Beyoncé and the Super Bowl: significant conversation

Beyoncé’s show during half-time of the Super Bowl has sparked numerous reactions and critiques that even today are still rolling out.

On the blog patheos, David R. Henson called the show “A defiant dance of power”:

If what you saw was an offensive, inappropriate hypersexual display of legs and barely covered unmentionables, let me suggest you saw only what you were staring at, not what actually happened on that stage.

….Beyoncé’s performance Sunday night in New Orleans wasn’t about sex. It was about power, and Beyoncé had it in spades. In fact, her show was one of the most compelling, embodied and prophetic statements of female power I have seen on mainstream television.

That a Black woman claimed and owned her power during the misogynist, consumerist celebration known as the Super Bowl only highlights Beyoncé’s brilliance and boldness.

It’s no wonder some people attempted to wrest back control over her and her body by marginalizing her performance by sexualizing it.

Ultimately, Henson claims that he witnessed a dance of defiance of sexism and male supremacy, and in of all places…in the middle of “the most misogynist and objectifying four hours of mass culture”.

(In part because so many responded to his post, Henson wrote a companion article addressing his being “a white heterosexual male living in a racist, sexist and heterosexist world”)

Christina Cleveland admits that on one hand she, as an African American woman, was exhilarated in Beyonce and Co. making history: “a supremely talented black woman on a world stage surrounded by a plethora of talented black women”.

At the same time, Beyonce’s performance was also excruciating because the circumstances under which black women are finally being handed the mic are oppressive. (And yes, Beyonce was handed the mic; anyone with a sociological imagination knows that Beyonce was on stage only because powerful people – e.g., those who produce the Super Bowl – decided that it was in their best interest to grant her access.) Ever since the days of slavery, black women have been almost entirely evaluated based on their ability to sexually arouse white men. The black women who were light-skinned and/or possessed European features were deemed attractive/valuable and became “house niggers,” more “powerful” slaves who worked closely with the master in his home. Of course, this was a false power because the beauty associated with it was entirely defined by the white master and because those who were granted it were often subjected to rape and other forms of abuse. Hello sexism, meet racism.

(Cleveland additionally wrote an addendum addressing criticism that she “lumped all white men together and accused them all of being racist hound dogs.”)

Fair to say, reactions have been heated…

Bo Sanders, on Home Brewed Christianity, longs to discuss the “bigger question”:

I get why people want to talk about her outfit, her moves, and her assembled cast of all females – about modesty, sexuality, and female empowerment. I get why those are conversation points.

What is becoming a trend, however, is that I have little interest in that conversation – not until we have a more significant conversation first.

Sanders suggests that to discover what that question is, three questions must be asked from the “Critical Theory” school of thought:

1) Is there a pattern visible?

2) Is there something behind the main thing?

3) Is there any issue of power differential?

Sanders addresses all three questions, including what was behind “the main thing”:

It might be hard to see in a short blog post like this but Beyoncé isn’t the telling controversy. The more telling one was the criticism of Alicia Keys’ soulful rendition of the national anthem. People criticized her not just for sitting at a piano (!) but for altering the tried and true version of the song.

In CT when something is assumed – even if unstated – as a dominant form, it is called hegemony. It is a type of power or influence that may or may not be overtly communicated. If one were to look at just the first half of the SuperBowl broadcast, it might be possible to say that the major narrative when it comes black women is twofold:

you can sing – we like that.

but make sure you do it our way. Don’t do anything too much or too … you know… that’s not why you are here.

Ultimately, Sanders suggests that the bigger conversation is no less that “what place black women hold in our culture”.

There is more sure to come…

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