Friday, August 29, 2008

Irritating, Maybe. But Homophobic? I'm Not Convinced...

If you’ve been living in a ditch, or are a “proper music” bore and believe that pop music is beneath you, then it may have escaped your attention that Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl” has thus far spent three weeks at number one in the UK. I quite like the single I must say, but not everyone will agree. In recent weeks the song has been played constantly on daytime radio, on MTV Hits and The Box, in supermarkets, in clothes shops, in cars and bars - and nobody likes an overexposed pop song. What’s more, “I Kissed A Girl” has prompted accusations of homophobia. The song may be irritating, the video may play up to every Zoo magazine lesbo-fantasy in the book, but is it really homophobic? I think this is pushing things a bit.

The phrase “lipstick lesbianism” has become quite the popular alliterative put-down of choice over the past decade or so. I dislike the phrase, because of its snotty undertones, but I’m talking about girls who are to all outward appearances “straight” (as if outward appearances count for anything in the world of sexuality), publicly snogging other girls for whatever reason - expressed or otherwise. Perhaps it is fair to attack public girly snogs, if such displays merely exist for the voyeuristic pleasure of blokes. That’s already to make a bit of an assumption, I’d say. Maybe it is just attention-seeking, but is it homophobic? What is the point of protest? It does all seem to spin on the idea that there is such a thing as a “proper lesbian”. This single isn’t pushing the sort of ideas Luce Irigaray espouses, I’ll grant you. The singer of “I Kissed A Girl” does add “I hope my boyfriend don’t mind it”, and wakes up in bed beside the chap at the end of the video, in true secondary-school essay “It was all a dream!” style. For some people all of this will scream “I’m not gay by the way!” But I’m sure we all know plently of people who have “experimented” with members of their own gender, and who don’t feel the need to label themselves as “gay”, “straight” or “bi” or any other category. The line “it felt so wrong/ It felt so right/ Don’t mean I’m in love tonight” also seems harmless enough to me. It’s flighty and cheeky, kissing as harmless fun. That’s all the “lipstick lesbian” phenomenon is. I don’t believe it makes life more difficult for LGTB people. I think the real bone of contention is that some straight men are turned on by lesbian fantasies (always involving very feminine looking lesbians natch). So it involves the sexual objectification of women - is it misogynistic? Just about any hetero-male fantasy is going to be misogynistic by that account - unless you get your kicks out of thinking about the sufragette movement or by reading “The Female Eunuch”. Isn’t the area of sexual drives, fetishism and fantasy always going to be dark and unsettling to some degree? Or am I just a perv?

The accusations of homophobia against “I Kissed A Girl” smack of a new puritanism to me. Perry’s previous single was of course a thing called “Ur So Gay” (”gay” having become a synonym for “lame” or “naff”). You could chart the etymology of the word like you can a single climbing or sliding down the pop charts. The “Brights” movement, a bunch of people who champion what they call reason over what they call superstition (and for these people this includes religion), and involving Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett among others, has sought to claim the word “bright” in much the same way that homosexuals adopted the word “gay” in the last century. Again, I am not conviced that even “Ur So Gay” is really homophobic. The argument is an interesting one and I’m open to it, but if you want to convince me that the use of such phrases is homophobic, then we’ll have to get into the intentionality behind it. I suspect that Katy Perry’s religious (Christian) upbringing has a lot to do with how people hear her recent singles. But I think a point is being missed. “Lipstick lesbianism” is a cultural phenomenon. There is a song about it. It doesn’t go any deeper than that.

Mind you, if her next single is a collaboration with Beenie Man, it might be time to worry. (But stranger things have happened - according to Planet Sound Roots Manuva and James Blunt are about to record together. This is great news, if only because it’ll force the “James Blunt, anyone?” brigade to think for a change.)