April 6, 2009

God, I Love Capitalism — but the Pussycat Dolls?!

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It’s become pretty in vogue these days to rant about the cornucopia of failures and shortcomings of the American capitalist system of the late ’90s that has led us to the circumstances in which we now find ourselves. Rejoice though, right-wingers and twelve year-old girls, because in this time of economic disparity, our peers on the Slope Day Programming Board have decided to illuminate, in all its scantily clad glory, the wonders of capitalism: the Pussycat Dolls are coming to Cornell.
I add this column to the cacophony that has arisen around campus in the wake of the announcement of the Slopeday headliner fully aware that anyone and everyone has an opinion on the subject and that there will likely be no less than a week’s worth of Sun columns on the issue, which I likely won’t read (yet I write, and, indeed, self-contradiction is a beautiful thing). Like many, I think, I had only a vague idea of who the Pussycat Dolls were before this week; then I was told from a few different sources that, after exploring the horizons available to them as a burlesque dance troupe, a singer was added and they moved on to bigger and brighter things and wrote “Don’t Cha,” among other songs. At this point my somewhat ambivalent disappointment was replaced by an anxious giddiness — I don’t know what stars aligned, but out of nowhere a generous helping of absurdity has been dropped at our feet:
The Pussycat Dolls are so perfectly corporate, so brilliantly artificial, so sexy as to get a boner even out of an eighty year-old man that, visiting their website, I can’t decide whether I want to laugh, cry or vomit. And as if lingerie, high heels and straddling motorcycles weren’t enough, the band’s (yeah, band … at least for the sake of argument) new CD is titled Doll Domination, and the giant phallic shadow of the Eiffel Tower back-drops their whole website (and I mean giant—it’s hard to ignore). All this, of course, is nothing new for the music industry and the Pussycat Dolls are to some extent a product of our time: previous incarnations like the Spice Girls were always pretty hyper-sexualized, even while pushing the corporate, feel-good feminism of “Girl Power.” The Spice Girls, however, performed in a somewhat more innocuous pop context, whereas the Pussycat Dolls exist in the almost hilariously explicit musical context of Top-40 club music.
The real beauty of it all is the timing and circumstance — forty years after Black minority students shocked the nation with the Willard Straight take-over we find ourselves being entertained with the Pussycat Dolls, the group that combines all the best of status-quo capitalism: commodification (of sexuality), superficiality and global (“doll”) domination. I don’t mean to say that there’s music that is not like this, because it all is; but bands like the Pussycat Dolls try to do it so completely and with such a lack of pretense, it could almost be called beautiful — if only they were in on the joke. To my mind, it’s like those VH1 celebrity reality shows: it would be depressing if they weren’t so goddamned hilarious (and/or vice versa).
So, while Barack Obama, President of the United Socialist States of America, is putting the finishing touches on the death of our financial system, capitalism will still be alive and well on the slope, packaged, stamped and consumer ready. It will be glorious.