With the publication of Eli Erlick's take-down of Ariana Grande's “thank u, next” video on INTO — which, again, ironically, is hopelessly problematic Grindr's egghead vertical — that site is now officially a self-parody, and one that is probably a negative influence that masquerades as an empowering one.
First, I am open to criticisms my own site (God, blog is so dated; it feels like having a public access show) has received over time, even annoying ones, so INTO has to be the same way, as does Eli, who has removed her name from the piece because of death threats. I empathize with her that there are people who can become obsessive and annoying, but she really has no business putting a piece like that out there and then running from it. Death threats from Ariana Grande fans are unlikely to be legitimate. Anyone who crosses the line, she will have to learn — as I have — to block, and then consider filing restraining orders/calling the cops; the law is extremely, fundamentally weak in this area, but it's doable, as my stalker and his partner will soon learn.
There is a difference between heated criticism and personal abuse and stalking.
Second, I do believe that it is more than okay to examine which messages seemingly fluffy, simple, off-the-cuff and poppy works of art/slices of consumerism may be sending — it's not utter insanity to think twice about a 75-year-old song and how its lyrics sit in current ears, it's not wrong to be offended by offensive things and it's not the height of stupidity to watch a new Ariana Grande video and say something if you see something
To clarify this point: If you spend more time being offended that others dare to be offended than you do speaking out against racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, you're a part of the problem. PC is not worse than those things.
However, in the case of Eli Erlick's pompous piece calling the new Ariana Grande music video transphobic, homophobic and filled with blackface images, I think she's so goddamned far afield it can only serve to push people away from thoughtful social critique altogether. In the (pretty dumb) new movie Bodied, PC culture is savaged in a juvenile, oversimplified way in order to prop up the film and its secret hero, but as over-the-top as that film's representation of delusional, mostly white academics is, Erlick manages to match it with passages like this:
While the song is actually dedicated to Ariana’s past boyfriends, the music video makes a surprising ode to her queer followers. Unfortunately, not all representation is good and her music video failed to support the basic dignity of queer and trans people. Laden with transmisogyny, anti-queer jokes, and blackface, the video follows Ariana’s white feminist awakening through a celebrity-laden nod to several cult classics.
Erlick points to an instance of drag and tries to frame it as transphobic. (I wonder if she finds all drag to be?) She points to a cameo by gay singer Troye Sivan saying a rumored lesbian affair involving Ariana is “sick” as evidence of homophobia, humorlessly missing the point that he's playing a bitchy, pre-woke high school student and is not presented as a voice of reason.
Outrageously — and with a dutiful citation — she then refers to Grande's skin tone (after casually mentioning that the music is R&B-influenced, a no-no for everyone except black people directly descended from Chuck Berry, I guess) as a new type of “blackface.” I think there is a lot of rich psychological material to be mined exploring how non-black people like the Kardashians incorporate blackness into how they present themselves, a lot of irony. But to state that it's the same as blackface, the new face of blackface, is beyond a reach, it's ideological desperation and race-baiting.
Erlick goes on to call a queer black man ogling a UPS man a use of “the queer predator trope,” a reminder that kids today think people who are horny are automatically predators. Sex is so creeeeepy.
She continues to drone on, taking exception to what she hears as a vague slam against Caitlyn Jenner who, let's face it, is a bitch and deserves to be called one, yet Erlick feels this criticism is anti-trans. It's not anti-trans, it's anti-Caitlyn, and calling her a bitch is not anti-trans, calling her something more traditionally male would be.
In short, Erlick has probably spent so much time fighting a demonstrably anti-trans and oppressive culture that she's grasped onto a myriad of ways to fight back. Unfortunately, many of them are narrow to the point of being imaginary, microdefenses, if you will.
Nothing — at all — is gained by hating on this video in these terms, nothing but a speedy discrediting of social commentary on pop works in general. So thank u, Eli, but ... you know the drill.
All of this said, you're a fucking disaster as a human being if you're sending death threats to Eli for seeing things in a music video that you do not. Even worse, you're pathetic if your primary trigger is to defend Ariana specifically in this way. Ariana Grande is a rich, famous, talented, beautiful, strong young woman with a lot of options. She does not need you handing out death threats. I know whereof I speak! I — I hate this word — stan for Madonna, but there has to be a point where you are rational enough not to victimize people who don't like something your favorite singer has done.
Here is Eli on another topic. She sounds like an intelligent and sensitive person with lots of stuff to offer, even if this one time at band camp she offered a ridiculous outlier of a review of a pop music video:
DISCLAIMERS: I worked with Ariana when I was the editor of Popstar! Magazine years ago. I liked her, but if she puts out a transphobic music video in which she appears with a bone through her nose, I will be the first to disavow her.
Also, it should be noted that deep-pocketed start-ups like INTO have strangled indie blogs like mine, but again, I often link to my own oppressors when they do good work, so this piece is not an effort to discredit a site with more resources and infinitely more 23-year-olds with time on their hands than mine.
And finally, yes, I am forever aware that my blog is called Boy Culture. I have had to introduce myself and it many times with a quick, “But we love girls, too!” I realize the name now feels dated in its exclusivity, but it was borne of a time when being a gay male and asserting yourself as such was much, much less common. It was quite radical to be out way back when I wrote the novel with this title, and when I first launched this blog 13 years ago, it was progressive to be a gay male posting about my gay-male sexual desires. Now, it feels a little old-timey, but my focus does not mean I am anti-female (or anti-trans) — so please, if you decide to agree with me, let's not go down those roads.