Tegan and Sara Pose With Black Eyes—Is It Wise?

I love Tegan and Sara immensely. I have tens of thousands of songs on my i-pod, and yet will play their songs on repeat for whole days. Sometimes I will play a single one of their songs on repeat for a half hour straight. I go so far as to consider The Con my single favorite album of all time. And, in my whole life, I’ve only ever actually had a real, bona fide crush on three celebrities—Natalie Portman, Tegan Quin, and Sara Quin. I think they’re fascinating people and love to read their interviews and listen to their onstage banter. I could go on and on geeking out here.

But anyway, for those of you who don’t know Tegan and Sara they’re an indie-rock pop band from Canada. They’re twin sisters. They’re savvy businesswomen who have assiduously controlled every aspect of their music, their image, their merchandise, and their marketing that they can. They’re thoughtful, confessional people who give intelligent answers in interviews and spill their hearts with little abandon in their music. They are insanely catchy and viscerally affecting to me because their tunes are replete with smart and powerful melodies expressing intense yearnings and anxieties. Their attention to their fans and their openness with them strikes me as simultaneously sincere and savvy. They understand as well as anyone how to be fiercely independent and self-defined, profitable artists in the digital age. They’re also lesbians who have built their whole career while nonchalantly out of the closet and matter-of-factly, manifestly comfortable in their own skins. They’re also socially conscious and forthright about standing up to misogynists in the media and supporting women’s rights and causes.

To all of this they owe the rabid cult following which grew into mainstream indie credibility and which could become mainstream music success any album now. They are for the most part phenomenal role models for young men and women, gay or straight, and have an especially solid grip on the hearts of countless girls. And they are as iconic as anyone could be among young lesbian women.

So, in this context, I’m a little ambivalent about this picture that I keep seeing advertised whenever I wander Freethought Blogs. Google must have figured out I love this band because I see an ad for their new live DVD/CD all the time. I kept not really seeing it closely but having a vague disturbed feeling that something was bad about with Tegan’s make up, as it unattractively made her look like she had a black eye. Then this morning I looked at the picture more clearly and saw that both girls had a black eye. And then I got it. The name of the live package is Get Along. And this is the cover photo for it. They’re twin sisters who work and travel the country together and they have always been frank that frequently they are so close to each other that they madden each other and occasionally they’ve mentioned, in good humor, getting physically rough with each other.

So, in this context, I’m not sure what to make of this cover:

Does this border on an irresponsible “domestic violence chic“? Does it somehow trivialize or actually encourage domestic violence or violence against women in specific? Or does it bust gender stereotypes and exhibit their proud, tomboyish toughness since not only do the girls get black eyes but they give them? Is this a way of saying they’re tough enough to handle a black eye like a champ rather than back down from all fights? Are we on the level of metaphors for being tough and being fighters, all while making a vivid, honest, and amusing joke about sibling rivalry? Is this a sexy toughness or a reckless promotion of the idea that being physically tough on women is sexy? Will anyone in practice be led to be any softer on domestic violence or inclined to it if they accept this image lovingly? Would this be more okay if it were in an art form not targeted very strongly at teenage (and preteen) girls? Should it be admired or disdained on any other aesthetic grounds?

I really don’t know how to answer all these questions, so, Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Grace

    The title Get Along seems to me to imply sibling rivalry, the album cover trying to say not successfully? I have a sister and we’ve gotten into physical fights, so I guess I can relate a little.
    As for a “reckless promotion of the idea that being physically tough on women is sexy”…that’s not the impression I get and it probably wasn’t their intention, but there are some people out there who will look for any excuse to justify that, so maybe it is a bit irresponsible.

  • ElGatoCello (@ElGatoCello)

    I agree with Grace on this. It is an implication of sibling rivalry. No more.

  • http://www.twitter.com/jalyth Jalyth

    I am pretty sensitive on this subject, and their photo does not creep me out. I realize my argument is of the “I know it when I see it” variety, but I kinda do. I mean, I know DV when I see it.

    I can say that on this subject of violence against women, I am frequently disturbed by it, but if they retaliate or reciprocate, a la Lizbeth Salander, then I can handle it. The fact that they both have a black eye balances any feelings I personally would have about seeing a photo of a woman with a black without context.

    Also, some of the “DV chic” photos that seem popular lately portray women more helplessly. Maybe in submissive poses. Er, that’s my impression anyway. I don’t really want to google for proof.

  • JetClarke

    It isn’t “violence against women” unless it’s done by men. If only women are involved, it’s just violence. If they are siblings, it is sibling violence.
    And if you see a woman with a black eye and immediately think ‘a man hit her’, you are making a link that may be incorrect. Yes, men hit women. Yes, it can cause a black eye. So can other things. You are mistaking a common result with a possibly inaccurate cause.


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