Beyonce performs during the half-time show of the NFL Super Bowl XLVII football game in New Orleans, Louisiana, February 3, 2013. Reuters/Mike Segar
As a non-Beyoncé fan, even I have to admit that her halftime show at the Super Bowl was spectacular. It’s a grand stage built for grand performances, and if there was any doubt before this, she left none after that she is indeed the pre-eminent pop star of her generation. But all some people could see was a sex machine.
Kathryn Jean Lopez, writing for the National Review Online’s blog, was very concerned about Beyoncé’s performance. Lopez wants to know: “Why can’t we have a national entertainment moment that does not include a mother gyrating in a black teddy?” Because over the course of a thirteen-minute display of pyrotechnics, choreography, holograms and ten-piece all-female band, the only thing that really happened was a woman stood on stage shaking her ass, right?
Lopez found the display gratuitous, saying it was “no surprise that men made comments about stripper poles and putting dollar bills through their TV sets.” Instead of condemning those men for making such sexist remarks, it’s Beyoncé’s fault for eliciting that response.
What Beyoncé did was own her sexuality, for herself and no one else, in a public space—and it freaked some people out. Whether you think Beyoncé was “self-objectifying” is a question of whether it’s possible for a woman to publicly embrace her sexuality without being defined by the hetero-male gaze. As a hetero-male, I hope I’m not speaking out of turn when I say: Not everything is about us. In fact, most things aren’t, we just pretend they are so we can feel good about ourselves.
But Lopez seems most disappointed not in Beyoncé, but in the first lady. After the performance Michelle Obama sent out a tweet praising Beyoncé, saying the singer was “phenomenal” and that she was “proud of her.” For Lopez, the first lady’s open adulation for Beyoncé sends the wrong message, as Beyoncé is a role model in some respects but, according to Lopez, an “example of cultural surrender, rather than leadership” in others. Keli Goff advanced a similar argument last year after Michelle Obama told People magazine that if she could be anyone in the world it would be Beyoncé. Goff worried what message that could be sending to the young black girls who look up to the first lady.