Tag Archives: pop culture

It’s Just Not Aimed at You

It’s really easy to write something off as utter crap. Certain products of pop-culture leap to mind, such as rap, country music, Barney, Gertrude Stein, and Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight” series. Somehow it has become socially acceptable (and even encouraged) to reject and deride these forms of expression and their creators. The reason this list creates such avid fandom and rabid hatred can be summed up in one word: audience.

We’ve talked about audience a bit before — by writing from your heart, and writing as honestly as you can, you will eventually find your audience. When something isn’t aimed at you, it’s more difficult to see its appeal. As an audience, we search for things that resonate with us, and forget that sometimes the world as a whole can’t cater to just us. A sumptuous love story that tantalizes a teenage girl won’t be received the same way by someone who only reads gritty thrillers. Music that emerged from cultural roots of one region won’t ring true with people who didn’t share that history.

Barney was designed for children, so it’s pretty clear why college students and adults can’t stand him: they are not his audience.

The legitimacy of a creative work is defined by our life experience, our personalities, and our tastes. When you encounter a story that’s awful, or one of your friends reads your work and hates it, don’t write it off immediately. Stop and ask yourself: Who is the audience?

My play was a complete success. The audience was a failure.”
— Ashleigh Brilliant

All religions issue Bibles against Satan, and say the most injurious things against him, but we never hear his side.
— Mark Twain


“Retired Weapon” by Yuji Tokuda and Junya Ishikawa


Miley Cyrus, Memory and Taking Responsibility

This isn’t new.

The news has blown this way out of proportion. Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera already went on a sexually-charged spree when they entered their twenties a few years ago. Disney kids grow up. There’s nothing we can do to stop it. It’s safe to say that the next tween icon will start sharing her burgeoning adulthood when she hits her twenties too.

The comments on Facebook (from people I used to party with) seemed divided into two categories.

  1. That’s offensive. My poor daughter. Shame.
  2. Slut, whore, die.

There’s a very clear separation here. It’s as though little girls must be sweet and kind, never grow up, and never experience or be expected to navigate desire. On the other side, women who exhibit sexiness or sensuality were never girls, and must have no history, family, personality or feelings. It was strange to see how readily my friends have forgotten what it was like to be/seek girls in their twenties now that they’ve got daughters. Both reactions listed above are narrow and naïve.

Girls will grow up into women, and as women, bless us all, we’ll probably enjoy sex. If I had a daughter who was a huge Cyrus fan, and she just saw the controversial VMA performance, we’d probably talk about three issues:

  1. Avant garde art, Kid Robot, and rebellion.
  2. The permanence of a public image (remember when you really embarrassed yourself? Now imagine doing that in front of millions of people, recorded. Be careful what you display because there’s no taking it back)
  3. Taking responsibility for the messages and signals you send out. Want to dress/act in a sexually provocative way? Be prepared to be hit on, decide where your boundaries are, and know that you can stick to them. Miley is a grown-up now. She’ll have to cope with the media surrounding this, and if she’s smart she’s prepared for it.

My mother suggested that shielding kids under eighteen from sex and violence is a way to avoid presenting them with choices they’re not ready for. Cyrus is not a child anymore. Expecting her to remain a child is unfair and unrealistic. A dear friend of mine also suggested that going insane isn’t healthy (he compared Lindsey Lohan with Emma Watson); but it takes all types. Some women are more reserved, and some revel in their sexuality. Life and freedom are about choice. The only thing we can do for our daughters (and our sons – they have to deal with sexuality as well!) is to remind them that as they become adults, they’ll have choices, and those choices have consequences – be it a broken heart, a hangover, jail time or (horror!) learning something about themselves and the world around them.

One such consequence is expecting the music industry – which trades heavily on adult themes — to raise your kids.

Pop music revolves around sex. The gist of most songs I’ve heard on pop stations is I love you, let’s have sex, or let’s go dancing and maybe we’ll have sex later, and finally what a horrible breakup, I hate you, I long for the freedom to find someone I would love to have sex with. Teens dream of the day they’re finally twenty-one, and, let’s face it, sex is a pretty important part of your early twenties.

The elephant in the room here is that these performances are co-created. We support musicians with our money. If you still listen to Chris Brown, knowing that he bloodied Rihanna’s nose, that’s the sort of thing I’m referring to. Remember when Justin Timberlake made good on the line I’ll have you naked by the end of this song with Janet Jackson? Why did she get all the flack, when HE ripped her cup off?

Imagine what Cyrus would have looked like if Robin Thicke had been a few feet away from her. She would have been reaching out to her fans. He co-created this situation while singing a pretty rapey song. He’s not getting any flack.

Again, I’m speaking up because the outraged cries have been “whore, slut, die” rather than “amateur, sloppy, bad performance.”

Women shouldn’t be punished for expressing sexuality. Tease her for awkwardness all you like, but the level of hatred flung at her is absurd. I don’t think it’s fair to shield girls from the possibilities their future can hold. Sex is wonderful, love is wonderful – and having the confidence to get those things on your terms is pretty awesome too.

After all that, I have to tell you I don’t listen to Cyrus’ music. I don’t follow her in pop culture. My only exposure to her before the harsh remarks cluttered my newsfeed was this interview, where she struck me as intelligent and self-aware.

Wondering what does this have to do with writing and martial arts? The broad view. Nothing happens in isolation. Consider your words, consider your actions. Consider what has come before and why.

Zanshin (残心) is the state of total awareness. It means being aware of one’s surroundings and enemies, while being prepared to react.

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

― Sun Tzu