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Techsploits

Suck My Left One

By Annalee Newitz

YOU KNOW what the problem is? We're trapped in one of those alternate universes where the South won the Civil War or dinosaurs evolved to be cunning, ruthless dictators. There's no other explanation.

Le Tigre signed to a major label, which means I can't boycott the RIAA and buy the band's album at the same time. But I can't rip its CD because it's Le Tigre, and that just feels wrong—even though I know rationally that the best way for me to support my favorite queer-pop band at this point is by buying tickets to its concerts. Le Tigre is never going to see another cent from record sales now that it's on Universal. Why, oh why, Kathleen Hanna? What happened to the fierce grrl from Bikini Kill who screamed, "Suck my left one," when capitalist patriarchy came calling?

Look, I know Le Tigre deserves a big cash injection and that lead singer Hanna has been a dedicated champion of underground culture for almost a decade and a half. I don't actually believe that there is anything wrong with selling out if it will help liberate an artist from a crappy day job or give her access to better resources. And yet—isn't there another way? As if to answer my question, Le Tigre released one song from its previous album, Feminist Sweepstakes—brought to you by indie label Mr. Lady—on Wired magazine's sampler CD of music released under Creative Commons licenses that allow you to sample and share. It's a nice gesture, but it would have been much cooler if the band could have negotiated with Universal to get its latest album under a Creative Commons license instead. Then I could have bought the damn CD and not felt like my money was paying for some record company exec to have really nice brunches every morning to infinity.

Speaking of executives whose brunches are paid for by feminist pop culture, it seems that the world of video games—buoyed by an industry whose bulk and size exceeds RIAA bosses' fondest wet dreams—has finally given birth to a gamer geek version of the Spice Girls. The Fragdolls (www.fragdolls.com) are a group of ridiculously hot young women who are paid by video game megacorp Ubisoft to attend game competitions and conferences and look sexy while beating boys at Xbox games. Their creepily slick website—which has a tiny "sponsored by Ubisoft" caveat at the bottom—is full of breathy blog entries from the Fragdolls that read like a cross between come-hither flirtation and advertising for their favorite (i.e., Ubisoft) games. Of course, each girl has a nickname that is somehow phenotypically appropriate: the Asian girl is called Seppuku, the tall blonde chick is Valkyrie and a redhead is named Rhoulette.

Would real gamer girls name themselves after their own physical attributes? Unlikely. These babes are spokesmodels who masquerade as girl-geek pioneers. As gamer Emily Jane put it on BoingBoing.net recently, "While [the Fragdolls] try to adopt 'Just a bunch of girls that like video games' as their image, walking around [gamer convention Penny Arcade Expo] and hearing 'PLAY VIDEO GAMES AGAINST HOT CHICKS!!!' all day definitely reduced the fun of this girl that likes video games. ... The willingness of these girls to be the circus and make girls playing video games seem even LESS normal, totally contradicts what they claim they are all about."

I don't care if Ubisoft wants to sell video games using hot chicks. They would hardly be the first company to come up with that winning advertising strategy. What gets to me is the pretense that the Fragdolls—as some PR flak wrote on their website—"represent the ladies in gaming." They represent nothing but Ubisoft and the plastic surgery-fashion industrial complex.

What's truly weird about our universe is that women represent 51 percent of the population. This is the same "majority percentage" that the newly reelected President George W. Bush is citing as a mandate from the American people to push this country into the reactionary zone. When it comes to politics, we're supposed to believe that 51 percent of the vote represents some kind of massive majority. And yet if I told you that women are the "majority" of the population it would sound ludicrous. According to 2000 census figures, there are about 5.3 million more women than men in the United States. But does that represent a majority?

When we look out at our friends, neighbors and nation, we do not muse to ourselves, "Damn, America is a totally female country!" We're not. And neither are we a Republican country. We're pretty much half and half. It's just that some halves take all the power, while other halves do not.


Annalee Newitz (half@techsploitation.com) is a surly media nerd who was recently reassured by a First Amendment lawyer that none of her writing is smutty enough to ever be considered obscene.


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From the November 10-16, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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