follow us in feedly
Chavela Vargas: Mexico’s great sapphic chanteuse
12.04.2013
08:07 am

Topics:
A girl's best friend is her guitar
Feminism
Music
Queer

Tags:

Chavela Varges
An early photo of Vargas, focusing on her beautiful face, and cropping out whatever masculine clothes she might have been wearing at the time.
 
A word of comfort to non-Spanish speakers: Mexican toddlers have a stronger command of the language than I do, but the first time I heard Chavela Vargas’ “Paloma Negra,” I knew exactly what she was saying. There are some artists that convey such an intense pathos without the benefit of a common language, even attempting to write about them leaves one feeling a little hackneyed, but I’ll do my best.

Chavela Vargas was born Isabel Vargas Lizano in Costa Rica in 1919. In the midst of an unstable childhood, she moved to Mexico at the tender ago of 14 to pursue a singing career in the burgeoning Mexican arts scene. For years she busked, wearing men’s clothing and smoking cigars. She carried a gun and embodied the machismo of her artistic idiom. Though she covered quite a bit of ground stylistically, Vargas was mainly known for her rancheras- traditional Mexican music performed with a single voice and Spanish guitar. Rancheras are often mournful torch songs sung by drunken men; alcohol provided a socially acceptable loophole for Mexican machismo to be shrugged aside for emotional and vulnerable performances. On the more rare occasion that rancheras were performed by women, gender pronouns were obviously switched to keep everything tidily heterosexual. Vargas simply sang to the girls.
 
Chavela Vargas
Vargas in full poncho
 
It wasn’t until her 30s that her career began to flourish, kick-started by a brief but successful visit to pre-Castro Cuba. By the time she became popular in Mexico, she was as much known for her bombastic persona and unapologetic sexuality as she was for her powerful voice and intense performances. She would come to shows on motorcycles, smoke cigars onstage, imbibe heavily, and openly flirt with men’s wives during performances (many swear she took a few home with her). All of this was during a time when even wearing pants was scandalous behavior for a woman in Mexico. While she had a rich sense of humor, one of her stylistic trademarks was slowing down cheeky tunes, transforming what were originally dirty little ditties into something intensely erotic. The scandals cost her a lot of work, but Vargas had no interest in catering to anyone’s notion of respectability.

Much of her life is shrouded in rumor and half-truths. It’s said that Vargas walked with a limp due to an injury incurred while attempting to climb in the second story window of an ex-lover. (Given Vargas’ difficulties with alcoholism, this isn’t particularly difficult to believe.) It’s known that she was incredibly close to Frida Kahlo, even living with her and her husband, Diego Rivera, for a time. I’ve never found absolute confirmation that they were lovers, but it’s largely accepted as fact by fans of both artists. Vargas even made an appearance in the 2002 Frida Kahlo biopic, singing a ghostly version of one of her signature songs, “”La Llorona,” (“The Weeping Woman”). I urge you to listen to both versions back to back; Vargas’ age and alcoholism seasoned her voice with a quality I can only describe as post-beautiful.

While Vargas’ career was fraught with ups and downs, she virtually disappeared for about 15 years starting in the late 70s. Intense depression and alcoholism finally sent her into a long seclusion, but in 1991 she returned to the stage, happy, healthy and transformed. With her famed trademark innuendo, the 74-year-old butch lesbian declared her never-ending commitment to music at a concert in Madrid, saying, “When you like something, you should do it all night long.” She officially came out in 2000, at age 81, and played Carnegie Hall three years later. She continued singing and recording up until her death in 2012, at age 93.
 
Chavela Vargas and Frida Kahlo
Vargas and Frida Kahlo
 
Below is some rare early footage of Vargas performing her famous rendition of “Macorina,” a poem that she set to music of her own composition. During the refrain, “Put your hand here, Macorina,” Vargas’ own hand would wander between her thighs. It was her first hit, and it was originally banned in Mexico, a country that now reveres here as one of its great daughters. The lyrics:

Put your hand here, Macorina
Put your hand here.
Put your hand here, Macorina
Put your hand here.

Your feet left the mat
And your skirt escaped
Seeking the boundary
On seeing your slender waist
The sugar canes threw
Themselves down along the way
For you to grind
As if you were a mill.
Put your hand ...

Your breasts, soursop fruit
Your mouth a blessing
Of ripe guanabana
And your slender waist
Was the same as that dance
Put your hand ...

Then the dawn
That takes you from my arms
And I not knowing what to do
With that woman scent
Like mango and new cane
With which you filled me at
The hot sound of that dance.
Put your hand ...


 

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Now might be a good time to talk about Gloria Steinem’s time as a CIA asset…
11.25.2013
07:28 am

Topics:
Activism
Feminism

Tags:


By the way, the other woman in this photo is Dorothy Pitman Hughes, an amazing activist who has received neither the press nor the institutional acceptance of Steinem
 
Last week, 79-year-old feminist icon Gloria Steinem was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. During her acceptance speech, she graciously declared,“I’d be crazy if I didn’t understand that this was a medal for the entire women’s movement.”  Should you be under the impression that this award is indicative of a tacit endorsement of feminism by either the the Obama administration or even the U.S. Government, allow me to brush you up on a little feminist history.

In 1959, Gloria Steinem attended the communist-sponsored World Youth Festival in Vienna as the head of the Independent Service for Information, a CIA front. The ISI had been set up at Harvard to send young anti-communist Americans to attend the World Youth Festival, where they could defend the US against communist critics and report back on their Marxist counterparts. Steinem was in charge of recruiting those young anti-communists.

Currently, Steinem is an honorary chair of Democratic Socialists of America (my comrades and former employers). The primary initiator of DSA, Michael Harrington (then of the Young People’s Socialist League), was also offered a free trip, but declined. Though he was a socialist, and critical of communism, Harrington refused to go unless he was also given license to criticize capitalism. Apparently Ms. Steinem felt no such moral conflict.

Before I’m dismissed as the Alex Jones of feminism, Steinem’s time with the CIA is public record. In the video below (yes, I know it’s from a conspiracy theory nut), she discusses her time as an employee. Now, I’m not accusing Gloria Steinem of being some sort of secret government fake feminist spy, but I do think it’s important to remember that we boner-killing, man-hating witches are not a united front, and we certainly aren’t all working towards the same goals. Some of us worked for the CIA for four years, others of us want to smash capitalism, and guess which ones get medals from the President?

Steinem may think she’s accepting an award “for the entire women’s movement,” but she sure as hell isn’t accepting it on my behalf.

Bonus: Gloria Steinem poses with Terry Richardson...
 

 
Special thanks to Phoenix on this one!

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Sexbot, Victim, One of the Girls: Charlotte Church’s talk on music industry misogyny
11.18.2013
10:20 am

Topics:
Feminism
Music
Pop Culture

Tags:


 
I don’t know what kind of profile Charlotte Church has in the US any more, if she has any. Five million Americans have bought Church’s albums in the past, but, if I had to guess, I’d imagine those sales were mostly during her “little girl with a big voice” stage back in the late 1990s, a period that saw the Welsh singer perform for Bill Clinton at the White House while still a teenager.

In the UK, Church has never really gone away though, morphing from choir girl to pop vixen to alt-rock chick, and trying her hand at acting and television presenting. Not to mention being a tabloid staple for everything from her love life to her consumption of alcohol and even *wrings hands* cigarettes. She may only be a sprightly 27, but she has been an internationally successful recording artist since the age of 11, so it’s safe to say she has seen and done her fair share.

All of which makes her very recent talk for BBC Radio 6’s The John Peel Lecture so very interesting, and even inspiring. I’m not much of a fan of her music, but this presentation is excellent. In it, Church takes aim fairly and squarely at the very limited roles available for women within the music industry, and particularly the hyper-sexualised pop market. As someone who literally grew up in front of a lens, and who was subject to an overload of “ooh, she’s of age now, look at her tits”-type of attention from the tabloid press, she surely knows what she is talking about.

Here are some extracts from her talk, via Digital Music News:

I’d like you to imagine a world in which male musicians are routinely expected to act as submissive sex objects.  Picture Beyonce’s husband Jay-Z stripped down to a T-back bikini thong, sex kittin’ his way through a boulevard of suited-and-booted women for their pleasure. Or Britney Spears’ ex, Justin Timberlake, in buttocks-clenching hot pants writhing on top of a pink Chevy, explaining to an audience how he’d like to be their ‘Teenage Dream.’

Before we all get a little too hot beneath the gusset, of course these scenarios are not likely to become reality, unless for comedy’s sake.  The reason for this is that these are roles the music industry has carved out specifically for women. It is a male-dominated industry, with a juvenile perspective on gender and sexuality.

From what I can see, there are three main roles that women are allowed to fill in modern pop music. Each of them restrictive for both artists and audience. They are mainly portrayed through the medium of the music video, you’ll find them very familiar.  I call them One of the Girls’ Girls, the Victim/Torch Singer, and the Unattainable Sexbot.

The One of the Girls’ Girls role is a painfully thin reduction of feminism that generally seems to point to a world where, ‘so long as you can hang out with your girls it’s possible to sort of wave away the evils that men do.’  This denigrates women and men equally, and yet is commonly lauded for being empowering.

The Victim/Torch Singer can be divided into the sexy victim (ie, Natalie Imbruglia in the ‘Torn’ video) and the not-so-sexy victim.  One female artist who does not use her sexuality to sell records is Adele.  However, lyrically, her songs are almost without exception written from the perspective of the wronged woman, an archetype as old as time.  Someone who has been let down by the men around her, and is subsequently in a perpetual state of despair.

But to me, the Unattainable Sexbot is most commonly employed and most damaging, a role that is also claimed to be an empowering one.  The irony behind this is that the women filling these roles are often very young, often previous child stars or Disney tweens, who are simply trying to get along in an industry glamorized to be the most desirable career for young women.  They are encouraged to present themselves as hyper-sexualized, unrealistic, cartoonish, as objects, reducing female sexuality to a prize you can win.

You can hear the talk, in its entirety, below, and it is highly recommended.
 

 
H/T to Paul Rokk.

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
This could suck: Kathleen Hanna on public speaking
11.13.2013
01:31 pm

Topics:
Activism
Feminism

Tags:


 
Feminist performer, punk icon, writer and frontwoman for Bikini Kill, Le Tigre and The Julie Ruin, Kathleen Hanna’s talents also include being an engaging public speaker. Thanks to her experience talking in front of journalists, unruly crowds at concerts, tamer audiences in university classrooms, libraries and lecture halls, she knows what she’s doing. Here she explains how to get up in front of a group of people, who may or may not be throwing things and yelling sexist insults at you from the mosh pit, and get your point across without undue worry about whether you suck at public oratory.
 

Posted by Kimberly J. Bright | Leave a comment
Break Club: The club where you go to break stuff!
11.01.2013
03:30 pm

Topics:
Amusing
Feminism

Tags:

Break Club
 
A club in Buenos Aries is offering a means for angry patrons to blow off steam, and safety gear is provided. Break Club is exactly what it sounds like. The clientele is provided with glass bottles, electronics, a concrete room, and a club (I’m sure the pun is unintentional), for smashing to their hearts’ content. The club’s founder says 85% of his clients are young women, which doesn’t surprise me. I can definitely attest to the limited outlets for female rage.

What’s a little more surprising is that they also appear to be mostly young professionals and office workers. I’d think stay-at-home-moms and fast food workers would catch on to this real quick. Maybe the careers of the modern world leave our animal instincts unsatisfied? Or perhaps it’s just because young educated women are more open to a trendy destruction experience, and possess the disposable income for the cover charge. I’m sure it’s a little of both, but either way, I think most communities could benefit from an affordable local Break Club nearby.
 

 
Via BBC

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Carol Channing, Poly Styrene and Jackie Collins at Women of the Year Awards
09.16.2013
09:07 am

Topics:
Feminism
Punk

Tags:

Poly, Carol, Jackie
 
I have searched high and low for any more context on this photo, but the only thing I can glean from the Internets is that there were Woman of the Year Awards, and for one glorious moment, these ladies shared a room.

My only theory is that this is a magical dream I once had that I have somehow manifested into reality. I demand to see this reenacted by drag queens!

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Laurie Anderson gets her young feminist mind blown by a Playboy Bunny
09.09.2013
05:37 am

Topics:
Feminism

Tags:

Laurie Anderson
A young Laurie Anderson with her revolutionary instrument, the tape-bow violin
 
Who doesn’t love Laurie Anderson? She creates brilliant experimental music and multi-media performances, but manages to remain intelligible to folks outside the avant-garde scene. One has to be completely lacking in pretension to perform a concert entirely for dogs (a project with her other half, Lou Reed), and somehow not come across as insufferable. I think it has something to do with her general humanity. She’s engaged with her audience, she has a sense of humor about herself, and her work has always been about observation and listening, as opposed to the narcissistic naval-gazing stereotypically (though not necessarily factually) ascribed to highly experimental artists.

In the video below, (an excerpt from her performance piece, “Empty Spaces”), Anderson tells a great story about a feminist demonstration early in her career. Like many young activists, she had perceived “the economic exploitation of women” as a fairly cut and dry issue, easily targeted and abolished. When a Playboy Bunny complicates her notion of exploitation, Anderson’s humility is piqued, and she’s forced to rethink what it means to work on behalf of women.
 

 

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Get some culture, you bourgeois ingrates! (With some revolutionary Chinese communist ballet, 1971)
09.03.2013
08:54 am

Topics:
Art
Class War
Feminism

Tags:

Red Detachment of Women
 
Efforts to create a new, post-capitalist artistic culture are fraught with peril. First of all, the tendency to dismiss pre-socialist traditions (artistic or otherwise) as “bourgeois” inevitably leads to a backlash. The impulse to preserve the past and retain one’s history will always prevail (science fiction Christmas cards in state atheist Soviet Russia immediately come to mind). Secondly, the artistic genres of “communist” states can sway overwhelmingly nationalistic, often at the expense of the art itself; propaganda can be art, but when you live in a totalitarian state, stuff can get stale real quick (then again, certain American gaffs remind me totalitarianism isn’t a prerequisite for banal propaganda). And then there’s that rare example of artistic achievement that falls victim to both of the aforementioned pitfalls—fails at relinquishing ties to capitalist culture and politically problematic in its nationalism—but still reaches the height of brilliance and beauty.

Enter Maoist ballet. As an avid ballet fan and former dancer, I’m slightly offended at the notion that I must reassure readers, “this is no ordinary ballet,” but it is an exceptional interpretation, and those who might otherwise be averse to ballet can take heart that this the style is uniquely dynamic and athletic. China’s Cultural Revolution dictated that the bourgeois culture of capitalism just be replaced with a new proletarian culture- hence the radical choreography and patriotic imagery. Of course, it’s still recognizable as ballet, and while a few Chinese instruments pepper the score, it’s primarily performed by a European-style orchestra.

Below is my favorite, “The Red Detachment of Women,” one of the so-called “Eight Model Operas,” (which were actually five operas, two ballets, and a symphony) all designed and organized by Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing, intended as the ambitious forefront of China’s new revolutionary culture. Though I tend to watch it in pieces, isolating different acts and numbers for their stand-alone value, the libretto is epic and elaborate. The ballet is actually based on a famous novel that pulled true stories from the all-women Special Company of the 2nd Independent Division of Chinese Red Army, who had over 100 members. When Nixon visited China in 1972 to repair diplomatic relations, this is the ballet they took him to see—there’s no way that wasn’t a backhanded gesture.

In many ways, “The Red Detachment of Women” was a total failure. Even if we ignore the fact that the terrible politics of Communist China were being extolled en pointe, it’s intellectually difficult to argue that anything engineered by Mao’s wife could even be populist. And of course it’s a failure as all cultural revolutions are a failure; art doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and no amount of communist shellac could purge the fingerprints of the Western progenitors of ballet. Still, the beauty and the innovation of the project are undeniable, and while “The Red Detachment of Women” wasn’t the dawn of a proletarian artistic movement, it was most certainly, well… revolutionary.
 

 

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Vidiot magazine’s bitingly satirical love advice to early 1980s nerds
08.26.2013
06:00 am

Topics:
Amusing
Feminism
Games
Pop Culture

Tags:

Vidiot
 
Vidiot was a really cool project. In the early 1980’s, as video games moved from niche interest into legitimate subculture, the publishers of Creem had the cutting edge idea to start a really well-rounded gamer mag. In addition to more technical articles about the latest games, systems, and technology, Vidiot published topical personal essays by gamers, and covered video game history, in addition to a lot of general audiovisual topics. They reviewed movies and television that tended to appeal to the gamer crowd (think Monty Python, Tron, and Krull), and peppered each issue with relevant music articles, including an interesting review of a Beatles’ documentary from the perspective of a fan and AV enthusiast.

In an effort to appeal to the diverse interests of serious gamers as well as your average arcade rat, they used their Creem connections to get pictures of rock stars playing games. Everyone from Debbie Harry to Mick Ronson to Ted Nugent (they can’t all be winners) graced their pages, posing in front of their favorite consoles. Below you can see a picture of The New York Dolls’ David Johansen, who appeared in a retrospective article on pinball machines, the original arcade game.
 
David Johansen
 
Even though only five issues were published between September of 1982 and September of 1983, Vidiot was a really insightful look at an emerging generation of pre-Internet nerd culture. Nowadays, it could be argued that there’s really no such thing as an esoteric interest, since a quick Google search is all it takes to find peers. Back then? Probably harder to sniff out fellow enthusiasts.

Of course, this being a magazine primarily consumed by young, most likely nerdy dudes, there were also sexy pin-ups of girls playing Centipede. Vidiot was quite aware that its readership was not primarily comprised of “alpha” males, but instead of shying away from the topic, it cannily took the piss out of the virile macho man archetype with satire.
 
article photo
Check out that charming caption!
 
Below is the transcript from the hilarious article, “Arcade Macho: Pick Up or Shut Up.” The tone is angsty and snide, but the rejection of macho bullshit is a really intelligent, mature, feminist critique. Plus, who can’t relate to a little mockery of meatheads?

Ever got into a fight over a girl? Sure you have! As a red-blooded American guy, would you stoop to wimpdom by allowing some geek to steal your girl without a bloodletting fight? Of course not! Whether on the dance floor, football field, street or arcade we are fighting for but one thing: Women!

Women are the only motivational factor in a Man’s life. Next to videogaming, cars, whiskey, football, fishing, soldiering, hunting and sailing, that is. And, pray tell, if there were no women to show off to, then what’s the point?

Therefore you won’t want to set foot in an arcade without a few lessons in manly comportment of the videogaming kind. Obviously, the breed of woman you’ll find common in these garbage disposals for quarters play for keeps. And obviously, there ore other “men” who claim our sex as theirs. Despite their prowess at these interesting and undoubtedly manly games, many fit the definition of “wimp”—which is to be avoided at any cost, no matter how ridiculous. Would you do bottle with the L.A. Raiders in a punk rock hair-do (not cut) and a pocket calculator strapped to you imitation leather belt that holds up you spandex pants? Of course not! Take your pick: Manhood or wimpdom.

Read Sylvia Plath, Judith Krantz or W.H. Auden? Over Robert Mitchum’s dead body! Drink pina coladas? Seek the Duke’s stomach and burp it! Cry over a dead rock star? To quote Josie Cotton, “Johnny Are You Queer?” As far as Men are concerned. Charles Olson is a lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers, right?

Fact.- all women love the smell of success. The more money you’ve got—or the higher the score—the better. Wonder never again why you see ugly old men with ungodly beautiful, sexy, voluptuous women. The deck is stacked—and if you’re on the winning side, so are the women.

The only reason to go to the arcade, of course, is to meet girls. Can you honestly admit you enjoy spending every cent you’ve got at the arcade when, by applying a few rules of business horsesense, you can own your fave game for home use? No, you can’t. Say it loud, say it proud: Girls Are Great!!

All right, men, the first lesson commences… let’s discuss what Real Men Do Not Wear To Arcades . Real men do not wear:

1) Pink Lacoste shirts. If you’re a preppie, that’s entirely your own problem. Remember pink = Wimp. Any other color’s acceptable. But if you really want to be a sex symbol—and what Man doesn’t?—buy a VIDIOT t-shirt.

2) Designer jeans. Would John Wayne wear ‘em? Naw, the Duke’d don nuthin’ fancier than Levi’s. And his word’s law, right?

3) Top siders. Hey, you can’t even run in the damn things. Any sort of tennis, basketball, jogging, all-around athletic shoe is In, Converse All-Stars being the coolest. All boots are manly (except the kind that feature the bags-at-the-ankle look which is strictly new wave/punk rock jerk-like), and cowboy boots are obviously the best way to get your point across. Or up.

Before heading out for an afternoon of hopeful arcade fun, take a gander in front of the mirror. Any of your lunch still between your teeth? Scrub ‘em again, sailor. There’s nothing on earth that’ll turn off all the little women quicker than mungmouth. Take a quick whiff o’ the pits to make sure they’re just so. Also, remove any gold chains, punk rock t-shirts and scarves. They aren’t manly.

When entering the arcade, strut around the joint with your hands thrust deep m your pockets with an impervious scowl on your face. No, you don’t own the place, but remember the law of Supply and Demand: I demand that you supply me with as many women as I desire! You gotta let the girls know who’s boss, plain and direct.

Before playing your first round of, say, Robotron, you might want to buy a soft drink. How you drink the soda is far more important than what brand. Grasp the can firmly in the palm of your hand, fingers wrapped completely around it. Before taking the first swig, catch the eye of the hottest babe. As you lift the can to your lips (elbow bent 90°) propose a toast in her honor- Here’s lookin’ “at” you! Eyes locked in, throw your head back and empty half the contents down your gullet. Lowering the can, smile at her, then burp loudly. This is essential for your initial introduction. She’ll feel that inner glow of security knowing that a Real Man is present. Then…

Walk away. There’s plenty o’ fish in the video sea. Besides, it’ll be at least an hour before that girl will be coherent enough to start worshiping you . Always remember it’s your moral obligation as an American Man to hit on as many females as possible.

One popular method of picking up girls at the arcade is by zeroing in on a filly having difficulty on your favorite game. Stride over after she’s blown the game a few times and say “Havin’ a rough go at it, dollface? Lemme show ya the ropes.” Proceed to explain the intricacies and finer points of the game. Be polite but firm. After explaining, drop a token into the slot, and then “coach” her. After she triples her original score, you can bet it’ll be Suckface City from there on in!

Let’s reiterate a fact: good women are worth fighting for. If you spot some Elmo employing the aforementioned method, sidle up next to the non-couple, tap the jerk on the shoulder and say “Excuse me, cupcake, your mother says it’s time for your Ovaltine and beddie-bye!” The idea, manly reader, is to simply embarrass the worm enough so he’ll be forced to crawl back under the rock from whence he come. Use your lurid imagination Occasionally, however, the breezebrain will miss the point: stronger medicine must be administered. This doctor prescribes (delivered in the loudest voice possible): “When did they let YOU out of the TERMINAL HERPES WARD!?!” Once he’s on all fours, headed for the door, it’s a mere skate to the desired goal. It’s not really all that fair, but a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

In some instances, you may even be able to play fair. Let’s assume there’s a lustful lovely gazing on some dope racking up points on a game you know you can stomp the snot out of him on. Walk over, tap Percy on the shoulder and challenge him to a duel, winner (nod toward the babe) take all . The girl will be flattered that two men are going to duel over her — it’s an old trick that works every time. The only trick here’s not only do you have to beat the sap, ya gotta beat him bad. Show what a worthless sleazebag he really is.

If you’re really smart, before even challenging the bozo, hip your buddies to what you’re gonna do. Tell them that after you demolish the sucker at the game, you want one guy to approach the Big Loser and say, “Let meeee be the first to kick you when you’re down: maybe you need a pair o’ granny glasses!” Have your second pal say, “Don’t worry — I hear they’re making a braille version of that game!” Your third and final friend should say something like, “Please don’t cry out here — go in the little girls’ room!” And you, the Cool Winner, should turn to your new prize and ask, “Wanna hop in my van and listen to the new Rush album?”

Guaranteed to work every time!!

 
gamer pin-up

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
On the first anniversary of the Pussy Riot conviction, August 17


 
This is a guest editorial by Hunter Heaney, executive director of The Voice Project, a US-based NGO that has raised over $100,000 for support and safety monitoring efforts for the imprisoned members of Pussy Riot.

They were tired of their rights being stripped away. Tired of their government not representing them any more. Tired of ultra right-wing policies that seemed to be driven by oligarchs and secret concentrations of wealth divorced from the needs of everyday citizens and oppressive to those with less political power in the current plutocracy that seems and acts more and more intimidatingly, more authoritarian every day.

So they sing. In public. They raise their voices as a way to express the basic human right to be heard by those would purport to govern them. And for that they are arrested. Sounds familiar.

It’s not Pussy Riot.

It’s not Russia.

It’s America.

The Solidarity Singers and the Raging Grannies gather every weekday at the Wisconsin state house to sing. They are trying to express their feelings about Governor Scott Walker and the run amok right-wing policies their state seems to be implementing at ALEC’s behest. And the powers that be are having none of it. Not only are the singers being arrested, but so are the spectators, just for attending, just for watching, just for reporting on it. And remember this is all happening in the public space of the state capitol building, the people’s building, the people’s property.

Free speech? Free press? The right to peaceably assemble? Not so much in Russia, not so much in Wisconsin, not so much in a lot of places these days.

Welcome to the modern world, welcome to modern America. Bit by bit we’ve lost the things we held dear. We’ve slowly let the freedoms we were so proud of, that were associated with our dream of this country, be disappeared like an extraordinary rendition to Guantanamo.  No trial, no explanation, just a black bag over the head. Habeas corpus is just a thing we once had, or we thought we had. An effective free press, well, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert remind us every weeknight where that’s gone (and they help us laugh to keep us from sinking into a national depression).

We’re surveilled like something out of the pages of Orwell, propagandized like scenes from V for Vendetta with fear campaigns like The War on Terror, beaten and pepper sprayed for peaceful protests, resigned to our running jokes about how Congress seems to have now abandoned even the facade of representing the people in favor of the supranational corporations and the 1% who finance their campaigns and their lives.

And the poor, well, forget about them. At least that seems to be the hope anyway. How much have you personally heard about one in four kids in this country being on food stamps now? Pensions being stripped away from those who worked and saved for them, just like George Carlin predicted they would be? It happens now through “strategic municipal bankruptcies” and other financial and legal maneuvers. It starts with carefully planned campaigns hatched by conservative think-tanks that talk endlessly about “entitlements.” Isn’t that clever?

We are now a shadow of our former selves. The “Greatest Generation” are dying. My dad was one. There are a few left, but they must not be impressed by what they see, what we are doing with what they fought for. Some of them certainly know that in no universe of realistic thought does Scott Walker’s Wisconsin or our modern America respect the sentiments they held dear enough to defend. They’re codified in Wisconsin’s State Constitution as:

“Every person may freely speak, write and publish his sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right, and no laws shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press.”

and

“The right of the people peaceably to assemble, to consult for the common good, and to petition the government, or any department thereof, shall never be abridged.”

No wonder the dystopian-future fantasies are so popular at the box office, they must ring true, or maybe they let us think it’s not quite so bad right now in comparison. But make no mistake, we’re there, welcome to Dystopia. You’re soaking in it. Sometimes I think we’ll wake up from it all—take the red pill.  It does seem to be happening in other places around the world, like Gezi Park and the streets of São Paulo, even if the dissent suppression machines seem stronger than ever.
 

 
Here in America though, I often think we’re just like slow boiling frogs, nodding off to sleep while the heat is steadily turned up, too late realizing what happened as things fade to black. Hopeless and specious tropes about how protest songs don’t matter anymore appear to have even some musicians convinced, and seem to signal our giving up. And that’s when I give thanks for Pussy Riot, for the Solidarity Singers, for the Raging Grannies. Let the armchair quarterbacks debate their musical quality or performance characteristics or predict the demise of protest singing. While they’re at it perhaps spoken and written words, literature, ideas and the rest of the humanities should be thrown in there too.

Of course there are ideas and words and performances that matter, like “I Have a Dream” or “We Shall Overcome” or “Redemption Song” or yes, “Punk Prayer” that will speak truth to power, that will inspire, that provide aid and succor to those who will resist. The Solidarity Sing-Alongs are to me without a doubt among the most important performances taking place today. Same with the 40-second performance that landed Pussy Riot in labor camps for two years.

Content matters. Ideas matter. So Pussy Riot is my band. The Raging Grannies are my band and the Solidarity Singers, too. They’ve inspired me to write this, and I’m going to go check and see if some friends want to join me in supporting these singers and what’s going on in Wisconsin.

When members of Pussy Riot were here in New York this past spring, they stayed over and we had some long talks. “Shaiba” said, “It feels like we’re building this great mafia around the world, friends everywhere.” I hope so. I think this is the way it’s going to need to work if we’re ever going to stage a comeback here. We’re going to need to look out for each other, work with each other in the face of great concentrations of power. Some say the key will be localism, a renewed reliance on our geographically proximate communities, but I sometimes worry an overzealous application of these ideas as a solution may lead to isolationism. I believe we’ll need to help each other, even across great distances and divides.

Helotism” is a word I learned from Pussy Riot. Worth checking out the etymology on that one. One of the many things I learned from the girls. These are the kinds of things I’m remembering today, that I’m thinking about on this anniversary. That we can learn from each other, help each other, that we can stick together, we can make songs matter and turn ideas into action, that we can inspire each other, and we can decide to lay down and take it… or not.

Hunter Heaney is executive director of The Voice Project, a US based NGO that has raised over $100,000 for support and safety monitoring efforts for the imprisoned members of Pussy Riot.

 

 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Page 7 of 19 ‹ First  < 5 6 7 8 9 >  Last ›