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Tuesday, March 23, 2004
You know, I used to have sort of nebulous reasons for wanting to seek public office--a desire to help people, to make the world better, you know, that sort of thing. But now I have a very specific reason for wanting to enter electoral politics.

So I can erect a plaque at the Union Square Wendy's reading: "Courtney Love got her right tit sucked here."

There's just so much going on here that it's hard to know where to start. The whole incident just seems so weird and significant, even for Courtney, but of course the fact that it took place in the midst of a rampage that saw her get arrested and play one of the weirdest concerts I've ever been to tends to obscure it somehow. But now outside of the maelstrom, and with some prompting, let's try and unpack this shit a bit.

Now, I'll admit up front that I can't help but wonder if part of the reason why it strikes me as significant is that, well, I eat at that Wendy's a lot.[1] It's a pretty good Wendy's, long wait times sometimes, and a weirdly over-enthusiastic dude working the garbage detail (I started going to an obscure trash can just to avoid him after a while), but there's a nice little section near the front doors where you can look out the front window, and that's where I usually sit. Seeing Courtney up-close and in person was weird enough; having her in a fast food location I frequent is just getting way too close to breaking the barrier between her and me, and as I said before, one's enjoyment of Courtney Love is wholly dependent on being able to see her as an abstraction, not a reality.

But no, this isn't just me. It's because it's fucking Wendy's.

See, Courtney's had her certain share of escapades before, but these can be roughly broken down into two categories: Pretty on the Inside ones and Celebrity Skin ones. The POTI incidents, roughly all the pre-Kurt stories, embody the POV on that album, are sort of archetypically sleazy and degrading, sort of a cross between Bukowski's and Axl Rose's worlds.[2][2.1] The CS incidents embody that world and Courney's place in it, all of them basically involving her misbehaving in these sort of elite locations: breaking the window in Beverly Hills, crashing the MTV interview, taunting (ironically enough) Axl Rose at an awards ceremony, going wasted on radio shows, and, of course, the main precursor of her NYC rampage, the Q Magazine chronicled London rampage involving anus waxing, naked flights down a street, and so forth. These were, in one way or another, all kind of chi-chi, with Courtney wrecking things in a very controlled environment that doesn't expect anyone to actually act like that.

But the Wendy's is very different; it's really neither classically sleazy nor celeb-friendly. They have a security guard, but businessfolk eat there, and college students. People come in asking for change, and the bathroom's an utter wreck, but everything's still pretty shiny and bright and plastic. Just the thought of it is jarring. Like the CS stories, Courtney's doing something pretty much no one else has been known to do, but like the POTI incidents it's sort of sleazy. But at the same time, it's really not. It's in a Wendy's, and it's not really debauched, just kind of weird and insane. The combination of the two worlds, and the very concrete setting, make the whole thing just utterly banal, like Wendy's itself. Ask any New Yorker: we wouldn't necessarily expect someone to flash their tits outside Wendy's and invite someone to suck on 'em, but, you know, we wouldn't be overly surprised either. You walk around and the energy in the air tells you, more than most places, that something like that could happen at any moment. It's sort of fun.

The fact that it's at a fast-food restaurant, though, is what makes it so perversely wonderful. Rockers are either supposed to eat at trashy diners or five-star hotels, and if they do eat fast food, they're supposed to be sort of humbled by it. But Courtney doesn't care[2.2]--she just treats it like it's the Whiskey or something, being a bad girl in a place where that permissiveness doesn't exist, because everything is expected.[2.3] Can you transgress? Sort of. Sort of not. But that's what I've always loved about fast food places: that they're these perfectly sculpted temples of whatever you want them to be. They are undeniably beautiful, expected to be beautiful and clean and neat, but with every surface available to be hosed off just in case something happens. What Courtney did was what some homeless woman could have done at any time.

And speaking of homeless people...well, let's go to the picture. Then let's go to Page Six:

SKANKS for the mammaries, Courtney Love! The mystery man photographed suckling Love's breast outside Wendy's in Union Square last week wants to milk his moment of media infamy for everything it's worth.

Kofi Asare, 23, tells PAGE SIX he hopes to print the infamous image on T-shirts, and use it to further his dreams of becoming an actor or model. "First there was Justin and Janet, and now there's Kofi and Courtney," Asare crows. "It's great exposure for me. I look at the picture and I think, 'Wow, that's a classic shot.' It's controversial, but it's all in good fun."

The photo - which shows a grinning Love pulling down her top while Asare suckles her like a newborn baby - has been burning up the Internet and is rumored to have been bought by the National Enquirer.

Asare says he was heading into Wendy's around 8 p.m. last Wednesday when he saw Love flashing her breasts at paparazzi outside. "All I wanted was some chicken nuggets," Asare says. "I saw Miss Love flashing everyone. I had to push the envelope.[2.5] I figured, 'This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.' She flashed me so I was like, 'May I?' She was cool with it. It wasn't like I was trying to do anything to degrade her."

"I just said, 'Thank you,' and she got into her vehicle with some people she was with. They sped off and the paparazzi sped off after them." Love was arrested hours later after she allegedly hit a fan with a microphone stand while performing at Plaid.

Asare, who is black, said he was offended after some identified him as "homeless" when describing the photo. "I didn't appreciate being vilified like that," said Asare, a reservations agent for a limousine company who lives with his parents in Morningside Heights. "It was an assassination of my character. I'm not homeless. I graduated from SUNY-New Paltz last year. I majored in public relations."[2.6]

And yes, chicken nuggets and "Miss Love" and "thank you." Wow.

Geez, where to start with this one? Well, let's take the "homeless" thing first here. He's not just making this up: I distinctly remember reading Kofi referred to as such, although I can't find the link anymore. (Maybe it's been corrected.) Now, to give everyone the benefit of the doubt here, there are a lot of definitely homeless people on that stretch of 14th street, for some reason, but on the other hand not a lot of homeless people are carrying around unread copies of the New York Press. Ah, fuck it, let's be honest, it was just a stupid thing to say.

But, like so much of what I talk about, stupid but interesting. Because I think there's no question from Courtney's expression that race is undeniably playing a role in that picture. There's the context, of course, that Courtney doesn't seem to have a whole lot of black fans, and I suspect the half-hearted hip-hop dis in the "Mono" video didn't help matters any. But you look at the way she's grinning there, that toothy, lip-biting smirk, and you know that's not just "lookit me getting my tit sucked" but "lookit me getting my tit sucked by a black man!"

There's just so much tied up in that photo. There's her as the blonde searching for a kind of sexual perfection, with a hand around her from her guitarist who she constantly introduces as a fellow teenage prostitute, and the dude on her plastic surgery'ed-up tit there. Is this a prostitution kind of image being played out here? Is it more of a black guy / white woman / interracial fears thing? Is it just a reversion to the POTI image of sleaziness for its own sake, like old-skool punk degradation? Or is it, in fact, more of a nod to precisely the sexist gangsta rap videos she's trying to shoot down?[2.7]

I think you have to see it as a specifically kind of racial provocation. What's unique about it is that the only contact you see her having with African-Americans is a) sexual, and b) in the context of her going crazy. The only way she's going to actually interact with a black person is when she's out of her gourd and looking to push some buttons. But then again, it's not like she chose him particularly, it's mostly at random. And it's not like she chose her audience, either, or the almost totally white composition of the world she inhabits. It's just the way it is.

It's a breaking of the barrier, too, in that particular interaction with a disinterested stranger. Her usual antics are always her fucking around with people who are there just for her, with her sort of exploiting that relationship and testing its limits. But here, the guy's just walking down the street and someone[2.8] offers him a tit. And that's why it's an inversion of the usual relationship Courtney assumes in such situations. She's only partially in control here: the transgression comes not against the agent she's involved with, but against the viewer. And given that, you can't help but consider the picture's very constructed nature, the way it's so well-framed for an illicit snap, and the definitely posed parties, the way not only Courtney but Kofi, too, are looking at the camera, very much looking not only at it but at the future viewers.[3]

The sudden intrusion of race into the walking piece of cultural criticism that is Courtney Love is particularly jarring because it's not something she's dealt with before, and this is jarring because she has spent so much time dealing with gender issues.[4] But, unless I'm misremembering, there's really zero interest in racial issues for ol' Courtney, especially in her music. Not that this is bad, necessarily--I think she's addressed certain things in much more interesting and intelligent ways than most people in the public eye have, and just because race is not one of those things doesn't mean she's unconcerned about it; it just means she doesn't have anything to say about it. And that's cool, too.

But what about what she has talked about? If you can't ignore the race of the sucker, you can neither ignore what's being sucked, i.e. the breasts in question.

As should be clear from the Q pics, C-Lo is not a woman who's shy about her body. Indeed, in addition to having what can be best described as the body issues of a 15-year-old girl[5], which of course is no small part of her appeal to said demographic[6], she seems to use nudity as less of a sales tool (i.e. like your basic teenybopper) and more as the equivalent of gobbing, a kind of provocation or straight annoyance. People think they're being critical by saying that she's done it so many times that it's just sad, but that's sort of the point: she clearly wants to totally de-mystify her body as an object (while also looking fabulous, or like a gross parody of fabulous), and she'd done nothing if not succeeded. "My Body The Hand Grenade," you know, except less a hand grenade and more a guided tour of a slaughterhouse. "Here's how the food's made--still want to eat it?"[7]

But in NYC this time, there seemed to a very specific agenda to the tit-flashing[8]: it was a reaction to nipplegate. So this wasn't just some drunk girl at Mardi Gras thinking she was being naughty; I think there was a very specific message of "So you're going to drop Howard Stern and cut out shots of an old lady's breast because people are all nervous? OK. I'm going to go on Letterman and flash my breasts repeatedly. What are you going to do about it? Fine me? I don't care! I just lost custody of my daughter! What the fuck do I care about a fine?"

The way she was doing it, too, was very specific, since sometimes she would almost do it, but not in a teasing way--more of a threatening way, and it's impressive that someone can flash their breasts in a threatening way, isn't it? It was traditionally feminist in part, of course, being unashamed of one's body and using your feminine power aggressively instead of in service of male desire, but also very much in line with Courtney's recent project of media and otherwise criticism-by-act. Again, this might be me, since I've not been beyond threatening to flash my own private parts in the past (to some effect, as it happens), but the sort of fearless and very clear way she was going about it was spellbinding.

OK. I think that's everything I have to say. Let's see...yep, that's it.

[1] Although obviously not enough!
[2] There's also the Kurt incidents, but those are Kurt incidents, and let's not blame her too much for those right now, mainly because it'll fuck up my taxonomy.
[2.1] I.e., half fresh-off-the-bus-from-the-Midwest-girls-getting-exploited-but-kind-of-liking-it stuff, and half old-crusty-Los-Angelenos-wallowing-in-their-own-filth.
[2.2] I think what I'm trying to get at here is that rock stars are supposed to be either working class or noveau riche, but hers was actually a very middle-class kind of act, and the middle-class is banned from youth culture.
[2.3] I was eating in the Union Square McDonald's[2.4] last week and the manager and security guard had to chase these kids down because they tried to steal one of the plants from the staircase. Upon re-entering, the manager was heard to say, "Now who steals a McDonald's plant?" Good question.
[2.4] Yes, I eat a lot of fast food.
[2.5] !
[2.6] It's like this guy stepped out of a Don DeLillo novel or something.
[2.7] OK, I guess the whole thing is like out of a Don DeLillo novel.
[2.8] Interesting question: did he know it was Courtney Love before someone told him who it was? I mean, he probably did, but if not...
[3] There's also the issue of Kofi's weird attempts to exploit the incident, to bank on it in the same way that C-Lo banks on her misbehavior, but in a way that seems doomed to fail. And so Courtney retains the upper hand, still.
[4] Unlike, maybe, PJ Harvey, whose "Meet Ze Monsta" seems like one big ode to Big Black Cocks, going, if I recall correctly, "Big black monsoon / take me with you." And Tori Amos, but let's not go crazy here.
[5] I.e., '"Do you think I look good for my age?" the 38-year-old asked the assembled group of PRs and assistants,' a question that was asked a few times in slightly different forms during her NYC rampage, if I recall correctly.[5.1]
[5.1] At the Bowery show, I believe she said, "I hate to be unfeminist, but could I have a skirt? I feel fat." Um, this being while she was wearing a see-through full-body lace lyotard. No, seriously.
[6] I.e. people with the body issues of a 15-year-old girl, which crosses a lot of group lines.
[7] Does this make any sense? I think it does. Keep in mind that I've visited slaughterhouses and still avidly consume meat.
[8] Which there was a lot of.