boy bands and Brtineys of the late ’90s (like those third-world knock-offs of Guess jeans and Star Wars action figures ) when they were plucked from a cattle-call audition to star in the latest creation of former psychiatrist and advertising executive Ivan Shapovalov (a sort of second-string knock-off of Lou Pearlman ): t.A.T.u. (Also: Tatu, Tattoo, t.A.T.y., and Taty. Since the “oo” sound is figured by “y” in Cyrillic. Comes from tattoos, which are hip. Or an abbreviation of “Ta liubit etu,” a rough transliteration of a phrase meaning “She loves her” or “This girl loves that girl” [I’m assuming some sort of slang or dialect; this doesn’t sound much like what little I remember of my Russian would suggest. “Liubit,” yes (“Ya liubliyu tie,” while it looks awful in Romaji, is one of the more beautiful ways in the world to say “I love you.”—With a good dark rich accent, of course), but “ta”? “Etu”? (Brute?)].)

The basic shtick: Yulia and Lena perform in schoolgirl outfits—kilts, blouses, ties; also, incongruous electric blue kneepads—singing emphatically of freedom and escape and not taking it any more and, well, their love for each other. They usually strip off each other’s kilt and blouse and perform some of the more energetic numbers in matching white T-shirts and underwear. (Also, kneepads.) The highlight of each concert is a kiss, which has started riots. (Also: riots when the kiss has been banned.) They started the band when Yulia was 15 and Lena 16. Lena’s now 18; Yulia’s going to turn 17 in February. They’re the biggest pop act ever to come out of Eastern Europe. They’re angling to hit the American market bigtime. Their video is already in rotation at TRL. And music critics are lining up to lament the fall of Western civilization. (The music? Chirpy Europop. Better in Russian than English, but all cheap pop music is vastly improved by not understanding the lyrics, and singing in phonetic English flattens their voices, which are a bit better than not. Also: they “do” a Smiths cover on the American release. “How Soon is Now.” Just so’s you know.) —My God, they’ve even cropped up in blogtopia.

So I think it’s too late to stop them. If you were so inclined.

And you might well be so inclined: there’s a lot not to like here. This is rank exploitation, by any definition of the word. Should you doubt it: take a gander at the photos they’ve shot for Maxim and Jane, for a neat-enough bracketing of the current scope of the newsstand. —Or go for broke with the stuff done for the Russian Maxim. Go: read the reactions that first popped up on MetaFilter back last summer. They aren’t even “real” lesbians, after all. (Though the epistemological implications of that sentence are staggering, to say the least; one could have a field day writing papers on the warring meanings of the word “lesbian” as used within lifestyle squibs written about t.A.T.u.) —The kisses and cuddles are all an act, put on for the stage and the cameras; some denizens of the bulletin boards insist the two girls really hate each other. (Some denizens insist Elton John wants to adopt the girls. Grain of salt and all that.) The thing is, they’re cheerfully, maddeningly upfront about how it’s a put-on. Sort of. “Everybody thinks we are lesbians,” says Lena. “But we just love each other.” (Keeping in mind that this is translated from the Russian, of course, and that leering Ivan Shapovalov, that cigar-smoking svengali, is hovering in the background, controlling everything they say.) There’s also the boyfriends the tabloids write about and the husbands they want to have one of these days.

So: exploitation; objectification; a manufactured pop phenomenon taking on the trappings of marginalized sexuality for edgy thrills; frat boys giggling over photos of schoolgirl lesbians; nymphettes cavorting on stage in their underwear; a synthesized Europop cover of a Smiths song. Ivan Shapovalov is out to make a buck by any means necessary, and Interscope is more than willing to aid and abet him, and Matthew Yglesias should be ashamed for having been taken in.

But a funny thing happens with pop culture, betwixt cup and lip.

Robin Wood is a film critic who talks about the “incoherent text,” a text that says several conflicting things all at once—his seminal example being Taxi Driver, which at once condemns and celebrates Travis “You talkin’ to me?” Bickle, though he did extend the idea, asserting that the incoherent text was the dominant storytelling mode of ’70s cinema, “full of ideological contradictions and conflicts that reproduce existing social confusion and turmoil.” (And now that I’ve set all my pieces on the table, and am about to try to make a pretty shape out of them, can I just digress a moment to point out that I know about Robin Wood because of Buffy? That he’s a Freudian [and anti-American self-hating leftist socialist, to boot] critic with an abiding interest in themes of repression? That Buffy’s tagline this [it is to be hoped final] season is “From beneath you, it devours”? That the principal’s name [wait for it] is Robin Wood? And you remember how Jonathan was killed? And the principal was the guy who, all as-yet unexplained, dragged his body out of the basement of the school around back and buried it? So tell me, you smart people: why the fuck is a character named for a Freudian critic of horror films repressing the evidence of a horrific sacrifice by burying it? Hmm?) —Ahem.

Where was I?


Okay: I don’t want to suggest that crypto-fascist PSAs or faux-lesbian lolitapop stars are deliberately, consciously incoherent texts; the good stuff, the art that is more than one thing, that embodies and takes up on all sides the struggles it’s about. But any time there’s a dissonance between what’s said and what’s read, you have incoherence. (Don’t take that too far; given that no one ever reads even the most didactic piece in the manner in which it was intended, one could then state that every text is incoherent. While this might prove a useful point in a cocktail party donnybrook, it renders the term itself useless, critically speaking.)

The dissonance between what the “Pass It On” PSA says on its surface and how its subtext works, and what we can infer of the intent behind it from the circumstances behind its creation and distribution, sets up an interesting enough incoherence that makes for a diverting field of critical play. (Some might call it hypocrisy and move on, but they’re no fun to play with.)

t.A.T.u. is set up by a leering svengali who cynically pulls every last trick out of the books, and outraged critics (who really ought to know better) are all too eager to fall into line and into their scripted roles, damning the whole concept to the horrible fate of selling millions of records. But to insist that the only way to read t.A.T.u. is as exploitation, as a man’s debased idea of teenaged lesbian love, as Europop tarted up with a tawdry underaged striptease, is to deny the readings of hundreds of thousands of online fans who have found something of value—whether it’s an expression of something they feel themselves (faked or not), or of something they know is in the world and want to see reflected in their music and pop culture, or something more basic, more primal (oh, hush): after all, teenagers directly and unapologetically expressing their sexuality (cleanly, simply, shorn of the cartoonish excesses of Britney and Christina—which are, after all, rather clearly not sex, not as we know it)—that’s a gloriously satisfying fuck you in an age which thinks calling students “sluts” is acceptable sex education. (Certainly, it’s the closest thing to genuine rock ’n’ roll rebellion I’ve seen these past few benighted years.)

“And if the young women of Tatu are genuine teen lesbians, their willingness to delve into matters of homosexuality on a public stage could very well be a source of some inspiration to the many other teenage lesbians out there.” Which is what The Star’s critic had to say. “If they’re merely fanciful eye candy for men who dream of a world where women never wear outerwear and routinely drop giggling to the ground for tickle fights, the high-stakes pop market has hit yet another new low.” —And that’s the rub, isn’t it? After all, why on earth can’t they be both? More or less. Here and there. At one and the same time.

It all depends on who’s reading it, and when, and how, and where. Also, why.


(Yes, but what about how that rebellion is commodified, packaged, and sold? And how faux lesbianism aside, Shapovalov is trafficking in the images and ideas of girls in emotional distress, marginalized; defiant, yes, but unsure, uncertain, confused; above all, girls who need to be protected? —Oh, shut up. It’s getting late.)

Anyway. That’s why I laughed, when t.A.T.u. started chirping about “All the Things She Said,” before a Mormon PSA designed to gently nudge us all back into a kinder, gentler, less confusing, more coherent Golden Age. Mixed messages. Futility is sometimes terribly funny. (And then, of course, we saw part two of The Lord of the Rings: a story of the importance of mercy and the power of redemption set in a world profoundly and irrevocably split between good and evil.)

—At least, that’s part of why I laughed.

  1. --k.    Jan 23, 04:00 AM    #
    A reader writes:

    Romanji -> Romaji

    Assuming you meant the Japanese term for roman letters. In which case it should be in italics as a foreign word. My knowledge of Russian is much less, so I'm no help there, I'm afraid.

    I did indeed. (Dontcha hate trying to be all cool and snarky and flip with a little thing, and getting it wrong? I know I do.) --So noted and fixed. Though I go back and forth on the italics thing. But yeah, probably, in this case. Why not.

  2. Martin Wisse    Jan 23, 06:52 AM    #
    You were amused, I was annoyed:

    but then it's been in heavy rotation over here.

    And using italics to denote foreign words is soo pretentious.

  3. --k.    Jan 23, 07:57 AM    #
    "Amused" is a terribly simple word for summing up what I come away feeling. Not altogether inaccurate, no; but it misses some nuance. (Roughly 2,999 words' worth.)

    (And: from your piece: I don't think it's accurate to state that they're trying to Make a Statement and failing through pandering; they're pandering, and all the while cheerfully aware that one could choose to Infer a Statement, were one so inclined. --Whether this is a failure is left as an exercise for the student.)

    But yeah. Pretentious. That's me.

  4. Nate Oman    Jan 23, 12:42 PM    #
    With reading your post I am once again reminded why I have never been tempted to take a literary theory class. Thank you for the affirmation.

  5. Kevin Moore    Jan 23, 04:10 PM    #
    Now we know what the father driving the Volvo was dreaming about: teenage girls in their underwear.

    (That strikes me as a very coherent text.)

    And, um, Nate? Your loss.

  6. Amy S.    Jan 23, 07:44 PM    #
    Kip, go read that rant I wrote about *Suicide Girls* over at Amp's place and just substitute the appropriate verbs/nouns where necessary. It'll save us both a lot of time and energy.

    P.S. -- I'm waiting for the latest Tolkein masterwork to come to the Baghdad. If I'm full of beer/wine, I will have ample opportunities to leave the theater for breathers. This being very important when one is watching a film where she doesn't know who's who, and is too apathetic to care. Just clash them swords, Big Boy ! :p

  7. --k.    Jan 23, 08:51 PM    #
    Ah, but Amy: there I was arguing that Suicide Girls does not uphold the standard norms of beauty, but different (if no less restrictive) ones (since we both agree the alternative trappings are marketing chicanery, and the personal aspect is stalker-chic scary); here, I'm arguing that to insist on a single reading for an essentially incoherent text is to miss some important or at least intriguing nuance. Or at least cocktail party back-of-the-envelope theorizin' fun. Though I'll warrant it's a rather esoteric sense of fun, and not without its bleak, black side. --So those are two different things, really. Not that I want to waste time and effort, mind.

    Nate: please don't mistake the late-night foolings around of a high school graduate who's read too much Delany for anything approximating some of the cool and fun and very good work that can come out of literary theory. Also: when denigrating other fields of study, keep both Sturgeon's Law (90% of everything is crap) and the point someone once made about glass houses and stones in mind. After all, that's a cool-looking legal issues blog you've got going there...

    Kevin: you are a bad man. But you know this.

  8. Martin Wisse    Jan 23, 10:21 PM    #
    Kip: but you're pretentious in a good way

    About Tatu, I wrote that piece before I'd read anything about them and the videoclip does look like they're trying to be thoughtful but failing...

  9. Redpower    Jan 24, 05:24 AM    #
    Regarding "Ta lyubit etu..."

    "Ta" is short for "Ta devushka," that girl, and "etu" is short for "etu devushku," this girl, the accusitive form of "eta devushka."

    It's more conversational than slangy.

  10. language hat    Jan 24, 06:44 AM    #
    Why do you call them "Volkova Julia Olegovna and Katina Elena Sergeevna," family names first, when you give Ivan Shapovalov's name the normal way? (And yeah, ta lyubit etu is perfectly good Russian for "that one loves this one.")

  11. --k.    Jan 24, 07:48 AM    #
    Because I was grabbing the names from about--Christ, a dozen different websites and fansites, in native and not-so English; that method of writing their names came from (I think) a Russian magazine website and also one of their less fly-by-night, quasi-official fansites. (Never assume. Sigh.) --Also, because my Russian these days is limited to "Ya slooshayou djasz." I can recognize a patronymic when I hear it, but have little idea where to put it, or why. And anyway, the thing is such a mishmash of approaches and conclusions as it is...

    And thanks for the clarification, Redpower.

  12. Amy S.    Jan 25, 02:19 PM    #
    Well, I ain't gotcher' high-falutin' clove smokin' type edumacation, Sir. But I'd still say the two examples are closely related: In both cases, someone's exploiting and the rest of us drag ourselves around trying to dig under the exploitation for depth that isn't really there. Really, once the workout's over, you're left with a bad back, a hole, and a pile of dirt. I'm a grouch, and No Fun At All, what can I say ? Someday the Pharmeceutical empire will catch up with me and cover my grouchiness over with a thick layer of medicated pink frosting, but until then, I plan to make the most of it. :p

    Forget this incoherent text foofaraw. If you want cute young females in love, why not invest your millions in *Annie On My Mind*: The Musical*, or *Empress of the World*: The Musical* ? Why go with the bad-back method when starting out with something that actually doesn't suck provides an infinitely better fun-to-effort ratio ? Don't answer that. :p

  13. --k.    Jan 26, 05:31 AM    #
    Because I'm not looking to Tatu for examples of cute young women in love; I'm stuck fascinated like a bird in the headlights of an oncoming snake at the sheer unmitigated gall and chutzpah of a brilliantly crass marketing enterprise. It is at once knee-slappingly funny and terribly appalling. --I enjoy being annoyed by things, sometimes. Go figure. (And I don't think Empress would work as a musical. But.)

    However: it's quite clear that a large number of people in spite of the obviously exploitative nature of the enterprise are looking to Tatu for something more than typical het boy drooling. To insist that Tatu is only that is to deny their experiences. You can fault them for being taken in, but you shouldn't write it off; to do so is to miss the very powerful and terribly weird ways pop culture works, under the surface and in spite of itself. --The PSAs might not have been the best counterexample, because none of us clove-smokin' edumacated pretentious fucks (and you may not smoke cloves, dearheart, but you're solidly in our camp) would ever take them seriously on their surface level, but it's nonetheless quite possible to read them as neat and nice and pleasant while not at all acknowledging the ugly inner workings of how and why they're on the screen.

    Crap. Never dissect a frog. You just end up with a mess and a dead frog.

  14. --k.    Jan 26, 05:32 AM    #
    Not counter-example. Co-example. Whatever. Anyway. Coffee. Yes. Now.

  15. Amy S.    Jan 26, 05:46 AM    #
    Well, "reading" them that way would've been a lot easier if I hadn't looked at the "spreads" from Jane and Maxim first.

    And sweet, blessed N.O.T.A., what an awful video !

  16. Lisa    Jan 26, 07:08 AM    #
    Yeah, ok, maybe Kip's pretentious (I have some serious doubts) but using italics for borrowed words that are not standard usage is appropriate and user friendly. If you don't recognize an italicized word and wish to research it, you're already alerted to the fact that it might not be in a standard dictionary because it's in italics. Text is not only a data stream, it's an interface. Be user friendly!

    And on another note--I've been hearing t.A.T.u fairly frequently of late, mostly from the "Hello Kitty" branded undergraduate females.

  17. Kevin Moore    Jan 27, 08:49 AM    #
    "To insist that Tatu is only that is to deny their experiences."

    Which is another way of saying that "every interpretation is valid because art is all subjective", a notion that is less true than it seems, because individuals are quite capable of misinterpreting, misreading, disregarding contrary evidence, deluding themselves into seeing what they want to see, or simply being ignorant of context, mitigating factors, etc. In other words, bad criticism.

    Saying so only invites charges of elitism, of course. But then, the egalitarian in me expects everyone to scrutinize culture carefully. Or at least be honest: if you like teenager girls hopping about in their underwear, more power to you. Maybe I'm missing something, but I fail to see the "genius" behind a marketing scheme any pornographer could conjure up on the toilet. Or a Bud Light ad exec.

  18. --k.    Jan 27, 10:08 AM    #
    In a word, Kevin, no. Rather: it all, as usual, depends on context. Every interpretation is not equally valid across the board (you know me well enough to know I'd never stoop to such relativism, you big dope--watch for the rhetorical booby traps!); if you want to examine the impact of a pop phenomenon on the pop culture, it helps to go and look and see how it is being read--not how you think it's being read. Dismissing t.A.T.u. as something a pornographer could conjure in the toilet misses what and how those Hello Kitty girls are getting from it--and a cursory examination of the links would demonstrate that there's a hell of a lot of them out there getting whatever the hell it is. You don't have to like what it is they get (heteroflexibility, perhaps?)--but ignoring it misses an important part of the phenomenon.

    A better example might have the intentional subtext of shows like Xena or (a far better example) Smallville, for all that I earlier dismissed it (in correspondence). Don't get hung up tracking the subtextual homoeroticism of one, and the faked, ubertextual homoeroticism of the other; you'll get confused. Just watch how in both cases there's (at least) two different complexes of meaning--Lex and Clark love each other/don't be silly, they're just friends; empowered teens racing away from stifling convention/nubile lolitpop sex kittens (or lovey-dovey nice-nice PSAs/creepy crypto-fascist propaganda)--co-exist in the same phenomenon, and can each be read as equally valid by wildly disparate audiences without tripping over anyone else's different and contradictory reading (though elements of each slop over into the others and all sorts of interestingly messy things happen in the ever-interesting liminal borderlands). --To insist on one dogmatic reading is to miss the others; is to miss how the other interpretations augment and undercut each other (it's hard for such blatant sex kittens to be empowered, or rather, such an empowered reading is only enabled by the overall heightened expectations of sexuality in depictions of women in pop culture). That's what I meant.

    Given that, then: any single one of those readings would be more or less valid than any other one depending on context. It's not at all detrimental to disregard the homoerotic subtext in Smallville when recommending it to conservative audiences (apparently), say. In the context of whingeing on for 3000 words and counting about the mutability of pop culture, it helps to have somewhat more of a broader, more inclusive scope, though that does tend to suck for anything resembling a coherent opinion or direct action. (The pro-t.A.T.u. people seem to think I'm anti; those appalled by the phenomenon seem to think I approve. Me, I'm still grinning like a Cheshire cat.)

  19. Kevin Moore    Jan 27, 11:33 AM    #
    Oh, you little trickster you. Sitting above the fray, yet seeping through the pores of the borders dividing the fans and the dismayed, stealing their fire to make hot dogs with, my unbound prometheus.

    But seriously, I don't think context is a garment that can be so easily donned and slipped off. Capitalism feeding off misogyny and male dominance doesn't disappear in a puff of dry ice. t.A.T.u may be playing with the conventions of pop culture's commodified eroticism, but I don't think they are subverting it, rather repackage, reify and reinforce. But like Woodward & Bernstein learned, "follow the money."

    Their fans, like Madonna fans, see what they want to see; perhaps, like Madonna, t.A.T.u will help advance social acceptance of gays and alternative sexuality—or like Madonna, problematize social acceptance of gays and alternative sexuality further. Perhaps the Hello Kitty girls will admire t.A.T.u.'s "taking control of marketing their own sexuality" the way Madonna fans admire hers. But as I always ask Madonna fans, so what? She has now made the sexual commodification of women seem "hip", "post-feminist", "post-modern"—i.e., socially acceptible by other means. The Bud Light guys couldn't be happier.

  20. Kevin Moore    Jan 27, 04:32 PM    #
    Oh, and while I was looking for fan sites, I thought this was cute:

  21. Nobody Knows Anything    Jan 31, 07:06 PM    #
    A guide to my blogs
    I have so many blogs in my blog rolls that even I don't know what's there. I can't blame you

  22. Jessica    Feb 13, 07:21 AM    #
    Wow. Really interesting. I've been trying to figure out the gap between means (rank exploitation) and ends (teenage girls celebrating the girl-girl love) and I like the application of the incoherent text. (Not to mention my respect for Joss has increased eightfold. But then, I'm still arguing that he had deeper reasons than his wife's high school traumas to name a character Cordelia.)

  23. Elena    Feb 23, 12:20 PM    #
    Tatoo (as we know them in Russia)went on to make a couple of other videos for their following singles 'Nas ne dogonyat' (which means both 'they won't catch up with us' and 'they won't catch us') and 'Prostye dvizheniya' ("simple moves"), which were also great success in Russia and continued to send messages as contradictory as the ones propelled by "Ya soshla s uma" (known in the English speaking world as "All the Things She Said" but having a much more powerful "I've gone mad" as the main refrain line in place of 'all the things she said'). One thing I can say for sure, the first two singles were a great inspiration for my lesbian friends and due to a different marketing technique (and yes, Ivan Shapovalov is just that - the string-pulling, money-grabbing pimp-like character who was disappointed at how little he could make of Tatoo in Russia due to no protection from CD piracy) somehow Tatoo was an inspiration to more than just lesbian teenage audiences. They are popular with adult female audiences and to my knowledge it is their (at least initial) image of resistance to the male world - the second video I mentioned "Nas ne dogonyat" features the girls on the run in a truck with a 'Thelma and Louise' turn transplanted onto the Russian snowy landscape. However, "Prostye dvizheniya" went on to do what the Western image of T.A.T.U. is mainly concerned with - contributing to the erotic fantasies of the average male (who would probably like to stay in the 'fraternity' state of development for much much longer as "The Old School" finally confirms)- as it featured one of the girls in the bathroom, masturbating.
    The funny thing is that now that T.A.T.U. has been number 1 in the UK top 40 for 4 weeks and has received so much coverage in the US, Russian media are in the state of greater turmoil about T.A.T.U. than when the duo was playing everywhere for half a year non-stop (in winter and spring of 2001). A recent major talk show featured members of parliament and representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church calling the girls "tatutki" -a recognizable play on the word "prostitutki" ('prostitutes') - with Yulia and Lena also present and revealing huge depths of what would seem like naivity to a kindly disposed audience.
    The question that seems to be baffling politicians and music critics alike is why did it have to be T.A.T.U. and not a 'decent' Russian band or performer to become, in the words of a British radio dj, 'the biggest Russian export since vodka'? My answer to this is because Russian women's sexuality IS the biggest export since vodka and nobody seemed to mind for so many years, it is when it got translated into world-wide fame and big bucks that the Russian defenders of morality came forward. Sorry to have moved away from the original point of discussion.

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