April 25, 2016

"Beyoncé... walks through the street smashing car windows with a baseball bat, wearing a fluffy canary-yellow dress."

Writes Carrie Battan in The New Yorker, which isn't as punctilious about grammar as it once was.

Beyoncé smashes car windows with a baseball bat, wearing a fluffy canary-yellow dress. Why the bat had to wear a dress, I'll never know.



I haven't watched the new Beyoncé video and I have a low tolerance for Battan's effusive, messy prose. But I do see that Beyoncé's car destruction expresses her anger about her husband's cheating on her, and then in the end, they reconcile: "'My torturer became my remedy,' she says, 'so we’re gonna heal.'" What happened to the old "feminist" label? According to Battan:
Last time around, Beyoncé announced herself to the world as a feminist. This time, she takes that label, turns it inward and intensifies it. “Lemonade” declares that misogyny is at its most potent and complex within the bonds of love.
Takes that label, turns it inward and intensifies it... So embracing your "torturer" is the new, inward, intensified feminism?

ADDED: Mollie Hemingway writes:
One of the lines in the album is “He only want me when I’m not on there / He better call Becky with the good hair.” So cut to the next morning when the very woman rumored to have been Jay Z’s mistress posts on Instagram that she has “good hair don’t care.” Queen Bey’s devoted fans immediately took after Rachel Roy — and, for good measure, celebrity chef Rachel Ray as well.

77 comments:

pm317 said...

Now he will be her slave out of guilt and humiliation, I think that is the empowerment they are talking about. Until he says screw you and leaves her if there are no other strong co-dependencies.

Sebastian said...

"What happened to the old "feminist" label?" Whaddaya mean? I thought feminism was the doctrine that women are human. Isn't it human to embrace one's torturer? Aren't heteronormative heterosexual relationships just Stockholm syndrome writ large?

Clayton Hennesey said...

Beyoncé smashes car windows with a baseball bat, wearing a fluffy canary-yellow dress. Why the bat had to wear a dress, I'll never know.

Professor Althouse, had the author not inserted the comma immediately after bat, you would be correct. The comma functions as an implied (while), rendering "smashes car windows with a baseball bat (while) wearing a fluffy canary-yellow dress" as a compound predicate.

Without the comma "baseball bat" becomes the subject of the simple predicate immediately following it, "wearing a fluffy canary-yellow dress"

David Begley said...

What kind of idiot would cheat on that woman?

Quaestor said...

I hereby promote Grammar Nazi Clayton Hennesey to the rank of Obersturmbannführer. Congratulations.

Barry Dauphin said...

Interesting. The review were on NPR claimed this new album was unrelated to her personal life.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Remember kids, "empowerment" means whatever you want it to mean, even if those meanings are plainly contradictory and nonsensical!

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

a song, “Sorry,” on which Beyoncé sings: “Me and my ladies sip my D’USSÉ cup / I don’t give a fuck / Chucking my deuces up / Suck on my balls / Pause / I had enough.”

Makes me sad that someone so immensely vocally talented, and who used to be such a lady, sings such trash.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Smashing up a car in a pop music video? It's been done before...way back in 1992.

Owen said...

Prof. Althouse: checking sloppy prose and logic, so the rest of us don't have to. I for one am grateful. In particular I appreciate her effort to make sense of the befuddled feminism in Beyoncé's music vid.

Quaestor said...

As for the joke à la Captain Spaulding's pajamas — meh, you had to be there....

Laslo Spatula said...

I see HoodlumDoodlum beat me to it.

From Wiki:

"In the original version, Jackson is seen smashing windows,[destroying a car and causing an inn (called the "Royal Arms") to explode. Jackson later apologized saying that the violent and suggestive behavior was an interpretation of the animal instinct of a black panther, and MTV and other music video networks removed the last four minutes from subsequent broadcasts. To make the vandalism and violence more understandable to viewers, an altered version was produced, adding racist graffiti to the windows Jackson breaks..."

I seem to remember a lot of negativity directed at Jackson (hence the removal of the material).

Times have changed.

I am Laslo.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

“My daddy warned me about men like you,” she says, drawing a complicated line of pain and distrust that bridges generations.

Coulda married some nice architect or something.

jr565 said...

lemonade.... Thst cool refreshing drink.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Misogyny is at its most complex within the bounds of love. That's either stupid or meaningless, no? What isn't "at its most complex within the bounds of love?"

What does Beyonce do to "intensify" the label feminist (a label she applied to herself)? How is she turning the label (which, again, she already applied to herself) inward?

How much was the author paid for these profundities? It reads like something your avg. comparative literature major could churn out in a half hour. Did I choose the wrong career?!

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

Interesting. The review were on NPR claimed this new album was unrelated to her personal life.

I wondered about this---is it pure speculation that this album or spoken word performance or whatever is actually biographical? Because she's singing this story doesn't mean it's necessarily her story, or anyone's.

wildswan said...

The baseball bat wore a yellow dress because it wanted to use the women's bathroom because it was a glove called Catlyn in its own mind.

Ann Althouse said...

"Professor Althouse, had the author not inserted the comma immediately after bat, you would be correct. The comma functions as an implied (while), rendering "smashes car windows with a baseball bat (while) wearing a fluffy canary-yellow dress" as a compound predicate."

It's a misplaced modifier. If the dress was intended to be on the baseball bat, there would still be a comma there, as in: She looked beautiful, wearing that dress. I wouldn't correct that to: She looked beautiful wearing that dress. An anti-comma editor might leave that comma out, but it's conventional to have a comma there.

Do you think that if Groucho's joke had a comma, it would be wrong to picture the elephant wearing the pajamas? "One morning, I shot an elephant, in my pajamas."

MayBee said...

Weren't we just hearing about how Beyonce and Jay-Z sang some song and made marriage so hot?
I do not get the Beyonce adoration. I certainly don't get why people would look to her to learn life lessons. Is there anyone who gives off more of a vibe that she does not want to have to mix with common people?

Ann Althouse said...

"What kind of idiot would cheat on that woman?"

The same kind of husband who cheats on any wife.

What do you know of what it's like being married to her? Your comment is based, I assume, on what she looks like, and not even what she looks like around the house, what she looks like in full makeup and wearing expensive wigs and lighted and photographed in the most flattering manner possible.

boycat said...

Did you seriously get side-tracked into believing the bat was wearing a yellow dress, or were you able to finally suss it out?

Quaestor said...

I follow one of Youtube's suggested links to an outtakes vid from the "Bet Your Life" show.

What was it that Freud had to say about cigars?

AprilApple said...

American pop culture is pathetic.

CWJ said...

I suppose that "On the left on the left. Everything you own is in a box on the left." is no longer operative.

Quaestor said...

"One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas."

Today it would be "One morning I shot an elephant in dental scrubs... How the elephant got through dental school I'll never know."

MayBee said...

IF that's how Rachel Roy responded, I would say she absolutely hates Beyonce.

I Callahan said...

We live in the Stupid Times...

Laslo Spatula said...

Could make the next Jay-Z album interesting.

To loosely recall the old Letterman 'Ike Turner' quote:

Wimmens be thinkings too much.

I am Laslo.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

I thought Beyoncé was okay enough in the last Austin Powers movie.

Quaestor said...

Unlike all other Homininae, females of the species Homo sapiens are the only apes that respond to male promiscuity.

Clayton Hennesey said...

It's a misplaced modifier. If the dress was intended to be on the baseball bat, there would still be a comma there, as in: She looked beautiful, wearing that dress. I wouldn't correct that to: She looked beautiful wearing that dress. An anti-comma editor might leave that comma out, but it's conventional to have a comma there.

Very well, let's examine your example.

First of all, "if the dress was intended to be on the baseball bat", the example wouldn't be "She looked beautiful, wearing that dress", it would be "The baseball bat looked beautiful, wearing that dress".

Second, in both simple subject-predicate examples you offer the comma functions as both an implied and, given the simple subject-predicate construction, unnecessary (while):

"She looked beautiful (while) wearing that dress."
"The baseball bat looked beautiful (while) wearing that dress."

In the actual New Yorker sentence you criticize, however, the comma first disrupts the potentially silly compound predicate object "a baseball bat wearing a fluffy canary-yellow dress", leaving only the nude baseball bat as the simple predicate object with which Beyonce smashes the car window, then in doing so signals to us that it, the comma, is serving as the implied (while) to assign the fluffy canary-yellow dress to Beyonce rather than to the baseball bat.

The original sentence was unambiguous to me, but have you brought your analysis directly to the attention of the New Yorker?

Old Camera Guy said...

We need a famine. Stat.

damikesc said...

Nothing says "feminist" like taking a cheating man back. Really. Totally shows empowerment or shit.

What kind of idiot would cheat on that woman?

Behind every pretty girl are several guys tired of dealing with her bullshit. My ex-fiancée was the spitting image of Demi Moore when she woke up in the morning. I left her. Because she was fucking insane and I learned of her infidelity.

Paco Wové said...

"we’re gonna heal"

What about the cars?

Laslo Spatula said...

Trust me, I'm a Pimp and I give Hova mad respect, but you can't let your bitch get all up like that. A Pimp who won't use the Pimp Hand looks weak on the street, you feel me...?

I know she's your Baby Mama and all, but you gotta say "Baby Mama Cut the Drama." Just because your Man likes to have a few slices of other pies don't mean you can disrespect him like that...

Hova: you let her start thinking of herself as Queen and of course this shit gonna happen. She ain't been spending enough time on her knees, if you know what I mean: Face Down Ass Up don't give her the time to be rhyming that shit...

You gotta show your Steel, Hova: make her have to wear her sunglasses inside for awhile, if you get what I'm saying. Now's not the time to get all Vanilla Ice on us: us Pimps need you to make the Stand, or else we get these other bitches thinking themselves ideas...

Remember what you said in "Big Pimpin":

"You know I - thug em, fuck em, love em, leave em
Cause I don't fuckin need em
Take em out the hood, keep em lookin good
But I don't fuckin feed em
First time they fuss I'm breezin
Talkin bout, "What's the reasons?"
I'm a pimp in every sense of the word, bitch
Better trust than believe em
In the cut where I keep em
til I need a nut, til I need to beat the guts
Then it's, beep beep and I'm pickin em up"

Time to Gangsta Up, my Friend...

I am Laslo.

Chuck said...

Professor Althouse is correct. And she is further correct.

It was a poorly constructed sentence. And the New Yorker under William Shawn (and with E.B. White on staff) was famous for serving as a virtual textbook on avoiding such poor construction. It is shocking to see how far the magazine's editorial standards have fallen; as shocking as the leftward political tilt in the post-Shawn era.

Did you know, Professor, that we both share our early training as writers at the University of Michigan with Shawn?

jacksonjay said...

That was Beyonce? I saw that shit on Drudge and I thought it was Big Bird bustin up the Hood! Turns out it's Michelle's BFF and role model for her daughters? Well, OK then, takes all kinds.

#OnlyBlackLivesMatter

Rumpletweezer said...

What kind of idiot would cheat on that woman?

Ron White would say that Jay-Z probably gets propositioned every day. If, out of a hundred propositions, he gives in to one or two, that demonstrates an admirable level of self-discipline. It's the unattractive guy who gives in to the first, and only, proposition he gets that has no self-discipline.

Franklin said...

Why do people think this album or song is "personal" about Beyonce? The lyrics and music were written by like 10 different writers, just like every modern pop song.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

"Good hair" is racist.
Wiki: Discrimination Based on Hair Texture

jacksonjay said...


The real world just continues to baffle the hell outta some people. Turns out, a bad boy acts bad and rocks stars die from drug use. Damn, who knew?

HoodlumDoodlum said...

I haven't watched the video--does she at any point menacingly ask someone why they're eyeing her lemon drink?

MayBee said...

Doesn't Jay-Z write a lot of her songs?

Franklin said...

"Lemonade" - writers: Khalil Joseph Knowles Malcolm Nichols Melina Matsoukas Todd Tourso Dikayl Rimmasch Jonas Åkerlund Mark Romanek

Franklin said...

Super intimate and personal account of her marriage with 7 co-writers.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

MayBee said...
Doesn't Jay-Z write a lot of her songs?


Shockingly sexist, MayBee; what a terrible question to even ask! It really seems like you need to intensify and internalize the label feminist. I mean, I'm not saying you have to smash up some cars...but maybe check the ol' closet--see if you have any fluffy yellow dresses and go from there.

wendybar said...

The dumbing down of America...Music of today sucks....

Brando said...

"What kind of idiot would cheat on that woman?"

She might be a nightmare in private. And Jay Z, his looks aside, is probably attractive to a lot of women so he has his options.

But I do wonder what everyone seems to find so admirable about this woman. I mean, nothing wrong with being a famous and attractive singer, but the idol worship is a bit off putting.

Birches said...

Jay-Z and Beyonce are laughing all the way to the bank. No way this album is about them but they know what will sell.

Birches said...

Jay-Z's philandering is no different than any other famous man or professional athlete. My guess is that for both the men and the women it's hear no evil, see no evil, we'll pretend there's no evil.

madAsHell said...

85% of the population is appalled by the behavior in the video. The other 15% embrace such behavior.
Living up to the stereotype.

Smilin' Jack said...

""Beyoncé... walks through the street smashing car windows with a baseball bat, wearing a fluffy canary-yellow dress.""
Writes Carrie Battan in The New Yorker, which isn't as punctilious about grammar as it once was....It's a misplaced modifier.


No, it's a participial phrase used as an adverb:

The present participle, or participial phrases (clauses) formed from it, are used as follows:...

adverbially, the subject being understood to be the same as that of the main clause: He shot the man, killing him.


I would think a lawyer would need to be able to distinguish "He shot the man, killing him" from "He shot the man killing him", but obviously law professors aren't as punctilious about grammar as they once were.

Mary Beth said...

I don't know that much about Beyoncé. Am I supposed to infer that since she made Lemonade, life has handed her lemons?

whswhs said...

I don't think your reading makes sense. If the comma were deleted, "wearing a fluffy canary-yellow dress" would clearly apply to the baseball bat. But putting in the comma allows it to refer further back, because the pause separates it from "baseball bat" and allows "smashing" and "wearing" to be read as parallel verbs.

Besides, suppose we take the sentence your way. How do we fix it? If I write, "Beyoncé . . . walks through the street wearing a fluffy canary-yellow dress, smashing car windows with a baseball bat," your parsing will have me asking why her dress is smashing car windows. You can't win with two participial phrases! Obviously one of them has to come first.

FullMoon said...

Ann Althouse said... [hush]​[hide comment]

"What kind of idiot would cheat on that woman?"

The same kind of husband who cheats on any wife.

What do you know of what it's like being married to her? Your comment is based, I assume, on what she looks like, and not even what she looks like around the house, what she looks like in full makeup and wearing expensive wigs and lighted and photographed in the most flattering manner possible.


Men and women cheat because it makes them feel good. Maybe a man has great sex with his beautiful wife, but the ugly secretary laughs at his jokes and remembers his birthday. Maybe the wife is perfectly happy with her Mercedes and nice home but feels her husband takes her for granted, while the guy at the gym lights up when he sees her. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a great example. Had an affair and a child with his housekeeper. Mafia Godfather Paul Castellano was in love with his frumpy housekeeper also. These powerful men had a lot to lose, but the attention they received from average women made the risk worthwhile.



Bill said...

She seemed a class act until Jay-Z got hold of her.

Robert Cook said...

I've have never had any interest in Beyonce, but I happened by accident to catch her hour long "video album" LEMONDADE last night. It's fucking brilliant! It's brutally raw and honest about the pain of being betrayed by one's lover, while also being quite beautifully done. It's amazing!

Robert Cook said...

"What kind of idiot would cheat on that woman?"

This just illustrates that the most exotic pleasure, the most beautiful woman, the most exciting experience...becomes ordinary and routine with familiarity.

Robert Cook said...

"Your comment is based, I assume, on what she looks like, and not even what she looks like around the house, what she looks like in full makeup and wearing expensive wigs and lighted and photographed in the most flattering manner possible."

Photographs of Beyonce with little or no make-up reveal that she's actually more beautiful au naturale.

William said...

Is there any available evidence that musical ability is indicative of wisdom and harmony in other human endeavours? From what I can see there's, if anything, a negative correlation. Every musical star should post a picture of Phil Spector next to their drawing room mirror. He was very talented. In some ways, he's a best case scenario in that he will not die young.

buwaya said...

I normally don't care, but I recall Beyonce from the Mike Myers movie.

Rachel Roy (never heard of before, very pretty), the femme fatale here, is unusual in that she is an older woman (41, and a mother of 2) vs Beyonce (34, mother of 1), its usually the other way. Also unusual in that Roy is Indian (actually Eurasian).

Also interesting is that all of them are very wealthy

There is something more interesting here than simple switching to a more attractive woman.

SeanF said...

Althouse needs to ask herself why she thought the bat was wearing the dress, but didn't think the street was smashing cars.

Laslo Spatula said...

Perhaps this is a 'live' version of "A Star Is Born" playing out.

Older star has passed his peak, and on a slow slide down.

Helps younger star on her way up (rapping on her songs to give her cred).

Younger star keeps rising and rising, eclipsing him.

When Beyonce sings Streisand's "Evergreen" we'll know for sure.

I am Laslo.

Nichevo said...

The confusion is understandable. Who thinks of Beyonce as beautiful?


One of the lines in the album is “He only want me when I’m not on there / He better call Becky with the good hair.”

Sorry, Beyonce's hair is not processed within an inch of its life? Really?

FullMoon said...

amikesc said... [hush]​[hide comment]

Nothing says "feminist" like taking a cheating man back. Really. Totally shows empowerment or shit.

What kind of idiot would cheat on that woman?

Behind every pretty girl are several guys tired of dealing with her bullshit. My ex-fiancée was the spitting image of Demi Moore when she woke up in the morning. I left her. Because she was fucking insane and I learned of her infidelity.


You were engaged, living together, and she fucked somebody else? Why? Was she "insane" before you got engaged,and you liked it, or did you drive her to it? ? No offense brother, but you might want to spend a little time introspecting, so to speak.
The all-encompassing
Behind every pretty girl are several guys tired of dealing with her bullshit is a cliche for losers and crybabies. Most women, pretty or not, are decent people.

Brando said...

"Behind every pretty girl are several guys tired of dealing with her bullshit is a cliche for losers and crybabies. Most women, pretty or not, are decent people."

I never really read it that way. I took the comment to mean that we never know what goes on behind closed doors, so whenever we think "how could he (or she) leave that person?" we don't really know what they're like in private. It doesn't mean every woman really sucks so we should be glad we're not stuck with them (the classic sour grapes idea).

Titus said...

I know I am supposed to care about this stuff, and this is right in my wheel barrel, but I am just not into Beyonce.

tits.

EDH said...

But I do see that Beyoncé's car destruction expresses her anger about her husband's cheating on her...

Is it Jay-Z's car she smashes or somebody else's?

Makes me think of Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats." At lease she confined her vandalism to "his" truck.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WaSy8yy-mr8

That I dug my key into the side
Of his pretty little souped-up four-wheel drive,
Carved my name into his leather seats...
I took a Louisville slugger to both headlights,
Slashed a hole in all four tires...
Maybe next time he'll think before he cheats.

EDH said...

Titus said...

..but I am just not into Beyonce.

I find her performances kinda boring.

Repeatedly she stops and freezes and stares at the audience while they are supposed to cheer in adulation.

Give me a break!

FullMoon said...

Brando said... [hush]​[hide comment]

"Behind every pretty girl are several guys tired of dealing with her bullshit is a cliche for losers and crybabies. Most women, pretty or not, are decent people."

I never really read it that way. I took the comment to mean that we never know what goes on behind closed doors, so whenever we think "how could he (or she) leave that person?" we don't really know what they're like in private. It doesn't mean every woman really sucks so we should be glad we're not stuck with them (the classic sour grapes idea).

Gonna go out on a limb here and hypothesize that if every woman would suck, less husbands would stray.

Brian McKim & Traci Skene said...

This differs from the ludicrous "Rebel Without A Cause"how? Every generation needs some sort of ridiculous work. How far we've come.

Jeffrey said...

In English, the use of the comma before the participial phrase indicates that it is non-restrictive, which means it's extra, non-identifying information. These non-restrictive participial phrases are often marked as dangling, but in practice we often use them in writing and have no problem figuring out whether they are modifying the subject or the object of the sentence, so here I agree with Clayton Hennessey and not Ms. Althouse.

If anyone is interested in a different way of analyzing English sentences, you could take a look at a book I've written. If you're tired of trying to figure out if a sentence is compound or compound-complex, you might want to take a look. Chapter 4 covers some of the variants related to the sentence Ann highlighted.

The 4-Slot English Sentence.

Phil 3:14 said...

Wow, I'm lost in all of the possibilities of Cookie being a Beyonce fan. This could be a great movie directed by David Lynch

Phil 3:14 said...

Titus said "but I am just not into Beyonce."

You've made what you're "into" immensely clear through your many cogent comments.

No need to explain

Mrs Whatsit said...

Grammatical or not, a sentence that inspires this kind of heated discussion over a comma should never have been written in the first place. Or, once written, should have been promptly recognized and rewritten to eliminate the problem. Maybe "Wearing a fluffy canary-yellow dress, Beyonce smashes car windows with a baseball bat" would do it. Or maybe not -- all those adjectives are a weak way to kick off a sentence.

The main thing is that there was a time when a sentence like that would not have dared to show its face in the New Yorker. Long gone now, never to return.

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