Intimacy Issues in Popular Culture and Art

Amy WinehouseCover of Amy Winehouse

Last weekend, a good friend called me and shared the unfortunate news that one of the more troubled entertainers in recent pop history, British singer Amy Winehouse, had passed away. While we considered the more obvious causes for her death, there were more deeply rooted issues that we drew out of such sad circumstances. Issues such as eating disorders, beauty image, and public image were matters that provoked a very compassionate discussion that reminded us to be thankful for each others' support.

It isn't easy for women, in the UK, the United States, or other countries, to balance their personal expression with the barrage of public standards that seem to fog up our concepts of artists, women, and culture altogether. Ann Powers addressed the unforgiving nature of pop celebritydom in this compassionate article via NPR. This particular passage reminded me of the creative tensions that can overwhelm people in their lives, and in shaping their creativity:
She seemed locked in a battle with the media — her observers both fretted over her and demonized her, and she responded with self-damaging defiance...Women's suffering has often inspired admiration from audiences whose embrace of their tragic heroine can seem like equal parts sympathy and sadism.
Just a few weeks ago, I encountered an artist that I had not been aware of before. American artist Laurel Nakadate's work sort of bothered me at first glance. When I read more about her in this Economist article, I realized that she was grappling with the same (very public) issues that follow many people home--just as she does in her performances. The summation of Nakadate's early works illustrates her tendency to examine the intense voyeurism that many direct at women in general while framing it in her less seductive perspective. J.S. explained her technique as follows:
For several years she made videos featuring lonely older men who started conversations with her in grocery stores and parking lots; she would agree to go home with them as long as they allowed her to film what happened, which would usually turn out to be a scenario of her choosing. In some cases this meant a pretend birthday party (we see the man eating a slice of cake and then singing to her) or a pretend music video (we watch her dance to “Oops, I Did It Again”, Britney Spears’s paean to inadvertent seduction).
Why Britney Spears? Why not? Her work is the epitome of public meets private image, and the damage that it can evoke over time. Was this Nakadate's attempt to weave a sense of morality to the fantasy-breaking videos and comment on the mirage of celebritydom? Perhaps, and it's worth contemplating.
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