Friday, 15 May 2009

Quick hit: the sad fate of burlesque

Browsing the Guardian website, I found this fantastic article by an ex-burlesque performer. As a middle-class teenager lacking confidence, the article's author was attracted to burlesque by the idea that she could boldly, powerfully exhibit her sexuality. Burlesque - or a version of it - has recently gone through a renaissance in Britain, but the author argues that what was once an artform has descended into an exploitation of young women performers.

Once a subversive art, filled with gender-bending and political satire, burlesque has simply become a version of striptease. The article's author describes her experience as a modern burlesque performer thus:

I became sick of being told that the stripping and grinding was acceptable, even ­empowering, because it was "tongue-in cheek". After months of being instructed to shut up and smile, I didn't get the joke.

This article caught my eye because I've always found the aesthetics of burlesque, and what I thought was a bold representation of female sexuality, quite appealing. Sadly, though, this artform seems to have lost its way, and now just 'serves up misogyny in a tasteful package of feathers'.


Anonymous said...

Yea, I've never really understood why burlesque is viewed acceptable by those who see pornography in general as dangerous.

I don't want to get into an argument about whether or not porn is good or bad, but the difference between burlesque and more conventional stripping seems entirely superficial - different costume styles, different use of music, but no substantial difference in the way people's bodies are represented.

I think the fact that burlesque is presented in a way that relies quite heavily on nostalgia may be part of what makes it seem non-threatening. But I personally think that's a pretty unconvincing argument.

Moz said...

In Oz there's also an element of "porn for lesbians"... Gurlesque seems to do quite well out of that.

anna c said...

I saw that article as well and found it really interesting and enlightening. I do wonder, though, if there's an element of "good old days" in - political satire and gender bending on the one hand and objectification and misogyny on the other are far from mutually exclusive, and I don't think one makes the other okay. Not that I'm saying that was the viewpoint of the author but the whole looking back thing bothers me. Like you I find burlesque appealing, but I don't think we can just say that the unattractive elements of it are "not real burlesque" or just a modern degeneration.

Hendo said...

Thanks for this. It explains my unease with the disconnect some of my friends have who are feminist, but seem to love burlesque. If it had roots that were in satire and political items, I see where it's come from.

I've never seen any burlesque in Australia that was anything but a striptease. The crap thing is that people now hire burlesque acts for regular shows and it's meant to be cool and interesting, rather than making the rest of us uncomfortable.

The hard thing to explain to people is that I'm not a prude - I'm all for open celebration of sexuality - but this just drips with the patriarchal gaze, and *that's* what makes me so goddamn uncomfortable. There are NEVER any males getting naked or sporting teeny feathery g-strings in burlesque acts. It's *always* women.