Thursday, July 30, 2009

From Emily: Gender Issues and Songs

Lately a few songs have stood out to me because of the issues they raise. Here's a list of some that seem especially pertinent. I've tried to include links to them so you can listen too:

1. Everyone's a Little Bit Racist from Avenue Q. If you aren't familiar with the show, Avenue Q is a broadway musical performed by live actors and muppets. It's essentially a Sesame Street for adults, complete with racy topics and a less naive outlook on life. In this song, Kate Monster confronts Princeton about a racist question, and soon all the characters are confronting one another about racism. Their eventual conclusion (that we could live in more harmony if we all admitted to being racist) is intriguing and controversial.

2. If You Were Gay from Avenue Q. Note the stereotypes of gay men, among other things. Very interesting song, though. Should friends pressure one another about something as personal as sexual orientation, even if that pressure is to "come out" ? (Also see My Girlfriend Who Lives in Canada, but be forewarned that it gets a little crude).

3. The Worse He Treats Me from Little Shop of Horrors. You can tell I've been listening to a lot of musicals lately, huh? This song doesn't show up in the movie, and I couldn't even find a version of it on youtube, which is why the link goes to a sample. The lyrics are especially intriguing. In Little Shop of Horrors, Audrey (the character who sings this song) switches from an abusive dentist boyfriend to Seymour, a man who is very sweet to her. But even this switch to Seymour is a bit disturbing, since Seymour kills two men in the course of show. In most play versions he even feeds Audrey to the carnivorous plant after she dies. He only does so because Audrey asks him to as her dying request, but I don't think it's a stretch to see symbolism in her willingness to be consumed for a man she loves. Has Audrey really gained better taste in men? Also see Somewhere That's Green / Suddenly Seymour

4. I'm not a country fan in general, but I've always loved
Goodbye Earl. As funny as the song is, it describes the frightening dilemma so many victims of domestic abuse face: if they try to leave their husband, a restraining order won't necessarily protect them from even greater abuse.

5. If you like songs about women who kill their husbands for what they believe are good causes, there's also If You Hadn't but You Did sung by Kristin Chenoweth, and The Cell Block Tango from Chicago. Please note, though, that the polygamist they mention in the song couldn't have been a Mormon since Mormons haven't practiced polygamy in over a century. Not to mention, we usually don't date non-Mormons, and we most certainly don't have alcoholic drinks.

6. Along similar lines, here's Carrie Underwood's Before He Cheats, which... explores the complicated dynamics of infidelity, let's say.

7. There's endless material in Rent, of course, from I'll Cover You to La Vie Boheme. If you aren't familiar with Rent, be forewarned that it's a little racy at times. Personally, though, I think it's a beautiful exploration of how people in a very difficult situation are still able to find love and happiness.

So, there you have it. A rather long list of songs that have intrigued me recently.

1 comment:

  1. I think Avenue Q is a really interesting musical for a lot of reasons, and the song "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" strikes a chord with me in the sense that admission of one's own racism is usually the first step to making a change in our racist society. The thing that bothers me about the song, though, is that- to an extent, at least- it conceals the power dynamics behind discrimination and racism. Yes, everyone's discriminatory, and yes, a lot of people- their racial identity aside- have internalized racist values and judgments. However, the song doesn't comment on the fact that certain people "benefit" from the racist social hierarchy we've got in place in the US.

    "Benefit" is really a strange word to use, I guess. White folk benefit from racism in the sense that racism gives them a bunch of invisible privileges that have a positive impact on everything from their band-aids to their housing and employment options, but I think that non-white folk who play by racism's rules also benefit, in the sense that they're largely left alone by an antagonistic society. But the overall benefits and privileges of the system go to white folk. And the song really doesn't talk about that at all.