Introduction of Project

Hello! My name is Dana Sokolowski and I’m an undergraduate at Emory University majoring in Creative Writing/English with a minor in Film Studies. For my ENG 389 class, Poetry in the Expanded Field, our final project consisted of researching an artist’s book in the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL) on Emory’s campus. We were required to research and analyze the book, then create a poetic text in response to the book and install it in a public space. I have chosen to study Ellen Knudson’s work, Wild Girls Redux: Operator’s Manual, and the way in which it uses textual and visual forms to create its dialog. On this blog you will find each step of my process!

Advertisements

Wild Girls Redux: Operator’s Manual by Ellen Knudson

Back Cover IMG_0469 IMG_0467 IMG_0508 IMG_0502IMG_0533IMG_0471

Formal Description and Analysis

Dana Sokolowski
Dr. Julie Brown
Poetry in the Expanded Field
13h, April 2013

The Power of Duality, Association, and Context

        When language is placed in an aversive or contradictory context, the words begin to work on two levels: the literal and the metaphorical. Ellen Knudson manipulated this relationship between text, form, and image in order to create a conversation of duality in her artist book, Wild Girls Redux: Operator’s Manual. In this work, Knudson relies heavily on the duality thus created to evaluate women in relation to machines, looking specifically at the way in which they are “operated” by men and thus creating parallels between the female body and industrial parts. This analogy works to realize the sexist nature of language in our culture and how it propagates misogynistic behavior and attitudes.

        The juxtaposition between industrial representations and more “feminine” type forms is highly apparent in the form of the book itself and is strongly suggestive of the material within. As first presented, the book actually hides slipped within a brown mailing clasp envelope with a lighter brown belly band including the book’s title. Attached to the lip of the envelope is a mailing tag with all the printing information about the book. The effect of the mailing envelope is this overall sense of arbitrary, everyday uniformity and regularity, in which the envelope was most probably mass-produced in a factory to look just like every other mailing envelope. Its aesthetic is strictly limited to functionality rather than style and it feels practical and useful. These descriptive adjectives, however, when contrasted with the title of the book and the images of pin up girls on the front of the envelope begin to stir thoughts of female functionality and the “practical” use of her “mass-produced” parts. Nevertheless the author is never quite so direct, and uses only suggestion and juxtaposition to communicate these ideas, albeit, in a far more powerful way. The title, “Wild Girls Redux: Operator’s Manual” is hardly vague. The additions of the “Handle with care” sticker and the reverse side of the mailing tag which features “in” and “out” columns, similar to a library book are provocative because of what the title implies. The reader makes the connection that one is to handle his/her woman with care, but this instruction is ironic in comparison to the text within the body of the book. The columns on the other hand seem sexually suggestive, especially when we’re introduced to the form of the book itself.

IMG_0464IMG_0470IMG_0466

        While the exterior packaging is highly industrial, the book is entirely contrasting. The cover boasts flocked paper in maroon with black print – it is soft to the touch and the color is sexy like dark lipstick. Essentially, the book unfolds into a small portfolio accordion, and when propped up appears similar to that of a folding room divider at a seedy strip joint. These choices are extremely evocative and purposefully made to make conversation with the mailing envelope; one would not expect to unfold this book from the exterior packaging. On the interior, however, the lining paper is similarly industrial like the envelope and two pamphlets are sewn in the gutters of the accordion cover. Practically, the pamphlet style allows the reader to see the overlay of the different paper materials, transitioning between industrial and “feminine” type pages. The act of physically flipping the pages is quite difficult. They are bound tightly together and some of them are so delicate that one must literally “handle with care.” The juxtaposition between the practical, industrial brown paper which suggests durability with the thin, tightly bound pages creates the uncomfortable feeling: while the form is open and willing, the content is reluctant to reveal itself. When one considers that the pages are bound in a dark, sexy cover, an overwhelming sense of unease is created; the idea that something so protective and guarded lies within an unsympathetic packaging is fitting to the content of the book. Overall, form fits function.

IMG_0530IMG_0463

        The book has multiple distinct parts – types of paper, fonts, and images – which continue the conversation between woman and machine. What is most striking, are the white doily placemats and pink heart doilies, especially in contrast with the green office ledger paper. The delicate, intricate and curly figures next to the strict, mechanical, and methodical lines create a resemblance to the types of fonts and images chosen. The characteristics are in the names of the fonts: Blue Highway, French Cursive and Cooper Black. The chapter names are written in Blue Highway and the rules are written in Cooper Black, while the more subjective, authorial language is written in French Cursive. There is a practical and yet loud quality to the more formulaic text and a softer, feminine quality to the subjective text similar to the feminine quality of the doilies. The most prominent juxtaposition, however, lies in the images Knudson has chosen. Throughout the book, images of pin up girls illuminate the plain brown pages with color. They can be heavily dotted in a pop-art technique, close-up or far away, they can appear as outlines or silhouettes, and they can be grey-scaled, negatives, or their hue can have been tampered with so they appear entirely red or green. These images are large and draw the most attention, but the fact that they are not in the form of realistic, 5’ x 8’ photographs, but rather colorful cutouts, gives them a sort of whimsical quality similar to the aesthetic of paper dolls. Printed on top or near these images, however, are industrial schematic illustrations with directions such as “TOP VIEW,” “FRONT,” or “SIDE.” This directional vocabulary when read in context with the almost nude females in sexy poses suggests that the women are to be interpreted merely as three-dimensional forms with different sides. It also creates an unpleasant line of conversation between a firm, directional voice and a sweetly smiling girl. As a whole, the combinations of industrial and “feminine” types of paper, fonts, and images allow the reader to compare similar attributes and characteristics between the two seemingly opposing forms.

IMG_0487

        The other sequence of images Knudson uses is a collection of small maroon outlines of nude women in what seem like painfully exerted poses. There is a lot of tension in the bodies of these women and oftentimes the images are rotated on an axis so that they appear to be falling in space. They are essentially frozen on the page, mid-fall, stuck in an uncomfortable position. These images are so effectual, though, because they are printed on the doilies themselves, sometimes alongside an industrial schematic sketch. Again, it is the context of where an image is placed that gives it its cohesive meaning. The delicacy of the doily marked with the dark red ink of women in tortured positions and the unfeeling attitude of the sketches creates a potent message. The doily works in two ways. It could mock the culturally accepted notion that women are the meeker, more delicate of the two sexes while the images of the women exhibit how much pain they truly endure, but it could also represent the delicate interior of the titular strong and powerful wild girl – that somewhere beneath this exterior of bravado, there’s a heart inside that is aching for strength. The industrial sketch, however, brings out the mechanical aspects of these bodily images. They are poised in a way that purportedly provokes sexual thoughts and ideas, but they are simulated only because the woman asserted the position. There was no real effort or conscious thought, they merely stripped and posed, inducing sexual ideas in a man’s head. This process of seduction is highly mechanical, and with the aid of the industrial sketches, one is able to make those connections. The dichotomies present in this combination – of doily, woman, and industrial diagram – is evocative in its ability to prompt ideas that challenge the cultural ideas of what women and sexuality are.

IMG_0502IMG_0500

        If the conversation between artistic forms is not enough to induce thoughts of similarities between woman and machine, the text is still more explicit in its purpose. Knudson actually inserted found text from the Missouri Department of Revenue Motorcycle Operator Manual. The operating rules take on a lighthearted tone, especially when the girls on the pages are smiling, bright-eyed and giddy, but they have “the sting of recognition that most women realize to be sexist in nature,” (Knudson, Crooked Letter Press). For instance, when discussing how to “Get Familiar with the Controls,” we are told to “Find and operate these items without having to look for them.” Next to a lounging girl in lingerie, we associate these “controls” or “items” with parts of the female body, and the idea that body parts should be “found and operated” without actively looking at them is reminiscent of a blind grope by a horny, unsympathetic man. Knudson is most direct, however, near the end of the book where we find a diagram of a woman with arrows pointing to each of her “essential” body parts, labeled with controls such as “Turn Signals” and “Ignition Switch.” This general labeling effectively realizes the practical and mechanical qualities which society assigns a woman’s body. The last line, “All controls act a little differently from model to model,” completes the argument with the idea that women are like cars, similar in purpose, look, and feel and merely respond “a little differently” when used.

IMG_0512

        If the text were presented alone on the page, or perhaps next to diagrams of motorcycles, we might not have made these associations so readily. We would lose the visual irony and the dialog that gives the book its weight. When associated with pin-up girls and doilies, the words take on a debasing tone and gravity, and while the analogy may be meant to be tongue-in-cheek, the sad reality of the correlation is biting. Words like “gear,” “equipment,” and “controls,” when read alone, prompt thoughts of practical industrial apparatuses, but the strong metaphorical quality of the language when paired with a woman in lingerie is undeniable. The fact that such associations can be made with ease is exactly what Knudson is commenting on – that society has created these parallels between woman and machines, perhaps accidentally, is what is most disturbing.

        This isn’t Knudson’s first commentary on the cultural sexism towards women. This book, Wild Girls Redux: Operator’s Manual, is actually a continuation of an original book she created titled “How to Become One of the Original Wild Girls.” It contains the five rules that we see printed on a white doily placemat near the front of Wild Girls Redux. What is a “wild girl?” The rules printed on the doily suggest that a wild girl is manipulative – she is a “fierce bitch” and can behave inappropriately when she pleases, but can be “sweet” in order to get what she wants. The Operator’s Manual re-envisions these rules to realize how these women aren’t necessarily “in control” and aren’t “getting what they want.” They are, essentially behaving in ways they consider to be “empowering” when in reality, the way they act allows them to be used and demeaned, rendering them powerless.

Photo Courtesy of crookedletterpress.com

        In the front of the small rulebook is a miniature brown mailing envelope with the word girl printed on it. Inside is a small cutout of a girl in a provocative pose – the cultural idea of what a woman looks like, especially according to the sexy images in a magazine. In Wild Girls Redux, Knudson has replaced the girl insert with multiple, bright red cutouts of industrial schematic designs, yet the cover of the envelope still says “girl.” This decision implies that a girl in a provocative pose is as practical and mechanical as an industrial design, that the two are interchangeable. All throughout the book there are outlines of where these cutouts should be placed; it is a game of sorts, like a sticker book. The methodical process of placing these designs throughout the book serves as a powerful reminder of the sexist metaphors that exist in our language.

Photo Courtesy of crookedletterpress.com

 IMG_0475IMG_0476

        Knudson has since created another artist book titled American Breeding Standards. This book is made up of anatomy illustrations, exploring the “systemized rules about what comprises a good or bad horse, a good or bad woman – and the steps one might take to achieve the breed standard.” It serves as another commentary on the unwritten rules of how women are supposed to act in today’s society, with strong metaphorical language comparing a woman to an animal. The text itself is found in American Horses and Horse Breeding as well as Canine Breeding Standards of the German Shepherd. The duality of language – the associations it makes – is a strong indication of what our society values and how it views women.

Photo courtesy of crookedletterpress.com

        What most compelled me to respond to this book was this idea of unwritten rules in our society that instigate sexist behavior. It calls into question the line between fact and fiction – how can these invented rules become so embedded in culture that they essentially become naturalized? As the cover of Wild Girls Redux says: “What’s wrong? What’s right?” What is acceptable behavior when sexism is so embedded in our culture that even the text in Motorcycle Operating Manuals can induce sexist associations? In a culture where the language we use to describe the operation and handling of motor vehicles has become synonymous with the way we treat women, it is not surprising that a culture of “Wild Girls” has been propagated and sexist messages have become so inextricably intertwined into our media. Girls are beginning to receive these messages at even younger ages and, what is more, it is creating competition between them to become “the best wild girl,” or as in my particular high school, “the baddest bitch.” If women are going to divide themselves by comparing and victimizing each other, essentially engaging in reverse sexism, they will never achieve justice from our oppressive culture. The first rule in feminism is to accept and love other women, and especially to respect yourself. Without that enriching community, all other goals and motives in feminism will fail.

        This semester, I have been writing a creative nonfiction essay titled “Sex in the Midwest,” which looks at a period of time in high school where I was consumed by female competition and followed unwritten rules of how to become a “bad bitch.” Throughout the linear narrative, I break the flow of the story with categorical lists of rules like “How to dress like a bad bitch” and “How to hook up like a bad bitch.” As a poetic response, I intend to revise these rules into the format of a poem and insert them into a “Text-to-speech” program in which a female, mechanical, robot voice reads them in monotone. I have also been studying the photographs of the famous Bettie Page, the original pin-up girl in comparison with the poses of the women in Knudson’s artist book. With the monotone rules as musical, recorded text, I will choreograph a dance for a few female students, comprised mainly of the poses from the Bettie Page repertoire. My hope is that the rules will create a formulaic, mechanical structure and that the dance will feel inauthentic and performative, like the poses of Bettie Page. What remains in question is the choice of the costumes. There is a photograph of Bettie Page in a makeshift money swimsuit and I have considered creating outfits out of doilies to contrast their movement with the delicate textures and curvature of the paper art. I am also still deciding about whether or not this dance should be presented on stage for an audience, in a public space, or videotaped and put in virtual space on the Internet. There are issues and concerns in each mode of presentation. If the dance was performed on the concert stage, I run the risk of putting the dance in an environment that is used to seeing experimental forms and the message would not be as strong as if it were performed in a public space. Nevertheless, the cheeky quality of the movement in the dance would be significantly contrasting to the elegance of the concert stage space. If I filmed the dance, it would be more accessible to students who could watch it in their own spare time, and while they would lose the direct engagement of being an audience member, they would be able to hear the rules more clearly from their computer or headset. This way, though, I wouldn’t be able to see their physical responses, but would count on their written comments in response.

mag5 doily_edited-1

        Another idea I had was to photograph the female students holding old car parts from a junk yard and have the women attempt to pose seductively with these clunky, broken metal objects, creating humor. However, I could also write on the car parts with red paint, labeling which body part the object refers to which would create friction. If I inserted the photographs into a slideshow with the recorded rules overlaid, the effect would be similar to the biting tone and atmosphere created in Knudson’s book. Or perhaps I could post the photographs on fraternity row or in the fraternity houses on campus, with the rules printed beneath them to create dialog in a problematic area on campus. With either poetic response, my hopes are that the power of dichotomy, association, and context will inform viewers of the message in my piece.

american-car-parts IMG_0510

        Knudson’s book and my high school experience are prime examples of the reciprocal relationship between language and behavior. The duality of language, the associations we can make, inform our culture as our culture creates these associations in language. What we need is to attack this problem from both sides – through our behavior and through our language. If we slowly eradicate the misogynist attitudes in media, most specifically music, television, and advertisements, interchanging them with new, positive associations, then hopefully our behavior will be improved as a result. We must also promote philological attention in the home and at school, and hopefully our language will become an example of it. While sexist associations can never be destroyed, new associations can be made if we realize the positive effects of context. Knudson uses it to her advantage for educational purposes – revealing unfortunate, corresponding connotations between women and machines in our language.

Works Cited

Knudson, Ellen. Crooked Letter Press. Web. 13 April 2013.

Knudson, Ellen. Wild Girls Redux: Operator’s Manual. Gainesville, FL: Crooked Letter Press,
2009. Print.

Poetic Text

HOW TO DRESS LIKE A BAD BITCH

IF YOUR JEANS AREN’T TIGHT ENOUGH, THROW THEM IN THE DRIER UNTIL YOU CAN’T BEND OVER IN THEM. THEN BELT THEM. STRAP YOUR TITS INTO A PUSH-UP, IF IT’S NOT PINK THEN WHAT’S THE POINT. PULL YOUR SHIRT DOWN TO THE RIM OF YOUR BRA TO MAXIMIZE YOUR CLEAVAGE. IF YOUR SHIRT ISN’T ONE SIZE TOO SMALL THEN GIVE UP, IT’S A SWEATSHIRT DAY. RAISE YOUR ARMS UP SO THAT THIN LINE OF SKIN ABOVE YOUR JEANS SHOWS, THEN SUCK IT IN WHEN YOU SIT DOWN. LOVE HANDLES ARE OKAY, GUYS LIKE HIPS THEY CAN STEER. EYELINER IS ALWAYS, TOP AND BOTTOM LID, DON’T FORGET THE SMOKY EYE-SHADOW WITH THE WING TIPS. THE BLACKER THE BETTER.

HOW TO CARRY YOURSELF LIKE A BAD BITCH

KEEP YOUR LIPS OPEN SLIGHTLY AS YOU CHEW GUM, AN OCCASIONAL TONGUE SHOW IS ALWAYS A GOOD TEASE. KNOW YOUR LINGO, IF YOU FUCK UP THEY’LL CALL YOU OUT FAST AND YOU’LL BE LABELED AS A FAKE. THE MORE YOU KNOW YOUR SHIT THE HOTTER YOU’LL BE, AND THE MORE YOU CAN TAKE THE FASTER YOU’LL BE CONSIDERED AS ONE OF THE GUYS. ALWAYS BE IN ON THE JOKE, EVEN IF YOU FIND IT OFFENSIVE. POINTS IF YOU MAKE UP YOUR OWN.

HOW TO TREAT PEOPLE LIKE A BAD BITCH

EVEN IF THERE’S ROOM TO SIT ALWAYS TAKE A LAP. EXTRA POINTS IF YOU WEAR YOGA PANTS – YOU’LL BE ABLE TO FEEL HOW MUCH A GUY WANTS YOU. HUG THE IMPORTANT GUYS AT LEAST THREE TIMES A NIGHT, WHEN YOU FIRST SEE THEM, WHEN YOU’RE BUZZED AND YOU’VE SHARED A MOMENT PACKING A GOOD BOWL TOGETHER, AND BEFORE YOU LEAVE. THE FIRST ONE MUST BE QUICK AND CARELESS, THE SECOND AND THIRD CAN LINGER DEPENDING ON THE NIGHT. HAVE BOTH A RIDE-OR-DIE BITCH AND A SCAPEGOAT. THE FIRST ONE WILL PROVE TO GUYS THAT YOU CAN HAVE HOT FRIENDS, SHE’LL MAKE OUT WITH YOU IF GUYS START CHANTING, AND SHE’LL JOIN YOU IN A FOURSOME. THE SECOND GIRL YOU SECRETLY THINK ISN’T ALL THAT PRETTY OR IS KIND OF SLOPPY, AND YOU MUST OFTEN MAKE DECLARATIONS THAT SHE CAN’T HANDLE HER DRINK OR THAT SHE’S A LIGHTWEIGHT, BUT SHE’LL TAKE CARE OF YOU IF YOU’RE SICK LATER AND SHE’LL PROBABLY LET YOU CRASH AT HER PLACE.

HOW TO HOOK UP LIKE A BAD BITCH

IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHO YOU’RE GOING TO HOOK UP WITH BEFORE YOU ARRIVE THEN YOU’LL END UP WITH SOMEONE YOU DON’T WANT. IT’S EASY TO GET WHAT YOU WANT, BUT DON’T LAY IT ON TOO THICK. NEVER HOLD OUT. IF YOU’RE NOT IN THE MOOD FOR HEAD THEN JUST LICK THE TIP, BUT BE EXPECTED TO PROVIDE A HAND-JOB THROUGH TO FINISH. DO NOT FUCK UP GIVING HEAD. IF YOU USE YOUR TEETH, THEY’LL TALK. IF YOU’RE SLOPPY, THEY’LL TALK. IF YOU CHOKE, THEY’LL TALK. ALWAYS SWALLOW. NEVER LET THEM TAKE PICTURES – THIS IS ONE OF THE BIGGEST MISTAKES STUPID GIRLS MAKE. THE OTHER IS SEX. NEVER HAVE SEX WITH A HOOK-UP. YOU’LL EXHAUST THEM AS A FUTURE OPTION AND CHANCES ARE YOU’LL NEED THEM AGAIN WHEN PICKINGS ARE SLIM. ALWAYS KEEP A LIST – PREVIOUS HOOK-UPS CAN MAKE FOR GOOD SECONDS, BUT ANYMORE THAN THAT AND PEOPLE WILL BEGIN TO THINK YOU’RE GETTING SOFT. ALWAYS UN-DRESS YOURSELF, DON’T EXPECT HIM TO DO IT. LET HIM TAKE YOUR THONG IF HE WANTS IT, IT’LL BE EASIER FOR HIM TO REMEMBER YOU. THE MORE GUYS IN A ROOM THE BETTER BUT BE SURE TO BE WASTED, FOURSOMES ARE NOT FUN FOR EVERYONE. JUST REMEMBER, NOT EVERY NIGHT WILL BE YOUR NIGHT, BUT YOU BETTER HAVE SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT ON MONDAY.

Field Notes

Pre-shooting:

  • No stores currently sell doilies, have to make my own! I have a ton of coffee filters I can cut up, I just have to be careful that they don’t look too much like snowflakes

During shooting:

  • Weather: windy, sky looks bleak, hopefully rain holds out
  • Doilies are really flimsy in the wind, really dainty, trying not to rip them as I put them on the dancers
  • Setting up one camera on a tripod, I decided I want more of the garage/cars in the background
  • Olivia Luz, my videographer, is in charge of the second camera for close-ups/different angles
  • I’m in charge of playing the music from the car’s speakers
  • As they dance the doilies get pretty bent up
  • Their knees and feet are getting scratched up from the concrete
  • It’s starting to rain, we have to break a bit to protect the cameras
  • Some dancers find the smiling easy, others feel uncomfortable, especially with the camera in their face
  • It’s starting to pour, we’re shooting the fourth section of the video one level down in the garage
  • I like the lighting on this floor, it gives this section a different mood/aesthetic to compliment the darker text of the voiceover
  • The doilies are getting really bent up, I have to replace them between takes
  • As I watch them perform, I feel so sad, they are all such beautiful, young girls, I hate putting them in this position. It’s really hard to watch.

A New Idea

A friend of mine who viewed the video gave me the idea to add a song to the background. I added it, and then sent out emails to my viewers to watch both and compare and contrast how the music changed their perspective on the content.

Quotes from Viewer Responses

“Being a bad bitch requires a lot of work, work that you must commit to. The ideal bad bitch seems to know it all, but it reality they probably know nothing.” – Priyanka

“I thought it was hilarious how the narrator was describing how to be a bad bitch in a monotone, computer animated voice.” – Julia

“I think I like the one with the goofy track behind the voice better. It adds another comical layer to the idea. This is important because the movements are really well-executed in that they made me laugh…” – Adam

“The video is eerie because of the mechanical voice and the girls’ stuck-on smiles. There’s a sense of disconnect between the dancers and the text that made me kind of uncomfortable — the kind of discomfort that prompts laughter. It definitely becomes ridiculous once you start listening to the words, but as it keeps going and you notice that the girls are totally unaffected by when the voice is actually saying, it gets a little disturbing. It’s a “how-to” tutorial that literally lists the stupid things that girls do to get themselves noticed by guys…things that go kind of unspoken, but everyone notices them anyway. It seems like the girls could either be representing legitimate examples of these behaviors or are just sort of being forced to demonstrate them by this voice…by men in general?…by society as a whole? Whichever it is, there’s a sense of tragedy that underscores those plastery smiles. This video definitely prompts a ton of questions about femininity and who defines it…”  – Lauren

“I enjoyed the dancers interpretations to the words, but I’m not sure if the doilies on their outfits were supposed to have significance or not. For me, the doilies didn’t add/detract from anything. Just wanted to give you my thoughts on it incase you wanted your audience to get something from them.” – Jackie

“I watched it without the music first, and it really hit me in the gut. The music makes it seem more cutesie. It loses a lot of its bite… I liked it better stark. There might be music that would work well and enhance, but I’m not a huge fan of that music, in part because it is played out. Also, without the music, there’s this great tension between the computer voice and what it’s saying and the painfully fake smiles of the dancers. Once you add in that soundtrack, that tension is lost. Without the music, I found myself paying more attention to the words and thinking about the dancers. With the music, I felt overpowered and paid more attention to the fake smiles of the dancers and that interplay with the music than what the voice over said or what the dancers were doing. So without the music, my gut reaction involves these women as machines (I think that’s what the costumes tell me anyway) adhering to the different rules. And then I think about how women are treated and expected to act in this culture.” – Harmony

“I’m not sure of your intentions with the outfits were, but i really liked the symbolism I found in it. The under layer was all black to represent the sin and bad-bitchness and the thin white snowflakes represent the superficial niceness or politeness, that couples nicely with the music.” – Marissa

“My initial reaction is sadness… I like the juxtaposition of the happy music with the voice over. It reflects and extends the irony of the smile. Also, both videos make this seem like an advertisement, or a tutorial. Combined with the sexual content of the lyrics, the piece as a whole refers to more than being a bad bitch, but the relinquishment of innocence, body, and it shifts the ideology and expectation of the “‘respected woman”. In other words, the girls give up their sexual innocence to gain acceptance into the “bad bitch” framework.” – Julio

“This piece works with the feminist re-appropriation of the term “bitch” & all of the cultural connotations of the phrase “bad bitch”; it uses a detached narration to highlight a number of flaws in whichever text is being worked with here–whether it’s the artist’s or another’s–primarily those which demote the role of “bad bitch” to subordinate.  Everything described defines the bad bitch in terms of the male.  Every aspect of a bad bitch’s character is solidified by her ability to please others, not necessarily herself.  In this way, the bad bitch is not “bad” at all, perhaps more or less just the helpless female that patriarchal discourse would readily label “bitch.” The video works in two ways, the first, putting emphasis on the individual woman.  It is perhaps the only realm of the project which gives a “voice”–if you will–to actual women.  Instead of rebelling against the content described, however, these women follow in accordance, acting out poses which relegate them to the sphere of passivity.  They are objects.  In the forum they are given, they choose not to pursue their own wants or desires.  They are prime examples of the pseudo “bad bitch” the narration describes. The additional musical component detracts from the intended message of the video by too overtly ironizing the content of the voiceover.  I think the silence, additionally, adds the perfect amount of awkwardness & creates a wonderful tension.  There’s an aspect to the pauses that is really so brilliant.  Also, the song lends itself to a comedy which is of a different style.  I think it’s a bit too low-brow because this video is very truly so funny but it’s funny in a way that I’d never laugh out loud about it.  Just smile to myself.”
– Cassandra

Summary

I knew the poetic text was uncomfortable to read and listen to, but I didn’t expect to feel so sick to my stomach watching my beautiful friends dance to the words on videotape. Even as I taught them the choreography, it was a struggle. I was consistently asking them if they were comfortable doing certain things and they were all sweet and open-minded, but I still felt awful. I cut the video in the span of three hours, sitting in silence, bearing through it, and when the time came to send it out for people to watch I was immediately scared. I was worried people would think it was disgusting and awful, that they wouldn’t know how to respond, but I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of their responses.

About half of the viewers said that it was “eerie,” or that it made them sad or “hit them in the gut,” but the other half said that it was “goofy,” “funny,” and even “hilarious.” I was glad that the viewers could see the video both ways, telling me that I stayed true to the tongue-in-cheek quality that Knudson used in her book, and yet kept it equally, if not more so, biting and raw at the same time.

Overall, I felt like the message was received fairly well. Most everyone commented on the contrast between the robotic voiceover and the un-phased smiles and dispositions of the posing women. A lot of questions were raised about how women are “expected to act” in this culture and what it means to be a “bad bitch.” One of the viewers suggested the addition of the soundtrack to which a large majority of the viewers said they preferred the video without it. The song seemed to overpower the video, making it too “cute,” and took the focus away from what the voiceover was saying. Some, however, liked the song in that it made the video feel like an infomercial and gave more meaning to the dancer’s poses. Personally, I agree with the majority that the video without the song works best. While I worried that the silence was too painful and in your face, that tension created is the most impactful if I want my viewers to come away with an overall sense of unease, rather than focusing too much on the humorous aspects of the video.

The criticisms revolved around a few main things. One was that the text was sometimes hard to understand. This is something I did not foresee at all, because I knew the text so well and was so accustomed to hearing it. I should have played the text for others before finalizing the mix to prevent that.

The second criticism was that the doilies were far too confusing. Many people thought that they were snowflakes (which I expected) and others thought they were gears (which I didn’t expect, but liked considering the context). In hindsight, I should have had the dancers wear white lace dresses and if I could re-install the project that would be my biggest change. I think I was really attached to the doilies because of their uniqueness and old-fashioned quality but perhaps the lace dresses would have communicated much better. However, I did find that I liked the fragility of the doilies and how they slowly crumpled and wore as the dancers performed.

The third thing wasn’t necessarily a criticism, but I noticed that the majority of the viewers thought that the voice was a male’s when it is actually a female’s voice slowed down a bit. This just helped reinforce how our culture has propagated ideas about how a woman is supposed to be: her voice is “supposed to be” high-pitched and bubbly, her hair must be a certain way, her lips, her legs, etc. What I worry, though, is that most people thought that the text described a “bad bitch” through a male’s eyes, when it is really through a female’s. The “bad bitch” is a female stereotype of one who rejects “girliness” in favor of becoming “one of the guys.” They want to get on a guy’s level: drink as much as him, throw sexist slurs like him, hook-up as much as him, all the while competing with other girls to become the “baddest bitch.” Essentially, by engaging in behavior they think is “empowering,” they are propagating misogynistic ideas and allowing themselves to be viewed, used and treated like an object as a result. If I re-shot the video I think I would use a more bubbly, high-pitched voice to make it clear that the rules are an example of how misogynistic ideas can become embedded in female behavior and values.