Get in My Vagina! Language and Power in Online Comedy Videos
by Kim A. Knight — University of Texas at Dallas
November 09, 2012 – 00:00
In 2011, more than 1100 provisions to regulate reproductive health and rights were introduced in the U.S. (up 16 percent from 2010). We are witnessing a marked increase in juridic discourse regarding women’s bodies. Yet certain events indicate that women’s bodies are simultaneously unspeakable within juridic spaces. March 2011: Florida House Democrat Scott Randolph was chastised because he used the word “uterus” on the Florida house floor. June 2012: Lisa Brown was barred from the Michigan house floor for using the word “vagina.” Perhaps most bizarre is an incident from February 2012 when Dave Albo, a sponsor of Virginia’s proposed “informed consent” law, invents the word “trans-v” so he doesn’t have to say “transvaginal.” Linguistic lacunae and reprimands for indecorous behavior imply that women’s bodies must not be named. Thus, they are situated within a Foucauldian multiplicity of force relations that includes both a multiplication of juridic discourse and discursive erasure.
Various online comedy videos engage the tensions between multiplication and erasure by tactically using the word “vagina.” In February 2012, Jeff Poor of The Daily Caller criticized Rachel Maddow for her “dramatic” use of the words “vagina” and “vaginal.” Poor conducted a word count of her usage over a ten day period and compiled a video montage of her utterances. Rather than challenging power, the video aligns with Foucault’s assertion that acts of transgression within the repressive hypothesis reinforce the normative structure. By editing Maddow’s words into decontextualized pathological repetition, Poor frames Maddow as absurd and subtly reinforces the norm of discursive erasure.
Other videos turn the lens on those in power. One example is the Funny or Die video, “Republicans, Get in my Vagina.” The video features “real Republican real women of real America” lamenting all the decisions they have to make and expressing their gratitude that legislators will decide for them. The women assert that they want government “in my vagina,” in part because vaginas are weird and scary. The video is an uneven challenge to polymorphous power. It satirizes the irrationality of the far right’s reproductive legislation at the same time that it explicitly articulates the female body as indecorous and grotesque.
Though both videos use transgressive language, they demonstrate the multifaceted and uneven operations of the moving substrate of force relations that is the current context of women’s reproductive rights in the United States.
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