Posts Tagged ‘ race ’

Video: Lady Gaga and the ethos behind the Grammys egg

Lady Gaga appeared last night on Jay Leno’s show. Apart from speaking of her admiration of Madonna (8:26) and thus acknowledging the honking great elephant in the room RE: Express Yourself/Born This Way, Gaga also explained the ideology behind her by now infamous mode of entrance at the Grammys (10:34)

The performance we did last night at the Grammys was… and what we’ve been doing with the egg and the rebirth… It’s meant to signify an artistic statement of birthing a new race and it’s a race with no prejudice. A race within the race of humanity that bears no prejudice against anyone. That’s really the statement in itself.

With specific reference to my last post about diversity and tolerance, I fully appreciate this sentiment (as fantastical as it may seem) and I hope the movement behind Gaga –who has done more for the self-acceptance of the ‘freaks and monsters’ of the world than anyone is recent history– continues to grow and gain strength.

Here’s the full interview:


Gender role critique in ‘Neuromancer’ [short version]

Set in a future that is arguably dystopian and not too far fetched, the representations of power, race and gender within William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) can be seen as a reflection on and critique of the state of those that were current at the time of writing. As LeBlanc (1997:2) points out, ‘cyberpunk, as a genre, it is not only about the near future— it is about our own time.’

Donna Haraway, whose Cyborg Manifesto (1991:2) posited that the ‘cyborg is a creature in a post-gender world’, also claimed that Neuromancer offers a radical critique of current gender roles. In arguing where Gibson is implicitly criticising, accepting or ambivalent in this respect, this essay will examine his representation of men and women and search for underlying bias in the characters’ descriptions and fates and their adherence or subversion of the gender roles assigned them.

Case is a traditional —if unwholesome— [anti-]hero that Gibson wants us to like. Someone who has paid harshly for a mistake, Case’s killing of three people in Chiba is glossed over as part of his downward spiral and not dwelt on. It is in relation to Molly, however, that differences emerge. In a reversal of traditional roles, Case is the passive, non-violent, controlled one, though he has to ‘will himself to passivity’ (p.72) to receive Molly’s simstim sensorium. Despite the contention that Molly is just a vehicle for him (Stockton, 1995), Gibson portrays the power and control as belonging to her.

The few named female characters include Molly, Linda Lee, 3Jane, Marlene, Michèle and (Flanagan, 2000) the Matrix itself. Women are depicted as sexual objects, from the ‘free’ Linda Lee and Molly to the ‘forced’ wives of the sarariman, who are required to wear sackcloth and sport artificial bruises (p.154) and the meat puppets who endure sexual (ab)use, though technology can cancel-out their conscious awareness of it.  Molly’s recollections of her ordeals are possibly a reminder that no matter how they try to fix it, actions such as these always leave a mark somewhere.

Conversely, the reader is meant to like Molly. She is portrayed as good, strong and independent. She is not a sexual trophy for Case, she is his bodyguard. This is a major contravention of the protection and safety role that men traditionally occupied in relation to women. Molly is the one who initiates the first sexual encounter with Case and in another transgression of generally accepted gender roles, it is Molly who leaves Case at the end of the novel.

She would not have the ability to truly break away from the female stereotype, however, without her body’s enhancements. To become a street samurai, a ‘working girl’ (p.41) she first had to be another kind of working girl, a meat puppet, in order to be able to afford the expensive surgery (Cavallaro, 2000). Molly sacrifices and utilizes her body in order to attain the power and status generally afforded only to men. This kind of trade-off had been the norm for decades at the time Gibson was writing.

All of these factors seem to suggest that Molly is a strong new type of woman, however she can be perceived as a cautionary tale, i.e. be like her and become isolated. Therefore, although Gibson seems to be criticising women’s various sexual or abused roles and celebrating their liberation from them, he nonetheless includes a corollary.

Overall, Gibson seems to criticise current roles such as the militaristic macho man and the sexually abused woman and encourages subversion in liked characters, i.e. Molly and Case. However, subversive but unliked characters are punished and as Kamioka notes, even though Gibson ‘hates’ the status quo, ‘his balancing act accepts [it] … as inevitable and unchangeable.’ (Suvin 1991 in Kamioka, 1998:65).

© 2009 Geo S. Willis

Full version and references

Racism in ‘Heart of Darkness’ [short version]

Heart of Darkness is often regarded as an anti-colonial text in the sense that Conrad points out the hypocrisy of the ideals of the European ‘civilising’ mission and casts doubt as to the validity of the ideals in the first place (Hawkins, 2006). Marlow even says at one point about a group of Africans rowing a boat off ‘their’ shore that they were want of no ‘excuse’ to be there, as opposed to himself and the other Europeans. Nonetheless, anti-colonialism does not necessarily equate to an absence of racism.

In evaluating how far Heart of Darkness supports Chinua Achebe’s view that Joseph Conrad was a ‘bloody/thoroughgoing racist’, this argument will outline attitudes towards race at the turn of the nineteenth century, examine the Marlow-Conrad distinction and Conrad’s linguistic treatment of Africa and its inhabitants, drawing on the work of Achebe, Hawkins, Wallace and others.

In Conrad’s time racism was essentially the norm,  “the word did not exist”. (Firchow, 2000, in Hawkins 2006). Negroes were believed to have weak or non-existent moral sentiments, exhibiting ‘the natural man in his completely wild and untamed state’ (Hegel, 1830:209). Social Darwinists like Wallace (1870) felt that Anglo-Saxons should exterminate the ‘lower’ races as it was inevitable and would in fact be the decent thing to do.

Marlow does acknowledge kinship with the Africans, ‘humanity—like yours. Ugly… kinship … if you were man enough you would admit … there being a meaning in it which you … could comprehend.” The often misinterpreted point of this quote is that the ugliness in question is like that of the Europeans; a universal truth.

Hawkins goes on to suggest the pertinence of differentiating degrees and kinds of racism. Conrad  ‘certainly did not share the extreme racism of his time…annihilation of non-Europeans…’ (p.374) and overall the book offers views on many topics, including race, that are ‘…multiple, ambiguous, ambivalent, conflicting and perhaps even ultimately incoherent.’ (Hawkins 2006:336).

Nonetheless, Conrad still expressed race in the terms of the time —Darwin and Wallace’s Evolutionary Theory had become firmly entrenched by the time of his writing— and while sympathetic and empathetic in parts, he ultimately viewed the Negroes as ‘less’ than Caucasians and this makes him racist. Anti-colonial does not equal not racist; empathy does not equal equality. So in terms of the evidence within Heart of Darkness, Conrad would perhaps be better described as ignorantly racist as rather than actively racist.

Read the full essay here.

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