Hagiography, Media, and the Politics of Visibility

Last month, I gave a keynote at the Gender and Medieval Studies conference in Oxford. Below, you'll find the full text of my paper, edited lightly to ensure sense in terms of references to images. My thanks to Amsterdam University Press, who have given permission for me to post the paper in full here. Such copyright permission is necessary, given the fact that the majority of the text is taken from my book, Medieval Saints and Modern Screens (Introduction and Chapter 3). If you would like to cite or reference this published material, please use the book version!  You can download the Introduction as a .pdf gratis here. For all other material, feel free to cite this post for now. Plans are in the works to publish the keynote-only stuff, and I will post an update here with all relevant info whenever I have it. Having covered all the logistics, now it's on with the show, and onto the paper proper.

B/w print ad for Bell & Howell Canonet 19 camera, featuring nun using camera. Holiday magazine (?) (October, 1963), p. 22. Source: Etsy.

B/w print ad for Bell & Howell Canonet 19 camera, featuring nun using camera. Holiday magazine (?) (October, 1963), p. 22. Source: Etsy.

In 2002, Anneke B. Mulder-Bakker made an urgent call for the revalorization of hagiography as a rich source of medievalist material: ‘The message seems to be that “true medievalists” do not concern themselves with hagiographic sources, or if they do, it is only because they wish to study the earliest texts in the vernacular or are interested in folk beliefs and popular mentality.’[1] Hello, my name is Alicia and I am, apparently, not a ‘true’ medievalist, whatever that actually means. For I maintain that hagiography is important precisely because it reflects the ‘popular mentality’ of medieval Catholics. Moreover, I contend that this ‘popular mentality’ is not reducible to an inherent medieval-ness. Medieval hagiography is certainly a product of its historical context. Nevertheless, it expresses and discusses many of the issues with which our contemporary popular culture grapples. Medieval hagiography’s ‘popular mentality’ is constituted by altogether human, trans-chronological pre-occupations. In particular, today I focus on one issue: the ways in which ‘acceptable’ female identities are produced, consumed, and lived both in medieval hagiography/biography and in our modern media ecology. Who gets to be visible? Who gets to be invisible? And who makes those decisions? In a moment in which I find myself with the privilege of standing in the spotlight – as a woman, as an early-career researcher, and as a medievalist, ‘true’ or not – I look to a pair of radically visible women for my source material, fifteenth-century mystic Margery Kempe and twenty-first century selfie queen Kim Kardashian West. These two ‘always make a spectacle of themselves’ it seems, working tirelessly to produce their own identities with the tools at their disposal.[2] They traffic in the political economies of visibility as ‘extraordinary’ individuals – women outside of the norm, and thus deviant; women who are extra-special and thus lauded, celebrified saint and sanctified celebrity. Before I embark upon my analyses proper, let me sketch out all too briefly the terms of my engagement, the analytical framework within which my hypotheses are oriented.


Fig. 1. Untitled gif featuring Virgin Mary eating a TV dinner, watching Christ’s Passion on TV, by Scorpion Dagger (James Kerr).

Hagiographical scholarship has long struggled with the issue of mediation inherent to the genre. We can never view the hagiographical subject ‘face to face’. We set eyes only on the figuration of the holy person provided by the biographer, compelled to author the work by a variety of ideological aims.[3] In short: the existence of a medieval vita typically ‘only proves’, as Nancy Caciola puts it, ‘that a single, literate man […] was impressed by the woman he described’.[4] Instead of grappling with the ‘problem’ of mediation, I suggest that we embrace the full weight of the proposition’s heuristic possibility, considering hagiography as media, and pop-cultural media at that, situating medieval hagiographic subjects alongside those presented in our contemporary pop-cultural media. For my work today is not just to prove that ‘true’ medievalists can and do love hagiography, adoring it with an ever-critical eye – but that ‘true’ medievalists can also render their primary sources relevant, engaging – and, dare I say it, visible – to non-medievalists, if only we appreciate the analytical value of contemporary pop culture, considering pop-culture material as worthy of our attention, our time, and our serious critique. The arguments I present today are drawn from my first book, Medieval Saints and Modern Screens: Divine Visions as Cinematic Experience. This gif (Fig. 1) pretty much lays out my central arguments. But if you’d like a version that’s more than a dizzying video loop, I’ve got you covered: today’s paper is grounded on the analyses I set forth in the book’s Introduction and Chapter 3.[5]

Why media? Or perhaps – how media – how does media ‘work’ in terms of hagiography, and vice versa. Here, I draw especially on Birgit Meyer’s definition of ‘media’: ‘those artifacts and cultural forms that make possible communication, bridging temporal and spatial distance between people as well as between them and the realm of the divine or spiritual’.[6] In this light, it becomes clear that media are, and always have been, ‘intrinsic to religion’ as a means of making divinity visible, tangible, and intelligible to believers.[7] My formulation relies also on W. J. T. Mitchell’s theories of media, with particular emphasis on two key tenets.[8] Firstly: media are ‘environments where images live, or personas and avatars that address us and can be addressed in turn.’[9] Hagiographic media are immersive and communicative. They solicit interactions with readers, and open up spaces of virtuality in which their hagiographic personas live and into which the reader can project themselves.[10] Secondly, I concur with Mitchell’s pronouncement that ‘media purity’ is a fallacy.[11] All media are multimedia in the sense that they are fabricated from an assemblage of mixed media. A film, for example, is an admixture of image, text, sound, and so on. Consequently, engagement with media is always a multi-sensuous and multimodal process. Even in the most superficially two-dimensional interaction between reader and book, for instance, we find the visual (the words on the page), the haptic (turning the page), the imaginative and intellectual (processing the words’ meaning), and even the olfactory (the smell of the book).

Hagiographic media are dynamic, active, in some sense animate, or at the very least vital. Things live in media, or at least they seem to. The most potent example of such living media is the celebrity (or ‘star image’).[12] However ‘realistic’ the celebrity subject appears, they are an inauthentic representation, fabricated from an amalgam of ‘media texts’ and grafted on to the real personhood of the star-as-subject. In fact, the ‘true’ identity of a celebrity is fragmented, pieced together by various attributes which together form a whole. When analysing celebrity, Richard Dyer observes that ‘we are dealing with the stars in terms of their signification, not with them as real people. The fact that they are also real people is an important aspect of how they signify, but we never know them directly as real people, only as they are to be found in media texts.’[13] The same is true for analyses of hagiography. Medieval holy women (and men) exist to us solely in, and as, hagiographical ‘star images’. What is at stake if we call our celebrities saints, and our saints celebrities? In an effort to answer – or begin to answer – this question, it’s time for Margery Kempe and Kim Kardashian West to take the stage once more.

Screen grab from  KUWtK  (S02E08, first aired 4 May 2008). Kourtney Kardashian (left), inadvertently launches the ‘ugly crying’ Kim Kardashian West (right) meme: ‘I start laughing at Kim when she’s crying ‘cause I just can’t help it. She has this ugly crying face that she makes.’

Screen grab from KUWtK (S02E08, first aired 4 May 2008). Kourtney Kardashian (left), inadvertently launches the ‘ugly crying’ Kim Kardashian West (right) meme: ‘I start laughing at Kim when she’s crying ‘cause I just can’t help it. She has this ugly crying face that she makes.’

Kim Kardashian West’s ‘ugly crying face’ is a viral online sensation.[14] In 2008, Kourtney Kardashian, Kim’s sister, drew attention to Kim’s unfortunate mien when upset. In a ‘confessional’ from Keeping Up With The Kardashians (KUWtK), the family’s massively popular reality-TV show, Kourtney declared: ‘I start laughing at Kim when she’s crying because I just can’t help it, she has this ugly crying face that she makes’.[15] This footage, coupled with Kim’s regular emotional outbursts, has become a well-known and much-circulated meme online. Margery Kempe is the Ur-example of ‘ugly crying’, and her Book is the fifteenth-century equivalent of must-see car-crash reality TV.[16] Given the audience for this paper, I’m going to cut to the chase in terms of Margery’s vital statistics. Tl;dr: born c. 1373 to a burgess family in Norfolk (England), married to a burgess, mother of fourteen, widow, pilgrim across England and Europe, one-time brewer, #blessed with a lot of visions, and – most importantly for my point here – cries her eyes out as a sign of her devotion. Almost everyone finds Margery’s crying obnoxious.[17] Even the woman’s closest relations cannot stand her incessant wails. During one of Margery’s whine-athons in Canterbury, her husband pretends not to know her, and runs off.[18] He abandons Margery to the clutches of an angry mob that has formed around the urgent social issue of putting a stop to Margery’s interminable wailing – or as the Book tells it, her suspected Lollardy. A note on terminology is necessary before I go any further. As I’m sure you’re aware, the Book is a work of ambiguous authorship: it is predominantly narrated in the third person; two scribe-amanuenses are identified in the work; and the division of labour between Margery and her scribal helpers is simply not clear. To handle this instability, I follow Lynn Staley in referring to the author-subject as ‘Kempe’ and the text’s protagonist as ‘Margery’.[19]

Fig. 2. Kim Kardashian’s Best Ugly Crying Moments, (YouTube video, 1:17: posted by Fun Trolly, uploaded 23 October 2013)

In Sharon L. Jansen’s summation, Margery is ‘garrulous, attention-seeking, and funny, both repellent and endearing.’[20] The same can be said of Kardashian West. And for both women, ‘ugly crying’ operates as an iconographical metonym for the variety of ways in which they are ‘always making a spectacle’ of themselves.[21] Indeed, in direct response to Margery’s crying jag in Canterbury, an elderly monk informs her bluntly: ‘“I wish that you were enclosed in a house of stone, so that no-one should speak with you.”’[22] Margery’s tears are a means of affectively ‘taking up space’, a sinful colonisation of the public realm by a woman. Similar condemnation is evident in many of the comments appended to a YouTube video, Kim Kardashian’s Best Ugly Crying Moments (Fig. 2), which has netted over 1.2 million views as of last week (3 January 2018):

she is such a disgrace for women.. shame on her.. so pathetic


I can't believe I live in a world where this woman exists... God damnit[.][23]

Other commenters seize upon Kardashian West’s illegitimacy as a ‘worthy’ celebrity. She is categorised as an ‘attention whore’, a fame-hungry ‘train wreck’ that should simply not be famous.[24] Margery Kempe is trolled similarly in online comments from modern readers outside the academy, and those with only superficial; awareness of her beloved status in contemporary medieval studies:[25] Here are two of the choicest call-outs served to Margery:

This woman was crazy. Hands down, batshit, insane. […] Margery Kempe is not a religious figure to look up to and instead is a self centered, self serving, medieval woman who used religion to gain fame.[26]

[Margery is] a nutcase, a freak, an annoying pain […].[27]

Kardashian West and Margery’s stardom is in question because it emanates from a process of auto-celebrification. They are ‘reality-TV famous’ rather than the products of the traditional celebrity manufacturing process.

Reality-stars are famous because they have been on reality TV, not for any special talent. Initially, reality-TV producers operate as ‘star-makers’, choosing which lucky hopeful is cast in their shows and making tactical editorial decisions to present desired storylines. Their source material, however, is the brute force of persona, an individual who has consciously chosen to put themselves up as a ‘star image’ for audience consumption. Reality-stars typically engage in conscious attempts at auto-celebritisation beyond the show which first brought them to public attention. They package and manage themselves as star-objects by appearances in other texts over which they have more control. Presence on social media, in celebrity magazines, and in the tabloid press are mainstays in the reality-star’s toolkit. The reality-TV star harnesses the praxes of celebrification established in the traditional system, but under their own steam. ‘Fake it till you make it’ goes the saying, and that is surely the mantra of the reality-TV celeb. By performing the gestures of ‘legitimate’ fame often enough, to enough onlookers, and with enough skill, the wannabe becomes famous too. In a similar manner, Margery requires models of other acclaimed holy women to legitimise her own forms of piety, both within the diegesis (Margery and her community) and extra-textually (as the author seeks acclaim for the text’s protagonist).


Untitled gif, supercut of Kim Kardashian West's 'ugly crying'.

The Book details Margery’s determined attempts to garner spiritual fame by modelling herself on other holy women. She is a fame-hungry fan, a wannabe desperate to transform herself into a celebrity saint in her own right. Though Margery grinds out her days on the D-list, she looks fannishly to a roster of A-list female saintly stars, in whose image she fabricates herself, or tries to. The Book calls out luminaries such as Birgitta of Sweden, Elizabeth of Hungary, Catherine of Alexandria, Margaret of Antioch, Mary Magdalene, and St. Barbara.[28] Kempe relies on a patchwork of citation, borrowing from various spiritual texts to construct a viable – read: ecclesiastically and socially acceptable – holy life for Margery. In terms of Margery’s ugly crying, for instance, Marie of Oignies is invoked as a lachrymose predecessor who demonstrates that crying, and crying an awful lot, is a sign of holiness. Marie lived in present-day Belgium, and is considered by many as the first beguine – woman who is not a nun, but also not entirely secularized either.[29] She died in 1213, and her hagiography was written two short years later by Jacques of Vitry. Marie’s text was a blockbuster success. Susan Folkerts catalogues 39 extant manuscripts containing her vita, either in full, or in extracts and fragments.[30] The full Latin vita was also translated into an impressive number of languages: Dutch, English, French, Italian, Norse and Swedish. All this to say that Marie of Oignies, however unknown in modern scholarship, was a very well-known holy woman in the medieval period. She, rather than Margery, was the star way back when. Marie is an apposite example for Margery to turn to: she was renowned for her tears. Marie of Oignies is quite literally the dictionary definition of pious crying. Indeed, the entire entry for ‘tears’ (‘lacrima’) in Arnold of Liège’s fourteenth-century exempla anthology the Alphabetum narrationum (composed c1308-1310; translated in the fifteenth-century into English as the Alphabet of Tales) is devoted to the holy woman.[31]

Margery’s scribe, we learn, reads Marie’s biography and comes to greater understanding of Margery’s piety:

And yet our Lord drew [the scribe] back in a short time – blessed may he be – so that he loved [Margery] more, and trusted more in her weeping and her crying than he ever did before. For afterwards he read of a woman called Mary of Oignies, […] and of the plenteous tears that she wept, which made her feel so feeble and so weak that she might not endure to behold the cross, nor hear our Lord’s Passion rehearsed, so she was resolved into tears of pity and compassion. [32]

Ditto the Dominican doctor Maistyr Custawns, presumably Thomas Constance:

The worthy doctor said to her, ‘Margery, I have read of a holy woman [Marie of Oignies] to whom God had given great grace of weeping and crying as he has done to you. […] In the church where she lived was a priest who had no favourable opinion of her weeping, and caused her through his prompting to go out of the church. […] She prayed God that the priest might have some feeling of the grace that she felt […]. And, so suddenly, our Lord sent him such devotion during his mass that he could not control himself, and then, after that, he no longer wishes to despise her but rather to comfort her.’[33]

Crucially, however, the usage of Marie as an archetype here is not a case of passive citation. Rather, the Book adapts the source material from Marie’s life to make it better fit Margery’s own circumstances. In both the Middle English and Latin versions of Marie’s vita, Marie petitions Christ directly to grant the derisive priest tears (‘gate graunt of oure Lord with terys’; ‘impetravitque à Domino cum lacrymis’).[34] This request has been suppressed in Kempe’s retelling. The Book’s adaptation also states that Marie leaves the church due to the priest’s demand (‘at the request of a preyste’), caterwauling about her inability to hold back her tears.[35] In the source materials, the priest only asks Marie to cease crying and pray quietly (‘bade that she shulde praye softely and latte be hir weyping’; ‘ut oraret cum silentio, & lacrymas cohiberet’).[36] It is Marie’s inability to hold back her tears and intense humility that drives her from the church of her own accord. Kempe takes a pre-existing narrative and re-shapes it to better suit Margery’s needs, a move both interventionist and derivative which bears all the hallmarks of fan fiction.


Gif of scene from The Simple Life in which Paris Hilton directs her then-unfamous childhood friend Kim Kardashian West to clean her closet. Hilton: 'Kim I need you to clean and organize my entire closet.' Kardashian West: 'Yes Paris'.


Gif from Paris Hilton’s interview with Entertainment Tonight in which she states ‘I created Kim Kardashian, her whole family owes me life.’

Like Margery, Kardashian West needed a guide in the celebrification process. She credits socialite-cum-minor-celebrity Paris Hilton as a mentor: ‘“I do think I learned a lot from Paris. I think that she has always been so gracious to the paparazzi, to her fans, and has taught me, you know, that there’s no real need or reason to never not be.”’[37] For a number of years, Hilton employed Kardashian West, a then non-famous childhood friend, as a personal assistant and stylist in her own C-list celebrity life.[38] Kardashian West’s earliest onscreen appearances are in episodes of The Simple Life, the reality-TV show that launched Hilton as a star.[39] Whilst the pair were friends, footage shows Hilton exploiting the power differential between them, effectively putting Kardashian West in her place. This entry-level position in The Simple Life was productive, however. It functioned as an internship in the twinned businesses of reality-TV and auto-celebrification. In a now famous – or infamous – interview with Entertainment Tonight (ET), Hilton credited herself as the ‘star maker’ not just of Kim, but the entire Kardashian clan, proclaiming ‘I created Kim Kardashian, her whole family owes me life.’[40] Since the ET interview, Hilton has become more circumspect in her classification of her role in Kardashian West’s rise to stardom. Speaking about the pair’s relationship in a 2015 interview with Yahoo! Style, she emphasised their closeness: ‘We’ve known each other since we were little girls. We’ve always been friends.’ [41] The rosy picture is masterfully subverted with Hilton’s next remarks: ‘It’s nice to inspire people. I’m really proud of her and what she’s done.’ It remains clear that, in Hilton’s eyes at least, she has ownership over her childhood friend’s celebrity, and should be acknowledged accordingly.

Kardashian West’s own reality-TV show, KUWtK, launched in 2007. It instantly elevated her celebrity, and transformed the whole family into a celebrity brand. KUWtK is still going strong in its fourteenth season (debuting October 2017), with various spin-off Kardashian-focussed shows and cross-marketed merchandise.[42] Audiences worldwide can’t seem to get enough of Kardashian West and her family. Hilton is irrelevant; Kardashian West is omni-present in the media landscape. In the Book, Christ implies that Margery will achieve a similar usurpation of her role-model, St. Birgitta. He speaks to the English woman “‘just as [he] spoke’” (‘“ rygth as [he] spak’”) to her mentor, suggesting an equivalence between the pair.[43] However, he blesses Margery alone with certain visions, assuring her that the Swedish saint ‘“never saw [him] in this way”’ (‘“say [him] nevyr in this wyse’”)).[44] Nevertheless, Birgitta has nothing to fear from Margery: she does not attain anything like Birgitta’s fame in her time.

Chris Rojek attests that ‘[c]elebrities offer powerful affirmations of belonging, recognition, and meaning in the midst of the lives of their audiences, lives that may otherwise be poignantly experienced as under-performing anti-climactic or sub-clinically depressing.’[45] Margery’s pre-mystic life was certainly no bed of roses. Indeed, the Book opens with an account of Margery’s first pregnancy, a devastating experience which leads to an eight-month mental breakdown:[46] During this period, Margery is beset by demons and diabolical temptations. When all consider her a lost cause, a visitation from Christ – the most potent religious celebrity of all – finally jump-starts her recovery. God has not forsaken her; if Margery devotes herself to Him fully, then all will be well. But how can Margery accomplish this mission, practically speaking? The numerous acclaimed holy women found in the Book function as role-models. These saintly celebs – or the models of faith they embody – offer the much maligned Margery a roadmap to full integration in her society, and ultimately to the recognition of her own sanctity. Margery is an attention-seeking acolyte, a superfan, whose greatest desire is not to be like a saint, but become one herself.

Margery’s breakdown is provoked by her inability to confess a significant long-concealed sin.[47] Thinking she is on the brink of death post-partum, the woman calls for a confessor. The cleric, though, rushes to rebuke Margery, cutting her off mid-flow and thus silencing her. Her transgression remains unshriven, and she fears for her eternal damnation. Diana Jefferies and Debbie Horsfall contend that Margery’s sin is not based in any specific act.[48] Rather, after her traumatic pregnancy she comes to renewed awareness of the original sin that afflicts all humanity, and her status as a ‘daughter of Eve’. In Genesis 3. 16, God instructs Eve on the gendered burden of sin she bears: ‘in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thou shalt be under thy husband’s power, and he shall have dominion over thee.’[49] Margery’s labour pains are visceral reminders of her transition from virgin to wife, and all that entails: the loss of both her bodily autonomy and subjective agency.[50] Recognition of these losses propels the holy woman into insanity. In order to move beyond this annihilating relegation to bodiliness and reclaim her sanity, Margery must produce an alternate self-image. She turns to saintly mentors who seem to have redeemed, at least partially, the sinful female body via their religious praxes.

Keeping Up With the Kardashians  season 1 (2007) title card. The Kardashian clan stands assembled on their front lawn, in front of a large house. They look fairly normal and relatable, though they are clearly rich. Source:    The Sun   . The image exudes a sense of family togetherness, as the whole blended family have gathered together and using their best camera poses. They seem nice, if a bit awkward and even dweeby. This is in stark contrast with later seasons' marketing imagery, which oozes unattainable yet deeply seductive power glam. See, e.g. season 14's (2017-18) branding    here   .

Keeping Up With the Kardashians season 1 (2007) title card. The Kardashian clan stands assembled on their front lawn, in front of a large house. They look fairly normal and relatable, though they are clearly rich. Source: The Sun. The image exudes a sense of family togetherness, as the whole blended family have gathered together and using their best camera poses. They seem nice, if a bit awkward and even dweeby. This is in stark contrast with later seasons' marketing imagery, which oozes unattainable yet deeply seductive power glam. See, e.g. season 14's (2017-18) branding here.

Kim Kardashian West’s auto-celebritisation is also rooted in a reclamation of subjectivity in the aftermath of trauma. In February 2007, she faced public humiliation after the leak of a sex-tape, made with the singer Ray J a few years earlier, when the pair were a couple. At this point, Kardashian West was mostly unknown, of interest primarily for her party-going with Paris Hilton and brief romance with boyband star Nick Lachey (of band 98 Degrees; he later married Jessica Simpson) in 2006. Nick La-who? – exactly! The sex-tape, then, was the primary ‘star image’ with which the public interpreted Kardashian West. It materialised her celebrity, or rather notoriety, as a sexual object: a body without a voice, and without a story. Paris Hilton faced the same issue, with her own sex-tape leaking less than a month before the debut of The Simple Life. The tape was certainly a media sensation. However, Hilton used her reality-TV series to offer a counter-narrative, crafting herself as the archetype of the rich dumb blonde. Once more, Kardashian West followed, and refined, Hilton’s example. Five months after the release of her sex-tape, KUWtK hit the air. In the show, Kardashian West comes across as likeable and family-oriented, in diametric opposition to the spoiled and entitled brattiness embodied by Hilton. Crucially, KUWtK allowed Kardashian West to exercise control over the narrative circulating in the sex-tape. The woman having sex in the video is not just a body. She is a woman with a real life, with a real family, and with real emotions. Kempe’s portrayal of Margery hits the same notes: she is not just body, but soul too.

Fig. 3.    Scan of Kardashian West,  Selfish , p. 253: a selfie of Kardashian West in an opulent bathroom in jogging bottoms and a casual bra top. Caption reads: 'I just got home from an Oscar party and put my sweats on.'

Fig. 3. Scan of Kardashian West, Selfish, p. 253: a selfie of Kardashian West in an opulent bathroom in jogging bottoms and a casual bra top. Caption reads: 'I just got home from an Oscar party and put my sweats on.'

In 2015, Kardashian West published the best-selling Selfish, a 448-page monograph composed of selfies taken in the period from 2006 to 2014 (though later editions have included more selfies from 2015-16 too). As with Margery’s Book, Selfish makes visible the celebrity manufacturing process. Megan Garber notes that in reading the book, ‘you see the work that goes into making Kim Kardashian, the person, into Kim Kardashian, the icon.’ [51] Countless selfies capture Kardashian West mid-beautification: in the make-up artist’s chair, or with her hair in rollers. She reveals the dissonance between celebrity ‘reality’ and her normal existence. Kardashian West might walk the Oscars red-carpet as a paragon of glamour, but when she returns home, the gown comes off and comfy sweats rule (Fig. 3).[52] The painstaking effort of maintaining a feminine persona, celebrity or otherwise, is revealed as Kim shows us the before and the after (see e.g. Fig 4.). All that labour pays off though. In 2014, Kardashian West was the second most Googled person worldwide.[53] In 2015, she was the most Googled person in twenty-six countries.[54] The transformation is complete: Kardashian West is a wannabe no more. Why does she succeed, whilst Margery fails?

Fig. 4.    Scan of Kardashian West,  Selfish , pp. 228-29 (top) and pp. 230-31 (bottom): close-up selfies of Kardashian West's face. Pp. 228-29 shows her face covered in strange-looking contouring make-up, captioned "Before". Pp. 231-31 shows her luminous face once the make-up has been fully blended, captioned "After".

Fig. 4. Scan of Kardashian West, Selfish, pp. 228-29 (top) and pp. 230-31 (bottom): close-up selfies of Kardashian West's face. Pp. 228-29 shows her face covered in strange-looking contouring make-up, captioned "Before". Pp. 231-31 shows her luminous face once the make-up has been fully blended, captioned "After".

Christ intimates to Margery four times that she will be the object of a posthumous cult in the Book. These promises are ultimately empty. There is no evidence of a cult in Margery’s memory. Regardless of Marie of Oignies’ example, Margery’s tears could not be assimilated into a successful saintly identity, in the Catholic context at least. The Church of England commemorates Margery in its Calendar of saints on the 9 November, in a relatively recent addition to their liturgy.[55] Margery’s inclusion here, though, is almost a back-handed compliment. A ‘commemoration’ is the lowest form of veneration available for inclusion in the Calendar: a kind of ‘participation trophy’ for the holy woman who – bless her heart – tried so hard, but didn’t actually produce the goods. In 2009, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the USA also provisionally approved the liturgical commemoration of Richard Rolle (d. 1349), Walter Hilton (d. 1396), and Margery Kempe on 28 September.[56] Even here, Margery finishes last. She is quite literally the hanger-on after the two illustrious male mystics in all official written material about the commemorative day circulated by the Church.

Instead of any significant medieval renown, evidence of any sizeable fan-base for Margery is instead found in modern academic scholarship, particularly in feminist critique from the 1980s onwards.[57] In 1998, Margery earnt an entry into the connotatively titled Who’s Who in Christianity anthology, a veritable star-chart of religious celebs. The last line of Margery’s entry concisely captures the shift in the holy woman’s fortunes: ‘In recent years she has become something of a feminist heroine.’[58] Margery’s Book is so compelling because our wailing heroine fails at – or more charitably ‘struggles with’ –– her objective of securing sanctity. In a personal blogpost, Clarissa W. Atkinson reflects on Margery’s impact in her professional life as a medievalist.[59] Atkinson was on the vanguard of academic feminism, undertaking postgraduate study at a time when women were practically absent from the medievalist canon. With Margery, she finally found ‘a recognizable (and annoying) human being’. Academic interest in Margery is founded on Margery’s relatability: she is a woman scrambling to find her place in a male-dominated world, balancing the competing demands of family, community, and personal passions. Visibility in terms of the discovery of Margery’s Book, and its eventual inclusion in the medievalist canon, equates to representation at a meta-level, as Margery functions as a proxy for women more generally in the field of medievalism.

Still from horror movie  House of Wax  (2005; dir. Jaume Collet-Serra), showing Paris Hilton (playing the role of Paige Edwards) crying.

Still from horror movie House of Wax (2005; dir. Jaume Collet-Serra), showing Paris Hilton (playing the role of Paige Edwards) crying.

Margery is not (academically) famous because she is (or was) recognised as a saint, a perfected image of (holy) womanhood. Rather, she is a celebrity, at least in medievalist circles, for the messiness of her persistent bids for (holy) fame. Margery has become famous for wanting to be famous. Jeffrey Sconce affirms that Paris Hilton’s ‘reality TV-level’ fame depends on her consistent (and perhaps even knowing) failure at doing something truly celebrity-worthy: ‘her entire persona depends on her signature inability to do or contribute anything productive, making her fame the most pure and tasteful of all.’[60] Similarly, Margery’s incapacity to perform holiness ‘productively’ underpins her enduring presence in the academic media-scape. The mystic’s failure, however, exposes the reality of the hagiographic star-system, the constructed-ness of accepted saintly identities. Katherine J. Lewis suggests that the Book was ‘intended to plug a perceived gap in female English sanctity by providing a saint who was Katherine, Bridget, Mary Magdalene and others all rolled into one – thus providing something for everyone.’[61] Margery (or Kempe’s) suturing together of numerous female saintly identities is a conscious hagiographical move to create a female English ‘multi-saint’. In other words, she is a try-hard, and trying too hard too obviously is the antithesis of celebrity cool. Margery’s behaviours may not be ‘tasteful’, to quote Sconce, but they demonstrate in perhaps the ‘purest’ form the ways in which saints are artificial objects, cobbled together from various narratives and for various ideological motives.[62] As a ‘wannabe’, then, Margery shows us how the ‘real’ stars are made.

Fig. 5   . Moschino Spring/Summer 2015 Barbie iPhone 5 case, shown (l-r) backwards on, sidewards on, front facing. Source:    Moschino.com    (3 single images, here conjoined)

Fig. 5. Moschino Spring/Summer 2015 Barbie iPhone 5 case, shown (l-r) backwards on, sidewards on, front facing. Source: Moschino.com (3 single images, here conjoined)

Fig. 6.    Moschino catwalk collection, Spring/Summer 2015. Blonde model, styled in Barbie-pink demonstrates the baroque-vanity mirror iPhone 5 case. Source:    Tiny Beauty Blog    (cropped).

Fig. 6. Moschino catwalk collection, Spring/Summer 2015. Blonde model, styled in Barbie-pink demonstrates the baroque-vanity mirror iPhone 5 case. Source: Tiny Beauty Blog (cropped).

The genius of Kardashian West is that she reveals the inequity and artificiality of the celebrification process, and leverages this revelation to support her celebrity trajectory. She is the hyperreal of womanhood, existing as mediatised images which reveal the logical end-point of the patriarchally enforced pressure that society places on all women to look and act in certain ways. Kardashian West turns to social media and selfies to chronicle her own navigation of the socio-cultural demands placed on female appearance and comportment. That she may enjoy dressing up or being photographed is not important here, no matter how the tabloids might frame it. What matters is that she consciously shows you the ‘before’ and ‘after’, how celebrity is manufactured. More crucially, this revelation emphasizes the constructed-ness of the image of socially ‘legitimate’ cis-heterosexual Western womanhood itself. Even before she snapped her first selfie, or appeared on any TV, Kardashian West was always already imprisoned in this panoptical woman-ification system, as are all women who must conform – or pay the price – to what society, at a given moment, designates as the appearance and behaviour of ‘real’ and ‘legitimate’ (read: acceptable) womanhood. She has managed to extract value from this system, to play it at its own game: she mediatises herself, and so doing holds up a mirror – or smartphone – to the cameras of patriarchy which adorn the walls of the panopticon in which all women find themselves. This dynamic is materialized in a smartphone case by Moschino, produced for their Barbie-inspired Spring/Summer 2015 collection (Fig. 5).[63] The iPhone 5 case is styled as a baroque hand mirror, replicated in fuchsia-pink plastic, with the traditional mirrored glass replaced by the screen of the user’s smartphone. But the mirrored glass has not been entirely removed: instead, it has been displaced, to the back of the holder. Whenever the user lifts their phone to snap a selfie, a ‘vanity mirror’ on the back of the case reflects those who look at the selfie-taker (Fig. 6). Snapping a selfie means quite literally lifting a mirror to the world around you, making those who would capture you with their gaze confront the trajectory of their own look(s). 

With her appearance on the medievalist scene, Margery gave feminist academics someone to root for, and someone whose life – struggles and all – rang true for them. This is not to say that Margery simplistically reveals enduring truths of womanhood, or not only that. She functions as a focal point for feminist medieval scholars to find ourselves in our field, in our primary sources, and perhaps even in our own lives. Margery’s Book – and its feminist reception – can be read, then, as a productive mirror of our own scholarly and socio-political contexts. Margery – as a mirror – allows us to sculpt our own auto-hagiographies, and ultimately move beyond her Book to bring to light other neglected, difficult, or messy stories from medieval feminist pre-histories.

Wendy Harding affirms that the Book stages ‘an unequal struggle for control of channels of communication’.[64] The illiterate Margery is dependent on oral expression to render her life into narrative.[65] In order to preserve her life story, Margery must give her spoken words, and thus her narrative agency, to an individual who can process her oral account in to text: the cleric Kempe. The mystic ‘cannot write her own script’.[66] Writing permits the elision of Margery’s body (subjectivity), as text conveys meaning ‘without the necessity of bodily contact’.[67] Moreover, in the epistemological hierarchy of the late Middle Ages, textuality is the most authoritative communicative format. Margery’s vocalisations are simply less significant than Kempe’s interpretation of them, and can never be fully represented in text in any case. The holy woman depends entirely on her textual producer to purvey her ‘star image’. In comparison, Kim Kardashian West is in almost complete control of her own celebrity narrative. Reality-TV producers might have first brought her into the public eye, but they no longer run the show. Paris Hilton’s ever-waning fame may, to return to Sconce’s critique, rest upon her ‘signature inability to do or contribute anything productive’.[68] Kardashian West, by contrast, is a digital entrepreneur, whose celebrity springs directly from her industrious and innovative media interventions.

Kardashian West has harnessed the power of social media to disrupt the traditional model of ‘top-down’ celebrity production, in which the star-object is controlled by her producer-creator.[69] She assiduously manages her multiple social media profiles. Kardashian West started the new year (i.e. January 2018) with over 193 million followers across her Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts.[70] These social media channels equate to multimedia networks which are completely under Kardashian West’s control. In posts shared directly with her followers, Kardashian West carefully sculpts the particular image of celebrity she wishes to portray. She frequently anticipates content in her reality-TV show, releasing news on her social media channels to control the story, and uses her multiple platforms to refute celebrity gossip. Here, for example, she tweets in anticipation of the broadcast of the KUWtK episode dealing with violent robbery which took place at Paris Fashion Week (October 2016), in which she was held at gunpoint:

Tonight’s episode is going to be very tough for me.[71]

However, I thought it was important to share this story through my eyes & not in an interview where my own words could be twisted.[72]

I have always shared so much & I’m not going to hold back when this was probably one of the most life changing experiences for me.[73]

These tweets emphasise the fact that other narratives circulating around the Parisian incident are not (fully) authentic. The show, then sets the record straight – and contains compellingly raw and authentic footage of Kardashian West. What’s more, the tweets underscore that fans should not necessarily trust any Kardashian-West content not produced by the woman herself.

In her analyses of Margery’s orality, Harding explains that oral communication ‘is not linear but interactive and global’, a means of mediation that nevertheless depends on ‘the body in its entirety.’[74] These characteristics similarly govern social media. Indeed, social media is useful to Kardashian West for precisely these reasons. It allows her to interact with fans across the globe in an informal manner. Moreover, the star’s social media accounts allow her to foreground her subjectivity as an unavoidable part of the Kim-Kardashian-West package. She resists the reduction of her existence to body alone as a female celebrity and sex symbol. Instead, she shows followers her ‘body in its entirety’, complete with her personality, mind, and affect. This representation also serves to heighten for fans that she is authentic above all, and thus supports her broader celebrity identity as a ‘real’ star. Kardashian West is a consummate businesswoman, extraordinarily savvy in the art of auto-celebrification, or put otherwise autohagiography.[75]

Screengrab    from NPR website, with transcript of Kardashian West's episode of 'Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!'. Taken 22/01/17. The introductory blurb spotlights Kardashian West's many achievements, with her media enterprise front and centre. She is 'a producer, entrepreneur, designer, model, mom, tabloid magazine life support system - and now a star of public radio.'

Screengrab from NPR website, with transcript of Kardashian West's episode of 'Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!'. Taken 22/01/17. The introductory blurb spotlights Kardashian West's many achievements, with her media enterprise front and centre. She is 'a producer, entrepreneur, designer, model, mom, tabloid magazine life support system - and now a star of public radio.'

Nevertheless, Kardashian West’s stardom is not viewed as fully ‘legitimate’ by many. In June 2015, her appearance on the National Public Radio (NPR) show, ‘Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!’ provoked ire in listeners.[76] Hundreds wrote in to complain, with many threatening to cease their NPR sponsorship in response.[77] A complaint from listener Brianna Frazier is indicative of the tenor of the backlash: ‘vapid, talentless, and shallow individuals who have not earned fame or fortune through an ounce of hard work have no place on a show of such caliber’. In religious terms, Kardashian West is a celebrity not via any official canonization, but instead via grass-roots lay devotion. Margery Kempe and Kim Kardashian West’s auto-celebritisation does not have ‘official’ backing – be that a gifted hagiographer or circle of clerical, or indeed cultural, supporters –  and is enacted via non-traditional routes which fundamentally threatens the establishment, be that the Church or broadcast media. As Margery is dismissed as heretical and annoying, Kim is classified as talentless and low-class. Despite her success, Kardashian West’s auto-celebrification is only partially successful. A significant portion of the public resist her disruption of the celebrity machine. But, love her or hate her, they know who Kim Kardashian West is. ‘Famous’ or ‘infamous’, she remains in the spotlight. In much the same way, Margery Kempe is ‘everywhere treated as a miracle, a scandal, a cause celèbre’.[78] She endures as an object of fascination and irritation, both in her own contemporary context and in academic scholarship alike.

If this study of radically visible women has shown anything, it is that being visible is neither a simple nor an easy prospect. Navigating the politics of visibility is fundamentally necessary though, an inescapable part of Kim and Margery’s lived experience(s), the very formation of their subjectivity. You can’t ignore it, you have to confront it: visible or invisible, there’s no escape from the spotlight – it defines even that to which it brings shadow. Visibility is always political, emblematic of agency and oppression by turn. For being visible – being in the spotlight – gets one noticed. I am keenly aware, as I speak these words, of the context in which I speak. I have the profound privilege of giving a plenary paper as an early-career researcher, a heretofore almost unheard of undertaking. But this isn’t the whole story, my whole story (professional or otherwise). My presence here today, having my moment in the spotlight, depends on the work of countless scholars - colleagues, collocutors, collaborators – who are invisible to you all yet should, rightfully, share the stage with me. What’s more, innumerable early career scholars are producing paradigm-exploding work which would make ideal material for a keynote. I am fortunate to have a research fellowship, but one that doesn’t pay – I haven’t been paid for my academic work since last September. This state of affairs is not particularly unusual, at least amongst my group of early-career friends and peers. Making space for early-career researchers on the scholarly stage is a momentous, incredibly laudable, move. Exposure, however, is not enough for the precariat. Increased visibility must lead to increased recognition institutionally, with ECRs being valued for their work and their time, in terms of professional stability and financial remuneration. In a Twitter thread from last December, Lucia Lorenzi cuts to the heart of it:

I see many emerging scholars who are told they are brilliant - that they should apply for PhD programs, postdocs, jobs - but their ‘promise’ becomes a way in which the academy neglects or abuses them.[79]

And all too often, there is no pay-off for all this ‘promise’. However brilliant a marginalized scholar may be, jobs seem to go to the usual suspects: white able-bodied men.[80]

Medieval studies today must reckon with visibility. Like it or not, many people – academics and non-academics alike – simply do not see the value of our research, and do not understand why it should be funded. We must speak from where we are, and who we are. And like it or not, the Middle Ages are being weaponized as fodder for neo-Nazis and white supremacists. This isn’t new, but it is more visible than ever, particularly in the United States of President Donald Trump and in a post- (or mid?) Brexit Britain, ‘little England’ writ large. In her blogpost ‘Teaching Medieval Studies in a Time of White Supremacy’ (published 28 August 2017), Dorothy Kim laid out what is at stake for medievalists in our current political environment:

Today, medievalists have to understand that the public and our students will see us as potential white supremacists or white supremacist sympathizers because we are medievalists. […] Neutrality may have worked in a distant past when white supremacists/KKK/white nationalists/Nazis were some imagined fringe group, but that is not going to work now. […] So, what are you doing to overtly signal that your medieval studies class is not going to implicitly or explicitly uphold the tenets of white supremacist ideology?[81]

As medievalists, we must work to adopt a politics of engaged public visibility, a strategy of showing ourselves – and our work – to push back firmly and frequently against the rising tide of hate. Becoming visible is not an easy undertaking, nor can every individual adopt this role. Visibility, especially for women and for people of colour, can be dangerous – as shown all too readily in a quick Wikipedia search for ‘Gamergate’, in any cursory perusal of social media and online comments sections, and indeed in the recent harassment faced by Dorothy Kim in response to her blogpost.[82] Those of us with various privilege(s) must stand up and become visible. A comforting – protective – cloak of invisibility is simply not an option for many. Not everyone can pass as the patriarchy’s default, and thus ‘unmarked’, state – cishet, white, able-bodied manhood. We must stand up and be meaningfully present for those, and with those, for whom the fact of visibility is inescapable. We must also protect the right to be invisible, affirming the right to privacy for those who cannot step into the spotlight, for whatever reason. We must also pursue, vigorously and productively, alternate modes of visibility, ways of imagining how visibility is achieved for academics as a component of building professional reputations and scholarly networks. Here, I think particularly of those of us with more or less visible disabilities, with care responsibilities, and with bodies – and lives – which do not, cannot conform to the pressures of academic life: always working, always productive, always visibly so.

I leave you with questions, to which there are no easy answers: How do we make visibility safe, affirmative and genuinely inclusive? How do we support those who are invisible and need to remain so? How do we create a feminist-medievalist politics of visibility? Here are a few final thoughts, Jerry Springer style.[83] We must work to share the spotlight’s glare, at times seductively scintillating and at others harshly penetrating. We must work to diffuse the spotlight’s exceptional beam across the individual and institutional surfaces of our discipline. In short, we must make spectacles of us all, for us all.

'Silence is Invisibility', by Melina Vanni-González. Source:    Flickr.    White wall, flecked with paint, with graffiti in orange and red stating ‘silence is invisibility’. (CC BY-SA 2.0.)

'Silence is Invisibility', by Melina Vanni-González. Source: Flickr. White wall, flecked with paint, with graffiti in orange and red stating ‘silence is invisibility’. (CC BY-SA 2.0.)

' invisibility', by garann. Source:  Flickr.  Bench in garden, with chalkboard back support, with text saying ‘Invisibility 5¢ for 5 minutes’. CC BY-SA 2.0.)

' invisibility', by garann. Source: Flickr. Bench in garden, with chalkboard back support, with text saying ‘Invisibility 5¢ for 5 minutes’. CC BY-SA 2.0.)


[1] ‘Invention’, p. 5.

[2] Here I draw on Jansen’s (n.p.) remarks on Margery Kempe, which I quote later in this piece.

[3] Mulder-Bakker, ‘Laywomen’, p. 5. See also Flory.

[4] Caciola, p. 271.

[5] See in particular: pp. 11-14, 47-52, 167-87.

[6] Meyer, ‘Media’, p. 126.

[7] Ibid., p. 127. On this, see also: ‘Medium’, in which the citation appears verbatim on p. 60.

[8] Lives and Loves, pp. 201-21.

[9] Ibid., p. 203.

[10] This associates hagiography with other medieval media which aim at engendering authentic yet virtual experiences. This includes, for example, guided meditational manuals in the tradition of affective piety which place the reader-cum-seer in the thick of biblical history, such as Aelred of Rievaulx’s De institutione inclusarum and the Meditaciones vite Christi (dubiously ascribed to John of Caulibus). I refer to the latter briefly in Medieval Saints and Modern Screens, Chapter 4 (pp.193-94). Virtuality was equally central in medieval pilgrimage guides to, and images of, Jerusalem for the imaginative use of those for whom travel to the holy site in person was impossible. For details and analyses of such works, see: Rudy, ‘Cityscape’; ‘Guide’; ‘Fragments’; Virtual Pilgrimages.

[11] Lives and Loves, p. 215. Mitchell writes extensively on this topic, see in particular: Iconology, pp.7-46; Image Science, pp. 13-21; 125-35.

[12] The phrase ‘star image’ is coined by Dyer, used repeatedly in Stars.

[13] Stars, p. 2.

[14] Although still known a ‘Kim Kardashian’ by many, the star rebranded herself across all media outlets in 2014 as ‘Kardashian West’ following her marriage to rapper Kanye West. As such, I refer to her as ‘Kardashian West’ throughout. On celebrity and ‘ugly crying’, see: Cote.

[15] ‘Kardashian Family Vacation’ (S02E08, first aired 4 May 2008). On the links between reality-TV tears and medieval crying as confessional expressions of contrition, see: Weisl.

[16] I refer to the Staley edition of the Book for all original citations (as MKB), and the Windeatt’s translation for modern English text (as MKBEng).

[17] See, for example: MKB, 1.13.620-23.40.

[18] Ibid., 1.13.623-73.41-42.

[19] Fictions, p. 3. On this, see also: pp. 1-38.

[20] N.p.

[21] Ibid.

[22] MKBEng, 1.13.63. ‘“I wold thow wer closyd in an hows of ston that ther schuld no man speke wyth the.’” MKB, 1.13.629-30.41.

[23] Comments by YouTube users ‘stiLLa himself’, ‘MUSIC IS MA L!FE!’, and ‘Frank Conrad’ respectively. As of 3 January 2018 (4pm), the video had been viewed 1,260,831 times.

[24] Quotes from comments by ‘Frank Beltra’ and ‘John Roberts’.

[25] Bale, p. 16.

[26] ‘Margery Kempe, The Book of Margery Kempe: This woman was Crazy’, n.p.

[27] Dr Virago, n.p. These are comments made by students when encountering Margery in their reading list, reported in a blogpost by a medievalist professor using the pseudonym ‘Dr Virago’. Though technically made by individuals ‘in the academy’, these cutting remarks nevertheless summarize the general critique levelled against Margery in trolling online.

[28] On this, see in particular: Atkinson, ‘Sanctity’, pp. 226-33; Lewis; Staley, Fictions, pp. 171-200; Yoshikawa, pp. 94-104.

[29] The ‘beguine’ classification is problematic generally. I discus this at length in Medieval Saints and Modern Screens, pp. 25-37.

[30] Pp. 226-7, 230, 235-41.

[31] Arnold of Liège, ex. 435-36, pp. 246-47. For references to Marie in the fifteenth-century translation, see: Banks (ed.), II, ex. 427, p. 293; ex. 429, p. 294.

[32] MKBEng, 1.62.191-92. ‘And yet owr Lord drow [the scribe] agen in short time, blissed mote he ben, that he lovyd [Margery] mor and trustyd mor to hir wepyng and hir crying than evyr he dede beforn, for aftyrward he red of a woman clepyd Maria de Oegines, […] and of the plentyuows teerys that sche wept, the whech made hir so febyl and so weke that sche myth not endur to beheldyn the crosse, ne heryn owr Lordys Passyon rehersyd, so sche was resolvyd into terys of pyté and compassyon.’ MKB, 1.62.3610-15.149.

[33] MKBEng, 1.68.205. ‘The worschepful doctowr seyd to hir, “Margery, I have red of an holy woman whom God had govyn gret grace of wepyng and crying as he hath don onto yow. In the cherc ther sche dwellyd was a preyste which had no conseyt in hir wepyng and cawsyd hir thorw hys steryng to gon owte of the cherche. […] [S]che mreyd God that the preyst myth have felyng of the grace that sche felt […]. And so sodeynly owr Lord sent hym devocyn at hys messe that he myth not mesuryn himself, and then wolde he no more despisyn hir aftyr that but rathyr comfortyn hir.”’ MKB, 1.68.3925-33.160.

[34] VMOME, 1.5.152-53.93; VMO,

[35] MKB, 1.62.3618-21.149.

[36] VMOME, 1.5.148-49.93; VMO,

[37] Pomarico, n.p. See also: Kardashian, Kardashian, and Kardashian, p. 100.

[38] Kardashian West insists that she was not, in fact, Hilton’s stylist, but the socialite was a client of her eBay-selling and closet-organising business: Kardashian West and Swisher, ‘Interview’.

[39]‘Ro-Day-O vs. Ro-Dee-O’ (S01E01, first aired 2 December 2003), ‘The Nolan Family’ (S04E01, first aired 4 June 2006), ‘The Ghauri Family (S04E02, first aired 11 June 2006), ‘Murrie Family’ (S04E06, first aired 16 July 2009).

[40] For all intents and purposes, this interview has been scrubbed from the internet. It is impossible to pin down exactly when this interview took place, though it coincides with Hilton’s promotional tour for The World According to Paris, which debuted in June 2011. This is clear when examining a short excerpt of the interview posted to Hilton’s YouTube channel, in which she discusses her new series: Paris Hilton - Entertainment Tonight. Hilton’s appearance and the set décor matches the clip of the interview in which Hilton disses Kardashian West. This clip is a much-shared gif online, and the interview remarks are cited in myriad online gossip stories, though without any source identification. See, for example: Flynn; George; Woodward.

[41] Hilton and Zee, n.p..

[42] See, for example: Kourtney & Kim Take Miami, Kourtney & Kim Take New York.

[43] MKBEng, 1.20.83; MKB, 1.20.1089.58.

[44] MKBEng, 1.20.83; MKB, 1.20.1085-86.58.

[45] P. 52.

[46] MKB, 1.1.130-87.21-23.

[47] Ibid., 1.1.142-50.22. This episode is often interpreted as post-partum psychosis or mental illness within a modern framework. See in particular: Craun; Freeman, Bogarad, and Sholomskas; Jefferies and Horsfall, pp. 350-52; Torn.

[48] P. 353.

[49] Douay-Rheims Bible.

[50] McAvoy, pp. 36-37.

[51] N.p.

[52] Kardashian West, Selfish, p. 253. See also the ‘before’ and ‘afters’ selfies: ibid., pp. 228-31.

[53] Google Trends.

[54] McCluskey.

[55] Brother Tristram and Kershaw (eds.), p. 502.

[56] Church Pension Fund, p. 611.

[57] On this, see in particular: Tolhurst.

[58] Cohn-Sherbok (ed.), p. 167.

[59] ‘40 Years’, n.p.

[60] P. 336.

[61] P. 215.

[62] Sconce, p. 336.

[63] ‘Runway Capsule Collection’, n.p.

[64] P. 170.

[65] Ibid., p. 174.

[66] Bynum, p. 41.

[67] Harding, p. 172.

[68] P. 336.

[69] Ingram; Kardashian West and Swisher, ‘Interview’, ‘Naked Selfies’; Kirst.

[70] As of 3 January 2018, Kardashian West had: 58 million followers on Twitter; 105 million followers on Instagram; and 30.1 million followers on Facebook.

[71] Kardashian West, ‘Tonight’s episode’.

[72] Kardashian West, ‘However’.

[73] Kardashian West, ‘I have always shared’.

[74] P. 172.

[75] On celebrity as a business, see Kardashian, Kardashian, and Kardashian, pp. 131-39, 213-19.

[76] Pesca et al. This is a typical reaction to Kardashian West’s appearance in ‘series’ media. See, for example: Gannes.

[77] Jensen, n.p.

[78] Watson, p. 396.

[79] Lorenzi, ‘I see many’. The whole thread is worth reading on this topic: ‘Sitting here’.

[80] Lorenzi, ‘Because I’ve seen’.

[81] N.p.

[82] For a summary of the vitriolic – and abhorrent – backlash Kim has received after posting the piece, see: Roll; Xu.

[83] Jerry Springer devotes the closing minutes of his massively successful talk show, The Jerry Springer Show, to his ‘final thoughts’ on a given topic. Or at least he did, when I was a regular watcher in my misspent youth, i.e. the early 2000s. Contrasted with the typical trashy, tabloid banality of an episode, these final remarks allowed Jerry to deliver some home-spun wisdom, roughly centred on lessons learnt from his guests.

Pre-modern Primary Sources

Aelred of Rivaulx, De institutione inclusarum, ed. by C. H. Talbot, in Aelredi Rievallensis Opera Omnia, 7 vols (Turnhout: Brepols, 1971-2017), I, pp. 637-82

Arnold of Liège, Alphabetum narrationum, ed. by Colette Ribaucourt and Elisa Brilli, Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis 160 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2015)

Banks, Mary Macleod, ed., An Alphabet of Tales: An English 15th Century Translation of the ‘Alphabetum Narrationum’ of Étienne de Besançon, from Additional Ms. 25,719 of the British Museum. 2 vols, Early English Texts Society 126-27 (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., 1904-1905)

Jacques of Vitry, De B. Maria Oigniacensi in Namurcensi Belgii dioecesi, ed. by Daniel Papebroeck, in AASS, June IV (23) (1707 (repr. 1969)), 636-66

———, ‘The Middle English Life of Marie d’Oignies’, in Three Women of Liège: A Critical Edition of and Commentary on the Middle English Lives of Elizabeth of Spalbeek, Christina Mirabilis, and Marie d’Oignies, ed. by Jennifer N. Brown (Turnhout: Brepols, 2008), pp. 85-190

John of Caulibus (?), Meditaciones vite Christi olim S. Bonaventurae attributae, ed. by C. Mary Stallings-Taney, Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis 153 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1997)

Société des Bollandistes, ed., Acta Sanctorum quotquot toto orbe coluntur vel a catholicis scriptoribus celebrantur, 68 vols (Antwerp, Brussels, Paris, Tongerloo: various publishers, 1643-1940; 4th repr. Brussels: Impression Anastaltique Culture et Civilisation, 1965-1971)

Staley, Lynn, ed., The Book of Margery Kempe, TEAMS Middle English Texts (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1996)

Windeatt, Barry, trans., The Book of Margery Kempe (London: Penguin, 1985)

Secondary Sources

Atkinson, Clarissa W., ‘Female Sanctity in the Late Middle Ages’, in The Book of Margery Kempe: A New Translation, Contexts, Criticism, ed. by Lynn Staley (New York: Norton, 2001), pp. 225-36

———, ‘“This Creature”: 40 Years of Margery Kempe’, Oldest Vocation (24 February 2015) <https://oldestvocation.wordpress.com/2015/02/24/this-creature-40-years-of-margery-kempe/> [accessed 27 May 2016]

Bale, Anthony, ‘Woman in White: Why Margery Kempe Divides Modern Readers as Much as She Did Her Medieval Audience’, Times Literary Supplement, 19 December 2014, pp. 16-17

Brother Tristram, SSF, and Simon Kershaw, eds., Exciting Holiness: Collects and Readings for the Festivals and Lesser Festivals of the Calendars of the Church of England, the Church of Ireland, the Scottish Episcopal Church, and the Church in Wales. 3rd edn (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 1997 (repr. 2007))

Bynum, Caroline Walker, Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Religion (New York: Zone Books, 1991)

Caciola, Nancy, ‘Mystics, Demoniacs, and the Physiology of Spirit Possession in Medieval Europe’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 42.2 (2000), 268-306

Church Pension Fund, Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints. Conforming to General Convention 2009 (New York: Church Publishing, 2010)

Cohn-Sherbok, Lavinia, ed., Who’s Who in Christianity (London: Routledge, 1998)

Cote, Rachel Vorona, ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy of the Ugly Cry’, New Republic (1 April 2016) <https://newrepublic.com/article/132289/agony-ecstasy-ugly-cry> [accessed 21 July 2016]

Craun, Marlys, ‘The Story of Margery Kempe’, Psychiatric Services, 56.6 (2005), 655-56

Dr Virago, ‘Calling Margery Kempe Crazy — And Why It Matters’, Quod She 2.0 (17 April 2006) <https://quodshe.wordpress.com/2006/04/17/calling-margery-kempe-crazy-and-why-it-matters/> [accessed 28 November 2011].

Dyer, Richard, Stars (London: BFI, 1979)

Flory, David A., ‘The Social Uses of Religious Literature: Challenging Authority in the Thirteenth-Century Marian Miracle Tale’, Essays in Medieval Studies, 13 (1996), 61-69

Flynn, Chris, ‘15 Embarrassing Things Paris Hilton Wants Her Fans To Forget’, The Richest, (17 September 2016) <https://www.therichest.com/rich-list/most-shocking/15-embarrassing-things-paris-hilton-wants-her-fans-to-forget/> [accessed 23 March 2017]

Folkerts, Suzan, ‘The Manuscript Transmission of the Vita Mariae Oigniacensis in the Later Middle Ages’, in Mary of Oignies: Mother of Salvation, ed. by Anneke B. Mulder-Bakker (Turnhout: Brepols, 2006), pp. 221-41

Freeman, Phyllis R., Carley Rees Bogarad, and Diane E. Sholomskas, ‘Margery Kempe, a New Theory: The Inadequacy of Hysteria and Postpartum Psychosis as Diagnostic Categories’, History of Psychiatry, 1 (1990), 169-90

Gannes, Liz, ‘The Incredible Oversharing Endurance of Kim Kardashian West (Full Session Video)’, Recode.net (29 October 2014) <http://www.recode.net/2014/10/29/11632436/the-incredible-oversharing-endurance-of-kim-kardashian-west-full> [accessed 21 July 2016]

Garber, Megan, ‘You Win, Kim Kardashian’, The Atlantic [Online] (13 May 2015) <http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/05/kim-kardashian-selfish/393113/> [accessed 19 July 2016]

George, Kat, ‘15 Times Paris Hilton Was The Boss Of Kim Kardashian In Case You Forgot Who Invented The Reality Celebrity Game’, Bustle, (3 November 2014) <https://www.bustle.com/articles/47230-15-times-paris-hilton-was-the-boss-of-kim-kardashian-in-case-you-forgot-who-invented> [accessed 22 March 2017]

Google Trends, ‘Top Charts 2014’, Google.com ([n.d.]) <http://www.google.com/trends/topcharts?hl=en#date=2014&geo=> [accessed 20 July 2016]

Harding, Wendy, ‘Body into Text: The Book of Margery Kempe’, in Feminist Approaches to the Body in Medieval Literature, ed. by Linda Lomperis and Sarah Stanbury (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), pp. 168-87

Ingram, Matthew, ‘Why Kim Kardashian Is Almost as Smart About Social Media as Donald Trump’, Fortune [Online] (18 July 2016) <http://fortune.com/2016/07/18/kardashian-donald-trump/> [accessed 19 July 2016]

Jansen, Sharon L., ‘Margery Kempe Tells Her Story’, The Monstrous Regiment of Women (7 October 2015) <http://www.monstrousregimentofwomen.com/2015/10/margery-kempe-tells-her-story.html> [accessed 7 June 2016]

Jefferies, Diana, and Debbie Horsfall, ‘Forged By Fire: Margery Kempe’s Account of Postnatal Psychosis’, Literature and Medicine, 32.2 (2014), 348-64

Jensen, Elizabeth, ‘What's All The “Kommotion” About Kim Kardashian On “Wait Wait”?’, NPR Ombudsman (17 June 2015) <http://www.npr.org/sections/ombudsman/2015/06/17/415203751/what-s-all-the-kommotion-about-kim-kardashian-west-on-wait-wait> [accessed 20 July 2016]

Kardashian, Kourtney, Kim Kardashian, and Khloé Kardashian, Kardashian Konfidential (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2010)

Kardashian West, Kim, ‘@KimKardashian [Facebook Feed]’, Facebook, ([n.d.]) <https://www.facebook.com/KimKardashian/> [accessed 3 January 2018]

———, ‘@kimkardashian [Instagram Feed]’, Instagram, ([n.d.]) <https://www.instagram.com/kimkardashian/?hl=en> [accessed 3 January 2018]

———, ‘@kimkardashian [Twitter Feed]’, Twitter, ([n.d.]) <https://twitter.com/KimKardashian> [accessed 3 January 2018]

———, ‘However, I thought it was important to share this story through my eyes & not in an interview where my own words could be twisted.’, tweet by @kimkardashian, (19 March 2017) <https://twitter.com/KimKardashian/status/843528717531996160 > [accessed 31 March 2017)

———, ‘I have always shared so much & I’m not going to hold back when this was probably one of the  most life changing experiences for me.’, tweet by @kimkardashian, (19 March 2017) <https://twitter.com/KimKardashian/status/843528949552488448> [accessed 31 March 2017)

———, Selfish (New York: Rizzoli, 2015)

———, ‘Tonight’s episode is going to be very tough for me’, tweet by @kimkardashian, (19 March 2017) <https://twitter.com/KimKardashian/status/843528449507569664> [accessed 31 March 2017)

Kim, Dorothy, ‘Teaching Medieval Studies in a Time of White Supremacy’, In the Middle (28 August 2017) <http://www.inthemedievalmiddle.com/2017/08/teaching-medieval-studies-in-time-of.html> [accessed 7 September 2017]

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Lewis, Katherine J., ‘Margery Kempe and Saint Making in Later Medieval England’, in A Companion to The Book of Margery Kempe, ed. by John Arnold and Katherine J. Lewis (Woodbridge, UK: Brewer, 2004), pp. 195-215

Lorenzi, Lucia, ‘Because I've seen other promising new scholars - mostly white men - get opportunities handed to them on a silver platter. Introductions to networks. Mentorship. Etc. Etc. And that's the lie, that all promise is nurtured equally. It ain’t.’, tweet by @empathywarrior, (4 December 2017) <https://twitter.com/empathywarrior/status/937704608314548224> [accessed 21 December 2017)

———, ‘I see many emerging scholars who are told they are brilliant - that they should apply for PhD programs, postdocs, jobs - but their “promise” becomes a way in which the academy neglects or abuses them.’, tweet by @empathywarrior, (4 December 2017) <https://twitter.com/empathywarrior/status/937703277331746816> [accessed 21 December 2017)

———, ‘Sitting here drinking my morning tea and thinking about how being a “promising young/emerging/new scholar” is weaponized against marginalized academics.’, tweet by @empathywarrior, (4 December 2017) <https://twitter.com/empathywarrior/status/937703089259167751> [accessed 21 December 2017)

‘Margery Kempe, The Book of Margery Kempe: This woman was Crazy. Hands Down, Batshit, Insane.’, Love Reading, Hate Books (22 June 2013) <https://lovereadinghatebooks.wordpress.com/2013/06/22/margery-kempe-the-book-of-margery-kempe-this-woman-was-crazy-hands-down-batshit-insane/> [accessed 24 July 2015]

McAvoy, Liz Herbert, Authority and the Female Body in the Writings of Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe (Cambridge, UK: Brewer, 2004)

McCluskey, Megan, ‘See the Most Googled Person in Each Country in 2015’, Time.com (22 December 2015) <http://time.com/4157975/kim-kardashian-lionel-messi-most-googled-people/> [accessed 20 July 2016]

Meyer, Birgit, ‘Media and the Senses in the Making of Religious Experience: An Introduction’, Material Religion, 4.2 (2008), 124-34

———, ‘Medium’, Material Religion, 7.1 (2011), 58-64

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———, Image Science (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2015)

———, What do Pictures Want?: The Lives and Loves of Images (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2005)

Mulder-Bakker, Anneke B., ‘Holy Laywomen and Their Biographers in the Thirteenth Century’, in Living Saints of the Thirteenth Century: The Lives of Yvette, Anchoress of Huy, Juliana of Cornillon, Inventor of the Corpus Christi Feast, Margaret the Lame, Anchoress of Magdeburg, ed. by Anneke B. Mulder-Bakker (Turnhout: Brepols, 2011), pp. 1-42

———, ‘The Invention of Saintliness: Texts and Contexts’, in The Invention of Saintliness, ed. by Anneke B. Mulder-Bakker (London: Routledge, 2002), pp. 3-23

Pomarico, Nicole, ‘How Did Kim Kardashian & Paris Hilton Meet? It Happened Long Before One of Them Employed the Other’, Bustle (10 August 2015) <http://www.bustle.com/articles/102617-how-did-kim-kardashian-paris-hilton-meet-it-happened-long-before-one-of-them-employed> [accessed 20 July 2016]

Rojek, Chris, Celebrity (London: Reaktion, 2001)

Roll, Nick, ‘A Schism in Medieval Studies, for All to See’, Inside Higher Ed, (19 September 2017) <https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/09/19/one-professors-critique-another-divides-medieval-studies> [accessed 24 September 2017]

Rudy, Kathryn M., ‘Fragments of a Mental Journey to a Passion Park’, in Tributes in Honor of James H. Marrow: Studies in Painting and Manuscript Illumination of the Late Middle Ages and Northern Renaissance, ed. by Jeffrey F. Hamburger and Anne S. Korteweg (Turnhout: Brepols, 2006), pp. 405-19

———, ‘A Guide to Mental Pilgrimage: Paris, Bibliothèque de L'Arsenal Ms. 212’, Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, 63.4 (2000), 494-515

———, Virtual Pilgrimages in the Convent: Imagining Jerusalem in the Late Middle Ages (Turnhout: Brepols, 2011)

———, ‘Virtual Pilgrimage through the Jerusalem Cityscape’, in Visual Constructs of Jerusalem, ed. by Bianca Kühnel, Galit Noga-Banai and Hanna Vorholt (Turnhout: Brepols, 2014), pp. 381-93

‘Runway Capsule Collection - SS15 Preview: iPhone 5’, Moschino.com, (n.d.) <https://www.moschino.com/gb/iphone-5_cod51119484ix.html> [accessed 18 December 2017]

Sconce, Jeffrey, ‘A Vacancy at the Paris Hilton’, in Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World, ed. by Jonathan Gray, Cornel Sandvoss and C. Lee Harrington (New York: New York University Press, 2007), pp. 328-43

Spencer-Hall, Alicia, Medieval Saints and Modern Screens: Divine Visions as Cinematic Experience (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2018)

Staley, Lynn, Margery Kempe’s Dissenting Fictions (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994)

Tolhurst, Fiona, ‘Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe as Contemporary Cult Figures’, in Medieval Afterlives in Contemporary Culture, ed. by Gail Ashton (London: Bloomsbury, 2015), pp. 187-99

Torn, Alison, ‘Margery Kempe: Madwoman or Mystic - A Narrative Approach to the Representation of Madness and Mysticism in Medieval England’, in Narratives and Fiction: An Interdisciplinary Approach, ed. by David Robinson, Noel Gilzean, Pamela Fisher, Tracey Lee, Sarah-Jane Robinson and Pete Woodcock (Huddersfield, UK: University of Huddersfield, 2008), pp. 79-89

Watson, Nicholas, ‘The Making of The Book of Margery Kempe’, in Voices in Dialogue: Reading Women in the Middle Ages, ed. by Linda Olson and Kathryn Kerby-Fulton (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005), pp. 395-427

Weisl, Angela Jane, ‘Confession, Contrition, and the Rhetoric of Tears: Medievalism and Reality Television’, in Medieval Afterlives in Popular Culture, ed. by Gail Ashton and Daniel T. Kline (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), pp. 129-43

Woodward, Ellie, ‘A Plea For Kim Kardashian And Paris Hilton To Cut The Crap And Dress Like This Again’, Buzzfeed, (19 February 2015) <https://www.buzzfeed.com/elliewoodward/i-created-kim-kardashian-her-family-owes-me-life?utm_term=.ymQYVolgO#.dd9MqRLB9> [accessed 23 March 2017]

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Yoshikawa, Naoë Kukita, Margery Kempe’s Meditations: The Context of Medieval Devotional Literatures, Liturgy, and Iconography (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2007)

Audiovisual Sources

Hilton, Paris, and Joe Zee, Yahoo! Style Session with Paris Hilton (online video, 6:46: posted by Yahoo! Lifestyle, uploaded 1 April 2015) < https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/paris-hilton-on-the-kardashians-her-empire-what-115218470618.html> [accessed 23 March 2016]

The Jerry Springer Show, originally developed by WLTV (prod. by Multimedia Entertainment Inc. (1991-1997); Universal Television Enterprises (1997-1998); Studios USA Television (1998-2002), Universal Domestic Television (2002-2004); NBC Universal Television (2004-present)).

Kardashian West, Kim, and Kara Swisher, ‘If My Naked Selfies Offend You, Don’t Look at Them’, Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher. Recode.net podcast, 33:33. 6 June 2016. <https://art19.com/shows/recode-decode/episodes/e4c2928e-6a25-430c-b3e1-874e558862b9> [accessed 20 July 2016]

———, ‘Interview at Re/code’s Code Mobile’. Recode.net online video, 30:17. 27 October 2014. <http://www.recode.net/2016/6/6/11864134/kim-kardashian-naked-selfies-podcast-kara-swisher> [accessed 20 July 2016]

Keeping Up With the Kardashians, created by Ryan Seacrest and Eliot Goldberg (prod. by Bunim-Murray Productions and Ryan Seacrest Productions, 2007-present)

Kim Kardashian’s Best Ugly Crying Moments, (YouTube video, 1:17: posted by Fun Trolly, uploaded 23 October 2013) <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UAOUJ_xk7W0> [accessed 3 January 2018]

Kourtney & Kim Take Miami (marketed as Kourtney & Khloé Take Miami for first two seasons), created by Ryan Seacrest and Jonathan Murray (prod. by Bunim-Murray Productions and Ryan Seacrest Productions, 2009-2013)

Kourtney & Kim Take New York, created by Ryan Seacrest, Mary-Ellis Bunim, Jonathan Murray (prod. by Bunim-Murray Productions and Ryan Seacrest Productions, 2011-2012)

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The Simple Life, created by Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray (prod. by 20th Century Fox Television, Bunim-Murray Productions, 2003-2007)

The World According to Paris, created by Paris Hilton (?) (prod. by A. Smith & Co. Productions, 2011)


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KUWtK: Keeping Up With the Kardashians, created by Ryan Seacrest and Eliot Goldberg (prod. by Bunim-Murray Productions and Ryan Seacrest Productions, 2007-present)

MKB: Staley, Lynn, ed., The Book of Margery Kempe, TEAMS Middle English Texts (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1996)

MKBEng: Windeatt, Barry, trans., The Book of Margery Kempe (London: Penguin, 1985)

VMO: Jacques of Vitry, De B. Maria Oigniacensi in Namurcensi Belgii dioecesi, ed. by Daniel Papebroeck, in AASS, June IV (23) (1707 (repr. 1969)), 636-66

VMOME: Jacques of Vitry, ‘The Middle English Life of Marie d’Oignies’, in Three Women of Liège: A Critical Edition of and Commentary on the Middle English Lives of Elizabeth of Spalbeek, Christina Mirabilis, and Marie d’Oignies, ed. by Jennifer N. Brown (Turnhout: Brepols, 2008), pp. 85-190

Edited 03/12/18 to fix a typo.

Em Ford - "You Look Disgusting"

Beauty blogger Em Ford has created one of the most effective videos on the horrors of body policing and noxious beauty standards that I've ever seen. Ford's short video amply demonstrates: 1) the power of make-up to shape others' opinions of you, and your own self esteem; 2) the overwhelming devastation possible through nonsensically pejorative online comments; 3) the inability to ever "win" in terms of female self-presentation. This is not just a great video, but a necessary one too.  Bonus: read insightful discussion of the video over on Metafilter - see in particular the heart-rending first-person testimonials from people who have acne and have faced a variety of public censure because of their skin.

Pistol Annies' "Being Pretty Ain't Pretty"

Ok, so this is perhaps more "For Your Listening Pleasure" than "For Your Viewing Pleasure", but still. This track, "Being Pretty Ain't Pretty", is from female country group Pistol Annies' 2013 album, Annie Up. It's never been released as a single, hence there's no official music video floating around. No matter, as the video below showcases the most important thing about the song for me, the powerfully simple lyrics which spell out the endless, expensive and tiresome work of performing femininity. To quote the chorus: "Being pretty ain't pretty, it takes all day long / You spend all your money just to wipe it all off / You spray on your perfume, you spray on your tan / Get up in the morning, do it over again / Being pretty ain't pretty at all". I particularly appreciate how the video projects the lyrics over a still of the Annie Up front cover, which shows the three Annies working their best sultry sexy womanhood - teased-out hair and smokey come-to-bed eyes and all. The disjuncture between the "final product" of their presentation on the cover and the song lyrics (and almost mournful minor key) really pushes home the point, I think. Yes, the Annies can and do look like that - but it ain't easy work, and it certainly comes at a (psychological and literal) cost. It feels like a good counter-point to the last FYVP, which centred on the empowering nature of make-up as a means to control self-representation and identity in the world. Again, I confess my love of make-up and the spectacle of feminine image management, but when such self-presentation is required (socially or otherwise) it is a destructive drain on resources of all kinds. 

The Make-Up of Marilyn Monroe

The BFI is, indubitably, a national treasure. In almost all their offerings, they display a commitment to education and accessibility - allowing people with varying levels of interest to just watch the damn film and walk away, or to delve ever deeper into meaning, history, and cultural significance. Shout-out to the BFI player, which is a magnificent resource, offering a beautifully curated selection of cinema on-demand.  Anyway, my little love affair with the BFI was heightened this week with their video showcasing the make-up of Marilyn Monroe. It's not quite a how-to tutorial, and not quite a piece of cinematic-historical analysis. It demonstrates the ways in which Monroe consciously cultivated and controlled her look in order to manipulate her persona in the world. As the narrator points out: "Contrary to popular belief, Marilyn wasn't a passive product of the Hollywood system. She was instrumental in the construction of her own myth." Make-up is not always - or not solely - a tool of the patriarchy to objectify women. Sometimes, it is a powerful and political means of curating one's own projection into the world. I say this as a committed feminist who adores "putting my face on" to ready myself for the world, constructing my own myth one swipe of lipstick at a time.

Internet Bibliography #2

This week, I’ve mostly been enjoying the delights of Cardiff at the SFS annual conference. Much coffee, bara brith, and stimulating Frenchy chat. Also, the HEAT, which has felt like a thousand suns’ worth of irritation thrown strategically at our fair isles. The picks below have helped to distract me from melting into a puddle and/or violently calcifying into a pile of caffeine. Enjoy!


-          On women, representation and film:

o   The Dissolve team spell out the 50 most daring movie roles for women since Ripley of Alien fame. I’m vaguely annoyed that the need to have such a list exists – can’t women just have interesting movie roles as standard now, please? In any case, I like the bite-size chunks of comments that anchor each entry, and there’s not an entry that made me choke on my toast or anything. Feels a bit like the beginning sketches of a decent film/gender syllabus…

"Chola" by Koala MeatPie. Via  Flickr .

"Chola" by Koala MeatPie. Via Flickr.

-          On appropriation:

o   Obviously, I have binge watched Orange is the New Black’s season 3. If you haven’t seen it, hold all your calls and go and watch it now. NOW. This season, I’ve been particularly enamoured of Flaca and Maritza’s killer eyeliner. At some point, somebody mentioned “chola style”, and I had to look it up. “Chola” refers to a highly specific Mexican-American form of female representation, of which one part may be the kind of eyeliner Flaca and Maritza rock. So, I’ve been thinking about issues of appropriation in this context, particularly after reading Barbara Calderón-Douglass’s recent piece for Vice, The Folk Feminist Struggle Behind the Chola Fashion Trend; Phillip Picardi’s comments on Givenchy’s autumn 2015 “chola Victorian” runway show; and a personal response to “cholafication” on the Cultural Appropriation on Tumblr site.

-          On history:

o   @AfAmHistFail anonymously chronicles the things tourists say when touring the historic plantation that she works on. Nicole Cliffe’s interview with @AfAmHistFail for The Toast is painfully eye-opening as to how far we still have to go to achieve racial equality, and the necessity of quality history teaching to show the horrors perpetrated in the past that shape everyday experiences for large swathes of the population.

"Le Mundaneum&nbsp;à Mons (Belgique)&nbsp;" by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra. Via  Flickr .

"Le Mundaneum à Mons (Belgique) " by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra. Via Flickr.

o   It turns out, Belgium invented the (paper only) internet in 1895 in their facility Mundaneum in Mons. (With this, TinTin and Lambic beer, why don’t the Belgians rule the world?) French-language Nouvel Obs has a fascinating interview with one of Mundaneum’s directors, which unpacks the history of the place and the ovewhelming obsession of its two founders. Plus some great pictures and drawings relating to the place’s history.


-          On academic matters:

o   Peter Dayan gave a great plenary lecture at this year’s SFS discussing the role of creativity in modern language studies. He cited persuasively from Stephen Benson and Clare Connors’ (eds.) 2014 volume Creative Criticism: An Anthology and Guide, showing that creative writing is a part and parcel of our working lives. I’ve wishlisted the book myself, and am looking forward to getting my hot little hands on it.

o   Relatedly, UCL has a “Creative Critical Writing” PhD pathway which directly targets the kind of self-consciously innovative academic work that is possible if we accept that we have always been “creatives” all along.

o   Rice University’s Joshua Eyler has written a breath-taking piece, “The Grief of Pain”, which interweaves a meditation on the deeper resonances of his teaching and a reflection on the sorrow of chronic illness, the joy of boundless love for another. I’m really struck by its blend of intellectual and emotional honesty, leaving me inspired and moved. Eyler is a founder member of the Society for the Study of Disability in the Middle Ages, and edited a brilliant book on medieval disability, published in 2010.

"The Gift of Pain" by wackystuff. Via  Flickr .

"The Gift of Pain" by wackystuff. Via Flickr.

Internet Bibliography #1

I try to read the entire internet every 48 hours or so. Granted, about fifty per cent of what I mine from the digital repository gets stockpiled in Pocket or one of a kajillion tabs over three devices. What I’m saying is that I get to stuff in my own time, so I’m probably not one to follow if you want second-by-second reportage of breaking news. Hell, that’s why I decided to have an explicit “old news” tag for the blog for when I want to examine stuff that’s been floating around for weeks/months/years in online discourse. Anyway, this is the first in a regular(ish) series of posts chronicling stuff I’ve dug up and enjoyed online in the past week or so. Enjoy, dearest reader(s)!

-          On female bodies and food:

1962 Ad, Sucaryl Sweetener, with Pretty Secretary. Published in Good Housekeeping, October 1962, Vol. 155, No.&nbsp;4.&nbsp; From Flickr user&nbsp;  Classic Film  .

1962 Ad, Sucaryl Sweetener, with Pretty Secretary. Published in Good Housekeeping, October 1962, Vol. 155, No. 4. From Flickr user Classic Film.

o   Marcia Aldrich’s article “Weight” for The Butter – a reflection on her own experiences of body policing (externally mandated or otherwise), and the ways in which female weight affects everything. Quote: “Why does the subject of weight compel me? Because it connects me to others. Because it is a dynamic issue, not static, not something you solve once and for all and are done. It’s a process, it’s a lifetime objective. It intersects with other interesting and sometimes contradictory issues, and that’s interesting to me. It isn’t simple, no matter how simplified self-help approaches and diets try to make women and weight seem.”

o   Women Laughing Alone with Salad Tumblr - photographs spotlighting the aching absurdity of dieting / body control for women. Bless him, my feminist husband sent me the link to this: top work.

o   Model and comedian Sarah Hartstone has been photographed with salad, laughing and alone obviously. Her 2014 piece for The Guardian responds to the Tumblr, concisely breaking down why typical stock photographs of women, usually limited to four categories – the dieter, the multi-tasker, the mother, the sex-object – are so problematic.


-          On female self-presentation, feminism, and the patriarchy:

o   The inimitable Amy Schumer’s depressingly spot-on (and weirdly danceable)“Girl You Don’t Need Makeup” music video.

o   Alexandra Dal’s “Lady Problems” illustration, linked to from this AskMefi thread,  pictured left.

o   Megan Rosalarian Gedris’ pithy comic “Feminism is having a wardrobe malfunction”. Say it loud and proud with Gedris: Hey girl, have the whole pie.

o   Haley Motek for The Hairpin, asking “What are we doing about our facial hair?” As a woman with pale skin and mahogany hair, I welcome almost any reference to women’s body hair that drops the delicate veil and gets to the point: ladies be having the hair too!

o   Discussion of attitudes towards women shaving (or not) in a 2012 Metafilter thread, anchored around Mayim Bialik’s comments on her own decision not to shave her legs.

o   Sorta thematically linked: Soraya Roberts’ dissection of Alanis Morissette’s early incarnation as a pop princess (WTF!?), before consciously reshaping her identity and releasing (the perfection that is) Jagged Little Pill.

o   The Hairpin’s Sara Black McCulloch interviews Arabelle Sicardi, Buzzfeed beauty editor, on self-care and beauty as a means for women to create their own narratives, and overcome the restrictive banalities of everyday life. Quote “I [Sicardi] do these things because I have to survive, but survival isn’t progression—it’s the standard you need to keep. It’s like treading water, so if I don’t do self-care, then I’m just going to be stuck in my own head and detached from my own body.”


-          On history and meaning(s):

1968 Ad, Playtex Tampons, "The First-Day Tampon".&nbsp;Published in Redbook magazine, November 1968, Vol. 132, No. 1. From Flickr user&nbsp; Classic Film .

1968 Ad, Playtex Tampons, "The First-Day Tampon". Published in Redbook magazine, November 1968, Vol. 132, No. 1. From Flickr user Classic Film.

o   Ashley Fetters’ history of the tampon for The Atlantic: “The commercial tampon as we know it has been shaped and re-shaped by a myriad of invisible forces—like genuine concern for women’s wellness, certainly, but also sexism, panic, feminism, capitalism, and secrecy.”

o   The coffin of Swedish bishop, Peter Winstrup (d. 1679), contains not only his exquisitely (and uncannily) preserved mummified body, but also the remains of a five-month-old foetus. So much going on here, including: 1) the mystery of how the foetus came to be placed there; 2) the agony of the imagined mother’s situation; 3) the very material reality of the Bishop, who is recognisable as a mummy in comparison to contemporary portraits; 4) the co-location of the foetus and the Bishop as a concretisation of the hierarchy tying laity to clergy. I concur with Mefite frumiousb: “I find this an incredibly sad story, because I see a mother who somehow wanted to help her child get to Heaven, and trusted the bishop to intercede on its behalf.”

o   Karinne’s “Clothing the Low Countries” showcases research into dress in the Low Countries in the period 1480-1530.  The glossary in particular is fab.


-          On the business of academia:

Call numbers on books (Library of Congress Classification). From Flickr user&nbsp;  CCAC North Library  .

Call numbers on books (Library of Congress Classification). From Flickr user CCAC North Library.

o   L. L. Wynn’s overwhelmingly useful guide to academic publishing from 2009, including encouraging words of wisdom, a breakdown of the whole process, free resources, and sample (successful) prospectuses and cover letters. Posted on Culture Matters, a forum for current and former students and staff in the Department of Anthropology at Macquarie University, Australia with lots of good content.