Britney Spears at the MTV Music Video Awards.
Getting together with my teacher Dr. Fred Strange last week got me to
thinking about my blog. I had given Dr. Strange the link to P.M.P.I.,
and over the next few days I guess it was only natural to wonder just
what my teacher would think of it all. I wondered how many of the posts
that I've done here over the past year and a half he would consider —
perhaps — to be superficial. So I went back through my archive, looking
at posts I've done.
But after going back through a lot of those posts it occurred to me that,
in anthropology, "culture is culture". That is, it's all grist for the mill
when it comes to cultural discourse. Many people, I think, hold that certain
topics are irrelevant or trite in the overall scheme of things. Anthropologists
don't take that luxury. This week's fashion disaster at a gala Hollywood
opening may seem irrelevant when compared to all of the "serious" stuff in
the world — wars, famines, flood. But culture is simply culture. And while
one of my celebrity posts may seem a tad on the vacuous side, that too is our
culture at times.
And it's a funny thing too about that totality which we consider culture:
It's difficult to draw lines between some things. Talking about video
games may lead us to consider modern attitudes towards war. And talking
about an actress caught stumbling drunk outside her townhouse by the
paparazzi may lead us to consider the inter-relationship between public
fame and privacy, between those elements that are considered public in
culture and those that we currently hold to be private.
Philosophers term the language they use to talk about philosophy "meta-
language." That is, language that describes language. It seems to me
that there is also a lot of talking about culture out there too — and a
lot of talking about talking. Even as I sit here and type this I am
participating in that. In fact, it is difficult to avoid it for anyone
out there in the public domain. CNN does it, Charlie Rose does it, the
pundits and magazine writers and the bloggers do it.
On the internet this morning I was reading a good number of blog posts,
news articles, and so on about Britney Spears' appearance on the MTV
Video Awards show. There was a lot of talk floating around out there in
hyper-space, most of it deciding that Britney's performance was a
fiasco — the fast skinny of which is that her dancing looked bad and
totally unrehearsed and that her lip-synching was worse than an English-
dubbed kung-fu movie. But the biggest topic was definitely her tummy.
Most commentators held that she looked fat. And it was reported that
Britney herself went away after the program extremely upset, calling
herself a "fat pig." The demons of discourse were out and flying around
like bats, suggesting that her performance on the show was the final
coffin nail in her career.
There is an aesthetic change taking place out there in our culture. The
skinny, zero-percent body fat ideal that took root in the "let's get
physical" era of the late 70s and early 80s is now giving way to a
riper, more voluptuous ideal — granted, the process is a slow one. As to
what is driving the change I can only speculate that in an age where
Americans are simply eating too much and packing on too many pounds, that
the fuller ideal is simply more forgiving. We should eat less than we
do, and perhaps more importantly learn to eat better. The doctors and
fitness experts are correct on that one. But that doesn't mean either
that we have to posit some body standard that is, for most people,
difficult or impossible to achieve.
What I find most interesting perhaps in all of this is the reaction of
some celebrities to this new aesthetic. There are some celebrities that
are simply skinny by genetics, and they probably wouldn't be capable of
a fuller figure if they were to sit around and do nothing but eat raw
pasta from morning until night. Some of these celebrities seem to be
launching a campaign towards becoming even more skinny, to the point of
anorexia. They are afraid to lose their status as being the hottest
looking people around, and are trying to reverse the course. Which is
not going to work, of course. You have only to study a small bit of art
history to realize just how broad-sweeping aesthetic movements are and
how slowly they occur to realize the futility of that one.
As for the male actors, it is hard to tell but it seems to me that the
ideal of the last decade of the muscular hunk with six-pack abs is
changing also. For me, Leonardo diCaprio is the best example of this.
Once rail thin, diCaprio is now sporting a stockier, bearded young Orson
Wells look. And he looks good I think. But diCaprio is also significant
in another sense. He is one of a group of young actors and actresses
that is environmentally involved and concerned about world issues. There
may be a lot of celebrities out there still who seem to flaunt a spoiled-
brat attitude. But diCaprio and others show that not all who are rich
are pampered, and not all who are famous are completely narcissistic.
And while there will always be floods and famine, that doesn't mean
either that we should become cold, lifeless zombies to the unfortunate
occurences of the world.
As we talk, as we talk about talking, I think we should be more aware
and concerned about what we are saying in all these words. Much of the
discourse I find today is gratuitous, exaggerated, false — or simply
incredibly unkind. We all have our demons to deal with, even if they be
little ones. And a demonic commentary doesn't help. And if I myself have
ever been guilty on this blog of being unkind, except where the intent
was simply to be humorous, then I ask everyone's forgiveness for that.
It's not something that you will find repeated here, I can pretty much
guarantee you that.
To Britney, I would like to say that you are welcome to come over to my
place and visit any time you want. You can even shave your head first.
And it's okay if you no longer have your perfect tummy. Because, believe
it or not, I like you just the way you are. And I hope you get things going
again and get things straightened out and are happy.
How's that for discourse.
The Venus de Milo — and take my word
for it, her lip-synching is terrible.