On Burlesque

graduate

I used to think the internet existed for women to shout “I’m pretty!” into the void. Wishful thinking:  clearly the internet exists for women to ask: “Am I pretty?”

The same could be said for the material world itself, as anyone who has ever consumed social media or witnessed the act of an adult human who is not a sex worker wearing a dress that doesn’t quite cover her vagina will attest. Last night, I was cajoled into attending a burlesque event, which proved to be an extended, IRL selfie.

By definition, the history of  of burlesque includes an element of irony or parody. Unless these twenty-something women (all white) writhing around on a bar stage in suede boots and acrylic minis intended a knowing wink at and challenge of the commodification that women so eagerly assign to themselves, I missed any ounce of ironic intent.

As a generation of women raised post-riot grrrl and instead deep in the throes of the TRL era’s boring stock version of “sex”, we all just want our moment of Britney. That is, the blankest, most sexually accessible version of ourselves to be flattened on to the weak imaginations of as many men as our bustlines will allow.  Even as women born in the 1980s in one of the most culturally liberal democracies on the planet, we still seek validation as successful beings primarily through the physical, specifically the body.
Perhaps most curiously, once  the Catholic school collar/ fuzzy bra/”sexy” signifier was removed from the adult sentient human by herself in front of a crowd of half-drunks in a bar on a Monday night, all nipples were x-ed with black electrical tape (perhaps in current vogue thanks to the current grande dame of boring sexualism, Gaga). Does a bar need a license for nipples, like it needs one to serve alcohol on its patio? The actual sexuality of the female, then, becomes not something she owns but something that’s regulated by someone who is not her, thus able to be bought and sold. The nipples concealed somehow seem the least subversive thing of all– a rule followed, the final vestige of female nakedness just another secret kept to better tantalize the male. Radical, indeed. Anyone who didn’t yawn their way through has watched far less MTV than I, and are perhaps that much better off.

mass violence: simulated, real, and the inability to tell the difference.

In The Dark Knight Rises’ unsettling centerpiece, Bane hijacks a stadium of screaming Gothamites as the city crumbles completely around them, resulting in a sort of orgasmic visual dénouement that only a $230 million  superhero movie would attempt.  Sitting in the (police-guarded) theatre watching this scene, I wondered why I’d paid to feel so uncomfortable: terror as entertainment seems an indulgence when people around the world experience such scenes of decadent bloodshed (or at least the fear of such) as their daily reality. I often get into arguments with friends and acquaintances over issues of cinematic violence; I’m preternaturally squeamish and unconditioned to the gory trauma, both visual and psychological, that serve as most Hollywood blockbusters’ most alluring selling point (the general consensus is that no one else seems to mind).

On Marathon Monday in Boston, I thought back to Bane and his takeover of Gotham during a football game. I wasn’t in Copley Square, but instead in my kitchen about a mile away from downtown. Cryptic text messages from my mom and a friend alerted me to the bombs at the marathon; phone service was down.  My stomach turned with the proximity of the danger, and then again at the sickening familiarity of what has now become a sort of regular occurrence of life in America: unnatural disaster in some form, a shooting, a bombing, a tragedy. Earlier this year, the city was shut down for Nemo, and before that, Sandy. In order to most effectively live in America now, should we cautiously expect random acts of terror much in the same way that we anticipate inclement weather? Bring an umbrella;  get ready to sprint from a crowd?

And within minutes of the news breaking, texts pour in from friends and relatives, close and long-lost, neighboring and the farthest-reaching. Far from the scene but close enough, the events themselves are experienced almost exclusively in digital format: the ever-tactful Huffington Post with their sans-serif shout BOSTON MAYHEM, controversial tweets and well-meaning but ultimately useless hash-tags (#prayforboston: thanks or something).

In my crude search for some semblance of a live feed, I accidentally, regrettably, listened to footage from the first blast. A pop, a beat, then the screams: I’ve seen this one before. We’re so inured to such scenes that it becomes nearly impossible to discern the simulacrum from the original.

Mayor Menino recommended that everyone stay inside for the evening. Never before have I been unable to leave the house for fear of my own safety in the wake of a disaster that doesn’t involve three feet of snow, which is indeed a luxury. From inside the house as the sun set, I listened as the birds chirped almost perversely, and reggaeton returned to the street in the usual passing blurs. Tweets turned back to regularly scheduled selfies and hopefully we can leave the house again tomorrow.

punk and other demons.

My dearest subscriber[s] to Emily Magazine and other stalkers,

I know you’re like OH GOD WHERE R THOSE POSTS THAT SHED NEW LITE ON THE HUMAN CONDITION WAT HAPPEND 2 HER etc etc. There’s no good answer other than the fact that I can’t ever finish what I start whether it’s  a sandwich or Anna Karenina, plus I’ve been RLLY busy feeling weird about Franco on “Freaks and Geeks” and making these:

awesome

Last night I went to a “punk show” in a sweaty donation-run venue; cigarettes were smoked two at a time by the trombonist (tru punx, that) (inside, I might add, like it was 2001 in Tulsa) and some cartoon porn played behind them. Usual Tuesday shit.  There were three bands, including the newest project of Das Racist’s Kool AD, Party Animal. Somewhere between the first and last bands, that gnawing little voice that sometimes strikes when I go to shows crawled into my cranium: where are the girls with something to say? [And before you’re like, OH GOD HERE SHE GOES AGAIN, let me just say that if that thought exists in your mind, you are already extinct, the world doesn’t need you anymore and is waiting for you to end. (Tuff love.) ]Anecdotally, over the past ten years, I’ve been to hundreds of shows: let’s estimate I’ve seen about 200 bands that average 4 people each. That’s 800 people, and I’d guess about 20 to 30 of those people have been female. And not because of any vendetta of my own against female performers, but based mostly on a wide survey of both fringe and popular acts of multiple genres over the past decade.

In Lester Bangs‘ 1979 piece “White Noise Supremacists,” he calls bullshit on what he perceived as overt racism in his own circle, the New York underground. He does, however, manage to call Nico a “cunt,” while maintaining that sexism in the scene was “even more pervasive.”

Thanks to the iron fist of prep school set in a cultural vacuum,  my own introduction to a scene of any sort came woefully late: I was a sophomore in college and new to Burlington, Vermont (but of course, the reason prep school exists at all is to keep its minions’ eye on the prize of Adam Smith). My new best friend Meredith was a product of New England punk the way I was of Mid-Atlantic radio, and she knew a band who described their sound as falling in the middle of Bad Brains and Cat Stevens. After our first meeting at the state fair riding the ferris wheel, putting our lives in the hands of the drunk carnies blaring Master of Puppets, we began spending Friday nights with them. Our evenings became marathons of Scattergories, Genesee Cream Ale and Emilio Estevez’s greatest hits. We went to their shows at 242 Main, an all-ages venue in Burlington (initiated in the 80s by then-mayor Bernie Sanders, the last governmental paragon of the Radical Left, currently one of the only senators who finds time in his schedule to acknowledge wealth disparity and corporate oligarchy in this country). On Halloween, Meredith and I paid tribute to Marc Bolan and David Bowie by dressing as our imagined cover band, Peppers & Milk (named for Bowie’s alleged diet during “Young Americans”-era coke fiending). At 242, Meredith had a literal pissing contest in the co-ed bathroom with a guy in a Captain’s hat (who suffered from performance anxiety).

The guys, raised in a small punk microcosm were like no one I’d met before, and became my own standard of males my age. Everyone else at school lived for snowboarding, Phish and weed. Around the Scattergories board, a T was rolled, and one of the prompts was some variation of a come-on. “Ten, like perfect ten,” said one of the guys. “But that’s stupid and sexist,” he continued. The next guy, who we didn’t know as well, was up. “I put tits comma bitch,” he said without missing a beat. We all erupted in laughter. Over another game and another case of Gennessee, a guy who was visiting from out of town mused, “Well girls can’t be punks because girls are just girls.” Meredith WHOA-WHOA-WHOA-ed her indignation. Later our friend told us he was just quoting a song. But the question remained: what were we? Friends, fans, audience members? Just girls?

Discussing this over $10 manhattans with a friend last night between sets (punk as fuk), she posited that it’s not “part of the female ego” to get up in front of a room full of people/ the world and express oneself. It’s a theory impossible to truly assess, but there’s  something inherently imbalanced about the cultural constant of woman as spectator. In our (ahem) post-punk world, why is it still radical for a woman to demand an audience? If that’s the general cultural consensus, punk failed. so. fucking. hard., and we’re as provincial as Joanie and Chachi. The baddest female I’ve ever seen in person was at a basement metal show in Portland, 2009: all denim, leopard undercut, shredded like a fucking boss. Pimply audience bros didn’t stand a chance.

I’m tending to side with Kate Carraway on this one, who listed “Trying” under her list of “What Girls Hate”:

“…I was listing on a scrap of paper the bands that my guy friends have started (which number infinity) and the number of bands that my girl friends have started (two). I think I am just going to radicalize myself and my choices and stop assessing and advising on how a lot of women are too uncomfortable and too threatened by doing anything/having an opinion/saying anything to be creative or have a good time or whatever because there is too much to it and I feel like being a bitch about it makes me a ‘Smile!’ guy but with reverse intentions. I do have this idea that instead of telling each other to “S a D” we should say ‘D some S.'”

Obviously I’m another useless idealist who dreams of a world built from punk shows where humans of all sorts share their voices and jump around and everyone high fives everyone else. Party Animal’s battle cry is a song called “Inappropriate Boner”: maybe it’s that fear that keeps the keys to the stage in the boy’s pockets.

In like [ ]

poolside

Let’s get caffeinated and pretend we’re going to “work on things” and then read this instead.  And all of these.

And, breaking: the secret to eternal youth is moving every 2 years to new basement shows full of 23 year olds. (Not necessarily an endorsement.)

Spending Valentine’s Day listening to friends complain about their paramours makes one re-think the “ideal” commitment and opt for illicit scandal instead. (call me)

Related: What’s New Pussycat (1965) was one of the swinging-est flicks I caught in 2012. Peter O’Toole as a womanizing ginger: yez plz.

 

Let’s make like Exxon Mobile and all other great American corporo-citizens, and cheat on our taxes.

the national guard is on the road to make sure you’re not

snowday

Strange how we convert the whims of non-human nature to dollars lost, like a child bargaining bedtime hours. Meanwhile people will tell you what type of female to be and it seems that no one can read or write more than 140 characters. If I was truly erudite I’d be able to reference the sci-fi writer who predicted this one. But for now the snow falls and stops everything and we can be human again.

When I was writing the most, believed myself to be a writer, I comfortably occupied a space of solid sadness, melancholy sowed over a bedrock of something like ennui. I held onto it knowing that happy people don’t write or fight or leave a mark, happy people work for banks and come home to watch TV until they die. I wrote constantly, dissected and diagnosed everything; never was there a more smug and suspicious undergrad than I (except all the ones that actually went on to intern for the New Yorker). [also well that’s just fucking ridiculous that I just linked to my own former blog, but TEVS]

At 22 it seems like truth; at 25 it feels like you’re spinning your back wheels and getting buried by what they’re dragging up.

I’m not sure I believe in words anymore, to the extent that our culture seems to have abandoned them. The written word, for utility or enjoyment, seems to quickly be going the way of Latin; we’ll keep a few experts on had to preserve 5-syllable curiosities and to have the final say in the (losing) battle between you’re and your. Curiously concurrent with our refusal to absorb information over a period more cumbersome than 2.5 seconds is our seeming disinterest in actual experience. Clearly we experience more of the world through the internet than the world itself; no one can enjoy watching “Girls” as much as they enjoy soundbites and “what she wore”s pertaining to the (inexplicable) phenomenon. The same goes for the latest weather non-event: surely no one is as traumatized by a “storm” itself as one is by seeing a photo of a grocery store’s empty shelves via their ipad. But perhaps I’m showing my age: having never tagged photos of myself on Instagram as a 14 year old with “hottie” “cute” “pretty”  “hipster” AND “punk”, I’m rendered culturally irrelevant, thank god.

It’s ok, so is Rick Moody (as far as death-of-culture-porn goes, very satisfying).

genius, communist, muppets.

Upon second viewing, Jim Henson was a a subversive mastermind years ahead of his time. I still never hear “For What It’s Worth” without thinking of this clip that I first saw over 20 years ago. The singing possum was so subliminally affecting that I’m pretty sure it’s why I majored in Environmental Studies and will be underemployed for the rest of my waking life, and why I don’t mind that much.

Statement of Purpose

Might actually go thru with “grad applications” this time around and now pretending to think about writing my “statement of purpose.” While justifying my existence to a multitude of strangers who might not even understand the concept of “post-structural blonde” is deeply undignified, the prospect of the rest of my life spent “serving people” is even moreso.

Currently mulling over a couple intros, or “hooks” [industry term, dawnworryboutit] that will convince the admissions committee that I’m the literary offspring of Joan Didion and Matt Taibbi, and at the very least will make an illustrious dead alumna when I kick it at 32 after I blow my book deal $$ on too much [vice of choice in 2017, probably still sriracha and PCP]. Here’s what I have so far.

Born 25 years too late to pursue my would-be destiny as an Eagles groupie, lounging around Laurel Canyon until marrying a producer or overdosing on Quaaludes, I might as well get an MFA in creative nonfiction. My erstwhile youthful idealism is petrifying into a slow, deadening misery and I have no interest in making it past 30 if Windex continues to be a daily component of what I get paid for. Please reference my twitter feed for further proof of my singular grasp on the nuanced truths of the human condition. 

I suffered a massive aneurysm when I read that  “Lena Dunham is the voice of her generation” and decided that hell is actually not having bourgeoisie Manhattanite  parents with contacts at the New York Times. My childhood fantasy of being an artist living on popcorn and wine in a cold apartment was fun for about a week until I realized that I like macchiatos and professional haircuts. As a white American chick who was born in 1985 + thinks that every other word out of her mouth is worthy of being recorded solely because I was awarded soccer trophies when I was 6 even though I kind of sucked, OBVS I’m going to get an MFA.  And better at soccer.  

Thank you for considering my application, and although you’ll be tempted to award me full professorship immediately, I assure you I look forward to the tutelage of your distinguished staff, and the opportunity to crash undergrad house shows in jorts and a crop-top without compromising my position at your institution. Please reply with a list of your local microbrews. 

I look forward to being referred to as a “woman of letters,”  plus wearing shoulder pads for my about-the-author shoot.

get high, fuck a bunch of girls: everything just got fun again.

Ok so who doesn’t feel like they just ate a packet of Nerds AND Sour Patch kids and just wants some more before they crash and have to take a nap and a shower. I think we officially just emerged from the dark acknowledgment of the world ending as we speak and now we just want to paint our nails and dance about pretending to care that someone we’re dating just cheated 0n us with a hairdresser.

We live in a magical age which can be demonstrated by a single entity: haircuts. This current vogue of the chicest females being these hyper-sexual but androgynous cyborgs with razor-sharp coifs: MOAR PLZ. MEANWHILE, I feel SO bad for dudes. How’s a guy supposed to navigate this GI Jane Barbie as Preying Mantis who is just Living Breathing Sex but looks like she also might kill him?  (*Everything just made sense. This is the reason internet dating exists, friends. [via everyone being too afraid/bored to actually approach another human being in person] [side note to all the Y chromo havers in the audience: UGHGGH how many times do I have to say: just be a good bro who’s generous sometimes and likes to walk around on a nice day and that’s all you have to do and that will be more than enough, unless the lady of yr affection sucks, in which case you should drop her yesterday DUH, grow some self-respect if that’s the conundrum you’re in][just looking out, love you])

Other thoughts: let’s wear denim bustiers all the time, DEH.

This is the first time the “culture wars” have revealed themselves to be a little bit fun: I’m glad that for every bloodied-fetus-sign-waving zealot that raises one’s blood pressure while crushing ones will to live, there’s a gorgeous, leotarded + mohawked faux-lesbian getting fake-gone-down-on by a chick singing “get high, fuck a bunch of girls”, all while wearing cross earrings . Our “fuck you” is fun, we won. The end ❤ ❤

edinburgh

one time I was at a show, and it was a lot of years after I started thinking that was a meaningful act or phrase or endeavor at all, years even after you look at your reflection in the morning and you look tired and older. and it was in a place so far from that time, and the name of the band recalled the natural world, which everyone stopped caring about a million internet years ago, and I owed the rest of my life in US dollars because I studied caring about it, and everyone at this show was young and simple and no one hated anything because they didn’t know anything and I’d left so many homes and saw people hawking their humanity on the other side of the world. Looking back, I see their hearts on the sidewalk, red wet & beating.

We played rummy on the buses there, on that side of the world, with the curtains closed, because gambling is against the law. In London a lifetime earlier we sat in the rain waiting for the bus and ______ and _______ and then ______ and In Belize there were waterfalls and ______ and _____ and I couldn’t quite keep it all straight anymore. There were strangers and eyelashes and afternoon sun. Everything that’s ever happened is October, young and ending at the same time. But in Edinburgh, getting out of the train, the sky was a cool white diamond in November and I won’t forget that.

let’s just try to imagine.

Also, human beings who identify as “Americans” and also “Republicans” think rape is an act of “god” (those same people like to think of browner humans on the other side of the world as “barbarians”). I’m not tagging this post as “girl life” because that would be to marginalize a human issue. Let’s try a thought experiment: imagine that the most important thing you own was taken by someone who knew they could because they believed that their humanity was more valuable than yours. Now let’s vote.