Thursday, August 16, 2007

Vacation and Pop! Goes My Culture

We left on August 5 for a vacation to Cape Cod, overlapping Laura's vacation. I'm a bit of a Cape Cod purist, so I avoid the south coast of the Cape as much as possible, preferring the elbow. We camped at Nickerson State Park, without electricity or water hookups (there's running water in the bathrooms). We're still iffy on whether camping is for us. I have fond memories of camping as a child, but back then, camping was a financial necessity if we were going to travel at all. I saw most of the Northeast from a camper 30+ years ago.

But now we're back and readjusted to living in a house again. Time to re-start the blogging.

Timothy Burke has written on the experience of parenting in a world of cultural norms that are still sexist. Though I objected to his characterization of "Politically Correct" parents denying their children sexist playthings, there was a lot about his post I liked. When Tim says "Maybe we change culture best by viewing and doing and being what we desire and love best, and less by trying to perform the role of an ideal and virtuous self," that really resonates with me.

I'm a woman of strong politically progressive beliefs, and it goes without saying, I think, that I would like to see our society become less sexist. I am concerned about the negative/stereotyped portrayals of gender in popular culture. And I have two children, an 8 year old girl and a 5 year old boy. In many ways my daughter fits the stereotype of a "girly girl." She loves pink, she loves nurturing her stuffed animals, she prefers dresses, she would rather dance than participate in most sports. And my son? Loves dinosaurs, trucks, taking things apart, throwing a baseball.

But as Tim said, as parents, we share the things we love with our kids. The kids now share my husband's love of nature and science. As a family we bike and canoe. And me? They share my love of tv. :) Back in grad school, I put together a panel entitled "Can I Be a Feminist and Still Like Popular Culture?" One panelist talked about rap music, another about Tolkien, another about graphic novels, and I talked about soap operas, particularly the portrayal of rape on soap operas. I took pleasure in watching soaps (I don't watch them now; once I had my daughter, I had no time to watch any more), yet I was surrounded by people who told me soaps were stupid and below me.

My response back in grad school at Postmodern University was not to hide my love of soaps but to be open about it. Most of my fellow students thought I was kind of strange, but others felt more empowered to "come out" about their "guilty pleasures" to me (hence my collection of fellow students who were willing to join the panel). In fact, it became a kind of test of someone's character (to me) how they responded to my assertion that I watched and enjoyed soap operas. Never had much use for people whose opinion of me would obviously change.

I may sound unconcerned about others' opinions, but I think maybe I'm applying 2o years of hindsight and experience. I was self-conscious, but I'd found so little value in performing a certain "ideal and virtual self" that I became more and more confident in this aspect of myself. This confidence was further bolstered when I met Famous Feminist Philosopher, who was visiting Postmodern University for a year and was teaching the grad course in Women's Studies. We ended up bonding over our enjoyment of General Hospital (I remember her as a fan of Colton and Felicia).

Over the next few years, the Internet started to evolve, and I became involved with online communities. And though I shouldn't have been surprised, I still was to find that the online communities for soap fans (and romance novel fans) were filled with smart intelligent women of my age. And for the past 15 years, I have spent a lot of time with these women (and some men) talking about television and popular culture and taking pleasure in it--and sometimes taking pleasure in criticizing it.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this other than to say I think that not only speaking about my pleasure in certain cultural texts but also expressing my criticism of some aspects of them has led to some very positive experiences. I'm not only sharing my love for pop culture but also my ambivalence for it, if that makes sense.

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