Mini-Review: There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé, Morgan Parker (2017)

Monday, February 13th, 2017

“It’s mostly about machine tits”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

This is for all the grown women out there
Whose countries hate them and their brothers
Who carry knives in their purses down the street
Maybe they will not get out alive
Maybe they will turn into air or news or brown flower petals
There are more beautiful things than Beyoncé:
Lavender, education, becoming other people,
The fucking sky

(“Please Wait (Or, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé)”)

I don’t read a ton of poetry, since it mostly tends to go over my head. There are the rare exceptions, of course: stories written in verse, and the occasional feminist title; see, e.g. The Princess Saves Herself in this One. But mostly I shy away from it, since it makes me feel … not the sharpest tool in the shed.

That said, between the title and the cover, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé proved pretty much impossible to pass up. While I’m sure I missed out on many of the cultural references – I’m white, and this is a collection of poetry about black womanhood – and didn’t pick up all the varied and more veiled messages that Parker was putting down, I enjoyed it all the same. I read it cover-to-cover three times in two days, and with each successive reading, discovered something new. Parker’s poetry sparkles and shines and cuts more deeply, the more time you spend with it.

It’s hard to play favorites, since each piece has at least one or two especially memorable lines. (To wit: “At school they learned that Black people happened.”) But among the poems that really stood out to me are Hottentot Venus; Beyoncé On The Line for Gaga; Afro; These Are Dangerous Times, Man; RoboBeyoncé; 13 Ways of Looking at a Black Girl; The Gospel According to Her; The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife; White Beyoncé; What Beyoncé Won’t Say on a Shrink’s Couch; It’s Getting Hot In Here So Take Off All Your Clothes; The Book of Revelation; 99 Problems; and the titular Please Wait (Or, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé).

There are forty-two poems total, twenty-five of which have previously been published elsewhere. For those keeping count at home, thirteen have Beyoncé in the title. The Beyoncé/Lady Gaga mashups are fun, if only because I enjoy imagining them hanging together – or swapping bodies in a Freaky Friday twist.

I feel like I should say more but idk how to read poetry, let alone review it. There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé is a fierce, funny, and subversive collection of poetry. You don’t need to be a member of the Bey Hive to love it (but it sure doesn’t hurt). It’s earned a permanent spot on my Kindle so I can return to it as needed over the next four to eight (please dog no) years.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: The Performance Identities of Lady Gaga, Richard Gray III, ed. (2012)

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Deconstructing the Fame Monster

three out of five stars

Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.

In just a few short years, Lady Gaga has built a large body of work ripe for critical analysis. The sixteen authors and academics who contributed to The Performance Identities of Lady Gaga: Critical Essays clearly agree. The thirteen essays in this anthology address the spectacle that is Lady Gaga from a multitude of perspectives: sociology, politics, psychology and psychoanalysis, LGBTQ rights, gender studies and feminism, camp, Surrealism, Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, and “post-racism” and white privilege – examining her in relation to those she has parodied, as well as those who have parodied her: most obviously Madonna, as well as Judy Garland and The Wizard of Oz, Thelma & Louise, Kill Bill, sexploitation/blaxsploitation/“women in prison” B movies, David Bowie, Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, Rammstein, and “Weird Al” Yankovic, to name but a few – all with an eye on performance art and identity.

The Performance Identities of Lady Gaga is obviously written by and for academics. While some essays are more accessible than others, all are filled with jargon and $20 words. I was able to muddle through with the occasional help of Google, yet some of the essays (the early ones, in particular) proved so dry that they threatened to lull me to sleep. This definitely isn’t a book for the lay monsters in the audience.

That said, a working knowledge of Lady Gaga’s oeuvre – not just the obvious song lyrics and music videos, but also concert tours, album art, costuming, speeches, interviews, and photo shoots – is an essential prerequisite for The Performance Identities of Lady Gaga. While the authors do a decent enough job of explaining the performances they’re dissecting, a certain level of prior knowledge is assumed.

I requested a copy of this book through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program not because I’m a Lady Gaga fan, but because I enjoy pop culture analysis. Nor am I an anti-fan (to borrow a term used frequently in the book); rather, I’m not really into dance/pop and thus know very little about Lady Gaga outside of her activism on behalf of the LGBTQ community. My understanding of the essays definitely could have benefited from a greater knowledge of the source material.

Perhaps owing to my love of fairy tales, I found Jennifer M. Woolston’s “Lady Gaga and the Wolf: ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’ The Fame Monster and Female Sexuality” especially readable, even if most of the connections are stretched well past credulity. Also enjoyable is editor Richard J. Gray III’s contribution, “Surrrealism, the Theatre of Cruelty and Lady Gaga” – surprisingly so, since I didn’t know anything about Surrealism beforehand. Gray does an excellent job of introducing the reader to the material (without watering down the discussion for those already in the know) and then illustrating how Lady Gaga’s work clearly fits within the Surrealist tradition. Rebecca M. Lush’s “The Appropriation of the Madonna Aesthetic,” Matthew R. Turner’s “Performing Pop: Lady Gaga, ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic’ and Parodied Performance,” and “Whiteness and the Politics of ‘Post-Racial’ America by Laura Gray-Rosendale, Stephanie Capaldo, Sherri Craig, and Emily Davalos are all highly engaging and interesting as well.

Not wishing to penalize the authors for my own ignorance, I struggled with weather I should give this book a 3- or 4-star review. That is, until I came to Karley Adney’s “’I Hope When I’m Dead I’ll Be Considered an Icon’: Shock Performance and Human Rights.” One of just a few pieces written from an overtly feminist perspective, I was both surprised and not a little offended when, in the course of her Lady Gaga apologism, Adney excuses and reinforces the stereotype that feminists are misandrists.

(More below the fold…)

Intersectionality ‘Round the Interwebs, No. 24: Three months o’ links!

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Considering I haven’t posted a link roundup in more than three months, this one actually isn’t all that long. What can I say; I’ve used what little free blogging time I’ve had to prepare for the upcoming Vegan MoFo madness. Speaking of which, brand spanking new graphics and an up-to-date press release are now available. Go grab some and spread the word! 400 participants and counting – let’s make it 500, kay? Come November 1st, you can follow the fun on Twitter (VeganMoFo, #veganmofo), the (new!) PPK forums, and Vegan MoFo Headquarters International. See y’all then.

Joel Burns tells gay teens “it gets better”;

Stephanie @ Animal Rights & AntiOppression: “You Coming Out or What?”; and

The Bullies Suck T-shirt

In the wake of a spate of suicides, committed by gay teenagers who were each the target of homophobic bullying, the LGBTQ community and its allies celebrated National Coming Out Day on October 11. Together, these events have focused attention on movements to prevent bullying – particularly those aimed at LGBTQ (or perceived LGBTQ) youths – including the It Gets Better Project and The Trevor Project. The former invites members and allies of the LGBTQ community to upload encouraging videos to its website, the message being that “it gets better”; the latter operates a hotline for LGBTQ youths and young adults in crisis, and also provides resources to parents and educators.

As part of this anti- anti-gay backlash, a number of celebrities and public figures have shared their own experiences publicly – including Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, whose heartbreaking speech went viral and was aired in full on various media outlets, including CNN (where I first saw it). I’ve embedded the video above; even though it’s rather long, clocking in at almost 13 minutes, I urge you to watch the whole thing. It will bring you to tears.

And, while you’re already a sobby, snotty mess, head on over to AR&AO, where Stephanie shares her own “coming out” story. These issues – homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, and the like – are relevant to animal rights activism simply because so many activists belong to marginalized groups; nonhumans are not the only animals exploited and mistreated en masse, for no reason other than the simple fact of their birth. All oppression is bad oppression, and all forms of oppression harm individual activists, as well as social movements and the beings for whom we advocate. These are not “special interests,” to be addressed only after the “important” work is done; these are our interests, to be tackled in concert with other “isms.”

To this end, Ari Solomon of A Scent of Scandal, Josh Hooten of The Herbivore Clothing Company and Jennifer Martin of Ink Brigade created a line of t-shirts to show solidarity with the victims of anti-LGBTQ bullying. Called “Bullies Suck,” the tees are available for purchase through Herbivore (just $20, with kids’ sizes, to boot!); all proceeds will be donated to The Trevor Project.

(More below the fold…)