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Well, this is the first piece of content on this website and yet it is a very hard critique. It was not planned and in a way it is very annoying to slam this book. For different reasons. First, there are so unbelievably few texts dealing with Buffy in german language. Therefore one is tempted to praise any such text. Second, Lenzhofers aim is to help girls/women fighting patriarchic rolemodels, so we are on one side of the barricades at this point. Nevertheless, the critique must be hard. We, the team organizing the Buffy-Conference 2007 were asking ourselves, whether or not it would be good to invite Lenzhofer. Thus I read the book very hopefully. I was disillusioned very quickly, though, and that sucked. Ergo: Slam. Sorry for that.
What the book wants is briefly told: It aims to find characters in american tv-shows, which represent an emancipatory rolemodel — or better no compacted rolemodel at all, but the critique of everything fixed. This may sound nice — though ample — at first, but it is not. Listen to the exact wording: Lenzhofer wants to *find* those characters. Strictly speaking that means, she takes a big mob of characters and sorts them, the good into the pod, the bad into … whereever. That does not mean, she would portray, *how* these characters appear in their shows, how the shows handle these characters, and what would follow for the status of the show itself. To give an example: Lenzhofer likes Xena, because she is a strong woman; but she does not have no problem at all with the arch-reactionary point of the show, that Xena at heart is no woman, but a monster without a personal life, a weapon that has to restlessly travel through the countries, always alone (ok, at least together with Gabrielle, but that does not change much). And this is not critizised by the show. Quite the converse: the show celebrates Xena’s monster-life as the fate of the heroine. For Lenzhofer this does not matter either. She also celebrates the monster-life, in citing Donna Haraway’s exogeneous theory, that monsters, cyborgs and the like are always emancipatory because they dissolve binary patterns of identity. I may be repeating myself, but again: isn’t the important point, *how* the show presents these hybrids? And with regard to that, Xena is an example of not letting the monstrous be a normal phenomenon between all the other identities, but an exception that can only exist at the borders of society, only with outsider status — and again and again: the show does in no way critizise that. Replying to this argument, Lenzhofer would say: Yes, people get bolstered up by this to be outsiders. But what the shit is that? It is not nice to be an outsider, it is cruel, crueller, cruellest. Certainly the alternative, assimilation, has at least equally little sex appeal, but exactly because of this it has to be critizised, that if not assimilated you have no chance to be anything but outsider. It must not be celebrated. This critique should be the mission of a good show, but as I said before, Lenzhofer does not take the show into account, but only single characters.
Or, that is to say, she not even really takes characters into account, but only three simple patterns of characters, which she believes to recognize everywhere. She likes characters who are either “Stadtneurotikerinnen” (urban female neurotics — named after the german title for Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall”) like Ally McBeal, or “coole Kmpferinnen” (cool female fighters) like Xena, or “Brave New Girls” like the Gilmore Girls. Accordingly dumbed down is the presentation of what is the point of emancipation in the appearing of those girls/women: The female neurotics are cool — in Lenzhofer’s eyes — because they show how difficult it is to satisfy all the requirements, a woman’s/girl’s life implies today. The female fighters are cool, because they show, that women can be strong. And the brave new girls are cool, because they show how to be a girl with self-esteem and self-consciousness. Great, so far, but in all these patterns there appears the same problem:
There is a vital difference in the presentation of a neurotic character between showing what is and accepting what is on the one side, and showing that the brutalities in life are fucked up shit and should not be what they are — i.e. *critizising* what is, on the other side. To manage to satisfy all the requirements of lovelife and job as well is no desirable ideal, but unfortunately the only way for many women to live a self-conscious life. A really cool show would show and expose as a problem how much cruelty there is in the contemporary ways of earning money and having a close relationship to someone. All of Ally’s neurosis are shown to be loved by the viewer and to be accepted to stay the way they are. Buffy’s neurosis are not shown to be loved but to be hated and to produce the wish that everything should be different. So what exactly do I know when I know that these two girls match the same pattern of neurotic women/girls? Nothing, I would argue.
The same differences appear when dealing with the cool female fighters as I indicated in regard to Xena. And they appear when dealing with the brave new girls as well. Rory for instance, in the first seasons of Gilmore Girls, provides a nice model for identification: a smart outsider, who does not give up her love of knowledge in order to become more popular. Nonetheless, the more the show is progressing, the more this pattern turns to the wrong side, because finally, all the problems Rory had had become solved by her intelligence, her beauty and her steadfastness. She gets the job she wants at Eagle-Gazette only by insisting on her wish and she becomes chief editor of the Yale-Daily-News. And yes, such things may happen for one or another person. But the fact it can only be one or another person indicates that it is not really Rory’s genius which gets her the jobs, unlike the show suggests, but it is good luck to be one of the few, who’s abilities are recognized and needed. The point is, that such things are impossible to happen for all the viewers of the show, which identify themselves with Rory. So, in a way, the show is fooling its viewers. And that is — again — totally different from what happens to the “cool fighter” and “brave new girl” Buffy, who always and increasingly as the show is progressing fails and must fail in managing her job, her destiny and her private life at a time. Lenzhofer does not see the difference here. As her analysis is that abstract, it may be obvious and does not even have to be mentioned, that Lenzhofer is blind in regard to everything that is really nice in Gilmore Girls — the depth of references in the jokes and the special way of dealing with pop-culture –, because it does not fit her patterns.
This is nearly more abstract than you can imagine? No way. Lenzhofer manages to be even more abstract. Even her three pattern are not examined for what they are, for what is their content, but they are squashed between very simplifying applications of the theories of Butler, Haraway and Irigaray. The only thing remaining is what can be connected to terms like camp or empowerment, or rather: what does not fit becomes adjusted with brute force. I mean, seriously: Every time there is a woman who masquerades herself, Lenzhofer takes it as a sign for feminist camp; every time a woman uses a pointy weapon, Lenzhofer sees a phallocentric world view damaged! Maybe I overstate this a little, but the direction of Lenzhofer’s text is exactly this. A very disgusting example is provided by Lenzhofer herself, with a piece of fan art, showing Buffy and Faith cuddling up together in lingerie (S.229, pic. 52). Lenzhofer uses this picture to show that many fans have imaginations of Buffy and Faith being lesbian, and she terms this imaginations as a “queer reading” (”queere Lesart” in German). Instead the picture itself must, in it’s style as well as in it’s assembly, be seen as a typical example of what can be seen at thousands of softcore-porn sites in the web, categorized as “erotic art” or stuff, where “art” means nothing but that it shall function for men who find something like “hot sluts deepthroating” kind of not elaborated enough for their pleasures. That becomes clear, for instance, when you notice that the two girls do not look at each other, but both look at some third person, the viewer; which indicates, that everything the two do is a show for this third person and its pleasure. Don’t mistake me: I don’t want to say anything against porn here, but seriously: is that queer??? This example makes very clear what is the direction of the whole book. It must be stated that Lenzhofer simply lives in her own world, when she takes all these sexist standards as queer and camp or whatever. It might have helped to examine the material instead of going over it with previously finished theories.
According to all this, the brute force restriction on single characters, the simplification in patterns, and the projective reading, Lenzhofer gives up everything that could lead to insight; because characters do only have meaning in their mode of appearance in the show, and not outside of it and not because they fit into some abstract pattern and definitively not because these patterns are mindlessly attributed as queer or something. There may for example be a really disgusting charakter in some show, who can in no way be read as queer, but is introduced to the show exactly to demonstrate such sexist behaviour and to critisize sexism in the special way it is presented. One could wonder if in BtVS, Xander’s fantasy of Tara and Willow having sex for him, might be an example of such a critique. But if Lenzhofer took into account that critique is not mainly induced by single campy characters but by the structure of the show as a whole, she would have been forced to accept, that critique in tv-shows is negative at first and cannot be directly taken as a guideline for someone’s life. When a show like BtVS makes explicit that fighting evil is not a way to one’s personal happiness but still necessary, then this cannot be what would please Lenzhofer, because in this case the character Buffy cannot be taken as a role model, whom to follow would provide to directly satisfy needs. So against the very flow of the show she projectively reinterprets Buffy as a successful heroine, who perfectly manages to live her life and she suggests girls should take her as an example for their lives. Astonishingly, I would agree, but completely against Lenzhofers intention, for totally different reasons. Buffy goes on fighting although she is unhappy, because quitting the fight would mean betraying herself and giving up her full subjectivity, which is determined by her convictions and by living them. Furthermore I would always suggest to have a thorough examination of what this fight means to her private life and which brutalities do always go along with it and to not ever betray oneself and hype the fight as a good thing in itself. In extreme contrast to this, the end must be to overcome the necessity of the fight, mustn’t it?
Anyway. Certainly empowerment is not wrong at all. But one has to be very careful in generalizing what effects empowerment may have. The special situation where everything is about empowerment for Lenzhofer is described by her in the following sentences: “During the Nineties more and more studies appeared, which documented the dramatic loss of adolescent girls’ self-esteem and self-consciousness regarding to their bodies as well as to their intellectual capacities. In this crucial time of adolescence, which is strongly determining the future, girls are at a crossroads […], which for most girls leads — still figuratively speaking — to the dead end of dependence, powerlessness and oppression. So formerly self-conscious and ambitioned girls lose their self-esteem, don’t take a chance to have and act for an own / a differing oppinion, set themselves under pressure to be accepted by their peers, to appear attractive to the other gender and to fit into common beauty patterns. Their formerly strong voices hush.” Aside from how a crossroads may lead into a dead-end, this description points out very clearly, that for these girls becoming politically involved and fighting against oppression in an organized way would not be the right advice. Instead something must happen, that they develop the courage to face the world and stand in for their opinions, again. At this point, empowerment has it’s place. It must be welcomed if girls identifying with a heroine like Xena - even though the show is stupid - develop the courage again to fight their everyday fight. In such a case, I almost tend to support the message “Hey, be an outsider, it’s so cool!”. But only almost. Because everything gets bad, when the show lies. When some girl, who is egged by Xena, fancies to be able to fight a successful fight for the poor and depriciated, and fails as she must; or when a somewhat corpulent girl, who is troubled by acne fancies to have no problem in facing the world and getting acceptance and recognition for what she is, only experiences more social exclusion than before — these stories are the opposite of emancipation. Unfortunately the world is not as nice. Who imagines anything apart from that must become bitterly disappointed — and that does most often lead to a withdrawal of these girls from facing the world. The first step, to develop courage, is infinitely important, but the second step, to know that courage alone makes no victory and what it means to fight in this world, is at least equally important. And this second step cannot be done by taking single characters as an example for living, but by blunt insight to the malices we have to deal with. If there is some point in pop-culture where this is on the agenda at all, then it is not single characters, but the consequent implementation of the progress and the necessity of regress in the characters’ dealing with crucial problems.
Lenzhofer imagines the backlash instead at every point where failure is shown. Therefore she thinks, that the characters’ failure in regard to their emancipation is always anti-emancipatory or so to speak: depowering. Very often, she is right with her imagination. When for instance the producer of Xena — who (significantly) is also blamable for producing Hercules — lets Xena die in the last episode this is not motivated by the structural brutalities of current societies, but reactionary tragic, which cultural industry likes to use to show that everything is meaningless at the end and that objectively resigning oneself together with subjectively preserving a beautiful soul is the best possible way of living. That more than sucks. In this point Lenzhofer is totally right. But the opposite of the bad is not always the good. To let Xena fight on happily until her natural end comes would mean to lie to girls about what is possible. Neither resignation nor empowerment by palliation can be the right aim, but only to encourage girls to fight a fight for their own subjectivity knowing what unhappiness it brings with it, because to be unhappy is still better than to give up oneself as a subject. Even though now may not be the right time for the girls in question, somewhen there must be made a third step, overcoming the reflected position of the second, the awareness of necessary failure. The only really consequent way would be not to conclude that the current hopelessness implies that there is no good at all, but to become more radical, to know that the question is not how to be hopeful and how to be successful in the current setting, but to fight for the setting itself to change — or like I said before, to fight for overcoming the necessity of fighting itself. That is what BtVS is all about, but not Xena, Dark Angel, Witchblade, Charmed and all the other shows, Lenzhofer is in love with.
The book: Karin Lenzhofer - Chicks Rule! (German)
comments to Karin Lenzhofer - Chicks Rule! - Review
Antidemokratische Aktion 2007-06-04, 1.29 pm
this comment was originally written in german language. The translation is made by 1630RevelloDrive.net — do not blame the comment’s author.
“or when a somewhat corpulent girl, who is troubled by acne fancies to have no problem in facing the world and getting acceptance and recognition for what she is, only experiences more social exclusion than before — these stories are the opposite of emancipation. Unfortunately the world is not as nice.”
So you think, the world was nice if this silly girl was recognized? As if not even this wish was nothing but a mistake. She only reduplicates the standpoint that is forced by economic competition: that success is all that counts. She reduplicates that in a private competition for recognition. Therefore no one should wish her success in this wrong aim, but agitate against it.
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