Go Fug Yourself is funny, or why feminists should like it when witches cackle
Recently on the internets there was a debate about whether or not it was proper feminist protocol to pop open a site called Go Fug Yourself and cackle mercilessly at the parade of horrid celebrity clothing that the proprieters mock. Ann Bartow said no; Lindsay said yes. At the heart of the debate is not whether you can tell at first blush whether or not making fun of stupid clothes is sexist so much as whether or not or it’s appropriate to laugh at female fashion victims. Are rich fashion victims also victims of the patriarchy? Do we owe them our pity?
Since then there’s been a few interesting posts on this sort of subject. Jedmunds linked to a defense of Paris Hilton. Bitch Lab posted on a debate over whether or not it’s cool that Pink has a video mocking other women for being shallow idiots. To no one’s great surprise, I’m going to weigh in on this debate on the side of ruthless mockery. Not only am I going to approve mocking “stupid girls”, celebrity fashion victims and socialites who are famous for being giant assholes is good, but I’ll say such humor is a valuable component of a sustainable model of patriarchy-blaming.
It’s silly to waste time trying to label individuals as Victims or Not Victims of the patriarchy--it’s perfectly possible for a person to be both victim and oppressor. The guy who has to suffer the humiliation at the hands of the male pecking order at work only to go home and beat his wife is an example of this. Not that this means that I think the defense of Paris Hilton was wrong--I don’t doubt Paris does feel pressure to dress and act a certain way, etc.--but it does well to remember that she’s a huge asshole and a self-appointed judge of other women’s worthiness as sexual playthings, and for this she should be mocked ruthlessly. This recent post from Go Fug Yourself where Heather attacked Brandon Davis and Paris Hilton making fun of Lindsay Lohan is just the sort of humor that makes this feminist cackle. (Hat tip, Ezra.)
It’s well-documented by now what Brandon Davis was filmed saying about Lindsay Lohan—lengthy and numerous rants disparaging her private parts and their cleanliness, announcing that he is disgusted with how poor she is because she is only worth $7 million, and spitting that he would never, ever sleep with her, before asking the videographer, “Would YOU [sleep with] her?” All the while Paris Hilton is choking on her own laughter, because there’s nothing at all trashy about her.
So fuck Paris Hilton for being a shallow turd, too stupid to be aware that if she wasn’t born into wealth, she’s have died off by the time she was 10 years old from sheer stupidity. Mocking her for this is a wholesome activity that should be encouraged. Mockery is an excellent way for people to convey their values systems and progressives shouldn’t cripple ourselves by abandoning this tool. Just as mocking someone’s race encourages racist values, mocking someone for being racist encourages anti-racist values. When you mock Paris Hilton for being the sort of trash who thinks making fun of a woman’s (probably throughly scrubbed and waxed) genitalia, you are discouraging people from being this kind of trash.
Not that I necessarily blame people for being skittish about this sort of thing. There is an epidemic of people who can’t quite grasp how to make fun of someone else. For instance, it’s difficult for people to understand that just because Michelle Malkin is an odious person doesn’t mean she’s a good target for racist insults. There’s one very simple rule when determining how to make fun of someone:
Mock the thing that is odious about them, not something innocous.
Simple. There is nothing wrong with having Asian heritage, but there is something wrong about being a racist twit. When mocking Malkin, mock her racist twittery. Alternately, what’s funny about Paris Hilton is not that she has sex nor that she filmed it; what is funny is that she answered her cell phone in the middle of the filmed sexual encounter, indicating what her investment in the situation was. Especially funny is the way her partner chased her around the bed trying to get her to hold still, indicating a lack of dignity on his part.
And mocking the parade of horrible clothes that celebrities wear might not be your thing, but it’s a perfectly feminist activity in that it functions as a critique of the very existence of fashion victimhood. The fashion industry is showing nothing but contempt for women when they churn out clothes designed to make women look stupid or clownish and when we meet their contempt with derisive laughter, we are fighting back.
I agree with everything in your post up until the summation. I’m a big gofugyourself fan, but I’m finding it difficult to see how the activity, in itself, is part of a feminist critique.
What they’re doing, it seems to me, is not fighting back against the fashion industry at all, but rather, and fairly simply, acting as fashion critics. And when I say critics I mean it in the best sense-- they understand fashion and fashion culture and the place of fashion in American celebrity culture.
They are, it’s true, fighting back against celebrity culture by taking advantage of the opportunity presented by a fug (I think that’s the proper usage) to ridicule various celebrities for being vapid and narcissistic and obnoxious. But the best thing they’re doing is fighting back against ignorance-- they’re elevating the discourse about fashion by writing about it intelligently. And they’re funny, so they’re against non-funniness too.
Since when does intelligent and stylish writing have to be defended on feminist grounds? It defends itself on its own grounds, and in the case of gofugyourself, the writers are feminist because they have a feminist sensibility and it permeates their writing in more subtle ways. They care about clothes looking good in the way that art critics care about art looking good, and their taste isn’t oppressive in requiring people to dress expensively or to be ridiculously thin before being held to look good.
I know the fashion industry is a feminist minefield, but the gfy writers are so far and away superior fashion writers than anyone I can think of that the whole debate about their feminist cred seems gratuitous.
DanPosted by on 05/24 at 11:06 AM
I laughed so hard at the Eurovision fug I had to wipe spit off the monitor.Posted by on 05/24 at 01:19 PM
Are rich fashion victims also victims of the patriarchy? Do we owe them our pity?
There was a funny little story in the May 2006 Harper’s called A Change in Fashion by Steve Millhauser (not yet released online, but soon) which definitely suggest that the answer to both of your questions is a resounding NO! I suspect we could, with a great deal of wasted time, effort, and money, conduct some in depth research to compile data on the gender orientations of the machinations of the the capital and profits involved in the visual display of celebrity fashion. Questions regarding the input of managers and publicists on what to wear when, bids by designers to dress certain people, the fashion knock-off corporate world that enslaves (okay a little wage-slavery) millions in China, Africa, and South America (as well as the dark ugly parts of NYC and LA), choices by costume and set designers in laying out our visual media experiences (of which we individually have choices regarding our participation and use of our dollars), and so forth.
But, ten minutes of a red carpet show on the six broadcast and cable video outlets suggests that it is the victims themselves who pander to receive the abuse and mockery they deserve. And that ten minutes can be collapsed into ten seconds of all-time video history that captures the entire spectrum of a hundred plus years of celebrity fashion reality. On what side of the fence do the patriarchs and matriarchs fall when they observed the very gay homosexual designer Isaac Mizrahi fondling Scarlett Johanson’s breasts to “ascertain” the construction of her choice of fashion?
That singular moment speaks volumes to this discussion. Did she repel the apparent assault?? Did the male homosexual’s behavior constitute a sexual assault on a female? Was fashion and the interest of both celebrities in it, including the networks and moneyed interests of advertisers, media moguls, studio profiteers, the real issue?? Does it matter in the long run?Posted by on 05/24 at 02:44 PM
To me, an important part of feminism is minimizing the amount of harm and humilation I inflict on other people, especially other women. I fail at this a lot - every day, really. But to me it is part of the feminist value system. I try not to judge people based on their race, their economic class, their appearance, their religion, their family status, their education level, their weight, etc. I try to focus instead on the content of a person’s character, which in the blogosphere is communicated almost exclusively through words. Again, I admit I fail at this, profoundly fail at it sometimes, but I try, and I am grateful to people like Chris Clarke who remind me how important it is to keep trying.
I do not understand a feminism that celebrates mocking people for being too fat, or too thin, or too “trailer trashy,” or too old looking, or for having drooping breasts, which are all things that Go Fug Yourself engages in regularly. Pretending the site is only about clothes is disingenuous, as such a claim is easily disproven by a visit to the site and its archives. Obviously, humor is a very personal thing.Posted by Ann Bartow on 05/24 at 02:45 PM
"indicating a lack of dignity on his part.”
I didn’t see the film, but from the description I have to conclude that the guy just had a boner and he didn’t really care where he got to put it. As a fellow occasional boner haver, I find it offensive that this be characterized as a lack of dignity.Posted by on 05/24 at 02:55 PM
I remember, oldster that I am, when women dressed beautifully, even me. Now I’m a slob like everyone else.Posted by Hattie on 05/24 at 06:01 PM
The good folks at Bitch Magazine have a brief editorial on GFY in the current issue that aligns pretty well with my opinion on the matter. I like the writing at Fug; I don’t like the sentiments so much. IMO, fashion is fun (rather than oppressive) to the extent that it allows play and goofiness. Best-dressed lists don’t reward these things, or eccentricity, or originality. What’s the fun in everyone looking the same? And why, indeed, the hating on a 12-year-old wearing a frilly dress?Posted by on 05/24 at 06:53 PM
I do enjoy Go Fug Yourself, too. It’s so much better without the comments—remember when there were blog comments? In contrast to GFY’s Heather and Jessica, many commenters were resolutely antifeminist—a woman wearing a too-short skirt was routinely called a slut.Posted by Orange on 05/24 at 07:54 PM
I’ve been reading GFY prettyy much from day one and the writers have always made it clear that it’s about the clothes, not the bodies inside the clothes. The only time they’ve commented on the bodies was when it was a starlet with an obvious eating disorder and in those cases it was always a cry for them to eat something. I have seen them again and again compliment women who were carrying extra weight well or older women dressing appropriately for their age.
I can understand the sentiment that GFY is too judgmental and shallow in their outlook, but we are talking about celebrities here. People whose entire existence revolves around shallowness and the pathetic idea that they are far more important than they actually are. I will always sit and listen to someone who can take them down a peg with style and wit.
No, there’s nothing feminist about GFY. There’s not supposed to be. That doesn’t mean it betrays feminist principles in any way.Posted by on 05/24 at 08:31 PM
I won’t rehash what is going on in the Pandagon comments thread, but any site that makes fun of a woman going through cancer treatment for being too skinny has some serious “humor” problems.
Acting and music are supposed to be about craft first and foremost, but GFY just reinforces the dominant “beauty trumps talent, or at least is a required adjunct” paradigm that is so hard on people in the entertainment fields, especially women. Yes, GYF focuses on people who have “made it,” but also helps set the appearance standards for people who are trying to get there.
The mentality on display at GFY is connected by a fair amount of social science not only to things like eating disorders, but also to domestic violence. Women get beaten for looking too “fugly” as well as too sexy. GFY didn’t cause this problem, but the site certainly validates and reinforces a certain kind of lookism that is often linked to relationship violence.
I could pontificate a long time on this subject, but I doubt many of y’all are interested. Those who have an academic bent know there is a rich literature about this and related topics.Posted by Ann Bartow on 05/24 at 09:07 PM
GFY didn’t cause this problem, but the site certainly validates and reinforces a certain kind of lookism that is often linked to relationship violence.
Go Fug as enabler of violence against women? I don’t think I could make such a claim so “certainly” as all that.Posted by on 05/25 at 12:48 AM
So can we mock people for being stupid or ignorant? Is that innocuous or not? (Serious question)
I mean, arguably it’s not something they can help. I know virtually nothing about the American Civil War, so it’s possible I could make some crass statement along the lines of “General Grant fought for the Confederacy” or something, but would it be OK to mock me for that?
Similarly, if someone’s just not a very clear thinker and says something like “Couldn’t we just solve poverty by printing lots of money and giving it to everybody”, can we mock them for that, because they should have been able to see the problem?Posted by on 05/25 at 09:54 AM
Go Fug Yourself is a giant riff on the fuckability of celebrities. It’s meanly funny, but it sure ain’t feminist.Posted by Sammi on 05/25 at 11:41 AM
Ann Bartow writes: “To me, an important part of feminism is minimizing the amount of harm and humilation I inflict on other people, especially other women.”
That seems sensible to me as a good guideline for how to be a good person in the world, but a terrible guideline for how to be a good writer in the world.
That’s not to say that writing/criticism needs to be cruel, but there’s a certain kind of writing that uses cruelty as a rhetorical tool. If it’s used clumsily, then we dismiss the writer as gratuitously nasty. If it’s used skillfully, as I believe it is at gofugyourself, then some people will still dismiss the writer as gratuitously nasty, but other people will decide that the value of the good writing supersedes the value of being considerate all the time.
I don’t want to accuse Professor Bartow of being a philistine (well, maybe I do a little bit). She obviously doesn’t find the website very interesting, and she obviously doesn’t think, as I do, that it’s permeated by a feminist sensibility. Fair enough. Tastes differ, and anyone who thinks that politics and ideology shouldn’t inform taste doesn’t understand very much about how taste is formed and refined. I find Maxim intolerable, for instance, because its politics are so disgustingly laddish—it’s not because I don’t like looking at scantily clad women. The politics ruin the women for me; they make them less appealing to look at because I can’t look at them without feeling complicit in the way that Maxim constructs women.
That said, we need a much more sophisticated paradigm for evaluating whether or not a piece of writing passes the feminist smell test than whether or to what degree it makes fun of other women or evaluates them on the basis of what they’re wearing.
Not only that, but we have to think about what degree of misogynistic error (I’m sure gfy has committed such, even by my lower standards) is permissible for a writer who’s trying to craft and evolve a writerly voice that uses stereotypes and sexist tropes in a playful, essentially non-sexist way. Offensive is offensive, and should be criticized as such, but good writers deserve some leeway to be unjustifiably offensive once in a while in the same way that student doctors need to make mistakes on living people so that they can be more error-free doctors later on, because society, to function well, needs both good writers and good doctors.
Of course GFY is corrupted, to a degree, by the failings of the celebrity culture it feeds on, but for the most part I find the writing there a tonic for the misogynistic emanations of celebrity cultre. It makes me feel better about women because, among other reasons, it’s such vibrant evidence of the ways that women can exist in a still very misogynistic culture without being beated down by it. It also gives me something to talk to my little sister about.
-DanPosted by on 05/25 at 02:41 PM
Psst: Yes, Go Fug Yourself mainly considers women’s fashion choices. But it also targets men, whose fashion options tend to be more constrained, meaning a man has to be really motivated to look silly enough to be fugged. The two most recent posts are on Clay Aiken and John Corbett.
Captcha: hell!Posted by Orange on 05/25 at 03:00 PM
I take it to be a critique on the celeb culture and the willing participants of it.
Someone like britney who lets herself become a packaged star, selling a hellish blend of sexuality/innocence with over produced, faked karaoke muzac gets no symapthy from me when people make fun of her sloppy attire.Posted by on 05/25 at 04:09 PM
Wow, we’re taking GFY waaaaay too seriously here. It’s funny writing with a tich of social/celeb commentary, trying to get us to see the ridiculousness in CARING about what Lindsay Lohan is wearing or who Paris Hilton is doing. And for those of you who think Jessica & Heather are anti-women, please read their spirited pleas to La Lohan to clean up her sad act, or today’s worshipfully funny post on Faye Dunway. In short, the girls are funny, often brilliant writers. It’s like Sadly, No for the smarter than the average bear People/US reader. Oh wait, shouldn’t bring up S,N! around some of these posters, sorry.Posted by on 05/26 at 12:51 PM
Dan - you raise some interesting points, although who “we” is would be the first thing I’d need you to explain before we could have any sort of meaningful dialogue, which would probably be impossible here because…
CRB - I have a pretty good idea of who you are and your unhealthy obsession with me grows tiresome.Posted by Ann Bartow on 05/26 at 03:44 PM
Jedmunds linked to a defense of Paris Hilton these are some interesting points where i can going to rethink and make a seance where i do better one.
SEO Experiment will give you more clear idea.Posted by David on 02/27 at 03:01 PM
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