Drama Queens and Riot Grrrls

Apparently, according to my less-than-subtle subconscious, my mind regards me as something of a drama queen.  I’m not altogether surprised by this, mind you; I indeed fit the description from time to time.  However, I’m not sure I deserve what my brain chose for last night’s dream.  I mean, Rachel Berry?  Really?  I’m as bad as a teen drama queen from Glee???  Shopping for furniture? I figured out the Rachel Berry part–anyone with insight into dreaming about furniture shopping, feel free to analyze as you will.

For the record, I reject this characterization.  I am no Rachel Berry.


Over the break, I read Sara Marcus’ Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution, and I’ve been pondering it ever since.  Now, I typically avoid books with the phrase “true story of,” unless I am buying a bit of true crime  schlock (since one knows more or less where the bias will lie with those writers), but I was intrigued enough by a relatively concise history of the movement from someone who was not busily trying not to be a leader of said movement (there was a fair bit of that–I understand why, but it often ended up clouding the situation needlessly).

For those who are left clueless or struggling to recall what in the world Riot Grrrl refers to at this point, here’s Kathleen Hanna’s manifesto for the movement and Allison Wolfe’s response to Marcus’ book, which provides further context.  Even from my limited perspective, Wolfe is correct in her assessment that there are some dissonant moments (I’m trying to recall which one made me stop and stare at a wall for about 10 minutes, trying to figure out if I had completely lost my mind in my recollection of the history of American punk, but it was apparently insignificant enough in the end that I neither wrong WTF? in the margin nor can I come up with what the factoid was.  Assume that the triviality of it is indicative of the level of geekiness involved here).  And, while I’m not altogether thrilled at the dismissal of those who “sold out,” that’s one of my personal irritations with much of punk, though, again, I get it.  And the dismissals are often veiled or incidental; Marcus notes, for instance, that

L7 played second.  The LA band–whose breakout album, Bricks are Heavy, would drop the following week–had recently founded Rock for Choice, an organization that sponsored benefit concerts to support abortion rights.  L7 was also the only group that hadn’t objected to MTV’s designs on the night. (116)

The “designs” to which Marcus refers was MTV’s request to film the show in question.  For Bikini Kill and Fugazi, in Marcus’ words

But it was still the organ of commodified youth culture, and true punks* would have nothing to do with it.  Plus, the channel wanted to install tracks for its camera in front of the stage, cutting off the audience from the musicians.  There could be no better metaphor for the sinister reach of the spectacle, trying to butt its way into the middle of a human interaction, to turn an authentic exchange of energy into debased image-production. (115)

I feel certain that it is obvious why L7 might have acceded to MTV’s request, with their album set to hit the market.  By 1992, the relationship between artist and MTV was fairly well sealed (though, one might argue, it would become both murkier and more problematic in coming years–I’m looking at you TRL).  I get the point–MTV in the middle (literally, in this case) of audience and artist does change the dynamic–it has to, insofar as the physical separation, and, of course, to whom do you play on stage–the human audience sweating in front of you or the camera’s eye for the audience at home?  That choice is not insignificant; even as far back as Pirandello we were aware of that distinction (I don’t have a copy of Shoot in front of me, or I’d quote the matter right now).   Cell phone cameras (video and otherwise) have likewise altered the dynamic, even if the means of production are no longer in the hands of the devil, er “organ of commodified youth culture”.

In the main, Marcus’ book is well worth the read, at least from where I sit.  I learned a bit of context I’d never gotten before, and I realized a few odd, odd connections.  Her analysis of the media’s representation of Riot Grrrl is particularly worthwhile and noteworthy.

As I wasn’t part of the movement (though, as they say, every girl is a riot grrrl), it was the media representation that I was first met with.  I didn’t even hear the term “Riot Grrrl” until around 1993, likely after I was pregnant with my son, despite living only 3 hours from one of the revolution’s epicenters–Washington D.C.   Part of this comes from cultural context; Riot Grrrl had a hell of a time laying tracks period, but in an area culturally subsumed by large military bases and the headquarters of the Christian Coalition, feminism had an odd role in my hometown.  And my own head, which was largely pointed toward “getoutofheregetoutofheregetoutofhere” up until I discovered I was pregnant, left something to be desired when it came to listening to what was going on around me–particularly if it was something I might have regarded as helpful.

Because, at it’s heart, it would have been–a group of people who saw the world in similar colors and shapes to me?  Yeah, that would have been quite the lifesaver at the time.  And the things the members of the movement were regularly accused of–manhating feminists and the like–yeah, I heard that.  Often.  Usually from football players, but not exclusively.  I heard it from teachers who thought I had no place in a Physics class and friends who thought that picking me up in the air when I had said no already or me–ardent feminist and self-avowed bitch that I was–barefoot and pregnant was the funniest thing ever.  It took me far more years that I think I want to admit to realize the levels of fucked up I was not to see how insulting that was.

But, in reading Marcus’ book, I see some of what my friends and I were doing was similar–even without the context of Riot Grrrl, not incidentally “Girls to the front.”  Ladies of my general age, tell me if this sounds familiar to you:

There they’d stand, planting their legs in broad Vs and linking arms with each other or balling their fists at their waists, daring anybody to challenge their right to the space [at the front of the stage] where moshing usually held sway. (124)

Mosh pits in my hometown were not as wildly violent as such could become, at least until Desert Storm.  There was, at least from where I was standing (up front, of course) a pretty significant change around that time, not surprisingly.  The most notable experience I encountered was not in a club, but at an arena–at a Guns N’ Roses show in 1991 (I’m sure I mentioned this before), where the pit got so violent that scores and scores of people were pulled out.  Had the few women in the pit been able to lock together (as we did in other situations–usually smaller venues–and often not so much to hold back moshing as to hold back the jackasses who were trying to feel us up), we might have collectively been able to hang on that time.  As it was, I ended up–by chance, by height, and by broad shoulders, to be the last female standing on my side–and that by the end of the opening band.  My much smaller friend had to get out far earlier, for her own safety.

Little things.  Little connections.


Finally, a funny.  The search term that led some poor soul to this blog recently: “gravity’s rainbow coprophagia.”  There’s meaning there somewhere, right?

*ARRRRGH.  True. Punks.  *bangshead*

3 responses to “Drama Queens and Riot Grrrls

  1. “True punks” strikes me as oxymoronic — I don’t think I have the critical chops to explain exactly why — it just seems to me that people as anti-establishment as punks should be able to define themselves any way they g-d well please 🙂

    Rainbow’s Gravity? I can’t seem to avoid that massive, modern, sickly tome. Tori asked last week if I thought she’d enjoy it — such god-awful memories of the modern novel with Dr. Black (not his fault btw) — my reply, “yes, unfortunately, you probably would.”

    I’m pleased to have found your website — new reading material — awesome.

    • GR and I have a tense and storied history, too. I still haven’t finished the damn thing (4 tries and 12 years or so later), but recently found myself telling someone else that if he insisted on reading Pynchon, he should read Inherent Vice, which, while utterly ridiculous, is at least readable. And…yeah, Tori might very well enjoy it (but, why??? why??? why??? And who told her it was a good idea anyway? Save the girl from herself!).

      Actually, I know where Marcus and others are coming from when they say “true punks”–they are typically referring to the adoption of one/some of the punk philosophies (there being, no matter what Craig O’Hara would have us believe, more than one–self-definition, amen to that) rather than simply adopting the image. Granted, by adopting said style one is at least superficially borrowing philosophy, and image is often a gateway to grasping ideology. But, yeah, the word true gets me every. single. time.

      I am so glad you are here, RK–you are one of my favorite people, after all!!!

  2. Pingback: Sobriety to the Front | Beautiful Disease

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