As Nick’s father on the first page of the Great Gatsby reminded him in his youth, “whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” This came to mind when I began to wrap my head around how to say that which I felt after watching the new Taylor Swift video, “Bad Blood.”
The video comes hot on the heels of what I’m being told by everyone these days is a hot summer box office blockbuster of a feminist film, the new “Mad Max.” Apparently, it’s supposed to be a marker of just how far we have come, that now the same shitty action movies made for Summer and dominated by violence and domination are now filled with female leads, performing the roles otherwise left to men, in an attempt to bridge the gender divide, in an attempt to bring in some of that “Pitch Perfect 2” money into studio coffers, as the value of women’s dollars has become, suddenly, more apparent to these people.
The Taylor Swift video opens with a fight. She and another women engage in hand to hand combat, and we are treated to the sound of a man’s arm being broken as provided by the same shitty sound effect that I’ve heard in shitty violent video games one after another from my misspent youth. He gasps, they all fight, Taylor Swift gets kicked out of a window by a Katy Perry lookalike, into a waiting open top Cadillac. Then, for some reason, we are taken to a montage that includes Lena Dunham, in the first of a cavalcade of cameos, even more than the shitty Entourage movie coming out this Summer. She is, of course, ever the strident feminist, smoking a fat cigar, the phallic significance of which is hard to miss, looking something like Tony Soprano or Jay Z. From violence, to feuding, to choices made to tend to an oral fixation, we have women enacting “masculinity” left and right.
Luckily, we have Kendrick Lamar – for some reason – to rap for us, to provide some kind of “hardness” or “gansta” element to the song, one whose lyrics include “band aids don’t fix bullet holes,” which inspires an irony lost on Taylor and the rest of her crew, which is that the only person in the whole fucking video that can actually, literally relate to such sentiment and violence is the black man whose voice and visage have been rented to substantiate the video in the aforementioned ways. Kendrick grew up dealing with bullets, the real ones. Taylor Swift did not.
We get images of a blade being thrown into a teddy bear for some reason. We watch Taylor Swift and “Frostbyte” (spelling intentional, I suppose? Ev3ryon3 is doing it) duel with a chained blade in a snow filled room, as they are dressed in snow-bunny like outfits with fur hoods. They do that, while other girls ride around on motorcycles, carrying guns, as we are reminded that “you forgive, you forget, but you never let it go.” This begs the question, if we aren’t letting it go, what the fuck is the point of forgiving and forgetting? It’s like a claim to some moral high ground, but leveraged against the kind of animosity and resentment that the forgiver is supposed to be against. But let’s not linger on that any longer, because the video sure as hell doesn’t. It doesn’t make any sense, and it contradicts itself, but that seems to here be par for the fucking course. Apparently, in your face passive aggressiveness is in vogue these days.
Finally, after spending three minutes of our life watching these so called feminists dance around playing patriarchal action hero, we seriously – SERIOUSLY – watch them walk, the whole Bad Blood clique, towards a camera with guns in hand, while a huge fucking explosion happens behind them, as if it was Armageddon. If we were going to give them credit for being ironic, this moment would be where, if it wasn’t so abundantly clear that satire is the furthest thing from their minds in this piece. They seem to think that being a feminist means just coopting dominating, violent “Male” behavior. The closing montage includes a girl shooting a bazooka, before the two cliques at the end come together, and Taylor and the Katy Perry look alike fight, bringing the video to a close and solving the narrative’s problem, its conflict: Hero gets betrayed, hero gets weapons and friends together, hero goes and kicks ass, and everything ends happily ever after. I dare not ask what the moral of this story is.
This is why I thought of that line from Gatsby: because before I judge Taylor Swift too harshly, it’s important to remember she didn’t go to college. She hasn’t taken English classes, Poli Sci, philosophy, sociology, let alone ethnic studies or theory. She’s been thrust into a position where she has a huge, huge platform, where an entire generation of young people look up to her, especially because she’s supposed to be the classy, put together, sincere and sweet one in our current collection of instagram stars and the YouTube famous. She’s not spreading her legs and rubbing her vagina on stage, or smoking pot. She’s the anti Miley, if you want to think about it that way, but at least Miley is up front and honest, even while she’s coopting black culture as a means of establishing her trademark “edginess.” She throws around the word "homies" in much the same manner as Seth Green's character in Can't Hardly Wait.
It’s all especially troubling when you imagine this, when you put yourself in her shoes: you’re rich, famous, a musician. And you get into a beef with a girl in your same business over, apparently, among other things, a stolen back up dancer, remarks made over twitter. So, you hype a video you made like crazy, and fill it with a passive aggressive fictionalized takedown with you and all your friends and celebrity acquaintances who are desperate to still be considered relevant – Cindy Crawford – and put them together to show up another woman. And, the way you do it isn’t just by talking shit, isn’t just by making snarky remarks: you make a violent video, the gist of which surrounds your desire to inflict pain and maim her. Classy move, T Swift. Nothing like taking your violent daydreams and creating a space to enact them. That’s what all your wealth is for, right?
But then again, Taylor considers herself a feminist. She herself has said that patriarchy and discrimination against women is a life long issue for her, in a recent interview.
“Misogyny is ingrained in people from the time they are born,” Swift said. “So to me, feminism is probably the most important movement that you could embrace, because it’s just basically another word for equality.”
And here lies the rub. Swift is right when she says feminism is vital, and important, but I think she’s enacting the fallacy of those faithful old words, that “women who seek to be equal to men lack ambition.”
This isn’t to say women shouldn’t be equal under the law, and in pay, and how they are treated socially. However, it seems Swift has taken the equality literally in a way that’s distressing. She seems to think Feminism means just substituting women for men in violent videos and graphic images, that Sojourner Truth would be proud that, all these years later, now little millennial white girls can watch their hero enacting all the terrible tropes of our patriarchal media environment like any other beefed up male sell out actor would. But that’s the problem. Feminism is about rejecting centuries of male dominated thought, including values of domination, aggression, violence, subjugation and commoditization. And Swift is guilty of all of these in her cute little film.
She enacts domination, aggression and violence, clearly. She’s commoditized herself and the violence she engages in, which perpetuates the falsehood of violence as the favorite means by which to wrap up a narrative. It’s an old device, traditionally a masculine one, one that has taught too many young boys that heroes have to be big, physical, hulking and willing to use violence to solve their problems, which is clearly what Swift does here.
We are only years past Newtown, and days or weeks, perhaps even hours away from the next major mass shooting in America. Our biggest sport is a contest between grown men as to who can better concuss each other, and better weather those concussions they themselves suffer. Commercials for Cadillac tell us it’s “ a weak man that seeks compromise.” We’re supposed to covet the cars in these commercials, where some guy drives around town like it’s the fucking Indy 500, in order to feel good about the size of his dick, the brand of his car keys, his status in our world.
Taylor Swift is part of the problem. Shit like this, and then going around talking about how you are a feminist is a problem. She needs to educate herself if she wants to pretend to be serious about her platform, and going around enacting the same bullshit values of our masculine dominated society isn’t helping, it’s actually hurting. And having Lena Dunham there doesn’t change anything.
In her interview, Swift goes on to say that there’s a seeming double standard revolving around the expression of sentiment, feelings.
“A man writing about his feelings from a vulnerable place is brave; a woman writing about her feelings from a vulnerable place is oversharing or whining.”
In what world do we privilege men who share their feelings? Is she completely unaware of the Sopranos? Does she have any male friends? I can tell you right now, after spending many years of my life around men, sports teams and in college, that men who share their feelings are certainly not considered to be brave. In fact, they are often considered “pussies” or “fags,” and if you don’t’ believe me, there’s an excellent film “The Masks We Live in” that I can recommend to you, and to Taylor Swift as well.
Apparently, Swift’s feminism is new thing for her.
“I didn’t have an accurate definition of feminism when I was younger” she said. “I didn’t quite see all the ways that feminism is vital to growing up in the world we live in. I think that when I used to say, ’Oh, feminism’s not really on my radar,’ it was because when I was just seen as a kid, I wasn’t as threatening.”
She still doesn’t have an accurate definition of feminism, but if she’s looking for one, I can provide it. Bell Hooks, in her work Feminism is for Everybody explains just what she means when she uses the word.
“Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression,” and she goes on to say that she loves that definition because “it so clearly states that the movement is not about being anti-male. It makes it clear that the problem is sexism. And that clarity helps us remember that all of us, female and male, have been socialized from birth on to accept sexist thought and action. As a consequence, females can be just as sexist as men.”
Like it or not, Taylor Swift is sexist, and is engaging in spreading the same bullshit around violence and domination that lays the ground work for oppression. Feminism teaches us that showing our emotions, and being cooperative is all right, and that bottling ourselves us, pursing reason as blind, absolute truth, and engaging in domination is fucked up. But when you watch Bad Blood, you don’t get that message. Instead, you are told that when a girl gets you riled up, talks shit, whatever, the response is to get your posse together, take a shit ton of instagrams to show how cool your clique is, and make a dumb fucking music video where you play with guns, have “cool” explosions and pretend to kick other people’s asses, because that’s just so hip and transformative for kids to see. Like, all feminism was missing was a female lead for a Grand Theft Auto video game. That, friends, is fucking feminism, right?
To quote Jenny Lewis, it seems like Taylor Swift is trying way too hard to be “Just one of the guys.” And that, friends, is not feminism. I don’t have a vagina, I don’t get cat called, but I have been routinely mocked for being sensitive, non-competitive, and, in a variety of ways, “feminine” most of my life. I played football to prove something to myself, as I’m sure you can imagine. I learned that that shit ain’t for me. I went to college, read some books, had great teachers, and I’m just now getting to a point where I can accept myself for who I am. But when I see shit like Taylor Swift’s stupid fucking music video advertised all over social media, and when I see her giving interviews about how she’s this big fucking feminist in MAXIM fucking magazine of all places, it makes me sick. Luckily, for me, I have bigger fish to fry. I’m broke, in debt, and about to graduate college like every other child of my generation. I’m hoping to go to grad school, got in, trying to pay for it, so I can be taken seriously for writing down my opinions like this. But maybe I should just make a stupid fucking music video about being aggressive, playing with guns… in other words, mimic Dan Balzerian. Because, based on Bad Blood, T Swift and him have a lot in common, along with a lot of money. And those seem to be the only people anyone listens to or cares about these days. I’ve got like four dollars in room on my credit card. Guess I’ll buy a lotto ticket. I'm only 72 hours removed from some asshole in a black GMC Yukon trying to run me off the road because I honked at him after he cut me off, so he swerved into my lane and dared me to hit him, to swerve into a parked car, or slam on my brakes. I questioned him, I guess, and he demonstrated his masculinity through dominance. I'd hate him, but he's just a product of his environment, like all of us. Maybe he'd just seen Mad Max - that would explain it. He needs feminism, as much as anyone. Just as much as Taylor Swift, even.