Detached irony or cultural cringe?

Does anybody here watch the Logies (for the non-Aussies, our annual national television industry awards)? Last year I kept up with the livetweeting, which was somehow better for not actually watching the show, particularly when you’re following some of the celeb-crowd getting their snark on in 140 characters or less. Last night I was instead concentrating on sprog the elder’s latest presentation assessment task, which was giving him grief (one day he will ask for help the week it’s assigned rather than the week it’s due).

Helen Razer went, and in today’s Unleashed she muses on the the Who’s Who of the Who Cares?, noting that an awards night which was once oddly appealing in its parochial naff-ness has moved on to the dreaded joy-killer that is box-ticking self-deprecation:

Once, Bert’s floor-show asides were of the so-bad-they-are-good variety. The appeal of these corny jokes lay, most often, not in punchlines but in their failure and their earnestness to please. Now, Bert’s gags and the scripts for all presenters have that knowing, mocking feel that can only have been written by young twits with girlfriends who enjoy “ironic” burlesque.
[…]
Once, we disdained Australia. In the last quarter of the 20th century, we began a tentative appreciation of ourselves in endeavours other than sport. Now, as demonstrated by the mocking, ironic, self-aware Logies, we have chosen detachment over disgust or pride. This, as easily observed in the bloodless red-carpet camp of Ruby Rose, is the newest posture of our cultural cringe.

That line about enjoying “ironic” burlesque jumped out at me. You don’t go far in the comedy world without running into people who also perform in cabaret and/or burlesque. I’ve seen some cracking performances brim-full of wit, verve and technical aplomb, and I do appreciate the wider variety of body types out there revelling in the glory of their flesh, but. But. All the sets I most enjoyed? They were the ones where the burlesque artiste illuminated some cultural absurdity front and centre rather than just the cute set-pieces rationalising getting nude on stage – my absolute favourite was one who kept a leotard on the whole time while performing (supposedly for the talent section of a beauty pageant) the sort of hilariously bad rhythmic gymnastics that can only be produced deliberately by someone with excellent technique.

I grew up as part of the nudist movement in Australia, so I’m far from a prude about the naked body getting athletic or acrobatic (you haven’t lived until you’ve seen the National Nudist Volleyball Tournament). But I’m hugely ambivalent about the “ironic” burlesque revival – it’s still nearly always only female bodies on display, with the many fabulous male performers pushed to the showbiz margins of inner-city gay clubs and occasional hen’s nights while the burlesque girls venture regularly into mainstream suburban pubs, where they consciously drop the most confronting pieces from the run-sheet because they figure that the audience out there* won’t get/doesn’t want those anyway.

So what do the audiences who don’t want the satirical burlesque want? They just want “ironic” striptease – even naked acrobatics would be too confronting (rather similar to how openly homosexual comedians are generally only booked for suburban pubs* if they are super-camp or super-awkward i.e. no confident challenges to the sexual status quo, please).

When suburban pub* audiences are ready to fully enjoy a burlesque show with equal numbers of male and female performers strutting their skimpy stunts, and whistling and hooting as much for the satirical or acrobatic pieces as they do for the stripteases, then I might be less ambivalent about the objectification that still strikes me as problematic. Because far too much of burlesque as it currently is staged strikes me as redolent of the same detached display of self-aware mockery that Razer noted at last night’s Logies – a feminine cultural cringe centred yet again on the traditional view of the female form as the embodiment of sex. I want my burlesque brasher than that.

* I’m not saying here that people who grew up in the suburbs can’t/don’t ever appreciate the more sociologically confronting forms of entertainment. Merely that suburbia concentrates on comfort, predictability and security in all aspects of the the built environment, and this tends to translate to the entertainment that is offered suburban pubs offer locally.



Categories: arts & entertainment, gender & feminism

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47 replies

  1. I am (unsurprisingly) so with you on this one, Hoyden. Sometimes, a knowing wink is barely enough to conceal the simple fact of being at a strip show. Not that I object to stripping by any means. I just resent smut masquerading as art. I mean, Red Tube doesn’t pretend to be Pasolini. Why should some chick with a Bettie Page ‘do be applauded as subversive? Why can’t she just say, “I have nice tits and I’m eager to show them”?

  2. It ties back into slut-shaming (and the avoidance thereof by naice gels) in many ways, I think. Stripping is perceived as sex work therefore strippers are sluts, while burlesque is showbiz therefore the artistes are entertainers.

  3. Well if you want brash and you don’t enjoy self-awareness in your awards nights, you want the Brownlows. There’s nowhere in Australian awardia you’ll find more unselfconscious horror. Hypocrisy and self-serving cynicism on the part of the media, scads, but not a jot of irony or self-deprecation.
    I watch it every year—or at least as much of it is screened in Sydney—mostly because I follow the AFL, but also because it’s a glimpse into the way the footballers we read about behave when they’re not being actively media-managed. You can really get a sense of who’s decent and who’s an absolute dickhead. (Far more of the latter than the former alas)

  4. you haven’t lived until you’ve seen the National Nudist Volleyball Tournament

    A technical question: I do hope kneepads are permitted?

    • @Liam, back in the 80s there was much debate about that and eventually kneepads were allowed. No jockstraps or sports bras though.
      I think the Brownlows have transcended the cultural cringe because they truly are just an end of the year Footy Club bash (Helen compared all the other Aussie awards nights to such) that happens to have a large budget – and especially because AFL is not international they have less tendency to go the cringe. I like your point about the revelations that such events bring to us – who’s decent and who’s deplorable – that seems true for every cultural bunfight.

  5. Speaking of deplorable and the Logies in the same sentence. Wil Anderson. Has the man got a single funny joke left in him? Those tweets were just tacky, nasty and with a bonus of just-not-funny.

    • I can’t comment on his Logie tweets – haven’t read them. Wil certainly has a smug/nasty streak, but he’s not Robinson Crusoe amongst comedians (or even bloggers/tweeters) there. He’s a very good live stand-up where he plays with that aspect of his character quite effectively – when mediated by other media (<= see what I did there) it seems to amplify the smug/nasty.

  6. I don’t find him funny at all. I’ve only seen the one stand up gig, but I’ve had years of exposure on JJJ, then on tele, then in print. And I just find him unbearably obnoxious and stale. Perhaps it does translate better in stand up. But he mediates himself when tweeting/writing/presenting, so I guess I feel if he can’t mediate that aspect well he should perhaps stick to the stand up? But I’m now detracting from the point of the thread (although it is relevant to the self consciously staged stuff as I feel he does that quite a bit, to try to stand ‘outside’ to judge and yet replicating what he’s judging).
    But to get back on topic, I think you really hit it on the head with the slut shaming stuff being behind this newer blander burlesque, something which ends up with women having to tow a line between sexy enough but not ‘too’ sexual with all the judgments that can bring.
    Have you been to Girlesque? The show I went to a couple of years ago was a sensational night of joyous gender bending, directly cheekily outrageous costumes and performances and wonderful fun.

    • Like any other rhetorical tool, ironic detachment and self-deprecation can be used too blatantly for effect, or just overused to the point where they are no longer aspects of emphasis but become the substance itself, which makes them (a) blandly predictable and (b) actually just a way of reinforcing a certain snob appeal to “knowing” enough to “get” the subtext. It’s something that every public speaker/writer, including comedians, needs to beware.
      The snob appeal comes into burlesque as well – it’s not a nasty horrid strip bar, it’s a proper nightclub cabaret show!

  7. No, that’s all true. And in the end, Wil simply pisses me off which is my personal beef. And the snob factor, when played right and cleverly is something I quite enjoy: it *can* be bitingly funny.
    I don’t know that I’ve actually seen any other burlesque than Girlesque. And I’m trying to place snobbery in that. It was mostly joyfully subversive. That’s not to say it couldn’t have been there, but perhaps any cultural ‘snobbery’ get erased with distance from the event if you enjoy it enough?

    • I didn’t mean snobbery per se in individual burlesque sets, although I’m sure that aspects of classism are tapped into in many routines, as they are in nearly any form of entertainment.
      I was more addressing the slut-shaming distinction between stripper club stripping and burlesque stripping.

  8. Yeah I figured, I was just trying to see if I could trace it playing out. And I can *definitely* see it in the burlesque/stripping distinction.
    Kinda complicated though: it’s not the individual performers themselves who are simply ‘deciding’ that burlesque is ‘arty’ and stripping is ‘slutty’, nor is it just a classist thing on its own – it’s all tied in to gender, proper gender performance, violence and rape culture.
    Individuals in sex work are punished as if by entering sex work they declare themselves always and ever sexually available. I’m thinking about a rape case last year where the guy kept telling the woman he raped that she ‘deserved it’/had ‘asked for it’ because she was a stripper.
    So I can understand why individual women would eschew the ‘stripper’ label. But then if you keep setting what you do as ‘different’ then you end up kind of condoning the view that stripping is ‘bad’ or ‘slutty’ and punishable, it feels like an ‘us and them’ choice that leaves strippers bereft of support as engaging in a legitimate activity and having legitimate expectations to safety and respect.
    And then there’s the thing with this ‘ironic stripping’ or bland burlesque that it seems to be a quite tortured performance of ‘just the right amount of sexy’ that relies on male approval. More so than stripping which is ‘Here it is’ in the knowledge that it could be deemed ‘too much’ by some, and more so than a burlesque performance which is about making other points/being ‘loud and proud’ about your particular performances.
    Ok, I’ve talked myself into a knot and I’m now a little crosseyed. Not sure if that makes any sense, but I guess I’m (generally and almost constantly at the moment) frustrated by violence against women (and all sex workers, and all bodies not performing heterosexuality ‘acceptably’) and the way that no matter what choices women, sex workers, queer or trans* folk make in terms of sexuality and their approach to public displays (or not) of their bodies, they get punished for it in some way, either for being ‘slutty’ or ‘dishonest’, or ‘snobby’ or prudish or ‘dykish’. I’m not sure I’m articulating what I’m trying to get at very well though so I think I’ll wander off for a coffee.

    • Liam. well spotted – the political economy of the two styles of stripping is exactly where most of the classist snobbery comes in.
      FP, snobbery also ties into the slut-shaming (and the consequent gender-policing, exploitation and violence) directed towards sex workers (and strippers perceived as sex workers) – women who are lower on the kyriarchal totem pole are always more readily slut-shamed than those who are several rungs up the social ladder, and while burlesque is one of the fringe entertainments the avant garde has always had a bourgeous underbelly – in so many ways it’s a very middle-class pursuit. Like so many things in our society, to be identifiably middle-class is a dense protective layer against much of the nastier stuff.
      There was a good article on Chortle a few weeks ago about the class divide in comedy – “Middle classes express ‘superiority’ through stand-up”. It’s worth noting that there are two separate career tracks in British comedy – club comedians beloved by the working class and who get breakfast jobs in regional radio, and the middle-class and especially upper-middle-class comedians who end up on all the telly shows, and the relatively few comedians who can bridge both worlds (Billy Connolly probably the canonical example). The Australian market is not large enough to support two separated career tracks like that, but there’s certainly some comedians who simply don’t get booked for (or refuse to go to) licensed clubs in the outer suburbs, or who will have certain parts of their routine that they don’t perform in those venues – anything they consider “too intellectual”.

  9. Isn’t the other factor the political economy of the performance? It seems to me that stripping is a market transaction of the most obvious and transparent kind; the performer is paid either well or poorly but they’re always paid, and the economics of it are sometimes brutally upfront, cash being used physically as part of the act (on the stage, into underwear, etc.).
    Burlesque operates in a greyer area of enthusiastic proud amateurism and questionable authenticity. You buy a ticket, you attend a show, you get an act. The profit motive’s deliberately obscured.

    The snob appeal comes into burlesque as well – it’s not a nasty horrid strip bar, it’s a proper nightclub cabaret show!

    Yep. Same itch, different scratch.

  10. “* I’m not saying here that people who grew up in the suburbs can’t/don’t ever appreciate the more sociologically confronting forms of entertainment. Merely that suburbia concentrates on comfort, predictability and security in all aspects of the environment, and this tends to translate to the entertainment that is offered locally.”
    This is nonsensical sweeping rubbish, tigtog, and offensive to boot.

    • @Laura, I was attempting to be the opposite, but it appears I’ve failed. Suburbanites are interested in all sorts of things, many of which they cannot find locally and have to go (eta: closer) into town to enjoy.
      The businesses which service suburban areas rather than city areas, and I’m thinking especially of the pub landlords, tend to be more conservative in my experience, and it is the businesses which offer most of the entertainment. If a pub is unwilling to host anything other than mainstream entertainment in hir venue, then non-mainstream entertainment goes to where the landlords are more open to what they are offering (eta: which will be where the population is dense enough that they can profit from catering to a niche market).
      Of course these days most pub landlords would rather not have live entertainment at all because it interferes with the takings from the gambling machines, and this is another reason why those that do still have live entertainment want bankable/predictable crowd-pleasing entertainment rather than anything sociologically confronting that might alienate the punters.

      • P.S. the businesses at the heart of the city office belt tend to be equally conservative regarding alternative entertainment. Most alternative theatre/comedy/music seems to happen in more densely built-up areas on the fringes of CBDs, usually on the hub of transport routes and/or close to university campuses, so that uni students who are very keen on new experiences can walk to the venue and so that people who live elsewhere surrounded by only mainstream entertainment can get transport.

        In Sydney the hub of alternative entertainment is Newtown/Camperdown/Glebe. Alternative entertainment in Melbourne, going by what comedians are getting up to anyway, seems to happen along Brunswick Street, in a few spots in St Kilda and Fitzroy, and along some of the inner-city laneways. In Perth the alternative entertainment scene is centred on Highgate. etc etc.

  11. TT, I don’t buy either that burlesque as a performance is inherently more alternative or less conservative than any other kind of performance. Or that its audiences are looking for new experiences rather than a very deliberately marketed product which appeals to carefully constructed consumer tastes. Or that its audiences are necessarily more open to confrontation than people who go, for instance, to the Mardi Gras festival events at the Riverside theatre in sunny suburban Parramatta.
    I mean I agree that suburban landscapes have been deliberately designed in the twentieth century to produce certain social outcomes—that’s just the fact of deterministic planning in Australian cities—but I don’t agree that it’s produced cultural artefacts in the way you’re claiming. Or that suburban design in AUstralia has been about conformism and comfort; personal freedom and public health were much more important late 19th and 20th century planning concerns.
    Geographic snobbery’s a constantly changing thing, it’s not contingent.

    • I’d argue that the Riverside Theatres in Parramatta are in the heart of a medium-density population area on the edge of a fully urbanised CBD – think of the Riverside area as kinda sorta Glebe-ish – it’s all townhouses and flats for blocks around. That’s why the Mardi Gras Festival can stage some events there and make a profit, whereas they could not do the same just down the road amongst the quarter-acre suburban lots of Merrylands. Of course, they don’t have to, because the interested people who live in Merrylands will travel to the Riverside Theatres.
      I would agree that “alternative” entertainment (eta: of which burlesque is only one example) is very deliberately marketed to carefully constructed consumer tastes though. There’s a reason I’ve never called it “experimental” in this thread. It’s just that “alternative” is still a niche market, and unless you have a certain population density of locals and passersby then you won’t make money catering to it.
      The deliberate construction of a built environment that limits population density means that the potential local market for any niche product is limited – whodathunkit! Suburban town planning also encourages demographic stability – people buy the houses in suburbs and stay living in them for many years, compared to a far more rapid turnover of residents in districts where denser accommodation is largely rented rather than owned. This lack of population turnover is what produces predictability in terms of marketing products including entertainments (I never called it conformity, just predictability) – the same people will be your neighbours for a long time, which means fewer new neighbours bringing their new habits and tastes with them, thus businesses feel less pressure to change to attract any new customers, because their old customers are still there.

  12. “Suburbanites are interested in all sorts of things, many of which they cannot find locally and have to go (eta: closer) into town to enjoy. ”
    which suburbanites, which suburbs? Which town? My husband is a community cultural development officer in one of these suburban wastelands, by the way. He is on a number of local government arts advisory boards. I also live in a (different) outer suburb. I know quite a lot about what kinds of entertainment people in the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne want to see and do go and see, locally, and it’s not predictable, drear, conformist as in your data-free imaginings. What it *is* is free of the self-regarding pretension which constricts a lot of uber-hip inner city performing arts. Notions about the ‘predictability’ of what is on offer in outer suburban small venues don’t match the reality of what I see in RSLs, small community theatres, cafes, bars (which have a completely different culture in Victoria to NSW) and various local government operated venues including dance halls, galleries, and theatres. If you wish to see confronting theatre, may I recommend the annual Doncaster Passion Play which is staged in Ruffey Lake Park – as violent, grotesque and megalomanic as anyone could wish. Or you may prefer Iranian fireleaping, which also has found a home in Doncaster. The cheesy burlesque you posted about is a regular part of the rock and roll dance scene which thrives in the small pubs around Melbourne’s Eastern suburbs. It’s interesting you mentioned Parramatta and the riverside theatres. I was there a couple of weeks ago observing the biannual Long Paddock touring theatre market where independent producers and venue operators from around the country go to pitch shows and bid on them. It was astonishing even for me to see what shows small venue operators want to bring to their audiences and believe will fly in their communities.
    A small venue of 200 seats can afford to be a lot less bland than a 900-seater, and indeed the shows available to small venues are typically less polished, less mainstream, more quirky.
    As for the idea that suburban populations are static, this is also too sweeping. The suburb I live in is rapidly transitioning from low to upper medium density as the huge backyards are subdivided and built upon. There just aren’t any grounds for making broad generalisations about ‘the suburbs’ in Australia, any more than there are are for saying the inner city is homogenous

    • Sure, my NSW-centric experience of the throttle-back in live entertainment since the pubs mostly preferred to have pokies colours my view. I know that other States have kept the pokies better curbed, and thus have more variety in their local live entertainment. There still is a problem with differing population densities, though – low-density districts simply cannot support niche entertainment products on a week after week basis – annual/seasonal festivals are something people will travel a distance to attend, but most won’t travel the same distance every single week.

      A small venue of 200 seats can afford to be a lot less bland than a 900-seater, and indeed the shows available to small venues are typically less polished, less mainstream, more quirky.

      Agreed. Few low-density suburban districts have even one 200-seat venue offering nightly entertainment though – these venues are found in higher density urbanised districts. The 900 seat venues are mostly found in the CBD entertainment districts, and are a different kettle of fish entirely.
      Is part of this disagreement a terminology conflict? This is going to sound awfully semantic, but when I say “suburb” I am using the term as technical jargon – subdivisions of free-standing houses with a low population density. Australians are in the habit of referring to every postal district as a “suburb”, but this is not technically correct. If your district/municipality is transitioning from low density free-standing housing to upper-medium density housing then it is no longer “suburban” – it is becoming fully urbanised, therefore the profit calculus for niche entertainments has changed. No wonder you are seeing plenty of such events around you.
      I also never said that the inner city was homogeneous. Just that a higher density population zone means that niche interests have more people living locally who share them than will be the case in less densely populated zones, and thus businesses who cater to that niche have a larger local market of potential consumers. That’s it.

  13. It is totally unbearable trying to hold a conversation with somebody who corrects me on my use of the word suburb. Along with everything else that I have extensive personal and professional experience of. And who still doesn’t apologise for the blanket insult against the mores and capabilities of people who don’t happen to live in the expensive parts of cities.

    • Laura, pointing out that I am using the word differently is not saying that your usage is incorrect. Just that there is more than one way to use the word.
      The Australian/NZ usage is idiosyncratic.
      There is absolutely no doubt that the lack of clarity here is entirely my fault for not delineating my point clearly enough, but what you accuse me of saying is so far from what I meant to suggest that I am totally at a loss for how to proceed.
      ETA:

      And who still doesn’t apologise for the blanket insult against the mores and capabilities of people who don’t happen to live in the expensive parts of cities.

      Because my point (and I confess that I made it clumsily) was not that they lack mores/capabilities, but that the economics of the demographics in low-density single-family-detached-dwelling communities don’t stack up in terms of the commercial provision of niche entertainments.
      If your community is not predominantly a low-density single-family-detached-dwelling community, then it’s not about your municipality.

  14. I think if it’s a conversation between Australians about Australian cities then the usual Australian sense of what a suburb is is not idiosyncratic.
    You missed my reference to the municipality my husband does cultural programming for and the other one which he consults for both of which are on the outer and both of which I simply have to continue to maintain are more diverse in what they offer and in what they like than you are wiling to allow. I suppose it is not about these places either – it seems only to be about places where people are as narrowminded and fearful as the punters you sketched in your post. I am still iunconvinced these punters exist only in the outer suburbs (again, reread your post to see what you avtually say about suburban attitudes there). Where these narrow souls do indubitably congregate of course is in the imaginary Suburbia of the long and venerable Australian tradition from robin Boyd to Barry hphries to kath and kim. And beyond. I don’t actually think you know what the cultural life of Australian suburbia is like. It doesn’t take place in pubs for one thing. If self- identified inner city performers censor themselves when they venture out of their comfort zones, as you say in your post they do, I would suspect it has more to do with the Humphriesesque preconceived limited notion of what a suburban audience can stand. That’s an imperialist attitude – the missionary and the savages. Let me just say again that every day for more than ten years I’ve heard about performing arts programming in an outer eastern suburban area of Melbourne, and the auggestion that simply because fewer people live on larger blocks of land in these places the arts that hapiens in these places is less adventurous than in the inner city – just not correct tigtog. Just not correct.

    • I think if it’s a conversation between Australians about Australian cities then the usual Australian sense of what a suburb is is not idiosyncratic.

      But is that what it is?
      Most of the readers of this blog are not Australian.

      You missed my reference to the municipality my husband does cultural programming for and the other one which he consults for both of which are on the outer and both of which I simply have to continue to maintain are more diverse in what they offer and in what they like than you are wiling to allow.

      I’m surprised that I have to combat such an ungenerous reading of my statements, but let me say clearly and strongly here and now that I have nothing but admiration for the efforts of people such as your husband in providing a diverse cultural program for the many suburbanites who like getting such entertainments free or discounted just as much as the next citizen.
      That has very little to do with the point I was attempting to make about purely commercial considerations for niche entertainments based on demographics. Are the publicly funded entertainment bodies adventurous? For their special events? Fuck yeah. Does this translate to week by week commercial viability for niche entertainments? I don’t think so, but perhaps I am wrong.
      If you want to argue that what I’ve characterised as niche entertainment is really more mainstream than that and thus more commercially viable, fine. Is that what you are arguing?

      I suppose it is not about these places either – it seems only to be about places where people are as narrowminded and fearful as the punters you sketched in your post.

      Again, I didn’t make this clear enough in the post, but I was sketching the perception of technically-suburban venue owners in my own experience. I’m perfectly willing to concede that they are not generally giving their punters enough credit – that ties into the cultural cringe.

  15. Yes It is a conversation between Australians. ‘between’. So far. Let’s not introduce unnecessary comlications – please
    You find my reading of your post ungenerous – I find your post ungenerous.
    You wrongly assume that cultural programming organised by local government is under less pressure than commercial operators to make a profit. Councils don’t sell booze or intstall pokies ( which are present in Melbourne). And they have to answer to ratepayers.
    Can’t you see that the reason I am objecting to your comments is that they offend me? It’s the same old prejudice against suburbia. And like most prejudices, not based on being informed

    • Yes It is a conversation between Australians. ‘between’. So far. Let’s not introduce unnecessary comlications – please

      You’re responding to words in my original post, which I wrote for all my readers (that’s why there was an explanation of what the Logies are for the non-Australians). We’ve had the conversation before about how I consciously write for lurkers as well as interlocutors, both in posts and comments. If I wasn’t writing for the lurkers, this would be an email conversation, especially since it’s entirely derailed the thread.

      Can’t you see that the reason I am objecting to your comments is that they offend me?

      Believe me, I clearly see that I have offended you. I regret that because I certainly didn’t intend to. Nonetheless, your sense of offence does not mean that I have to accept all the points of your critique.

      It’s the same old prejudice against suburbia. And like most prejudices, not based on being informed

      You have inferred a prejudice against suburbia, largely because of a terminology clash where you have dismissed attempts at clarification out of hand.
      I like many aspects of suburbia. Large chunks of my childhood were spent in suburbia (the rest was spent in country towns) – I liked having a big backyard with room for chooks and a dog, and plenty of space in the neighbourhood for me and my friends to ride our bikes on streets with little through traffic. Our neighbours were multicultural with many different interests and traditions. The residential turnover in those suburbs was low – our house(s) which belonged to the Department of Main Roads was the only rented house for blocks around. The shared neighbourhood history due to the stability of residents created a pleasant and friendly sense of community. These are all positive things that I am not at all prejudiced towards.
      The trade-off for all that space around us and the stable community that space attracted was that there weren’t that many commercial amenities just down the street – they were concentrated in the old village shopping precinct that had become surrounded by suburbia, and which was quite a few bus-stops away. The old village shopping precinct was small, and the variety of businesses was limited. If we wanted a niche product we went into the city or to the large shopping mall where the specialty shops were, because only in those precincts with a large volume of passing feet could those businesses make a profit.
      This is still a trade-off in suburbia – the comfort of the space provided by low-density tract housing comes hand in glove with the scarcity of specialist/niche businesses. It has nothing to do with a lack of interest or ability amongst suburbanites, and everything to do with the demographics of commerce.
      Live entertainment of all kinds is already (sadly) a niche product: it’s a small percentage of the population, anywhere, who regularly go out to live entertainment venues, and fewer still of those who are interested in the “alternative” sub-group of performers rather than the latest big-stage musical or touring superstar. The demographics of urban commerce mean that venues who specialise in certain alternative niches can still attract a regular paying audience from locals as well as devotees willing to travel in; the demographics of suburban commerce mean that promoters are reluctant to specialise in this way, and often refuse to book performers who will not drop their edgy/challenging material in favour of lowbrow and cheesy “crowd-pleasers”.

  16. “I was sketching the perception of technically-suburban venue owners in my own experience.” Correct, you didn’t make this at all clear in your post, and as i pointed out in my first comment on this thread, the post is sweeping and general in its statements about the suburbs and suburban audiences. For somebody who values precision in language I thought you must have meant to be sweeping, and it’s not the first time you’ve written about the suburbs in that way. I am not to be guessing that you are instead talking about the portion of commercial operators you have had personal experience with, since you didn’t mention this at all. I know the refrain here is ‘if it’s not about (x), then it’s not about (x)’, but on the other hand you also claim to be conscious of the need to draw attention to prejudice and to discriminatory language and discourse. The idea of the suburbs as backward, unsophisticated is, I have been trying to explain, a blanket prejudice and one you should be very careful about retailing.
    On the other hand I am not insisting that diversity and adventurousness is the sole province of suburban arts. I know for a fact that narrowmindedness is found everywhere and finding it in fairly equal proportions both in inner and outer suburbs would seem a reasonable assumption, in the absence of any actual data.
    Yet on reflection I would suspect that there is a wider variety of entertainment on offer in a shire like Nillumbik or Boroondara or even Casey than in one like Yarra, partly because the entertainment dollar is spent in different ways in those places, and there are indeed proportionately fewer bottom-line focused operators in the outer suburbs; consequently local government and other funding bodies (multicultural arts Victoria, Vichealth etc) must fill the gaps, and often do it by making direct grants to community groups who use it to stage their own entertainment. And this sort of activity is not a special one off event – there were 68 shows last year in the one small proscenium my husband manages (several of which he booked after seeing them at The Butterfly Club cabaret in South Melbourne, so they were actually the identical show to the inner suburban version, only the performers got paid more because D’s theatre seats 200 and Butterfly seats 20), and his work is completely normal, not an outlier, and just like other local government programmers (a number of whom I met at Long Paddock) and he manages / programmes for other venues as well – but it’s probably not visible from the viewpoint of the inner city resident who doesn’t read the local paper, doesn’t get the local govt newsletter, doesn’t get letterbox drops and mailouts, doesn’t use the library or go the bookshop or the community house.
    In short I would confidently wager that there is more to any patch of suburbia you care to name than meets the external eye – the one looking for the same sorts of venues and performances familiar from the inner city – and moreover I reject your claims that ‘suburban pub audiences’ are any less ‘ready’ to be ‘confronted’ than inner city audiences. I am in fact sceptical that any audience anywhere actually wants to be really confronted, but that’s another issue.

    • @laura, the fact that the suburban proscenium your husband manages put on 68 different show crossing a multitude of genres supports my point about suburban venues being more generalist than specialist, and what that means for the performers and what is available locally on a regular basis. That show for 200 people is great, but how many nights did it run? Those performers can put on a show at the Butterfly Club, which specialises in cabaret, and other urban venues who also specialise in similar shows, every week of the year.

      moreover I reject your claims that ’suburban pub audiences’ are any less ‘ready’ to be ‘confronted’ than inner city audiences. I am in fact sceptical that any audience anywhere actually wants to be really confronted, but that’s another issue.

      The “confrontation” in these acts is largely faux, definitely. It’s a subversion of norms that appeals to people who like to imagine “the normals” being confronted by it, and who enjoy a certain sense of boho-chic smugness about their own acceptance of “confronting” satire – they identify as the in-group who are not being held up for examination.
      It’s probably that sense of in-group smugness which is most unwelcome in the typical suburban pub. That’s not a bad thing, but it is part of why the cheesier burlesque rather than the satirical/subversive burlesque is what gets on the stage more often outside the inner-city venues.

  17. I was struck by the irony of muslim students protesting about the lack of space for them to pray right next to a big sign advertising a “burlesque workshop” at a major sydney university.
    Am I missing something about burlesque? doesn’t seem to do anything but objectify and sexualise women.
    Am unashamed 70’s feminist

  18. For the last time – you’re bringing an inner-city definition of what counts as a ‘live entertainment venue’, and indeed of what counts as ‘mainstream’ and ‘alternative’ (which for you appears to be absolute, but for me depends entirely on the context) to this discussion, thought I’ve tried repeatedly to demonstrate that the reality is more complex.
    I don’t understand what how your childhood neighbourhood was used by your family thirty plus years ago – before the internet, before the Australia Council, before multiculturalism as public policy – has to do with the present day.
    You tagged the post ‘suburbia’, so I’m not seeing a derail here. Nor do I accept, in the absence of any indication to the contrary, that anyone reading this post doesn’t recognise the derogatory way you wrote of the suburbs ‘out there’ in your post.
    I’m going to make up a suburbia-bashing bingo card.

  19. A cabaret show needs to tour to recoup the work performers invest in it. It can’t actually be staged every night of the year at inner city venues. One show we originally saw at the butterfly club ran for six performances there – 20 seats in each performance – and the performers were on a door deal. It is a showcase for them. They invite managers of small venues to see the show there, and consequently it was booked for four shows of 85 seats each in an art gallery in Manningham and three shows in a scout hall in Nillumbik. Shall I ask the lead performer to write in and comment on whether she felt her audiences on the fringes were lowbrow, and whether she needed to make her show more cheesy for the unsophisticated crowd there?

    • I’ve tried repeatedly to demonstrate that the reality is more complex

      You’ve tried to rebut points that I made specifically about suburban pubs by pointing to suburban venues which are not pubs. I don’t deny that these venues exist, but they are not relevant to my points about suburban pubs.

      Nor do I accept, in the absence of any indication to the contrary, that anyone reading this post doesn’t recognise the derogatory way you wrote of the suburbs ‘out there’ in your post.

      Here’s what I actually wrote, with emphasis added:

      because they figure that the audience out there* won’t get/doesn’t want those anyway.

      Describing attitudes that I have heard expressed does not make me someone who necessarily shares them.

      Shall I ask the lead performer to write in and comment on whether she felt her audiences on the fringes were lowbrow, and whether she needed to make her show more cheesy for the unsophisticated crowd there?

      No, because what I wrote in my post was about pub audiences, who are everywhere a different type of audience compared to those who go to cabaret nightclubs or proscenium venues: even when some of these audience populations overlap, the pub atmosphere is different. My point was that more “sophisticated” burlesque, especially routines with male performers in skimpy outfits, doesn’t go into the suburban pubs while the cheesy all-girl burlesque does – your demonstration of sophisticated cabaret burlesque going to suburban venues that are not pubs doesn’t refute the point made in the post.

  20. I have to go teach. But would you perhaps consider that by buying into the erroneous belief that outer suburban audiences are lowbrow and narrowminded and unable to cope with irony etc, you’re actually complicit in the psychology of hypocritical denial which enables the audiences of so-called ‘ironic’ burlesque to smugly and comfortably believe that they are enjoying the show in a way that is different and morally better to how someone else somewhere else enjoys it?
    What I say to that is I need to be convinced first of all that this conveniently alien nonironic audience actually exists.

    • Laura, it’s taken me a while to drill down to what I now believe is the core of your objections to what I wrote. Much of what I’ve written in previous comments now strikes me as not particularly useful in progressing the discussion, because I was confused about what exactly offended you. This is what I see as the key passage:

      But I’m hugely ambivalent about the “ironic” burlesque revival – it’s still nearly always only female bodies on display, with the many fabulous male performers pushed to the showbiz margins of inner-city gay clubs and occasional hen’s nights while the burlesque girls venture regularly into mainstream suburban pubs, where they consciously drop the most confronting pieces from the run-sheet because they figure that the audience out there* won’t get/doesn’t want those anyway.

      For ages I did not understand why you kept on wanting to make it about more than mainstream suburban pubs, as if my post was talking about all suburban sensibilities, when I did not intend to talk about all suburban sensibilities at all. I now see how my footnote, which was a last-minute afterthought that the post would have been better off without, made things worse by generalising to “the entertainment that is offered locally” but when I wrote that I was still thinking very much of “the entertainment that mainstream suburban pubs offer locally”. You were not, of course, to know what I was thinking – the failure in clarity is all mine.
      Then I got sucked into trying to defend myself against accusations of being anti-suburban, when I never intended to make any claims in the post about all suburban venues, only about mainstream suburban pubs, and ended up tying myself in knots. I stand by my opinion that mainstream suburban pubs are risk-averse in the entertainment that they put on, and they often do refuse to book performers who they view as too “highbrow”. I never meant for that to be taken as applying to every single suburban live entertainment venue, and I regret that my lack of clarity led to such a misunderstanding.

  21. From what I know of Sydney’s scene burlesque isn’t significantly based in licenced venues either TT; it’s the Factory Theatre (a theatre) Red Rattler in Marrickville (a theatre/dance venue) the Arthouse in Pitt St (a dedicated venue for live performances) where it isn’t based in gay/lesbian bars and clubs (which, even if your argument about inner- and outer-suburban venues has value, form a very separate class of venue).
    I’m a denizen of the fashionable inner west myself, and just thinking about my own suburb I can count at least two major hetero strip clubs within walking distance of my house and several dozen “massage” parlours, licenced or otherwise. If we’re talking about inner suburban markets for entertainment, I think Sydney’s have spoken with their… feet.

    • @Liam, regular cabaret burlesque is based in non-pubs, as you say. The whole point of bringing up pubs in the post is that it’s only the cheesiest forms of all-girl striptease burlesque that do go out into pubs at all. I’ll be less conflicted about burlesque in toto when the whole kit and caboodle of not-just-striptease-burlesque that we see in the nightclubs and proscenium venues – especially including the blokes – is what goes out into the pubs as well.

  22. “Live entertainment of all kinds is already (sadly) a niche product: it’s a small percentage of the population, anywhere, who regularly go out to live entertainment venues” – tigtog I thought you might be interested to know about the research into arts particiaption which the Australia Council has just finished doing.
    of Australians aged 15 or over, in the year before the survey, 35% had attended live theatre or dance, and 47% had attended live music. 38% of Australians surveyed had participated in arts 16 times or more in the preceding year. I don’t know how this breaks down into kinds of arts. (cinema attendance wasn’t included.) 32% of Australians had participated in community arts. I think this last figure in particular shows that any thinking about arts participation in Australian communities needs to look beyond pubs to understand the real picture, regardless of location.

    • Despite how marvellously enjoyable this entire digression away from the ambivalence I and many others feel towards burlesque’s liberatory body-positivity on the one hand, and its co-optation by good ol’ raunch culture objectification on the other hand, has been – and interesting though those figures are – I’m much more interested in going back to teasing out why it is only the raunch-culture-approved cheesecake-burlesque which goes out into suburban pubs, especially since the more nuanced theatrical-burlesque does good business in suburban proscenium venues.

  23. how do you know it’s only *bad* burlesque in the burbs? How do you know the *good* burlesque does good business in theatres? (the cabaret show I was describing to you is not burlesque – it’s a music show about tango. I’m sorry if that confused you.) Anyway, have fun teasing out reasons for whatever it is that you think happens in suburban pubs.

  24. I find the whole burlesque phenomenon kinda fascinating. I do think it’s a bit reductive to claim that even cheesecake-style burlesque is ‘just’ raunch-culture objectification writ large. The dynamic is a bit different to a strip club, in terms of engagement between performer and audience (the focus on the ‘tease’, for example). That’s not to say it’s not potentially problematic, but I’d resist the desire to just collapse the two together. I’m not a strip club devotee, but my understanding is that there’s less *becoming-unclothed*; more naked, less tease? But my experience is more with the queer edge of burlesque, which is actually, I think, radically different from what happens in straight venues, even ‘edgy, alternative’ straight venues.
    When 34b opened a few years ago, I went to see the burlesque there a couple of times. The first few times, the audience was a mix of straight and queer, and very fun, many dressed with hints to the 30s and 40s. Then, having been to Gurlesque a few times (back when it was known as the Lesbian Strip Joint and was only open to women; it’s now relying more on the queer community to keep the audience the shape it needs to be, rather than these identity-based requirements, though the dynamic has changed a fair bit since then – fewer naked audience members, for e.g!), I went to a performance that Sex Intents and Glita Supernova, the two main organisers of Gurlesque, were putting on at 34b. It was advertised as a night that ‘anyone’ – meaning men too – could come along to. And – yeuch. There were men doing that awful staring-at-the-lesbians-kissing thing, in between everything else. I decided 34b had changed too much to be much fun anymore.
    But honestly, I think it’s dangerous to collapse the kinds of performances that take place at queer venues in the Inner West of Sydney (especially the Red Rattler mentioned above, which I’m not sure I’d put in the same sentence as the Arthouse and the Factory!! ;-)) with other styles of burlesque – eta: I’m not saying, though, that there’s ‘good’ and ‘bad’ burlesque; just that there are really huge differences between different kinds. I’ve seen so many hilarious, significant and downright sexy performances at these kinds of events which function to challenge so many of the heteronormative concepts of, well, everything. Sex and Glita performed a parody of ‘Burlesque Betties’, in fact, in one performance; there was a performance by an intersex woman, outing herself to her community, at another; another I’ve seen involved butch/femme switches and ballroom dancing; another involved glitter moustaches, a metal ribcage and a cucumber strap-on (yes, it was awesome; I want to see it again!) there was another performance which shifted from librarian-terseness to nakedness with various anatomical images projected onto the body, critiquing and recuperating medicine; another (rather messy) performance commented on liposuction, and involved long sausages of silken tofu squeezed out on-stage; others have explored housewifely tasks in a new and different light; still others have explored bicycles without seats…
    Much burlesque, like Sex and Glita point out, has capitulated to the ‘Burlesque Betty’ phenomenon. And I agree that it can be problematic, at least in some ways. But in others, it reminds us of the varieties of bodies – which, I’m afraid, I do think is significant, in that we very rarely see certain bodies scantily clad and spot-lit – and honestly, I do think that the tease does function differently with the gaze, even if I’m not willing to claim it undoes everything. But most of all, let’s be a bit attentive to the enormous varieties of performances the revival of burlesque has given rise to, because I think there’s some astonishing stuff we’ll just miss otherwise.

    • WP, I agree that cheesecake burlesque is more than “just” raunch-culture objectification for all the reasons you point out, especially regarding the audience/performer dynamic; this “Burlesque Betty” style is nonetheless the sub-genre of burlesques which has been enthusiastically co-opted by the usual raunch-culture suspects as patriarchally-approved ogling. I would also never be so simplistic as to conflate “patriarchally-problematic” burlesque as necessarily equating to “bad” burlesque (certainly the Burlesque Betties can be just as technically accomplished performers as in the non-Betty burlesques) despite Laura’s dedication to putting words in my mouth in this thread.
      Does it seem to you that the more socially subversive ‘straight’ burlesques (those where a wide range of body types are welcome on stage, for starters) owe a great deal to the kinds of heteronormativity-challenging performances you describe from queer burlesques? I’m sure that the non-traditional queer perspective on “well, everything” taps into extra wellsprings of creativity. What I have definitely seen is that when a less-Betty physique is burlesquing, the audience immediately seems more receptive to aspects beyond the “tease” in the burlesque because the performer’s body is already challenging cheesecake raunch-culture norms from the moment s/he steps on stage. This is the aspect of the burlesque revival that I find most fascinating and appealing, and its the aspect of it that I most miss, and the lack of which I find most disturbing with respect to objectification, when it’s just another “Burlesque Betty” routine.

  25. oh for heavens’ sake. Can you please just ban me from commenting here again, so I won’t be tempted into thinking it’s possible to have a conversation?

  26. *feels like a small child whose parents are arguing*
    Is it really burlesque in the outer suburban pubs, or is it stripping dressed up in a classier sounding name? I have to admit that I haven’t been to a pub venue for a long time. Around here we tend to get ABBA revivals or C&W music. The occassional troupe of male strippers comes along but I think mostly if you want to see women you go into Canberra and go to Fyshwick.

  27. plenty of burlesque in outer suburban pubs – it goes hand in hand with the rockabilly scene, which drifts around in those places where the dance floors are. for e.g. http://img188.imageshack.us/i/voodoomagiclowpixrechor.jpg/

  28. Wow, I wonder how long before we get that sort of stuff here. That I would go to see. Blokes getting their kit off, not so much. I like a little mystery on my buff young men.

  29. @tigtog@42 Yeah, I suspect there’s a significant interplay of influence between queer performance art and the more ‘cheesecake/Burlesque Betties’ straight forms, rather than filtration from straight Burlesque through to queer, like I unintentionally suggested. Having seen a fair few different performances on youtube, I think there’s probably a fair bit of fuzziness around this line, at least in some places. So, for example, Dita Von Teese’s performances tend to be pretty cheesecakey, but the same venues that host her can also have performances of sometimes quite brash and robust burlesque, which kind of challenges the norm. I remember, too, that one of the most famous London burlesque performers *definitely* falls in this category, with a ‘less-Betty’ physique. So I suspect there’s a heavily localised element in how transgressive or interesting particular performances are. (I also just wanted to say that I actually often quite like the lack of ‘technical proficiency’ in some acts: it feels like part of the challenge posed to the idea/ls of performance and the generic conventions that go along with that).
    Part of what I find intriguing is the element of nostalgia/recuperation-of-history that seems to be taking place around alternative culture: whether it’s burlesque, or roller derby, or the punkier edges of rockabilly/psychobilly (the connection Laura pointed out) and so on, there seems to be this at-least-sometimes radical adoption of elements of that 50s-ish moment. I’m not quite sure what that’s about, but it’s interesting!

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