Analysis of pop-culture icons cannot be reduced to an uncritical admiration, and surface-level analyses, these positions tell us next to nothing of the true nature of the situation.
People who know me, and have seen me engage in discourse – especially surrounding feminism, gender, and race issues – will know that my analysis is firmly rooted in the anti-capitalist tradition 1. This is exactly where Beyoncé falls flat. Beyoncé is the epitome of what leftists have termed ‘white feminism’ – ‘liberalist feminism’ if you will - a strain of feminism that, while it may contain intersectionality in some regards, fails to understand that without the ruination of capitalism, we are forever doomed to fail to fully emancipate, not only the working people, but all people who suffer from oppression under society as it stands today.
Beyoncé’s role as a ‘political icon’ is a superficial one. We are presented with hollow statements; proclamations without substance. It is not outlined that while Beyoncé’s track Flawless samples and integrates a speech written by the Nigerian feminist, Chimamanda Ngozi, she has since spoken out stating that ‘[Beyoncé’s] feminism is not my feminism’. Ngozi has stated that due to the societal influence women are ‘conditioned to relate everything to men’, and this in her mind is exactly what Beyoncé’s feminism represents; the falsification of liberation in an attempt to create co-operation towards the status quo; a bourgeois feminism, devoid from any semblance of true emancipation (Dandridge-Lemco, 2016).
We are told about teenagers stopping in their tracks to admire the pulsating waves of the great goddess Bey’s magnum opus Lemonade (Klisurič, 2017), but one cannot - and should not - make broad generalized statements about how Beyoncé is the voice of a generation as it ignores how people actually engage with Beyoncé herself, and her output. In Society of the Spectacle Debord states
‘In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation’ (Debord, 1967).
The politics of Beyoncé are a representation of what the current system will allow; what it wants its ‘progressive’ icons to be as the world we live in slowly liberalizes. We are presented with a person who is far enough into politics for it to be intriguing and ‘cutting edge’ for consumers of her as a commodity, but not enough the break the sanctioned space of capitalism.
When news broke of the injection of Black Panther Party symbolism into her performance – a signifier of the current Black Lives Matter campaign, and the Civil rights campaigns of the past – mainstream news sources went wild. ‘Beyoncé unleashes Black Panthers Homage’ (Jessica Elgot, 2016); ‘Beyoncé’s Activism […] is Activism for African Americans' (Tinsley and O’Neill, 2016); to former Black Panther Ericka Huggins stating, ‘I wish there was a way she would know that there are many members of the BPP who really appreciate her’ (Viera, 2016). In response to this performance at the American Super Bowl, groups sought to protest future Beyoncé concerts due to the belief that as the Black Panthers were an anti-police institution, that Beyoncé’s art was a priori anti-police. If this performance did in fact make up an analytical critique of the role of police forces in current society – as a repressive state apparatus created to keep current positions of power intact – great! But unfortunately, it’s come from the mouth of the artist herself; ‘I have so much admiration and respect for officers’ (Gottesman, 2016). The fact stands that this stance on the role of the police industry further problematizes the politics presented.
In 2016, Beyoncé’s clothing line collaboration with Topshop was released. This was pushed in a story with Elle as a piece of the artist’s feminist praxis; ‘even leggings can be a feminist act’; ‘a way to push a feel-good, woman-power ethos’. Tensions started to run high as the clothing line was manufactured at a MAS Holdings Factory, based in Sri Lanka. This outsourcing to other countries lead to the exploitation of workers, with the employed in these factories receiving around $126 US a month, which is stated by a seamstress as not even enough to survive. The wages received by workers in these factories are not living wages, while they have made more women financially independent, they have not made women autonomous, and due to the economic and financial difficulties the workers in these factories are forced to live in worker houses, while working for longer and harder hours than most people in Western countries. While people may point out that the MAS factories have high labour conditions in comparison to other factories in Sri Lanka, and they paid the workers above the minimum wage, how can it be thought that someone who is truly for ‘equality’ leech of the surplus value created by workers in foreign countries? MAS employees have terrible freedom of association rules within the workplace, forbidding workers from unionising, and taking it upon themselves to fight for their rights at work (Kale, 2016).
As outlined above, Beyoncé’s politics are far more complex than the piece I am responding to gave credit for, this ultimately returns us to my original point. Analysis of pop-culture icons cannot be reduced to an uncritical admiration, and surface-level analyses, these positions tell us next to nothing of the true nature of the situation. Beyoncé’s politics, once stripped of its glossed veneer, returns to the state of the status quo. As Barthes stated; ‘Striptease is based on contradiction: Woman is desexualized at the very moment when she is stripped naked’ (Barthes, 1957).
Barthes, R., Lavers, A. and Reynolds, S. (2009). Mythologies. 1st ed. London: Vintage.
Dandridge-Lemco, B. (2016). Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie On Beyoncé: “Her Type Of Feminism Is Not Mine”. [online] The FADER. Available at: http://www.thefader.com/2016/10/07/chimamanda-ngozi-adichie-beyoncs-feminism-comment [Accessed 21 Mar. 2017].
Debord, G. (2010). Society of the Spectacle. 1st ed. Detroit: Black & Red.
Elgot, J. (2016). Beyoncé unleashes Black Panthers homage at Super Bowl 50. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/feb/08/beyonce-black-panthers-homage-black-lives-matter-super-bowl-50 [Accessed 21 Mar. 2017].
Gottesman, T. (2016). Beyoncé Wants to Change the Conversation. [online] ELLE. Available at: http://www.elle.com/fashion/a35286/beyonce-elle-cover-photos/ [Accessed 21 Mar. 2017].
Kale, S. (2016). How Much It Sucks to Be a Sri Lankan Worker Making Beyoncé's New Clothing Line | Broadly. [online] Broadly. Available at: https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/beyonce-topshop-ivy-park-sweatshop-factory-labor [Accessed 21 Mar. 2017].
Klisurič, B. (2017). Beyoncé: Timeless Brilliance. Blueprint - Adelaide High School Student Magazine, (7), p.6.
Viera, B. (2016). The Truth You DON'T Know About the Black Panthers, As Told from a Former Party Member. [online] Teen Vogue. Available at: http://www.teenvogue.com/story/black-panthers-party-beyonce-superbowl [Accessed 21 Mar. 2017].
- 1. This was included due to the original audience, I would like to keep my article as it was originally written, and therefore have not removed it.