According to recent news reports, Katy Perry’s recent duet with Elmo for Sesame Street won’t be aired thanks to complaints about Perry’s low-cut top (although it’s still available on YouTube—see below).
Unfortunately, all debates about breasts ever seem to do is draw attention away from the real points of concern.
Perry’s outfit is no big deal. More concerning is the typical warped viewpoint that sees a little cleavage as a huge problem, while the actual content of Perry’s mind-numbing ideologically stilted nonsense (referred to as ‘music’ by her marketing company) draws no attention whatsoever. Defenders of Perry’s outfit are no better, responding with either a hip shrug or sexual-liberation self-righteousness, but similarly turning a blind eye to the fact that this immensely disturbing ideologue does her real damage in more insidious ways.
A little cleavage is fine, but Sesame Street shouldn’t be taking part in the promotion of a ‘singer’ whose targeting of an ever-younger audience reeks of conservative, archaic and blindly consumerist indoctrination in the usual flimsy exterior of ‘girl power’ or ‘exploring sexuality’. Do people still fall for that line? Is creating an intensely limited idea of easily-marketed sexuality really sexual liberation? Perry spits out bland anthems of corporate conformity and a toothless media happily clucks to themselves about how liberating or ironic it is.
There’s no real surprise that doe-eyed dope Perry was left with ‘Hot & Cold’ to sing on Sesame Street. Aside from its childish lets-play-opposites lyrics that wouldn’t get a passing grade in a high-school creative writing course (‘You’re hot then you’re cold, you’re yes then you’re no, you’re in then you’re out, you’re up then you’re down…’), the rest of her recent ‘hits’ carry blatantly off-putting and culturally regressive messages that even Sesame Street‘s writers couldn’t tone down.
Perry’s last release, ‘California Girls’, would be extraordinary in its mediocrity if we hadn’t already been exposed to Perry’s oeuvre at every turn of the dial. At least Spice Girls era ‘girl power’ managed to pretend that being a girl in the modern pop realm wasn’t just about being available for a quick f**k, and a few singers who exploited their sexuality might have managed to be a little bit provocative. Perry’s song shows all the insight of a teenage boy flipping through his first Playboy: ‘California girls / We’re unforgettable / Daisy Dukes / Bikinis on top’.
Having established for children everywhere that hot girls wear bikini tops and short shorts, Perry then set out to make a video clip so blatant in its pandering to pre-teen sexuality that it could safely be defended as ‘ironic’ to anyone who might question her motives (or her depth). Anyone with a little savvy knows that this is how the media now sells its own sexual imagery; they can’t do it straight any more, so they pretend they’re sending it up, ‘pushing boundaries’ or being ‘cheeky’ (the most overused word on television right now—Australian television, in any case). The result is the usual ‘hot’ girls with vacant stares draped over everything that’s for sale and a realm of hip consumers who think they’re being culturally hip or pushing boundaries by paying for it (meanwhile, body image problems in men and women skyrocket).
Irony was, of course, the key defense to Perry’s insulting ‘Ur So Gay’, which goes out of its way to marginalise the kind of lifestyles that could only be considered ‘alternative’ by someone who thinks that Dharma in the soulless sitcom Dharma & Greg is likely to bring down Western Civilisation with her lack of shoe-wearing and quirky plans to get her husband to drink a cup of green tea. Whoever Perry’s talking to in the song clearly doesn’t fit the image of the drone who, no doubt, would be partying with those rich and vacuous ‘California Girls’, blissfully oblivious to the irony we’re all so proud to declare; thus he is ‘so gay’.
God forbid a guy should read Hemingway or have some social values. Is Perry sending up poseurs? Maybe. Is she demonstrating her own complete lack of perspective while doing it? Absolutely.
More problematic, of course, is the fact that Perry calls upon ‘gay’ to ridicule this young emo chap. Unfortunately, this is a debate that won’t seem to go away since plenty of people somehow cling to the belief that there’s absolutely nothing even remotely worth questioning about taking something that may be a key part of someone’s identity, something that some may have trouble presenting to their friends, family and themselves, and using it as synonymous with ‘crap’.
Bad enough in the song itself, Perry recently decided to sing this at a concert to get back at some high school guy who didn’t date her. With a zillion kids and teens in the audience, Perry decided the guy was ‘so gay’ and proudly belted out her monocultural anthem of conformity to him. It’s bad enough gay kids, in and out of the closet, along with straight kids who might just have a slightly different set of values to the norm, have to face ‘gay’ as an insult at school without having some dopey rich girl belt it out from the stage. Bullies, homophobes and gay-bashers use it as their rallying-cry, but somehow it’s still part of the mainstream vernacular; Perry, in a position of immense cultural power, is just fine with that.
Perry’s obsession with ‘gay’, of course, goes back to her ‘I Kissed a Girl’, which blatantly treats kissing girls as something straight girls do to please their boyfriends and rebel just a little bit, but not too much, against those conservative puritan values that Perry ultimately reinforces. Unlike Jill Sobule’s charming ‘I Kissed A Girl’, Perry doesn’t get much more out of the experience that the taste of the random (and completely unimportant) girl’s ‘cherry chapstick’ and the fact that her boyfriend thinks it’s hot. (Similarly, Sobule’s ‘Supermodel’ should show Perry how ironic cultural comment is actually done.)
It’s painful that this is all old ground; Perry’s ideologically concerning core isn’t hidden but sits right out in the open. Sometimes it’s criticised, sometimes it’s called clever ‘irony’; but it’s always played. Any hope that the mainstream media will somehow develop a sense of values, or even engage in the discussion, is a sure road to depression; but Sesame Street can’t afford to be so blasé about cultural ideologues. Perry’s appearance fits into the corporate model of attracting younger and younger viewers and making sure they’re perfect prey for beauty marketing and consumerist values, and they must be exhilarated to hear that there’s been ‘controversy’ over Perry’s low-cut top. We could accuse them of exploiting an important children’s institution if Sesame Street hadn’t been so happy to have them to do it.
The response by Sesame Street producers is no comfort, stating that ‘Sesame Street has always been written on two levels, for the child and adult’.
It’s a concern when a poor singer with vacuous lyrics and eyes that, in an attempt at blow-up-doll style ‘cuteness’, are permanently stretched open to breaking point like Malcolm McDowell undergoing the Luivico torture in A Clockwork Orange is considered to be adult entertainment. Based on Perry’s TV appearances, she has nothing of value to say, even by talk-show standards, and gives swaying live performances that belong on a second-rate talent show. If anything demonstrates that the blind pursuit of youth-culture (by consumers and producers alike) is overtaking the market, it’s the idea that Perry is marketable to adults; which, it seems, she is.
Grown up fans may feel young, but should also feel pretty dumb. Pop culture appreciation isn’t (as it’s often misunderstood) the idea that all pop culture should be elevated to works of great cultural value, nor is it the idea that everything’s cool, so just go with it, man. Appreciating pop culture is about determining some kind of quality and, just as importantly, sifting through the popular realm and separating the points of interest from the cultural propaganda.
If adults are expecting something ‘hip’ from their kids’ TV, then they’re doing their kids a disservice by exposing them to someone like Perry and foisting their own decrepit cultural outlook on them. No worthwhile educator would seriously promote Perry’s values in the classroom, so why is this ok on kids’ TV? It’s sad to think this conformist singer ends up on Sesame Street, while a song like Mr Rogers’ ‘It’s You I like’ seems practically revolutionary in comparison:
‘It’s you I like,
It’s not the things you wear,
It’s not the way you do your hair—
But it’s you I like.
The way you are right now,
The way down deep inside you—
Not the things that hide you,
Not your toys—
They’re just beside you.’
Speaking of Mr. Rogers, an important pioneer in providing children with quality nurturing television, it’s often pointed out what a perfectionist he was. Kids, he thought, were people too and deserved quality television along with the rest of us. In peddling a cultural conformist and retrograde ideologue, and making themselves a tool of cynical marketing ploys, Sesame Street has moved a long way from that important vision.