Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Yes, Sometimes I Love Stupid, Problematic, And Even Sexist Things


A few weeks ago I was in the group exercise class BodyPump, and it was a "new release" -- which means new music, new choreography, and everyone doing the same new thing, all at the same time, for a while. Usually with music it takes me a few listens to get into it, but in this case as soon as the lunge track came on I was like "Oh, I LIKE THIS SONG."

I was also a little like, "WTF?" "Sleepless nights at the château"? "Visualize it"? "Kush kush?" Or was that "cutch cutch"? Anyway I got home and looked up the tracklist for the release, and I found out the song was "Peanut Butter Jelly," by the Swedish duo Galantis: "Sleepless nights at the château; Visualize it; I'll give you something to do ... Spread it like peanut butter jelly; Do it like I owe you some money; Spread it like peanut butter jelly; Do it like I owe you some money; Money, money, money ... "

The blog post where I happened to find out that information had one comment, and it was a comment about that song. The comment was from a BodyPump instructor who was pissed off, and who wrote, in part, ".. that lunge track is misogynistic and obscene. Why don't YOU 'spread it like I owe you some money?' Oh, if only I could perform like a prostitute can. Hate women much?"

Uh-oh. Had I fallen for a song that was sexist or misogynistic? Honestly, it wouldn't be the first time. It seems like I'm always getting all into something and then discovering that many people in my peer group find that thing a problem.

For example, I love Fellini movies, and one of the things I love about them is the way they deal with sex, desire, and the dilemmas of sexual novelty. As I wrote about in a recent blog post, when a woman loves a movie that deals with themes of male promiscuity and hot babes, there's always suspicion: what's a woman doing loving a movie like that? Isn't that kind of movie sexist and misogynistic?

As I explained there, though, if you want to see a movie about sex, desire, and the dilemmas of sexual novelty, you're almost forced to go see a movie about men, because of the sexism and double-standards of our society. So the problem isn't the movie. The problem is everything else.

But it's not only high-brow stuff where this happens. Maybe this will shock some people, but I also really liked that Robin Thicke song "Blurred Lines" that got everyone so mad a couple of years ago. I thought the song was catchy and fun, I thought the girls in the video were hot, and I thought "you're far from plastic" was a funny thing to say in a song.

Now let me emphasize: it's not that I didn't understand the criticism. When people said that "You know you want it" was an annoying and offensive thing to say, when they said the video had naked women and dressed men, when they pointed out that "blurred lines" seemed to suggest non-consensuality, I got it. It's just that instead of thinking "What a horrible song," I thought instead, "Oh, that's too bad, 'cause that's an otherwise fun song." 

I also thought, as I did with Fellini, that the problem is partly "everything else." As so often, it's because of sexism in society that we can't enjoy sexualization without experiencing it as sexist. In my perfect world, there'd be enough videos with naked men and dressed women that when there's naked women and dressed men, it reads as fun rather than as some kind of problem.

Even leaving aside the possible complexity of that topic, what always surprises me about the reaction to songs like "Blurred Lines" is how seldom anyone expresses ambivalence. When that song was popular, I felt like everyone who expressed an opinion felt either 1) that song is disgusting on all levels and the people who like it are stupid or 2) you feminazis better STFU about our song.

So, all this to say, I was in familiar territory with "Peanut Butter Jelly." I did, however, want to see if I could find out more about what the song was about and what other people thought the song was about. At this site there's no consensus. Does "kush kush" refer to marijuana? Or is it "cwtch cwtch," a Welsh word for hug? Is "ace high" a reference to gambling or is it a metaphor? What is "visualize it"?

When I found an interview with Galantis specifically about "Peanut Butter Jelly," I figured I'd hit the jackpot: song explained! But in fact in the entire interview no one talks about the meaning of the song at all. It's just all about the concept of disco retro. I feel like this fact tells us something deep and important about the modern world, but I don't know what it is.

Eventually I watched the video. In it, people are in a grocery store, schlepping around -- regular people, and one hot chick on roller skates. As the song goes on, everyone gets entranced: they throw off their clothes, start dancing around, eventually start making out.

Was the video offensive or progressive? Well -- it does have diversity of appearance, bodyshape, age and race. People are smiling, happy, dancing. But then: was this showcasing and promoting sexual freedom for everyone? Or was it subtly mocking everyone but the hot chick? I couldn't decide and I got tired thinking about it.

The following week I went to my BodyPump class, which has a wonderful instructor who has an LGBTQ vibe and a lot of tattoos. Just before the lunge track there was a music problem, and "Peanut Butter Jelly" didn't come on.

The instructor stopped everything to sort it out, and just as the song was starting up, he paused and smiled and said, "I love this song." And I smiled and nodded back: Yeah, I love it too : )