Opinion

The Aesthetics of Gendered Dumbness

"World's Fastest Talker" YouTube video via duh.gurldontbedumb.com
“World’s Fastest Talker Attempt – 650 WPM” (YouTube video via duh.gurldontbedumb.com)

CHICAGO — What happens when blogs GURLDONTBEDUMB and WEIRD DUDE ENERGY face off in the reblogosphere, dueling it out in a viral battle-of-the-sexes? This post compares these two Tumblrs, both of which index hyper-gendered pop culture tropes, readily spinning off memes for the easy consumption of an A.D.D.-addled web audience.

GURLDONTBEDUMB (GDBD) is comprised of Eileen Mueller and Jamie Steele, two Chicago-based artists who maintain separate practices in addition to this experiment in collaboration. WEIRD DUDE ENERGY, a collaborative Tumblr started in 2008, is run by Los Angeles-based Christine Boepple, a project manager who also runs 22 other Tumblrs, and Kerry McLaughlin, a writer who also works on music videos.

GDBD takes a concerted approach to visual representations of silly, squeamish, and gross girlish excess at its best. The project is neither a feminist response to the amount of misogynistic images found online nor does it cast itself as anti-feminist. It is a curious collection of internet-specific imagery that reflects how users perceive the realm of the “feminine” —  signifying femininity via a gamut of visual referents: cute animals, anything pink, politicians, pop stars, paintings, and YouTube memes.

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Self-explanatory (image via duh.gurldontbedumb.com)

A collaborative project that operates under a unified curatorial premise both on the Tumblr and offline in art spaces around the Midwest, GDBD is related to co-founder Jamie Steele’s art practice, which satirically subverts feminine stereotypes by using über-blinding, hyper-gendered colors and objects. In her 2012 video, “Buff,” for instance, Steele amplifies the audio on a video of herself rubbing together patent leather neon pink high heels. The result is five nearly-insufferable minutes of that fingers-against-the-chalkboard squeak.

The video is reminiscent of the work of performance artist Kate Gilmore, who dons feminine attire such as a tight dress and immaculate high heels, and then places herself in physically strenuous situations and environments that she must then escape (see Between a Hard Place and My Love is an Anchor). Her work, like Steele’s, comments on the social construction of femininity, and operates in an endurance-based performance space slightly akin to Vito Acconci and Marina Abramovic. However, GDBD extends such metaphors beyond the gallery walls. As a collective, they are interested in the types of visual messages that already exist on the internet, with a tongue-in-cheek nod toward their one-dimensional, oh-so-dumb nature.

WEIRD DUDE ENERGY is similar in its one-liner reformulation of the asinine moments that arise from an excess of aimless, aggressive, bored, and often sexually-frustrated, cis dude energy. “Our friend Jason coined the term, which we use liberally to describe awkward situations that have no other explanation,” says Boepple in an email to Hyperallergic. WDE is an offshoot of the original dudely blog, Rad Dudes, which McLaughlin notes “became obsolete once Tumblr came along and changed the internet.”

With an eye on mostly user-generated videos, photos, and GIFs rather than anything located in the contemporary art realm, WDE mixes visuals like a video of a guy shooting a pool ball using two toes instead of fingers titled “Edgar’s Money Shot”  with an image of a tattooed man holding a giant banana next to the headline “Man loses entire life savings on carnival game.” Then there’s the downright bizarre — a gif of a Medieval man ramming a remote-controlled medic car into a gremlin while a nude guy plays the keyboard outside the window. With greater visual effrontery, like an image of a dude wearing a shirt declaring “LET ME PEE IN THAT BUTT,” this Tumblr indexes a range of potentially offensive masculinity. At least there aren’t any real money shots on here.

“WEIRD DUDE ENERGY, the concept and blog, will likely continue until the battle in space at the end of time,” says McLaughlin.

Image via Weird Dude Energy
Dude synergy (image via Weird Dude Energy)

Both GDBD and WEIRD DUDE ENERGY collect internet imagery that is gross, silly, bizarre, and, most of all, dumb. But where WEIRD DUDE ENERGY seeks to point out and make fun of the stupidity inherent in representations of masculinity, the vagueness inherent in GDBD could veer one of two ways. While it should make a reader think twice about negative female stereotypes that we see every day in on- and offline media and pop culture, it could also be read as just making light of feminine excess. Such is the nebulous nature of gender bias on the internet.

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