Karen Swallow Prior
February 5, 2013
When I see folks lining up on one side or the other of a topic like this, Karen, I try to see whether the focus of the topic (in this case the half time show) is something the Bible gives us a good model for. I think it does.
The model is Tamar and Judah, when Tamar had to own her sexuality in order to trick her father in law into sleeping with her. An overstatement of BeyoncÃ©'s performance? Perhaps. But it seemed to me to be designed to appeal to a lot of men whose desire in watching her would be to fantasize about having sex with her. Or her back up dancers. Or her and her back up dancers together.
This is a tough one, Karen, which may be why weâ€™ve devoted two posts to it here on TC. I think the halftime show has been a lightning rod because it was of two minds in many ways (the Beyonce/Sasha Fierce personality split you mention). I think the female empowerment Erica speaks of in her earlier posts is certainly there, yet without a doubt overt sexuality was also part of the performance. But was it exploitation, which according to your piece would qualify it as sexual sin?
Personally, I lean toward no (especially in comparison to earlier Super Bowl acts). My immediate reaction while watching it was neither outraged shock nor arousal, but simple awe and admiration at the way the woman can dance (while singing live, and in those shoes!) If thatâ€™s hard to believe from a heterosexual male, I can only say I had the same reaction to Channing Tatumâ€™s dance scenes in Magic Mike (though I don't recall him wearing heels).
Now, that may just be me, so your closing point is a valid one. Beyonceâ€™s performance may not necessarily have been healthy viewing for some men and probably most 5-year-olds. But that doesnâ€™t mean she was doing anything inappropriate.
Thanks for chiming in, Josh! I wasn't shocked or outraged--or even offended--in watching. Just saddened and disappointed. It's interesting that the male parallel you cite was a strip act. Beyonce is supremely talented and amazing to watch because of that talent. But couldn't that same talent be displayed without the heels and camera shots aimed up her crotch? (I may have to write a post some day on just those kinds of heels alone. :))
You've got me thinking that it's not just exploitation in that type of performance that could lead one to categorize it as inappropriate.
Thanks for this, Karen. I love that this half time show is creating conversations.
I'd like to clarify that I do think there was something over the top about the show. My six year old daughter wondered what underwear they were wearing for it not show under their costumes. (None, I said. She then wondered if perhaps they could have danced just as well wearing something they could have worn underwear with!)
But the Super Bowl, in it's entirety (game, commercials, half time show) is a really interesting area for me in considering how we evaluate and engage culture as Christians. And I'm fascinated by the attention to the half time show this year.
If we summarily dismiss the whole thing because it was too sexy, I think we miss the chance to evaluate and engage. Because, here's the thing: every act of culture (even Christian culture) is an admixture of that which glorifies God and that which does not. Sometimes we just get little glimpses of how God wants things to be in a cultural event. I got glimpses of that in Beyonce's performance, even if she could have covered up more of her body.
On top of that, all the hubbub about Beyonce has me wondering why, as Christians, we spend so much time evaluating that part of the event. For example, a friend mentioned that while watching this with his youth group, he was pretty uncomfortable for the sake of his teenaged boy church members. (As a former youth pastor, I totally concur with that sentiment! There were no teenaged boys watching this with me!) Perhaps that's an opening for conversation, though.
Meanwhile, I doubt that many church-groups watching the game got so uncomfortable during the game when there was a particularly violent hit. Football isn't all about glorifying violence, but, it is some about glorifying violence. Or, that churches got worked up about some of the consumeristic messages of the commercials. Now, why do we get so much more worked up about the sexuality thing (particularly when it involves women...those football players wear some pretty tight pants!)
All of that is to say: what a conversation starter this is about how we engage culture! And sometimes, we have to take the glimpses of the kingdom that we get rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater!
I agree, Erica! This has been a real conversation starter. And I have to admit that as much as I love thinking and analyzing many things about culture, this event really had me conflicted and wracking my brain for a long time -- and still does. That's a good thing. Thanks to you and to TC for encouraging this conversation.
Good point, Tim.
Thanks, Karen, for this piece. I think it's a really challenging issue.
One point to consider: according to a bio-piece in the latest issue of GQ (a magazine that, admittedly, revels in the male gaze more than it should), "These days, [Beyonce] says that Sasha Fierce... has been fully integrated into her personality."
My question then, is this: assuming this statement is true, is there a sense in which Sasha Fierce was a necessary step for Beyonce to achieve the heights of independent glory at which she currently resides? If so, how does that affect the way we think about Beyonce and female empowerment? If not, why did Sasha Fierce become part of Beyonce's integrated self?
I appreciate the conversation that is starting here, and I think it demonstrates that Christians need to do more careful thinking about what it looks like to celebrate God-given sexuality without exploiting it. I think, Karen, that I disagree with you about whether Beyonce's show crossed the line, mostly for the reasons cited here by Josh and Erica.
We know from Song of Solomon that mere sexuality and desirability isn't in itself wrong. I think the absence of male subjects on stage at all suggests that the performance was an example of sexualITY and not sexual sin (in contrast with, say, the infamous Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake performance). I don't think a 5-year-old dancing in the mirror is an example of sexual sin or even invitation or inclination toward it.
However, I think our culture is so impoverished of images that represent women's bodies in a non-sexualized, non-exploitative context, that it is difficult to create a performance that doesn't in some way invoke those traditions.
Dear Karen, greetings to you and all the brethren. I salute the acuity of your perception in being able to see the obscenity in Beyonce's halftime show, especially as a woman. Honestly, it's not too surprising that some Christians find it difficult to fault the performance despite the loudness and accentuation of certain body movement, body parts and other subtle incidents like the camera focusing on her crotch.
The Bible teaches us not to be ignorant of the devices of the enemy. We cannot understand or appreciate this discourse if we divorce the performance from the performer. Who is Beyonce? What does she stand for? Even unbelievers did not find it difficult to identify the inappropriateness of the performance neither did they hesitate to voice out their disappointment and disgust. We must appreciate the fact that there's a reason she had to come out in that kind of costume and to perform like that to that kind of audience. These things are subtle and unless you evaluate these things with untainted Christian standards one would never perceive the ulterior motive behind the action of 'these people', they are very subtle in their ways. It's the same way they get to kids and teens through (video) games. They are deft and cunning like the serpent, they understand they power of vision and the vulnerability of the subconscious to pre-captured intense or sensual images. Beyonce is one of the few women who is very aware of her beauty and knows how to wield it to capture the attention of her (male) audience, speaking about seduction. That was a performance meant to sow lust in the hearts and minds of its' viewers, the achievement of that alone is enough victory for the spirit that drives her and the enemy of the saints of God. It also succeeded in making an unwanted impression on many kids and youngsters who were hitherto unaware of their femininity in that regard, especially females. The idea is to arouse their carnality by openly demonstrating the power they can have over males when they dress like that and wield their bodies like that.
As Christians when we talk about culture, we must be careful not to be carried away with the modern trend of civilized reasoning that attempts to refine Bible standards or qualify it with modern ideologies. God says I am the Lord and I changeth not. There's no other culture acceptable to God other than that stated or implied in the Bible and for a (seductively) beautiful woman to brazenly display the power of her sexuality with haughty eyes and intense body movements behind a skimpy outfit to the view of millions of people is deliberate and indecent in every standard!
May the Lord give us more understanding in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Thanks, Bethany! I have to disagree that the absence of male subjects on stage would tend to diminish the exploitative/sin nature of the performance. In fact, I'm sure many male viewers preferred watching only women and not for aesthetic or reasons or for any "girl power" component.
And just as there are many expressions of sexuality--some good some not--the kind of dancing my friend's daughter was a sexual acting out, not something I'd dismiss with such broad strokes as to call it merely "dancing." There's dancing, and then there's dancing. :) Addressing these things in such broad terms with no nuancing the healthy from the unhealthy is exactly the issue that troubles me in much of the general response to the half-time show. So I appreciate the conversation, too, and thank you for joining it.
Good question. My students, who are much hipper than I, informed me in the course of discussing my post, that such personas are de rigeur in hip hop culture. So maybe split or integrated it's all just part of the branding and marketing machine.
Which leaves us with what I think is the important question: not what Beyonce should or shouldn't do (or Sasha, as the case may be), but what do WE do with what she does?
Thank you, Kennedy, for a thoughtful, clear-minded response to the issue. The more I think about it, the more I'm puzzled that we would consider the wielding of sexual power as anything new, or rolling around on the floor for the camera and crowds as empowering.
Thanks for your response Karen, you know, I understand why you may be puzzled at how all of that is considered empowering. The thing is, if it wasn't considered empowering and if there were no evidence that it's working the showbiz industries and promoters of such would have dumped the practice ever since.
The catch is in the different mindset and value systems that sweep across the populace. This difference to a significant extent is informed by our individual belief systems/preferred lifestyles; speaking of religion, culture and tradition. But to a larger extent it is informed by our convictions as Christians by the Holy Spirit and our yielding to Him as He helps us to see things the way they really are unlike the way the world sees and by the quickly-becoming anachronistic culture of good ethics and moral values based on the traditions of men.
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