A Critical Overview of The Stranger
In my 38 years as a cultural critic (for those who debase themselves with simplistic primate behaviors like displays of credentials to represent skill sets: I graduated from Mount Holyoke as part of the class of 1974 with a doctorate in critical social thought, and I have published 17 books on the subject of female dynamism and the contracting male self-regard in popular culture), I have never seen anything quite like the current issue of The Stranger (volume 22, issue 5, 3 October 2012).
At first, I was unobjectively mortified. A guide to Seattle's prominent males in the field of rock and roll music? For such a heteronormative, patriarchal society as the United States in the early 21st century, this subject matter appears to be the apex of tautological thought. We live in a culture in which men enjoy all of the privilege and all of the assumptional power. Ipso facto, every issue of The Stranger is, by its very nature, the "men in rock" issue. To represent masculine power as something worthy of individuated praise is, quite simply, moronic.
But then my intern Hermione contextualized the issue for me. Apparently, there were humorous intonations that I did not initially grasp. To wit: The entire feature falls under the rubric of "satire." Specifically, the target of The Stranger's ire is the "Women Who Rock" issue of Rolling Stone, which objectifies women while claiming to praise them.
After Hermione clued me in to the subtextual humor, I reread The Stranger with an eye toward satire. What I found was no less disturbing than my initial study. With all the photographs by KELLY O intended to levy the male gaze onto male figures—Ms. O's photography expressly denies the existence of a female gaze, merely appropriating the masculine tropes of sexuality (greasy, lithe bodies; assless chaps) and recontextualizing them onto the "wrong" gender—and the breathless, hypersexualized prose by EMILY NOKES and BREE MCKENNA, this issue is clearly intended to represent a "shoe-is-on-the-other-foot" scenario. But is the feminine shoe really on the other, more hairy-toed foot? Or is the female foot still bound by twinned bandages of ignorance and oppression? Clitorectomies are still the rule of law in many third-world nations; rape culture pervades every college campus and army barracks in the United States. These moments of levity serve only to obfuscate the pressing issues at hand.
In my next book, The Glass Slipper's Shards, I contend that even if there were such a thing as a feminine gaze, it would not be healthy. As Kant wrote in his Lectures on Ethics: "Sexual love makes of the loved person an Object of appetite; as soon as that appetite has been stilled, the person is cast aside as one casts away a lemon which has been sucked dry... as soon as a person becomes an Object of appetite for another, all motives of moral relationship cease to function, because as an Object of appetite for another a person becomes a thing and can be treated and used as such by everyone." Words to think on, Stranger.