Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Kurt Cobain's Interrogation of Hegemonic Masculinity

Excerpt: A feminist analysis of Kurt Cobain and Masculinity

When I saw that we were studying Nirvana for class this week, I pulled out all of my old albums and listened to them all again. I even found my old posters! Reading Nirvana in a critical academic environment felt like a kind of violation. Listening to this music has been so intensely personal and intimately tied to my budding high school sexuality. Experiencing that music again after so long brought out many of those emotions. I feel that it is important to foreground my own personal experience with Nirvana before attempting an analysis of their work. I am a particular person with a particular experience in a particular time and space.

One thing I certainly never noticed as a teenager that I noticed immediately as a graduate student in Women’s and Gender Studies is that Kurt Cobain had a knack for challenging notions of hegemonic gender. His performance of gender is at least non-normative but I would argue that it is also queer. Cobain’s body was small and not hegemonicly masculine. His ripped up old clothes and occasional ironic cross-dressing posed a challenge to the authoritative heteropatriarchy that rules American culture.

Through his angst-filled, corporeal and occasionally disgusting lyrics and non-normative attire he queered gender and popular music. In his Journals and lyrics, Cobain seems to have an obsession with the physical body and with the disgusting, the unpleasant and the painful. Particularly he writes about gastrointestinal functions and dysfunctions. I remember being very troubled by the lyrics to “Heart Shaped Box.”

“Meat-eating orchids forgive no-one just yet
cut myself on angel hair and babies breath
broken hymen of your highness I’m left black
throw down your umbilical noose so I can climb right back.”

Meat, being a representation of a dead body is juxtaposed with the very genteel and feminine images of orchids, angel’s and babies breath (being both a flower and symbol of femininity and a representation of innocence and beginnings of life). Cobain weaves high culture, transcendental religious spirits (as opposed to bodies) traditional beauty and femininity with the so-called low brow culture, the profane, the guttural, the corporeal. In connecting these seemingly opposite things he poses a challenge to Victorian social order that values masculinity, rationality, objectivity and denial of the body over femininity and being present in one’s body with all of its grossness and potential for failure.

Via 90's women
via Feminism/popculture

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