Practice and play
Middle bit’s okay.
Practice and play
Middle bit’s okay.
Goes like this.
I have frizzy hair. You could say afro, curly. Always have. (Well, there’s baby photos where it hasn’t curled yet … then again, there wasn’t much hair yet).
It was my hair, is my hair. I grew up with this hair that I didn’t see around me in the world I was in. In the milieu I was in (see, *theory-sounding*).
I grew up in country towns in New South Wales, Australia. Plus some going between families and bit of Sydney and South East Queensland.
In the school photo, I was the only one with curls. Grandmas wanted to touch it, pat down on the springs. I would scowl and a family member would say: “Oh, she doesn’t like that”, as if my grumpiness was a faux pas. Probably, I felt the trace of someone mistaking me as a boy – with short curls – not the requisite long, straight hair that Girls Have. So each of these pattings I felt gender-wrong, ugly. Unable to say.
‘Course, this hooks in with the Special Story, which intrepid readers may have come across before. Some kind of being exceptional, some kind of ‘only one’. The only one who danced, with this hair, in this tiny country town. Instantly identifiable. So I also liked that exceptional sense. Also, the only one with my name. The only one with ‘A Friend’ as the ready-joke. (Well, actually, my younger sister also has that. We lived apart …)
The one with this hair.
Zoom-a-zoom to 2013 and Natural Hair is a Thing. The internet tells me so. Has been, of course, for quite a while, possibly since Black is Beautiful and all the way through Pan African and hippie hip hop and the things that go on in Big America. So the filters of intertubes and television and pop culture, album covers, now Tumblr and Twitter and Instagram tell me that there is a culture, a movement.
A Natural Hair Thing.
For me, I don’t even have that distinction set up of natural versus treated. Afro versus weave. Nappy versus relaxed. These words are new. I quickly gobble them up, but they are from the outside listening in, seeing the amazing events and networks of ladies and ladies and ladies (mostly ladies) who braid and twist and up and out. Who talk and fan pic and lol about the shea butter. Who self-trim and afro-punk and do Black Girls Make Up.
I am not a black girl. I heartily support the girls doing their thing. The recognition and support, pride and encouragement. I understand the existing Hair Theory about colonial mentality that positioned black beauty, black bodies, brown bodies, as coarse, Other, untameable, wild, ugly, sexual, wrong, grotesque. I understand that having these reinforced in all of the micro moments of parenting and childhood and Mum ironing the hair (sorry, *Mom*) can then be countered with a Movement.
And it’s a little strange feeling connected, but ultimately, am I in the movement? I’ve always had this hair.
There are pockets of Africana fashion in Australia. Punchy, bold, with the hair. Seems to be mostly Melbourne. Again, there is the part of me that hangs on the edge, observing. And that is shy about … I don’t know, chatting to African people in Wollongong.
There’s a few things here, if I come back to the self-prism (hey, no surprises there). The ‘special’ sense is also something a little weird, a little unknown, about not feeling quite White. Growing up in it, speaking it (White Australian-broadly-educated-middle-class-yet-around-country-towns). And never looking it. All of the stuff, you know, a Massive Hair Special feature in a girl’s magazine has zero styles applicable to me. Over and over.
Again, that feeling of, oh, am I Not Quite Girl and Not Quite White. But the sense of not being able to claim being anything else is also there. Particularly, particularly since do allllllllll that study of postcolonial theory. Indigenous Literatures. So much so in Australia: I have such a fear of being accused of appropriation, of mis-claiming an identity.
(In fact, I was slammed by a lecturer in an Indigenous Studies subject …. oh, wait, that’s another story for another time).
But *every* kind of getting-to-know-me conversation I have ever had has included someone asking about my ‘background’ at some point. My hair’s got a lot to do with that.
So, I am an imperfect Natural. My twisting and braiding skills are basic. I am still figuring out coconut oil and spritzing routines. I am not surrounded by the mechanisms of an industry for those who are ‘transitioning’. I am getting swamped by it in my Facebook and Tumblr feeds, but I still live in a very White area.
I also don’t want to suddenly feel like I am doing something *else* badly. Not quite right. Not quite tight plaits. Don’t know what puff and pouf mean. Still not sure if I am 3a, 3b, 4a, or 4b hair. Not sure if I want to know. Kinky, curly or coily? Maybe I am just me.
It’s an ongoing experiment. It has it’s uses, being connected to this culture, these online communities, or at least networks of online selfies:)
And, as someone said to me, “but you, you have your own ground to stand on”.
Whoaaaaa. Theorising explosion. Exhilarating.
Sitting in the sun-goodness with occasional kookaburra encouragement, I read. Article about branding. Old-school, almost nostalgic process of writing quotes from it on paper, to give eyes and forearm a break from devices. Then BOOM here comes the thing that I have been trying to say for five years!
Maybe it is kinda good, even though hard, that I have been told to do significant revisions. Cos, here we are.
The process of thinking, reading, writing, and research in order to Say Something is pretty mysterious. I guess you just keep doing it, and sometimes the mysterious BOOM happens.
Ok, need to give arms and should and wrist a break now:)
And, here I go with tagging and promoting my actual creative writing experience, which is what the writing itself is about.
Whoa-a. Just have some coffee.
Well, here’s a thing. Some coming out, kind of, and discussion of sexuality in the hip hop realm. One thing’s for sure, it never was an island. Just had some dominating censors policing a certain story and identity. For some. There’s always diversity if you look. And those afraid of it trying to hold it back.
Election day in Australia, 2013. Bleak atmosphere at the prospect of Tony Abbott becoming Prime Minister. I try not to slip into depicting him as a lizard man, but truly, when someone’s behaviour and speech and er, what I will call policies are sub-human, it’s hard not to.
It’s also an incredible day where I live, ocean views, bright white sunshine, beloved doggies.
Whatever happens, I am lucky. I am grateful to live where I live, to be in Australia. And I can also be angry about the things that are fucked up, unequal, polluting, idiotic. The short sighted destruction.
I haven’t watched TV for a long time, except for a brief period of two years, which finished about a year ago. I have also not been reading print media. I access SBS World News, Sydney Morning Herald, ABC news, The Guardian and the Huffington Post on apps and websites, and the various responses to political news on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. And, oh boy.
Still the revulsion. Still the nausea.
So my thesis (stick with me here) works with the concept of self-branding. The branding of artists who also perform and/or say things that are politically critical.
As avid readers may know, I received some strong critique of my thesis by examiners. Rolling with it, and getting into doing the revisions now, I know that there is further I can go with my theorising, even as I would like to be done with it.
Perhaps, perhaps one of the reasons it has been hard to grasp what I am saying is …
Perception of an artist. Perception of a politician.
The good ole massaging of spin and brand and polls. The PR of the wavefront. The logo-ifying being more important than the real. (What is the real, the old philosophy student part of me asks …)
So, there is the branding. We can point at it. We can see the brand of The Greens, their logo, their front, their profile pictures, their signs on telegraph poles on the road. On websites, Facebook, news grabs of Christine Milne’s face. There are artefacts, some tangible, like banners volunteers string over the highway overpass, and some virtual, as I change my avatar on Facebook to ‘This Saturday I’m Voting Greens’.
(All of these examples for all of the other parties, too, but I literally am so revolted I don’t want to study them. Which is possibly part of the problem).
Then there is the knowledge that this branding is a part of the fight to secure votes for their candidates who say they will enact certain policies. (Ok, basic, but this is me trying to break it down through media fog and despair).
So here comes trust.
Trust that they will (to whatever extent) enact those policies, that my vote will put in the Parliament someone who will at least fight for and speak for, for example, no coal seam gas mining, climate change action, equal marriage recognition.
Trust is slippery, or at least nebulous. A therapist and anyone who has done some psychological reflecting can probably say: look, ultimately, we don’t know what’s going on inside anyone else. We don’t know what they will do, what they think. (Hey, the self can be enough of a mystery). So trusting that someone will act a certain way is …
What is it? Gut?
Gut and judging their past behaviour against their speech and their branding.
So. The branding weighed up with the ‘real’. Or what, for example, Tony Abbott has done as a member of Parliament and Opposition Leader versus what he is now saying in his attack ads.
I read William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition and my partner is currently reading Naomi Klein’s No Logo. So lots of chats about this.
In Pattern Recognition, the super-instinctual, gut reaction to branding is the main character’s great strength and vulnerability. In No Logo Klein writes of how corporations and conservatives co-opted the idea of fighting for representation from activist groups, how the public sphere becomes the battleground for perception.
In some ways you could say all of this has already been so (for example, if giving feedback to a paper and saying ‘but what about when that held true for 1950s politicians, or for reggae artists, or whatever).
But surely the saturated war of perception is new. Even if it isn’t, let’s still look at it.
But how to get outside of it to look at it?
Or look at it from where we are, inside of it, because who gets outside of it?
So, I guess that has been my approach with the thesis, look at some branded artefacts from artists, and online branding and some performances and tracks. I can never ‘capture’ it all.
Maybe there’s a need to let go of the idea of being able to ‘be outside’ and make an authoritative interpretation. Look at the things themselves, as an inspired colleague says.
Ok, but then if we (still with me?) go back to politicians: it matters. It matters if the things themselves, if their branding and their speeches and their how to vote cards, it matters if they correspond to new mining approvals. It matters if they will lower the low income tax threshold again.
Who to and why? Well, ok … maybe that gets us off the topic of branding. It matters to me because those things matter to me (and, ooh, maybe 10% of Australian voters, I guess). Because I have a core sense of ethics, that I then use to make judgements about fracking and equal rights for LGBTI people and the lives of refugees.
Which is not to say that I am a perfect ethical person (ooh, there I go with the introspecting:))
But there is something that I am measuring the branding against.
Maybe this is what I haven’t been able to articulate in the thesis. Because the something isn’t just some reasoned, conscious barometer.
I guess I can be aware of the ways that I may measure branding against my gut/ethics/own research. And then I could say that this will be relative, that I am not pretending that my measurement is the objective, ‘outside of it all’ view.
But no no, there’s also this part that I haven’t gotten too yet (it’s fine if you need a break). The tone war of Leunig’s cartoon, the sense of overwhelming branding fog and counter commentators and bullshit soundbytes leading up to election day. The endless Borges library of MC brands that intertextually reference each other. The swamp, miasma. Even if it is a bright white shiney day listening to the roadworks and the birds and gazing at the ocean in the real, I know that the fog is there. Even as I haven’t delved much into Facebook and media yet today – at least start the day with some yoga and feeling good – I know this shit is swirling around.
So there’s this sense of never getting to the real about the politicans. Even if I vote in a certain way because of my gut and because of seeing research coming out of real coal seam gas wells and the passionate sense of equal rights for humans, I can’t ever be free of the brand.
In relation to them, anyway.
Although, I can sit here and think that Christine Milne is a real person who has whatever ethics and thoughts and principles she has, she is not just a part of the wavefront of green triangles and slogans.
Hoo. Ok. I have probably gone around in circles. Maybe someone else can tell me if I have or not:)
My partner and I are kicking off a business that will come from, for me anyway, this core of ethics, this gut response to living. We are researching the ethics and sustainability of various products and their manufacturing. Then we will sell those products. And I do feel good about what we will do and why. And as we enter into branding our biz, I guess it’s just … a feeling sense of staying close to, acting ‘from’, the ethics as the driver.
The wavefront being tethered to the core.
Giroux’s article about ‘Lil Wayne’s Lyrical Fascism’, here, makes good points. The erosion of civil rights values, the pornification of everything to make the bottom line plumper, the casual cruelty of spectacle. ‘Course. These things I agree with.
I also get pretty allergic to a certain claiming of status about the ‘moral witnessing’ that civil rights era activists, and writers who remember them, engage in. Yes. Honouring, remember, upholding. Yes. But ‘higher value’ can wedge in that generational gap to become preaching. Try living in the youth cultures that routinely trade in misogyny. Try being a female artist.
Yes, people of any age can (and some do) question consumerism as the basis of all things. Yes, people of any age, gender, race, sexuality, and ability can get themselves educated about the multiple struggles that have gone before. That continue.
There’s also a need to look at the ways that precarity of work and disposability of people affect the ways that people think about themselves. And justice. And history.
Now. I don’t want to give excuses (and I won’t, for misogynistic, racist crap). It’s pretty likely that if I can accuse others of sounding inflated and preaching, they can accuse me of sounding resentful.
But the system that applauds Lil Wayne didn’t come out of the abyss*. And, of course, systems are made and sustained and changed by people. Like those marchers, those preachers. And MCs and those who stop applauding.
By female artists rapping back. By male producers steering clear of the schtick.
*Or did it.
I wrote a little blog post for CAPSTRANS at the University of Wollongong about my PhD research on self-branding by conscious hip hop MCs Urthboy, Ladi6 and K’naan. It’s here.