Sunday, May 30, 2010

Shanasia Bennett, You Are My Heroine Of The Day [Anthony McCarthy]

I had, thankfully, not known about “daggering” before I read about it in the paper this morning. For anyone who has been similarly fortunate, daggering is a popular dance craze originating in Jamaica, which very graphically simulates very, very violent heterosexual sex, sometimes violently enough to cause serious injury, I would imagine usually injury to women. The “dagger” in question is, to put it plainly, the penis, which is “used like a dagger”* in the “dance”.

Daggering involves exaggerated grinding movements done by a man to a woman, usually front to back, often to a song providing lyrical instructions. Acrobatic forms of daggering add an element of physical danger, such as diving from a foot ladder onto a woman who is splayed on the ground. Daggering isn't suggestive. It's rough, artless, simulated sex on a dance floor.

"Daggering is almost a movement now,'' explained Shanasia Bennett, a senior at the Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers in the Fenway. "If you're not doing it, you're lame.'' Bennett, wisely, would rather appear lame than allow herself to be debased.

In an increasingly disgusted reading in preparation of this post, I’ve come across a pile of crap defending this promotion of violence against women on grounds of “free expression” and in a twisted, inverted and oddly inconsistent defense of the poor against “middle class morality”, generally, though not exclusively, said by men. Of course, a lot of the crap comes from middle class culture vultures who are in the business of trying to be up to date on pop culture.

"Jamaican society is extremely stratified, and people at the bottom are the core participants of dancehall culture," says Annie Paul, a Kingston-Jamaica based pop culture critic and blogger. "It is one of the few spaces and phenomenon they have control over." It's this lower class that's more likely to die from random violence or police brutality, she says, and the brutal day-to-day conditions of lower class life might make such a physical, carnal form of self-expression appealing, and the risk of injury on a Saturday night at the clubs pales in comparison to the rest of the week.

Is crackdown on daggering music and dancehall culture-like other pop culture panics of the past-nothing more than middle-class moralizing? Paul notes that Carnival, an almost two-month long bacchanal festival, largely for and by the middle- and upper- class of Jamaicans, includes a dance called "wining" full of suggestive gyrations. "There's a hypocritical side," says Paul. "Poor people don't see the difference between that and daggering."

Heartwarming, isn’t it, to see Newsweek suddenly taking on the role of defenders of the rights of the underclass. You wonder why they don’t seem to do that when it’s a question of economics instead of simulated sexual violence. That the defended underclass in question consists, about half, of women who would be the victims of the violence, thus promoted, apparently counts for nothing. As poor women have always accounted for nothing to the elites that begin with underclass men who lord it over them.

As an uncle of young nieces and a disgusted witness to the war on women, I am entirely in favor of the forceful suppression of this kind of thing. If some civil liberties type tells me that making war against popular culture that has declared war on young women is a violation of the sacred rights of free speech, I might decide to let them try their luck with a little simulated violence in which they get to play the “female” role. If you think I am joking, I’m not.

If it takes women retaliating against those who come up with this kind of misogynist propaganda, yes, really retaliating against them with promotion of violent retribution against womens’ would be victimizers, I would encourage the effort.

When the Rolling Stones album “Black and Blue” came out about 34 years ago, with ads that promoted bondage and violence against women, a friend of mine wrote a song contemplating violence against Mick Jagger. I don’t know if she would still have the song, we’ve lost contact, but as Exile on Main Street is rerelased as if it was some important cultural milestone instead of just pop music, it’s clear that daggering is one stop on that road. It's Men's Street, any woman who happens to be there will be far more than just exiled.

If men were suddenly the focus of retaliatory “culture” of that kind and in the same volume as pop culture’s war against women, I am entirely confident that the reaction in the organs of popular and even higher culture would be far, far less indulgent. I'll bet the reaction in the newsweeklies would be swift and decidedly not in its defense.

* Will someone remind me why all right thinking folks are supposed to think that Catharine MacKinnon and the late Andrea Dworkin were being hysterical fanatics when they described how males are taught to view women in the media and in “art”? The evidence that they were on to something couldn’t be clearer, the penis as dagger, sexual intercourse as stabbing. It’s freely expressed by misogynists, in their own words.