Just before Christmas I was ferried to BBC Bush House on a snowy December night to discuss Burlesque on BBC Worldservice Newshour with journalist Laurie Penny.
You can listen to the segment here: http://www.zshare.net/audio/8474636158566bd6/]Burlesque.mp3 – 4.68MB
The feature was prompted with the release of the film Burlesque and Christina Aguilera’s performance on X Factor which Laurie Penny commented on in her article for the Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/dec/13/burlesque-sex-empowerment-misogyny.
Neither of which I think represent the majority of Burlesque performances. I haven’t even seen Burlesque, but I have heard from a reputable source that it does contain some nice set pieces and some well researched Burlesque references. However anyone who has been to a high-end Burlesque show in London will attest that modern burlesque amounts to more than lip syncing to show tunes in some Ann Summers suspenders, and red lipstick.
Being asked to do this debate was actually a good opportunity to actually seriously sit down (well over cava in the pub) and think about what Burlesque means to me and is it like Laurie Penny claims in her article simply the act ‘of withholding sex’ and therefore disempowering to women? I don’t think Burlesque is either empowering or disempowering to women. It is a piece of theatre. I have had many women tell me they have felt their confidence boosted by coming to shows or going to Burlesque classes, this is great. However to say that me stripping on stage is empowering would be ridiculous.
Like any artform audience members have different take outs of a performance. Some people will be will be amused, some empowered some maybe even aroused. However to say that a Burlesque audience is full of men with groaning erections feverishly wanking is a fiction. Burlesque audiences are made up of the majority of women for a reason, that it is great entertainment. Yes there is a element of sexuality in some shows is stronger than others, quite frankly I enjoy being sexy in inventive, often comical ways during my performances. To say that until women have achieved full equality to men that women’s sexuality should be hidden in the entertainment arena and is doing a disservice to the wider ‘cause’ is a very narrow view. Should actresses in plays be judged for disrobing? as with burlesque nudity is just part of the story.
Laurie Penny and I actually agreed that the ‘bland rehearsal of sexual frustration’ of some burlesque shows is not ironic or subversive. I would argue this is just poor burlesque shows, far from being outraged with this sort of performance, I’m just bored. To tar all burlesque performances with the same tawdry brush is to dismiss some great performers. Are films like Burlesque the death knell for subversive burlesque? Probably not, subversive Burlesque has little to do with the corset and feathers routines and will continue regardless. But does Burlesque have to be subversive to be a valid piece of theatre? As long as it’s a polished, creative and exciting performance I’m still rapt with or without political statement.
So in conclusion no indeed there is nothing ironic about and erection at a burlesque show, so will then aroused gentlemen at the back please stand up, all errr, none of you.