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Strange though it may seem, the jury is still out on the Pixies’ live show. For every fan who insists that the band’s live sets are life-changing, you’ll find another who asserts that the Pixies are shoddy performers and always were. Lingering behind this polarization is the band’s considerable legacy; it weighs heavily in any discussion of its merits, inviting revision from the few who did witness the Pixies in their heyday. Regardless, this year’s reunion tour—on which the band played its 1989 classic Doolittle from start to finish—has reignited the debate regarding the Pixies’ live prowess or lack thereof. Chicago Sun-Times critic Jim DeRogatis slagged one of the band’s Chicago dates, dismissing the Pixies as “a cynical corporation cashing in on blatant nostalgia.” The Washington Post‘s David Malitz, meanwhile, described the band’s Monday night set in DC as the musical equivalent of a “slam dunk contest,” a performance that could win over “even a cynic.” So which is it: are the Pixies an incredible or terrible live act? Actually, they’re a little of both.
While it parodies the very thing that we do here at PopMatters.com, I kind of love Mark and Ari’s Ms. Pac-Man: Feminist Hero video:
The video pokes fun at “serious” readings of popular culture, and I can respect that. We cultural critics do have a tendency to occasionally go overboard in assigning significance to our readings of seemingly superficial signs in media. The parody here very cleverly sends up those moments.
At the same time, I also kind of love the video because it really does contain interesting observations about Ms. Pac-Man’s relationship to feminist ideals. The video makes me laugh, but it is also insightful at times.
If we are to treat Mark and Ari’s “thesis” in a semi-serious way, though, I must observe that what Mark and Ari may be observing in the presentation of Ms. Pac-Man is less the representation of feminist heroism as it may be a representation of the complexities of acknowledging gender in a Post feminist culture.
In “Post feminism and Popular Culture,” Angela McRobbie discusses such complexities when she defines the concept of a “double entanglement” present in a Post feminist culture. She describes such an entanglement as “the co-existence of neo-conservative values in relation to gender, sexuality and family life . . . with processes of liberalisation in regard to choice and diversity in domestic, sexual and kinship relations.” In essence, McRobbie suggests that competing ideologies surrounding gender (traditional senses of what women should be as wives, mothers, and generally in relation to men alongside liberal values of female empowerment regarding freely making choices about marriage and sexuality) have become entangled with one another despite the seemingly contradictory values that traditionalists and progressives hold concerning the roles and behaviors of women.
McRobbie exemplifies this idea by describing a late 90s television spot for Citreon cars, in which Claudia Schiffer disrobes as she leaves the house to go for a drive in her car. McRobbie reads this moment as an example of such an entanglement, saying, “This advert appears to suggest that yes, this is a self-consciously ‘sexist ad,’ feminist critiques of it are deliberately evoked. Feminism is ‘taken into account,’ but only to be shown to be no longer necessary. Why? Because there is no exploitation here, there is nothing remotely naıve about this striptease. She seems to be doing it out of choice, and for her own enjoyment.” While the ad is suggestive of the idea that women are still reducible to something to be looked at for their sexual appeal (a more traditionalist position), nevertheless, this role is adopted as an example of the freedom and empowerment of choosing to be so (the progressive position). McRobbie suggests that such power is clearly communicated in the ad because of the audience’s knowledge of Schiffer’s success, “the advert works on the basis of its audience knowing Claudia to be one of the world’s most famous and highly paid supermodels.” Schiffer can afford to be an object because she is powerful enough to reduce herself in this way, to choose how to exploit herself.
Such a curious “double entanglement” of ideology similarly exists in the representation of Ms. Pac-Man. While Ms. Pac-Man could be considered a feminist icon as a figure able to take on the world (or in this case the maze) all on her own, a maze rightly pointed out by Mark and Ari as being a more difficult puzzle to solve than her male counterpart’s slower maze with its stable fruits (Ms. Pac-Man has to work that much harder for her bonuses), nevertheless, these emblems of Ms. Pac-Man’s greater drive and need to prove herself are entangled by the imagery surrounding her.
Ms. Pac-Man’s bow, of course, marks her gender and is a simple enough way of distinguishing her from her male counterpart as female. However, the Marilyn Monroe inspired beauty mark and lip gloss both suggest that Ms. Pac-Man is interested in maintaining an appearance that makes her more desirable as an object for others. The dominant function of make-up is to enhance elements of appearance that are perceived to make women more attractive and the mole is an image evocative of a woman whose success stemmed from her ability to manipulate her status as object into a commodity.
Frankly, the image of Ms. Pac-Man on the side and front of the arcade machine is even more provocative of Ms. Pac-Man’s status as object as she resembles something akin to a pin-up. Her leggy pose is reminiscent of that form. That Ms. Pac-Man is “curvy” (quite literally, she is one big curve after all) is reminiscent of the pin-up period’s tendency to prefer a fleshier body type. The boa and heavy rouge complete this more burlesque effect.
In an article that I read a number of years ago on female gamers, one psychologist suggested that one of the major reasons for Ms. Pac-Man’s appeal was that one of the reasons that female gamers were not attracted to video games is that they often need to be given “permission” to play with the boys. By feminizing Pac-Man with a bow and a feminine identity (the “Ms.” marker), she further suggested that a female identity to inhabit while playing Pac-Man gives such “permission” (one might wonder about this same phenomena in comic books in which feminized versions of Batman and Superman are assumedly intended to capture the attention of female readers that otherwise might feel excluded from stories that are seemingly intended for boys).
Various representations inspired by Ms. Pac-Man might suggest a more specific embrace of stereotypically female identity, though. These representations also emphasize that female empowerment might not be suggested by Ms. Pac-Man’s imagery or what appeals to female gamers, but instead, the elements of Ms. Pac-Man that are emblems of sexual objectification. These elements of her identity continue to represent the “double entanglement” of the Ms. Pac-Man image as the images throughout this essay suggest. From retro shoes to lingerie inspired by Ms. Pac-Man to even a possibly suggestive “tramp stamp” featuring the consumption of a cherry, these images suggest an embrace of Ms. Pac-Man by the game’s audience as one doubly entangled by objectification and empowerment at the same time.
While the title “Ms.” is evocative of the feminist movement of the 1970s, Ms. Pac-Man’s pin-up inspired representations seem in some way more a product of a pre-feminist culture than they are evocative of the politics of Gloria Steinem. Like Suicide Girls and Pussycat Dolls, Ms. Pac-Man’s image seems one predicated on recoginizing objectification as a viable choice assuming that the ability to pursue pursue power (in this case, perhaps, power pellets) by any means chosen by women has already been won. Game over.
Know someone who joined their local wine club and eagerly awaits their monthly wine? Someone who can’t leave Trader Joe’s / Costco / Wal-Mart you name it without at least three to four bottles that are right in their price range and tells you how this one will be perfect with tonight’s fish/pasta/roast? That’s who this game is for. That someone probably always enjoyed wine, but is really getting into it at this stage in their life, and geeks out on new discoveries and insists her/his guests swirl, inhale, sip, hold, swallow—then tell her if you don’t taste leather and tobacco in that zinfandel! Yes, leather! Isn’t that cool? This is trivial pursuit on all things vino; winemaking, grape variety, storage, cooking and pairing, and the business, as well as the pleasure, of the wine industry. Like the amateur athlete, your wine drinker’s passion for her sport will be challenged and rewarded. ‘What white wine grape excels in the cool climates of Germany and makes famous botrytized wines?’ Best answered after a swirl, inhale, sip, hold for a moment—let every tastebud have its chance—now swallow. It may be ‘Wine Wars’, but we can be quite friendly about it. More so as the evening wears on.
You know a few graphic novel geeks, we all do, but when it comes the time for gift-giving, they can prove a tricky crowd since you don’t know what they already have and what they don’t. There’s always Vertigo’s pleasing Deluxe editions for the discerning giver, particularly this year’s collection of first ten issues of the fabled Fables series, wherein fairy-tale creatures make do in modern-day Manhattan. Snow White is a bureaucrat, Goldilocks a Trotskyite revolutionary, and the Big Bad Wolf is a cynical cop investigating the murder of Rose Red. The sketches and extra material are almost beside the point, what with the handsome binding and sharp color printing, but it all adds up to a superb presentation of an iconic modern comic series.