Dr Claudette Carr tackles Beyonce’s recent ‘Drunk In Love’ debacle while exploring love in a performance based culture.

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What’s love got to do with it?  Tina Turner philosophically probes, with a coquettish abandon, that belies the violent abuse received at the hands of her former husband, Ike Turner. Ironically, Turner’s anthem, later translated into a movie biopic of the same name, serves as a poignant reminder of the dominant Performance-Based Love Narratives, defining and shaping our conceptions of  Love’ in Western culture. As Franz Kafka observes, “Love is a drama of contradictions.”

Beyoncé, who has just released a new self-titled visual  album with 14 new tracks and 17 videos. serves as a testimony to these contradictions. Soon after its release, the album has broken lots of records (to numerous to mention here), and is number one in over 100 countries.

Whilst this is not a review or critique of Beyonce — the album per se, for those who may not have  watched the film of Tina Turner’s life story – What’s Love Got To Do With It – I rewrite this piece to draw attention to the unfortunate and troubling convergence between Drunk in Love and the Turner Biopic. We witness this in a scene where Tina Turner, real name Anna Mae Bullock, has just released her own music single, two kids come up to her at a diner requesting her autograph. Her husband Ike who is also famous is visibly jealous, and tells her to “eat the cake” so they can celebrate her new and independent success.  Turner does not want to eat the cake, causing Ike to say “Eat the cake, Anna Mae.” When she refuses, he stands up,  violently shoves it in her mouth and smudges it across her face.

Against this background we have the insertion of Jay-Z’s verse in Drunk in Love: 

Ain’t got the time to take draws off, on site
Catch a charge I might, beat the box up like Mike
In ’97 I bite, I’m Ike, Turner, turn up
Baby no I don’t play, now eat the cake, Anna Mae
Said, “Eat the cake, Anna Mae!”

The notion of many feminism(s) constitutive of an inclusive epistemology that make room for the mixed narratives on the new Beyonce album, are quite laudable, but are in danger of setting Beyonce up as the feminist double-think ‘fall-girl’. Glorifying domestic violence, I have to tell you, Inspector Closeau style, is definitely a feminist no, no. Looking at the most recent spate of so-called feminist anthems, such as Lily Allen’s, Hard Out Here, and even before Allen, Pinks, Stupid Girls,  which, both parody the misogynistic Music Industrial Complex (albeit sheepishly, as the Patriarchy is often re-inscribed, a la Lily Allen ‘Hard Out Here’, and remains firmly intact); Beyonce is notable for its in your face, the harder they come, style feminism, that basically asserts: ‘”I can do anything I want.” But can freedom be equated with doing anything we want?

Homi K. Bhabha, eloquently argues this pervasive understanding of cultural diversity as merely ‘inclusivity’, is deeply flawed, because ‘Cultural diversity is the recognition of pre given cultural “contents” and customs, held in a time frame of relativism; it gives rise to anodyne liberal notions of multiculturalism, cultural exchange, or the culture of humanity’. Arguably, this is consistent with a variety of neoliberal internet feminism(s) currently swooning and overlooking the deeply problematic aspects of the [re]invented Beyonce. Two significant observations on this are worth a mention here, the first comes from cultural critic, Greg Tate, who writes:

“Listened to Beyonce’s new album, dug some of the spooky vocals, spookier production. Watched about 12 of the videos and got depressed for the world like a mutha. Mostly by the ‘butt nekkid’ desperation for self-sexualizing pop relevance. The hunger to please of the child-star returns pathetic and Marilynesque in the adult. The vacuum beneath the appropriated high tech haute couture come-on imaging reveals a no there-there raging void. Madonna sponged her reference for visual literacy from Basquiat. B got ‘Picasso’. Ronny Drayton’s grandmother used to tell him ‘Boy, no matter how how high you go in this world you will always be The Product. ‘ Auction block R&B, billion dollar babies, commodified soul sucked clean to the plantation-haunted marrow. Epitome of what Cecil Taylor meant when he said, ”For a Black person to be a success iin this culture is to be failure.’”[Greg Tate]

The second observation comes from Mia Mckenzie — Black Girl Dangerous Blog:

It was one of the last videos I watched and after some legit pro-woman awesomeness, it felt like a slap in the face. A very intentional one. In the middle of this big ol’ so-called feminist triumph, Jay-Z pops in to glorify violence against women and…that’s just cool with Bey, New Black Feminist Superhero of the Universe? And everybody else, too?

beyonce drunk in love 1 tina ike

Ike & Tina – What’s love got to do with it?

Beyonce’s Drunk In Love, notwithstanding, ‘love’ is certainly up for grabs, and there are as many definitions of  ‘love’, as there are anthemic love songs. These songs, remind us that the salve for all of our worldly woes, can be gleaned from the sort of Philia love, exhorted in songs made popular by the likes of the Beetles – All You Need Is Love and  Stevie Wonder’s  Loves in Need of Love Today.

There are also of course, soothing syrupy love songs such as James Taylors, You’ve Got A Friend,  that beautifully capture the simplicity of Agape love; the more complex renderings of Eros  love, in songs that make for good lyrical rumination –such as  Nina Simone’s, You Don’t Know What Love is;  or the dark and melancholic blues, of Billie Holiday’s, Who Wants Love? To a nonchalantly stomping devil may care, Bessie Smith, demanding, Give Me a Pig Foot –  all capturing the essence and plurality of Loves Work.

I am forever meditating on music; ruminating on lyrical content;  constantly trying to fathom the sort of textual analysis, which, as it goes led me to write this piece about globalised popular cultures, preoccupation with Performance-Based Love Narratives. These narratives are not exclusively secular, they are re-inscribed within religious discourse too ; arguably, one of the most kitsch representations being, Christianity’s  Prosperity GospelThe Music Industrial Complex, and Mega-Churchianity,  serve as two examples of sites, concerned with (although not exclusively) the production of Performance Based Love Narratives, that  illustrate well, what Tolstoy,  describes as our unbridled, desire for desires.”

Within certain genres of music (for example, popular music, and mainstream commercial hip-hop, being the most obvious) the continuum of Performance Based Love Narratives, can range from the hypersexually idolatrous; to the somewhat surreal representations of  ‘romantic love’;  to the more extreme pleasure seeking, exploitative, misgoynistic, and nihilistic forms, that have become the dominant rap mantra, promoted by the Music Industrial Complex. bell hooks, describes the workings of these,  in her essay, Gangsta Culture–Sexism, Misogyny: Who Will Take the Rap? 

To the white-dominated mass media, the controversy over gangsta rap makes great spectacle. Besides the exploitation of these issues to attract audiences, a central motivation for highlighting gangsta rap continues to be the sensationalist drama of demonizing black youth culture in general and the contributions of young black men in particular. It’s a contemporary remake of Birth of a Nation—only this time we are encouraged to believe it is not just vulnerable white womanhood that risks destruction by black hands, but everyone. When I counter this demonisation of black males by insisting that gangsta rap does not appear in a cultural vacuum, that it is not a product created in isolation within a segregated black world but is rather expressive of the cultural crossing, mixings, and engagement of black youth culture with the values, attitudes, and concerns of the white majority, some folks stop listening.

The message that we seem to imbibe from mainstream western culture, then, is that ‘love’ is always expedient. The sixties, the decade of sexual liberation and ‘free love’, serves as a reference point for this expedience, but at what cost and was it in actual fact ever ‘free’?

The idea that erotic love is simply transgressive and bound to an exclusivist, countercultural narrative, that seeks to undo societal repression, Michel Foucault in The History of Sexuality, argues, is another myth promulgated within Western discourse:

The central issue, then [...], is not to determine whether one says yes or no to sex, whether one formulates prohibitions or permissions. whether one asserts its importance or denies its effects, or whether one refines the words one uses to designate it; but to account for the fact that it is spoken about, to discover who does the speaking, the positions and viewpoints from which they speak, the institutions which prompt people to speak about it and which store and distribute the things that are said. What is at issue, briefly, is the over-all “discursive fact,” the way in which sex is “put into discourse.

A most interesting discursive site for this archiving and distribution of talk about ‘love’ and ‘sexuality under discussion here, is the Music Industrial Complex. In the video below, Joni Mitchell, perhaps, the sixties most famous poster child, describes her evolving conception of  ‘love’,  pointing up a distinction between, ‘romantic love’ as immature love, and mature love as: Agape, ErosPhilia and Storge.  Here Joni, elaborates on love philosophically and spiritually, drawing on 1 Corinthian 1:1-1, highlighting  this passage of New Testament scripture, as perhaps one of  the most succinct descriptions  of  ‘love’ she has come across:

Where the myth fails, human love begins. Then we love a human being, not our dream, but a human being with flaws

—Anais Nin

 

Another arena for one of  Western cultures most cunning deceits– capturing further the  Performance-Based Love Narrative – concerns  aesthetics and our received (and racialised) ideas about ‘Beauty’. Once again, Tolstoy, succinctly observes, “It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness. We have no better contemporary reference for this, than the picture of  the Nietzschean Superwoman – Angelina Jolie  cast in her role as ‘white saviour’, as framed in this normative, performance based poverty porn shoot. Jolie, the personification of ‘beauty’ (read white western woman), is telling the rest of the world  how to do compassionate love; that our universal redemption  ( vis-a-vis ‘do-gooderism’), can be found in the superficial embrace of an African child. In my mind, this picture represents aspects of the Industrial Aid Complex relationship to Africa, with its  normative diet — a pornography of violence.

It is not the unloved who initiate disaffection, but those who cannot love because they love only themselves. It is not the helpless, subject to terror, who initiate terror, but the violent, who with their power create the concrete situation which begets the ‘rejects of life.’ It is not the tyrannized who initiate despotism, but the tyrants. It is not those whose humanity is denied them who negate humankind, but those who denied that humanity (thus negating their own as well). Force is used not by those who have become weak under the preponderance of the strong, but by the strong who have emasculated them.”
― Paulo FreirePedagogy of the Oppressed

Meanwhile, in America’s own backyard, the debris of white-supremacy is played out in the forms of internalized racism [colourism] we have seen metamorphosise into the national, misogynistic and racist sport of baiting black women, on the wrong side of the color line. Black women, like Trayvon Martin’s friend, Rachel Jeantel,  Michelle Obama, Serena Williams, and Gabby Douglas: all caricatured as, aggressive unloveable outcasts.  As a Conscious Pariah, Nina Simone, knew this too well, addressing the hierarchy of black female caricatures and their respective Performance Based Love Narrative, in her masterpiece, Four Women – what Talib Kweli and Jean Grae, some few decades or so on, describe as Black Girls Pain. What’s new?

Four Women

My skin is black 
My arms are long 
My hair is woolly 
My back is strong 
Strong enough to take the pain 
Inflicted again and again 
What do they call me 
My name is Aunt Sarah 
My name is Aunt Sarah 
Aunt Sarah 

My skin is yellow 
My hair is long 
Between two worlds 
I do belong 
My father was rich and white 
He forced my mother late one night 
What do they call me 
My name is Saffronia 
My name is Saffronia 

My skin is tan 
My hair is fine 
My hips invite you 
My mouth like wine 
Whose little girl am I? 
Anyone who has money to buy 
What do they call me 
My name is Sweet Thing 
My name is Sweet Thing 

My skin is brown 
And my manner is tough 
I’ll kill the first mother I see 
My life has to been rough 
I’m awfully bitter these days 
Because my parents were slaves 
What do they call me 
My name is PEACHES

What is Love; what is Beauty; what is Good and are they all inextricably linked with Justice?

_________________________________________________

Source: Copyright 2014, Dr Claudette Carr.
About Dr Carr:

Dr Carr is the founding Director of the Jethro Institute for Good Governance (JIGG), and has over seventeen years experience lecturing in International and Community Development, Youth & Community Work, Social Work, and Social Policy, at Brunel, Birbeck, Lucerne University of Applied Sciences (Switzerland) and the University of Westminster. Alongside Lucerne colleagues, as Principal Lecturer, Claudette  co-ordinated the programme for the MA in International Community Development.    As the London Course leader, she successfully facilitated the Summer School in International Community Development at Westminster. In Partnership with J!GG, The Sylvia Pankhurst Memorial Committee, and the University of Westminster, Claudette has set up and secured funding for the Sylvia Pankhurst Scholarship for Ethiopian girls, and the Dr John Garang Scholarship for South Sudan starting in September 2012.

She holds a PhD in education and degrees in social science and applied anthropology from Goldsmiths College, and is also JNC qualified in youth and community work. Her research interest include Community politics and new social movements; black and ethnic self-organisation in the UK and Diaspora; the emergence of vernacular histories and indigenous knowledge(s) and their impact on the assertion of ethnic identity.  Her PhD thesis looked at ‘How Black History is constructed and represented in different sites of education’.Claudette is currently researching ‘Diaspora Organisations in the Horn of Africa and their role in community Governance (Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia)’. She is the co-author of an open letter to the Swedish Minister of Culture, that address the recent Swedish Racist Cake controversy, and recently partcipated in the conversation- ‘Racism is No Joke A Swedish Minister and a Hottentot Venus Cake’, which will be published in a forthcoming anthology, Afro-Nordic Landscapes: Equality and Race in Northern Europe (Routledge, 2012), edited by Michael McEachrane and with a foreword by Professor Paul Gilroy. Dr Carr writes and blogs regularly and her work can be found here: http://jethroinstitute.dinstudio.com.

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