By: Curtis Cole
When talking of how Laura Mulvey naturalizes heterosexuality through the exclusion of Queer subjectivity, Robert Dale Parker—in his book How to Interpret Literature—speaks of how “some spectators will feel attracted to the masculine spectator on the screen. In this sense, when Mulvey supposes that the text determines the spectator, she leaves out the possibility that the spectator also determines the text” (174). Taking this secondary part to what I view as its natural conclusion, let’s push this spectator defined text to indicate that the text is not merely to indicate a binary path (of some kind of spectator defined construct) but rather a defined-path associated with a heteronormativity based in mandatory heterosexuality, something born of feminism sheaved from a Queer inclusive Marxist-Feminist position.
Proving this position will requiring looking at popular Youtube videos: the “Epic Rap Battles of History”. Initiating the reification process is the title itself: it overflows with masculine signifiers—“epic”, “battle”, and even “rap”, when we consider its contemporary roots in “gangster rap” male –chauvinism (as espoused by the likes of Eminem, Dr. Dre, 50 Cent, Little Wayne and countless others). Epic sets the stage by connoting action; in contrast to the sexist notion of woman being passive, action is uniquely signified to the masculine by virtue of its historical specificity (namely, the transition from primitive society to class based society), of, following Evelyn’s Reed’s research in her classic piece “The Myth of Women’s Inferiority”, men usurping the formerly feminine dominated industries, regulating women to the passive as masculinity increasingly colonized the ruling feminine.
Such lingual signification extends over into “battle” where this great reversal also takes root in the sense that while women were bringing together the majority of the communal necessities, the men hunted the “big game” animals in order to provide social luxuries to the community. Just the same, upon the passing into class based society, this fact is repeated as farce after women were coerced into nuclear households where they raised children: men now went off into the world in order to battle each other: kingdoms, tyrants, the devil, and other men. Whereas women were artificially regulated into passivity, men existentially sojourned as the moral purifiers of the world.
However, as with any truth, history as a truth and it moves dialectically. That is to say in this great contest between two opposing forces which, as new material conditions become relevant to the masses, the situation changes, or intensifies, and gives weight to the ever changing reality of history. In the case here, we are able to define this as the feminist versus the patriarchal. In other words, that which holds the inferior aspect—feminism—battles it out with the dominant (Patriarchy) in order to define new modes of living within the superstructure.
Provided, however, with each wave of feminism new contradictions emerge as culture and materiality becomes increasingly disturbed. Part of this disturbance is the murky connection feminism has to patriarchy’s subservient twin, heterosexism. Part of the feminized dialectic’s mission was to re-introduce women into the public sphere and though there have been three prior waves before the emergence of the most recent wave, many progressives have fallen into the bourgeois trap described earlier in that they include women but only as part of the masculine identity.
[Romeo & Juliet vs. Bonnie & Clyde]
The women here take a proactive role yet it is one tied to support. Bonnie said, “I mean, I’ll let you go first but damn sure I’m getting licks in on this hissy-fittin’ rich kid and prepubescent vixen”. ‘Let’ speaks to falsity: in history, yes, Bonnie and Clyde were a duo but to reverse the process and say she is actually the prime mover would be dishonest to say the least; this is not surprising, of course, when this false sense of superiority is betrayed immediately by “take this broad from behind” indicating participation in battle, but ultimately of a mixed nature: masculine but done in conservative ways—‘behind’ indicative of stealth, weakness, and mixed observation of the masculine. The opening slavo to Romeo and Juliet takes a slightly different approach but ultimately remains mired in the same pit: “so together we shall both put these bitches on blast” is Juliet’s retort. ‘Together’ is the key word. While Juliet is as Bonnie is, part of this grey masculine-feminine fusion, she is more confidant of her position—there is no falsity to her position and she understands herself to be subservient to Romeo’s role as prime guardian. Romeos takes the thrust of the battle with the heavily clichéd usage of genital references while his girlfriend merely backs up what he started by taking it to the next level with rape jokes.
Let’s take the analysis to level two.
[Miley Cryus vs. Joan of Arc]
Miley opens the concert by proclaiming “Spitting harsh words in this French maid’s face. You died a virgin girl, who you think you messin’ with?” Each line is laden with sexual imagery but closer to the point it indicates an advancement of the manner in which women in pop culture interact with men by signifying social-material liberation with sexual liberation. This is in contrast to Arc’s position which takes a blunt approach: “I only get down on my knees when it’s time to pray” mixes with “call me Katniss Everdeen” to signal differentiation between the primitiveness of the past and modernity. Just as the Hunger Games protagonist isn’t to be found engaging in wanton sexual acts, neither is she to be found engaging in homoerotic acts (not with her love triangle constituting a plot device) which may be fashioned as masculine activities insofar as it subverts what was then seen as the standard code; a homonormative inverse of heteronormative conduct. “I’m the maid of Orleans, you’re the Mardi Gras beads” solidify this power with the masculine by propelling her own agency over the sexuality of Cyrus whose feels threatened enough by Arc to initiate transphobia through the utterance of the cross-dressing peasant remark. So while ultimately the video is aligned with reactionary effectual modalities, it is a curious progression between the previous video which framed the role of women as purely supportive tools. The next video, as we will see, takes it to the third and final level insofar as we need be concerned with how the masculine acknowledges the Queer within the masculinized-feminine.
[Sarah Palin vs. Lady Gaga]
Palin’s opening remarks are a furious tirade which brings together heteronormativity, mental illness, and slurs to form an associative matrix; that is to say, she subverts her adversary’s persona by using its connotations against her through the power of reversing her intents to indicate a non-heterosexual (that is to say a mentally ill mind) reeking of poorly formed modern femininity: she lacks “real” femininity due to having “big balls”. Gaga cannot respond in the same manner. Accordingly, since she lacks the edge Palin has thanks to her heterosexuality, she must deconstruct the cultural aspects of Palin’s base: “Governor of Alaska? That’s like the principal of a homeschool” though speaking to a petty-nationalistic sentiment of some states being of better quality than others, is quickly augmented by the following line “spend some time with your kids before their pregnant” which colors the first by marking the first as a reference to spatiality; Palin is away from her family, hence why the question mark is included in Gaga’s comments, which in turn forcefully turns Palin’s heterosexist comments on its head once the spectator understands the women’s “duty” as caretaker is being neglected, ergo, suspending Palin’s entire offensive push. Of course, this is only achieved through a legitimation of the nuclear family. Gaga may have been able to reverse Palin’s assault but only thanks to utilizing patriarchy’s own tools of domination. This is seen as true later on when, after Gaga asserts Palin simply being afraid of her music, Palin shoots back with “I’m a mother of five”, a statement which pleads to the heterosexual audience member by appealing to their moral center: Palin, though being away from home, as fulfilled her ‘biological imperative’ by breeding. This is something not done by Gaga and is only countered by half-hearted references to male dominated sports (supposedly marking Palin as masculine).
In terms of historicity this third battle is interesting because, much like the second, it constitutes two women battling it out without the presence of men. However, unlike the second battle, the third consists of two high-powered, contemporary women. One and entertainer while the other a politician. Each attempt to mark the other within the masculine while calling upon the specificity of patriarchy’s machinations in order to subjugate the other within the confines of the male gaze, even if it is distorted by Queer influxes. Ultimately, the fact that each contestant throughout the battle series feels the need to submerge their selves within the culturally constructed masculine-feminine, can be counted among the odder moments for the struggle between the socially constructed male and female.
Parker, Robert Dale. How to Interpret Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.
Reed, Evelyn. “The Myth of Women’s Inferiority.” Fourth International, vol.15 No.2, Spring 1954, pp.58-66; Web. 6 Mar. 2015.