Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why Katy Perry (the artist) Is Ruining Everything

Greetings, citizens.

A bit early today, because I'm anxious to finally get this done: the long-awaited "Why Katy Perry Sucks" article of The Weekly Madness.

Before I really dive into this, I want to put on a disclaimer: I do not know Katy Perry personally, nor do I know anything about her nature as a human being, other than that she will do unwise things for money and fame, which can be said of most people. For all I know she is actually a kind-hearted individual who wants nothing more than to elevate the human spirit through music. But whatever the truth may be about Katy Perry the person, the artistic persona and facility known as "Katy Perry" has a tremendous amount to answer for. For the remainder of this article, the words "Katy Perry" will be in reference to that institution, and whatever implicit association the person may or may not have to it.

Now, why Katy Perry specifically? There are tons of artists who have committed crimes of conscience against various groups of people, surely; as I observed in my previous article addressing one of Katy Perry's songs, it is actually a very difficult phenomenon to avoid. As I said there, I still don't have the stomach to perform an exhaustive investigation as to which band/artist is truly the "biggest" offender. For the time being, my own awareness is settled squarely on Katy Perry, because she alone has managed to insult my own sensibilities from almost every aspect, and done so thoroughly enough to burn that name into my mind.

Lets take a look at this offense list.

First of all, we know from my aforementioned previous article that Katy Perry perpetuates unacceptable stigmatizing of and misinformation about the word "bipolar," per her song "Hot and Cold." Thanks to her, a countless swath of pop-lovers now believe it is totally acceptable to blow someone off and not even attempt to understand them, simply because they have a diagnosis. Admittedly, part of the blame for this falls on society in general for failing to educate people adequately, to guard them against such ridiculous influences; ridiculous though they are, I know from experience that far too many fall victim to them. And the sources should be held accountable.

Katy Perry, please change the lyrics of your song to something not so incredibly marginalizing and offensive. And let me be clear, here, that I am not just talking about the use of "bipolar" anymore. There is also a pretty choice line about how the boy in question "change[s] [his] mind like a girl changes clothes." It may be valid to be frustrated by someone unable to make up their mind about their feelings towards you, but don't drag women's fashion into it, Katy. Even Lady Gaga is hard pressed to address that issue without being problematic, and you don't have anywhere NEAR the kind of chops that she does. Not only do you sound like an idiot, but you encourage everyone who listens to you to do the same. This, in turn, leads to lots of invalidation all around - reinforcing stereotypes about fashion and gender norms is a great way to marginalize those who don't meet them. Your smarter fans may be immune to some of this, but your common denominator, especially the young ones, are not.

Again, parents and other guardians should take a role here in protecting their charges from this kind of mind-numbing stupidity. On the other hand that is awfully hard to do when it's the most popular thing on the radio and if your child doesn't listen to it, they are summarily unpopular. Artists like Katy wield a tremendous amount of power in that respect and it offends me to see them abuse it by dropping casual reinforcement of such ridiculously outdated stereotypes.

Which brings me to Katy's breakthrough hit, through which I was first introduced to my long abiding hatred for her - "I Kissed a Girl." Now, if I haven't already made it clear, my opinion of mental health discourse and Madness in particular is that it can serve as a mode of expression for all forms of marginalization and oppression, as any such experience can harm one's mental health and since "otherized" thinking and Madness are essentially linked. As such, when we have a song like this, about "experimental" sexuality, it catches my attention.

This song received critical acclaim from a portion of the feminist community for acknowledging the existence of female/female relationships in a pop song, and a portion of the bisexual community for giving exposure to people who enjoy the physical company of men and women. It also received raging, terrible fury from the feminist and bisexual communities for its token, even fetishization of female/female relationships, and its reinforcing of the stereotypical image of the "bisexual slut." Frankly, I'm inclined to agree with the latter analysis.
With lines like "It's not what good girls do" and "I hope my boyfriend won't mind it" (paraphrase), this song pretty clearly demonizes anyone who legitimately does want to "experiment" with a consenting partner, and given how hard it can already be in some communities for a person to discover a non-heteronormative sexuality, I don't think we need any more of that kind of discouragement. Katy Perry is making it harder for bisexuals AND lesbians to be taken seriously, and that should make anyone Mad. And you will be considered Mad if you challenge Katy Perry thusly to any of her fans, who are legion.

It goes deeper than this, though; this song is just an example of an overall trend in Katy Perry's work, especially evinced by her recent candy-themed "California Girls." Her whole image is built on the "nice girls doing things they shouldn't" stereotype, which is actually a form of social poison. It reinforces the paradoxical expectation of women to simultaneously be innocent/naive and to have near-freakish libido (quoting a particular rap artist here, who wants "a lady on the street and a freak in the bed"). This is a project worked on from youth: young girls are taught to protect their innocence and wait for true love, and as soon as they reach hormonal age, they are bombarded with messages of how they must have sex. The only way to rectify this dissonance is with something like Katy Perry: craft a "good girl" persona that is also capable of being "bad."

In this manner, not only are girls forced into a crippling blend of identity crisis and the spectacle consumption (e.g. upholding damaging stereotypes) that results, but sexuality itself is completely degraded. It is reduced to a "naughty" act, with all of the lack of seriousness that terminology implies. This process, which personae like Katy Perry reinforce, turns sex into a scripted sequence of the "good girl" doing something "bad," but it's okay because of (insert justification here). Even within the rules of this system, people are being encouraged to do things they shouldn't, which wears on the soul. And looking at it from the outside, the system creates a model of sex divorced from practical consideration of real consequences, like pregnancy or STDs or the devastating emotional effects it can have, by overemphasizing the fabricated consequence of "not being a 'good girl' anymore."

And let there be no mistake that the "good girl" archetype is being pushed and prized. Katy Perry offers us another star example with her hit single, "Teenage Dream," a song with less substance than the Twilight novels (burn) and an even higher dose of implicit pedophilia. The premise of this song, essentially, is that "teenage" love is somehow more pure and perfect, especially as it is coupled with the "innocent" veneer of Katy Perry's persona, heightened by lyrics concerning the impact of "buil[ding] a fort out of sheets." This child-like activity stresses that the significant aspect of the relationship is its innocence. The song goes further still, the prechorus suggesting that the characters "go all the way tonight - no regrets, just love," a mere half-step away from saying point blank that sex and love are the exact same thing. Hasty decisions, framed in a context of naivety and immaturity, are prized here, and the overall impact of the song is one giant shout that "good girls" are somehow more desirable and appropriate.

What is insidious about this project is that it doesn't attempt to undo logical and emotional wisdom entirely, but rather to cripple it by creating a false paradigm for it to operate in. People go through all the right motions of weighing their options and trying to come up with an informed, good decision (we hope), but their context for doing so is one where the biggest concern is whether or not it matches the "good girl" stereotype. Even if a given person manages to escape that trap, others around them - potential boyriends, especially - will likely not have escaped, and will expect them to behave in accordance with that paradigm, and be upset if they don't. This leads to a general debasement of the populace into people who rarely think about the potential consequences of sex, and an utter estrangement of the few who do.

But before I completely lose the track of my argument here, I'd like to bring things back to more familiar waters for this site: Depression. What, Katy Perry has something to say about this phenomenon, too? In a manner of speaking, yes. See "Firework," one of the most-played singles between roughly November 2010 and Current.  "Firework" is part of an increasing trend of seemingly "upbeat" or "empowering" singles, whose popularity owes largely to their ability to make people feel special about themselves, a feat that is admittedly very, VERY lacking in our current market, if the above is any indication.

And somehow, even this manages to work completely the wrong way. Like many of the recent "empowering" movements, such as the "It Gets Better" campaign, it places most, if not all, responsibility for improvement squarely on the shoulders of the person who is being beaten down. "Firework" urges people to recognize their inner beauty and to let it shine, dazzling everyone around them, which is a beautiful message in theory, and a completely perfect way to get even more ostracized and beaten down in real life. This kind of message works wonders for a person who is more or less accepted to begin with and is going through a rough time, and is completely and horribly invalidating for someone whose life actually is awful and has no colors to show that can improve the situation.

I will concede that there is one line that catches my interest, as it is somewhat unique and somewhat helpful: she suggests to the listener that doors may be closed to you precisely so that you can open new, better doors. This suggests the need for change, which is good, but even this does so in a way that, again, puts all responsibility solely on the sufferer, and moreover takes blame away from the people causing suffering by suggesting that the "closed doors" are somehow meant to be. That's got to do wonders for a person being shut out by all possible sources of support, to believe that this is what they deserve.

What Katy Perry is doing is trying to take an empowered viewpoint to the disempowered, and that simply does not work. There is, as many current ethnographers and anthroplogists and other theorists on the human condition are discovering in the post-colonial world, a "violence of the assumption of proximity." Katy Perry does a huge violence on the seriously depressed by assuming that her viewpoint and philosophies are compatible with theirs and in any way helpful. To some, maybe they are, but I know that to many they are another notch on mainstream "sanity's" bedpost of conquest over mental health: be a Firework like Katy Perry tells you to, or there's something wrong with you.

Anyone who doesn't follow this "obviously" upbeat and inspiring message could be labeled a malcontent. The Mad get Madder.

As a final thought, consider that most of Katy Perry's work, like most artists these days as I understand it, is very heavily controlled by the producers in question - thus my insistence that we not view this rant as anything inherently against Katy Perry the person, but rather the artist/institute. And viewing it that way, what we see is an entire company dedicated to institutionalizing these anti-Mad, anti-thought, and overall extremely problematic mindsets. It is especially concerning to see a song like Firework, so directly concerned with people getting themselves into a better place of mental health, being concocted by such an obviously institution and money-motivated organization.

Ponder that and tell me that mental health itself isn't being made into a commodity in our culture, subject, like all commodities, to the regulations of the institutes responsible for them.

Thanks for your attention and your patience, New Mad Nation.


1 comment:

  1. Believe it or not, I had not even heard of Katy Perry (consciously anyway) until this week! First on the Wheel of Fortune, then on American Idol, and now here! (Please don't judge me too harshly for my TV! It's not as bad as it sounds xD) Katy the artist is a part of that societal "Combine" that seeks to chew us up and spit us out so we are nothing but a homogeneous pile of goop. Mad Nation, sheeple we are not! Great analysis; you give me hope. Peace.