In 1975, Genesis P-Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti consumed blood, semen and piss onstage in the UK. Government officials labeled them “the Wreckers of Civilization.” A female sex worker, Cosey examined “how men and women interact in a sexually charged/volatile manipulated situation” by fearlessly, shockingly putting her body on display. This was the beginning of industrial music, a genre rooted in taboo and transgression.
The tradition continued. In 1985, Coil’s cover of Tainted Love addressed the AIDS crisis at a time when huge stigma still surrounded the discussion. The release of the single constituted the first AIDS benefit in music history. In 1988, Skinny Puppy spoke out passionately about animal rights through a series of live shows that involved animal blood and graphic, distressing portrayals of vivisection. During the Siege of Sarajevo in 1995, Laibach’s NSK diplomatic passports literally saved lives by enabling people to escape from the war zone at a time when Bosnian passports weren’t considered valid. The giants of industrial used subversive tactics to challenge audiences and create new awareness.
But something happened. Once industrial music had fully transitioned from avant-garde venues into nightclubs, the stench of Axe body spray began to dominate the subculture as a certain douchey, bro-tastic vibe emerged. Where the goth/industrial scene had once existed as a safe haven for artists, weirdos, outcasts, geeks, dreamers and rebels, a disturbing trend of sexism, racism and anti-intellectualism is driving people out.
A final, fantastic Geekqualitycross-posting written by Moxie Munroe. Thanks again to everyone over at our cherished sister blog for their thoughtful contributions and ongoing inspiration. We love you! Keep up the empowering, nourishing work. ~Mer
It’s a widely accepted idea that music, like fashion, social movements, and menstruation, runs in cycles. Sometimes this theory runs less true than others, but right now I think it’s pretty applicable. Because right now, in the year of our Lord 2012, three things are making a huge media comeback: feminism, babydoll dresses, and female [presenting] emcees. This is important on several different levels, one being that the rise of the female emcee in 2012, and the performance styles they’ve adopted, gives us the chance to have some real conversations about race, class, and presentation in the role of third wave feminism.
You might say, “But Moxie, this is a blog for geeks by geeks! What does this have to do with my geek culture?” And I might answer, “Well, you beautiful newborn baby, geek culture is fringe culture, just like this is fringe culture. Music geeks are geeks too, and music geeks encompass a wider berth than just Flaming Lips fans, so get over it – hip-hop geeks need some shine too, and the issues we’re dealing with here are the same issues we deal with when we talk about representation of women of color in media in general, including comics, so double get over it, zip your lips and listen up, sporty.” And you might say, “Moxie, that’s mean!” And I might say “I don’t care!” So let’s continue.
Third wave feminism, is Now feminism; it’s pop feminism; some people might identify it as “girl power” Spice Girls feminism. It’s important, because this particular wave allows us to focus on things like sexual progressiveness and agency as it exists within the feminist sphere. A lot of the criticisms surrounding third wave feminism (and feminism in general) focus on the perceived and actual exclusion of race, class, and gender presentation in discourse. Several of the up and coming femcees in 2012 serve to challenge many of the practical aspects of both the standard patriarchy and the perceived paradigm of the feminist ideal. I’d say a lot of this is because most femcees exist in a racial/sexual no-man’s land, where subversiveness is almost necessary to survival.
The first wave of femcees seems to have come around sometime in the 80s and early 90s with folks like Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Salt N Pepa, and TLC; with tracks like “Ladies First” and “None Of Your Business” lending a particularly feminist voice to the hip-hop game. As hot as these songs (and artists) were, none of them became banner anthems of the feminist movement, falling behind artists like Bikini Kill and other darlings of the Riot Grrl movement. Recently though, vintage fem-penned hip-hop has been getting more play in feminist circles, due in large part to this generation’s penchant for nostalgia, and also the rise of social media’s role in social movements, allowing more voices of color to come to the forefront of the conversation. Social media has aided in the diversity of the music scene as well, allowing more underground artists to be heard by a wide range of demographics.
But let’s get back to the future. Today’s crop of female emcees seems to be as influenced by the socially conscious hip-hop of the 80s and 90s as it is the more raw sexually charged female hip-hop of the early 00s, when artists like Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown ruled the school. The explicit lyrics of that form of the genre tended to turn off a lot of feminists who dismissed it as both heteronormative and degrading.
Gerda Wegener, Cuckoo, 1920. Note the fallen black mask on the floor: it repeats in many of Gerda’s erotic paintings.
This is the true story of turn-of-the-century lesbian romance, erotic Deco illustrations rife with harlequins and crinolines, the world’s first male-to-female sex reassignment surgery, and the 1950s pulp novel that brought it all to light.
The story begins one hundred years ago. In 1912, artist couple Gerda and Einar Wegener arrived in Paris, hoping for greater prosperity and freedom than their conservative hometown of Copengahen would allow. They checked into the Hôtel d’Alsace, where – they were shocked to learn – they had been placed into the very same room where Oscar Wilde had once died twelve years earlier. The couple spent the next few days reading Wilde’s works out loud to each other. The forbidden sexuality, transformation, beauty and tragedy in Wilde’s work was reflected in the couple’s following years together.
Gerda, left. Lili, right.
In Paris, Gerda quickly became well-known for her sensual, free-spirited illustrations. Her work often featured a mysterious beauty with a stylish short bob, full lips, and beguiling brown eyes. In 1913, the public was shocked to learn the identity of the mystery model: Gerda’s husband, Einar. Einar was transitioning to living life openly as woman named Lili Elbe.
Robot Restaurant. Or, as jwz calls it, “Chuck E. Cheese: Judgement Day Version”.
The new restaurant (official site) is located in Shinjuku’s Kabukichō district, a neon-lit pleasure paradise also known as “Sleepless City” and renowned for its host/hostess bars, love hotels and nightclubs.
The restaurant is said to have cost 10 billion yen (or $130 million dollars). It features LED-encrusted tanks, cabaret girls, and gigantic fembots that can be steered with joysticks (one video also appears to show them being controlled via motion sensor.)
Admission to the restaurant costs 3000 yen (or $38). The fee covers seating, a simple meal, and an hour-long performance featuring Japanese taiko drums, a vinyl-clad marching band, a motorcycle performance, tanks and a B-52. More images can be found at Crunchyroll, Japan News 24, and Nippon News.
Tanya tells us that the idea for Geekquality emerged last year when several of the founding editors met for the first time at the first annual Geek Girl Con in Seattle, Washington. Since that time, they’ve been steadily building/ramping up their online presence. Nowadays, the Geekquality venture is a thriving example of diverse collaborative writing and online community-building.
With staff members hailing from both the West and East coasts of the United States –all geeks and vocal participants in online communities and united by a “love/hate relationship with geeky media”– Geekquality, in addition to celebrating examples of inclusivity and diversity in geek culture, addresses its writers’ mutual, ever-growing dissatisfaction with a frequent lack of intersectionality and diversity both in current geek media and in many fandom communities. This from a group statement emailed to Coilhouse by their editorial team:
“Being a nerd isn’t really so much a choice as it is a facet of your person. How you live, consume, and interpret your experience, however, most certainly is a matter of informed choice. All of us have been disappointed to find that often, analysis that challenges beloved content and creators is dismissed as unproductive and overly negative, when it’s actually critically important. The geek is indeed inheriting the earth, and it’s up to geeks to make sure our influence is not a negative and exclusive one.”
“Talking about video games, comic books, TV shows, movies, etc and pointing out flaws in writing or casting, accuracy in representation of unique perspectives, and general discussion of what could be done better sometimes are met with an arms crossed, head-shaking refusal to admit that some pop culture thing we love can also be flawed. While we are all united by our geekdom, there can still be more inclusion from lenses of feminism, sex and gender, race, ability, and various cultural perspectives.”
Sharp, exuberant, funny, passionate, and radically progressive, Laurie Penny (aka Penny Red) has a lot to say, and she isn’t afraid to say it… no matter what. In early 2011, at the age of twenty-three, this English writer skyrocketed into the press with her on-the-ground, heart-in-mouth coverage of the UK student protests. Later that same year, her shrewd reportage of the NYC-based Occupy protests garnered her an even larger readership around the blogosphere, on Twitter, and via various mainstream media outlets.
Since then, Penny’s been a columnist for The New Statesman and has written several articles for The Guardian and The Evening Standard. Her first two books, Meat Market: Female Flesh Under Capitalism, and Penny Red: Notes from the New Age of Dissent, were both published in 2011 by Zero Press. Currently, she and our good chum Molly Crabapple are collaborating on an ebook project called Discordia for Random House. Penny’s also spearheading a super secret video series that will “aim to challenge contemporary debate culture” by implementing a time-honored salon format. More information on that coming soon.
I’ve been keen to interview Laurie Penny for ages. Earlier this weekend, we finally got around to talking, and talking… AND TALKING, via Gchat (she at her mum’s house in the woods somewhere in England, me at my folks’ place in the chaparral somewhere in California). In fact, we didn’t shut up for several hours. What follows is the lion’s share of that conversation, minus our occasional indecipherable segues into bat country. (Well, most of them, anyway.)
Good readers, let it be known that this transcript is quite long, so we’ve broken it up into sub-headed sections in the hopes of keeping your eyeballs from bleeding. Laurie, thanks again! Always happy to put a kettle on for you here at Coilhouse. Can’t wait to see what you and your “savage red pen of justice” get up to next!
Mer: You’re not afraid to lead with deeply personal experiences. It’s fair to say that your approach often triggers some very polarizing reactions, both positive/appreciative, and negative/dismissive. I’ve been wanting to ask you for a long time: how do you balance your openness and vulnerability with the inevitable need for thick skin and tough armor. How do you stay balanced? What’s your “safe space”, figuratively speaking?
Laurie: Well, I do get a lot of attacks – people tell me I get more and more frightening trolling even than the usual barrage of hate and intimidation and slut-shaming that any woman raising her voice above a whisper on the internet has come to expect. It’s hard, sometimes. I’ve had very dark moments with it, and I don’t know how I would have coped without my friends. I’ve always been a sensitive person. I’ve had to develop a thicker skin, but at the same time I don’t want a tough hide. I think that’s a dangerous thing for a writer, particularly now. You can get to the stage where all criticism, even the legitimate, useful kind, just bounces off you, and you ossify into a little cocoon of your own prejudices. I’ve been very close to kicking it all in several times, particularly last spring, when I had some personal threats against my family on top of the rest of it, and I was also burned out from overwork. I started wondering if the toll it was all taking was worth it, the stress and exhaustion and panic attacks. When I get very low, which happens sometimes, I often think that I’d give up and shut up like these scumbags want if I didn’t hate the idea of letting them win. But spite alone is no way to work or write if you believe in doing your own small bit to change the world.
Mer: No, it’s not.
Laurie: Part of all this is particular to the British press, too. The culture of political debate in this country is toxic right now. Has been for years. And geographically as well as figuratively, it’s a very small island. Also, it’s just that some people really hate it when young women talk about things that aren’t shoes. Not that shoes aren’t important, too! In their own way.
In the next room, tucked away in a fireproof lockbox, there’s a handwritten note from 1952, hastily scrawled down on looseleaf paper by a man named John (aka Jack) Whiteside Parsons. (My partner and I are both fascinated by the tales surrounding Parsons and his equally scintillating wife, Marjorie Cameron.) Purchased a few years back from a reputable private collector, it’s a short list of the books from Parsons’ personal library– the ones he planned to take with him when he relocated from Southern California to Mexico. Everything from biochem science to William Blake to Alice in Wonderland. Only… Parsons never made it to Mexico. Within days of writing that note, the man blew himself up amid persistent, weird rumors of ritual workings, sex magick, portals.
Sixty years ago to this day, in fact.
June 17th, 1952: a “brilliant young rocket scientist and occultist was killed in an explosion in Pasadena of origins that remain mysterious [...] Five days later, Pasadena police closed the case and announced that he dropped a vial of fulminate of mercury onto the floor of his home laboratory [...] He was 37 years old and one of the country’s top chemical engineers, a founder of Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the inventor of the solid fuel that would take man to the moon.” (via)
Such a strange fellow, with such an utterly bizarre life trajectory! And for me, for whatever reason, something about that list of indispensable books feels more eerie and portentous than any of his “Do What Thou Wilt”/”As Above, So Below” writings. But in any case, thoughts of Parsons’ mythic Moonchild loom large in my sky tonight. His biography is one of the most compelling stranger-than-fiction stories of the 20th Century. Here’s some highly recommended reading for the newly intrigued:
Written by E. L. Leonard, the book started out as a Twilight fanfic titled Master of the Universe, published under the pen name Snowqueen’s Icedragon. Once the book was reworked for publication, high schooler Bella and vampire Edward replaced with college grad Anastasia Steele and powerful business magnate Christian Grey, the novel became an overnight success, recently landing on the New York Times #1 bestseller list with major movie studios vying for the film rights.
If I were a member of the Christian right, sitting on my front porch decrying the decadent morals of working American women, what would be most alarming about the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomena, what gives it its true edge of desperation, and end-of-the-world ambience, is that millions of otherwise intelligent women are willing to tolerate prose on this level. If you are willing to slog through sentences like “In spite of my poignant sadness, I laugh,” or “My world is crumbling around me into a sterile pile of ashes, all my hopes and dreams cruelly dashed,” you must really, really, want to get to the submissive sex scene.
Roiphe’s piece is clever, but flawed in its premise that feminism is at odds with the type of sex described in Fifty Shades. “It is perhaps inconvenient for feminism that the erotic imagination does not submit to politics,” Roiphe writes in one passage. ”Nope!” counters Maya in a well-written rebuttal on Feministing. “Really don’t care! I don’t want the erotic imagination to submit to politics. That sounds horrible. I’d like to create a politics that affirms the full range of the erotic imagination, though.” Well-put.
In addition to providing an overview of both the documentary and vogue ball culture (both past and present) the NPR feature includes testimonies from Big Freedia, Light Asylum, Zebra Katz, Del Marquis, and many others. A quick, great read. It’s also exciting to discover that the documentary –which has been, for decades, fairly difficult to track down a decent copy of– is now readily available on iTunes and Netflix Streaming.
The realm of Paris Is Burning: resonant and radiant as it ever was.
Artist Aubrey Learner‘s recent series of watercolor, graphite and ink drawings pair larvae and lace, scissors and satin, pollen and pins. As J. Schnabel of Blood Milk writes on Tumblr, “these drawings … make me want to bury my hands in dark soil. i’m especially interested in the tension of the sensual things we want against our body, the ribbons, the chamise, & the grotesque, yet intensely beautiful inclusion of the dark beetles & winged cicadas that make up these garments.”