Oh hi, everyone! Welcome back to another hot topic edition of the Dangrrr Zone. I’ve been asked to play Devil’s Advocate and consider the club’s perspective on the current firestorm surrounding the decision of New Orleans’ club, Lucky Pierre’s, to fire burlesque performer, Ruby Rage…
Before I do this and make you all hate me, I want you to understand very, very seriously that what I’m about to write is not about me or my own opinion on the recent events.
My own, full opinion is that Ruby is a gorgeous and talented (and extraordinarily nice) performer, that Bella is a smart producer and wouldn’t have hired anyone unworthy of the position, and that the club should have let Bella continue to hire her and shoved their weirdo body standards straight up their cosmic vortexes. If all you came here for is my opinion, you can stop reading now.
I’ve been following all of this closely as I like both Bella and Ruby personally and professionally and I have been extremely excited for the New Orleans burlesque scene’s recent growth. I’m sad that it has hit this bump in the process. I’ll be honest and say that as a smallish white female-presenting person I generally don’t feel like it’s my place to talk about any of this stuff, even necessarily in support, as I don’t want to drown out the voices that actually matter.
The neo burlesque movement is an incredible thing and, in relation to this, I think everything that needs to be said was already said quite well by Dirty Martini in her recent response to this controversy on 21st Century Burlesque.
So, now that I’ve hopefully explained myself appropriately, let me just vomit a little and put on my devil horns and throw myself in the position for everyone to want to stab me with pitchforks.
Here in NYC, I don’t work a lot of corporate, touristy or club gigs. I’d like to; they’re big moneymakers, and I am a professional starving artist. The truth of the matter though is, in my heart, I know I’m probably not generally a good fit for corporate/tourism gigs—my body shape isn’t the societal ideal, my acts are all weirdo-crazy, and I have a lot of tattoos.
Now, before you accuse me of self-shaming or whatever, I’m not. None of those things about me are bad things, they are just true facts. I love my body and my tattoos and my strangeness. [And so do we. —Ed.] And yes, there are corporate gigs and touristy gigs that don’t require that stuff, but focusing on them is just being blind to the fact that most corporate gigs and touristy gigs absolutely prefer a typically hot, flat tummy’d, big-boobied girl with an easy to swallow act.
Here’s the thing: We all know, don’t talk about, and then accept anyway, these gigs that we know are booking us not for our art, but for our look and our sex appeal or shock value. We all do it, all of us who are professional art makers. Even those of you who are pretending that you have never done it: you’ve totally done it. Face it. We all know that corporate event planners are more likely to love us if we’re cute and happy and normal and 34C or above and a size 2. We all know that tourism shows are frequented by audiences who don’t give a shit about your artistic oeuvre but just want to pay to be shocked or aroused or even just to have a few hours where they don’t have to talk to their spouse. We all do it, because we all need to pay rent.
And we keep doing it, willingly blind, until they flat out say they won’t hire someone else because they’re plus sized or black or male or Vulcan, because as long as they don’t actually say it we can write it off; and then when they do, we can pretend that we didn’t know they were doing that the whole time, and we get all vocally offended as though we have been surprised. We do this, not because we are actually offended (and I mean—of course we are) but because we are afraid and ashamed of our own complicity.
The ugly truth is, no one who is paying us money is required to give a shit about our artistic vision, or what we think burlesque is meant to say or do or look like. They don’t have to hire us because we are smart cookies or FEMINISM RAWR OR even because we are talented. They can hire us for whatever reason they need to be hiring a person, even if it has nothing to do with talent or concept. It’s not nice, or fair, or open minded, but it is a truth.
Think of the mall art kiosk: Every mall has at least one. Beautifully framed, generic art pieces, stacked on top of each other as if to say, “Hey. Art is assembled in a factory and can go straight into your home with little fuss or thought at the low price of $29.99!” Sea vistas with sail boats, Parisienne cityscapes; a couple holding each others’ hands and staring longingly into the distance. A tree, alone in a field. Oh, here’s a beautiful one—a rose with one slightly browning leaf. Oooh, it’s half off! $15.99 until Tuesday, what a steal!
People BUY that stuff. You know? People buy artwork at Target and they put it on their walls. Grown ups, not college dorm inhabitants. They hang it in their LIVING ROOMS. Where they have visitors. Visitors who actually SEE THAT THEY HAVE BOUGHT ART FROM TARGET, and then, they compliment it! Perhaps they even gift their hosts with MORE stock-art! This happens all over America, people. That’s our country.
The people who own and work at the mall kiosks, do you think they give a crap about the actual integrity of artwork? No. They care about money, and taking it from people who don’t know or care about artwork but want to pretend that they do. That’s a real, huge market. The likelihood that those people would put up an actual masterpiece for sale is highly unlikely. A knockoff of an actual masterpiece of course, that’s a whole different story. Posters of Van Gogh’s Starry Night for just $8!
On the other hand, what about the people who’ve created those mall kiosk art pieces? There are real life painters, who paint incredible pieces of emotional, mind-bending art, who also, on the side, to support themselves, paint ads for cigarettes of large chested ladies smoking in bikinis, and palm trees on canvas panels for mall discount art. In some small way, it is weaseling the industry into subverting itself, which I do find delightfully anarchistic; using the system to fund the derailing of the system.
What I’m saying to you is that corporate events, and tourist traps like Lucky Pierre’s, are the mall art kiosks of the performance world. They don’t care about the art of it, they never did and they never will; they care about the money of it. And even if you and I think that tourists and real life people want to see a variety of body types and races and artistic expressions, clubs may very well only care about the easiest way to bring in a continual flow of money. Just as Chippendales presents a “diverse” menu of very slightly differing angular cheekbones and cut abs, so shall some places present “burlesque” as slightly differing 36″-24″-36″ girls in Fredericks of Hollywood lingerie. They will exist—they do have a right to exist, as upsetting as that may be. And although Bella has stated her decision to stop producing there, it is possible that the venue will continue to produce burlesque-style shows—and the audience may never know or care.
There’s no good conclusion here. Removing my devil horns, all I can end with is a hope that we can all remember that the blame rests not on the people who work there, but only with the men in charge who have decided to walk on easy street. The easiest way to rewire a mechanism, after all, is from the inside. With luck, and support, perhaps these employees will take the money made from Pierre’s Conformist Kiosk and spend it on more exciting NOLA shows like Bella’s Dirty Dime Peepshow and the Roux, and in so doing, challenge the idiocy of their boss, and create a new standard.
Thoughts? Put ’em down here. I can handle it.