Identity as art: Expression of genders brings aesthetic value to pop culture

Published by adviser, Author: Rebecca Marcucci - Assistant Campus Life Editor, Date: May 2, 2013

The clothes we buy, music we listen to, movies, TV, and entertainment we consume are all a part of sexual identity as an aesthetic expression, according to professor of philosophy, politics, and art at Dickinson College, Crispin Sartwell.

Along with being a professor at Dickinson College, Sartwell is also a published author with works such as, “Political Aesthetics,” “Against the State; An Introduction to Anarchist Political Theory, ” “Six Names of Beauty,” “Obscenity, Anarchy, and Reality,” and “The Art of Living; Aesthetics of the Ordinary in World Spiritual Traditions.”

Sartwell spoke to SRU students Tuesday afternoon in the Spotts World Cultures Building Auditorium on behalf of the Philosophy Department and  International Arts and Cultures Series.

Sartwell’s works were also featured in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and on National Public Radio (NPR).

Sartwell opened with referencing many instances of gender-dominated pop culture within many audiences.

“It seems to be that pop culture is mostly dominated by straight women and gay men,” Sartwell theorized.

He illustrated his point by showing Katy Perry’s concert movie “Part of Me” during her Candy Land-esque performance of “California Girls”.

“Katy Perry’s audience is primarily young girls and gay men,” Sartwell said. “She is parodying what straight men want. It’s a comedy of gender. Straight male desire is encoded in her performance. Katy Perry’s giant boobies are what straight men like and maybe what gay men want.”

Sartwell explained that Katy Perry’s persona and self-invention can apply to all gender identities.

“For women, she’s what you want to identify with,” Sartwell said. “For men, she’s what you want to have sex with.”

Sartwell explained how gender identity is also formed through movement.

“One learns to move like a man whether they are or not, in gay or straight communities,” Sartwell said.

He described male versus female, gay versus straight, and masculine versus feminine all as being interdependent and unstable.

“We want to be incomprehensible to each other,” Sartwell said. “We wouldn’t want to be without these gender identities. We don’t want to destroy or overcome them. We want to play with them.”

Sartwell explained this notion with the ideas of ‘cool’ and ‘fabulous’.

“‘Cool’ is a straight male category,” Sartwell offered. “It suggests simplicity and self-containment like Humphrey Bogart or Miles Davis.”

Sartwell described ‘fabulous’ as an over-the-top display similar Keeping Up With the Kardashians or Jersey Shore.

“Straight guys think other groups chatter too much,” Sartwell said.

As a straight male, Sartwell was able to speak for the demographic offering examples of masculinity in mainstream media.

He shared a video of Clint Eastwood to the crowd joking, “Let this be your guide to heterosexuality.”

Sartwell also referenced Mike Rowe in the show Dirty Jobs as today’s depiction of a typical heterosexual male. He also described how country music star Brantley Gilbert’s masculinity is styled in his wardrobe.

“The baseball cap is essential,” Sartwell said. “He’s managing singular masculinity with his jewelry choices of black and silver.”

Shifting from cool and manly, Sartwell contrastingly explained that fabulousness is a liberation. He noted the traditional straight woman-gay alliance.

“Their aesthetics dominate culture,” Sartwell said. “Their works are generally seen on fashion runways incorporating erotic aesthetics.”

The alliance may dominate the fashion world, Sartwell said, but the heterosexuals, typically male, seem to be the ones running music studios and movie industries, he suggested.

“Rock stars are sometimes seen in blue jeans and a t-shirt so they are styled to look masculine,” Sartwell said. “Whereas as Katy Perry may be teaching girls how to appeal to straight guys.”

Sartwell commented on the intention of most styles and runway fashions.

“I watched all the seasons of America’s Next Top Model with my daughter,” Sartwell said. “And I thought to myself, ‘Is it true that these styles are a reflection of what men want?’ I don’t think so. I don’t think they care or could style something like that.”

Sartwell suggested that the way most supermodels look have little to do with what straight men want, unless it were a fantasy.

“Men don’t want skinny women,” he said. “Straight guys don’t drive the image world. Female beauty has flowed from male gays.”

Sartwell conclusively summarized gender expression through aesthetics as complex and interchangeable identities that should work together in harmony.

“In short, we should love each other,” he said.


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