The Oscars have always demanded a certain number of jokes about gay and Jewish people per hour. The number gets smaller every year, but we are counting backwards from a million, so it is going to take us a long time to get to zero. I ask Jon and Anjanette why this is. They jibe, sarcaustic: “Because gays and Jews are funny.” I dance to the commercial and when they laugh at me I snark, “See, I just proved it’s true.”
At the bookstore we looked at Why We Never Danced the Charleston, its back cover advertising “the handsome, brooding Jew.” “Can that be my new nickname?” I plead, even though I am not sure I quite deserve to be called any of these things. “Yes,” she says. It should be a Wikipedia tag, we determine tonight. We also look at Cinderella’s Big Score, and when I point at Cynthia Connolly's S-K portrait under Mia Zapata in the photos section and say, “Look, she is schizophrenic,” that is exactly what I mean. Split-brained. Skhidzein, to split; phren, phrenos, mind. Split at the root. If the English language offers any precision whatsoever it is thanks to Greek. Pinnioned in the fold like that Carrie has three eyes, one of them downcast and half-closed, the others curious and peering. It is not a comment on the inward eye, voyeuristic complicity or even pop performance as schizophrenia, but I want it to be, because isn’t that what you have to do? Keep one face smiling at the photographer and another focused on yrself? This is not really me at all/ stunt girl daring twirls watch me fall.
This makes me nervous. I do not like the coincidence. All too often when we talk about women, artistry and genius keep solid company with schizophrenia and hysteria. The classical legacy plays nice when confined to words, but sabotages our assumptions about art and who makes it and why. When men make music that is wild and new and difficult it is because they are brilliant; male artistic experimentation has precedent and canonicity. When women make music that is wild and new and difficult it is harder to explain without talking about hysteria, trauma, instability, sexual history—-witches boiling newts’ eyes in cauldrons. Nick Cave is innovative. Bjork is unhinged.
Hysteria is a loaded and highly problematic concept to introduce into a discussion of female creativity, even as a metaphor. The term comes from the Greek word for uterus, husterikos. For centuries, psychosomatic and mental disorders in women were attributed to a ‘wandering womb.’ In other instances, such delirium was perceived as the mark of possession by demons...*
But then, doesn’t this make women the ultimate pop stars?
In a sense, hysteria is the very stuff of pop, both on the part of performers and fans...Pop has always been about the too much, the melodramatic amplification of passion or pain.**
When I made the mix tape, I wrote down the band names on a scrap piece of paper. Slant 6, Julie Ruin, Rasputina, Mecca Normal, Tuscadero. Excuse 17, Tracy, Patti. Later I noticed that across the top I had written HEROINES AND HYSTERICS as a reminder to check out the book of the same name. Another coincidence, or 23 years of conditioning? I say, let's reclaim this shit.
* & **: Simon Reynolds and Joy Press, writing in The Sex Revolts: Gender, Rebellion and Rock 'n' Roll (276-7).