Performativity, punk and politics

Yet again I found myself in the middle of a gig, when I should only be concentrating on the band, going ‘I need to write an essay’ and trying to remember all I can about performativity and Judith Butler. On thursday night I went to see Random Hand, Voodoo Glow Skulls and Leftöver Crack, which bought all my mixed feeling about performativity and watching punk bands together into one confusing issue.

Basically, I identify as feminist, anti-racist, pro-choice and queer, so the fact that Leftöver Crack are explicitly anti-sexist, racist and homophobic, anti- breeding and pro-choice has to be a plus point in thier favour, though the fact that they make amazing, interesting music is the real reason that I like them. However, I also sort of think of myself as a pacifist, and as liberal and vaguely leftist, but not as socialist or anarchist, and there is one issue that occurs in Leftöver Crack’s music, as well as that in other bands that I definatly don’t agree with, the extreme anti-police sentiment.

I’m sure for lots of people this wouldn’t be an issue, but not only can I not help analysing song lyrics, I also can’t help applying performativity to my actions, so, when I was in the pit singing along to Gang Control, ‘fuck the police, they’re gang control’, I was expressing violent anti-police feeling, whether I believed the words I was saying or not. It was an uncomfortable feeling, especially as I can’t deny the importance of that kind of communal expression of belief, because I totally teared up when the lead singer talked about hypocerasy in the music scene, and I meant every single word when I was singing along to Gay Rude Boys Unite. To an outisder I was passionatly singing along to two songs, they could not have known my mixed feelings, and if course it gets better, because performativity is all about the importance of repeated actions, and the number of times I have seen Sonic Boom Six and sung along to Piggy In the Middle, and so expressing, again, strong anti-police feelings that I don’t think I actually share, but fulfilling the conditions of the performative action, and I do believe that language changes things, word-acts can be as valid as physical acts.

This leaves me in an uncomfortable position, my love of the music of Leftöver Crack and Star Fucking Hipsters, and most of their beliefs, isn’t enough to outweigh my dislike of one branch of their expressions, as the rampant misogyny of Imperial Lesiure was. However, I don’t advocate the killing of police officers, in no way do I agree with that. I think this relates to the gap between the singer and the narrator of a song that I always end up writing about, perhaps I need to theorise some sort of parrallel gap for the audience of a song, but at the moment I can’t help but the very acts of singing and dancing along to a song validates it, and implicits to the world that you agree with the feeling expressed by it. This sort of theory about music seems to be shaping up to be my life’s work, I could at least write a dissertation for my MA on it, if not for a PHD, if I ever get as far as doing one.

Until then, there was one thing I noticed the morning after the gig (apart from the fact I really did appear to have scraped half the skin off my elbow and it was leaking yellow stuff), the tshirt I bought, the Gay Rude Boys Unite one, of course, advocates true unity, among others ‘gay, straight or trans’, I’ve never seen another band acknowledge the problem of transphobia, let alone use a gender-neautral pronoun for that matter, it appears that to hear other people really express believe in the opinions that I hold I need to venture further into what I always think of as ‘proper punk’, and be aware that more extreme beliefs in one area are likely to mean more exptreme beliefs in another area as well.

Gender disparity in modern crime drama

I love American crime drama, since finally getting channel 5 when I moved to university I have become mildly addicted to them, CSI, NCIS, Numbers, I’ll watch anything like that. I’m aware that they’re various amounts of silly, but that makes sense, they’re supposed to be entertaining, and they are.

However, the more I watch them the more I notice something, the vast gender disparity. All the different shows have women in them, but very few of those women are in charge. If they are in charge then they’re the director, as in NCIS or Law and Order: UK, rather than part of the team, they are distanced, an authority figure but not one to be unquestionably obeyed or known as a friend.Even in the cases where there a woman man paired together, the woman is obviously clearly the junoir partner, as in Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Alexandra Eaemes is described as ‘a lesser equal, overshadowed by the charismatic presence of a prodigious partner. While still an assertive and no-nonsense cop and the senior partner of the pairing’, so she’s the senoir partner but isn’t treated as such, excellent.

I made a list of the ten shows I watch regularly, of those three have female leads,with CSI being a very recent case, Gil Grissam having only just left, to be replaced by Catherine Willows. As CSI is, for me, the best of all the crime drama I watch, and the reason for the other two versions of CSI, this should be a really good thing. However. Previously, in the titles, Grissom came first, as team leader, than Catherine as second-in-command. Now, as team leader you would expect Catherine to come first, but no, first comes Laurence Fishburne’s character, Ray Langston, the newest member of the team, and the most junior, and Catherine Willows, the team leader, comes second. This really annoys me, Catherine is a great character, and shown as a good leader, yet is undermined from the very beginning of the show. A very cynical part of me thinks maybe the producers have weighed up woman vs black, and decided that a black lead character looks more politically correct than a female lead character, regardless of canonical rank.

Because that is the other thing. None of the lead characters are people of colour, and none are gay. In fact, Olivia Benson in Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, was assumed by many to be a lesbian, and was revealed not to be. Ok, so she’s a strong woman, a bit butch looking, it doesn’t mean she’s definitely a lesbian, but it would have been great for a tv show to make that brave leap to confirm a major character as a lesbian, not making a big deal of it, the obvious comparison is Renee Montoya in the DC comics universe, being a lesbian is part of her character, not all of her character.

At least there are people of colour in most of the teams, not all, not in NCIS as the moment for example, though there is a Israeli female character, Ziva David, maybe that balances it out, maybe. However, most of the character of ethnic minorities m are lab techs, junior detectives, and so on, Law and Order:SVU has Ice T playing a detective, that is perhaps the most senior example of a person of colour in a crime drama, disgraceful really.

I don’t know what my point is, other than perhaps that maybe this is what real police teams are like, but CSI not what real police and criminal forensic teams are like, for a start they’re all far, far too attractive, if you’re going to be unrealistic in one part then there’s not point pleading realism for another section. What I’d love to see is Catherine Willows recognised as the leader of her team, and more teams to have senoir members who are people of colour, and of course to see someone acknowled as queer.

A problem with Firefly

I bought the boxset of Firefly on monday, finally, having watched Serenity lots, and been meaning to get it for ages. I’m very impressed so far, having watched all but three episodes, I really am. It’s funny, the kind of action-based plots I like, good character development, and good characters. It’s a bit knowing, but then I always find that with Joss Whedon, and it’s not a bad thing that he’s genre-savvy, or that his characters are, it’s just a feature of the way he makes things.

However, and there always is a however. I really like the concept of the Alliance, and the way China and America have fused, and so there are strong Chinese influences in the series, it makes sense. After all, in 2008 Asia made up 60.04% of the population, China alone made up roughly 20% of the population, China and America are two huge world powers and it’s logical that they would be even more powerful together, so extrapolating them into the Alliance works. But, the characters use Chinese language, and there are Chinese influences present in the clothes, food, and entertainment in the series and movie. So – where are the Asian characters?

The are there in the background, as they should be, for example in the Allience or in bar and crowd scenes, but none of the main nine characters is obviously Chinese, neither is any of the recurring characters, though according to Wikipedia (I know, not that reliable), “For Kaylee, Trpcic studied up on Japanese and Chinese youth, as originally the character was Asian.” That seems to be the nearest to an Asian central character the series came, and in a series where China basically forms half of the cultural influences that seems really odd to me.

I did a bit of reading around on the internet, I’ve seen people gushing about Firefly, people not being that interested, and lots of people hero-worshipping Joss Whedon and Nathan Fillion, but nobody seems to have noticed the lack of Chinese characters, I’m sure it can’t just be me who thinks this is a bit odd . I’m not saying the cast is totally white with one token black guy and one token girl, it’s not, far from it, though of course there are three white males, one of them being the central character, some things don’t change too much. On the other hand there is a mixed raced, happy marriage, and Zoe is not only the second in command, she is constantly presented as a strong, attractive woman, and Inara certainly appears to be bisexual. Joss Whedon is normally fairly representative, which makes the lack of even one notable Chinese character more odd, unless of course there is one in the last four episodes, which I’m sure I’ll find out in the next few days.

This is only a little thing, but it is something that has been bothering me as I’ve been watching it, something that has slightly been enjoying my enjoyment of what is otherwise a really excellent series. I’m sure a lot of people will not be thrilled to see me saying anything not totally positive about Joss Whedon, one of my best friends for a start, so I’ll balance it out by saying that I really think Zoe and Wash’s relationship is one of my favourite features of the series, it’s great, and I do kind of have a crush on Zoe – I think Gina Torres is my ideal actress to play Wonder Woman as well.

EDIT: I thought it was a bit odd that nobody else had noticed the lack of Asian people in Firefly, turns out that people had, XKCD of course:

Still, it’s nice to be thinking along the same lines as such an awesome webcomic.