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The dangers of over-education, and a panlist

01/19/09 | by Comp615 [mail] | Categories: Music, The Mind

The Grammatical Essentialization of the Other:


shouldn't it be "I like girls WHO wear Abercrombie & Fitch" instead of "I like girls THAT wear Abercrombie & Fitch"?

Surely objectification of women abounds on the lyrical level in "Summer Girls", but far more insidious is the grammatical objectification of the girls in question. A seemingly harmless song is, in fact, a nuanced assault not only on the personhood of young girls but also the English language itself.


An opening thought:

still, "She's been gone since that summer" (emphasis mine) implies a necessary subsuming of his chauvinism under his attraction to, and one could argue, genuine love for this particular woman/girl/what have you--a touching testament to the power of love over previously-held, unfairly damaging values.

By Prof Fraga:

TURN: kochevar [Original Author] implicitly links "appropriate" use of language to an
artist's race by condemning the caucasian musical group LFO for using
"improper" or "non-traditional" english grammar in a song that
includes rap, a musical form commonly associated with african-
american artists. his narrowly-focused critique of LFO's grammar
reinforces racially-linked linguistic stereotypes—kochevar does not
impugn all rap-based grammar, just the use of such by a Caucasian
group—thereby reinforcing the false dichotomy of white-correct/black-
incorrect. IMPACT in addition to the racial harms caused by
perpetuating false linguistic/racial dichotomies, the condemnation of
caucasians for creating with an african-american musical form
discourages the cross-pollination of art forms and slows the spread
of culture, in turn impeding the mutual understanding that shared
culture brings.

additionally, by cloaking this critique in the language of modern
feminism, kochevar attempts to manipulate dominant cultural standards
of acceptability and, through them, further entrench traditional
notions of race.

And the fun just keeps coming:

Professor Fraga's introduction of race into the discussion is a red herring. Given that their titular acronym decodes to "Lyte Funky Ones", examinations of the racial overtones and possible "cross-pollinations"
present in LFO's music are a rich area of possible study. However, attaching a racial value to their substitution of the grammatically incorrect "that" for "who" is a distraction at best and a profound error at worst. In a sense, we can take Fraga's claim as given and simply extend the argument about the grammatical methods of objectification of women to rap music as a whole. Our conclusions about grammatical complements to lyrical-based misogyny could possibly be applied generally to the world of rap. Fraga's error, however, comes in identifying the replacement of "who" with "that" as an act intended to copy rap methods. The adoption and celebration of urban dialects is a common feature of rap music and its emulators: that does not mean that all erroneous grammar in a rap-related song should be chalked up to racial posturing. In doing just that, Fraga has fallen into his own trap; he automatically sees overt grammatical objectification of women as a rap move. This is a treacherous mistake to make, particularly because often the only way to unpack the layers of misogyny and objectification present in popular cultural items is not to blur these layers into a single monolithic cultural phenomenon (rap/misogyny/black people/bad grammar) but to understand the context, motives, and impacts of each strand individually.

Thus, while LFO might undertake to introduce racially charged rap components into "Summer Girls", we would ask for more convincing evidence before accepting the inclusion of their grammatical objectification of women into this rubric.

In addition, Fraga's use of all-caps, LD debate terminology in a critical essay is obnoxious and unnerving. Does he think he is writing for high schools students?

More criticism:

Mr. Fraga and Mr. Kochevar both make admirable attempts at navigating the symbolically fraught landscape of "Summer Girls", but their criticisms are destined to remain superficial; by their own admission, and as indicated by the presence of the honorific "Mr.", they are both males, and thus, through no fault of their own, wholly ignorant of the female subculture that resides within every patriarchal society the world over. Mr. Kochevar grounds his argument in a grammar system developed by and for men to govern a language that has from the first marginalized and vilified women, a language whose vocabulary and idiom may, indeed, require major overhaul if it is ever to allow women to use it for self-empowerment. The problem, Mr. Kochevar fails to realize, is not that women are grammatically objectified in the LFO song, but that the artists of LFO, and all of their listeners, speak and understand and compose in a language that allows such objectification. Is it any surprise, really, that by the chorus of the song "Rich" is proclaiming that he would "take [the young woman in question] if he had one wish," diction that surely implies the violence of rape?

A richer discussion is to be had in analysis of the music video that accompanies the song. Here we find the male singers of the band making, shall we say, vigorous use of their obviously phallic arms in dance moves and thrust-like gestures; indeed, as the lyrics "You come from Georgia where they speak real slow/Dad left home when you were four years old" are heard, two of the band members are seen to hold up four fingers - eight total, a glut of penises, perhaps suggesting the promiscuity that is often expected to follow for a woman abandoned by a father figure. That the woman "speak[s] real slow" implies an inclination toward silencing or retarding of female speech, connected, inextricably, to penises. Ironically, the acronymal name of the group - Lyte Funky ONES - seems to suggest an ultimate gender neutrality or alienation from gender altogether; sexism inhibits the sexuality even of the oppressor.

Mr. Fraga makes his usual mistake of reducing the world to black and white, ignoring the other minorities who are lampooned in the song. For further discussion of this, please see my paper "Chinese Food Makes Me Sick:
in 90s Pop".

Almost done:

As Mr. Kochevar and Mr. Fraga mire themselves in the minutiae of the LFO's grammar, they fail to point out the obvious over-aching misogyny of the song's premise. The character "Rich" claims that he likes "girls that wear Abercombrie and Fitch," implying that such girls are a category of girl, that girls who wear the same clothing are the same type of girl. This defines females by their wardrobe--a clearly misogynist premise that often rears its ugly head in analysis of oscar gowns or female political candidates' choice of dress.

And finally:

Ed. Note:
This series, from the Symposium on Over-analysis and Popular Culture will be included in Delving Too Deep: An Anthology on the Dangers of Over-Education, forthcoming from Yale Press.


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A collection of musings from my time at Yale along with some thoughts about my "Freshman year of life" in San Francisco.


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