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Pop Smear

Black Is the New Pink

Go ahead, laugh at koro, but when a mysterious stranger bewitches your penis and makes it shrink into your body like a spooked turtle, don’t come crying to me. Koro, aka “penis shrinking disease,” is a mass delusion that flares up every few years among men in parts of Asia and Africa. No penises are ever actually harmed, but outbreaks are no joke. In 2001 there were killings in Benin over koro: Four suspected penis shrivelers were doused in gasoline and set on fire. In Khartoum in 2003, frantic text messages warned of a foreigner spreading koro via a hair comb that a local columnist hypothesized was really “a laser-controlled surgical robot that penetrates the skull . . . and emasculates a man!!” Fifty people were arrested on charges of fraud and sorcery before the whole dicksteria cooled down.

I know City Paper’s readership is too savvy to fall for the ol’ laser robot castration comb trick (there’s an app for that?), but the threat of koro is still omnipresent in this country. The Seattle Mariners know this when they make their rookie-est player carry a koro-bewitched backpack full of snacks to the bullpen each day. Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio knew this when he mandated koro-bewitched underwear as standard issue for prisoners under his watch. The University of Iowa knows this when the visiting team locker room at Kinnick Stadium contains koro-bewitched lockers, stalls, and urinals. Did I say “koro-bewitched”? I meant “pink.”

What’s wrong with pink? Salmon, cerise, rose, fuchsia, coral, Pantone’s Color of the Year 2011—why does this softest, sweetest, bunny-nose-est color make grown men cower, grimace, cast glance askance at an ill-chosen gift, idle nervously in the blushing Barbie aisle at the toy store, wipe their hands in mock horror when they grab the wrong shirt off the rack, or smack a toy out of their son’s hands? It can’t be pure castration anxiety—then feminist writers like Peggy Orenstein, she of the anti-princess polemic Cinderella Ate My Daughter, wouldn’t also act as if pink’s mysterious power is as contagious as pinkeye. “Is all this pink really necessary?” she grumbles to a toy fair sales rep, as if she’s disgusted to discover she’s got to buy liquid Amoxicillin (that bubble-gummy you-know-what stuff) for her toddler’s ear infection again. Even P!nk the singer needs to jot that exclamation point in there, just so no one will forget she christened herself after the craziest professional in Reservoir Dogs. Say it in a Steve Buscemi sneer: “Why am I Mister Pink?” And Lawrence Tierney spits it right back: “Because you’re a faggot.” Even these slo-mo walking fuckers fear la vie en rose. Leave them to their own devices and “you got four guys all fighting over who’s gonna be Mr. Black.”

No one fights over being Ms. Rebecca Black, oo-ooh-ooh, hoo yeah, yeah. It’s too easy to dogpile on the eye-gouging banality of the 13-year-old singer’s froth pop single “Friday” (the most-disliked video in the history of YouTube) when what’s more telling is how a song purportedly celebrating the dawning weekend is more about the plaintive passivity of girlhood, the same pinkish powerlessness Orenstein fears when she stresses to her daughter, “It’s just, honey, Cinderella doesn’t really do anything.” Black’s lyrics are the hopeless daycounting of a depressed person: “Yesterday was Thursday, Thursday/ Today is Friday, Friday . . . Tomorrow is Saturday/ and Sunday comes afterwards.” The Monotonous Horror of Rebecca Black: Robinson Crusoe hatching the days into a homemade cross, dreaming for a real Friday to rescue her on the island of her own teenage shipwreck.

There is no one more uselessly ornamental than a little girl, as far as our culture is concerned. Women may have their own burden of expectations but we demand nothing more from females age 4 to 14 than sitting quietly, looking pleasant, avoiding impregnation, and selling Thin Mints. The anti-pink backlash speaks to that powerlessness. The koro contagion we fear is not a fear of the feminine but a fear of uselessness, of counting the days in an infibulated cocoon. That nameless pink alert speaks to this fear: Make yourself matter or you’ll be the one toting snacks to the Mariners in the Hello Kitty backpack in perpetuity. Pink may be hot, deep, or shocking, but what did a mere wavelength of light ever really do to you? Separate the message from the magenta—kill girlhood’s uselessness, not its de facto heraldic crest, and save your dark sarcasm for the things that really hamstring little girls.

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