Beyoncé Knowles rocked the Super Bowl halftime show last night, and, pearls clenched firmly in fist, Kathryn Jean Lopez is on it, and the national cultural decline Ms. Knowles apparently represents:
I don’t want to linger on this, but last night’s Super Bowl half-time show was ridiculous — and gratuitously so. Watching Twitter, it was really no surprise that men made comments about stripper poles and putting dollar bills through their TV sets, was it? Why can’t we have a national entertainment moment that does not include a mother gyrating in a black teddy? The priceless moment was Destiny’s Child reuniting to ask that someone “put a ring on it.” As I mentioned on Twitter last night, perhaps that case might be best made in another outfit, perhaps without the crotch grabbing. It seems quite disappointing that Michelle Obama would feel the need to tweet about how “proud” she is of Beyoncé. The woman is talented, has a beautiful voice, and could be a role model. And she is on some levels — on others she is an example of cultural surrender, rather than leadership.
I’d venture that there’s more dignity in Beyoncé’s marvelously controlled, rigorously choreographed performance than in Bruce Springsteen’s sloppy slide and camera crotch-bump of a few years back. And as much as her very much post-baby body was on display, Beyoncé’s performance was less allusively sexual than Prince’s silhouetted guitar. In fact, almost everything about Beyoncé’s off-stage life pretty much seems to meet Lopez’s criteria, from her long courtship with Jay-Z, to the child the two of them had once they were firmly ensconced in wedlock. If I were Lopez, I might actually think about striking the Knowles-Carters a medal for defying the Hollywood trend of shotgun or infinitely-delayed post-baby weddings.
But all of this is beside the point. What Lopez appears to object to, and what overrides for her any other consideration of ways in which Beyoncé might be a role model—including her financial success and careful control of her image— is the sight of a woman living in and very much enjoying her body, without needing to secure anyone else’s approval or ensure anyone else’s enjoyment. One of the hallmarks of Beyoncé’s lyrics, both with Destiny’s Child, and as a solo artist, is that no one is entitled to access to her. “Move, groove, prove you can hang with me / By the looks I got you shook up and scared of me,” she sang in “Bootylicious,” with its famous chorus. She warned a loutish boyfriend “Don’t you ever for a second get to thinking you’re irreplaceable.” In “Countdown,” she describes a relationship of equals, where she’ll “Do whatever that it takes, he got a winner’s mind / Give it all to him, meet him at the finish line,” and where “Yup, I buy my own, if he deserve it, buy his shit too.” And in “Independent Women,” Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child warned women “If you’re gonna brag make sure it’s your money you flaunt / Depend on no one else to give you what you want.”
And I think that’s really what makes Lopez twitchy. In the 1994 script for Little Women, Robin Swicord wrote that “nothing provokes speculation more than the sight of a woman enjoying herself.” And in 2013, few things get conservatives twitchier than a woman who will take a ring from the right man—and in fact already has—but will do it because she wants it, not because she needs it.