Wednesday, May 28, 2008

New Edition, New Kids on the Block, Feminism, Ageism

Trust me, there's a connection.


Like many 25-35 year olds out there, I was a Blockhead.  A blockhead, for those that don't know are fans of the 80s group New Kids on the Block who caused many a sleepless night back when I was a TeenBeat, TigerBeat, Bopper, YM, and 17 magazine reader.  NKOTB was a phenomenon.  My sister and I bought the buttons that were the size of a small child's head, t-shirts, jackets, posters, dolls, towels and taped (!) every performance they had on non-cable telly.  We were completely out of control.  I was eleven.  And nuts.

When life rolled forward and Grunge swept through, then Alternative, Latin pop, and then Dave Matthews, I grew up.  Thanks to YouTube, I still enjoy my NKOTB fix and my iTunes collection is more Hip/Hop, Folk, Soundtrack, and Indie, than pop and candy.

NKOTB recently announced their reunion, plans for a new album, and upcoming tour.  My sister and I are surely going to attend my fourth, her sixth, NKOTB concert.  (Damn, why did I throw away my MC Hammer pants that I wore in '88?)  And in thinking about how young I was then, I began thinking about what's changed besides my plans to move to Boston to marry Jordan Knight.

In those archaic tapes in storage, I have more footage of NKOTB than I'd care to admit, and it's only now that I can fully process a critical detail in the make-up of my favorite coming-of-age band.  . Their producer and manager, Maurice Starr, was also the producer for New Edition, the early sensation group that held Bobby Brown, Ralph Tresvant, Johnny Gill and the others who later became Bell, Biv, DeVoe.

It never occurred to me that Maurice Starr openly admitted that after New Edition he went to form a group with the exact same model -  five kids from Boston (Johnny Gill was a non-Bostonian and was a replacement for Bobby Brown) who could dance, sing, and break little girl hearts.  The difference is here as Joe McIntyre said, "...hey what about New Edition?  There would be no New Kids without them.  And of course, the Jackson Five begat New Edition.  So I guess we were really just the first white boy band."

Eighteen years ago, it didn't cross my little ol' mind what that could mean for music, popularity, consumerism, business, and revenue.  That small but oh so significant racial difference is huge.
Today, it's old news.  It's easy now to understand how commercialized music, tv, and film entertainers are when there are products to sell.  How someone/thing looks in the music business is critical to it's success.  The visual appeal is more critical, in some respects, than the ears.  

In the wake of NKOTB reunion, I've linked arms with nostalgic folks thinking about their younger days and who they were back then.  I read NKOTB's words as they reflect on nearly 20 years later music and what changed in the two decades since we all grew up.  In a walnut shell, I've been thinking about what I couldn't see things because I was youthful, naive, and inexperienced.  I've been meditating on

Age. 

AGE.

It's utterly important to feminism.  Feminism without older feminists, I've realized, is a like a chair with no legs.  There's no difference between the seat and the floor if it's not raised up.  The legs, the older womyn, are required.  There's memory, wisdom,  knowledge, and did I mention memory?  Aged womyn are the sacred in learning.  They a make sure we see what has always been there, how history repeats itself; how young women after us will think the same things as we did.

I don't want to be one of those under 30 folks that speaks too soon, thinking I have something to share when in actuality it's been said about fifty times over by someone else.  Learning patience, learning how to be educated and well-rounded, and unpresumptuous is difficult.  It's hard to be energetic and not impulsive.  History, and its story tellers must be prioritized.

Daisy left this comment on my blog a few weeks ago and I've been re-reading it several times:
But some of us have been around a long time and can reference other feminist feuds of this sort that predate the internet. In a different culture, we might be asked respectfully and specifically for our old woman perspective and memories. In the USA? Ignored. Feminist blogs? Ignored. And that goes for EVERYONE, WOC and white women and everyone else. Over 50? Go the fuck away. 

Coverage of the WAM conference made absolutely NO MENTION of the fact that it was an overwhelmingly YOUTHFUL event. I saw ONE woman in photos, who might have been around my own age. Certainly, no workshops or presentations about old women. And again, this was deemed not even important enough to mention.

Those who do not remember the past are destined to repeat it. (And who do you think remembers the past?) 

(That "someone" is usually young(er) woman of color; 13-20 year olds, in my opinion.)

I agree with this assessment, and it has been ever thus. Maybe we could talk about how this EVOLVED OVER TIME? It did not happen overnight; Rome wasn't built in a day. Discussion with some OLD women might yield some answers, but you know, that involves LINKING US TOO, replying to us and actually admitting we exist, even if we aren't COOL. I think we deserve a modicum of respect as old feminists. 

Obviously, some of you disagree and prefer to be age-segregationists. Certainly, do as you please, but don't go on and on about inclusion, in that case, okay? It leaves a bad taste in this (deliberately excluded) old lady's mouth.


And she hits the nail on noggin again right here.  Although I cringe at the terminology that uses the "waves" of feminism, the larger point needs to be addressed: age and feminism.

What is it about our obsession with the young?  Granted, yes, they "are the future," but as we know in feminism, it is just as necessary to inform and correct the past as well.  There's no way to do that without older womyn.  It is necessary to include the voices of womyn who WERE THERE before us.  Those who are in the midst of transformation themselves and live to tell what their own mistakes were, unspoiled accounts of history, and a wealth of insights unshared.

Young womyn need guidance, they need mentors and modeling.  Are we modeling well when we fail to include older voices?  When we talk about the present, it automatically targets the fastest talkers, most eloquent bloggers, and flashy nuances.  Are we teaching young womyn correctly when we forget womyn who have endured legislature, change, and the impact of time?
There's one thing I know for certain and that is that history repeats itself.  This cliche is demonstrated within politics and social movements and especially within feminism.  How many times have I (a womyn under 30) shook my head at young(er) womyn, "I've lived through that already.  They need to get a clue."

My head sinks to my desk when I estimate to think how many times older womyn have shaken their heads at me.

So, while I am aware that there are other womyn out there who have broken this issue open, I'm trying to get my head in there as well and sticking my ears out to learn as well.

Why the obsession with the young?
How and why are we so quick to forget older voices?
How do we centralize experience, inclusivity, and vision of ALL womyn?
How do we approach an intergenerational  vision of transformation?

While he's talking about fame and fans in this quote, Joe McIntyre probably doesn't know he speaks with profundity for feminists too, "Now as an adult....it's not about me....it's about the relationship..."

How is the relationship between youth, adult, and older adult womyn?
How do we build that relationship stronger?
 

14 comments:

  1. Anonymous6:07 PM

    Is this a function of being in a larger community where there are many feminists?

    NancyP

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  2. Joan Kelly6:09 PM

    crap. I just left a long comment and it disappeared. I = momentarily defeated. Short version: you are great.

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  3. shit. yes. i need to think more before i comment fully. but yes.

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  4. It's real late, and I'm not thinking well, but I want to thank you for this, and Daisy for her comment; it all brought tears to my eyes.

    I'm 49, and I've seen this happening in the trans community, too (and the cutoff of "acceptable" age is 35-40). It's frustrating as all get out to be told, to your face, that you need to get out of the way b/c you're too old.

    I've seen so many young activists talk about "we have to center young people", and even flip the term "ageism" completely over to mean the opposite of its original meaning (the meaning that Daisy uses).

    Heh. I went on a rant, anyway :)

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  5. Anonymous7:39 AM

    Why the obsession with the young?

    I think it's in large part an effect of consumerism and the selling of "cool." I remember reading in Naomi Klein's NO LOGO that the "age of aspiration" for most ads today is 17.

    We are bombarded with youth-centered messages, just as surely as we're bombarded with objectified images of sexualized female bodies (bodies which are eternally young, always able-bodied, virtually always white or light skinned, posed in ways that signify heterosexual interest/male gaze, and... poreless).

    And Harrison Ford's starring role as a romantic lead in yet another blockbuster film reminds us once again, if we needed reminding, of the intersectionality of ageism and gender: ageism is much more fiercely visited on women than on men, particularly white men.

    And yet, I wouldn't go back to my 20s, let alone my teens! And i feel lucky that, in my day to day life, many young women look up to me, and many older women sustain and inspire me.

    --Lori, 42

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  6. Fyi...Vince Gill is a country singer. You are thinking of R&B singer Johnny Gill.

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  7. I applaud your effort to really listen and respond to Daisy's post - which I also read with sadness. I thought you were ignoring it and I am so touched to see that you did respond thoughtfully.

    We older women - have (even!)more to offer than wisdom, inspiration and memory. We make substantial active contributions in the real world out there, both in our work and in our personal lives. However as previous posters have said eloquently there is a lot of gender-based prejudice out there. Men in their 70s are running for Leader of the free world, while women in their 50s have a hard time being hired or promoted.

    Over on Racialicious they are (rightly) ridiculing a 'fair and lovely' skin whitening cream for Indians. It would be equally stupid to be influenced by the 'forever young' ads in this country and the peculiar obsession with appearance - at any age or level of competence in other fields.

    Living life to the fullest and and service to others are far more important than such a silly preoccupation.

    Having said that: young people do need some avenues (such as their own blogs, perhaps) where they are not judged or upstaged by a previous generation (their mothers or surrogates?. Even typing that makes me smile - as the proud mother of a very young feminist.

    Peace and love to you all and more strength to the sisterhood!

    btw Blackamazon: it was your posts about Seal that even got me lurking and then speaking out in the blogosphere.
    I am now the irritated owner of an unwanted copy of Marcotte's book. I can't bring myself to type the title.)

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  8. I partly agree that it is the culture - it rubs off on everyone. We're youth obsessed. Everyone wants to posess it (I think posession's key but I can't articulate why right now).

    But, then again there's a good dose of misogyny in it. Older men aren't viewed as 'irrelevent' and 'invisible' the way older women are. They are allowed to be wise. Older women are not viewed at all, seen as 'crazy' and thus not worth listening to, or just incredibly outdated.

    Listening to women and understanding them is important, especially the voices that are dismissed - and these very often belong to older women.

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  9. Hello there! {waves}

    A new person to this blog has shown up! (smiles) I am sure you hear THAT all the time since this is a wonderful blog!

    I think that one thing that will strengthen the relationship is for both groups to DEMONSTRATE that the other has something to offer that will actually teach them somsething!

    How many over 40 persons DO NOT sit with 20-something persons in dialogue and reflect a mindset that they CAN learn something new?

    Usually, I've observed that when older women are engaging with younger women, they often show that they believe they must be the teachers to "school" the young.

    Oh, whatever the young remarks about, the reaction from older persons is often the attitude that there is nothing new under the sun for someone 20-something or 30-something to tell them...

    This presumption creates some hidden resentments.

    Sometimes, it seems that many in the 40+ group tend to engage with the 20-something and 30-something groups and talk about what occurred in history rather than talking about the future.

    Many in the younger crowd like to dream about the future without listening to the condescending, when I was your age... lead-in to every dialogue. It's probably best not to compare everything that someone says to what YOU thought at that age...

    I certainly hope I am not making blanket statements in my comments above. Maybe I've added some advice that is of value. I hope so.

    Thanks for letting me blow my trumpet!
    Lisa

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  10. Thanks so much for taking up this issue and thanks to Daisy too. I am a 56 year young feminist for forty years who sometimes feels like a dinosaur. I think the lack of respect and communication between younger and older (I refuse to call myself "old") is multi-faceted. I agree with anonymous that some of it is an unreflective taking on of the whole youth culture schtick. As a culture, Americans (and Canadians, of which I am one) have also become curiously and perhaps even fatally ahistorical. And attention to near history is almost less than to farther history. When I was a young second waver (lol), my first priority was to learn about the First Wave women who went before me. It was my "way in" to feminism. The focus was on learning about where things went wrong, of course. But also on giving credit where credit was very much due. I needed heroines. Do younger women not need that now? Or is there a sense that nothing that went before can be positive and life changing and not mistaken? SOMETHING must have gone right, else we simply would not be where we are, have what we have, or aspire to it.

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  11. Ferocious Kitty - muchas gracias for your correction!
    Yes, I meant Johnny - not vince - Gill.

    Thanks again!
    -S

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  12. watching this youtube video reminded me of your post: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjsvvY8Rn08

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  13. I couldn't believe it when I heard there is going to be a NKOTB Tour this year with BSB. I was a big fan of both NKOTB and BSB way back when. But even to this day, they still sound and look great. I hope to see you at one of the New York or New Jersey concerts.

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