Jessica Herman of Slate asks whether we still need Lilith Fair in 2010. Women are dominating the Billboard charts and having tons of mainstream and alternative success. So, is there a social wrong and does Lilith right it?
I would say that we don’t need a Lilith Fair, but there’s nothing wrong with it. There are good female artists out there, so there’s no reason not to enjoy them. But, it brings up some interesting issues about advocacy, advantage and the social meaning of celebrations and group pride.
Lilith Fair is about music, celebrating women musicians, and a commercial venture set up to boost women artists. But, I think there’s always been a component of advocacy. Today, the Lilith Fair calls itself “the Celebration of Women in Music.” Lilith seems aware of a need to redouble its definition and purpose, and calling itself a celebration lets people take the advocacy if they want it, and leave it as a celebration if they don’t.
Lilith is probably still a strong brand, so I understand why they use it again rather than starting something new. But, the brand is still associated with advocacy, and that makes the festival a little bit different from a retrospective of Texas art or an anthology of socialist poetry.
The idea of celebrating something implies that there are people over here who like it, and people over there who don’t. Celebrating something implies that not everybody likes it, that it was tested by this adversity, and that the victory should be savored as a special occasion. It also implies a small fear of under-appreciation or neglect. We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries with this fear subtly in mind.
Every celebration tries to answer a quiet comparative question, whether the thing considered is worth celebrating. There are two kinds of objectification involved in that: 1) on the merits of what’s celebrated, and 2) on the external perceptions of what’s celebrated. That’s where you see a difference between events celebrating Native Americans and events celebrating British Americans. That difference has to do with the ways and extent to which groups advocate themselves in their celebrations.
Society seems to be okay with groups advocating for themselves, but only as long as there’s some subtle element of an underdog in an unfair system. While advantaged groups can breath, exist and continue to do their thing, society isn’t okay with these groups advocating for themselves. Advantage becomes a sliding variable in how we perceive assertiveness v. arrogance, defensiveness v. offensiveness, protection v. pugnacity.
In the life of these advantaged group, it’s almost as if everything celebrates itself. In addition to the worry of looking smug, there’s no particular need to raise awareness or nurture pride. Simply extending the advantaged life of the group produces all the necessary advocacy.
Most of us can still identify systematic problems for women. But, the problems are improving. So, at what point will we perceive innocent things like the Lilith Fair as something less appropriate?