Want to turn me on? Come close and whisper in my ear: "pop culture through a feminist lens." Goosebumps, see them? So you can imagine my excitement when I heard about Pop Goes Alicia. Running every first Tuesday of the month, this panel features a rotating roster of local writers, comedians, and activists discussing the latest in pop culture, gender and current events. Host Alicia Swiz promises November’s show will be complex and entertaining as always. She spoke with Our Town about the show’s impetus and execution and even played a little free association.
Our Town What inspired your show?
Alicia Swiz I wanted to create a fun and entertaining public space where people could have the conversations that usually happen privately. Gender is a complicated idea and it's not one we usually encourage critical thinking about outside of academic spaces. The same goes for pop-culture. Both are happening all the time, defining who and what we are, what we value, the choices we make, yet it seems like every time I try to have a deeper or thoughtful conversation about either, outside of my feminist circles, I am met with resistance.
OT What’s interesting to you about pop culture?
AS My parents were divorced and I spent a lot of time left to my own devices growing up. I feel like I was raised by pop culture - TV, music and especially, movies. They were my friends. The images and messages in the media I've consumed have informed who I have become and I am fascinated by the effect.
OT Is pop culture serious?
AS Pop culture is a mirror that reflects who we are as a culture and as individuals. It is extremely powerful. In its best moments it gives us creative ways to express ourselves; it can give us a sense of community and understanding of the world around us. At it's worst, it offers us a scapegoat. It allows us to write off deeper, cultural issues because "It's just a movie." No, it's not. It never is.
OT How does your feminism fit with your interest in Pop Culture?
AS My feminism is rooted in choice and value. The choice to make whatever decisions are best for me and to have those choices be seen as valuable. When things I relate to aren't being reflected in the pop-culture landscape or are being reproduced in disrespectful ways, I take it personally and for me that is a feminist issue. It tells me that the world I live in doesn't value my voice, my story, my being. Feminism allows for alternative narratives, for marginalized voices, for a world beyond the dominant power structure to exist. Pop culture is one of the most powerful venues for sharing that. We just need a a lot more girls and a lot less white people calling the shots.
OT Can you sit back and enjoy or do you find yourself always critiquing?
AS Oh jeez. That's tough. In order to enjoy, you have to be comfortable with your complicity. You have to be able to say "Yeah, I'm dancing to "Blurred Lines" and it's ok." One of my primary areas of interest is adolescent identity and it's constructions in pop culture, especially of girlhood. And you certainly aren't going to get very far telling a 13 year old girl that she can't watch Twilight or listen to Miley Cyrus. My goal - as an educator, as a performer, as a mentor - is to encourage people to think critically about the media they consume while also calling attention to the positive take-aways.
OT Tell us about your next show.
AS This show doesn't have a feature act, which is a new twist, so it will be discussion heavy and hopefully leave lots of time for audience interaction. We have a great panel - very diverse as far as voices and interests. Erin Lane is a chicago comic who does all kinds of awesome work producing female driven shows like The GoGo Show. Joe Erbentraut is the editor for Huffington Post Chicago and has already told me he is excited to talk about the struggle between claiming feminism and then liking some real non-feminist shit like American Horror Story. Joe Erbentraut "> Carly Oishi is a reader and writer who blogs really honestly about being single in Chicago. I've seen her bare her soul while making people laugh. It's a pretty amazing line-up. What keeps getting back to me from the people who have seen the show is the sense of community. People are just really excited that the conversations are being had. With humor. And booze.
OT Pop Culture/Free Association: Miley Cyrus
AS Miley, Amanda Bynes, Britney Spears, Rihanna...none of these girls are the problem. Our cultural ignorance and lack of investment in the self-esteem and self-care of young women is the problem. Someone, most likely an adult man like their father or manager/mentor, sold their identity when they were very young for a profit and to hold them individually accountable for their actions is to ignore all of the other players in the game. SEND THEM TO COLLEGE! Preferably a women's college.
OT James Franco
AS Ugh. What a cutie pie. What a smarty pants. What a waste! Franco is a great example of male privilege at it's most entitled. He has talent, access, power and yet he continues to participate in this lazy, frat-boy style humor. There is a lot he's done that I've liked but he's taking the easy way out. I don't think he is pushing the envelope the way he could be.
OT "Blurred Lines"
AS Yeah. I am a big fan of dancing to any beat that rocks your booty. What is most upsetting to me is how people don't want to think about the implications or about where the responsibility really lies. When the whole Robin Thicke/Miley Cyrus VMA performance happened there were so many people asking "Why are we talking about this?" and I was asking "Why are we talking about this LIKE this? Why are we only talking about Miley and her actions? Why are we not talking about the adult male, the industry, the network?"
OT Bruce and Kris’s break-up
AS The Kardashian's (including the deceased patriarch) are the ultimate example of our misguided acceptance of traditional gender roles, consumerism and seriously effed up "family values." It's hard to see what the real connection is between any of them so it's no surprise that the marriage ended. To see the cycle being repeated on the younger girls is terribly disappointing.
OT Breaking Bad (So three weeks ago, I know)
AS Honestly, I don't watch it. It began around the same time as Sons of Anarchy and I had already started watching that. One ultra-violent, drug-fueled, dark depiction of masculinity is all I can take. However, it is a tremendous example of why pop-culture is important. That show reflects a very real and very dark reality. The question is does it exploit or empower? Does it raise awareness or glorify drug use?
Pop Goes Alicia is Tuesday November 5th 6:30 pm. at The Hideout. Purchase tickets here.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and
afterellen.com Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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