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.