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No Culture Icons

Allen becomes another in a long line of icons that have failed their fans.

Allen becomes another in a long line of icons that have failed their fans.

Well ladies, we may not have equality, equal pay but we do have one thing going for us. We can break the internet with one swift booty shake. It’s an odd skill but one our gender seems to have honed it to a fine degree. The latest in the long line of pop stars who ‘call themselves feminist because they think it’s trendy but just don’t fucking get it’ is noughties pop starlet and wannabe street urchin Lily Allen. Allen came back recently after a four year hiatus with the supposedly satirical  video ‘Hard Out Here’ which sees Allen ‘mock’ the record industry and their obsession with women’s bodies. The video has received both joyful praise and criticism.

Critics focused on Allen’s slut shaming lyrics and her use of black female bodies in her video; a topical issue of late as white women regularly use black female bodies as a stage prop in their videos (remember Miley). It was hella racist no word of a lie. Even if you close your eyes and just listen to the song it makes no sense. The clumsy, barely sung lyrics make a small attempt at calling for female empowerment but it’s lazy, poorly thought through and only applicable to a certain type of woman i.e just Lily Allen.

She has the nerve to call this a empowering song telling women she doesn’t need to shake her arse ’cause she has a brain while her dancers in the background are shaking what God gave them like there’s no tomorrow. Do they have no brain Lily? A little female solidarity please. There are so many other bloggers who have written about this well so I won’t clutter this post with more Lily talk as I have some other things to say but I’ll point you in the direction of other critics.

This, along with the outcry that happens every time a pop star removes an article of clothing got me thinking about icon / role model and fan status and whether it is healthy relationship that we should encourage it.  When Rihanna flaunts her sexuality the response from the public is a loud and overly dramatic ‘please think of the children’. The idea that adults are not also influenced by hypersexualisation is laughable and always overlooked. Pop stars have to walk the fine line of being sexy but sweet and relatable, distant but funny, but not goofy and cute but not girly. It’s impossible to fulfil.

Rewind & Reframe are a new campaign group that focus on racism and sexism in music videos. They are calling for the videos to be rated and for more government education about relationships to be available to school children. The campaign looks set to do great work though the focus on pop stars as role models seems to be the major stumbling block.

I was having a discussion with a friend recently about our shared idol Kathleen Hanna and her recent documentary The Punk Singer. We suddenly realised that the woman who we had idolised for years in reality had numerous flaws and was far from perfect. In fact if I had met her during her riot grrrl hey day I can’t imagine I would even like her never mind base my entire life on trying to attain her ‘could I give a fuck’ attitude. Maybe she isn’t everything my mind set her up to be and maybe no one is. Even electro feminist hero Peaches fucked up recently in the aftermath of the Allen fiasco by walking down the well trodden white feminist road that leads to ignoring black women’s issues and discussions on race.

Our idols are not our idols or our role models. They are people who got a certain platform and also the ego to get to that stage meaning they probably won’t always use their platform well. To quote pop punk band The Thermals there are no culture icons. There need to be a variety of ways women are displayed positively in the mainstream media. In order for this to happen we need space to collect ourselves and fully realise our potential. 

What I’m trying to clumsily say is that Peaches won’t save you. Kathleen won’t save you. Lily won’t save you. As women we need to look no further than ourselves for our idols. We need to learn to create and not consume so that offensive and limiting culture the mainstream tries to shove down our throats doesn’t choke us. I fully believe that’s the only way forward for womankind and for the development of popular culture. In today’s modern world it is easier than ever to find a vehicle to express ourselves so that we never feel like the Lilys of the world are the only ones to speak for us.

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