Monday, 21 September 2015

Viola Davis, Cultivation Theory and the 2015 #Emmy Awards

Viola Davis accepts her Emmy Award for Outstanding Actress in a Drama at the 2015 Emmy Awards.

I won't pretend I didn't cry this morning. 

I didn't watch the Emmys live last night, so waking up to the news that not only did Viola Davis win herself an Emmy (as I predicted back when she de-wigged on primetime), but two other black women, (Regina King for American Crime and Uzo Aduba for Orange is the New Black) had also left with trophies, has left me floating on a cloud of #blackgirlmagic that has lasted the entire day.

But it has also left me thinking long and hard about why these victories matter on a sociopolitical level. 

I'm currently working on my dissertation for my MA in Mass Communications and I came across a theory recently that I plan to explore in depth. My dissertation focuses on portrayals of rape and sexual assault in American primetime television, but it struck me how relevant the theory is to discussions of racial diversity.

The theory is "cultivation theory" and in layman's terms, it means that over time, people begin to believe that the television universe reflects real life. Essentially, people who watch lots of TV begin to see the social reality of fiction as an accurate account of real life. 
"The primary proposition of cultivation theory states that the more time people spend 'living' in the television world, the more likely they are to believe the social reality portrayed on television." Cultivation leaves people with a misperception of what is true in our world." -Cohen, J.; Weimann, G. (2000). "Cultivation Revisited: Some Genres Have Some Effects on Some Viewers". Communication Reports 13 (2): 99–114.
I hope you can see where I'm going with this...

Monday, 31 August 2015

#MileyWhatsGood?: Nicki Minaj Destroys The Male Gaze Via Overt Sexual Expression

Editor's Note: The author of this essay originally approached me for permission to cite one of my pieces in her college paper. After I read the final draft, I immediately asked to republish it here because it does an excellent job of distilling the very ideas about Nicki Minaj's brand of feminism that I have been espousing for some time now. In light of last night's MTV VMA's and the continued racist framing of Nicki Minaj as a "savage" and "angry" black woman threatening the purity and safety of white female celebrities like Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus, I thought it was timely to remind people that Nicki Minaj's praxis may be sexual and it may be loud and it may not be polite, but it is still a feminist expression for her to assert her right to protect herself from racism, sexism and misogynoir in the industry, even and especially when it is perpetuated by other women. It is a fantastic read, and I can't wait to read more from her.


Nicki Minaj is a lot of things: the highest selling female rapper of all time, an artist in the midst of a world-tour for her latest album, The Pinkprint, and most importantly, an icon for women everywhere. On August 19, 2014, Nicki Minaj released the music video for the song “Anaconda” and soon the internet exploded. The video garnered immediate critique for being hypersexual, all while stacking up nearly 500,000,000 views on Youtube. But to women all over, the video, like many Nicki Minaj videos before it, was empowering andprofoundly feminist. Through the course of Minaj’s career, her overt sexuality has given her the perfect platform to subvert the male stares it beckons. Nicki Minaj feminism is dependent on overt sexuality as a device to subvert the male gaze and achieve ultimate sexual empowerment.

The music video for “Anaconda” is one that celebrates the same body-type Sir Mix-a-Lot praised in the rather unambiguously titled classic, “I Like Big Butts:” curvy derrieres and itty-bitty waists.  Nicki twerks on and around other women who all share with her curvy physique, but makes it clear that her sexuality is a mechanism via which she achieves empowerment, and not a device solely used for attracting the male gaze. The first way in which she does this comes in the fact that no men appear in the video (besides Drake, but we’ll get to that later). Historically (and still to this day), many male rappers have been inclined to feature women dancing on and around them in their music videos. They objectify them, and seemingly treat them as toys for pleasure, easily disposable and replaceable. In “Anaconda,” however, Nicki flips the script on that trope. While the women featured around her, next to her, under and over her, are all dancing and shaking in similar fashion to videos that are ultimately degrading, because Nicki Minaj joins in, she effectively reclaims a position used by male rappers to objectify. Nicki not only joins her dancers, she leads and encourages them in a way that can only empower them. Instead of becoming objects to a male rapper’s desires, Nicki allows herself and the women around her to take charge of their own sexualities, shaking and dancing together, autonomously for themselves. 

Even further than that, Nicki and company dance for an audience made up hugely in part, by women. The idea that women dancing (erotically) for themselves and for other women in an attempt to gain back some control of their sexuality isn’t new to feminism. ML Johnson argues that these sort of spaces can give way to “heterosexuality without heterosexism,” and that women experiencing these spaces can explore a world that enjoys “less restrictive gender roles" [3]. In the context of “Anaconda,” Nicki Minaj and her dancers seem to do just that, simply by taking control of how they express themselves sexually, and without a male present on screen. And, “while the centrality of the display of sexual attractiveness is generic, and, as such, not in itself raced or gendered, the specific ways in which sexual attractiveness is articulated in the pop music video is, however, mediated through and determined by common-sense notions of appropriate gendered and raced behavior [3].

Monday, 27 July 2015

In Defense of Molly Weasley: The Oft Forgotten Heroine of the Potterverse

As a lifelong Potterhead, I've read the entire Harry Potter series several times now, and I love being able to find something new about the characters each time I revisit them. Every time I reread the novels it's like coming home to a set of people who know and love you, and can't wait to make you feel welcome again. But now that the series is over, all the pieces are in place, and there's more time for reflection of the story's major themes and players, I've been bummed to see that Molly Weasley often gets overlooked in the lists of significant actors, and I want to take some time to point out why we all suck for disregarding her contributions.

Molly Weasely is a witch, homemaker, and mother of seven children. She consistently finds a way to provide for them on her husband's meager income plus a little clever magic and she never complains. She loves them fiercely and worries as any mother would. But she's also a fierce warrior who made a significant contribution to the downfall of the Dark Lord that I think gets overlooked too often: She gave Harry Potter, The Boy Who Lived, a place he could call home.

It's often very au courant in feminism to discount housewives as not making a significant contribution to the world and I can admit that I am sometimes guilty of that too. But rearing children is important work, and nurturing the hearts and minds of the tiny people who will later grow up to be contributing members of society isn't something to be taken lightly. I think this fact is especially significant in the Potterverse as it is Molly's warmth and love that help ground Harry as he battles his darkest demons, and tries to find his place within a larger magical plot that was set in motion the night his parents died.

In many ways, it is just as much Molly's mothering instincts as Dumbledore's council that sets Harry on the path of redemption as The Chosen One. On that first day boarding the Hogwarts Express on Platform 9 3/4, despite having four boys of her own currently enrolled, Molly makes Harry feel welcome and ushers him through his first solo encounter with magic. Over the years she sends him handmade sweaters catered to his likes and interests, and never forgets a Christmas or birthday. Picking up on the Dursleys' neglect, she invites him over to stay at the Burrow for weeks at a time every year, feeding him and providing for him out of the scant resources available to her own family. She mothers him and loves because she knows that he needs it, sometimes against his wishes. She sacrifices her own sense of safety to make sure that he is safe and cared for. And that doesn't even comes close to the fact that she raised seven children who were loyal and brave, all of whom came back to help him fight Lord Voldemort when the night was darkest. She killed one of his most loyal followers. She lost a son in his war.

Molly Weasley didn't have to give Harry anything, but she gave him everything anyway and lived to be the matriarch of a wide and happy family, safe from the threats that she had faced twice in one lifetime. She gave Harry a mother he could always come home to, and in that way, she's just as important as The Boy Who Lived.