I left a lengthy comment on this essay I came across on Tumblr. That essay basically argues that the feminist praise of Beyonce is unwarranted because Beyonce is plugged into a huge male-driven machine that uses her appeal to generate huge loads of money that only makes those males richer and does nothing to propel a productive feminist agenda. The author’s solution is that we actually direct our praise toward Miley Cyrus because she is “clearly” what no woman would ever want to be, meaning that Miley is an anti-model that will disgust women into choosing the right path.
I think that that argument is nihilistic, deterministic and severely uninformed about how people actually experience pop music. My response is below. It’s written in a weird tone because internet comments are weird. Sorry about that.
“This is an incredibly nihilistic essay, man. Yes, Beyonce is sustained by an unfathomable infrastructure of ignored labor and male-centered capital, but infrastructure, intention and design aren’t destiny. I think it’s the right move to look beyond Beyonce’s surface and notice the myriad circuits of capital flowing through her and into record exec’s bank accounts, but seeing that morbid reality shouldn’t mean accepting it (ie saying that Miley is the proper herald to the cursed throne). People don’t just blindly reproduce Beyonceisms. Her messages and her songs get reconstructed, deconstructed, ravaged, polished, buffed, defaced, bastardized, tinkered with and more all the time. I don’t think that happens with Miley. The way Miley presents herself/is presented already has that element of “resistance/rebellion” built in. That’s more dangerous to me. Miley Cyrus is the equivalent of a mobile phone that you can’t open because its copyrighted. With Beyonce, you’re encouraged to open things up, see how it works. Sure, that phone was still produced by a super-sexist mega-corporation that ultimately just wants your money, but at least this phone is potentially not just a phone. The radical possibilities aren’t foreclosed from the start. I think that’s why Beyonce is so praised by circles that you would expect to condemn her (feminists) given her institutional reality. We know that B isn’t a panacea, but we also know that there’s worst products on the market and – here’s the kicker – that this market is a huge force in determining how people conceive of themselves. Given that reality, Beyonce has to be the role model. Lastly, surfaces, packaging, matter. Think about grocery shopping. It’s all about the spectacle. Even when you’re surrounded by price tags, nutrition pyramids, sales and other things, shopping is essentially just a sequence of aesthetic encounters. In the same way that it matters that Obama is black, it matters that Beyonce is a woman of color who can’t be reduced to the typical images that plague women of color.
So basically, I think that your argument – “This is what Beyonce really is!” – is deterministic, misrepresents how Beyonce is actually received and undervalues the political significance of a surface (even when troubling things lie beneath).