Wednesday, March 7, 2018

"That's Just the Way It Is": On Tradition and Transgression

Like any community our age, the Governor's Academy is somewhat bound to the decisions of those before us. We call these decisions tradition, and they can often serve as a guiding force in times of ambiguity. Traditions are centrally important to our community; this is precisely why we need to examine, criticize, and occasionally transgress against them.

In a pivotal scene of Hidden Figures, Paul Stafford refuses to let Kathrine Goble enter a Pentagon briefing, and when prompted for an explanation, he merely responds: "that's just the way it is." 
This line prompted me to consider how tradition defines our community. The segregation depicted in Hidden Figures, and the racism in the United States today, is tradition, and it took generations of transgressors to effectively change it. 

I do not think it is constructive (or accurate, for that matter) to trivialize the discrimination faced by black women in segregation-era America by comparing their immense struggles to the smaller controversies that occur on our campus. However, I think an applicable lesson can be garnered from their story on tradition and transgression. 

"That's just the way it is" is not a valid argument. "It is tradition" is not a valid argument, and "tradition is important" is not a valid justification for continuing behaviors that are detrimental to members of our community. Much like our rules, our traditions are "guard rails" which lead us when we don't know where to go. Whether it comes to dress code, graduation gowns, or the role of athletics, I believe it is our responsibility as a community to examine the traditions we follow, and make sure that they are guiding us to kindness.

The Importance of Finding Your Own Confidence

The biggest thing that I took away from last night’s class was from the interview that we watched. Taraji P. Henson said, when she met Katherine Johnson, she told her that she didn’t focus on all the discrimination around her, she put her head down and did her work. Because Katherine Johnson didn’t have to look to the white men around her for validation, she made huge advances for NASA and the United States during the Cold War. If she had looked to others for validation she most likely wouldn’t have been able to do what she did because in 1960’s America, everyone was betting against her as an African American woman. I think that this lesson is really important for women and other people who are oppressed everywhere. While there shouldn’t be prejudices in the first place, I think the most effective way to change the opinions of the oppressors is to prove them wrong, which is exactly what Katherine, Mary and Dorothy did. It would have been impossible for them to prove their oppressors wrong had they not found validation and confidence within themselves, and I think that’s the most important lesson a young person can learn in trying to change the world.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Beyonce's "Lemonade"

The idea of appropriation and subversion was presented to our class during Monday night’s lecture on Beyonce’s Lemonade. According to Laurie Nardone, this process is when marginalized groups can take concepts that have been oppressive, and appropriate and then subverse these concepts. This idea was observed in the Lemonade film in numerous places. The “Don’t Hurt Yourself” video is set in a parking garage, a place which is known for its tendency to be a dangerous place for women. In this setting, Beyonce is singing angrily and powerfully. She repeatedly states, “I’m too much for you”, which also brings on the stereotype of the angry black woman. While the setting and the presence of this perceived stereotype are apparent in the video, they are appropriated and subverted. In this video, Beyonce is powerful. She is powerful in the way she sings, the words she uses, and the way she looks and dances. She may be in a dangerous place, but she is not in danger. She is in control and in power.
Appropriation and subversion is also seen in the, “Sorry” video. This video is filmed mainly on a bus, another place historically dangerous for black women. Additionally, Laurie Nardone identified, “plantation images” throughout this video. But again, the images of the bus and plantation are appropriated, and then subverted in a way which shows Beyonce and these black women defying these images and being powerful in them.
Another video which depicts Laurie Nardone’s idea of appropriation and subversion is the, “Formation” video. This video depicts Beyonce and the other women in the video dressed in fancy white clothing, in a house resembling the house which would have been on a plantation, the slave owner’s house, according to Dr. Nardone. The image of these black women dancing and Beyonce singing of black pride and female pride starkly contrasts with this image and the setting, but it does so in a way which makes the message of this pride all the more powerful. By appropriating this image, and then subverting it, it only adds to the overall message of pride in being a black woman. While the words themselves are powerful, this appropriation and subverting of something that was once symbols of oppression add greatly to this message.
I’ve observed this theory of appropriation and subverting in my day to day. The most common example would be the use of the n-word by black men and women. It no longer carries the derogatory and oppressive meaning that it did historically when it was used by white people to oppress black people. Now, black people have reclaimed this word as their own, empowering them and removing the oppressive meaning it once carried. I’ve also observed this within my own friend group, with girls comfortably using the words, “bitch” and “whore” as terms of endearment. While these words have previously been used to oppress and hurt women, women like my friends now use the word in a positive manner. Both of these are examples of taking
something and flipping it so that a once negative or harmful thing now empowers the previously oppressed group. Beyonce does this numerous times throughout Lemonade and it contributes wonderfully to her overall message of empowerment and pride in being a black woman.

How I Flip It and Reverse It

The Fire That Cleanses

If you want pleasure
seek no further
I've got warmth between my legs
that can start a fire
I'll burn everything down
scorch the earth of
misogyny inequality
before you know it, you'll be circumcised
Don't think I don't see your inability to understand what the fuck you're coming into
do not underestimate the power of the tides of my vagina
I'll wash everything away
cleanse the hatred and ignorance embedded in the body of America
I'll burn everything down, there's a reason God is coming with fire
I'll burn everything down
sparking the rebirth of justice
(Wait, that never existed)
all while fucking you
So I ask again, you sure you want pleasure?
Cause if you drown, you were warned
little boys who play with fire get burned

The Ride to Feminism

Don't tell me to close my legs
If I want to
let my ocean flow
drown the world
of silver and gold
of power and greed
humble a man to his knees
let my vagina lead
don't try to restrict my tides
with your societal guidelines
cause it has not been socialized that way
so let me open wide
and I'll take a seat
on this ride
called Feminism

Art and literature are avenues through which we express ourselves to attempt to affect social change by bringing
awareness. Beyonce was unapologetic, vulnerable and honest in Lemonade. She was
empowered by her sexuality and her voice at the same time. I especially connected to her music video for her
song "Hold Up". She mentions "she tried to change" by "clos(ing) her mouth more." She "tried to be soft, prettier,
less awake." While she's expressing these words in the music video, she was submerged in water in a home.
However, there was a shift in her attitude and demeanor when she rose from the water and opened the doors of
her home. As she opened the doors water poured out and she looked strong, right at the center of the frame.
Beyonce is rarely vulnerable with the public and that's why I felt that her message was particularly impactful. I
connected to her message about suppressing one's true self to appeal to a man or society. I also connected to her
message of female liberation and embracing one's sexuality and the gaze of others. Beyonce also calls to action
and making noise by turning masculinity on its head and using phallic symbols. As I reflected on "Hold Up", I realized
I too have made statements addressing my sexuality in a poetic way that empowers women to fight against misogyny.
In my poems "The Ride to Feminism" and "The Fire That Cleanses" I use water as a metaphor to sex, letting go of
oppressive gender expectations, and women empowerment. In "The Fire That Cleanses" I also includes fire as a metaphor
of taking action in society to create a more accepting and equal space. "The Ride to Feminism" Definitely aligns with
the "Hold Up" music video. Beyonce wore a dress that showed her femininity and allowed her to express her sexuality.
Her attitude reminded me of the lines "Don't try to restrict my tides with your societal guidelines". Too often women's
bodies are policied and we are harshly critizide for expressing our sexuality. Beyonce and I wanted to undermine this
message by encouraging women to be who they want to be and reminding them that they do not have to operate
within this oppressive system. Women do not need to abide by gender expectations so it's time we all flip it and reverse it.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Beyonce Lemonade

I was very excited to watch Beyonce's visual album, Lemonade.  There was lots of great things said about the album, and I was interested in this concept that Beyonce had come up with.  Beyonce is a very prominent women in our society today.  She is an amazing role model for everyone, but especially to women.  She is a very versatile artist and this album shows that quality very well.  This album was very relatable to lots of other peoples struggles around the world.  She did a great job telling her story through these amazing music videos and was hard to keep your eyes off of.  However, this visual album had also had lots of hidden messages that I was not able to notice during my first time watching it.  Dr. Nardone was able to expose us to these hidden messages and explain to us what the deeper meaning was.

One of my favorite videos in the Lemonade album was "Hold up".  The scene when Beyonce was walking down the street, in a stunning yellow dress and smashing the objects in her way was very powerful.  When I first watched the video, I noticed her strong and confident strut while walking down the street.  She is an inspiration to all women and encourages them to be themselves and to be confident in yourself.  She did her own rendition of "the male gaze" during this scene.  I noticed this look that she was giving, but I was able to learn from Dr. Nardone what this type of stare really meant.  It was interesting to listen in on what the male gaze really was, and how disturbing this theory is.  Beyonce was able to do her own gaze and show her dominance through this music video.  

Another memorable point that I took away from Dr. Nardone's lecture also came from the "Hold up" music video.  She had pointed out the hidden message of what Beyonce was destroying, which was the male penis.  Beyonce was destroying objects that were somewhat similar and could be representations of a penis.  This was an empowering message that Beyonce tried to convey, that women do not do things for men.  Women are not just there for mens pleasure, but are their own people who have their own wants and needs.  The world does not revolve around men, and Beyonce is able to convey that message through this music video and album.  I would strongly suggest this visual album to anyone, because of the empowering messages that you can take away from it and the many relatable  situations that it shows.  


I had always heard about Beyonce as being the person, once Beyonce  came on everyone stopped and listened. I don't listen to Beyonce so listening to Lemonade was very interesting and enriching. I enjoyed the attention to detail in Lemonade and how well she did flip things and reverse them. She went outside the norms of the typical and really brought a different point of perception. I did not enjoy the music so much but I still enjoyed Lemonade.

The Angry music video was my favorite because of how well she displays her message, and whatever that message is can differ from person to person. The message it said to me is that she is not going to held down by the person that are hurting her. In Angry she is in a parking garage and does not care who is in there, dancing and singing without a care in the world and that is how it should be. Ms. Nardone said this example that a parking garage is usually dangerous for women and are told to walk with their keys in their hand just to protect themselves. No one should have to worry about being attacked just walking to their car. Beyonce displays a clear message that I agree with and it is that "if a man can do it, a women can do it too, it's that simple." I agree with this feminism, this outlook on it is something that is very attainable even though men and women are equal we are not treated as such. Beyonce's look on feminism is how I feel about feminism and maybe that is why I enjoyed the Lemonade so much. I did not see Beyonce's feelings for feminism until after I had already enjoyed the video but this just speaks volumes to who Beyonce is and how much of a leader she is to all women. Lemonade was influential and is something that I am going to recommend to friends and family.

Controlling Image and the Celebrity Persona

I love Lemonade. I love it so much that I can't really pick exactly what to talk about. It was so beautiful and real and raw. And it was obviously very well thought through, with a team of producers and a crew of many many more people that probably spent a lot of time on the project. And so I think it's interesting that she has this crew that reworks her image and her persona. For me, Lemonade was a way for Beyonce to take control of her image again and create this persona that she wants, instead of one that the world seems to expect of her. There's just this dichotomy of her being an artist but also being a celebrity, because the artist should be able to express whatever they want and make social commentary, but as a celebrity that's somehow less acceptable as there a different set of norms and expectations. But Beyonce has been clear about what she thinks about herself-- "I'm an artist and I'm sensitive about my shit!"She openly speaks about her vulnerability and her introversion and what this persona does for her, but it seems that vulnerability is somehow hidden in the shadow of this perfect image.

I think this is a particularly interesting concept, especially because of SNL's skit "The Day Beyonce Turned Black". The skit basically was highlighting the fact that previously, America was enamored with Beyonce, and because they loved her so much, it was as if she could not be black. They overlooked her blackness, and the intersectionality of her blackness and her femininity, and thus created this unrealistic image of perfection in Beyonce. It's funny because of SNL's previous skit about her, "The Beygency" makes fun of the way fans and people all across America have named her as the Queen (which she absolutely is) but that puts her under enormous pressure to be perfect, and that pressure continues to build with every new album or song she releases. So it might be that we accepted more so this celebrity air about her rather than her artistry and her work as a musician. So in that sense, her persona outgrew her as media outlets began to write more and more about her and the rest of America watched her closely, idolizing her every move, and somehow looking at her through rose-colored glasses of everything America needed her to be. And that perfection rejected her blackness and a lot of her power as a bold female.

Lemonade is undoubtedly a beautiful piece, but I think its main function is for Beyonce to reclaim her identity, and take artistic control of her work. It was basically an F You, I'm going to do what I want, and you're going to take all of me or none of me. And what she does, and what she seeming to say she really wants to do, is make her story a political commentary, make waves socially. She flaunts her femininity, and makes fun of these male images, and pronounces her blackness. She also steps away from pop and mixes in several different genres.

I think that it's really important that she steps away from pop-- Ed Sheeran was speaking about this in an interview, and even though he has an entirely different genre I think what he says as a celebrity and an artist rings true. In the podcast George Ezra and Friend, he stated that the next album he's making won't be pop. "The reason it’s not a pop album is people expect you to come and the next album they’re going to be like, ‘it has to be bigger than ‘Shape of You’ and it has to sell more than this.’ ... But if I control it and I’m like, ‘Here’s a lo-fi record that I really fucking love,’ my fans are gonna be like ‘Yay!’, and the pop world are gonna be like ‘oh well, maybe the next one." I think that applies to a lot of popular artists. There's this expectation to do bigger and better every time with pop. He goes to say the pressure also comes from the label. “The label hate that. The label really fucking hate that. They want a big pop album again, but I think that shit’s dangerous.”

And I agree, it is dangerous when your song overtakes your identity and the persona you created and somehow your expressions become exaggerated ideals or standards of perfection. And as a musician, you're expected to outperform yourself every time. And music is a strange industry because it's about speaking your truth and whatnot, but it's about the money. And Beyonce has been using that to her advantage. The name itself is going to sell and people will listen because of how big she's grown. But this was her moment telling the world, including her label, this is all a persona, and I'm in charge of it.

 Sheeran then talks about the idea of controlling that image by taking it down and taking a step away from pop. “My whole career I’ve studied Coldplay — Coldplay are fucking geniuses... Ghost Stories was their artistic moment, where they just brought it back down. They controlled it." So really, what if Lemonade was Beyonce taking a step away from all the fame and this image of perfection that the world pushed her into and taking artistic control of her work. Honestly, that's what I think this album is, because Beyonce chose to say what she had to say regardless of what would happen. It was about telling her story and in the process, empowering everyone else's. It's about the making the raw and real through its political and social commentary, snark and attitude, everything people say you shouldn't do and should be-- it's all in there. It's angry and frustrating and vulnerable and flirtatious and playful and fierce and seems to be a bundle of contradictions rolled into one album but it makes sense, because it captures something very human. And just watching it felt like breathing after a very long time of being trapped, and there was an immediate sense of empowerment and freedom. And I was trying to figure out why we felt that way, why I feel pretty damn amazing every time I listen to any one of the songs on the album, because Lemonade is liberating. And I think it's because it was honest and raw and vulnerable, but most of all it was because Beyonce was liberating herself.