Snoop Dogg and Shakespeare

Monday, May 9, 2011

Last week, I had the privilege of attending two very different shows on the same day - a Snoop Dogg concert and The Taming of the Shrew. They were both offered at the Columbia campus and I'm sure they've already been talked about to death by our students, but I wanted to add my voice to the mix. So, to start off, I ask you: what do you think Snoop Dogg and Shakespeare have in common?

They're both entertaining. They're both men (maybe). And, they both hold some misogynistic views about women.
And, finally, I find them both really entertaining.

And the questions start right about at that point. How can I hold strong feminist views and still enjoy misogynistic entertainment? You must like one more than the other? What about the relative value of the two - isn't one more "important" than the other?

Before I answer these questions, let me talk a little bit about the two shows.

The Snoop Dogg concert was part of Bacchanal, a Columbia end of spring concert that happens every year. I was out of the house by 1pm, on the grass in front of Butler Library by 1:30pm, waiting with a small crop of people for the concert to begin at 3pm. As you can see, I am no idle enthusiast - when I first heard that Snoop Dogg was coming, I got pretty excited. Not because he is at the top of my list for people to see in concert, but because I have liked his music for a while now. The lawns filled in, and then the back. I hung around with some friends and watched CUSH (Columbia University Society of Hip Hop) perform - they were pretty good, but the speakers were not - and then Das Racist, upon whom I will not comment. Four hours later, to a fanfare of dramatic Second Coming music, Snoop Dogg appeared on stage. There was the typical bumping and grinding, swearing, and use of the word "pimp" in more than one context. My friends and I jammed for a bit to his music, new and old, and then headed out to grab some food and get away from the stifling crowd. Overall, the concert was enjoyable, predictable, and on a really gorgeous day that made up for the waiting around and drunk/high people.

Later that night, I stole away to the very same spot where once hundreds of people stood waiting to catch a glimpse of Snoop Dogg: a sundial where a small band was tuning up to get ready for the first scene of King's Crown Shakespeare Troupe's showing of The Taming of the Shrew. Another long-standing Columbia tradition, KCST always puts on a play in the spring where everyone that auditions gets a part. And the coolest part? It's outside. So, while a little chilly at 9pm, the play was really dynamic and exciting. The audience was moved from location to location, trailing through Columbia's lawns to watch the classic comedy. The director chose to use color very impressively to distinguish the groups to which the characters belonged, and there was a completely scripted new "intro" to the play which placed the audience as viewers of a play within a play - a great Shakespeare move. As we were directed for three hours of standing, sitting, and walking by the tinkling bells of the "Players," I was reacquainted with the play we had watched in film form during my high school years.* And I was also reacquainted with its ubiquitous ending.

While Snoop Dogg included more raunch in his performance, Shakespeare is not exempt from making sexism seem sexy. The women writhing and grinding (up on the stage) were made to conform to one end of the female stereotype spectrum while Katherine fell into line on the other end. Yet, these facts not withstanding, I still got a good deal of enjoyment out of both these events.

As I figure out my version of feminism, I am constantly asking myself what is permissible and what isn't. You could argue that period pieces like The Taming of the Shrew get an exemption and are put on because they have aged well. You could also argue that Snoop Dogg is a product of the culture he's in rather than someone who should be attacked for it. But both of these arguments are unsatisfying for me (for different reasons that I can go into if asked).

Which brings me to the unsatisfactory conclusion that I have come to accept: we are walking contradictions. We like things that we "shouldn't" like according to the doctrine of our viewpoints. And I can be critical of things that I like just as I can of things I don't like.

So why is it not ok to critique stuff that we like?

I often come up against the argument that, if you're critiquing it, that must mean you hate it. I think the answer to those moments is just a variation on "don't hate the player, hate the game." Life is unsatisfactory and messy - let's try to embrace it.

Tell me all your ideas in the comments.

*For those of you that are not as familiar with The Taming of the Shrew, the main storyline is that Baptista, father of two daughters, - Bianca, a young beauty, and Katherine, a slightly older defiant woman - will not let his youngest marry until the eldest has been married off. There are, of course, plenty of suitors young and old waiting for the younger sister, but the elder sister is considered to be a "shrew," meaning that she is defiant, independent, proud, and loud. One of the younger daughter's suitors finds a man who believes he can tame this shrew because he wants the promise of her father's money. Hence, he marries her then starves her and keeps her awake at all hours in the name of his "love" as a way to tame her into a suitable wife. Meanwhile, the younger sister's suitors set out on an elaborate ruse where some pretend to be her teachers so that they can get closer to her and win her love without Baptista knowing. Finally, a young man from Padua takes her heart and bests the other two suitors through the use of his servant (who is pretending to be himself!). Long story short, everyone gets married at the end and Katherine turns into the most complacent of all the wives in question. And... scene.

You may be craving some music right about now: you can find it in the Musical Interlude series.