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Collage of grunge album covers for American Culture (HUM370) by Linnea Zeiner (2017)

 Grunge is a feminism. It is a performative expression of gender rebellion and gender paradox that produces a gender aporia; a territory of fluctuating binary masculine and feminine identities that are deploying paradox to subvert gender and undermine heterosexuality and heterosexual normativity. The particular artists who performed its feministic expression deliberately deconstructed the divisive binary concepts of hetero/homosexuality and sexual difference by deconstructing gender in iconoclastic manners. These performances successfully challenged the recording industry’s commodification of the female body, and made the abject, something enticing and popular.

Digging deeper, grunge deliberately delighted in the female grotesque and deployed artistic and intellectual curiosity with socio-cultural conviction-at times, to completely sacrifice individual identity and privilege. Grunge became a spectacle of the female psyche and the abjectified female body that was operated in a very public and panoptic space of risk. 

Excerpt from: grunge feminism (2015) and grrrls of grunge (book project)

Kurt Cobain’s art has been featured in the documentary Montage of Heck (2015), where we see his fascination with reproduction, organs and their operation or illness, bloated and distorted human figures as well as attacks of external violence. His aesthetics epitomize grunge as grotesque. One of the most main-stream displays of his art was in the album In Utero, released September 21, 1993. Pictured here is the collage that Cobain assembed that is featured on the back cover of the CD.

grunge feminism: performing gender paradox in queered plays of hypertexuality
Linnea Zeiner
M.A. San Diego State University, 2015

The history of grunge and the meaning of its musical expression has suffered as a result of its early categorization as a hyper-masculinized and hetero-sexualized rock genre. This unfortunate classification at the hands of rock journalism and music media outlets misinterpreted the artists’ cultural criticisms as simply anti-authority and generation X angst, when in fact, many artists posed serious challenges to late 20th century conventions of gender, sexuality, and feminism. These male and female artists, rebelled against binary gender conventions by performing queered and Camped identities, that were commercially misinterpreted, packaged as “grunge”, and sold to the masses. Consequently, in spite of commercial praise and success for their music, the many gender provocateurs in grunge have been widely overlooked by scholarship and activism. The female grunge artists have had it the worst; lacking the recognition as both gender-fucking performers and as serious contributors to a unique music movement that saw more female-led bands with mainstream airplay, high album sales, and more concert tickets sold, than ever before in rock history. This thesis, in order to exhume the untold history of grunge, discards the old categories and cultural trappings created for the genre and instead explores the performative value of its abstractions, contradictions, and abjections as feministic expressions. To begin to disinter the marginalized female grunge artists, it is necessary to begin with unequivocally, the most marginalized and chastised female of all, Courtney Love. Love’s legacy has been so distorted that her counter-culture feministic expressions have been subsumed. This thesis aims to illuminate the physical and lyrical hypertext deployed by Love to create her personal evolution of her punk feminism, grunge, into a new queered feministic expression examined through her albums Pretty on the Inside (1991) and Live Through This (1994).

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