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The Feminist backlash against The Beat Generation: Cool, finger-poppin’ daddies or misogynist jerks?


 
I first noticed a backlash against the Beats when it was announced a few years ago that Walter Salles was making a film of Jack Kerouac’s novel On The Road, with Kristen Stewart cast as Marylou, Sam Riley as Sal Paradise, Garrett Hudlund as Dean Moriarty, and Viggo Mortensen as Old Bull Lee.

You expect to hear negative comments from aging conservative academics in English departments or that weird PhD candidate from the East Coast who supposedly had an “influential” zine once but hated every writer who didn’t sound exactly like William Faulkner.

But this round of anti-Beat Generation comments was coming from much younger people posting on non-academic literary forums, and not just 4Chan’s /lit/ board.

I visited Kerouac’s entire On The Road scroll, purchased by Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay for $2.5 million in 2001, displayed in its entirety, on a day when a fourth grade public school class was on a field trip to the same museum. I had seen the scroll previously when it had been laid out in thirds elsewhere, necessitating multiple visits. This time it took up an entire corridor. I didn’t get to meet the delightful hippie who travels with the scroll simply to set it up and take it down wherever it is being shown. I was peering at the typewritten text peppered with handwritten notes and corrections, ignoring the stares of the security guards who apparently thought I was going to stuff the scroll in my purse and bolt. I was also trying not to snicker at the conversation of a group of nine-year-olds looking at the nearby vintage Playboy cover featuring Marilyn Monroe (also part of Irsay’s collection) displayed on the wall above the scroll’s case.

“Who’s that?”

“It’s Madonna.”

“No, that’s not Madonna. It’s Ke$ha.”

“No, it’s Gaga!”

Their teacher asked me a question about the scroll, obviously assuming that I was a museum employee. When I explained that I was just a visitor, she apologized and said, “But I didn’t think women read Kerouac.”

That was news to me.

The backlash against the Beats in general, and Kerouac in particular, is becoming more evident and is mostly coming from Feminists.

In 2010 blogger Alexa Offenhauer imagined the domestic circumstances around Kerouac’s creation of the scroll in her post “It’ll All Be Worth It If I Get Published, or: Why I Hate Jack Kerouac”:

I can just imagine the scene, can’t you? There he is, playing with his tracing paper, painstakingly cutting it and taping it back together like the world’s first scrapbooker, all while taking himself very seriously and refusing to take any pleasure from his crafty pursuit. Then, just when his poor wife thinks that maybe he is done with the insanity and they can go for a nice walk in the park, he sits himself in the corner at his typewriter, cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, and starts a typing frenzy that, as far as she is concerned, may never end.

Imagine the smell that emanated from that corner of the apartment by the end of those three weeks. The ungodly mess of cigarette ash, butts, apple cores, coffee mugs, chicken bones, and dead skin cells that must have littered the floor around him. At least, that is what it would have looked like at the end of those three weeks if I had been his wife. Minus the chicken bones, of course, because I would not have cooked for him and I doubt seriously he would have managed it for himself.

But maybe Joan Haverty not only cooked but also cleaned for him. Maybe she reminded him go to the bathroom and maybe, if she was very skillful, managed to get him in and out of the shower once or twice during that time.

I like to think that she had an affair with the grocer or the mailman while he was lost in his self-imposed, self-consumed insanity, but then I’ve always been optimistic.

Regardless of how she got through those three weeks, by the end of it, she must have been breathing an enormous sigh of relief. No matter how bohemian she was, no matter how much she believed in her husband’s literary genius, as he finally sat up, rubbed his eyes, and said, “I’m finished,” I can’t believe that she thought anything other than, “Thank God, now maybe he can sell this damn thing and then we can move to a place with a cross breeze.”

But no. After that three week marathon, which itself came after years and years of planning and working, it took him another nine years to perfect his manuscript and finally sell it.

Last August a conflict erupted first over an article on The Millions about a literary matchmaking service, Between The Covers, at an independent bookstore in Brooklyn, WORD. Kerouac fan and co-author of Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ Stephanie Nikolopoulos wrote “On The Highway of Love, Jack Kerouac Divides Men And Women”:

Then I encountered a woman who openly disdained Kerouac – and all that he seemed to represent. It occurred to me that women saw him as a misogynist vagabond, the bad boy who had left their broken hearts in a trail of exhaust fumes. He didn’t like being tied down by responsibilities or women. Perhaps those female readers who actually did like his writing feared adding Kerouac to their list of favorite authors for a literary matchmaking board because they didn’t want to end up with someone like him: a penniless drifter, a dreamer, an alcoholic…

In a work written by a man, the female character is usually going to be the subject of the male gaze. If that work happens to be On The Road, you’re going to end up with women like Marylou and Camille, flat characters being two-timed by hyperactive car-thief Dean Moriarty. It’s no wonder then that many women, even when they put his personal lives aside, don’t relate to Kerouac’s story.

Jezebel‘s Katie J.M. Baker wrote in response, “Why Don’t Women Like Jack Kerouac?”, dismissing the Beats as “kind of immature dicks” and asking “Do any non-teenage women actually like Jack Kerouac’s On The Road?” (Her own answer to this question is – inaccurately – no.)

“Whenever anyone tells me they ‘adore’ On The Road – which doesn’t happen often because I don’t hang out with sixteen-year-olds – I can’t help but think she or he isn’t particularly well-read, just eager to come off as adventurous, spontaneous, and/or sexy.”

One of Baker’s commenters likened being a woman who enjoys Kerouac to being a black person who likes Gone With The Wind or a banker who likes The Communist Manifesto. Another interesting take by a reader was that Dean Moriarty was actually Kerouac’s manifestation of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope.

On April 8th this year the goddess herself Kim Gordon tweeted: “[Beat] role models are over rated. Set male evolution back to caveman era,” possibly referencing her ex-husband’s new band (Chelsea Light Moving) and their song “Burroughs.”

Is it fair to morally judge an artist’s work based on how he lived his life if all of his work is autobiographical and barely fictionalized?

Personally if I purged my bookshelves, real and virtual, of all the alcoholics and misanthropes – let alone all the manic-depressives, opium addicts, suicides, eccentric asexuals, adulterers and misogynists – I would hardly have any books left. In fact, I would probably have remaining to me some dictionaries, an anonymous booklet on reciting the Divine Mercy chaplet, The Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook (first edition), and my husband’s copy of Henley’s Formulas for Home & Workshop.

So it would be a real bummer if from now on when I read On The Road I have to take Dean Moriarty not as a fictional, folkloric, mythic, modern Western American character but as the actual man (Neal Cassady) on which Moriarty is based, who, to be fair, was rather fucked-up. I don’t want to be a Monday morning armchair shrink and classify Moriarty as a likely bipolar, child molesting, sex addict, kleptomaniac, sociopath with ADHD who abused cannabis, amphetamines, hallucinogenics (later) and every woman who crossed his charismatic path. I don’t research Buddhism to determine whether the kind portrayed in The Dharma Bums is accurate and doctrinally sound either.

Taking Beat literature out of the context of the time and culture in which it was written robs it of too much of its power and importance. It’s unrealistic to examine written works from the late 1940’s and 1950’s and excoriate their views of women based on modern Feminist standards that would have been quite alien to men and women of that time. (Have these anti-Beat critics have ever even met and conversed with real-life old men in their eighties and nineties?)

Ted Joans’ line “So you want to be hip little girls?” from his poem “The Sermon” is over the top, yes, but try finding literature written by men from the post-war era that didn’t contain some degree of chauvinism and less than perfect female characterization.

Despite Kerouac’s many flaws, Nikolopoulos summed up the influence that On The Road had on her life as a young woman:

It didn’t occur to me that I needed a boyfriend or even a friend to accompany me to art galleries or readings or to make my life full. I wasn’t looking for my Jack Kerouac. I was Jack Kerouac.

Below, Jack Kerouac on ‘The Steve Allen Show,’ 1959:
 

Posted by Kimberly J. Bright | Leave a comment
‘Dirty Girls’: 13-year-old riot grrrls don’t give a shit what you think of them, 1996
03.08.2013
10:35 am

Topics:
Activism
Feminism
Heroes
Punk

Tags:
feminism
Riot Grrrl
Zines


 
Fascinating amateur documentary about some spirited and independent-thinking 13-year-old riot grrls who publish their own ‘zine. They’re the outcasts of the school and they just don’t give a shit.

When you meet their classmates, it’s easy to understand why…

Everyone in the schoolyard held strong opinions about these so-called “dirty girls,” and meanwhile the “dirty girls” themselves aimed to get their message across by distributing their zine across campus.

This was posted on YouTube just a few days ago and hasn’t had too many views yet. I wonder if these girls—well, they’ll be nearing their thirties now—have seen it?

If I was one of these self-possessed young women, I think I’d watch this today—it’s International Women’s Day, of course—with great pride. I wonder what became of them?

Shot in 1996 by Michael Lucid, when he himself was a high school student, and finished in 2000.
 

 
Via World of Wonder

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Subverting American Apparel: an interview with the amazing Nancy Upton


 
You might have seen the name Nancy Upton trending online in the last few days. After taking offence at the language in a recent talent-hunt campaign by American Apparel (a company whose image is already a source of much controversy, and who are looking for a plus-size model to advertise their new range), Nancy decided to do some satirical beauty shots of herself sexily consuming food and enter them into the contest. Well, the photos came out very well and have proved wildly popular with the public, who have voted Nancy into first place in the competition (even though she has stated that she would not accept the prize if the judges chose her to win). 

All in all this is a pretty awesome story, which touches on female sexual empowerment, body image, sexist corporate branding and the acceptability of sizeism within the mainstream. I sent Nancy some brief questions for Dangerous Minds, and she was kind enough to answer them in some detail:

How did you feel about American Apparel before their “plus size” competition? What was it about this particular campaign that made you want to enter?

I feel like they’ve always gone above and beyond other companies in objectifying women. Basically it was the fact that they were trying to take advantage of a new market but make it seem like they were doing people a favor. I answered this a bit with my Daily Beast article.

“The company was co-opting the mantra of plus-size empowerment and glazing it with its unmistakable brand of female objectification. The puns, the insulting, giggly tones, and the over-used euphemisms for fat that were scattered throughout the campaign’s solicitation began to crystalize an opinion in my mind.
...
American Apparel was going to try to use one fat girl as a symbol of apology and acceptance to a demographic it had long insisted on ignoring, while simultaneously having that girl (and a thousand other girls) shill their products.”

 

 

What’s your reaction to being voted no. 1 by the public?

Complete and utter shock. I never expected to actually be accepted into the contest, and I certainly never expected for people (other than friends who knew what I was doing and why I was doing it) to want me to win.

You’ve taken a bit of flack for supposedly insulting large women with the pics - how do you respond to that?

It’s actually very upsetting for me to hear from women that they feel insulted by what I did. I feel like, being a plus-sized woman myself, it should be very apparent that the photos are done to mock people who are the ones judging overweight men and women. Also, that they were done in the spirit of silly shenanigans and having fun being yourself. I feel like watching a plus-sized model get brutally airbrushed or only shot from one specific, slimming angle for an ad campaign is way more insulting. It’s interesting that by insulting a company that has a history of negativity towards women, I’ve managed to insult the same women the company marginalizes.

You have already said that if you do win you wouldn’t accept the prize - but wouldn’t it be better if you did?

Would it be better? I’m not sure. I wouldn’t appear for American Apparel because I disagree with their business practices, specifically their system of advertising. I feel like putting your face on a product or brand you can’t actually get behind is pretty gross. I’m also not sure it would send a great message. I feel like I’ve had an opportunity to make a statement about standing up (or at least satirizing) for what you believe in, and if I turned around and accepted a job from AA, that statement would be negated to a degree.
 

 
Do you have any favourite other models in the comp you think should win?

I’m not going to play favorites, but I definitely think the person chosen should ACTUALLY be unknown, especially since there’s no monetary compensation. Some of the women in the competition not only had modeling experience, but are actually signed with agencies. I’ve always been under the impression that once you have representation, you should avoid contests and stunts like this. But what the hell do I know about the world of modeling?

What do you think as to how large people are treated in mainstream culture and fashion in general, and is there anything anyone can do to affect this?

I feel like it’s a dialogue/presence that is always in a flux between shrinking and expanding. For every “fat best friend” throw away character on television, we get one who is brilliantly written and portrayed. Increasingly we see different shapes and looks being incorporated into major ad campaigns and runway work. Are large people treated well across the board? No. Has their level of representation and respect grown from where it was 10 years ago? Yes.

I think people are becoming more and more outspoken about the role of the plus-sized model in fashion, as well as in other aspects of entertainment and art. If we continue to keep those lines of communication open and express our desires directly and dynamically, change will happen.
 

 
Are there any designers/labels/outlets you think DO respect plus size people?

I think some designers have cuts that are more generous or have become more generous as time has gone on. Diane Von Furstenberg, for example. I believe they go up to a 14 now, as does Kate Spade, which is interesting considering their clothing line isn’t even the company’s main selling point.

I’m a big fan of the Dove campaigns. They’re very natural and don’t feel patronizing or cheap. They’re honest, simple and encourage individuality. The Gentlewoman had a great article on Adele earlier this year, and I’m a big fan of the way they profile strong, interesting women in their magazine. Target has a great selection of sizes and, I swear, every time I walk in there, the clothes are better and better.

And finally the photographs are beautiful - can you tell us more about the photographer?

Shannon Skloss, the magnificent. She has a website that will be launching soon, but for now you can find her business page on Facebook. She’s incredibly funny, vibrant and talented. We had so much fun on the shoot, and her work is just outstanding. We were introduced through a mutual friend when I needed some headshots done a few months ago, and I’m so glad it worked out that way.

Voting has now closed on the American Apparel “Next Big Thing” campaign, though we await with interest any kind of statement from the company. Shannon Skloss’ Facebook photography page is here.

 

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
EFIL4ZTULS: A report from a Slut Walk


 
My first reaction on hearing of the international “Slut Walk” movement was “brilliant.” About bloody time! What a horribly demeaning word, one loaded with judgement that denies a person the basic enjoyment of their own sexual activities and bodies. “Slut” is rife for reclaiming - because there is no term for a person who enjoys copious amount of sex that is not pejorative. Why not, as other social groups have done in the past, take an already existing term of abuse and strip it of its negative meaning? It’s hard to fathom that the word “slut” still holds so much power in this, the twenty first century. Are we still to feel shame for our sexual desires and appetites? Does Michael Sanguinetti believe that if all women were to suddenly don burkhas all rape would be wiped out? No, because a rapist will commit a rape regardless of what a person is wearing, slutty or otherwise - the risk factors lie with the rapists not the victim.  

So, my partner and I turned out for Slut Walk Manchester on last Friday evening, to show our faces and bodies and in some small way reclaim the place will live as being safe from harassment and abuse. Of course it’s only a small gesture but that in itself does not make it invalid or worthless. By all accounts Manchester is a very protest-friendly city, but the turnout of roughly a thousand was very healthy and exceeded expectations. We walked for over an hour, winding our way through the city centre streets, stopping traffic and emptying public transport. The reaction from passers by was supportive and not negative like I had assumed it would be, and even though no official license had been granted for the march by the council, the police were helpful and friendly, and guided the mass of people on their way rather than hemming them in.
 

 
The crowd was mixed, with a lot of men walking and a good range of ages (though most on the march were young). There were a handful of drag queens and queer activists as well - Manchester has a large gay population and an active male sex industry, so male rape is not uncommon. If I have one gripe it was with the placards handed out to the crowd by the Socialist Worker Party, an act that to me seemingly hijacked an apolitical march for its own ends. The placards read “No Means No” on one side, with “Clarke Must Go” on the other. Sure, Ken Clarke, the British Secretary of State for Justice made some very unwise comments on rape a few weeks ago, but I did not need the SWP to help me call for his resignation, or tell me that my body was my property. It just came across as petty point scoring. Other placards of interest held by members of the march included “Police Rapists, Not My Fucking Wardrobe”, “My Minge My Rules” and “Queer As in Fuck You (But Only If You Consent)”.

At one point during the march I was approached by a man for a cigarette an we got chatting. He seemed not to be of the typical student/protester mould, more a working class guy fond of a few pints, but I had noticed him before and though he might have been one of the organisers. As we were walking he asked me if I had been raped. I answered that thankfully I hadn’t, but I still wanted to show my support as I know people who have. Almost with a sense of confrontational pride he told me that he had been raped, and that it had happened while he was 9 years old and living in care. He asked me what the march was about and if it was specifically for women. He didn’t know what a “Slut Walk” was, he had never heard of it, he just happened to be in town and saw it passing. So I explained about the concept, the reclaiming of the word, and the comments on rape Ken Clarke had made. He kept clarifying that he was not gay - at first I thought this might have had to do the leather gear I was wearing, but soon realised it was more to do with the societal taboo of male rape and this man’s own experience of it. Eventually he turned to me, looked me in the eye and said he had never told another man about this before. I shook his hand. I understood where the confrontation was coming from - it was not with me but it with himself and the fact that he was facing up to a dark part of his own past he had buried for god knows how long. A part he probably would not have faced up to had it not been for the Slut Walk.
 

 

 

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
Screw the Royal Wedding - listen to Divorce instead
04.29.2011
05:32 am

Topics:
Music
Punk

Tags:
Glasgow
rock
feminism
noise
Divorce
alt rock

image
 
What a beautiful day. The sun us shining, birds are singing in the trees, flags are fluttering in the breeze. It is, indeed, a nice day for a white wedding. And down in old London town, ancient rites of passage are being replayed as we, the British Nation, stand as one in mind, body and spirit to salute the dawning of a new era, the start of a new chapter in how we the common people are governed over by ancient power elites. 

As the future king takes his bride-to-very-shortly-be up the aisle, I too would like to do my small (but perhaps significant) part in helping write this page of history. Tonight I shall be dressing as a priest and singing “Gett Off” at a gypsy wedding reception in Salford, but until then I will turning the volume up, banging my head, and revelling in the girl-powered noise glory of Glasgow’s Divorce.

Inspired to form at a gig by modern noise legends Aids Wolf, Divorce launched in 2008 with a core ratio of four girls to one boy, and a run of chaotic but highly energised gigs around the city. The mosh-pits they inspire are instantaneous and legendary, with as many women being thrashed about as men. The group released their first (self-titled) 10” single on the Optimo label in 2009, to considerable acclaim, and have gone on to release split singles with Comanechi and Ultimate Thrush. A full album was recorded and mixed for release in 2010, but was put on indefinite hold after the departure of the singer Sinéad and guitarist Hillary.

While this may seem like a career-ender for anyone less committed, Divorce have taken it in their stride, moved on and hired a new singer called Jennifer. There have been some new demos floating around on the net of this new line up (that sound great) and having seen Divorce mark II play I can confirm that they have lost none of their energy and connection with the crowd. Now, if only they can get their fingers out and finish another album, then we’d really have an excuse for the country to take a day off work, get blind drunk, and beat up anybody perceived to be even slightly different.

Divorce - “Amuse Bouche”
 

 
Divorce - “Pipe Down”
 


 
Divorce (mark II) - “Love Attack”
 

 
 
For more information on Divorce, visit the Divorce blog, or if you are really desperate, here is their Myspace. The “Divorce” 10” on Optimo Music is available to buy here.

Divorce play live in Glasgow tonight, as part of Optimo’s “TIl Death Do Us Part(y).”

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
Happy Birthday Kim Gordon

image
 
Today is Kim Gordon’s birthday - founder member of Sonic Youth and Free Kitten, producer, actress, designer, director, all round one of the coolest people in rock’n'roll. Here’s a few clips in celebration -  any excuse to post about Kim or Sonic Youth on DM is worth it.

Kim Gordon reads the Riot Grrrl Manifesto
 

 
Kim Gordon talks to Style.com about her label X-Girl, shopping in New York and working with Chloe Sevigny.
 

 
More Kim Gordon after the jump…

Previously on DM:
Unedited interview with Kim Gordon from 1988
More late 80s Sonic youth interviews
‘1991: The Year Punk Broke” Classic alt-rock documentary

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment