I'm going to be upfront with you right now and tell you that what you're about to read is one of my most favorite interviews I've ever had the pleasure of doing. Alicia Swiz is an amazing and inspiring person and I'm so glad she took the time to agree to do this interview with me.
Some quick facts:
- Alicia Swiz is a writer, performer, educator and feminist.
- She recently launched an exciting new pop culture comedy show called Pop Goes Alicia LIVE wherein she interviews other artists, writers, performers and comedians
- She is a professor at Harold Washington College
Without further adieu, read my interview with Alicia Swiz after the jump!
Tell our readers a little bit more about the history of Pop Goes Alicia LIVE and how it came to be.
I have always been interested in the intersection of performance, art and activism that has manifested in different ways throughout my life. Pop Goes Alicia LIVE is actually an extension of a closed group I manage on Facebook where members can post and dialogue about feminist and gender related issues with folks who are interested in having the conversation – NO TROLLS. It’s really frustrating being a feminist in what is largely an anti-feminist world so much so that you can’t even post an article on your personal Facebook page about the gender-gap in politics without one of your “friends” trying to pick a fight. And I’m not talking about point -to-counterpoint healthy debate; I’m talking about playing the “what-if” game or making jokes that totally undermine an issues severity.
I started doing stand-up in 2011 and I was both disturbed and inspired by the content from the comics I was seeing perform on a regular basis. There are so many talented women and men in this city that are doing interesting, smart, feminist and socially aware acts. But for every one comic like that there are, like, five relying on sexist/homophobic/racist material. Maybe it’s because I am so outspoken as a feminist that a lot of people turn to me to have these discussions so I thought “How can I have conversations about gender and feminism in a public space and in a non-threating way?” Oh, right. Comedy. Inviting others to participate as a panel creates a diverse assortment of voices and perspectives that I hope will offer the audience a more expansive view of feminism and gender related issues.
What is your favorite thing about pop culture?
How fun it is! I come from a family that loves music and dance and performance – I’m talking show tunes being sung while cooking dinner. I love the way pop culture brings people together and creates a common experience. And, I’m a child of the 80’s – the MTV Generation – so pop culture references, specifically pop music and television, were how I constructed my identity. I truly believe that pop culture is a mirror that reflects who we are as a society, which yields great potential for activating social change.
How does Chicago inspire you? What is your favorite neighborhood in the city and why?
The people of Chicago inspire me, especially my fellow performers. I started doing stand-up after taking the Feminine Comique class with Kelsie Huff. Since my first show at the Lincoln Lodge, I have felt nothing but encouraged and supported by my peers. I am constantly meeting individuals who are creating, often in very grassroots, DIY ways. People here also really honor the creative process in that it’s not about the final product but more about just doing it. And no one ever expects it to be perfect – even the audience. In fact, the entire city seems to be supportive of the arts – especially local businesses. You can see a dance performance at a bar, an open mic at a bookstore not to mention to extremely talented street performers. Art is very accessible in Chicago and because of that it feels pretty easy to do anything here, especially in performance.
I can’t say that I have a favorite neighborhood but some of my favorite physical aspects are Lake Michigan especially up north where you can climb the wall to sit on the rocks. There is a little Peace Garden up near the Montrose Harbor that I adore. That’s another thing – all the small, hidden parks and gardens, the skate park under the highway. I’m a fan of any space that is built in to the nature of the city.
I also love all the old-school movie theatres like The Logan Theater and The Music Box. Last year I went to a Mary Poppins sing-along at the Music Box. WHAT?!! Amazing.
Who are your heroes?
My mom, my Grandmom. Women who choose their own self-care and self-preservation. Women who make choices everyday to shift the narrative, to claim their lives, to stand up to the bullshit.
If you could have anyone come to Pop! Goes Alicia Live, who would you want and why?
Oh, sheesh. So many people…I’m going to give you three:
1. Amy Poehler – I just love what she is doing for women’s identity in pop culture. I think Leslie Knope is one of the most revolutionary characters on TV and I love her Smart Girls at the Party initiative. I would just love to collaborate or have her support.
2. Anita Sarkeesian – I’d love to have her on the panel or as a feature interview. She does a great site called Feminist Frequency that, among other things, really explores the gaming community. She’s smart, funny and a total badass.
3. My sisters – They are 17 & 18, both starting to discover their own relationship to gender and art and the world. I would just love for them to see and experience something I am so passionate about, that I created for the sake of it existing not just for “success.” They are my primary motivation for continuing to tread this path. If my choices and my voice give them event the tiniest bit of confidence, inspiration or awareness, then that’s all that matters.
I guess these are all heroes too!
Do you take issue with celebrities like Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga distancing themselves from the word feminism?
Haha, yes. I take issue with ANYone who distances themselves from the word feminism or feminist. I understand why it would be detrimental to a pop star’s career to identify as a feminist. I actually wanted to directly identify Pop Goes Alicia LIVE as a feminist show and decided not to. It is no great secret that people are adverse to “feminism” and I want to get those people in the audience. Unfortunately, distancing yourself from the word only serves to reinforce the negative stereotypes. It is especially disappointing when those who have access to a huge, and easily influenced, fan base resist claiming the label. Imagine if Taylor Swift wrote a song about being a feminist – you’d have legions of young girls singing along and telling people “I’m a feminist, like Taylor Swift.” Considering old, white men still primarily control the music industry; I seriously doubt any of these artists are being encouraged to embrace feminism publicly.
What do you think we can do to help everyone see that feminism isn’t a dirty word?
If pop stars like Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga claimed it. Haha. But really.
Claim it and live it. Be the version of feminism that you want people to see. The only way it will change is when people have more diverse understanding rather than accepting the narrative being espoused by conventional wisdom. As bell hooks says: “Feminism is for everybody.”
How did you feel about the release of The Book of Jezebel?
I haven’t done more than flip through it but I think it’s reflective of what some might call “Girlie” feminism and I have no problem with that. The challenge is that it relies on defining women in a rather traditional way – it’s an encyclopedia of “lady things” which suggests that there are things that are only for ladies or to be a lady is to participate in specific activities etc. It’s a feminism that operates within the confines of the traditionally defined gender roles which is inherently flawed but it’s a start.
Do you feel like blogs like Jezebel help or hurt the cause of feminism?
I think at this point in the game they help more than hurt. I had a professor in grad school who once said “Feminism is in bed with patriarchy” and it’s true. If you were raised in America you were raised with patriarchal values that support a gender binary. Even a critical response to that will be affected by the internalization of those values. We are all complicit. So what do you do? Get over it. You can’t fight every battle and you’re always participating in some sort of oppression. What’s the other option? Do nothing? Remain ignorant? No thanks.
What words would you use to describe yourself?
Girl, feminist, dynamic, bold, inquisitive, energetic, compassionate. Oh and hilarious. Obviously.
What do you hope to see happen with Pop! Goes Alice Live?
I’d love to develop more segments and include more video or even character work. I’m working on broadcasting live online so people can tune in from anywhere. I’d love to tour – go to different cities and build communities with performers in those areas. Ultimately, I want this to be my full–time job.
Are you interested in seeing Pop Goes Alicia LIVE? You're in luck. Next Tuesday (December 10th, 2013) at 6:30pm at The Hideout Inn is another installment of this exciting new pop culture series. What's even cooler is it'll only cost you $5!
Filed under: Interviews