What is the use of cultural criticism? According to scholars, and a field that is articulated in the analysis of criticism and the cultural industry, some of the basic presuppositions for this are discussed: the public sphere, as the field in which it is possible to observe and analyze a phenomenon or cultural expression; an idea of mediation between artist and audience; and a rational approach to processes. In the latter case, the premise is the consideration of the historical context in which the work to be object of criticism is positioned; the presentation of the various perspectives on the work; and, last but not least, the socio-political contextualization of the work being analyzed, thus understanding art not as descriptive of reality but with “verisimilitude”, leading to literary terms,
What we have seen in the historical course, unfortunately, is a lame cultural criticism, which discards premises for its production and has served, as an instrument of hierarchy and validation on what should or should not be considered culture, qualifying and disqualifying productions between scholarly and popular by the hour, elevated and pimped by another, and could !, demarcating, at bottom, a bourgeois ideology that imposes itself hegemonic.
Anitta’s new single “Vai malandra” was released on December 19, and the controversy is already big, like everything that surrounds the artist in recent times. The main criticisms have been around the objectification of the Brazilian woman’s body; cultural appropriation; and the direction of the clip , which was made by the American photographer Terry Richardson .
In the first case, there is a strong criticism of the objectification of women’s bodies. I sincerely hoped that in the middle of 2017 we would have surpassed that: the woman category is not universal. What I mean by this? I mean that the processes of formation, understanding of the world, experiences, obstacles, guarantee of rights, achievements and oppressions are absolutely different among women. And they are not diverse by a mere detail, they are diverse because the structural oppressions, that is, of class, race, are lived by the women of different way, since the difference treated like inequality is what guarantees the full functioning of a system based in racial, gender and class hierarchies.
What differentiates and potentiates young white women who leave without a shirt and bra on the streets of female funkeiras, or samba school droppers, celebrating their own body? Why are some more legitimized than others? What are the degrees of premise, ideology, and taste, to use Bourdieusian terms that determine and differentiate what may be considered celebration of the body and discourse of sexual freedom and objectification? And where does the potentiality of subversion of these women go? Where do the subjectivities and individualities of the peripheral people go?
In my view, these are fundamental questions to begin any discussion that one wants to make about returning to analyzes that disqualify the way black and peripheral women, mostly black women, live their bodies. It is necessary to decolonize the eye, to dismantle premises that are not universal.
Not all of us have always been prisoners in the experience of sexuality. In the case of peripheral, black women, this sexuality, even, was experienced in a violent way, and still is today. We do not disagree. However, we disagree on the intention to dictate how these women should fight and counter an objectification that, I repeat, is systemic.
The main response has been to subvert that look imputed by the other. It is known, and there are even studies, the difference of understanding of the body between popular and average classes. In the latter, they are leaner bodies, following the hegemonic fashion patterns; whereas among the popular classes the most unctuous bodies are considered more attractive, and in the last period there is even greater diversity in the celebration of fat bodies.
The clip of Anitta brings the context of favelas and peripheries in a credible way: women who brown on the slab, with a trade about it in emergency; celebrate their bodies and prepare to go to the club at the end of the day. If this is an objectification, then we are saying that subversion is not possible and we are putting the peripheral women, once again, in a place of passivity. That’s right?
I will not say much about the second element: criticism of cultural appropriation. I understand that this is one of the issues that we are returning to in a biased way. Cultural appropriation is accomplished in a systemic way, when capital hijacks a cultural element to profit from it in a decontextualized way. I ask myself: To what extent has Anitta, being a child of Hurricane 2000, from the state of Rio de Janeiro, appropriating elements of the favela, a place from which she left? About the aesthetic Afro, braids box braidin hair, I return to the structural element that must be demarcated in the analysis of cultural appropriation coming out of the field of individualization of the debate. I confess I do not like it. Could Anitta have been wearing her headdress from the times of Hurricane and would still present the context of the favelas and battles in Rio? Just watch a funk dance that we would see that yes.
Finally, the direction of the clip being made by Terry Richardson. The American photographer has been placed in ostracism in the USA after several denunciations of sexual harassment and abuse. Some will point out that Anitta, or her acting, may have made the choice by focusing on an entry into the international scene. But I reflect that the artist has already achieved this entry and could have made use of other directors, who would present the favela-peripheral aesthetics as well as, including securing greater intersection of race in the clip, something that was much to be desired.
Moreover, when we are experiencing such an important moment of women’s voices rising against abuse, harassment and sexist violence in the cultural industry, it seems to me, at the very least, unnecessary to resurrect names that really need to rely on our reinforcement and pressure so that the accusations are investigated and the crimes they commit are penalized. Until that happens, the least we should do is to ostracize abusers. And I think that, in that, we should establish a sincere debate with the singer.
Debate and criticism are fundamental, embracing diversity without universal premises and calling for accountability on what, at least in my view, is the big problem of this: digging up abusers. Regarding objectification of bodies, we recall that we are not universal and that peripheral-favelada women are individuals with subjectivities and who wage daily struggles of subversion to face violence to those who are subjugated. Protagonism is to understand that we are all subject to our all stories.