February 1st, 2006

Brad @ Burning Man

Pink: "Stupid Girls"

There's a reason why Pink's second album, Missundaztood, is the only major-label album I've bought in the last five years or more. I just got reminded (not that I needed a reminder) why. shrijani posted a link the other day to the first video from her album that's coming out in April, "Stupid Girls," and the video is officially up at MTV.com. The official link to it is on their flash-heavy, requires Active-X, Microsoft DRM crippled website (gah); if you're lucky, the (pirate?) 36Mb mpeg that Shrijani linked to may still be up.

There's a classic put-down of feminism that suggests that feminism is ugly smart women complaining that men don't prefer smart ugly women to stupid pretty ones. There are enough exceptions to make it an unfair criticism, but it is true that you don't see a lot of supermodels complaining about "looksism" -- not even in Berkeley. (Nor should feminists feel singled out by this criticism, because it's hardly unique to them. After all, most political movements' central tenet is "people like us should be ruling the world," and many people's political thinking never advances far beyond that.)

The hit single "Don't Let Me Get Me" from Missundaztood made a powerful impression on me because here was (in my opinion) quite possibly the best looking woman in the music industry at the time, certainly in the top five, someone whose first album was produced (and she was groomed by her managers) to market her as The Next Teen Pop Sex Symbol, who threw it all away -- apparently in no small part because music industry artificial cyborg girl-pop stars aren't allowed to express anger. She was the rare beautiful woman who condemns looksism -- and yet, in that song and video, there's the sucker punch that it's in no small part because she feels like she can't compete. Britney Spears, with whom she unfavorably compares herself in that song, is an almost entirely artificial creature that Pink sang, bitterly, that she could never be because she's not that "pretty," when the same industry with the same skillset was begging to make her just as artificially pretty as Britney Spears. (In my opinion, she already looked a heck of a lot better than Britney will ever look. I have no idea what anybody sees in her. I'd rather screw a mannequin.)

Well, "Stupid Girls" can be seen as just a send-up of pop sex symbols, from Shakira to Paris Hilton to the anonymous interchangeable sluttily-dressed dancers on BET. Read at the next level up, it's a complaint that having to compete with these women for men's attention drags women down enough, dumbs them down enough, to render them powerless and ineffective. For example, there's the lyric, "What happened to the dream of a girl President? She's dancing in the video next to Fiddy Cent." Which, of course, is especially poignant considering that the video came out the week after the third country in the western hemisphere elected a woman as President, and we haven't, putting us far behind such enlightened bastions of feminism as the Philippines and Pakistan, although she couldn't have predicted that when she was making it.

But pay attention to her character in the video. She's not exactly claiming the moral high ground here, and not just because of the (hysterically funny) "in case of emergency pull here" tab on her bra. After lambasting other girls for bulimia and plastic surgery, we see her in the gym ... wearing pink panties under her workout clothes that say "Say No to Food," and then going straight from there to plastic surgery where she's (by the surgeon's prep marks) planning on getting enough work done to fill half a season of Nip/Tuck. What's more, I remember (pleasantly and vividly) what she looked like with most of her clothes off a few years ago in the video to "Just Like a Pill," and it scares me to compare that woman to this one: the signs of exercise abuse, of working out so fanatically that she's eliminated almost 100% of the fat on her body, leaving her barely even female, combined with that clue on her panties, suggest to me that she's admitting that the pressure to compete with big-titted blonde bimbos has pushed her into anorexia. That's not just criticizing the rules of the game from the position of a loser. That's a winner who hates the game, hates what playing the game has done to her, and wishes she could have stayed her old self.

For what it's worth, I don't agree with 100% of her analysis here, for all that we're heartbroken over many of the same things. Having starved herself and worked herself into a hideous caricature of an anorexic pre-teen girl with a woman's face, she finds that men aren't looking at her? Maybe it's because she looked a whole heck of a lot sexier before she did that to herself. Nor does the fact that men's eyes are easily distracted by big, bouncing cleavage mean that we prefer it, at least not all of us ... it's just another spectacle. And in my experience (backed by at least one study I've seen the results of), it's women who make each other psycho on the subject of weight, not men making women psycho about it. (The average woman goes on her first diet, according to the last study I saw, at the age of 11. Almost 90% of those first diets were prompted by a cruel remark from an older female relative. And according to the same study, the average woman puts on 8 pounds per diet she's ever been on.) And I may not buy the album, because I'm not as crazy about the musical accompaniment to this track as I was about the rawer, edgier stuff on Missundaztood. But what I still adore Pink for is that she at least occasionally sings about stuff that matters, and does so with an emotional and intellectual honesty that you almost never see in pop music.