Friday, 24 February 2012

The day I wrote about boy bands, or why grad school is hard and kittens and celebrities are fun.

As I sit here attempting to write my major research project proposal (it's like a proposal for my master's thesis, but it's called a research project because it's shorter than a's just semantics), I keep catching myself devaluing my own research topic, and I feel like that's really detrimental to this process. You see, I'm writing about boy bands. And that's usually how I present my research interests to people: "I write about boy bands!" And then I wonder why people don't take cultural studies seriously, when clearly I don't. I don't bother to tell anyone the context in which I'm researching boy bands, nor do I even explain WHY I'm researching boy bands. I suppose you could call it's self-preservation... If I don't admit that my research is actually grounded in anything serious, then no one expects anything of me. Set the bar low, then you can't fail, right? Plus then I don't have to actually try and "talk smart"--I don't have to talk about critical theory out loud, I can just hide in my apartment with stacks of books around me and write about theory there and never tell anyone. Because if I don't tell anyone, no one can judge me.

But now I have to write this proposal...which has to explain to other people why the hell I'm doing this. And I find myself doing the opposite of what I was doing before. I know, deep down, that I'm not doing this for silly reasons. But I keep making these bizarre qualifications, like that "the queer potential of boy bands is not an excuse to celebrate them" or something along those lines. Which, I mean, is a fair point, I suppose--I'm not arguing that everyone needs to love boy bands immediately because they're the best thing ever. But is that ever anyone's argument in an academic context? People writing about Judith Butler or Derrida or, I don't know, George Orwell are sitting there thinking OMG HOW CAN I MAKE SURE PEOPLE KNOW THAT I'M NOT JUST SOME HUGE FAN AND THAT I ACTUALLY HAVE SOMETHING IMPORTANT TO SAY. Because like seriously? Do people ever write about things they don't enjoy? C'mon, you know y'all are fans of Judith Butler. I am. (Okay, I've never said "y'all" before in my life. I'm from Ontario, not Texas.) And the nature of writing about anything you like in an academic context is, sure, you praise it when it deserves it, but you deconstruct it. You critique it when it deserves it, too. Obviously I am not just writing: "Boy bands are cool because gay boys and straight girls love them and everything gay boys and straight girls do on their own is awesome because they're both marginalized in a sexist, homophobic society. Yay!"

 If you'll allow me to analyze my own behaviour for a moment (not that I'm really asking--I'll write this whether you want me to or not! Muahaha...and they said the Internet would be a democratic space...), I think the reasons behind my attempts to defend (or avoid speaking about) my research are twofold. First of all, despite all of the changes in academia within the past few decades, particularly with the rise of cultural studies, popular culture is still not "serious" enough. For all the talk about not condemning people for having "mainstream" tastes, academics sure like to talk about how obscure and artsy their tastes are and how informed they are about things taking place outside the mainstream. Sure, that's a huge generalization, but as Carl Wilson argues in his book Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste (it's about his allergic reaction to Celine Dion), people's cultural capital nowadays depends on their ability to be a cultural omnivore. You need to be able to discuss Buffy or Dr. Who or Lost or Community as well as independent films and documentaries and local bands and also have a working knowledge of classic literature and classical music and Renaissance painting. And if you can only discuss the first bit...the "pop culture" stuff...well, you might just be "mainstream." Now I feel like I'm critiquing hipsters, not academics. But I feel like in both categories, similar feelings manifest themselves in somewhat different ways.

And here's the big catch, that leads to my second point: Never should you discuss Gossip Girl or Justin Bieber or Friends with Benefits or Confessions of a Shopaholic. (Disclaimer: I love GG, I like Justin Bieber, I saw Friends with Benefits and I read Shopaholic but it made me want to shoot someone. Not that that means you can't like it.) Regardless of what other shows you watch or bands you know, this is cultural suicide. And yeah, boy bands fit into this category. And you wanna know why? I'm sure there's a long, complex answer I could give, but the gist of it is this: Because that stuff's for girls. And by girls, I specifically mean girls, not women (despite the fact that our culture seems to think it's totally appropriate to call any woman, regardless of her age, a girl--that's not infantilizing at all, is it?). As Diane Railton argues in her essay "The gendered carnival of pop," pop music
is temporally bounded, seen only as a fitting taste for very young women. The pleasures of 'pop' are something that we must learn to grow out of.... [And it] is not only the music that must be left behind, but the physical, the sexual, in the music. The feminine in music must be abandoned as women grow up. It is only permissible for girls and young women. (2001: 330)
And this is why, Railton argues, pop music is not a threat to "real" music, and therefore will never be considered "serious," as a pastime or as an academic subject:
The carnivaleque of pop can provide no real challenge to the masculine world of popular music [meaning rock music or rap or anything popular that is marketed to and enjoyed by men] until it becomes acceptable not to grow out of 'pop pap music,' but to carry its pleasures with us into adult life. (2001: 330)
So this is what I'm up against, y'all. (There, I said it again. I DON'T TALK LIKE THIS IN REAL LIFE. The voice in my head is apparently some sort of combination of a Southern girl and a Valley girl.) And then there's the whole feminist argument that the third-wave tendency to praise anything that's girly just to elevate "girly" to the same status as "boy-y" (or, you know, masculine) is kind of useless because it's not critiquing the "girly," it's just putting it on a pedestal. Which is totally a fair point. So, it's a struggle. And I mean, really...I do understand, to a certain degree, why people might balk when they hear I'm researching people who dressed like this:

Like, seriously, Justin? This makes the fedora obsession look normal.

Anyway, if you are having similar struggles to me, know you're not alone! Here are two other posts I've come across from women experiencing some of the same issues: Maria Bustillos on romance fiction and Chloe Angyal on romantic comedies.

Also, I've found that looking at pictures of cats up for adoption in local shelters is very therapeutic. If you're in my area, look! and look! I want one but Jimmifer says I can't have one until we move into a bigger place. Which is probably a good idea because I don't want to have a litter box in my kitchen. And my kitchen is sort of in my office/living room. *Sigh*

Also, another exciting distraction is Suri's Burn Book (a Tumblr dedicated to all of the celebrity children who "disappoint" Suri Cruise) because it's awful and mean and vapid and who does not love a five-year-old that can pull off this much attitude:

this much poise:

and these shoes:

The girl is a force to be reckoned with.

Reading week needs to end. I cannot be left alone in this apartment to do work any longer.


  1. You should probably leave the house a little bit more. I worry.

  2. This is sort of how I feel every time I bring up 'Friends' in classes about new forms of intimacy.

  3. Tell Jim that you'll trade him in for a cat. Something to pet = research proposal win!

  4. just found your blog on 20sb and love it! omg the suri burn book is hysterical!

    meg @