Yesterday, professional troll and supposed feminist academic, Camille Paglia, voiced her hate for Taylor Swift in the form of a long rant declaring her a “bleached-out” persona and comparing her to Katy Perry (the ultimate insult).
Now I already know that defending Taylor, which could be likened to defending the head cheerleader of a high school squad, is a thankless job. On the surface, she fits the archetype of the pretty, white, over-achiever blonde that Camille and mainstream culture have pushed back against for, arguably, the past forty years.
Back when Camille was Taylor Swift’s age, Sandra Dee had a stronghold on the hearts of America. She was a playful blonde with the personality of an eager to please chihuahua. As with all pretty, white, blonde girls during that time, there was a certain level of privilege her image carried. Then the feminist movement happened, the Civil Rights Movement happened, and pop culture evolved in the fifty-plus years in between. Welcome to 2012, Camille. Just because Taylor Swift looks like Sandra Dee does not make her Sandra Dee.
Katy Perry – let the trolls have at her. She brings no talent, personality, or business savvy to the table. To put Taylor Swift and Katy Perry in the same category reveals Paglia’s surface-level reading of pop culture. It’s hard to take the criticism of a sixty-five year old seriously on the subject of modern pop culture phenomena, which is mainly youth generated. Sort of like having your grandma harp on about “kids these days…”
Camille Paglia has built her name on trolling since the mid-90’s when she decided to hitch her cart to the horse (and then pop culture phenomenon) known as Madonna. Madonna was then the queen of what was current, and it was a bid for notoriety that gave her a career as a prominent feminist voice (note: more recently, she turned her back on Madonna, slamming her for not aging with “dignity,” by Paglia’s standards). With Madonna no longer holding reign over pop culture, Paglia has found a new horse to wrangle in Swift, as she grasps for relevancy once again.
Taylor Swift has become an easy target for detractors with no reasoning. Visually, she presents that pretty/white/blonde combination that is both celebrated and reviled in our culture. The Sandra Dees are no longer getting the love though. Blonde women in power only seem palatable if they present themselves in a sexually overt manner. It must be noted that Paglia places Britney Spears’ music and value above the singer/songwriter/producer/merchandising mogul, Swift, early on in her piece, lamenting their close placement (along with Katy Perry) on the Forbes women in entertainment earnings chart for the year. Spears is a blonde (and not a natural one like Swift) who also holds power in the industry, but diffuses the threat of the archetype she presents by acting like a brainless blow up sex doll. For Paglia, that’s ideal.
Later on in the piece (which reads like a collection of hate tweets), Paglia admits she has a preference for and has “vicariously enjoyed” Rihanna and her team-crafted “enigmatic dominatrix pose,” attributing her allure to “an elemental erotic intensity, a sensuality inspired by the beauty of the Caribbean sun and sea.” So basically, no props to Taylor for not having a team of people exoticize and eroticize her like Rihanna. Rihanna also frequently posts Instagram photos of herself looking like a gang bang victim prostitute. Exhibit A:
That’s Paglia’s brand of feminism, apparently. Does she have an Instagram account? Let’s hope not.
The problem people have with Taylor Swift is that she is a strong, beautiful, intelligent, poised female in power in pop culture – a figure that can be threatening to a culture that has gotten used to wadding through the gutter water of images created by performers like Rihanna. Taylor Swift is smart and savvy in a way that we haven’t seen since the likes of Madonna (which explains Paglia’s inspiration for writing about her – hitching her caboose to the Swift train nearly seven years after it took off). Only Taylor doesn’t need to spread her legs to sell records. She is a performer and smart business woman who is crafting a 100 million dollar-plus brand. She’s having her cake and keeping her hymen intact musically while doing so.
The recent backlash against Swift is rather transparent. Blogs and comedians have attempted to slut-shame her (with no evidence of actual sluttery) for the trail of men she leaves in her dating path. Others claim she has no talent, or that she writes childish music. That’s all a matter of opinion, and completely subjective. What can be said is that Taylor is self-managed; she oversees a management team that acts upon her direction. She writes and composes her own music; her last album, the four million-plus selling “Speak Now,” was written and composed solely by her. And that she is consciously crafting a very specific image for herself in the media; anyone who’s seen her “OMGOSH” face at an awards show after award show can recognize the calculation. The fact that Swift comes in the package similar to the Sandra Dee’s of the past is where the threat comes in. And it’s obvious why that threatens people, like Paglia, who’s knee-jerk reaction is to fight against that archetype, not taking into account that Swift is anything but the brainless and bubbly Sandra Dee. And Swift’s position at the top of pop culture doesn’t obstruct the success of other female performers (of different races, body-types, hair colors, degrees of sluttiness, etc.). It’s just made her an easy target for haters and trolling. As Swift once sang, why you gotta be so mean, Camille?