Pop culture treasure, high culture trash.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Please don't kill the freshman

I have been OKed to present at EMP Pop Con this year. This is rather like the Yankees letting a 5-year-old tee-ball novice pinch-hit for a couple of innings. I am very, very scared--the kind of scared that keeps company with rashes and cold sweats--but hope that it will all turn out like it did when I was 11 and did ballet. I was a mouse in The Tales of Beatrix Potter, and every night before I had to go onstage for the big mouse dance I would cower in the wings and wish that I was somewhere, anywhere else where I wouldn't have to run around in front of hundreds of people in a mouse head that made it impossible to see where I was going. But then, when my part was over and I could just hang out at stage left and clean my whiskers while the adults danced, the blood would rush to my head and I would get the most intense natural high imaginable and scream internally, "THIS IS FUCKING GREAT," only without the "fucking," because I was 11.

So maybe EMP will be like that. Me, dancing blindly in a mouse head. And then euphoria. Here is what I will be cleaning my whiskers about:

Truly Outrageous: Towards A Defense of Jem & the Holograms

Part response to the MTV explosion, part transparent marketing gimmick for a line of Barbie-like dolls by Hasbro, the animated television series Jem & the Holograms debuted in 1985 and aired in syndication until 1987. The show followed the adventures of Jerrica Benton, a plucky Nancy Drew-Kylie Minogue hybrid, as she and her all-girl band the Holograms recorded music, toured, and sparred with rival girl band the Misfits.

Jem & the Holograms provided a generation of kids growing up in the 80s with a template for understanding female musicianship. Not surprisingly, this template had more to do with fashion and magical earrings than it did with the labor of songwriting and performance. But where it failed to delineate a practical guide for musical production, Jem succeeded in conjuring up a unique world in which women were the primary producers of music, and men their villainized or inept supporting players. In my paper and through analysis of video clips, I examine the politics of this world and its influence on the ways we think about “girl bands” today. I also assess the show’s equation of musical (and female) success with materialism in order to test the limits of a feminist reading. Finally, by situating Jem as a response to the popularity of real groups like the Go-Gos, the Bangles, and Bananarama, I argue that the series deserves recognition not only as a guilty pleasure, but as an historical site of engagement with the changing musical landscape of the 1980s.

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