Love and Femininity in America

Who is Courtney Love? The answer to the question poses a dilemma for modern women. Love, a woman who has successfully transformed herself from stripper to grrl-rocker to rock-star widow, and now, in her latest hit movie Man on the Moon, authentic actress, has gone mainstream. Sporting her new post-plastic surgery nose and a heart of gold, Love has come a long way from ripped baby-doll dresses and smeared mascara, baby. But in the process of her transformation from druggie iconoclast to Hollywood hipster, has she betrayed her most fervent fans, young women?

While you still find more web sites devoted to naked pictures of Love, a l her stripper days, than film biographies, Love has certainly made an impact on the silver screen. Her last major role, in the 1997 hit The People vs. Larry Flynt, earned her a Grammy nomination, and she has appeared in such Indie flicks as Feeling Minnesota. With her role as Andy Kaufman's girlfriend, Lynne Margulies, in this winter's Academy Award contender, she has firmly broken with her counter-culture past and moved into the Martha Stewart world of model homemakers. Watching her nurse the ailing Kaufman makes visions of Florence Nightengale dance in one's head, a definite breakthrough for a woman who had been addicted to drugs for years.

Love used to wear the frilly accoutrements of American femininity to her rock concerts. Her signature was baby-doll dresses and lacey see-through T-shirts. But instead of prancing around like Shirley Temple, Love snarled bad-ass lyrics through her smeared make-up as she shredded the oppressive emblems of womanhood. Her fans, mostly young women dubbing themselves riot grrls, reveled in her rejection of Barbie-doll femininity. Once, in their fervor, they tore off all her clothes after she threw herself into the mosh pit.

Then, Love got a nose job and started wearing Versace. Now we see her in Man on the Moon as a cowboy-hat-wearing, sweet-talking, vulnerable young woman. Without the slightest hint of irony, Love has become everything she formerly despised.

Or, has she? Love epitomizes the self-created, self-driven woman of the '90s. She has successfully catapulted herself into stardom, helped only by the untimely death of her husband, the slightly-more-infamous Kurt Cobain. Her recent transformation is simply another step onwards and upwards for a woman who remains a role-model for women seeking to blaze their own trails towards success. Simply in step with the times, Love has moved beyond the angst/heroin/rock days of the early '90s to embrace prosperity and mainstream culture with a vengeance. Who was she kidding anyway? She wasn't out there to make a statement against American culture, she wanted to be American culture.

The bitter taste of betrayal is still in some mouths. Love has not yet abandoned the band which first make her name in the industry, having recently come out with another hit album just last summer. While this bodes well for the future of riot grrl-ness, her original fans fear that Love has wandered (and stripped through) the world from New Zealand to Oregon and come home to Hollywood to roost.

What does it mean that one of the most outspoken critics of American gender stereotypes has come to embrace those stereotypes with sweet sincerity? For one thing, it means that the counter-culture shtick isn't selling anymore. We are back to the age of boy-bands, homogeneity and Gap uniform-like clothing. The hard-core rappers of the late '80s are gone--now you're more likely to hear rappers endorsing their favorite type of soft drink than saying, "Kill the pigs." The pre-teen girls that used to scream themselves hoarse at Hole concerts are now shrieking to Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.

As the old adage goes, popular culture changes even more quickly than the time it takes to buy a new pair of jeans. But this isn't a nostalgia trip, we are talking about the future of femininity of America.