30 April 2011

sheila, play with robots

To close out the month-long ROBOT MARX project, here are a couple peripheral asides...

Aside 1: In addition to the semester-long WOM 203 writing project that ultimately became ROBOT MARX were a number of other written assignments. Following a week of readings and discussions about popular music, my classmates and I were assigned to pick a song, critique it from the Conflict-Marxist patriarchal-society perspective, and write a one-page analysis. I chose a song from my favorite band -- The Smiths' "Sheila Take A Bow." I had a ball writing it; here's the essay...

British pop-music singer/songwriter, Steven Patrick Morrissey said: "The sexes have been too easily defined. People are so rigidly locked into these two little categories. ... It limits people's potential in so many areas. I think we should slap down these barriers" (qtd. in Robertson 8, 9). Throughout his 26 year career -- starting in 1984 as lyricist for and lead-singer of The Smiths -- Morrissey has actively tried to subvert the patriarchal social structure. For example, 1987's "Sheila Take A Bow" playfully challenges patriarchy on all four of Allen Johnson's defined fronts (5-15).

"Patriarchy is male dominated in that positions of authority [in the world] ... are generally reserved for men" (Johnson 5). Morrissey writes and sings: "Sheila ... / Boot the grime of this world in the crotch, dear" (lines 5, 6). The word "crotch" is most often associated with male genitals, therefore Morrissey is encouraging the song's female protagonist to challenge and rebel against patriarchal society's ascribed expectations for her.

"Patriarchal societies are male identified in that the core cultural ideas about what is considered ... normal are associated with how we think about men and masculinity" (Johnson 6). Society's concept of the differences between "male" and "female" genders are established and reinforced by patriarchy; in the song, Morrissey -- a "male" singer/songwriter -- is singing about Sheila -- a "female." Within this context, Morrissey writes and sings: "Take my hand and off we stride / You're a girl and I'm a boy" (lines 17, 18). In the very next verse, though, Morrissey matter-of-factly takes the opportunity to subvert and confuse gender norms: "Take my hand and off we stride / I'm a girl and you're a boy" (lines 19, 20).

"[Patriarchy] is male-centered, which means that the focus of attention is primarily on men and what they do. ... Male experience is what patriarchal culture uses to represent human experience, even when it is women who most often live it" (Johnson 10). The fact that Morrissey is writing and singing about a woman and her life differentiates him from the majority of his fellow male singer/songwriters who typically sing and write about themselves or the "girls they love." This is reinforced by two of the song's lines: "Is it wrong to want to live on your [Sheila's] own? / ... Throw your homework [patriarchy's gender conditioning] into the fire" (lines 1, 22).

"[Patriarchy] is an obsession with control as a core value around which social life is organized. ... As a result, controllers come to see themselves as subjects who intend and decide what will happen, and to see others as objects to act upon" (Johnson 14, 15). In patriarchal societies, men are the controllers -- the "choosers" -- and women are the controlled -- the "chosen." Here, again, Morrissey subverts the structured norm: "[Sheila] come out and find the one that you love and who loves you" (line 8). Morrissey admonishes the female protagonist to choose for herself a lover, and admonishes her to choose someone who loves "you" -- i.e. Sheila, "the full and complex human being" (Johnson 15). It is also interesting to note that Morrissey leaves the gender of the to-be-chosen lover ambiguous: s/he could be "male," "female," or other.

As exemplified by The Smiths' "Sheila Take A Bow," Morrissey has actively challenged and questioned patriarchy throughout his career. In choosing to consume similarly subversive media, all of us -- "male" and "female" alike -- can do our part in "[challenging patriarchy's] status quo" (Johnson 19).

- - -

Johnson, Allen G. The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy. Rev. ed. Temple UP, 2005. Print.

Morrissey/Marr Songs Ltd. "Sheila Take A Bow." 1987. Musical composition. Performed by The Smiths, from the compact disc Louder Than Bombs (Sire, 1987).

Robertson, John. Morrissey: In His Own Words. London: Omnibus, 1988. Print.

Aside 2: Behold...

... the original Robot Marx (and son)! A Blogger Stats' traffic-source pointed me to this classic toy manufactured by Louis Marx & Company. From the website, Vintage Robot Toys:

Of the many toys it produced, Marx's line of toy robots are undoubtedly among the most beloved by collectors. Marx introduced this line in the 1950s and 1960s to capitalize on the space and robot craze of the era... These toys included ... Robot and Son, which was released in 1956 and was the first robot toy Marx produced... Founded in 1919, Marx toys were a fixture in five and dime stores as well as with retailers such as Montgomery Ward and Sears, which sold their wares through mail order catalogs. ... The company philosophy of giving their customers 'more toy for less money' helped make Louis Marx one of the most successful toy makers in America; at the height of the Great Depression of the 1930s, when many companies were floundering, Marx not only recorded growing revenues, it was also able to open three factories. By the 1950s, Marx had become the largest toy manufacturer in the world, and founder Louis Marx was crowned "the Toy King" by no less than Time magazine in 1955. ... Louis Marx eventually closed its doors in 1978.

Neat, huh? Now I want one to stand alongside my ROBOTECH Raider X. Too bad it'd cost me over $200... Maybe I'll just write a paper about it instead.

And with that -- ROBOT MARX is officially a wrap.