Friday, May 06, 2011

Social authority

At one level, you can watch how the cast of the Jersey Shore interact with each other. In what ways do they try to tell each other what to do? That's interesting to observe in any group of people. Anarchists always want to anticipate that, because within human relations it is pretty much inevitable. But what you want to evaluate is the claim to authority. Someone might tell someone else to clean the kitchen because it's their turn and a dirty kitchen affects everyone. Or someone might tell someone else to clean the kitchen because they are "the boss" and they decide what goes. Different people in the apartment might be "cool" with either or both scenarios. It can get complicated, but the point is that you want to think these things through in terms of who is primarily impacted and what their feelings are about it, while at the same time endorsing less hierarchical alternatives wherever "boss" roles are popularly entrenched -- as is often the case for sake of "efficiency."

Telling other people what to do takes a lot of different forms; it can easily spill over into telling people how to feel or what to think. One of the customary slights between women in the show is to call each other "fat," for example. "Fat" is something that takes on special vehemence in a patriarchal society when it is directed at women, so my partner and I were disappointed to see how readily women used it against each other. It's a very bad strategy, because society tries to tell every woman how she should feel about herself according to society's standards. In other words, when women try to use this as a weapon, there is nothing to stop anyone else from attacking them by the same means. It would be better to reject it as a weapon altogether -- to reject the legitimacy of any social authority that would try to tell women how to measure their self-worth, except on their own terms.

The conflicts between women on the show, like so much of the individual behavior we observe, can't be judged meaningfully until we place it in the larger context of social authority. These women didn't individually come up with the notion that calling each other fat could be strategically useful in a given context; they took the reference from what society is telling them all the time. So if you want to lament how immature Angelina or Snooki can be, you have to lament how immature mainstream society already is, since that's where they're getting it from. The same goes for all the awful things the boys get into, which we will discuss shortly. Their behavior may be their own, but the responsibility for this type of behavior is something that everybody shares insofar as we participate in the general culture.

1 comment:

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