Monday, July 07, 2008

"Valley Girl"

In Ron's review of Minnis, he calls her language "valley girl". Josh Corey said a similar thing about another Fence author Tina Celona a while back. I've heard this said here and there to implicitly criticize women poets. In almost all cases, very intelligent, odd women poets. I told Josh at that time that I found it strange his use of the term since to me it seems like an archaic phrase from the 1980s. But it's used with such frequency I wonder where it comes into poetry discussions? I'm mystified.


Blogger Max said...

I think it depends. Was it used as a pejorative?

12:27 PM  
Blogger mark wallace said...

As I'm sure you know, the Valley Girl is an image of a a type of vulgar young woman born to suburban sprawl and without access either to traditional cultural values or any intellectual/historical awareness about her present.

As a stereotype, she differs from the Jap only in being not necessarily Jewish, of more uncertain financial status, and of course living in the suburbs north of L.A. or at least somewhere that resembles those suburbs. She's not automatically white but she certainly has a fundamentally consumerist consciousness.

My guess is that it's an easy put down because it doesn't raise any blatant racist issues; it's just a sexist stereotype of the 80s.

If it's not being used as a sexist put down, which it almost always is, then it would be the type of term that the gurlesque might refigure. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for instance, was Valley Girl turned into hero.

5:17 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...


Interesting history. But doesn't it seem archaic?


5:47 PM  
Blogger mark wallace said...

I see what you're saying, Johannes, but no, maybe it's not so archaic. It was coined a long time ago, but it's still the paradigmatic insult for ignorant suburban Southern California girls. JAP (all caps, I believe) has lasted similarly long: everybody used it when I was in college, and they still do. Still, it could be somewhat out of date, I suppose--but of course the guys who were using it harken back to its original moment.

6:24 PM  
Blogger Max said...

But it seems to me that "valley girl" could still be a useful description of a style or tone. I don't think it absolutely has to be pejorative.

In most normal social use, yes, "valley girl" is pejorative, but at the same time, I think Mark is blowing the severity of the term way out of proportion.

7:26 PM  
Blogger François Luong said...

"Valley girl" as a surfer term surely is archaic (from the 80s), but what we think of when we say "valley girl" (that is to say what Mark refers to) is still a prevalent stereotype of femininity. Think for example of the many Lindsay Lohan movies.

8:21 PM  
Blogger K. Lorraine Graham said...

I'm seconding what Francois mentioned--"valley girl" is still a prevalent stereotype of femininity. And it's true, it does feel archaic. But here in San Diego, we still use a lot of archaic surfer slang, including "rad," and "gnarley," so it's possible that "valley girl" is still floating around. As Mark also mentioned, the valley in "valley girl" is a real place. In LA, people talk about going to the valley, etc.

8:56 PM  
Blogger Max said...

Most of the time, when I hear the term "valley girl" used, it is in reference to a verbal affectation or demeanor. At worst, it's on par with calling somebody a "yuppie." I don't see anything especially pernicious about it in common parlance.

As far as using it to criticize poetry or something along those lines, I would take greater offense at the dismissive attitude than I would with the term "valley girl" itself.

9:08 PM  
Blogger Max said...

9:19 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

I think Mark is right that this might be an interesting issue to look at in terms of reconfiguring a sexist critique. I had never watched Buffy until some of my students used an episode to discuss Judith Butler last fall. I can see the connection there.

7:33 AM  
Blogger shanna said...

the way the term "valley girl"--and its attendant set of affectations, mostly verbal--translated *outside* of california might be relevant here. in texas, in say, the early 80s, right about the same time as madonna's first incarnation (neon on black, lace, and rubber bracelets), "valley girl" talk and dress was fashionable and dare i say it "aspirational" for semi-rural and suburban girls in my junior high. for instance, the cheerleaders put on the valley girl persona, and so did all the girls who looked up to them as "popular." this felt like a critical move, but one that critiqued the local alternative of "farm girl" or "small-town girl." honestly, they read "valley girl" as being more sophisticated, and seemed to be attracted to a coherent girl-based culture.

7:35 AM  
Blogger shanna said...

and then there was molly ringwald in sixteen candles/pretty in pink (but not in breakfast club)--another, tho very different, alternative that many girls found attractive.

7:38 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

It seems the valley girl is an interesting spot in the culture because its high level of gender performativeness. This makes it a good figure to toy around with. And the sexism makes this even more so.

8:02 AM  
Blogger Max said...

Watch the video, Johannes. It was already being toyed around with in 1982.

9:41 AM  
Blogger becca said...

Hi, Johannes-- I'm really glad you're invoking the Gurlesque as a response to Silliman's take on Bad Bad. The Gurlesque was the first thing I thought of when I read that post, too. I think his reading just goes to show how much we need new frames through which to read contemporary women's poetry. The Gurlesque should be one of many! I went to study at Columbia College with Arielle mostly because of the Gurlesque -- because it was the most exciting, forward-looking theorizing of ultra-contemporary women's poetics I could find, and because it was one of the ONLY examples of this I could find. I'd like to see alternate frames articulated as a more productive way of responding to the Gurlesque. And when the frames prosper & multiply, then the whole poetry world can chuckle knowingly at (old) (white) men who think terms like "bad girl" and "valley girl" are relevant lenses through which we should view Minnis' and others' poetics, instead of the mostly retrogressive and outta-touch terms they actually are. This can't happen until more people engage with the ideas thoughtfully and begin to put forth considered responses, so thanks for doing that here!

10:46 AM  
Blogger Max said...

I think there are far more pressing concerns than old white men in this world. We shouldn't be working to subvert them. They're subverting themselves just by being old and white.

Sometimes I get the feeling that literature, as an act of rebellion, is stuck in the early 20th century. It still seems to be about fighting the formalist bogeyman. I wonder why this is.

11:11 AM  
Blogger becca said...

Yes, of course in this "world" -- but perhaps not in this corner of it! Most old white men will do whatever they please -- whether that means subverting themselves or not (I doubt it does).

What I'm rooting for has little to do with subverting old white men -- I'm more for starting new discussions/frames/theories/modes of criticism altogether -- responses or spontaneously combustive acts of new theorizing/criticism are both useful as long as they invent, not simply react. Not simply regurgitate old terms and frameworks; not simply pick these out of a poofy-sleeved lace-and-denim grab bag in the valley. And yes, this is a feminist impulse, but if OWM or Young Men of the Blogosphere want to be the ones spearheading new directions in feminist poetics and scholarship, they may Go For It!

12:10 PM  
Blogger Danielle said...

Good point, Bex!

Max, apparently a lot of us are boring you, strike you outmoded. And while I wonder how thoroughly you've read the poets in question and/or the articles on gurlesque aesthetic (see my perhaps late in the game comment on Johannes's last Gurlesque post), I'll bite. Who's boring, and what should she do instead? The others who've lobbed similar complaint can weigh in, make something out of that dissatisfaction! Or at very least demonstrate how the poems themselves bore (since it strikes me incomplete to evaluate the aesthetic without examples of its execution).

I think it's pretty clear that Ron doesn't think valley girl the most scintillating of the book's components. The quote runs "You can hear the pout of the narrator, half valley girl, half Eurotrash ingénue. At the same time there is, in almost every line, some remarkable observation." Not sure how valley girl meets Eurotrash ingenue meets remarkable observation could possibly go awry, or what's wrong with pouting on the page... a better opinion once I've read the entire Bad Bad.

And you know I'd vote for valley girl being a complicated, useful subject position. What was the term for Nicholas Cage's character? Punk? Plenty rocking that old school.

1:30 PM  
Blogger Max said...

Oh, I don't have anything against the writing in question ... The Hounds of No ranks among the best books of poetry I've read in a long time.

I'm just not sure the way the "gurlesque" is being contextualized, the direction in which it's being pointed, as a theory, or a method, or a style, or whatever, is all that useful. Of course, it's just an opinion, and obviously people aren't required, expected, or even advised to share in it. All I'm saying is that, if forced to read a book like The Hounds of No within a "gurlesque" framework, it would flatten and trivialize the experience for me. From what I understand of it so far, the concept just rings kind of hollow ... the same social critiques done up in a new outfit. But then again, it's only in an exploratory stage, so...

Also, doesn't that use of "valley girl" strike you more as an attempt to describe tone than to dismiss the poems in question? Of course, the way it's coupled with "remarkable observation," as though the poems somehow manage to strike gold despite the ditziness of the voice? I dunno, it's kind of a coin toss, in my opinion.

2:11 PM  
Blogger becca said...

One of my very favorite Chelsey Minnis bits, which also happens to be very valley, goes:

...uh..........I want to wear hot pants............................................
..................................................and rest my boot on the back
of a man's neck...............................................................

(better layout here:


I actually have a special fondness for the valley girl, especially when she is doing things like resting her boot on the back of a man's neck or slaying loads & loads of vampires. So maybe I just have a problem with men dubbing women poets' voices "valley" (because I think it does imply a critique, as Johannes says; tho J. Clover is clearly a Buffy fan!; tho C. Minnis is my boyfriend's favorite poet!) and not so much a problem with valley girl as subject position. Can they be mutually exclusive? Not sure. But omg now I like totally want to go write some valley-po. 4realz.

2:50 PM  
Blogger Danielle said...

Hmmm. Yeah, I'm still not sure I get what you find flattening in the gurlesque in particular, Max... Or, I do see, from your comments, but still think you're rather reducing it in your summaries.

At any rate, if one's forced to read ANY work solely through ANY aesthetic category, there's some flattening. Ie, Freud reads "The Sandman" through the frame of the uncanny, and it's reductive. Highly useful for exploring his new aesthetic category, but not a story you'd want to (need to) read if that's all it were.

Same here--Arielle's using certain poems to illustrate the aesthetic, but of course the poems themselves are larger experiences. I don't think anyone writes a gurlesque poem in the service of fulfilling the aesthetic's requirements. I don't think anyone's saying all Lara Glenum does is gurlesque (though I would argue that gender is Lara's lens in Hounds of No). What Arielle's cottoned on to is that a markedly diverse group of women poets have begun to deploy some similar tactics--have begun to perform similar gestures. (ie "the Gurlesque poets use a kind of Third Wave feminist privilege to engage in scatological, frilly, or otherwise irreverent modes of gendered representation...") These tactics, as she reads 'em, appear to come directly out of an historically anchored moment in USAmerican (possibly global?) culture. To say they're just shiny poems messing around with Charlie's Angels would be to side with the critics who originally wrote these poems off as too trivial, or read them as sexy little missives. But to write out the pop culture effects, to write out the second-wave / third-wave friction, or hot/clammy-repulsive sexplay ignores a lot of the evisceration and exploration going on. I wonder if this is so obvious to women of a certain generation/class/race, that we've been speaking a bit of shorthand about it? Although I think Arielle & I get pretty long-winded in the conversation ;). As I'm getting here, wryer emoticon.

I'm not sure if Johannes was suggesting earlier that men poets are using grotesque in the same way women poets are? Did I read that right? I don't think that's quite so, though I am very curious about the overlap. There's something, I think, unique to the women's grotesque. It comes, in part, out of this pre-grotesque moment. The gender performance of "girl" that is, ostensibly grotesque in its exaggerations/absurdities and low-brow revelings, but so embedded in our culture that it reads "natural." That's one of the brilliant things about the valley girl. She's embraced everything she's been told to embrace as a girl, but so aggressively and obnoxiously no one can (under)stand her but her own kind. Or so I muse...

3:58 PM  
Blogger Max said...

Gender is really a tertiary delimiting factor of the "valley girl," though. A plain old "American girl" must fit certain class criteria (i.e. be at least upper-middle class) and be of a certain age range (~13-24) to gain admittance.

I think an interesting critique using the "valley girl" concept is going to have more to do with commerce, social class, and age (our perverse fascination with youth) than it will ever have to do with mere "girly things." After all, the "valley girl," from a gender standpoint, is just a rehashing of the idea of the "teenager" that emerged in the 50s or thereabouts. A "valley girl" unquestioningly enrolls in the ideal life of a proper modern young woman, but it's like the country club version of its 50s predecessor, because the focus on money and branding is far more acute in the 1980s.

So for the "valley girl," it's probably not so much what she's told to like, but what she's given to like. Alternate topics include: the price of admission; the aging process.

4:46 PM  
Blogger UCOP Killer said...

Since this thread has gone on so long, and since both individuals are my friends, it seems the time to point out that it was Josh Corey, not Joshua Clover, that made said valley girl remark:

9:29 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Oops. Noted.

9:09 AM  
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1:35 PM  
Blogger et said...

omg the terms bandied about, are you joking me? bad girl? coy? the boyish certainty of the it's-too-broad.... thank god for becca and all. i'm sinking and slinking away from this. I cannot believe how retro the thinking of the garde. It makes me think poetry is useless and so is conversation. the shock of the continual framing of one's experience by idiots who have no idea.

7:16 PM  
Blogger Max said...

Poetry and conversation are useless as anything other than (sometimes) entertaining modes of combat.

7:58 PM  
Blogger et said...

perhaps in yr world, mr. yr stinkin combat.

8:12 PM  

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