YouTube Video: Ali G on Feminism!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Ali G, Hegemony, Counter-Hegemony, Oh My!

The Ali G show is the essential jackpot for analyzing gender and popular culture. The hit HBO series is composed of skits and interviews conducted by three characters: Ali G, the urban, British macho character, Borat, the Jew-hating foreign character from Kazakhstan, and Bruno, the gay Austrian character obsessed with fashion and celebrity gossip. These three entertaining personalities are all played by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, creator of the Ali G Show. While this entertaining show and its controversial topics of discussion have received positive feedback from the majority of its viewers, many viewers and critics scold the series for its severe political incorrectness concerning issues like gender, race, and religion. I have watched most of the episodes for the purpose of entertainment. Now, as a student in Gender and Popular Culture, I am ready to watch these episodes yet another time through the lens of gender.

The Ali G Show relays multiple messages to its audience concerning hegemony. The discussion of females in various interviews and skits constantly emphasize stereotypes prevalent in today’s society. For example, in one particular episode, Ali G interviews a professor of Women and Gender Studies about Feminism. Ali G asks the professor if she would feel safe with a woman flying a plane; he explains that women easily get distracted by thoughts about other things. Ali G infers that women are poor drivers and operators of machinery. He also infers that women are too emotional to function and carry-out actions that men are considered to excel in because they don’t let emotions interfere. This idea of sex-segregated activities and occupations is internalized at childhood, according to Michael Messner, author of Boyhood, Organized Sports, and the Construction of Masculinities. Men feel that certain activities, whether it is occupations or sports, like in the article, should be reserved for men only; this misogynist idea is conveyed through Ali G’s comment (127). This interview overall is a mockery of feminism; during the interview, Ali G confuses feminism with lesbianism. This mere slip-up is actually a big slap in the face for feminists and women alike. Society’s ignorant members have formed the stereotype that feminists are “butch” or lesbians that hate men. Through this comment, he is reaffirming this established stereotype of feminists. In another episode where Ali G is attempting to publish an erotic novel, Ali G explains the risks of engaging in sexual activity, one being a relationship. In Myth of the Sexual Athlete, Don Sabo discusses how in sexual relationships women are viewed as opponents (276). Intimacy is frowned upon, especially among young males. Also, in an interview with a publisher, he refers to his girlfriend as “Me Julie,” or if said properly, “My Julie.” While this is merely a subtle reference to his girlfriend, the fact that he uses “my” infers possession, like his women is his property. During a pro-life demonstration, Ali G interviews a young man who claims he is a virgin; Ali G laughs at him in disbelief. This reaffirms the popular trend that the younger a male is when he loses his virginity, the more accepted he is among other males. Don Sabo makes the point that young males feel the need to boast about their sexual experiences; it is like “winning points,” for being masculine (275).

While Ali G is constantly making hegemonic comments in his interviews and skits, both subtle and blatant, the show surprisingly conveys a number of counter-hegemonic messages as well. This is partly due to the face that the show is a form of a satire. For example, Ali G’s character is an exaggerated mockery of the stereotypical urbanized macho man; Ali G doesn’t speak proper English, his style of dress is simply ridiculous (goggle sunglasses, a do-rag, yellow baggy jogging suit, “bling”), and he is constantly misusing and confusing words with others (monogyny/mahogany, feminism/lesbianism, Mormon/moron). This satirized portrayal of this typical masculine figure is contradicting hegemonic messages. Also, during the Feminist interview, Ali G asks if there will ever be a Female Prime Minister; the woman tells him that there has been one. He is clueless when it comes to politics of his own country, while the female is worldly and knowledgeable about a topic of interest that stereotypically is solely a concern for men. A final example in the show that conveys a counter-hegemonic message is Ali G’s confusion concerning feminism and lesbianism. While this also served as a source of hegemony, it also shows the stereotypical male’s failure to understand the concept of feminism.

The Ali G show is unique in that it both reaffirms and challenges social norms and stereotypes concerning gender. The examples of hegemonic messages in the show mentioned earlier generally reaffirm these stereotypes about females. However, depending on the viewer, one can argue that even the examples previously mentioned do not reaffirm, but emphasize and satirize the irrationality behind these gender stereotypes. In my own opinion, I believe it could be interpreted either way; it depends on the viewer. For example, a young teenage boy watching the show would internalize the degrading female stereotypes and consider them true. However, a knowledgeable college student aware of the falseness in these stereotypes would interpret the hegemonic comments as simply satirical. But it seems that majority of viewers would simply find it funny, yet not necessarily realize that the female stereotypes touched upon in the show are false and degrading. Therefore the majority of society is unconsciously exposing themselves to and internalizing these stereotypes, condoning their presence in American popular culture.

-Miss Nooch


Messner, Michael A. Boyhood, Organized Sports, and the Construction of Masculinities.

Sabo, Don. The Myth of the Sexual Athlete.

1 comment:

Jessie said...

This post is interesting because in some ways you're getting at the very root of what is so elusive about the definition of his work as satire or racist/sexist/homophobic/Eurocentric comedy (P.C. is how you refer to it, but P.C. was a phrase coined by conservatives under the guise that liberals created a culture of PC-ness--just to mock them for it later--i.e. the notion that liberals won't say anything if it offends someone--too bad liberals took the bait and the phrase became entrenched in popular vernacular).
I could view the examples of lesbians and pilots as "Ali G" satirizing their meanings in US society--look at the ways that he shows the "public" reactions to them-- to me it makes the "American public" look like intolerant, bigots whose worldviews are severely constrained by the definitions of women's work, sexuality, and womanhood. If he is a performer, and has the ability (or the show's editors) to edit the final productions, then he may be trying to make that point. Without the reactions of the people who he makes these comments to, the issues remain subversively intact (the misogynist/heterosexist definitions).
However, if satire is produced, and no one "gets it" then is it really satire?
One note on the lesbian - feminist issue you pointed out (which is certainly appropriate for the post), the idea that feminists are offended by being associated with lesbians marks a place for further scrutiny--2nd wave US feminism was (talking 1950s-60s here) actively disassociating itself from lesbians for a variety of reasons (one of which being the homophobia in US society); however, in both social justice movements and academic feminist circles of today, there's a fairly firm grip on the fact that sexism and homophobia/heterosexism are quite closely (if not inextricably) related to each other--and women can't divide (or tolerate the division of) women based on sexuality any more so than women can tolerate the division of women based on gender-roles (i.e. "women's work" and what is "appropriate" for women to do and not do).
Therefore, I as a feminist see no reason to be insulted by being "implicated" (for lack of a better word) as lesbian because to be offended, one must believe non-heterosexuals are in some way inferior to heterosexuals. In relation to this issue of divisions between women, the logic to "defend my sexuality" (regardless of how I've defined it") as somehow better or worse due to heterosexist standards would reinforce divisions between women and undermine any sort of progress in social justice movements...can't pick which oppressions to keep and which to attack...oppression is feeds of other oppressions...can't keep racism and fight against sexism, just as we can't keep homophobia and fight sexism--in the end it boils down to the hierarchies created by hegemonic definitions and norms...hierarchies are bound to produce the systems of oppression that situation one group as "above" or "below" (or better/worse) than another group.