Along with the Mirror’s story of the “Sick paedophile caught with homemade ‘child abuse board game’ under his bed”, a particular slab of news sensationalism gave me a good laugh two weekends ago: the story of porno-monikered Jessica Vanessa, the day-care assistant who reportedly “Quit Her Job To Twerk For A Living And Is Now Making A Six Figure Salary”. Jay-Vee’s gluteal gyrations proved remarkably entertaining, her arse looking like it would moon its way to the moon during her interview clip. Ms Vanessa, however, derived less amusement from the whole thing, declaring the whole “twerk for a living” spin placed on her story “fucking stupid”.
That said, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if a certain stigma animated her protestations, if only in part; after all, the dance form known as “twerking”, with its brazen bawdiness, attracts more than its fair share of detractors. A recent example arose in response to a vid by metal band Mastodon featuring a troupe of buttock-bouncing video vixens, fresh from a hip-hop promo. No sooner had the band released their clip for ‘The Motherload’, the lead single from their new album, Once More ‘Round the Sun, than a cacophony of voices in and around the metal world let forth an adversity of reactions. Some (like Yours Truly) found themselves bemused and/or amused by the incongruous mish-mash of rumps and riffs; others were outraged/dismayed by what they saw as the intrusion of hip-hop/ghetto/”black” culture into “their” music; still others, like long-time metal journo Dom Lawson, saw fit to assume the mantle of social justice warrior, taking the band to task for the “crass misogyny” and “blatant, idiotic and utterly pointless sexism” that supposedly informs their video.
True to the narrative of Lawson and other “social justice” types, Mastodon drummer-vocalist-lyricist Brann Dailor stepped up to defend the the pneumatic promo, describing it as both a subversion of “esoteric” ‘90s rock and metal vids and an “all-inclusive” shout-out to the band’s home state of Atlanta, the women featured being co-natives. “MRDA,” the white-knight contingent might say, seated comfortably in their righteous indignation…
…but what if the damsels willingly courted the dragon? The words of Jade, one of the jelly-jigglers featured in the clip, seem to suggest so; on none other than SJW sanatorium Tumblr, she made her side of the story heard:
Within minutes of the video dropping, there was a serious backlash. While most people seemed to “get” the band’s shout out to their hometown, Atlanta, others called it racist and sexist. Some people even called us dirty niggers and whores. Funny, the most sexist and racist sentiments came not from filming the actual video, but from a subset of metal fans who thought we simply didn’t belong. If anything, the video shoot was welcoming, the band clever and pleasant, and the girls bonded almost the second the music dropped. Much like the band, we weren’t concerned with thin, knee-jerk reactions to asses and twerking.
One of the reasons this video, for me, is garnering so much attention is that truly the women are not just asses—and there are a lot of fantastic asses in the building—but shown as 3D people, which scares folk. Another is the concern for cultural appropriation. From us and from them. The fear of metal being “tainted”, the fear of the band using a dance form associated with black culture for their own gain. These fears boil down into my one response: we all belong…..The guys are ATL homegrown. As much as metal is in their bones, so is trap music, so is Old Fourth Ward, so is Magic City. They repped Georgia not out of exploitation, but because it resonates with them and is a part of them. This video proves that metal can reach out and can be reached out to without parody, without hierarchy, and it is a good thing.
Ask us if it was racist or sexist. We were the ones right there experiencing it. I’ll tell you from my view: no.
Welp, social justice warriors, pop goes your narrative! Then again, when you insist on projecting your Galahad fantasies onto the world, such dissonance must become something of a constant over time. The unceasing furore over women choosing to twerk in a variety of “misogynist”, “racist”, and “degrading” contexts has been especially prevalent in entertainment media over the past year, ever since Miley Cyrus brought the act to mainstream attention with her performance at the MTV Video Music Awards. Prog pundits clamoured to complain about the “degradation” and “cultural appropriation” of her piece, not only for her own (derrière-deficient) wobbles, but also for her employment of more melanin(-and-mound)-infused movers ‘n’ shakers; in regard to the latter transgression, both Lily Allen and Taylor Swift would also find themselves in the firing line for employing bountiful black booty to shift singles — it’s like slavery, I tells ya!
From my vantage point, their social justice sloganeering can’t help but be tinged by a certain irony; with their use of slavery analogies to describe this phenomenon, these crusaders casually and effectively whitewash all agency away from those they claim to champion. The prospect that maybe, just maybe, these twerking girls (black and otherwise) actually enjoy bouncing their backsides in front of a camera never seems to occur to them. The sight of the Mastodon mapouka girls laughing and joking at the end of the vid struck me as a nice, humanising touch, one pretty much overlooked by the likes of Lawson. Just as most prozzies aren’t sobbing, trembling sex-slave props, but simply women who make a considered choice not to the majority’s liking, why can’t a similar schematic apply to (Not-So-)Little Miss Booty Bounce?
The oblivious and/or opportunistic SJW recasting of agency as subjugation parallels a similar case here in the UK involving blackfolk who chose to participate as re-enactors in an arthouse slavery exhibit. A democracy of demagogues chimed in to condemn the “complicit racism”, “arrogance” and “privilege” of its creators and hosts, drowning out not only the directors and producers, but also the black actors who took part, “ignoring [them] as if they [were] dumb slaves”, in the words of one Lemn Sissay.
As in the case of sex workers, prog scolds seem to need a faceless, voiceless mound of brutalised bodies – real or perceived — to stand atop for self-validation.
The whole “cultural appropriation” angle shines a spotlight on another ugly aspect of their worldview; that which is derided as sexist, misogynistic, and repulsive one day gets effectively sanctified as a sacred cultural practice which must not be defiled by perceived outsiders the next. As writer (and Infernophile) Émelyne Museaux points out in regards to the what she terms “the Cyrus Conundrum”:
Miley Cyrus has not-so-recently taken to having voluptuous Black women (who were baselessly labeled as strippers) in her music videos, wearing removable gold plates on her teeth, collaborating with rappers and (most infamously) twerking. Twerking, a dance trend that involves wining, gyrating, and isolating your butt cheeks, has exploded all over the internet, with women of all shapes, sizes and races partaking in it. The educated Black person often feels disgraced upon seeing this, while the Black feminist is torn between what they view as the erotification of Black girls and women, and a woman’s right to own her sexuality. Both groups, however, want to distance themselves as much as possible from twerking….until a White woman does it. And this is where the problem comes in.
The educated Black person will be the first to defend a Black kid who plays hockey, or listens to rock music. We’ll defend Black women, Queens of the Black culture, from racist attacks that say that all we do is twerk and have babies. But, somehow, twerking, the very thing that so many Black people loathe to see a Black woman performing and being subsequently judged for, is now a part of “our culture” and must be defended the moment a White woman does it. Let me reiterate: You all hated this toy and tried desperately to dispose of it, until another kid came along and wanted to play with it. Now it’s your favourite and you want to throw a damn tantrum.
In other words, thanks to the wonders of “intersectionality”, identity politics, and plain old-fashioned essentialism, black American progressives find themselves acting from a rather lamentable ethos: “It may be trash, but it’s our trash!” Of course, this is but one head of the hydra known as “cultural appropriation” theory, a train of thought whose adherents, in rhetoric and practice, often come across as 21st century prog analogues of George Wallace. Ém, too, picks up on the irony:
As much as Black people as a group bemoan the many negative characteristics and actions that are associated with us, and Black feminists gripe about a woman’s right to express her sexuality, to live and work on her own terms, this CC has exposed so many of you as hypocrites. You sound like the racists who said that Chuck Berry shouldn’t sing rock n’ roll, because he was Black and hijacking American (read: White) culture. You sound like the idiots who tell an eloquent Black guy in skinny jeans (like notable producer Pharell) that he’s “acting White”. All the CC has done is showcase that Black people are willing to set the Civil Rights movement back for the sake of a dance trend, short shorts and gold chains, and that we only want integration when, where, and how it suits us.
Listening to these activists and crusaders, I find myself wondering whether or not to set aside that succulent piece of fried chicken for the sake of “racial integrity”; fortunately, sense soon sets in, leading me to discard the nonsensical notion in favour of my own enjoyment once again. I suspect many on the twerk team feel the same way regarding their activity of choice, the personal not always being political after all.
For some, twerking evokes thoughts of exploitation, degradation, and cultural appropriation; for others, “degeneracy” and the downfall of Western civilisation. I simply see it as another form of art; not “high art”, to be sure, but certainly not without its cheek-bouncing charm: ass-thetic entertainment for both punter and participant.
To all the griping, grousing busybodies — SJW and reactionary alike — I can only say: Butt out!