Did you watch that Amanda Palmer/Reb Fountain mashup of Blurred Lines and Rape Me? Did you feel weird? Me too.
We’re losing the art of being able to sit with what makes us uncomfortable. But we need to stick with it.
The Art of Paying Attention
I first saw the video on an activist friend’s social media feed. I was on the train home from work, didn’t have my headphones. Turned it off, I knew I needed to remember to open it later and watch it again, take the time to do it.
I tried to watch it again. I knew I needed to watch it, but it was just so intense. I felt all the feels.
Then it got traction around the social media circuit. “Amanda Palmer is back on her bullshit,” but the first thing to know is that abortion is being outlawed, where women’s rights in Texas are being crushed.
What is it, this mashup? It is performance art. You’ve got two creative, talented female artists looking at you through the camera, as if you’re part of their performance, you’re there with them. Those stares down the barrel are intentional.
Who are they looking at? Good question. (Me? You? Texan lawmakers? All of us.)
When Reb speaks the words ‘Do it like it hurts… like it hurts’. It triggers. It’s definitely a statement providing a voice for those who have experienced sexual violence in society. Amanda says, “We live in a world that constantly dismisses and minimises rape and sexual violence. We sang this song for those who – for whatever reason – cannot speak”.
Rape Me by Nirvana is the opposite of what everyone thinks. It’s one of the few rock anthems to acknowledge rape as a violation (rather than a desire). Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain was ahead of his time, identifying as a feminist and publicly calling out racism, homophobia, and sexism.
Layers and layers to the choices of those songs. How old is that Blurred Lines? Even after the news of Emily Ratajkowski's on-set experience made world headlines, there are still women who think that song’s okay ‘cause it’s got a great beat’ (ahem, that was stolen). At least Rob Sheffield at Rolling Stone labeled it as ‘The Worst Song of This or any Year’.
Amanda and Reb’s mashup is genius. This piece wouldn't be as powerful and evocative if they were by themselves or the songs on their own. It’s the relationship - the unconscious collective - it’s to all the women, but it’s for all the men.
The Art of Being Uncomfortable
The basic rhetorical question is: how much does it fucking take? To make women safe?
So much progress has been made, and yet, Texas.
It’s all part of losing nuance in our social media conversations. So it’s easy to go “oh, Amanda Palmer is back on her bullshit” rather than to dig deeper and understand who Lizz Winstead is, what her intentions are, and how these artists have responded to the call in.
There’s so much more to it than a couple of talented musicians having a crack at a mashup.
Lizz Winstead — reproductive rights activist, producer, comedian, co-created The Daily Show (been slowly written out of the history of it)! - founded Lady Parts Justice League, now known as Abortion Access Force, to fight for abortion rights. She has been utilising her influential friends to respond to these matters using comedy, music, and art such as DoRe #MeToo. [Editor’s note: this particular song was a result of Lizz’s recent project asking “righteous Feminists” to reclaim “horribly sexist songs!”]
The Art of Responding
Reb and Amanda have done their job, what’s ours? Artists are some of the realest heroes for causes - giving so much of themselves and their art - but if all this song did was generate a few social media reckons, then their masterpiece equates to nothing more than a cat meme, and then we as a society will have failed them.
So what will you do? And: remembering that this is in the context of Texas, and reproduction rights for women in the United States.
That might feel all a bit disconnected now from lockdowns and inequality here in Aotearoa. Could we dare to be brave and dive deep into that space of discomfort and ask ourselves the why?
Perhaps we might just find growth… You wanna build muscles, you have to rip them apart, so they knit back together stronger. If we want society to be more ripped, we have to tear up the old songs and mash them back together.
Sexual violence: where to get help
Rape Crisis 0800 88 33 00, click link for local helplines.
The Harbour Online support and information for people affected by sexual abuse.
Women’s Refuge 0800 733 843
Male Survivors Aotearoa Helplines across NZ, click to find out more (males only).
If you or someone else is in immediate danger, call 111.