Responding to comments on “The Cowboy and the Stripper”

Because of the move from The World’s Forgotten Boy, I thought I’d respond to comments from petitpoussin, tomemos, and Julie here. In addition, tomemos’s comment never appeared online, so I’ll reprint it in full at the bottom of this entry.

Petitpoussin writes that, because I don’t examine stripping as a profession, my post “precludes any real examination of people (women) who are strippers, or the reality of stripping.” If I understand her, she thinks it’s a little spurious to use a Britney Spears video to analyze what happens in a strip club, and she thinks that I’m appropriating Lily Burana while “implying ‘that’s not what she really means’ or maybe ‘she means it, but she’s deluded’.” She concludes, “Just because stripping is, for you, an isolating consumerist appropriation of bodies, doesn’t make it an accurate portrayal of stripping for women who choose and enjoy that work. Believe it or not, they exist. Pleasure isn’t ‘slow suicide’ for all of us.”

Britney Spears’s video for “Stronger” is relevant to a discussion of stripping because it’s a nice representation of the solipsism embedded in the archetype. Petitpoussin re-creates this isolating ideology by writing that some women enjoy the work. I’m certain that’s true, but it’s not responsive to the criteria of mutuality and honesty I raised in my post. The fact that petitpoussin can run through the whole of her response without once mentioning the men and women who constitute a dancer’s audience is significant; it reveals the barrenness of certain contemporary models of enjoyment, and a real contradiction where that enjoyment is based on relational qualities like power and desirability. (There is also a danger in letting oneself be convinced that protestations of enjoyment are equivalent to the “reality” of anything.)

I never doubt Lily Burana’s words or try to put a meaning over on them. When Burana says she lies about “everything,” I believe her. When she says a lap dance is the sexiest thing she’s ever seen, I believe her there, too. I just want to understand the implications of that judgement.

Let me clarify the comment about ‘slow suicide’: it’s a comment about the fear of pleasure as it manifests in American culture in general, and also about my own sensibility a few years back. The post is written at some distance from that earlier self, despite my nostalgia for the popular culture of the early 1990s.

One last thing: petitpoussin asked me what I thought of Britney’s “fall.” I think Britney was done in by a series of compromises. Critics were falling all over themselves to embrace “Toxic,” because it was a predictable song that processed Britney’s voice out of existence and used the same squiggly synth lines that Missy Elliott and Timbaland have been cooking up for years. (I know Britney can’t actually sing, but at least she used to occasionally sound like a human being.) The video was a rip-off of Alias, another “girl power” phenomenon, proving that Britney was now following trends rather than igniting them. Nothing about the new Britney is as provocative as “…Baby One More Time.” Her disastrous, highly public attempts at domesticity and motherhood just make her look pathetic.

Tomemos, nice comment (see below). I’d agree that some erotica is liberating where it challenges the mainstream, possibly including SuicideGirls, and certainly including art as ferocious as Liz Phair’s song “Flower.” However, erotica needs to be understood for what it is — a construction — not as authentic self-expression. I wanted to suggest that if my friend loses interest in a woman when he realizes that she’s trying to find herself, that may point to a certain amount of pressure on women (and on men) to consistently project false confidence. That’s at the expense of honesty, and maybe even at the expense of introspection, since introspection so often produces self-doubt.

Julie, let me make sure I read your comment right: you feel the problem with Sex and the City is that it privileges relationships over careers, rather than that it promotes feminine dependence? It seems like we’re saying basically the same thing.

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Tomemos writes:

I would agree with what I take petitpoussin to be saying: there is an important difference between female sexuality (or any other sort, I suppose) as a cultural product in general, and the particular form of mass-market, commercial sexuality that you very convincingly identify with Britney, the Spice Girls, et al. Sex-positivity, to use the parlance of our time, is not incompatible with genuine feminism. After all, Sleater-Kinney had a number of songs that were fairly raunchy–“What’s Mine Is Yours” and “Let’s Call It Love,” and “Turn It On” before that. Liz Phair’s “Flower” is another one, even if it isn’t very danceable. These are songs that, in my mind, provide an alternative to the sex-as-trauma view that, like you say, permeates a lot of feminist art. I would say that Sucide Girls, and other indie (and, often, woman-created) erotica/porn/stripping, has the potential to do the same thing. Unlike Britney or Christina, the goal of such works and performers isn’t to appeal to as wide a range as possible; I don’t just mean because they’re R rated–because what could be more conventional and mainstream than Maxim?–but also because they do not conform to standard views of sex and gender relationships, and are, in their way, feminist. I’m also not bothered or disappointed by Katie Suicide being unengaging or Missy Suicide being rich, any more than I am by a successful actor or athlete who holds those same qualities. …interesting, though, that Suicide Girls seems to be a riff on Spice Girls, right? What with all of the girls taking the last name “Sucide”? I never noticed that before.