May 21st, 2008

Rearguard Opinion? (Slackness b/w Sexism & Sexuality)

I’ve been meaning to share my reflections on the smut/slackness symposium I participated in @ Penn for some time now, but, well, you know how the end of the semester can go. Many of the themes that emerged in the panel have been ‘verberating in my head, however — ideas which seem to resonate with recent debates elsewhere on the ‘osphere, not to mention previous thoughts on booty-bass (esp received as “foreign”).

Grades are in, tho, so time fi get this off my to-do list. Pardon the prolixity — this is a long one.

In my talk at Penn, I first made a point of acknowledging and affirming that something like “slackness” in Jamaica — i.e., an attitude about publicly performed sexual mores and morals — can work to challenge a hypocritical, Eurocentric hierarchy of value and culture of “respectability” with its frank, healthy, humorous take on sexual and gender relations. As some Jamaican observers such as my fellow panelist Carolyn Cooper have argued, slackness can be understood as a trenchant response to official (i.e., church and gov’t) discourse about sexuality and the control of the body (politic). Slack lyrics and dances are strong gestures of opposition in a country still so scandalized by bad words. Slackness thus pushes against a public culture of respectability and decency that masks the enduring disrespect and indecency perpetrated against the disenfranchised (black) masses. Moreover, beyond any pushback, many will argue — Afrocentrists among them — that such ways of dancing, singing, talking, and relating are part of a rich cultural heritage that recognizes the power and importance of (sexual) pantomime (if often in a heteronormative fashion), not to mention both frankness and sly (or crass) innuendo, and — on the flipside — the problems that come from repressing our desires, our (second) natures, and ourselves.

I followed this rehearsal of the merits of slackness, however, by proposing a possible limit case (and hence inviting accusations of conservatism, of being — indeed! — rearguard). I wanted to see whether my co-panelists and the other participants in the symposium might hesitate in giving license to any and all forms of representation in the context of dancehall (or, more generally, musically-mediated) performance. I wondered whether certain examples might strike us as unredeemable from a progressive or playful perspective, tipping so far into suggesting sexual(ized) exploitation and domination that we’d have to recognize it, if not chant it down, as something beneath the basic level of humanity that we can also celebrate, dignity intact, as liking to get low, u feel me?

The panel was titled “Smut/Slackness in Caribbean Music,” and I had to admit that the term smut was puzzling to me in this context (before I was enlightened by fellow panelist and ethnomusicologist Shannon Dudley, who explained that smut has operated in Trinidadian discourse the same way slackness has inna JA). With regard to Jamaica, I found smut a suspicious term to throw into the mix. Why would we describe the practices we’re discussing in that way? Or better, who would describe them that way? What might be lost or gained, politically / epistemologically, from employing such a term, such an analysis, such a judgment?

For me, smut refers to porn, but slackness does not. And I was worried about what might get lost in the conflation of the terms (at least in a US-based discussion). Does the debate around morals, and whether one adheres to them tightly or slackly — especially in the performative, spectacular site that is the dance hall — disappear when we move to the category of smut? Well, only if we think of smut as coterminous with porn, of course. Nevertheless, it seems important, to me, to maintain a distinction between slackness and pornography. (Sidenote: this is a line blurred increasingly by pop-chart hip-hop and r&b — a related and interconnected, if often implicit, topic in our Carib-centric conversation, to which I’ll return).

Like everywhere, one can find porn qua porn in Jamaica: there are “titty bars” and resorts called “Hedonism” and such; there’s imported pornography; there’s even the occasionally rather racy, but not XXX, spread in the X News; and sure, dancehall artists’ descriptions of sex and certain dances or ways of dancing can lean toward the pornographic in their explicitness. Along these lines, it’s worth noting that the video recordings of dancehall events such as Passa Passa, recordings which circulate internationally, and overlap with and inform local scenes in the diaspora (e.g., Florida), offer up-skirt perspectives a good 50% of the time — one may as well call it the “punaany cam.” (But I should note, as well, that the subjects of such shots are as often exhibitionist as evasive.) Still, the term smut is rarely, if ever, so baldly associated with reggae. So it seemed a little inappropriate to me, perhaps problematic — distracting at best — to conflate these terms.

As I thought more about the title of the panel, however, it occurred to me that it might be better to see “smut” and “slackness” not as coterminous, as synonyms, but instead to see the slash between them (“smut/slackness”) as expressing a threshold, a line that might be crossed. (And, yes, this entails ignoring the meanings of smut in Trinidad, but bear with me for the sake of argument.)

If we consider the ol’ “i know it when i see it” test — an infamous phrase associated with Justice Potter Stewart’s opinion in the 1964 Supreme Court case, Jacobellis v. Ohio, which hinged on whether a French film could be deemed obscene by the state of Ohio — if we consider that test (admitting that who the “I” that knows and sees is, of course, quite important), than it might be productive after all to interrogate the boundaries between smut and slackness, especially in such a cross-cultural, transnational conversation as this one.

And so I proposed a limit case, something to pose the question: is this slackness or smut? where do we draw the line? where do dancehall participants draw the line? and what are the implications — for gender relations, for questions of interpersonal and international politics and power — of deeming something obscene or not. Such a judgment is a conferral of value, and because I think we can argue for the value of something like slackness in the way that it publicly pushes against certain strictures and structures, while the value of smut is perhaps more dubious, I think these are crucial questions to consider.

My limit case, as I reported back in April, was a (then) recently coined song&dance weh dem call the “Titty Wine.” An obvious play on the “Dutty Wine,” a very popular dance of the last couple years, the “Titty Wine” takes the duttiness, I think it’s safe to say, to another lebel. The “Dutty Wine” is hardly very dirty; sure, it demands some rather vigorous waistline (and neck) gymnastics — win[d]ing is always about the movement of the hips — but it still leaves plenty to the imagination. The “Titty Wine,” on the other hand, essentially calls for the gyal dem simply to rub their breasts, with a fair amount of freedom (or disregard) for what happens around the waist and below. To my eyes, and to other observers’ (and lovers of dancehall, I hasten to add), the “Titty Wine” hardly seems like a dance at all, but rather the beginnings of a strip-tease, or worse, a “breast self examination“!

I played some examples (but do do your own YouTube surfing) — among them, a Trini version; an impassioned introduction by the Brooklyn-based song&dance-engineer, CV; as well as two eager avatars and early adopters, the white/farin dancehall queens, Lisa No Mannaz and DHQ MoMo

Clearly the dance is interpreted differently by various dancehall participants: it’s either beyond the pale or in the tradition, though — as this exchange indicates — even then the dance is not criticized as scandalous, just wack/stupid. I suspect that for many outside observers, esp if one’s focus is the lyrics and the images rather than the surrounding discourse and debate, the “Titty Wine” is easy to dismiss as pure objectification, fantasy fulfillment on the part of the men calling the shots — perhaps, even, as smut (in the non-Trini sense). To wit (?): CV’s latest song&dance, the “Kattapila” — an attempt to encourage the kind of below/around the waist activity which many Titty Winers were forgetting — is hard to interpret outside the realm of pr0n: the promotional video doesn’t even feature women actually doing the dance to the title track, it simply sets the song to a series of win(d)ing/striptease videos culled from around the YouTubosphere. I don’t think it’s coincidental — or insignificant — at all that some of the clips employed are actual softporn / amateur / YouTube-safe (but NSFW) stripteases, rather than videos of girls, y’know, dancing to dancehall (never mind to the title track). I’m sure we can still argue over whether or not this fits the slackness bill, but is there really any question here as to whom this is being made for and whether it can be extricated from the category of smut/porn?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Carolyn Cooper responded by noting that the “Titty Wine” (the “Kattapilla” hadn’t buss yet) seemed to contain a fairly strong dimension/connotation of self-pleasure. I can certainly see that. (So does a lot of porn, of course.) And I should note that I’ve sometimes found myself on the other side of this argument, against “rearguard” critics — such as last summer in Mexico City when, during a panel on reggaeton and wrt perreo, I enlisted dancehall scholar Sonjah Stanley Niaah to help me make the argument that a lot of this is simply (if, yes, complexly) a form of play. Or as I wrote when I returned from a brief trip to Kingston last summer —

I’ve been in several conversations lately about reggaeton’s perreo and whether or not it is misogynist / patriarchal / phallocentric. Obv there’s no easy answer to that big question. But it’s kinda yes and no, IMO. Seems fairly ambiguous at any rate. At the least, we could use some ethnography around perreo before we all try to speak for the girls doing the deed. To the whatever-wave feminists who worry that the whateverrr-wave feminists have left the cause behind, I’ve been trying to argue — alongside colleagues such as Raquel Rivera and Sonjah Stanley-Niaah — that there’s a whole lotta play going on in this. Dance a dance. Sex is something else. Drrty dancing’s nothing new & does not necessarily lead to the nasty.

In general, I’ve decided that the best feminist I can be is one who respects women’s rights to do what they deem appropriate with their bodies and selves. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still have reservations, perhaps even condemnations, that I think are important to bring into the public conversation, especially when certain acts are perpetrated by men. I often have trouble hearing crunk, for instance, as anything more than barking at strippers, which is hardly an ideal model for the kind of healthy sexual acculturation (against Euro-Christian repression & hypocrisy & squirminess) that many of the participants in the symposium saw as a positive dimension of a great deal of Afro/diasporic music and dance. (Nor is criticizing the dudes/dogs in question at odds with allowing a woman the right to be a stripper/sex-worker, or simply the right to take pleasure in playing certain roles — in the (non-strip)club or the bedroom — some of which may be submissive, exhibitionist, or downright “freaky,” as they say.)

It’s worth noting that our views on such topics can’t always be cool, abstract, and disconnected from our (emotional) relationships with friends and family. My own talk was preceded by Raquel Rivera’s cautionary tale of defending the extreme vulgarity and symbolic violence of some proto-reggaeton artists only to want to withdraw her support after hearing from her little sister about a dancefloor encounter that had slid quickly into harassment and abuse. And Raquel’s confession / discussion was anticipated by Shannon Dudley who, after offering a history of “smut” in Trinidadian carnival & calypso, described the challenges and delights of listening to Calle 13 — a group that deliberately confronts the elite/mainstream value system in their music — with his pre-teen kids in Puerto Rico last summer. Thinking about the “Titty Wine” from a parental perspective puts a whole ‘nother spin on it, even for those of us who are quite comfortable with the notion that sex/gender play is a part of life, throughout life, and that frank discussions and depictions of sex can help us to shape healthier attitudes about ourselves than, say, Victorian-era notions or Catholic/Protestant/Puritan dogmas.

I get a sense that the liberty some of us — whether “outsiders” or “insiders” — see/feel in dancehall’s or reggaeton’s or soca’s slack side is akin to what Kevin Driscoll heard/felt in booty-bass, at least for a while. As he writes in his recent paper for Henry Jenkins:

If the dancefloor is a place where it is safe to move one’s body in unusual ways, perhaps it is also a space where the embodiment of the sex act can be exposed, toyed with, and manipulated.

Part of me wonders what happens, however, in the YouTube era when we move from dancefloors into each other’s bedrooms, kitchens, etc. (i.e., domestic/intimate spaces) — when virtual communities are not just imagined but actually interfacing, exchanging media and ideas, & sometimes phone numbers. Does what Kevin calls “the liberating potential of a construction of sonic space in which sexual desire, fetish, and perversion are no longer taboo” hold true when the sonic space in question — which is, of course, always a (special) social space — increasingly extends into other social spaces? (To some extent, it’s worth noting, the overlap between sonic and social space can sometimes seem total, even without — though usually with — the penetration and ubiquity of new media technologies, as in the way that dancehall culture reflects and informs Jamaican sociability and sociality in general.)

We might also ask, to turn to a probing comment by Unfashionably Late Gavin on Kevin’s post, does this liberating potential hold if it’s all about patriarchy and heteronormativity?

The nature of sexuality at play is incredibly important as well. Disco and house were gay musics, or at least queer, and many of the important originators were gay men. Electronic music in general is seen in the U.S. as “gayer” than other types of music. During my ethnography for my thesis, I discovered that techno (made by straight black Detroiters) currently has a gay connotation in Detroit. Ghettotech and bootybass producers (all hetero) are quite consciously claiming dance music (their first love) for heterosexuality — they are not breaking down the walls of sexuality so much as shoring up a very traditional notion of heterosexuality, in tune with contemporary commodified sexuality such as porn and strip clubs. In effect, they are making dance music that allows audiences to NOT question their sexuality — they are comforting conservative hetero audiences. It is interesting, however, that the music seemed revolutionary to a liberal feminist such as yourself — I think that is worth considering further. To me, the queer and open sexual politics of disco are more revolutionary than the concentrated hetero domination in booty bass. In any case, I think we can safely say that the era in which flaunting bourgeois sexual values can be considered revolutionary is definitively over.

That last statement seems like something of a knock for defenders of slackness (and perhaps undercuts a lot of what I’ve said above). I think Gavin raises some trenchant points here, as well as when he questions whether camp and pleasure may potentially undermine a straight-forward reading of booty-bass practice.

The truth is, I really can’t say. And that’s one reason I resist imposing anything like a definitive interpretation on — never mind a call for censure or censorship of — something like perreo (or even the “Titty Wine”). Who am I to say? Who is anyone to say? In order to get a better understanding of what all of this means, we need to bring more voices, more moments of meaning-making, into the conversation. (Where are all the dance ethnographies/autobiographies we so badly need?) I want to hear from more women and girls, from more people of color, from fewer gradschool-educated white dudes. Sin duda, “dame mas gasolina” — eloquent as it may be — is hardly the last word. And while a musically-mediated breast exam may speak volumes, it also seems profoundly silent.

17 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Birdseed  |  May 22nd, 2008 at 7:00 am

    I find this post a bit curious – first you post about how slackness must be seen within the Jamaican context, then you draw a distinction between pornography and sexual suggestiveness which is very significantly based on your own personal feelings, how you would react as a parent and the morals of the supreme court of the United States (!). Don’t you think it would be more fruitful, if such a distinction is even worthwhile to make, to try to catch the interpretation of such issues from the local perspective?

    Take Indonesian dangdut as an example. My reaction when I first saw extremely sexualised videos like this was similar to yours – this is porn! – but if you read blog debates about the phenomenon it seems clear that it’s not seen that way locally. Are we to condemn the locals for what they see as appropriate “fun” because we see it as obscene? The standards for obscenity have shifted immensely within our own societies over the years, and I certainly wouldn’t be able to say “I know it when I see it” in an indonesian/17th-century/whatever context, not without a touch of the colonialist missionary. (Another example would be the Finnish sauna – mixed gender nude bathing with no sexual connotations in its local context but that would be seen as obscene in another.)

    Plus like i say I’m not sure how relevant the distinction is, at least for a feminist discussion. There are slight suggestions and undertones that are totally patriarchal and supremely sexist, just as there are complete depictions of sexuality that are very egalitarian. And just as you say I’m not sure its up to you or me or the other “gradschool-educated white dudes” to decide what is what. I once had a group of your female feminists in my radio studio and I played them a song about a woman who falls in love with a robot. I asked them about it and I was sure they’d talk to me about the exploitation of the female singer as a sexual object within the context of the commercial hit machine. Instead they talked about her positive use of her own sexuality, with the robot as some sort of sex toy.

    So I think we’re better off staying away from speculative interpretation of the sexuality of other groups and let them sort it out themselves. After all, there’s a distinct possibility we’ll unwittingly end up being the ones leering

  • 2. Caro  |  May 22nd, 2008 at 8:05 am

    Wayne, first, me jealous you’re done with grading. I have one more class to slog through (out of five).

    Great conversation. And thank you so much for calling for more female/nonwhite voices. You’re hitting my #1 pet peeve — the talking about rather than talking with.

    The heteronormativity is a big issue — can I be a (barely reconstructed) Marxist and say that a lot of this has to do with the incursions of the market? Which actually makes me really concerned about YouTubery becoming a substitute, for some people (the young, the other-country, the concerned parent) for the very complex play of the club or the party. When you see the flat image alone, it’s easier to flatten out/narrow interpretation, since there is nothing else to push back.

    One of the great things about the dance floor is that it becomes a place where knowledge is transmitted that has nothing to do with the verbal. Which sometimes makes the ethnography a little difficult. Even my brother, one of the best dance semiologists I know, can sometimes only say, “that beat is HOT”

    Can’t wait till I can turn my brain on again…

  • 3. wayneandwax  |  May 22nd, 2008 at 9:00 am

    Interesting points, Caro. Thanks for bringing them in. I agree that there are certain phenomenological dimensions of musical and sexual experience alike which may resist the verbal constraints of ethnography, but, then again, we’ve got to work with what we’ve got (i.e., words). I wonder whether we might imagine non-verbal forms of ethnography that could shed some much needed light on the pleasures and discomforts of all of this.

    As for the dangers of YouTube mediation, I’m with you, though I also think — as noted above — that such technologies do not operate completely outside of the realm of social interaction, especially when incoming links and comments and messages are all possible. It’s still a somewhat flat form of sociability — and raises lots of questions about consuming images of otherness and such — but it’s more bumpy, I think, than we tend to portray it.

    Allow me to note, for both Caro and Birdseed, that the conversations I’m touching on in this post were very much produced in dialogue with women of color (Raquel Rivera, Carolyn Cooper, Sonjah Stanley Niaah) — all gradschool educated, tho, natch — and, moreover, women representing, at least in part, a non-US perspective. That said, we need many more voices in the mix.

    And, Birdseed, I think you’re barking up the wrong stripper pole to argue that we must leave the conversation to the “locals.” I mean, what’s local in a case where I’m watching YouTube videos in my Cambridge living-room which were produced in Brooklyn by a Jamaican, a Canadian, and an Estonian? This is a translocal conversation, and so, while I think it’s crucial to attend to local perspectives (though you’re hardly going to find consensus, even in Jamaica, even in Tivoli Gardens — indeed, slackness scandalizes a great many people across various Jamaican communities), it’s equally important to think about how images and ideas about self and sexuality circulate in broader, overlapping worlds. I have no compunction about chanting down what I hear or see as objectifying, dehumanizing content if it’s audible or visible on my street or in my living room, though I’d like to think that I also have a pretty good sense of humor and proportion when it comes to coarse, crude, and/or frank depictions of sex and the relations between sexes.

    Dancehall and reggaeton and crunk are very much a part of my own “local” context, and I’m not about to erect an imaginary wall — differences in education/class notwithstanding — between me and the kids on the corner that might prevent me from engaging with the same stuff they do. Indeed, the kids on the corner (or their older brothers and sisters) have been my classmates, teammates, students, and friends — and they’ll be that to my daughter too.

    Incidentally, I found your post on smutty dangdut really fascinating. I’m very curious to learn more about the local (and diasporic) Indonesian debates about it.

  • 4. theantisuck  |  May 22nd, 2008 at 9:17 am

    As a whitegrrrl w/ a BA, I def agree wit the last line. An argument calling sexual dance moves revolutionary against “Eurocentric/Victorian-era notions or Catholic/Protestant/Puritan dogmas” seems a bit antiquated. I dont think JA’s are even so concerned with Eurocentric morality/religion, Esp when Jamaican religion is such a homegrown chistianity be it rastafari or spirit-centered pentocostalism/evangelical movements (“revolutionary” themselves in their own way, esp as these movements are growing most among disenfranchised women). Clearly slackness can be liberating, just as a retreat from slackness in evangelicalism can also be liberating.

    Basically slackness, as a product of a hetero/patriarchal society is going to express sexual play in a way that is male-centered and hetero dominated. But that doesnt mean women arent playing too – arent expressing themselves and participating in fresh wayz. Theres definitely a ‘carnival’ aspect of it too – the dance floor as a negotiated temporary revolutionary space.

    As a white girl, im gonna echo a lot of what young white privileged ghettotech ladies are sayin, that to us the sexism in dance/tech music feels safer and more manageable and negotiable (or perhaps just more fun) than the sexism in rock music which I think hits closer to home and feels more oppressive /strangling. And there’s an aspect of that which might be true, but there’s an aspect of that that’s unhealthy – our privilege to exit our own space and enter the space of a new culture in which we can participate in w/o having to play by the rules.

  • 5. wayneandwax  |  May 22nd, 2008 at 11:21 am

    thanks for sharing your thoughts, antisuck. (funny enough, your moniker reminds me of a rather fundamentalist chrisitian, sexually explicit dancehall song by mr.vegas — which, nonetheless, i can’t hear enough, i hasten to add.)

    you seem to agree with kevin about the relatively safe/flexxxy space that ghettotech (which, to invoke the looser, “global” sense of the term, encompasses dancehall) can offer. and i can add, for my own part, that that is precisely how i and my highschool classmates (whites and blacks and “spanish” kids and other caribbeans) related to dancehall: that ol’ bomp-bomp meant it was grindtime. cobra’s “flex” was an anthem. so i want to note that i’m actually with y’all on that count — i guess i’d just like to hear a few more stories from women describing their end of the transaction (is that a form of leering in itself)?

    you also seem to agree with gavin who similarly contends that (hetero) slack moves can hardly be considered revolutionary at this point. i see that too, but perhaps only for a certain generation. as much as it’s crucial to pay attention to what kids/grown-people themselves think about what they’re doing where they’re doing it (i.e., attend to the local meanings), i still think we need to keep our eye on the broader context, the national and increasingly international imagined / virtual / actual communities to which we also belong. when we look at the bigger picture, middle-class christian mores are still pretty pervasive, at least in public culture, in both the US and JA. and that’s not simply a cultural problem, it’s a political problem, which is why cultural practice became so politicized over the course of the last century. whether or not the cultural politics of reggae or hip-hop can effect any broader social or political change is, i think, still unproven — though i’m optimistic that we’ll be seeing more and more signs as we go. (an obama presidency being one, the mainstream acceptance of gays another. not sure about wealth redistribution, tho :P)

    as for christianity in JA, i don’t know if we want to be so quick to read revolution into it. i can see your points wrt to rastafari and other afro-christianist, perhaps syncretic, sects. but it’s worth noting that the followers of such creeds are by no means a majority in JA (&perhaps constitute as little as 10% of the pop.), despite their disproportionate projection in national and international spheres. the JA govt and business class may use rastafari to market their beaches and products, and younger people — across social classes — have increasingly adopted rasta style and (certain) ideologies, but rastafarians remain persecuted by the state, reviled as “dutty” by a large middle class, and economically and socially marginalized. the vast majority of jamaicans are anglican (yup, church of england).

    even so, i don’t mean to diminish your points about ways of carving out power in the spheres in which one finds oneself — far be it from me to take away any one’s agency. but i think we also have to tread carefully when ascribing agency. indeed, perhaps, it’s the -scribing that’s the problem, as caro notes above. but even if unwritten, we’re still talking about rules and codes here, aren’t we? and the more people who can share their stories about navigating these strictures and structures, the better we’ll understand each other.

  • 6. rupture  |  May 22nd, 2008 at 7:42 pm

    Longform W&W back inna fine style!

    just today I was reading a spanish-language daily here in Brooklyn — cover article : “MAMBO VIOLENTO (de verdad)” Domincan musician Omego arrested for beating his ex-wife. off-topic? no sé yo.

    rather than slipping into the routine of ‘disclose subject-position, then state position’ i admit i’m more interested in how the tools offered by both youtube vids & dancefloor atmospheres can be put to interesting use — what are some of y/our favorite youtube dance vids & why? if gender/sexuality etc is a construct, what tools the youth dem a use 2 build interesting places & can our way of thinking about them learn from said tools rather than superimpose potentially ill-fitting critical frameworks (like Lacanian gaze talk, or, as wayne pointed out, outdated local/global divides, etc. web as distributed culture requires us to update our metaphors, no)?

    or, re: the liberating /nonnormatizing power of certain dance clubs — which ones do you go to, what happens there, how does the space that’s created offer modes not found elsewhere? are these momentarily bubbles or does the freedom leak out?

    & then there is the physical honesty & self-evident identity of good dancer a such — no DJ or music fan can deny that, elegance & rhythm & music itself embodied momentarily in a person on a dancefloor.

  • 7. theantisuck  |  May 22nd, 2008 at 7:52 pm

    I didnt say JA christianity is inherently revolutionary, just that its interesting that the most growing forms of it are so female-dominated and quite radical – not just in syncretism but its rejection ‘normal’ JA living. I agree rastafarianism isnt so big – but rising evangelical movements are, whether as seperate sects or growing within mainstream churches. While its true i might be ascribing some agency, (I never studied music academically but spurred by 9/11 & growing US evangelical movements i studied global islam and christianity 4 my BA, so this is right up my alley) I have read and visited churches and talked to a lot of caribbean pentocostal women, tho mostly diaspora ladies and not a lot of specifically JA ladies, so i could be totally off and i do hear ya on the dangers of scribin but i do still think It can def open up spaces where women can feel safe and congregate and be community leaders, regardless of how we as US lefties could be mistrustful (for some legit reasons)

    I guess my reason for commenting that bit on religion is that as a feminist discussing slackness, pre-christian or post-christian structures can be just as restrictive 2 da ladies. traveling through afrique ive seen ghettotechiness (hah) in indigenous/ islamic/ christian contexts used in different but often similar wayz – most societies try to rule female sexuality and to me it isnt eschewing christian values that makes slackness rad, its women taking charge of their sexuality/having fun/releasin pressure/simulating male looseness/being all crasssss/whatevrz

  • 8. wayneandwax  |  May 22nd, 2008 at 9:00 pm

    good points all. and i appreciate in partic the refocus on what makes slackness rad. right on. skinny legs and all. didn’t mean to take my eye off the ball.

    (i’m def down w/ whatevrz-wave feminizms.)

    as for rupture’s good questions — exactly, nothing says it quite like an actual body in self-assured motion. & best to pay attn to the tools&uses. let data drive theory.

  • 9. nina  |  May 25th, 2008 at 8:22 pm

    I aint white, aint male.

    When I was a kid in GA, we had a dance called the Nasty Girl. It pretty much involved placing the hands on the head, breasts, ass and crotch and doin a lil bump and grind. We liked it and did it even i boys werent around.

    i dance perreo. I grind, wind, strut, and drop it like its hot. At home. Alone. With no one watching. Why? Its fun.Dancing feels good. Dirty dancing is exciting and pleasurable, without an audience.

    Hell, Im mad at society for treating older women as if they are asexual beings and expecting them to hide and go somwhere and behave. Im 37.5 and I want to perreo, want to wine, want to grind and rather than feel like Im being exploited, I feel that its so unfair that its considered unrespectable for someone my age to do anything raunchy.Id much rather be out doing that at the club than the privacy of my home, but I do have a reputation to uphold.

    Would I rub mah titties at the club? 10 years ago I would have. Im 37 and have some friends the same age and sometimes we bend each other over and perreo and spank and laugh and have fun, just us girls. At the club. We do have some boundaries, and there are things we wont do publicly. But,if at 37 Im willing to break the rules enough to do that, I can imagine if I were 27 or 17 Id be willing to do a lil titty wining.

    For myself, I do not dance for men. I do not dance for women I dance for myself or my partner if I have one. With a fun female partner, I will dirty dance just as I would if I were dancing with a male partner.

    And I will say, the MAJORITY of the males at the clubs I go to do NOT see women dancing nasty as a sign that these women are loose or to be disrespected. Though it happens.
    I hesitate to say this, but I will. I go to clubs that have mostly PR and some DR clientele and the occasional Panamanians. We will occasionally have white Americans, black Americans and some black Panamanians (who are pretty much totally integrated into the AfAm community here) There are ALWAYS problems when there are significant numbers of males from these groups.

    They havent an understanding of the rules, and tend to be sexually aggressive and take the dancing to mean the women are willng to sleep with any and everyone. That these problems rarely occur when men unfamiliar with the rules are NOT there, that suggests to me that the men who go to th club, see the women dancing and participate in this understand that it is fun, it is play, that it is not a SHOW for them. The women are treated quite respectfully.

    Sometimes, regulars will protect a woman from a man who is an “outsider” (by that I simply mean he isnt familiar with the unspoken rules of the place) who finds himself sexually excited or overwhelmed with all the “smut” and unable to separate the dance floor antics from Real Life.

    So, in MY world slackness doesnt equate automatically with sexism. Smut is, as you say, something I know when I see, though I cant define it. I like “tengo una gata que le gusta bien duro…siempre me pide fuerte pa su culo”, I do not like “get her pzzy wetter..” (the line that made me give up hiphop 13 years ago).

    I do not let my children listen to such things, not because I think its wrong, but because I dont think they yet have the proper frame of reference to understand things in the way I would like them to. Adult sexuality is something they will learn in time, and I have no problem with dropping it like its hot but “protecting” them from slack lyrics. At the same time, my kids have all seen me dance at home alone and that I enjoy a certain amount of sensuality. I feel that learning it from ME, seeing me being happy with who I am and how I am and able to play and have fun will teach them healthy attitudes toward sex, dance etc.

  • 10. wayneandwax  |  May 27th, 2008 at 9:21 pm

    thanks for sharing, nina. i knew i could count on you to represent.

    now, speaking of limit cases, raaaaaaatid !

  • 11. nina  |  May 28th, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    re the dancehall tourist

    wow, i will admit it was hilarious until it looked like she wasnt having fun
    then it went from being 2 adults being outrageous and acting out
    to a man acting out and being a clown at the womans expense

    if she hadnt been taken by surprise, was prepared and willing I may have thought it was rather funny and just a bit of “hyperbole”, but that to me seemed to be bullying.

  • 12. wayneandwax  |  May 28th, 2008 at 4:47 pm

    yeah, i agree with you, nina. that’s how it looked to me too, as if it took a turn for the worse, when at first it was quite playful, funny, and, exactly — hyperbolic.

    the first few frames reminded me of a scene i witness while visiting kingston last summer. i had the pleasure to spend an afternoon at lime cay, a tiny island (mostly beach) right outside the harbor which serves as quite a party destination on weekends. on one end of the cay, there was a small soundsystem. a few people danced in a circle while others looked on. at one point, a particular couple assumed center stage and commenced a sexual pantomime so heroic and humorous and exaggerated (and ON BEAT!) that it had everyone — onlooking kids as well — cracking up and cheering them on. it was without a doubt mutually consensual, and quite give and take at that, and it stands as a prime example of the sort of “healthy” way this realm of activity can play out.

  • 13. nina  |  May 29th, 2008 at 1:22 pm

    I feel about the sexism in hiphop vs the sexism in reggaeton the way theantisuck feels about the dance scene v/s the rock scene. I feel its more fun, less oppressive and to ME, there seems to be more of a separation between the theater of the dance floor and real life.

    To ME, the dancespace (is that a word?) in hiphop isn’t a separate space, the “sonic space” isn’t distinct from the rest of much of the hiphop world. So the theatrics seem more real and more threatening to me. My experience tells me that it carries over into “real life”.Or that it IS real life maybe? I do not operate under the assumption that the rules that apply there will not also be applied to situations in other spaces, that a man’s treatment of me in song and dance is not indicative of how he will treat me in general.

    As I have said, that difference makes a lot of trouble when we have “others” (and thats not a hatefully said others) at the clubs I go to. They don’t know the rules, perhaps don’t realize there are rules and their failure to see the distinctions between dance floor behavior and off floor behavior leads to problems for us wimmenfolk. We have to determine if their dancefloor behavior is indicative of their behavior in general, or if it ISNT but they believe OUR dancefloor behavior is indicative of OUR behavior in general.
    You dont want to get in a situation with a brute because you didnt realize he wasnt just playing and is ALWAYS a brute. You dont want to get into a situation with a normally wellbehaved guy who comes out to play and thinks that off the floor you are the same wanton slut you are on the floor.

    Ok, back to my real job. This stuff really takes up WAY too much of my time, not sure how I justify it!! :)

  • 14. longbench  |  June 5th, 2008 at 1:14 am

    I’m not feeling to play the identity card; its late and I don’t see the need to. yep, cranky. going to bed as soon as i write these half-baked thoughts.

    I don’t agree that tittywine dance, or any dance, is just play. I also don’t agree with Cooper and Niaah who seem very intent on dismissing the interplay between structure, ideology and how we live and move in our bodies. Its not all resistance and liberation or pleasure or only understood by us/local and not by them/foreigner. There is no human being that operates in only one of those discursive fields all the time. That’s just ridiculous. These binaries are annoying, and honestly, tired, and like you are trying to push us to see (at least that’s what I think you’re doing) they end up shortchange our analysis and even blind us to what else is going on. And then there’s the problem of conflating theory with practice. Cooper and Niaah are offering interpretations; they are not definitive truths though they would like to think so, and though too many of us defer to a single interpretation as THE truth, and they would probably eat anybody alive if tried to contradict them.

    The market matters — this is a performance, this is also about desire/desirability, its about being seen and hoping for some trickle-down effect. being a model and a beauty queen are the only other competing platforms.

    Sexuality matters — not just around the slackness/decency dualism, which by now, is exhausted, frankly. What currency our bodies carry, how we feel and experience our bodies in the context of the limits placed on us (read multiply, heterogeneous) as individuals and members of groups. Sexualities on display at dancehall sessions, on RETV and on YouTube are not only reactive; they are also being formed in those spaces. I think we need a better understanding of what sexuality means and doesnt mean in Jamaica at this moment in time. We’re too busy applying categories without looking at their histories in the particular place. So, its not always or only a question of whether sexism, patriarchy, heterowhatever etc. etc. has bearing on what is being done, by whom and who. Its where, when and how these are being expressed or informing the practices in dancehall.

    moral politics matter — its not just or only middle class people that revile dancehall as slackness. again, drawing lines where they don’t necessarily hold. So then, all the fire and brimstone from the preachers and the old ladies who hate the music but recognize that they have to make a money selling drinks at a session are what? aspirant m/c? The ideal types that cooper et al constructed to make their arguments weren’t necessarily accurate beyond the newspaper debates, and aren’t accurate now. I think its important to delink the question of how people perceive appropriate behavior and conduct from too-crude definitions of class.

    Yes, the lenses we bring to the space affect what we see; i think we need to read and think more broadly in order to focus. only looking at “culture” is really not going to help one understand what’s going on in dancehall, since one is already assuming what “culture” is and is not.

    I get the issue you are raising about context and the language of smut vs. slackness. Now consider that there is a serious technological morphing between production of porn and production of music videos. More and more, its difficult to distinguish between these genres. Its the same technology, and sometimes the same people creating the material in both genres. They sample techniques from each other. Hey, there’s a study right there. While the “smut” language might be alien to Ja., the hypervisibiity and accessibility of porn is definitely something to consider as we are trying to get a handle on what meanings the music

    and whe’ yuh hear sey the vast majority of Jamaicans are anglican? a whe’ me did deh dat me n’e’eh know dat?

    awright. gon’ a mi bed.

  • 15. longbench  |  June 5th, 2008 at 1:18 am

    oops. i forgot to past something:

    they sample techniques from each other. Hey, there’s a study right there. While the “smut” language might be alien to Ja., the hypervisibiity and accessibility of porn is definitely something to consider as we are trying to get a handle on what meanings are invested in the experience of the music, as well as the meanings it transmits via the various media and settings where the encounter between the body and the sound take place.

    and whe’ yuh hear sey the vast majority of Jamaicans are anglican? a whe’ me did deh dat me n’e’eh know dat?

    awright. gon’ a mi bed.-

  • 16. wayneandwax  |  June 5th, 2008 at 10:33 am

    Appreciate the perspective, Longbench. You’re totally right that these dichotomies get us nowhere, so to the extent that I reproduce/reaffirm any of them above, allow me to disavow any such implication.

    I’d like to amplify your thoughts on today’s slippery slope from music video to porn production, which is certainly a distinction I’m trying to grapple with above — and in all my engagements with dancehall & hip-hop these days. Nelly’s “Tip Drill” video was something of a tipping point for a lot of people in this regard. Something like the “Kattapila” is another example where the lines are very much blurred. I should say, however, that I’m not necessarily anti-pr0n, but it’s another question entirely when pornography becomes mainstream culture, hypervisible and all that.

    As for the Anglican %, that’s a pretty standard stat cited in lots of books on JA. I’m curious as to how accurate such breakdowns really are, though, especially given how blurred a lot of the lines are between “official”/church practice, traditional/informal practice, and the circulation of “religious” ideologies/beliefs more generally (which would represent Rastafari as far more widespread than, say, less than 10% of the population).

  • 17. DUTTY ARTZ » Blog A&hellip  |  June 15th, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    [...] posting is in large part a response to Wayne&Wax’s post on smut/slackness in dancehall music. Beat-junkie that I am, I have a far better memory for artist, title, label, BPM [...]

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Wayne&Wax

I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.

I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from.

I represent like that.

wayne at wayneandwax dot com

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