Jamil vs Kardashian(s): Who is the real feminist?

In this now-deleted Instagram ad, Hollywood reality star Khloe Kardashian was advertising a meal-replacement protein shake in a pink bra and chiselled body. As with everything else the Kardashians do, this ad received much backlash from the public.

One prominent critic was Jameela Jamil, an actress and activist who blasted Kardashian for projecting a false image of her appearance and influencing her large audience to do the same. Jamil also pointed out that the company sponsoring the post, Flat Tummy Co is not medically approved and is overall, dubious.

Jamil has also previously critiqued Khloe’s sister, Kim, for advertising appetite-suppressing lollies from the same company on her Instagram account and called out the family for unknowingly being “double agents of the patriarchy,” a woman still putting out the patriarchal narrative & benefitting from it financially. In this case, painting the perfect and exoticised image, particularly for women of colour in the US. (The family however, has an Armenian background) Both Kardashians have however, defended what is essentially their right and choice to advertise whatever it is they want to.

This was quite an interesting debacle which I thought framed the conflict presented by the divergence between feminist studies and cultural studies in “Feminism and Cultural Studies: Pasts, Presents, Futures” an even more relevant perspective, especially with regards to other intersecting factors like race/ethnicity as well as a massive media platform and following.

The reading points out that one main factor creating the divergence is the impact of poststructuralism and postmodernism on the 2 discourses of feminism and cultural studies. While these 2 schools of knowledge helped problematise the traditional understanding of truth, it has also introduced an overarching narrative of subjectivity and individuality.

The subjectivity thereby pits Kardashian’s “truth” against that of Jamil’s, with the mass audience of both personalities ultimately having the right to create and live their own truth as well.

 

Parkour: Contesting Singapore’s Urban Landscape

Hebdige (1979:148) argued that ideology “saturates everyday discourse” and is “structured into the architecture itself”. De Certeau (1999:129) logically extends this to the city’s provision of “a way of conceiving and constructing space”. In Singapore, discourses are heavily dominated by the authoritative state, as seen in the extensive use of education, an Ideological State Apparatus (Althusser, 1971:81), to impart values such as racial harmony. In particular, there is an emphasis on conforming. The focus on conforming is also produced in Singapore’s urban landscape, with regular road signs reminding residents not to jaywalk, but follow the law, as seen in the image below.

Source: https://www.alamy.com/no-jaywalking-sign-singapore-a-fine-city-image3331184.html

The regulation of urban movements normalizes certain movements such as walking and going around physical obstacles (Loo & Bunnell, 2017:5). These embodied practices discipline the body, with the “pathways…inscribed…as the reciprocal of…structures of power” (de Certeau, 1999:130). Parkour, as an art of movement involving various non-normative ways of moving through the urban landscape, is a youth subculture in Singapore. For example, rather than seeing it as an urban obstacle, practitioners view railings as an opportunity to practice parkour, as seen in the image below. This interrogates the value of conforming to the normative codes of following the designated functions of urban features, contesting the desirability of conforming and instead showing that forging one’s pathways is equally, if not more, valuable.

Source: http://sportsanity.com.sg/site/detailnew/slug/pushing-the-limits-with-parkour

While their actions are non-conventional, parkour practitioners abide by the law. This points to the “oblique” challenge to hegemony which subcultures represent (Hebdige, 1979:151). Hence, through ‘deviant’ actions such as jumping, climbing and vaulting, young parkour practitioners challenge the hegemonic state discourse and practices, resisting and contesting the need for conforming. In enabling the forging new pathways to view and experience the urban landscape, parkour exists as a youth subculture.

Althusser, Louis. c1971. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Towards an Investigation).” In Media and Cultural Studies: KeyWorks, edited by Meenakshi G. Durham and Douglas Kellner, 79-87. Revised Edition. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006.

de Certeau, Michel. 1999. “Walking in the City.” In The Cultural Studies Reader, edited by Simon During, 126-134. Second Edition. London, UK, 1999.

Dick Hebdige. 1979. “(i) From Culture to Hegemony; (ii) Subculture: The Unnatural Break,” Media andCultural Studies: KeyWorks,
edited by Meenakshi G. Durham and Douglas Kellner, 124-136. Revised Edition. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006.

Loo, Wen Bin, and Tim Bunnell. “Landscaping selves through parkour: reinterpreting the urban environment of Singapore.” Space and culture 21, no. 2 (2018): 145-158.

Gangs In Singapore: A Subculture

I agree with Hebdige’s explanation of a subculture. He puts forth that a subculture is “deviant behaviour or the identification of a distinctive uniform … [and] can provide the catalyst for a moral panic”.  I feel that a subculture definitely arises when a group deviates from the mainstream culture. In many societies, creating a moral panic- subculture becoming “noise” (Hebdige, p.153), is what draws attention to groups of people legitimising their identity as a subculture.

In Singapore, the government and legal system is naturalised as professional authority. Since the country is heavily regulated this professional authority, ideology and hegemony largely determines what cultures are acceptable. “Noise”, here, is considered anything that threatens this “dominated majority” (Hebdige, p.151) (government and/ or legal system) to “challenge the principle of unity and cohesion” of Singapore, it is automatically defined as subcultural.

An example of youth subcultures in Singapore would be youth participation in gangs. Youth initiated routinely into gangs such as “Sarah Jumbo”, “Salakau” or “OMEGA”. They have a very distinctive style when it comes to mannerisms, language and dressing. They have similar tattoos of symbols specific to their gangs, and their dressing is emblematic of their gang- wearing solid colours, or predominantly black. They have gang hand signs, symbols and a distinctive lingo when communicating with one another. Most importantly, they have an agenda that sets them apart from the mainstream culture or even between gangs. All these are “gestures… which offend the ‘silent majority’” (Hebdige, p.152). These distinctive features, set them apart from the mainstream population making them visibly the “out-group” (Ganapathy, 2016).

But one must also be alert to the fact that as much as this subculture of gangs and secret societies are pretty much alive in Singapore, so is the reistance to it from mainstream cultures and the social and idoelogical strucutres that rule society. While doing research for this post, it was extremely difficut to obtain current information besides gang names. There were no pictures, not much coverage, and information avaible was rather generic, extremely outdated. This heavy censorship and regualtion of matieral online could be seen on the State’s Ideological State Apparatus and Repressive State Apparatus at play (Althusser, 1971).

Dick Hebdige. 1979. “(i) From Culture to Hegemony; (ii) Subculture: The Unnatural Break,” Media and Cultural Studies: KeyWorks: 124-136.

Ganapathy, N. (2016). “Us” and “Them”: Ethnic Minority Gangs in Singapore Prisons. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 32(3), 264–284. https://doi.org/10.1177/1043986216656686 

Louis Althusser. c1971. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Towards an Investigation).” Media and Cultural Studies: KeyWorks: 79-87.



We, the Bronies of Singapore…

Picture: RICE Media

Picture source: RICE Media

The Brony (brother and pony) community in Singapore can be considered a youth subculture. The community consists of males between the ages of 13 to 35 who are open about their love for the cartoon show, My Little Pony, that is intended for girls. The Singapore Brony Facebook group, which is a closed group, has accumulated over a thousand members since its creation 8 years ago. Bronies are not just native to Singapore, there is an international following as well.

Bronies are already considered as being part of the subculture. Hebdige very eloquently defined the subculture as “noise (as opposed to sound) (and) interference,” (p. 153) thus highlighting how it resists the mainstream. The subculture is expected to be marginalised but in line with Barthes’ theory on the arbitrary nature of culture (p. 146), instead suggests a misunderstanding.

The Singaporean Bronies have been called derogatory names like paedophiles and perverts, both labels ascribing transgressions of a moral and gendered dimension onto its holders. The alignment with structures of society like morality, thus supports Althusser’s argument that “it is structures that (ideology) impose… unconsciously.” (p. 148)

The gendered dimension here, is reflective of how the cartoon is understood normatively, through its production and marketing, to be for girls and reiterates the hegemonic gender binary. In turn, that ideology creates a normalised routine of behaviours and responses that creates gender performativity. The act of watching a cartoon is thus an expression of gender.

Singapore being a conservative society and taking pride in its “Asian-ess” inscribes expectations upon each gender, more so than the Western cultures that other Bronies are situated in. Our heritage, which can eventually be traced back to Hebdige’s concept of ritual, is what creates the mainstream and the subculture in gender.

 

References:

“Bronies Are Just Men Appreciating Creativity.” AsiaOne. July 29, 2014. Accessed March 10, 2019. https://www.asiaone.com/singapore/bronies-are-just-men-appreciating-creativity.

Hebdige, Dick. “From Culture to Hegemony; Subculture: The Unnatural Break.” In The Cultural Studies Reader, edited by Simon During, 144-60. Routledge, 2007.

“”My Little Pony Saved My Life”: Inside the Bewildering World of Bronies.” RICE Media. February 23, 2018. Accessed March 10, 2019. http://ricemedia.co/little-pony-saved-my-life-inside-bewildering-world-bronies/.

 

Glitz, Glamour, Subculture

Make-up, corsets, stilettos, and lots of tape to tuck everything down, there, Adam Ameng’s drag experience (Wasis, 2018) and his youthful performance of gender elucidates how style has been appropriated by the local drag scene to articulate the profane, the unnatural and the noise which Hebdige (1979) associated subculture with. This noise interferes with society’s orderly sequence, in this case Singapore’s hegemonic understandings of gender, which renders drag subcultural.

Photo Credit: Adam Ameng (Wasis, 2018)

Indeed, hetero-normative ways of being a man or woman (the appropriateness of what to wear to how to act) is so pervasive in our everyday lives, it eludes our consciousness. As Butler (1990:33) puts it, gender is understood as ‘the repeated stylization of the body’ to produce over time ‘a natural sort of being’ (Butler, 1990:33) – something of common-sense that conforms to the hegemonic ideologies of a place. Drag however challenges such hegemonic assumptions of gender. As a highly-embodied art form, Adam reveals how his transition into Yeastmonster (his drag name) relinquishes his masculinity – the tucking in of his male genitals and the articulation of breasts. Additionally, Adam dons on make-up, dresses and puts on a feminine demeanor. His expression of his drag-self therefore subverts hegemonic modes of presentation.

While Adam enjoys drag, he reveals how the drag subculture is rife with prejudice and discrimination. Adam points to how he kept his hobby a secret from his family despite already coming out gay to them. He also alludes to how it’s a ‘masculine for masculine society’ in the gay dating scene, demonstrating how gender-bending is marginalized. Adam therefore reveals how style can provoke ‘a double response: it is alternatively celebrated and ridiculed or reviled’ (Hebdige, 1979:154).

What is subcultural is one that is necessarily transgressional. As Creswell (1996) argues, It is through transgression, that the ‘common sense relationship between behaviour and place become underlined’. Since what is hegemonic escapes our consciousness, it takes the non-normative practices (the subculture) to reveal unspoken codes of conduct.

Reference List

Butler, Judith. “Gender trouble, feminist theory, and psychoanalytic discourse.” Feminism/postmodernism 327 (1990).

Creswell, Tim. 1996. In place/out of place: Geography, ideology, and transgression. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Dick Hebdige. 1979. “(i) From Culture to Hegemony; (ii) Subculture: The Unnatural Break,” Media andCultural Studies: KeyWorks: 124-136

Wasis, Kaisah. 2018. “Living The Double Life As A Drag Queen”. Youth.SG. https://www.youth.sg/Spotted/People/2018/4/Living-the-double-life-as-a-drag-queen.

“Motor Siao” and Skinheads in Singapore

Subculture is a group of people within a culture that differentiates itself from the parent culture to which it belongs, often maintaining some of its founding principles. Subcultures develop their own norms and values regarding cultural, political and sexual matters. Subcultures are part of society while keeping their specific characteristics intact. In my opinion, I see subcultures in Singapore as a symbolic identity that uniquely defines us as authentic Singaporean.

Dick Hebdige reiterated what Wilmott mentioned “the idea of a completely classless youth culture was premature and meaningless.” To this, I concur because the yesteryear of “motor siao” culture is closely linked to secret societies and gangs. They formed sub-groups of their own and took part in street races and fights. They are easily identified by their flashy helmets and bikes, and deafening exhaust pipes which deviates from the conservative norms of olden Singapore.

However, I beg to differ here. In the era of 1970s to 1980s, skinheads were seen as classless and often associated with punk culture which relates to rudeness, crime, drugs and alcohol. In today’s context, skinhead culture is embraced with a different connotation. People are more receptive and more are volunteering themselves to shave their head for a cause. What was viewed as deviance in the past has now evolved itself into a movement laudable and recognized by the masses.

All in all, I feel that whether a trend is considered subculture very much depends on the boundaries set by a society. Progressively, what may be seen as subculture in the past may be considered as the norm 10 or 20 years down the road.

The Gentleman’s Pride: A Singapore Subculture

The style sensitive and sweat tolerant gentlemen behind The Gentleman’s Pride.

In During’s Introduction to Hebdige’s “THE FUNCTION OF SUBCULTURE”, he defines subcultural forms as “communal and symbolic engagements” organised around that of “age and class, and are expressed in the creation of styles” (p.441). Additionally, Hebdige’s noteworthy definition states that subcultures represent “noise” and disruption to what we know is the “orderly sequence” of life (p.153).

Based on the definitions, I explore how The Gentleman’s Pride (TGP), a movement by and for Singaporean men, is an example of a youth subculture in Singapore. TGP was founded by six Singaporean male influencers yearning to groom, style and guide local men on how to dress and behave. TGP is a subculture for a variety of reasons:

1)The founders of TGP set themselves apart from the mainstream Singaporean male dressing by donning stylish three-piece suits adorned with hats, scarves and shades. The majority of Singaporean men are not as fashionably dressed; rather, they are clad in simple, pedestrian looking clothing, with few layers as possible due to reasons like Singapore’s hot and humid weather.

Singapore’s Average Joe – Anyone spot a lad donning a hat, scarf or shades gets a prize.

2)This movement received controversial media attention (“noise”) when it was first publicised. Hebdige states that when a subculture emerges, there is “a wave of hysteria in the press” that fluctuates between “dread and fascination, outrage and amusement” (p.154). (Click on links for examples)

Additionally, this subculture has a strong focus on style. Hebdige elaborates on how style particularly “provokes a double response” of being “celebrated (in the fashion page) and ridiculed or reviled (in those articles which define subcultures as social problems).” I feel the polarity of response is because one’s style can (by extension) express one’s class, status and character.

In Singapore, I feel what determines what is subcultural is when the actions, beliefs and behaviours of a group do not fully resonate with the dominant culture. This creates a membership of like-minded individuals that have differing views and practices from the dominant. What I feel is not subcultural is when a group assimilates into the dominant cultural ideology. Where their beliefs and practices “(both visual and verbal) becomes more and more familiar” (p.155) to the point that it does not evoke any strong emotional response, hence it has normalised into mainstream culture.

References:

Chia, S. (2015). Looking sharp, gentlemen. Retrieved from https://www.asiaone.com/women/looking-sharp-gentlemen

Dick Hebdige’s “(i) From Culture to Hegemony; (ii) Subculture: The Unnatural Break” (p.153-155)

Dick Hebdige’s “THE FUNCTION OF SUBCULTURE” Simon During’s Introduction (p.441)

Lee, J. (2015). The Pride takes a fall over “pretentious” gentleman style. Retrieved from https://www.tnp.sg/lifestyle/fashion/pride-takes-fall-over-pretentious-gentleman-style

Limpeh’s take on Singapore’s The Gentleman’s Pride. (2015). Retrieved from http://limpehft.blogspot.com/2015/06/limpehs-take-on-gentlemans-pride.html