Mar 8, 2018

Debate Club: can pop culture be a force for feminist good?

Will the gradual crawl towards representation in pop culture continue in 2018, or is the battle meaningless in the pursuit of profit? Helen Razer and Lauren Rosewarne offer points for both sides.

Helen Razer and Lauren Rosewarne

Writer and broadcaster / Academic and author

Debate Club is a new series in which we give writers space to tussle with big ideas, and put their arguments forward in big disagreements. 

In this inaugural installment (edited from a full transcript), Helen Razer and academic and broadcaster Lauren Rosewarne debate the question: what is the role of pop culture in feminism in 2018?

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15 thoughts on “Debate Club: can pop culture be a force for feminist good?

  1. Mark out West

    When Beyounce states; look at me I proof that you can be anything leaves the impression that if you aren’t, you have failed. Beyonce’s non articulation of her privilege of talent, both vocal and physical, the serendipity of chance is pop culture’s contribution to empowering women.
    On the positive I would say that watching my granddaughter, 2 1/2,identify with any female character on television gave me an insight of how important it is and my own male privilege in this regard.

  2. Reverend Owen

    Helen, I worship at the altar of your temple, but surely, it’s all the fault of “the appetite of the masses”. Isn’t it our insatiable greed that drives capitalism?

    1. Helen Razer

      It is capitalism that drives insatiable greed. In my view.
      When a person must exploit and be exploited in order to ensure their survival (and no it is not the case that we live this way across all cultures and through all time or even that all people behave like this/enjoy behaving like this/are unaware they are behaving like this) that is what they will do to survive.
      It is kind of like the “gender” thing, really. Some people say, “Women are so over-represented in the care industry because women are naturally good at care” or “Women are inclined to wear pretty things because of an evolutionary urge to select the strongest mate” and what have you, you may more easily see and reject this state-of-nature argument.
      It goes “we behave like this because that is human nature”, and we see this argument applied explicitly in the past to a group of people from one ethnic group and more implicitly in the present.
      So maybe you can accept that racism and/or sexism have no basis in “nature” (obvi, this is what I think) and you can also accept that we have used the “state-of-nature” argument as a base for these baseless views. We say: it is like this because it has always been like this and always will be like this. Or, if we are progressive/able to see a different organisation, we say: this is just how people behave and think in certain conditions.
      SO, take that view and apply it to capitalism, whose proponents still say “it’s human nature. We are greedy/competitive/at our best and most natural when permitting great wealth accumulation for a few.”
      I would say that particularly in the present we see wealth accumulation occurring NOT because people are especially greedy, but because wealth must accumulate for a firm to survive this time. Apple only gets to be Apple if it crushes the competition, preserves profits, scares off the rest with its cash reserves and cuts down on labour costs. It doesn’t have a “choice” but to be “greedy”. Apple might be full of compassionate people who care etc. Doesn’t matter. To stay Apple, it must keep behaving like Apple. Or Amazon. Or Facebook. Or any company that stays afloat, which is now more than in other parts of the capitalist cycle to just grow and accumulate.
      So big companies behave as they must. And this has involved a lot of documented deals with policy makers.
      How is this “natural”? This greed we have to enact if we are to survive present conditions is created, in my view.
      It is Lauren’s view that if we change the ideas of people, we can have better conditions.
      It is my view that if we change the conditions of people, we can have better ideas.
      (Simplified. But. This is one person with a fairly materialist view, me, and one with a fairly idealist view, Lauren. Neither of these terms are insults. They are just the “terms” used usually to describe these quite old positions if you wanna look them up.)

      1. Reverend Owen

        Thank you. Actually, I think both views are equally valid and equally idealistic. Sadly, as I think Frederick Jamison said, it is now easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.

      2. Matt Hardin

        I would add that the restriction and removal of social safety nets requires individuals to be selfish and greedy in order to ensure that they have sufficient resources stored away for retirement, illness or accident.

  3. Karen Hutchinson

    Why the need to want to see ourselves, men and women alike, reshaped, remodelled and pop cultured ad infinitum into super heroes/humans?
    I guess it’s because most of us are failing at being just ordinary, decent human beings!

    1. AR

      ..of either gender, proclivity or none.

    2. Draco Houston

      Yeah, I would question the importance people in the media put on this. I have never needed an audience version of a ‘Mary Sue’ in a story to enjoy it. It can be far more interesting hearing about people that don’t ‘represent’ yourself, in situations you may never find yourself in.

      The good news in that for content creators is that means I’m down to receive a diverse set of stories with no condition that they must include a gay white man who thinks like me.

  4. AR

    Could be peak latte – “it’s not greed that causes capitalism”.
    Some people need to get out more.

  5. Stephen Goodwin

    Hi Helen
    The real secret of advertising (I work in advertising) is actually that — 99% of the time — it doesn’t work. That’s not an exaggeration. The response rates — by which I mean it’s ability to get people to do something (usually buy a widget) are miniscule. The failure rate of campaigns is enormous. The reality is that it’s a number games. Reach enough eyeballs with a half-decent message and you’ll pick up a few dollars. Maybe.

    1. Helen Razer

      Goodness, this is a good account, SG. And, a rare one. Most in marketing and advertising believe themselves to be great manipulators in possession of the real knowledge and techniques that will truly transform the world. I have now had exactly two encounters with ad people who say, “We tell people about stuff. Sometimes they listen. Mostly not. Still. It’s a gig.”
      But. You know. Those clever Russians managed to change an election result with $100,000 worth of Facebook advertising, so I guess we’re both wrong? (Kidding. Obvi. But I seek your professional opinion on the quality of these . Actually, email me? [email protected] If you can be bothered.)

  6. [email protected]

    I remember few things from my university degree in communications but one thing I do recall as being held in absolute contempt was this style of reporting. It’s an audial medium shoehorned into print and is a like reading the pages of a gossip magazine terrified of being sued. The mind must squint to understand the point and do all the work that a journalist/essayist/writer should be doing for them. Crap work, Helen. V disappointed, from a massive fan.

    1. Ruv Draba

      I appreciated it, Innerwest. Youtube is full of talking-heads opining, all clamouring for attention, and most taking too long to get to the meat. I simply don’t have time to listen to it all, even on subjects that interest me by authors I respect. I only make time for podcasts and such nowadays when I’m doing tasks that let me listen as I do something else: cycling, driving, administrativia.

      The rest of the time, the great benefit of seeing opinion in print is that you can read it in different ways: skim, scan, study, survey… You can fit it to the time available, and even do it across related works at the same time for context and counterpoint. For me, this treatment was perfect for the subject, since each view only had one or two key points anyway and the rest was context and so-what.

      It’s not the right format for everyone all the time, but I’d feel myself poorer socially and intellectually without excerpts and transcripts like these. It’s far from crap, but I agree that it might be niche.

    2. Helen Razer

      Hey, IW.
      I get ya. I might not disagree. Both for the reasons you have stated and for reasons of personal vanity 🙂
      But. We decided here at Crikey to give the form a go. The “debate” thing is something a load of people have become accustomed to reading or seeing.
      And, Lauren and I both have strong (as in informed) opinions about the matter of media effects. So I think the experiment was worth a go.
      Please know, I am a very serious/self-important and old-fashioned type when it comes to media framing, and I do absolutely take your point.

  7. Ruv Draba

    I’m with Helen on the central question. Representation matters *when* you can nominate, validate and verify the path by which it influences — which it *sometimes* does, but can’t be assumed to do.

    We’ve done that with cigarette-smoking. We understand that the association with sports, wealth and sexual flirtation was selling smokes, and we verified it when decoupling that association and recoupling it with graphic health consequences killed sales.

    We need to stop hand-flapping over symbols. Please can someone show me a peer-reviewed sociological study that shows how any female super-hero movie has influenced… well, anything socially significant but ticket and merchandise sales? I’d happily accept education decisions, career-paths, salary expectations, relationship stability, home ownership, intergenerational mobility… anything we actually make policy about.

    But I’m not with Helen that capitalism creates greed. We’re a species that cooperates for safety, food production and child-raising, yet competes for food and sex. That paradox defines the ‘me’ and ‘us’ conflict underpinning primate morality. Capitalism is sexual competition sublimated into property ownership: redefine the rules and the competition simply realigns itself. Primates will fight over possession of a torn-off tree-branch simply because one branch is desired by others, and even when property ownership is outlawed, humans will compete over how many pens they can keep in their top pocket. The answer isn’t to try and eliminate such competition but keep people safe, well-fed and moderate it sensibly.

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