Tag Archives: Beyonce

Apeshit: Beyoncé and Jay Z Own the Louvre and Claim the Canon


Laurie and Debbie say:


First things first. The video of “Apeshit,” from The Carters’ new album, Everything Is Love, is at the top of this post. Watch and listen.

Let’s look at what Beyoncé and Jay Z have done. By filming this in the Louvre, possibly the most famous museum of western art in the world, by choosing some of the most iconic art of Europe to work with, they have placed themselves and their work in “the canon,” that powerful, hard-to-define, frequently criticized bastion of art critics and pundits. “The canon” has historically been what a comparatively small group of mostly white, mostly male scholars and public intellectuals say it is.

And the first rule of the canon is “No one can put themselves in the canon.” No one can write a book or make a piece of visual art or create music and declare that they have added to the canon; the canon only exists because of the people who are usually not artists, who claim the right to define it.

The second rule of the canon is that the further outside the mainstream of white male art your work is, the harder time you will have getting a foothold, and the more grateful you have to be if any of the gatekeepers even breathe the idea that your work might belong there.

Enter Beyoncé and Jay Z, two brilliant artists and social commentators whose work is loved and admired around the globe, whose work (especially Beyoncé’s) is both extremely popular and highly regarded. Fortune magazine recently called Beyoncé “the most powerful woman in the music industry.” But her work is not generally taught in college classrooms outside of specialized studies (popular culture, hip-hop, African-American studies). It’s not regularly invoked in discussions of 21st century art trends … not, in short, in the music industry’s equivalent of the Louvre (where we would probably only find symphonic and operatic music, most of it a century old or more).

As you watch the video, you see how the Carters didn’t just use the Louvre as a video set, they made it their own. They used the art and the stairs and the walls and the ceilings; they re-envisioned the museum as the backdrop for what they wanted to do. And they made a video that is going to affect tens of thousands of museum-goers for a long time: if you watch “Apeshit” more than a couple of times, it will affect how you see the Louvre if you ever get there.

They wrote themselves into the canon in a way that no one can erase. And they did it with what certainly looks like supreme confidence, as well as extraordinary artistry. And then, to crown their achievement, they simply presented it to their audience:  Look what we can do with one of the world’s great spaces.

Wrong Direction: Shonda Rhimes and Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty


Laurie and Debbie say:

Shonda Rhimes is a powerhouse, and a force for good in the world. Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” is one of the first things we blogged about, more than twelve years ago (yes, really) and we’ve always had mixed feelings about it.

Now, twelve years later, Ashley Nguyen writes at The Lily about how Shonda Rhimes is teaming up with Dove to take the Campaign one step further. Terrific, you say? Well, kind of. They are doing a lot that’s right:

After announcing the project in March, Dove and Rhimes created a call-out for women to submit their stories. They looked at more than 4,500 submissions before deciding on the women featured in their first two films … Real Beauty Productions uses a 100 percent female crew to produce the films because, as Rhimes told The Lily, “If you can, why not?”

On one level, reminding women people that beauty isn’t a narrow box is always useful; in 1994, when we released Women En Large: Images of Fat Women, we certainly put a great deal of time and energy into doing just that.

But …

It’s not 1994, or 2005. It’s 2017. It’s becoming clearer and clearer to activists in all fields–from police terror to mass incarceration to gentrification to body image–that the personal story is simultaneously incredibly important and disastrously insufficient. We need personal stories to humanize people, to interest bystanders, and to galvanize change.

We also need to look at the systemic issues, the things the personal stories don’t address and can’t change. In the case of body image, self-worth, and “real beauty,” here’s a short list:

  • The systemic story that a woman must be beautiful to be important, valuable, interesting, or even to like herself is bullshit.  When Rhimes says:

I think my definition of beauty is me at my most. Feeling my best, as confident as I can be, doing my best work. Being at my happiest. I also think it’s the moments where I’ve decided to just be me, despite what anybody else thinks, despite what anybody else might judge, despite what anyone else has been thinking about. It’s just me being me without even noticing anybody else or their judgment.

Why does that have to have anything to do with beauty? We would never say that a man doing his best work, or at his happiest, is at his most beautiful.

  • By any real definition of beauty, everyone can’t be beautiful. For one thing, beauty is cultural and not all of it travels. For another, some people don’t want to be looked at; others don’t care. Focusing on “real beauty” as something for everyone ignores the option of “I don’t want to be/I don’t care about being” beautiful. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness.
  • If everyone was in fact beautiful, wouldn’t that erase beauty? One thing we use our eyes for is to find things and people that please us: some of them are beautiful, some are attractive, some are interesting, or cleverly decked out, or surprising. And many things and people that we see are not particularly visually memorable. In the case of women, why should that one characteristic define them?
  • We should never forget that when we’re talking about women “beauty” is at least partially code for “sexual availability,” and lots of women, including many who might want to be beautiful in other contexts, have extremely good reasons not to want to be lumped into “sexually available” or even judged on our sexual availability.

Yes, Shonda Rhimes and Dove are doing a kind of good work together. If they make one woman feel better about herself, we can cheer that success. What we’d really like to see, however, is Rhimes (probably without Dove, which would lose its vested interest) take on the bigger question of why being at our most, feeling our best, as confident as we can be, doing our best work, being at our happiest is not enough.