Saturday, August 3, 2013

Taylor Swift, The Westboro Baptist Church, and Blaming the Victim

Hello there, dear readers! Before we begin, some notes:

  • Yes! I’m back! I’m fucking back! Don’t expect a post/article from me every day or week, though. Maybe every month might be moar realistic.

  • Do you like reading articles that contain a shitload of [square brackets]!? What about “scare quotes”? Ellipses...? If so, then you’re in luck today, my friend! [actually, this has been the case with most of my articles]

  • I had originally wanted to make this a video, because I thought that some of the jokes and stuff would have worked better spoken than read, but I ran out of time.

  • Most of the text in the square brackets was intended to make clarifications ['cause, you know how into clarification I am, and, like, it worked so well in the Amplified Bible (right?)] and was going to be inserted into the video as text on the screen, but now you’re just going to have to read all of it, instead of hearing most of it and just reading a little.

  • I’ll be calling this an “article,” because that’s what it would probably be called in a publication that was actually respected [by anyone].

OK! On to the article!

So I know this is the second straight item I’ve published on the internet [including my most recent video] in which I “talk” about people and events, and as the quote commonly [mis]attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt says: “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” But I kind of like to USE discussions of people and events as a way to END UP discussing ideas.

So Westboro Baptist Church is going to hold a protest outside the Taylor Swift concert in Kansas City on August 3rd (today? already?). In the press release announcing the protest, they call her a “proud whore.” Actually, the exact wording they use is “like a proud whore,” [which I believe is the title of a Madonna song? But, hey! I think “whores” SHOULD be proud... or at least not ashamed]. Now, as someone who has almost nothing but outright contempt for Ms. Swift [as a public figure and “artistainer,” not (necessarily) as a person], for many reasons [that have “fuck-all” to do with this], I must say that there’s probably no definition of “whore” that actually applies to her, except maybe WBC’s definition, and I don’t know what that is, exactly, because it wasn’t in their FAQs, but I would think it includes, but is not limited to, anyone who has any sex outside of marriage whatsoever, and even within marriage, presumably in any position other than missionary, or any kind of sex other than PIV, and probably, if you’re a woman, if you “dress like a slut,” whatever that means, but I could be wrong. So if that is their definition of what a “whore” is, then, and this is, of course, only slightly informed speculation, but I think it would be safe to assume that Ms. Swift would qualify for that title1, as would I, as would almost everyone over the age of 18 [and many people under that age], maybe even some people in the church itself. NTTWNBAWWI2 if she were a “whore.” Except...

Not intended to be an endorsement of the original
In fact, Ms. Swift HAS herself been guilty [in her lyrics] of “slut-shaming,” as in her song “Better Than Revenge,” which, when I first heard the title, I thought would have been about how moving on and living your own life and finding happiness in yourself [and in things and people other than some jerk who cheated on you or whatever] is “better than revenge,” but was disappointed to discover that the song was actually just about revenge: “She’s not a saint and she’s not what you think. She’s an actress [...] she’s better known for the things that she does on the mattress.” That song is about a girl who “stole her boyfriend,” apparently? [Unverifiable speculative Internet gossip says it’s about Camilla Belle, but who gives a fuck!?] I actually wrote about this subject in this very blog about four years ago, and maybe I would express my opinions on the topic somewhat differently now, but I still maintain that “boyfriend stealing” is not a thing! “Stealing other people's toys on the playground”!? Srsly? Hey Taylor Swift, did you know... That uhm, your boyfriend IS NOT YOUR FUCKING PROPERTY!!! Now I know it sucks to be heartbroken, but if someone cheats on you [or leaves you for someone else], then it’s the “fault” of the person who cheated on you, not the person he or she cheated on you WITH, even if that person knows what they’re doing and is trying to hurt you, it’s still the fault of the person who cheated on you. Does that make sense? By the way, isn’t “boyfriend stealing” what the protagonist of “You Belong With Me” was TRYING to do!? [And I know you might say it’s different because you were actually In Love with him or whatever, but that doesn’t change the practical outcome.]

Then there’s this line from “Fifteen”: “Abigail gave everything she had to a boy who changed his mind, and we both cried.” Now I know that a common interpretation of this line is that “everything she had” is code for “her virginity,” which is, let’s face it, not [even actually] a thing.3 Virginity is just a term for a state in which a person has not yet engaged in a certain activity. It’s not actually a “thing” that you can “give” to someone. Sex, on the other hand, CAN be that. Anyway, I wouldn’t say that that interpretation is completely incorrect, just incomplete. Abigail is, in fact, a real person, one of Ms. Swift’s friends, and their disembodied heads actually made a video in which they [to be honest] were kind of stalking this “boy who changed his mind,” this member of “the male species,” as Abigail says, and I know the video came out before the song was released, but I don’t know if it was also before the song was written. But she says... well, I’ll just let her tell you herself...

Yeah, kind of silly, I know. Note that she says, “I offered everything! EVERYTHING! Emotionally and physically!” I don’t know if she meant “her virginity,” [if she was a virgin at the time], although it would appear to be included within the set of “everything,” [even though it’s actually not a “thing”; it’s just that most people THINK that it is].
Perhaps it’s telling that the featured “related video”
is this idiot’s story about how she “lost” her virginity.
She DID obviously mean to include sex, because you can’t say “everything physically” if you’re going to exclude sex, but it’s fairly clear that she also meant other things, such as her time, effort, love, devotion, dedication, etc., but even THAT’s not everything she had, unless she literally gave him all of her possessions, like, in garbage bags or something? Maybe a more interesting question is why some people hear “everything she had” and automatically ASSUME that it must be code for “her virginity.” It almost seems like a Pavlovian response. And yet it’s also as if Ms. Swift were saying “Abigail gave everything she had, if you know what I mean...” It definitely speaks to the undue value our culture places on female virginity, which, as I don’t think I can emphasize strongly enough, is not a thing! [Can you tell I’m a huge 30 Rock fan? lol] Now I don’t necessarily want to implicate Ms. Swift in the perpetuation of this regressive cultural meme [duh, all memes are cultural], but I do think she has at least some responsibility to let young women know that while, yes, they should be careful to whom they “give their hearts,” and that heartbreak is unavoidable and they shouldn’t expect that the first person they “fall in love with” is going to be with them forever, they should also not be made to feel guilty, ashamed, or devalued for whatever sexual choices they make, because it really IS, or at least should be, their choice. And I don’t think Ms. Swift is fulfilling that obligation, especially when a lot of her songs and music videos do take advantage of the “Madonna-Whore Complex.” One final note about this before I move on, about the “boy who changed his mind.” I can appreciate that Ms. Swift chose to word it in that way. It seems less judgmental than saying that he never intended to be with her long-term in the first place, or that he was just using her for sex. And it’s ok to be sad when it happens to you, but unless someone is dishonest with you and misrepresents themselves and their intentions from the beginning, which are NOT “ok,” we should remember that there’s nothing wrong with “changing your mind.” It’s completely “normal” and not something anyone should be ashamed of. I’m just not sure Ms. Swift realizes that or really makes it a sufficiently clear part of her message if she does.

And, of course, speaking of regressive memes [and this is, perhaps, the one she’s most well-known for], Ms. Swift has also been “guilty” of having these fantasies of being an archetypal, disempowered, blank female character whose aspirations are solely fixated on attaining some romantic goal involving a similarly blank, archetypal male character in some grossly traditional [as in “Traditional Values”], heteronormative, clichéd fairy tale that obviously doesn’t reflect anyone’s actual experience, although it may reflect the fantasies of [her] fellow individuals who feel they require external [sources of] validation. I mean, it would be one thing if only one [or even just a few] of her songs were about things like that, but that’s simply not the case.

Oh, and by the way, did you even READ Romeo & Juliet? Or The Scarlet Letter? You know Romeo & Juliet each fucking kill themselves at the end, right!? “Oh, but I wanted a happy ending!” [that’s what he said?] Ok. Fine. Whatever. Who am I to tell you what to say in your own songs? Why don’t we just go around misappropriating and bastardizing other literary classics!? Like, I’m gonna write a song referencing Oedipus, but in the end, he’s, like... NOT gonna fuck his mother? Then, another time, @taylorswift13 wrote what she called “A Midsummer Night’s Blog.” Oh, great. Another reference to a work of Shakespeare you’ve never fucking read! When does this shit end!? [I humbly and sincerely apologize if you actually have read or even just seen a performance of that play... Just kidding.] Why don’t we just take a look at that really quickly? But just the first paragraph. I’m not THAT much of a masochist!

I’m writing you on a summer afternoon in Nashville. All the idealistic [um! I think you meant IDEAL!? Maybe!? What, are the markers of a perfect day trying to talk to you about ending world hunger or something!? Joining the Sierra Club!?] markers of a perfect day are presenting themselves right now in this moment [ugh! Kill me now!]. I mean, we’re talking chirping birds, blinding sunshine, a just-the-right-amount breeze [ah, ok. “a just-the-right-amount breeze.” Could you have maybe worded that a little MORE awkwardly?].. There’s the distant sound of power washing from someone else’s deck and my feet are up on the patio table [Seriously? Feet on the table? Gross!]. I just ate a really awesome sandwich. Such a simple, good day. And so I just wanted to say hi. [so... maybe you should have called it “A Midsummer Day’s Blog”!?]

And don’t even get me started on her song “Mean”... On the other hand, I don’t think I’m going to want to keep writing articles criticizing [overcriticizing?] and analyzing [overanalyzing?] the oeuvre of one Taylor Swift, so I might as well get this out of the way and Speak Now4 on this subject so it doesn’t burn a hole in my stomach or give me an aneurism. [j/k! That’s not really how I deal with upsetting shit! lol] Ok, so this song is about a critic who said “mean” things about her. “Presumably,” it’s about Bob Lefsetz, who was a supporter of hers in the beginning, but after her, let’s say, sub-par [to put it kindly] performance at the 2010 Grammys, he said that she had basically shot herself in the foot and that she had “shortened her career.” He probably went too far, but as a critic, he is allowed to do that, and he was basically the only critic [maybe even one of the only people?] saying anything like that, and I think it was primarily a matter of his “misunderestimation” of the forgiving nature of “The American People.” Now, I was a victim of bullying during school [I know, shocker5], as was Ms. Swift, purportedly. So I think she knows the difference between bullying and criticism—even harsh criticism. She even said in an interview that the song was “about a critic who hated [her] [...] and all of a sudden, it became an anthem [sic] against bullies in schools, which is a refreshing and new take on it.” Yeah, except for the fact that you wrote the song as if it were ABOUT a bully. She accuses the song’s antagonist of “picking on the weaker man,” and says, “Someday I'll be big enough so you can't hit me.” Those lines definitely make it sound like she’s talking about a bully, not a critic. And in what universe is she the “weaker” person, and how much “bigger” would she need to become to be too “big” to “hit”? Even when she wrote this song, she was probably the biggest recording artist of that year. She had already won 4 Grammys, including Album of the Year, and shifted millions of units. And what does she mean by “hit”? “He negatively evaluated some aspect of my performance as a musical artist/entertainer! That makes me feel bad!”? That does not, in any sense, constitute “hitting” you. And then she says, “You have pointed out my flaws again as if I don't already see them.” Um, yeah. I know it's annoying if a parent or friend or acquaintance does that, but if your “flaws” are artistically relevant, then it’s kind of a part of a critic's job to address them in some way. Whether or not you can see your own flaws isn’t exactly the point. He doesn’t do what he does for your benefit. He doesn’t work for you. “And I can see you years from now in a bar [...] with that same big loud opinion [...] washed up and ranting [...] drunk and grumbling on about how I can't sing.” Ooh. How dare he? I guess someone hit a nerve with you... Well? Can you sing? The fact is that your voice is what Randy Jackson would call “pitchy, dawg.” Things like whether or not you can sing in tune are some of the few things in art that are not subjective and dependent on individual tastes. I know there’s more to being a great singer than accurate pitch, but to most people who give a fuck about music, I believe it’s generally regarded as the absolute minimum requirement for being a great singer, but if you can’t reliably sing in tune, then you’re going to have to compensate for that deficiency in some other way. And to me, there’s an important distinction to make here. There’s a difference between being a great singer [in a technical or “mechanical” sense] and having a great voice [or you could say “great-sounding,” or even “pleasant-sounding,” and this, of course, is subjective]. There are people who exemplify both of those traits6: People like Freddie Mercury, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, etc. [the least controversial examples I could think of “off the top of my head,” unless you’re a racist and/or a homophobe! :-P]. Then there are people who are technically great singers, but don’t have what most people would consider “great” [“great-sounding”] voices, like Roger Waters or Weird Al or maybe Clay Aiken [not to put all three of them in the same category as artists, OF COURSE]; and people who have great voices, but aren’t necessarily “technically great” singers, and I guess an example of that would be Justin Timberlake [who I believe has been steadily improving in that area throughout his career], or maybe Donald Fagen [of Steely Dan]; but there are also people who are neither of those, but are still considered great singers because their voices are so iconic and distinctive and influential and culturally important, such as Bob Dylan or Mick Jagger. And then, there are people who are none of those things, like Britney Spears, and I think I would put Ms. Swift in the same category in terms of her singing ability, although not in other areas. [This was not (intended to be) a comprehensive list of classifications of singers according their level of “greatness” (or lack thereof). For example, it didn’t mention people like Björk & Thom Yorke, who are both great singers, but in “non-traditional” ways]. And I am having trouble finding professionals in the field who agree with me about this in regards to Ms. Swift, but I generally expect more from [one of] the most successful singers in the fucking world than just being an ok singer. So I guess I wouldn’t say that Ms. Swift “can’t sing.” It would probably be more accurate to say that her singing ability doesn’t even come close to meriting all of the accolades she has received. But that’s not really WHY she has received those accolades. Most of them are the result of the one legitimate music-related talent she does possess [which even I would not dispute], which is her ability to just crank out pop songs [dozens every year, though most of them don’t make it onto her albums] that many/most people consider “catchy” and become gigantic, monumental, unavoidable, inescapable hits. And yet, I also have this theory that what tipped the Grammys in her favor in 2010 [the year she won the most Grammys] WAS the Kanye West incident, which very likely gave her sympathy among the voters, but further discussion of that topic is beyond the scope of this article... Of course, near the end of the song, Ms. Swift starts getting mean herself: “All you are is mean, and a liar, and pathetic, and alone in life...” [And note how her voice goes up when she says “liar” and “pathetic”] Yikes! So basically, the message of the song turns out to be: “Don’t be mean, you asshole, piece of shit, scumbag mother-fucker!” Way to maintain the moral high-ground! Great example you’re setting for victims of bullying... Now it SHOULD go without saying that it’s one thing to recognize the general accuracy of the idea that when a person criticizes you unfairly or too harshly or insultingly [or even just unconstructively], or “talks shit” about you, especially someone who is not a professional critic and in an area other than their specific field of criticism, it tends to say more about the person who criticized you than about you yourself. And it would have been one thing if she had written a song that was actually about the problematic subject of bullying, because it is an experience that a lot of people go through, and I can appreciate when musicians write songs about the problems of us commoners, but what Ms. Swift did was different. But I realize that this song HAS [purportedly] helped people who have been bullied get through those terrible situations, and maybe THAT’s what’s important, [and] not whether or not Ms. Swift was legitimately a victim [of anything] as she portrayed herself in [the context of] this song [which she wasn’t]. I don’t know...

Anyway, I guess the point I’m trying to make is that Ms. Swift is not a “whore”; she’s a serial monogamist. There’s a difference; it’s just not necessarily a moral difference.

Now, I’m not sure there’s anything I could say I like about the Westboro Baptist Church; they might be some of the worst people on earth, definitely in the western world, but one thing they do is... they kind of give self-righteous hypocrites a “taste of their own medicine.” For example, they tell a lot of people who identify as Christian that they’re going to hell, even some people who themselves GLEEFULLY inform us “sinners” at every opportunity that we’re the ones who are going to Hell. What they’re doing with Ms. Swift is along the same lines. They’re calling a woman who has been guilty of “slut-shaming” a slut. They’re “slut-shaming” a “slut-shamer,” and I can definitely appreciate the irony in that, and the irony that they’re doing this even though Ms. Swift explicitly has the goal of being a “good role-model,” [and I've thought about what it means to be a “good role-model,” but I'll have to think about and research it some more if I'm gonna make a definitive statement on it, and whether or not Ms. Swift actually qualifies as one] which she tries to accomplish by not getting crazy with the partying or whatever. For example, [she claims that] she doesn’t use drugs or even really drink alcohol [which is also a drug]. Of course, this is just more proof of what a bunch of clowns the WBC is, and that no one outside their church could ever meet their standards for moral conduct. And they’ll be protesting at the fucking concert! Around a bunch of Ms. Swift’s fans! And her fans are fiercely loyal and notoriously vicious in their attacks on those they felt have insulted or slighted her in some/any way [hi, guys! :D], so it might actually be kind of fun to see this insane, rabid, hate-filled cult go up against... the Westboro Baptist Church!

who saw this coming?
But none of what I’ve said up to this point is actually why I wrote this article. I wrote this article because I wanted to talk about blaming the victim. You see, some of the coverage of WBC’s announcement of their protest included pictures of Ms. Swift from the red carpet at the 2013 MuchMusic awards wearing a Herve Leger bandage dress, [clingier than Ms. Swift has a history of being with her numerous boyfriends (j/k :-P)], and you can’t see it in this picture, but she’s also wearing heels by Christian Louboutin. When I saw this picture, my first thought was, “OMG! I want to fuck Taylor Swift! I did not know that about myself. What else don’t I know about myself?” I guess this shouldn’t have surprised me. She is an attractive young woman [although I've always thought her eyes were kind of weird, but whatever. I guess with that much makeup, it's hard to tell?]; I just never thought of her as “sexy” until I saw this picture. I mean, first of all, “dat ass” [who would have thought, right?]. Secondly, there’s this tiny convexity(?) in the area between her pubic region and her navel, [you see it, right? Is there a name for that or something?] and I don’t know why, but I think that’s just ridiculously hot on a woman [I know. I’m weird. idgaf]... Anyway, now I can kind of understand the thought process: the twisted, fucked-up, morally degenerate, sociopathic thought process behind blaming the victim. I mean, I could easily argue that I would never have even entertained the idea of fucking Ms. Swift if I hadn’t seen her wearing that dress. And if I were a naïve, sexist asshole, I could extrapolate that line of thought onto a rapist, and assume that maybe “provocative” clothing on a woman is some kind of “trigger” for a rapist. However, research “suggest[s] that victim attire is not a significant factor. Instead, rapists look for signs of passiveness and submissiveness, which, studies suggest, are more likely to coincide with more body-concealing clothing.” And I don't think the intention of the referenced article was to “blame” women who display “signs of passiveness and submissiveness”; it's just reporting what the research has shown. One obvious solution to this is to empower women. There are many ways for this to be accomplished...

Of course, it is a fact that women who aren’t dressed “sexily” also get raped, and ultimately, all the blame for crimes such as rape must fall on the perpetrator. And people [rightly] say that “there is evil in the world” [and I could write a whole other article unpacking that statement], and that people must take precautions to reduce the risk of unwanted events [befalling them], and I agree that, as a purely practical matter, you are at lower risk of unwanted events befalling you if you avoid walking alone at night in places with higher crime rates [even with a gun or other weapons], or getting “blackout drunk” [I know from personal experience that nothing good can come of that!]... On the other hand, while many rapes do occur with at least one party under the influence of alcohol, most rapes do not occur in the middle of the night in a dark alley [even in “the bad part of town”]. For example, the vast majority of rapes are committed by an acquaintance of the victim. Also, people confuse taking actions that [may] “increase the risk” of an event with failing to take measures that “could have prevented” it [note the assumption that the event could have been prevented, which isn’t necessarily the case], which sort of implies that the victim carries at least a small amount of “blame,” which is, by definition, “blaming the victim,” which is NOT COOL7! One who would make such a statement must think about what they’re arguing. There will always be someone who will get “blackout drunk” or walk home alone or even “dress like a slut” [or do all three simultaneously, and as noted above, it's not as though “dressing like a slut,” whatever that means, has actually been shown to “increase a woman's risk” of being sexually attacked], so do you really intend to argue that a woman shouldn’t do those things so that her potential attacker will instead attack someone else, who does? Clearly, the proper focus is on getting [some] men [and, yes, some women] to stop raping, not making women [and, yes, some men] feel guilty for/about the circumstances surrounding their rape.8

Woah! Holy abrupt ending, Batmanglij! Anyway, thanks for reading! “See” you again next time [whenever the fuck that will be]! Happy trials!

1Even without “unverifiable speculative Internet gossip,” I would be very skeptical if Ms. Swift were to claim that she is a virgin, mostly because she's 23 now and even I was “only” a virgin until I was 24, and that was only because of how I was raised, and I'm kind of just assuming that her parents didn't raise her in such a crazy-religious way as mine raised me, but I could be wrong...

2“Not That There Would Necessarily Be Anything Wrong With It.” Kind of a modification of “NTTAWWT” from Seinfeld.

3See this great video by Laci Green that “penetrates deeper” into this topic.

4see what I did there?

5...was Amy Schumer's nickname in high school, apparently?

6me, for example [:-P lol j/k]

7If you don't believe this, then let me know why and maybe we can talk about it... read this first, please. Thanks.

8Here, I didn't include prison rape, which is, of course, a horrible crime. In a sense, men are made to feel ashamed of being raped in prison in the same way that women are made to feel ashamed of being victims of non-prison rape [especially by men] due to the common belief that if a man gets raped in prison, it is kind of “his fault” for having “committed the crime” [or having been wrongfully convicted!] in the first place, and that the rape could have been “prevented” if the victim hadn't committed the crime [or hadn't been wrongfully convicted]. But then, the rapist would have just raped someone else, who had, so it's the same argument...

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