After the Madonna-Britney Spears kiss at the VMAs, VH1 interviewed Britney Spears about the kiss as she was promoting “Me Against the Music.” Britney would not look at the camera while talking about the kiss. She claimed that the kiss was “Madonna’s Idea.”
“She was the groom and I was the bride, and she felt, we should kiss or whatever,” Britney said not looking at the camera. “And I was like, ‘oh, okay,” Britney said in her best California debutante act, looking to the side with a half-eyeroll.
While teaching my Gender and the Media course at Western Michigan University, I always used to show this VH1 clip and criticize Britney for her indirect denigration of sexuality that doesn’t conform to the narrowly defined heterosexual morality. Britney’s choice here, which I called her “heterosexual act,” was a persona, a performance of what is expected of heterosexual role models in the media spotlight. These expectations are held by fundamental groups who still in many ways have a chokehold on this country. The word fundamental is apt here because like a foundation this culture is embedded deeply within the American Locus Ceruleus – the reptilian brain – a carry over from the Puritans who were some of the main founders of this country. The Puritan codes of conduct have become ingrained in the American genetic code from then on, and Britney pandered to them in her dismissal of the kiss with Madonna.
I felt that Britney was performing the established ideal of what heterosexuality should look like in response to what was clearly meant to be a titillating publicity stunt to give both her and Madonna some much needed press. Not the first stunt for either of them, and in fact, Britney seems to pull such stunts at the VMAs almost annually (remember the snake?).
I felt Britney should take responsibility for her own actions. This would have been a far more mature and positive reaction to the kiss: “Hell yeah, I kissed Madonna. I have always wanted to kiss Madonna. Not only is she smokin’ hot, but she’s the kind of powerful and strong woman that I emulate, that I am still striving to be. Plus, she’s a great kisser. Y’all only saw the one kiss, but we did a lot of practicing before we did it for the cameras. If you ever get a chance to kiss Madonna, do it. I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
Wouldn’t that have been better? Nowhere in such comments would Britney admit to being bi-sexual or, worse (in the eyes of the fundamentals), a lesbian. With a comment like that one, she would endorse that it’s all right for a woman to kiss another woman, all right for a woman to desire another woman, all right for women to kiss without either of them having to adopt any labels. Sexuality is fluid; it’s complex. No apologies, no equivocating.
Britney had an opportunity to advance cultural attitudes about sex, the way sex is perceived and experienced. Before all her many scandals and life changes, at the time of the kiss, Britney’s fan base was possibly at its peak in sheer numbers and fervency. She had a chance to really influence people. She could have re-positioned the way the kiss was viewed and regarded as more than an extension and fulfillment of male pornographic fantasies, as more than the embodiment of multiple women as sex toys to serve the male pleasure and privilege. But Britney did none of these things. Britney feigned so much embarrassment that she could not even look at the camera. Thanks, a lot, Brit.
Now, in 2008 and carrying into 2009, Katy Perry hits it big with “I Kissed A Girl (And I Liked It),” and she earned a Grammy nomination for the song. And though the song makes some positive strides forward that Britney’s publicity stunts did not, Perry’s single and accompanying video is neither free of the dogmatic constraints of narrowly-defined heterosexuality nor fully sex-positive, breaking barriers of artificial morality and sexual mores.
The comments online have been mixed between love and hate. Even among the gay community (check out the GLAAD link below), there is not a universal outcry against what Katy Perry has done (with “UR GAY” and her whole career pre-girl-kissing) and is doing for sexuality and our understanding of it.
But come on. Take a closer look. LOOK at the video. READ the lyrics, CLOSELY. This song is NOT an endorsement of the freedoms of sexuality, this song is NOT a testament to the sexual differences we all have no matter how much we repress and deny our feelings. This song is an attention-getting titillation that shows a girl experiment with the “naughty” world of “gay sex” (or, rather, just kissing) and then return to her boyfriend at the end. The ending of the video is suitably ambiguous, suggesting that either Perry kissed a girl, liked it, experimented, and now that’s over; OR that she just dreamed about such experimentation: it’s nothing more than a fantasy that has not and will not be fulfilled because, as she sings, “I hope my boyfriend don't mind it,” which seems to imply that she might care about what her boyfriend thinks, might stop what she’s doing if he DOES NOT like her kissing girls. Though as we all know, in general, most boys DO like watching girls kissing girls.
The video’s sets and costumes all reinforce and glorify the heterosexual world of pink satin, teddy bears, kitty cats, gold lamé, and “innocent” pillow fights with a gaggle of gal pals. The song’s lyrics also reinforce Katy’s heterosexuality and her status as an experimenter, who is only curious and only interested in “kissing,” as if it is such a DIFFICULT thing for a person to kiss someone of the same sex (people in Europe do it all the time, and they don’t make freakin’ music videos about it). There’s other heterosexual signs in the song and video, like “cherry chapstick” and references to “good girls,” the good girls of heterosexual fundamentalism and abstinence.
I must admit that the song is perky and spritely with plenty of bounce in its catchy, pop over-production, and Katy Perry herself is all dolled-up to be the gorgeous dream object of any boy or girl. And the song is not completely without merit. The best part of the song arrives near the end when Perry sings: “Us girls we are so magical/ Soft skin, red lips, so kissable/ Hard to resist so touchable/ Too good to deny it.” I love this sentiment because I adore women and find their sexuality mesmerizing (much more so than men, which reveals my sexuality; so there you have it). But Perry negates any positive message she makes with those lyrics with the last line of the verse: “Ain't no big deal, it's innocent.”
Innocent? So many interpretations to delive into with that line, and I am hoping some astute readers will leave them in comments. But the first thought that leaps to my mind is how toying with someone’s affections IS NOT INNOCENT. I have known too many lesbian women, good friends who have cried on my shoulder, good friends who complain about bi-curious girly-girls who love to tease, drunken make-out partners who will not remember these sessions in the morning, and the infamous gay-until-she-graduates experimenters (a phrase coined by a close friend of mine) who have broken the hearts of many women I know who make the mistake of falling in love with these temporary lesbians.
By presenting herself as some golden Holy Grail of ultra-hot girly-girlism, Katy Perry is sending the message once again that sexuality is not identity: it’s a game, an experiment, a toy with which one plays. She waves all her sexy body bling in the faces of the women who may lust for her. They can look, they may receive one of her curious kisses, but they can’t touch; they cannot have and hold.
And this is the story of the hegemonic, heterosexual fundamentalism firmly rooted in the American culture: if you play for another team, you’re a toy, you’re not the main attraction, and in the end, you’re the loser.
ALL THE LINKS AND VIDEOS
BRITNEY SPEARS: ME AGAINST THE MUSIC
BRITNEY KISSING MADONNA
"I Kissed A Girl" -Katie Perry
Amanda Palmer, Margaret Cho double-team Katy Perry
From the F word on the Katie Perry video
From Semantic Bits
Its funny, but most of my girlfriends all agreed.There is absolutely no way, that a man, directed this video.Guess what?
Yes a woman, did indeed direct this - Kinga Burza.The video is great and I'm quite sure, that lots of other video directors, could learn from this-how not to alienate one half of your audience...
The Miseducation of Katy Perry
GO FUG YOURSELF KATY PERRY ARCHIVES
from GLAAD: Katy Perry: Friend or Foe?