Communications and Society blog: By and for students in Marist COM 201

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The Huffington Post recently reported on an minor Twitter feud between Demi Moore and Kim Kardashian over Kardashian’s use of the term “pimpin”.

An actress taking a…well let’s just call Ms. Kardashian a professional celebrity – to task for her choice of words isn’t exactly headline news, even if it is the kind of thing that gets gossip bloggers and online news sites like the HuffPo hot and bothered. In this case, “pimpin” is a slang term that’s been popular for more than 10 years now. How long has it been since Jay-Z’s introduced us to his big-pimpin’ lifestyle? Various other musicians and artists have rode the wave of “pimp culture” – the flashy clothes, jewelry and This is all pretty insignificant, right?

Or is it?

What does this little spat have to do with the assertions I offered to you last time – one, that culture is (to some degree anyway) created and reinforced by modern media, in all its complexity and ubiquity? Also, that images, symbols, even words like “pimp” can compose, or be transformed into sites of contestation? Here we have a slang term – popular among some, reviled by others – that has become just that – contested. Negative or positive? The American Dream or the American Nightmare? It depends on who’s using it.

The HuffPo gave equal time today to the head of GEMS – Girls Educational Mentoring Services – an organization that provides support services to young women who have been drawn or forced into the sex trade in places like New York City and Atlanta. Those who end up “pimped” are predominantly young women of color, from impoverished and abusive backgrounds. Ms. Lloyd has some interesting things to say about what “pimpin” means to someone who’s on the front lines, so to speak.

“There’s been a lot of media coverage in the last week of the Twitter ‘feud’ between Demi Moore and Kim Kardashian. Yet, the glaring omission from all the articles, blogs and commentary is any real analysis of Demi’s point — that we glamorize and glorify pimp culture, use terminology that seems to legitimize the practice, and in doing so, ignore the fact that pimps are modern-day slave-owners.

I’m the founder and executive director of GEMS, Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, the nation’s largest service provider to girls and young women who’ve been commercially sexually exploited and domestically trafficked. Every day, I witness the impact that pimps have on the lives of girls in this country. Girls are left with physical and psychological scars from the brutal tactics of adult men who prey upon some of the most vulnerable children in our society and then sell them for profit over and over again.”

Clearly Ms. Lloyd, and others like have a very different view of terms like this, and their life/work/social experience energizes their advocacy. We could say the same thing about the current attempts to quell the use of the term “retard.”

The point here, among us, isn’t to argue over things like the rights or wrongs of prostitution, or whether or not some sort of formal or informal restrictions need to be put in place on language (there’s a word for that already.) It’s to look at the spectacle of two well-known women (of different ages, backgrounds, and cultures, we suppose) contesting the meaning(s) of a word (isn’t this the kind of thing that only dusty old professors do?) It’s to observe this process of cultural production and re-production, opposition and negotiation being played out in a rather public forum, and then being reported on in even more prominent public forums. This opens opportunities for others – especially advocates like Ms. Lloyd of GEMS and others – to introduce new arguments, as she’s done here.

Written by michaelhkoch

March 31, 2010 at 7:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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