What does Katy Perry stand for? What is her brand? From the snatches of understanding I have about her, I guess it is somewhere in the region of power, self-reliance, being your own person, empowerment, etc. But when her name popped up again recently, it was for neither of these affectations. A model named Josh Kloss, who was featured in Katy Perry’s runaway hit song video for ‘Teenage Dream’, in fact, made serious allegations against her. She had allegedly exposed him in front of her friends and some random folks at an industry party years ago. Not ‘feminist’ at all, by the sounds of it.
In 2018, Katy Perry had kissed a 19-year-old contestant named Benjamin Glaze on ‘American Idol’ without his consent and much to his shock. Feminist articles had pointed out that this was a clear case of sexual misconduct. But do you remember that incident today? In 2015, while performing in Rio, she slapped the behind of a female fan after summoning her on to the stage. The comment section under the YouTube video of this incident is full of “she was probably drunk” suggestions.
Now, here is the thing—in an ideal world, there should be no prodding needed to feel outraged at this behaviour (even if you think it is “alleged”) and to ask for consequences. But considering no such ideal exists, here we are. Katy Perry is a repeat offender and we can’t and shouldn’t let her behaviour slip through the cracks again. She is already being defended by friends who are being patronising to Kloss, who knows well that her star power is too bright for him to fight.
Katy Perry is a repeat offender and we can’t and shouldn’t let her behaviour slip through the cracks again.
But, can we change this, please? Can we not dismiss this as just another ‘feminist fit’ and realise that it is serious? Can we make sure that this incident makes us think about the following:
The Bar for Famous ‘Feminists’ is Abysmally Low
Feminism has increasingly become a PR tool. It may have its benefits, but popular interpretations have relied so heavily on certain self-styled feminists’ easy-bite takes on it that the whole movement’s complexity stands watered down. We need to assess these persons’ saying the ‘right’ things on Twitter and talk-shows beyond their well-practiced words and look at their choices of roles/songs/business partners, their endorsements, their donations, their merchandise policies, and their silences on certain subjects. The declaration of being a feminist shouldn’t be enough anymore.
It is a Tough Push Against Image-Making Machines
We as readers and listeners need to be acutely aware of what a publication or site is writing on and the tone they are adopting. If a ‘celebrity’ is being profiled, look for a critical eye and be ready to rebel against blind fawning. Whenever engaging with a piece or a tweet or an Instagram post, take some time out to investigate past behaviours and apologies. The effort here is absolutely not to troll or insult, but to push back against publicists who pile on fluff pieces to bury any wrongdoing by their clients. A #MeToo allegation can get side-lined by ‘soft’ stories of the accused being charitable, a great friend, and all that jazz, if we are not vigilant and ready to keep the story in the spotlight.There is definitely space for growth, evolution, and considered forgiveness, but deliberate pushing down of problematic stories to protect a brand that makes a lot of money is unethical, to say the least.
Many people believe thatartists shouldn’t speak on politics or any thing consequential beyond their specific creative talents. We no longer live in a world where such demarcations can even be debated!
In these Times, there are no Non-Political Actors
Many people believe that artists shouldn’t speak on politics or any thing consequential beyond their specific creative talents. We no longer live in a world where such demarcations can even be debated! Artists, especially from the conventionally popular fields, have an outsized influence over what their followers watch, listen to, buy, and sell, so it is imperative that they also watch what they say and make their alliances very clear. A performer should not be allowed to sell rainbow-coloured products during Pride Month if they support an anti-LGBTQIA+ organisation the rest of the year. Katy Perry herself openly endorsed Hilary Clinton’s presidential candidacy. For her to cherry-pick issues and persons, and then evade any fallout for violating those very principles is just plain power-flexing.
It is about Gender, but it is also about Power, Race, Class, and Caste
The issue of abusers can often get underreported, misrepresented, or significantly downplayed when the perpetrator is a female-identifying famous person. There should be no denying the fact that there is systemic sexism and misogyny that pervades the entertainment industry and has historically limited, harmed, and invisibilised women. But as in Katy Perry’s case, her gender identity shouldn’t make us go, “she would never do that!”. Powerful women can absolutely abuse their power and position to harass men, and persons of any gender. They, too, benefit from being white, from being rich, from being American, from being thin, from being ‘good-looking’, and from being well-known, in spite of the disadvantages that may come from being women. If the dismissal of #MeToo stories against men angers us, so should the belittling of Josh Kloss in this situation.
The Feminist Response
Remember this simple exercise the next time you read a feminist piece – instead of thinking, “feminists have a problem with everything”, try to think “is there a problem here that I am missing and can feminism help me understand it?”
Reality shows, social media PR, TV appearances, and more rely on instant drama and reactions. Feminist think-pieces can help you go back to an event and look beyond the impulsive first impressions. Feminist discourse is not about hunting for problems or being ‘spoilsports’; it is often about highlighting sexism, abuse, and misogyny that hides in plain sight. It is about providing informed legitimacy to that feeling of discomfort that you have been conditioned to ignore.
Fandom should not mean Cult Worship
One of the biggest popular trends of recent times has been the formation of fan groups that have distinct names and traits – Katy Perry followers are often dubbed ‘Katy Cats’. What does this mean? You follow her and all that she does, but is her patron sainthood beyond criticism? Is this fandom healthy?
You acknowledging that you are allowed to look beyond PR drivel about celebrities is empowering. Analysing what persons like Katy Perry do is a chance for us all to think about how we view female celebrities and their abuse of power. How safe we feel around them. How our fandom enriches them and diminishes us. How they get away in spite of being sexual harassers because of our collective short-term memories.
Featured Image Source: Slate