Affective Economies – On the new men’s rights movements

By Emma Holten, March 2014

Forming identity in the postmodern mess
Why does it seem that American society is in decline,… What if everything … could all be traced to a common origin that is extremely pervasive yet is all but absent from the national dialog, indeed for the dialog of the entire western world?
Opening lines of the article “The Misandry Bubble” by internet economist “The Futurist”, January 2011.

Introduction
According to french philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard “Postmodernism has changed the way in which identity is viewed by moving it away from the concept of a unified self, to one where the self is viewed as a multiple rather than the modern view of it being fixed. This allows the self to constantly construct and reconstruct as an identity”.1 A new sort of freedom, a freedom to live different lives with different values and structures. One would think that this state would lead to increased happiness: finally, we have a choice in what ways we wish to prioritize and live life.
What is going on, then? A state of constant internal and external anxiety as taken a stranglehold on the regular American! Headlines like “America: #1 In Fear, Stress, Anger, Divorce, Obesity, Anti-Depressants, Etc”.2 and “Americans ‘snapping’ by the millions”3 indicate that, indeed, something is worrying and scaring us. The word crisis comes to mind.

We all feel scared sometimes. Fear, in its essence, is a feeling fueled by suspicion or expectancy.
As described by German philosopher Martin Heidegger, things, indeed, are much scarier if we do not really know what they are: “As it comes close, this “it can, and yet it may not” becomes aggravated. We say “it is fearsome”. This implies that what is detrimental as coming-close carries with it the patent possibility that it may stay away and pass us by; but instead of lessening of extinguishing our fearing, this enhances it.”4 Thus, not really being able to concretely define what it is we fear, or when it will happen, makes us more afraid.
This puts us in a position where determining what exactly is making us scared will make us less afraid. The article “The Misandry Bubble” is such an attempt. Written anonymously by internet economist “The Futurist” in the beginning of 2010, it taps into what, according to him, is the root of social ills, insecurities and fears. Further, he gives a tool set for how to plan your life if you want to avoid falling victim to these things and decrease fear.

Employing Sara Ahmed’s theories on affective economies and structures of hate and fear5, I will analyze Futurist’s method of reasoning and tracing of causation. Seizing on specific parts of the (rather long) text, my focus will be the way he tries to fixate the slippery resource of fear, especially pertaining to the institution of marriage and relations with women.
Looking closer at his tactics for handling the issues he puts forward, I will be using E. K. Sedgwick’s thoughts on paranoid method.

Whether what The Futurist says is “true” or not, is wholly irrelevant. The texts immense popularity6 means that its logic has proved legible to thousands of people, making it a worthy topic of analysis.

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Kept my name in his music – Nas and Jay Z – 2001

This is an essay I did on Nas’ and Jay Z’ different conceptions of black masculinity and how it relates to wealth, heterosexual and homosexual relationships and other factors. It’s long, but oh well.

Emma Holten, Queer Theories and histories, Spring 2014

Kept my name in his music

Nas, Jay­Z and the beef

Introduction

“Whether exaggerated or not, men speak about their sexual conquests: “me and my boy hit it,

me and my boy did her, me and my boy did this”. So there’s a lot of ‘me and my boy’ in there.

Not so much about the woman, but ‘me and my boy.’”
Michael Eric Dyson, in the documentary Hip Hop Beyond beat and rhymes

 

In her 1985 book Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire Eve Kosofsky

Sedgwick introduced a more complex way to reflect on homosociality.

Homosociality, by her definition, is a close friendship/hatred/competition or other type of strong

affect between two people of the same sex. She emphasized that while these types of relations

between females tended to, in an organic, gradual way, go from non­sexual to sexual,

homosocial connections in males is “the radically disrupted continuum in our society…”[1]

Thus, the point when a very close male relationship goes from being homosocial to homosexual

is a contested, political place.

Deeming her approach to be, in “generalized terms… achronic”[2], she encouraged scholars and

students to implement the method in their own analytical pursuits.

This type of “shift” becomes especially fraught in cultural spaces where homophobia is

rampant, as is the case in for example gangster rap and hip hop music: “… the cornerstones of

gangsta rap music – hypermasculinity, misogyny, and homophobia – pervade the genre.”[3]

Conversely, rap music is also an environment that nurtures and encourages close relationships

with you friends or “homies”. This makes for an artistic and cultural sphere where the

homosocial continuum becomes somewhat of a balancing act of publicly showing respect and

love for your same­sex collaborators, while outwardly never crossing the “line” into

homosexuality.

In this essay I will attempt to illuminate how, in my interpretation, one rapper, Jay­Z in his song

“Takeover”[4], while praising his friends and insulting (dissing) a fellow rapper, was read as

having crossed this line in Nas’ response “Ether”[5]. Further, I want to explore how the

structure of the homosocial continuum can be extended to other value assessments in male

relations like the meaning of money, status and race. Showing how the way we structure and

validate desire, sexuality and gender is a hugely political field, that cannot be excluded from

discussions of how we interact, even on the most basic levels.

The analysis will focus mainly on Nas’ contribution, seeing as it is an “answer” to Jay­Z’ attack,

and thus functions as an interpretation of this attack and its properties.

 

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The one where Saks 5th Av. kills off the American middle class

A couple of months ago (I’m late, I know, I’ve been busy), Saks announced that they would be making their nice stores even nicer and their outlets more messy. They were inspired by Nordstroms messy outlet stores and gleefully noted that “Customers love it!” when it’s messy as hell. This is cute and all, but you don’t have to glean the surface for a long time before you see what it means: there is no such thing as luxury experiences for the middle saksfifthavenuelogo1class.

Outlets and the actual stores, were at one point in the past a place where people could spoil themselves. It was out of their league financially most of the time, but for that 50th anniversary, graduation or whatever, people had the money to splurge and treat themselves. And they knew that they deserved it, they were regular people, but nonetheless people of worth. Worth enough to carry around the nice bag, be treated like a princess in the store, all that. Most of us know the feeling, buying something you’ve been looking forward to because it gives you a glimpse into a world that is different than your regular life. A glimpse into a life of luxury.

Not so anymore. This decision is very obviously a response to a society in which a wedge between the actual store and the outlet i widening. Expensive things is no longer within reach for the average American, buying such things would be absurd. Not only financially, but because the language and message from the store is very clear: you do not belong here. 

Making the outlets uglier sends an even stronger signal: we do not think you are worth a nice shopping experience, and obviously, neither do you. An ugly store makes the new American middle class comfortable, because they are time and time again being told that they are not worthy of luxury. They do not deserve it, and indulging in a beautiful store should make them feel uncomfortable. Because of class. Some people, in this structure, are quite simply worth more than others. And the best way this is manifested is by having the dying middle class keep itself in check: by making it feel it deserves less, is less worthy, should feel at home in a store that is ugly and messy. Should walk into a room with pullovers on the floor and panties and bras in a big bin and think “I deserve this. I am not rich, and that is my own fault. My life is not as good, beautiful, important. If I wanted it better I could only have worked harder. Now here I am, in this godawful messy store, and I have no one to blame but myself. I want things cheaper, and this is the price I pay.”

This obviously a decision about style. Not about money. They are actively seeking to make it more messy. The middle class does no longer deserve nice things on a budget, or a good experience in a store. The guys at the top know it, and they are letting us, at the bottom, know it too.

 

But you’re a feminist! How can you like hiphop music?!

I get asked this a lot. The idea that rap music is largely homophobic and sexist is a widespread discourse. And it’s true, of course. There’s a lot of “bitches”, “faggots” and stuff like that up in there. But I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t just a cheap and stupid way of discrediting hiphop and deeming it less intelligent or civilised because it comes from black culture. White people telling black guys how to treat black women. And thus completely stomping all over the agency and experience of actual women of color. Because when was the last time these people picked up a SZA album, rocked out to Salt-N-Pepa, or put on FKA Twigs? Or demanded WOC have a larger role in music production? Why, suddenly, do they care so much, if it isn’t to just use the marginalisation of WOC to discredit a culture because they didn’t really like it in the first place?

I mean, as feminist, I’m looking at John Mayer, David Guetta, Calvin Harris, Ed Sheeran, and Coldplay to name but a few, and can’t help but think: what have you done for women in music lately? Sure, the sexism in hiphop is blatant and in your face, but does that make it any worse than the indirect sexism of having only male musicians and two female singers (one of whom he was dating at the time) that is on John Mayer’s latest album, Paradise Valley? Or the 4 out of 26 female personnel on Ed Sheeran’s debut album, +? And in the making of AM, the extremely successful album by Arctic Monkeys, not one single woman is listed as contributing in the studio. Of the 26 people making Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience zero women are listed as part of personnel. What a bold, non-misogynist statement…

So, while hiphop is extremely sexist, so is the rest of the music industry. Just because the objectification of women is less blatant, maybe a couple less naked women in the videos, behind the scenes, it’s still men. Just look at the amount of women (thank god for Beyoncé, I say to myself every night. She, by the way, has an all female band) on the Billboard Music Power 100.

This is no excuse. This situation is messed up. But dealing with sexism in the culture industry is just something you deal with as a woman. And by the way, I see few non-hiphop artists who are as politically engaged as Kanye, Common, Nas, Talib Kweli, Yaasin (formerly Mos Def). They’re having a huge impact on being role models to young black men, whereas most white male musicians, who are NOT speaking from a place of oppression like these guys are, do absolutely nothing (or very little) in terms of using their immense power to combat the awesomely unequal society we live in.

Why limiting rights is not a solution to our privacy problem

As a doxed woman (my private information, pictures etc. shared without my consent on the internet), I have spent the past 4 years trying to keep track of debates (some of them instigated by myself, most of them not) about this topic. It is triggering and tiresome, but it is important. Very few people suggest new laws relating to the dissemination of sexual pictures of people without the person’s consent, for some reason. This is deemed, maybe, too much work? However one single item of terrific advice you always encounter is:

“Don’t take naked pictures! Problem solved!”

(First of all, this is annoying because to thousands of women, it is already too late, but the glory of hindsight is a luxury worth indulging when you are not a victim, I suppose)

No. This does not solve a problem and is a very dangerous stance to take. What is inherent in this is that we should get used to living in a world where privacy and the right to act however you like in private has ceased to exist. Are we really ready to decide that privacy is not a right, but a privilege? The idea that you can document things in private and keep them private, is it but a distant remnant of an easier time?

Of course not. This, rather, has to do with the nature of what people feel comfortable limiting. Female sexuality, as always, is something that folks seem to have no ethical issues with policing. As if, somehow, having a sexuality and expressing it in private is a privilege that is nice ‘n’ all, but not something you need to do. And thus, it shouldn’t be protected as a right. This concept: that it is fair to ask a person to change their legal, private, consensual behaviour in order to avoid public humiliation, is unfortunately a current that follows female sexuality and has for centuries.

While we have to some extent as a society accepted that women do in fact have sex for fun, we still find it to be a risky, indulgent and decadent business that carries “risks”. Whether this risk is getting assaulted for dressing in a certain way, wishing to kiss a man but not have sex with him, or documenting our sexuality, we are still to blame for going “overboard”, and putting ourselves in what is interpreted to be a compromising situation.

I do not remember this reaction showing up when Edward Snowden showed us that one way or another, nothing of what we did online was private. Where were the “If you didn’t want the NSA to read your email, you shouldn’t have been writing secret stuff in emails, stupid!!!” then? When invasion of privacy regards emails with information, it is suddenly a highly important social issue and completely unnecessary, whereas doxed women should have known and also expected to not have privacy.

Not only expected, their behaviour in life should be conditioned on the fact that to them, privacy should not exist. We should live a life where commodification of female sexuality is so common that if I participate in a type of sexuality that can be commodified and used against me, I should expect it to happen. And we are, as I have seen myself called ,”Idiots with stars in their eyes”, for thinking that privacy should be a vital part of how we structure our society. Also, apparently, trusting a man is “stupid”. I don’t think we’ll get particularly far in this world if women completely stopped telling men things they don’t want all the world to know, but oh well.

Female sexuality, as it now stands, is a luxury and so is privacy. Except if you’re a person sending an email containing private information, then it becomes a human right that makes the front page of newspapers all over the world.

It makes no sense, and it is hugely important that the fight for privacy does not succumb to this kind of hypocrisy. It should be protected at every turn, even if this turn means that there might be fewer breasts on the internet. However, the breast you are seeing, you will be sure that the owner wants them there. Isn’t that a nice thought?

Put quite simply, we should stop trying to create hierarchies in terms of which people and which acts deserve privacy. No legal act is less deserving of privacy than others.  This is a subject where we cannot and should not compromise. It is paramount for the survival of a civil and functioning democracy.

Cruising Utopia with Janelle Monáe

This is an essay I did on afrofuturism and queer futurism in Janelle Monáe’s song “Dance or Die”. It is lengthy, but interesting (if you’re into this kind of stuff..) Amazing song here:

Monáe’s Cruise

In his book Cruising Utopia Jose Muñoz seeks to make a case for utopian, queer thinking. This not only in the personal thought-act, but in aesthetics as well. The concept of utopian critical thought has received a lot of resistance, but Muñoz counters this with “My investment in utopia and hope is my response to queer thinking that embraces a politics of the here and now that is underlined by what I consider to be today’s hamstrung gay pragmatic gay agenda.”[1] Thus, Muñoz is attempting to find a way to imagine new worlds/utopias that are not constrained by our current conceptions of sexuality and gender.

In this essay, I want to look further into how Muñoz’ theories can be applied to an afro- and queer futurist project, that of Janelle Monáe’s debut album The ArchAndroid[2], and specifically her song “Dance or die”.

I will, for simplicity’s sake and to better serve the purpose of this essay, treat the song as a poem, and not go into the rhythmic and tonal properties of the work, although I am sure this endeavor would be fruitful.

I will specifically look at Monáe’s use of the trope of hope, queer performative acts in the sense of “fleeing” a normative and destructive present, and reparative ways of dismantling an oppressive world.

Lastly, I will take a look at some of the critique that has been leveled at Monáe for constructing an escapist futurity that “… can encourage us to forget that outer space will not save us from injustice and that cyberspace was prefigured upon a “master/slave” relationship”[3]

 

Muñoz’ not entirely leisurely cruise

In the introduction to his 2009 book Cruising Utopia, José Muñoz makes a case for potentiality. For having the audacity to in art and the world see not only what is there, but also the promise of something that is not there yet: “A potentiality is a certain mode of nonbeing that is eminent, a thing that is present but not actually existing in the present tense”[4]. Knowing that most of our way of thinking, talking, and being in the world are governed by structures that limit this thinking to modes we are already familiar with, Muñoz sees an opening in art where these limits can be crossed; the potential for quotidian thoughts, things and acts to mean something so new that it does not even exist yet. Dormant in these everyday instances is hope. The drive that is imbued in potentiality is hope, and with hope comes the bittersweet sense that hope can be disappointed. This, however, is a risk we, according to Muñoz, must take in order to let ourselves imagine a world that is not just a recasting of the one we have know, but something based on radically different streams of thought.

An important step in this (non-linear, non-traceable) direction is the syntheses of the singular and the plural. Munoz tries to distance himself from both the classically relational school and the classically antirelational one by using the concept of the singular plural as figured by Jean Luc Nancy: “… an entity registers as both particular in its difference but at the same time always relational to other singularities.”[5] It is essential to the notions of hope and futurity in Muñoz to understand being queer as a movement and a thought process in the single mind that engages the collectivity.

In order to imagine the utopian, one must inhabit what philosopher Ernest Bloch called the no-longer-conscious, which “… enabled a critical hermeneutics attuned to comprehending the not-yet-here”[6]. This state of mind makes possible radical thought where knowledge of the past and hope for the future can be utilized to see worlds of ontology outside presentist logic.

While this may seem to be some sort of almost naïve dream-state, it should rather be interpreted as a critical dream-state that is “profoundly resistant to the stultifying temporal logic of a broke-down present”[7]. It is a constant moving forward of thought towards the horizon of the queer ideal.

Muñoz uses the metaphor of the horizon in order to describe a clearly visible sight of extreme beauty, characterized by the fact that the closer you get to it and try to reach it physically, you cannot. Thus, the horizon remains beautiful, but its position is always equally far away from you. The horizon is an ideal and can, by definition, not be achieved or reached, but it can be reached for.

 

Expanding negation towards infinity (and beyond)

While critical thinking must, somehow, always entail a rejection of concepts and other streams of thought, Muñoz argues for a type of negativity that can lead to a practice that furthers reparative hermeneutics in the Sedgwickian sense.[8] In order to do this he introduces a form that can have negative affects “… be reshaped by negation and made to work in the service of enacting a mode of critical possibility”[9]. This would construct a negativity that negates but doesn’t create a following binary of rejected/accepted. Aligning with Shoshana Felman’s theory of radical negativity, the negation manifests as the “scandal of nonopposition”[10] This gives us the possibility of using negation as an opener of experience and theory instead of a closer and rejecter of lived experience and thought. In fewer words: by saying no to every possible conception of the current, you say yes to every impossible conception of the future.

 

Dance; or die a lonely, sexist, racist, heteronormative death

We find Cindi Mayweather, the protagonist of Janelle Monáe’s concept album The ArchAndroid, in a world where “zombies” roam the streets, lies a-plenty disillusion the population, and as gun-violence leads to ghetto kids killing ghetto kids. The situation is described in fragmented sentences indicating a chaotic, inexplicable state. “And if you see your cloning on a street walking by/keep a running for your life cause only one will survive” signals a general confusion of identities and appearances, from which you can try to flee by running. “War is in the street and it’s an eye for an eye/run on for your life or you can dance you can die”: the individual is left with very few possibilities for escaping the dire situation in the apocalyptic world, even dancing still leaves open the possibility of death. No concrete enemy is identified, and there seems to be a fluidity between people fleeing and contributing to the violence, both figuratively and literally. The perpetrators are not notably different from the victims, the only mentioned group are “the wiser simians” who have “the bombs and the guns”, though it is unsaid if they are using them for good or evil.

The verse ends with the fleetingly hopeful encouragement that “you might as well keep dancing if you’re not gonna run”. Dance, apparently, is a tolerable escape from the destructive truth of the streets, akin to the bliss of running away from it all. The use of the words “might as well” has an a distinct correlation with Muñoz’ idea of hope and optimism in the face of the anti-utopian argument of “how will that help?” If you are dissatisfied with the current state of affairs, but feel yourself unable to run, you “might as well dance” because either way that act would contain a non-defeatist stance, even though it might be futile.

Let’s examine closer the role of dance in the song. A singular act performed in the plural, along with the other “freaks” (queers).

Uncoreographed dancing is a staggeringly singular act. Most people have a distinct “move” or characteristic scheme that they use when encountering a setting where dance is required. It is the space for uninhibited personal expression. In “Dance or die”, the act of dancing is juxtaposed against the act of running, casting dancing as actively escapist. Running is a wholly repetitive act, setting one foot in front of the other in order to get to a certain already existing point. While running can get you out of a situation, physically, it will only place you in another place in the same world. You can only run to a place that you are able to imagine, seeing as you make conscious choices on your way there.

Dancing, however, figures in this song, as the queer, performative act of what Bloch called “no-longer-conscious”. In the chorus, the act of dancing, while already in the first verse mentioned as an alternative to running (running in the sense of escaping), becomes intermixed with the act of dreaming. An unidentified woman/state/utopia that cannot be named, in the current language: “A long long way to find the one/We’ll keep on dancing till she comes/these dreams are forever” is wished for as an unutterable goal of the dancing. This corresponds with Muñoz’ idea of the horizon/utopia: the dream of the perfect state (both in political and mental terms), is forever, as in can-never-be-reached. However, closer proximity to it can be attained by the manifestly singular act of dancing. Thus, dancing induces the dreamlike state that makes you able to wish for something not-yet identified. A quotidian act with unimaginable potential.

Dancing on your own will never do it, though. In order to engage the queer potential of collectivity, the dancer can never be an “I” but must always be part of a “We”: “We’ll keep on dancing ‘till she comes … it’s still a war in the streets and yes the freaks will dance or die[11]”. The dance floor, made up of literally infinite modes of interpretations of the notion of what dancing, or living, entails, becomes the plural that signifies the possibility of a non-hierarchised, diverse space. A dance move is always called a dance move and gains its value by being unique instead of gaining its value by being similar. The strength of a dance floor is always directly correlated with its amount of diversity and unpredictability. And still, the nomer “dance” can be used to describe all imaginable movements with the physical body. This makes dance the perfect metaphor for unpredictable, personalized, liberating movement while still being an act that can be described within the bounds of our current language.

The dance floor as the futurist, singular plural breeding ground for utopian hope and limitless potential.

 

But NO!

Central to Muñoz conception of utopian hope is the way in which we must negate for it to become possible. In “Dance or die”, this type of negation figures as a seemingly senseless relation of words. This construction appears twice in the song, at the very beginning and right before the last verse. Here is the last one “Angel, blossom, gunshot, dodging, dream, bright, beat, light, breathe, live, help, give, focus, trance, wake up, dance!” By stringing together these words, they seem to together create an answer to unasked questions with wildly different answers. Posing only the answers and not the questions blur the lines of what part of a conversation is a rejection of a concept and what is a support of it. This gives us the possibility to invent the questions ourselves and opens the concept of the negation to be able to mean anything. It is a “No!” without a corresponding, binary “Yes!” Thus, imperatives like “breathe, focus, wake up” and substantives like “decoy, cyborg and android” completely tear down the classical structure of rejection; creating, in Felman’s words, the scandal of non-opposition.

 

The anti-antirelational surplus

At the beginning of the last verse, we have the first one-on-one encounter between Mayweather and another person. The person is “without much time” indicating an age, and also a squarely temporal existence, perhaps unable to enter the non-temporal being of the dance floor, excluded from the revolution. She says that she is “praying” for him. Praying for a person usually indicates the wish for the person’s salvation in the face of death or insurmountable struggle. In the face of Mayweather’s unstoppable hope for a different world, she will unavoidably destroy the world that is his familiar domain. The paragraph vibrates with both empathy and a sure fire knowledge that striving towards hope will still be worth it. But instead of rejecting him as an outcast and “snap into the basically reactionary posture of denouncing a critical imagination that is not locked down by a short-sighted denial of everything but there here and now of this moment”[12], she advocates for a reparative stance of “praying” as in the essentially Christian values of forgiveness and understanding, while simultaneously vigorously arguing for change through “sharpening him”, “giving him a motto” and teach him “not to hate”, and lastly, “keep rebelling away, you gotta dream it away”. This creates the surplus of potentiality in their relation to one another that does not exclude the old man’s lived experience and person for being of import in the hopeful (dance)quest.

The response to the man is therefore not one of complete rejection of his values, but instead a reparative emphatic stance that vibrates between acceptance and full throttle towards utopia.

 

And on a queer note…

This analysis is in no way an exhaustive analyses of either Muñoz’ book, nor Monáe’s song. Rather, it is a tentative experiment on how the utopian wish for a radically different world can manifest itself in a commercial piece of art. While the concepts of radical negation, the “no-longer-conscious” and queer futurism might seem like esoteric concepts hidden away in the annals of academic seminar notes, they can be articulated in quotidian concepts such as dance, conversation and rhyming. The everyday can be radical and stay radical.

Monáe has come under critique for imagining a fantasy world that does not take seriously the concrete measure and obstacles that are still in the way of an egalitarian society. That the notion of outer space, time travel and other mind-bending escapes are more depressing than hopeful: if we want equality and social justice must it be on another planet? Must we recast queer people, people of color and women as aliens in order to make them fit in modern society? Are we so alien, so other?

 

[1] Munoz, José, Cruising Utopias, New York University press, pp. 10

[2] Wondaland Arts Society, 2010

[3] http://rhizome.org/editorial/2013/dec/17/mundane-afrofuturist-manifesto/

[4] Muñoz, pp. 9

[5] Ibid. pp. 11

[6] ibid. pp. 12

[7] ibid.

[8] Sedgwick, E. K, Touching Feeling (2002), Chpt. 4 “Paranoid reading and reparative reading”

[9] Munoz, pp. 12

[10] Ibid. pp. 13

[11] My emphasis

[12] Muñoz, pp. 14