There's a lot I have to say about what came up in yesterday's post. Those who asked for a longer essay might get it, when I have more time, which may be when I'm dead. But I think I should at least clarify a few things in the meantime:
-- I was, in fact, not thinking only of or even primarily about burlesque.
-- Burlesque is one of the tropes I'm thinking of, but again, not the only one.
-- Women get objectified. Period. Whether we're dancing on a box at Pop Roxx or are on a stage at Hubba Hubba Revue. The difference? How we use that space, how we subvert that objectification. I don't think it's accurate to say that burlesque is just about naked girls.
-- I was thinking also of some of the reasons I didn't go to the Femme Conference a couple years ago--I don't feel particularly reflected in that identity as I've seen it defined, discussed, or presented.
-- I remember going to the Great Dickens Fair with whittles and being disappointed during The French Postcards that the whole theme was about imperialism and exploitation of the "exotics" of the East. I mean, yes, in Victorian London, that would have made sense, but honestly--at this point, can't people come up with something smarter, wittier, more subversive, especially in a national climate where people from the Middle East and South Asia are already being exoticized and dehumanized?
-- One of the problems with things retro is that shit used to be a lot more blatantly racist and sexist. So, if you can't find a way around that, you might want to leave the past in the past.
-- I'm thinking of conversations I've had with trans women about other trans women who they didn't think "worked hard enough" to pass--by not doing things I don't do, not because I don't "have" to or haven't been told to but because that's not how I choose to construct my identity as a woman, especially when it means denying my identity as a black woman.
-- I participated in the Big Bad Blond Wig Bar Crawl... in the Marina a few months ago. It was fun, and as much as I thought I'd feel like a punchline wearing a Marilyn Monroe wig, I didn't. I rocked that shit.
-- And while I respect Dorothy Dandridge and Josephine Baker for what they accomplished when they accomplished it, I also am aware of the sacrifices they made. I don't want to straighten my hair, lighten my skin, or wear a skirt of bananas. And in 2008, I shouldn't have to.
-- I really, really, really wish Harlem Shake Burlesque were still an active troupe. I do look forward to seeing how Alotta Boutte interprets the 80s theme at the next HHR.
The more I think about it, the more comes up. I've not been on the bandwagon of Amy Winehouse haters, but in the context of what tropes are available to black women in a retro sense, I think it is striking that she gets as much credit for authenticity.
This is a bit off the subject, but in terms of retro nostalgia I think it fits. Back, geez, probably nearly 20 years ago Major League Baseball started really getting into their retro uniform games where both teams would wear jerseys from some year chosen by the home team (usually to commemorate a championship or a particularly great team). Mostly this was a marketing thing... a new jersey to sell to fans. It didn't always apply, but sometimes the team being commemorated was well before Jackie Robinson integrated babseball.
I wrote (actual letters! Before the internet!) to all the local sports columnists asking them to do a piece on how the Black players felt about commemorating a time that might have very different meanings for them. No one took me up on that idea, but it did really make me think about the ways in which retro fashion and nostlagia are quite as benign as they were supposed to be. (These days they tend to find a few Negro League players to honor at the same time to balance things out)
Anyways, just saying I appreciate your posts on this. I hope that makes sense.
It's really not off-topic AT ALL. This is definitely part of my queasiness with throw-backs to the "good old days" because if you're a person of color, I bet you a shiny nickel, those were actually your bad old days. Some of us can't look back with any sense of nostalgia, just fear.
there's something about subverting the robert palmer formula that's so interesting in this case. and making them all look the same, but those "same" elements aren't necessarily mainstream? definitely hangs on the empowerfulment/objectification fence, but still, i keep thinking about it (no pun intended) (and i'd love it more w/out fedde le grand but w/e)
This makes me REALLY appreciate the time I spent in Boston performing with DKSG (Drag Queens, Sluts, and Goddesses), the Queer Women of Color troupe. Some of it was burlesque, some was strip tease, some was more parody some was pure acting. Virtually none of it relied on the classic icons that would otherwise narrow it to the white ideal. It was a lot more creative then that, and definitely more subversive.
for my part, i'm bothered less by burlesque that is at least honest and explicit about the pleasure in watching a certain kind of sexualized display, and more by burlesque or other performance that imagines itself as somehow subversive when it isn't. i feel like a lot of the shows i've seen at the DNA take scantily-clad women and add some kind of theme, and voila, it's supposed to be interesting. like the fourth of july one, where the acts added uncle-sam and red-white-blue iconography to pasties and thongs, as if sexualizing American jingoism is some kind of social critique. it just reminds me too much of the fantasy that our nation is prudish and explicit displays of sexualized performance constitute undermining certain norms, when often they just reproduce the dominant gender order.
anyhow, the thing i often think about for myself is how i feel about the fact that i actively enjoy dressing up in revealing clothing and prancing around semi-publicly. that kind of display and performance is definitely enjoyable -- so am i just participating in my own sexualized domination? does it help that my partner dresses up outrageously with me, or that i primarily do so in the context of an "alternative" scene which allows for a somewhat greater range of gender identity and sexual expression? i certainly wish there were more men dressing up creatively at the DNA, though i don't think that alone would address all the issues at hand.
I think HHR sometimes (if not always) manages to indulge in that pleasure and be subversive, if for no other reason than the bodies on that stage are not necessarily what "everyone" thinks of when they think sexy. And beyond that, I've also seen a wide range of talent, humor, and intelligence in some acts.
And yes, I guess I would like to know how you reconcile go-go dancing with your critique of burlesque. I know that for me, go-go dancing at MEAT is a very different experience as both a participant and an observer than go-go dancing elsewhere. Some of this is perhaps the ironic premise of the night in general, the women I met when I first started dancing with Poor Impulse Control, the sense of safety at that particular club, and the ways in which we subvert the go-go trope in big stompy boots and blood splattered clothing and "fuck you I'll shove a knife in your face" attitudes.
But if we really break it down? We're still just half-naked girls on boxes, same as at Ruby Skye.
Right... but I also get objectified when I'm not on a box. It happens when I'm on the train, at the grocery store or laundromat, or sitting in a park, regardless of what I'm wearing. That doesn't mean taking off all my clothes instantly becomes a revolutionary act, but neither does keeping them on.
"I'm thinking of conversations I've had with trans women about other trans women who they didn't think "worked hard enough" to pass--by not doing things I don't do, not because I don't "have" to or haven't been told to but because that's not how I choose to construct my identity as a woman, especially when it means denying my identity as a black woman."
I promise to shut up after this but seriously darlin'....Essay!
Yeah... yeah... and just to make it worse, I would also like to hear your thoughts on the lack of exposure of succesful historical black people that were not in the entertainment business or sports figures. Is it OK, as a black woman, to be proud of Madame CJ Walker?
Only half joking...
Maggie Walker started St. Luke Penny Savings in 1903. Now known as Consolidated Bank and Trust, it has 316 million dollars in assets.