Thou shall not diss Taylor Swift.
Could that be any plainer? Is there any ambiguity to that statement?
The Hollywood Reporter:
When Forbes released its annual list of Hollywood’s highest-paid women in October, it was no surprise that Oprah Winfrey passed everyone else by a mile. Her vast media empire, pulling in $165 million last year, swamped her nearest competitor, Britney Spears, whose earnings from music, TV and product endorsements totaled a distant second at $58 million. Spears’ career has made a spectacular recovery after what seemed like a squalid death spiral just a few short years ago — but she’s being given a run for her money by the new gals in town.
It’s staggering that 22-year-old Taylor Swift earned $57 million and Katy Perry $45 million. How is it possible that such monumental fortunes could be accumulated by performers whose songs have barely escaped the hackneyed teenybopper genre? But more important, what do the rise and triumph of Swift and Perry tell us about the current image of women in entertainment?
Despite the passage of time since second-wave feminism erupted in the late 1960s, we’ve somehow been thrown back to the demure girly-girl days of the white-bread 1950s. It feels positively nightmarish to survivors like me of that rigidly conformist and man-pleasing era, when girls had to be simple, peppy, cheerful and modest. Doris Day, Debbie Reynolds and Sandra Dee formed the national template — that trinity of blond oppressors!
As if flashed forward by some terrifying time machine, there’s Taylor Swift, America’s latest sweetheart, beaming beatifically in all her winsome 1950s glory from the cover of Parade magazine in the Thanksgiving weekend newspapers. In TV interviews, Swift affects a “golly, gee whiz” persona of cultivated blandness and self-deprecation, which is completely at odds with her shrewd glam dress sense. Indeed, without her mannequin posturing at industry events, it’s doubtful that Swift could have attained her high profile.
Beyond that, Swift has a monotonous vocal style, pitched in a characterless keening soprano and tarted up with snarky spin that is evidently taken for hip by vast multitudes of impressionable young women worldwide. Her themes are mainly complaints about boyfriends, faceless louts who blur in her mind as well as ours. Swift’s meandering, snippy songs make 16-year-old Lesley Gore’s 1963 hit “It’s My Party (And I’ll Cry if I Want to)” seem like a towering masterpiece of social commentary, psychological drama and shapely concision.
Gee, what a horrible role model.
Still one week shy of her 23rd birthday, Taylor Swift is worth an estimated $165 million, none of which she inherited. She writes or co-writes all of her music, plays guitar, banjo and piano, has cranked out four top-selling studio albums as well as numerous number one hit singles and has won just about every possible award in music. Meanwhile she is unfailingly polite, attentive to her fans and is involved in numerous charitable causes.
Despite the fact that Taylor’s love-life is infamous for a number of bad relationships she has maintained a public image and persona that is sweet and wholesome. She has never been arrested for anything nor is she alleged to use drugs or alcohol. Taylor has stated that she believes it is her duty to be a positive role model for her fans.
As far as her music, it’s a matter of taste. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to listen to it.
But wait! There’s more:
Urban rappers’ notorious sexism seems to have made black female performers stronger and more defiant. But middle-class white girls, told that every career is open to them and encouraged to excel at athletics, are faced with slacker white boys nagged by the PC thought police into suppressing their masculinity — which gets diverted instead into video games and the flourishing genre of online pornography.
The emotional deficiencies in sanitized middle-class life have led to the blockbuster success of the five Twilight films as well as this year’s The Hunger Games. Their stars are nice white girls thrust into extreme situations and looking for strength. But the movies are set in abnormal environments of supernatural vampirism or dystopian survivalism. Romance is peculiarly intertwined with bloody atrocities and the yearning fabrication of foster families.
The insipid, bleached-out personas of Taylor Swift and Katy Perry cannot be blamed on some eternal law of “bubblegum” music. Connie Francis, with her powerhouse blend of country music and operatic Italian belting, was between 19 and 21 when she made her mammoth hits like “Lipstick on Your Collar” and “Stupid Cupid.” Movie ingenues once had far more sophistication and complexity than they do today: Leslie Caron was 20 at her debut in An American in Paris; Elizabeth Taylor was 19 in A Place in the Sun; Kim Novak was 22 in Picnic; Natalie Wood was 17 in Rebel Without a Cause.
Paradoxically, a key problem with the current youth cult, which is devouring both entertainment and fashion, is that aging women have become progressively invisible. If girls are helplessly stalled at the ingenue phase, it’s partly because women in their 40s and 50s are, via Botox, fillers and cosmetic surgery, still trying to look like they’re 20. Few roles are being written these days for character actresses — parts once regularly taken by Marie Dressler, Marjorie Main, Thelma Ritter or Maureen Stapleton. But Hollywood is overflowing with fascinating, charismatic and outrageously underutilized career actresses from Raquel Welch to Theresa Russell. The field for top roles is even sparser, populated by barely more than Meryl Streep and Jane Fonda. Middle-class white girls will never escape the cookie-cutter tyranny of their airless ghettos until the entertainment industry looks into its soul and starts giving them powerful models of mature womanliness.
So what female artists does Paglia believe are good role models? Rihanna (who has apparently reconciled with her abuser, Chris Brown), Jennifer Lopez and Beyonce.
I’ll let Molly Ivins have the last word:
There is one area in which I think Paglia and I would agree that politically correct feminism has produced a noticeable inequity. Nowadays, when a woman behaves in a hysterical and disagreeable fashion, we say, “Poor dear, it’s probably PMS.”
Whereas, if a man behaves in a hysterical and disagreeable fashion, we say, “What an asshole.”
Let me leap to correct this unfairness by saying of Paglia, “Sheesh, what an asshole.”