This entry could be subtitled: "In Which Candy's Implicit Gender Biases Are Laid Bare."
has worked up a decent lather about Vanessa Mae
, who is by turns a brilliant violinist and one of the most appalling defecator-on-things-I-hold-sacred. I'm in a bit of a lather about her, too, and I was trying to figure out why I react to her so strongly and so negatively. There are many components to it, but this bit in the standard biography blurb that appears on all her music pages sums up a good chunk of what bothers me so much about her and what she's done to classical music: "Bringing commercial sensuality to the often sterile world of classical music, Vanessa-Mae moved from a classical recording career into the field of popular music with her 1994 breakout album, The Violin Player."
Never have two words made me want to shit kittens more. It brings forth images of airbrushed Maxim models, fake tits on Playboy bunnies and simulated orgasmic expressions on cheap beer commercials. Whatever our world lacks, it's not commercial sensuality. And bringing it into the world of classical music doesn't just feel wrong, it feels like a desecration.
First of all, I object to the characterization of classical music as sterile. Listen to Artur Rubinstein playing the Rach 2, or János Starker's heartbreaking interpretation of Bach's Cello Suites, or Murray Perahia making the Goldberg Variations ripple with life and tenderness and vivacity, or Vladimir Horowitz making a Chopin étude his bitch, or Nigel Kennedy turning Vivaldi into cantering horses and cracking ice and spring screaming and fucking and bursting into full bloom, and tell me that stuff is sterile--just try. Classical music is sterile only if you're not making an effort, if you're not listening with an open mind and an open ear. Music is sex. Music is life. No
music is sterile (though Autechre and Kraftwerk make efforts to that end sometimes).
What I love so much about classical music is how the sex is underplayed, buried underneath layers of petticoats and corsets and chemises and stockings and endless pieces of structure--just as I love soul and funk for laying that sex bare, for giving us those dirty beats and sexual lyrics with only the thinnest of veneers separating us from the hot hot fizznuckin'. So when some tarted-up girl arrives on the scene and fakes an orgasm for us while playing the violin on a cheap pop video--and I mean it's not even a good fake orgasm, is the thing, it's a BAD fake orgasm, it's the kind of fake orgasm you'd see in videos with titles like "Barely Legal XXIII: This Time, It's Not Barely Legal XXII"--and she's suddenly hailed as some sort of wunderkind who has revitalized the music so it's now better than before? That makes me mad
. ("No, Mungo!" "AUUUUUUGH, THE WAR WOUND."
And I wouldn't be nearly so angry and repulsed if it weren't for two things:
1. Vanessa Mae's fusions are, without exception, mind-bogglingly horrible. She doesn't even have the decency to arrange them in a pleasing, thoughtful manner; she slaps on a crappy, thumpy techno beat with too much midtone and no variation, and then dials up the horror to 11 by adding elements like electric guitar stylings straight from Buttrocksville, 1987. I'd have more respect for it if it showed more thoughtfulness, inventiveness or aesthetic sense, but to my ear, it doesn't.
2. The blatancy of the sexualization bothers me deeply. Classical music certainly isn't immune to hot people in flattering outfits; as Ben pointed out, lots of opera singers wear revealing clothing, and there are all sorts of comely violin players
whose good looks probably haven't hurt their career any. But Mae veers sharply into a sort of jiggly T&A I already find deeply irritating in pop music; to see it encroach on classical music, where it's certainly not the norm (I am really, really, REALLY not interested in seeing, say, Arcadi Volodos
shiver and moan his way through the Rach 3 while wearing nothing but vinyl hotpants and sequinned pasties), makes me hop up and down like the angry little monkey I am.
I feel like it's a betrayal by Mae in two ways: as a classical musician, and (this is where all sorts of weird implicit bias crap starts swarming out of me, kind of like ants after you poke at an anthill) as a woman.
I'm a good little third-wave feminist, and hey, if she wants to present herself in a way I find kind of tawdry and hilarious, then go for it--it's her choice, her body, her life. At the same time, though, I resent that she's so successful at it, and I hate the fact that her main schtick (hot Thai/Chinese babe plays the violin while skimpily clad!) has made her a household name in many parts of the world, whereas I didn't even know who Jascha Heifetz was until ten months ago.
don't like how beauty takes over and eclipses everything else when a female celebrity is involved. A female entertainer's value is inextricably tied to her beauty and youth; we're much less forgiving of women than men. And I think I feel that in some ways, classical music (with the exception of opera) insulated people from it. Not to say that classical music isn't deeply sexist--it is. How many female composers do you know off the top of your head? Or female virtuosi? Nonetheless, I only have the vaguest idea of what many of my favorite performers and composers look like, male or female. I could pass Martha Argerich or Nigel Kennedy on the street and not know it, and I really enjoy that aspect of my love and appreciation of classical music. Classical music is more purely about the music for me, and I resent the way Mae's body has been blatantly used to sell it. That she's happily doing this makes if feel like a betrayal to her gender--she's dragging her body into an arena where, if not necessarily free from the baggage of beauty, at least had more of a level playing field in that one regard. The homely nerd can--and regularly does--become the revered genius.
Or was it all an illusion to begin with? I don't know. It's late, and I'm cranky.