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March 27, 2014 7:37 PM   Subscribe

Safe for work unless there are concerns about the word merkin: Nadia Kamil's Feminist Burlesque (single link video)
posted by juliplease (36 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was really ready to hate this (ugh ugh is she really going to do humorless standup about how all feminists hate sex?), but damn, the banner work was really impressive. I can't figure out whether the high point was the "Stop asking whether women can be funny" roll out thing, or the bit where she teased the audience with "All rapes are the fault of..." sign.

I did think the pasties thing was dumb, though. Either really strip that far, or just skip the pasties. Pasties on a sheet of paper are not funny.
posted by Sara C. at 8:09 PM on March 27


Eh, I thought pasties on her actual degree was very funny.
posted by gladly at 8:21 PM on March 27 [7 favorites]


Oh, is that what that was? It looked like a sheet of copier paper, to me, and I heard her explain it in some way but didn't catch what she said.

I guess that somewhat redeems it, though I maintain that if you have to explain your joke, it's probably not that funny.
posted by Sara C. at 8:27 PM on March 27


Funny stuff.
posted by Jernau at 8:53 PM on March 27


The kneesocks are perfect.
posted by mochapickle at 8:54 PM on March 27


Damnit, the video won't work for me, but I wonder if it's setting up some kind of "zomg how can burlesque be feminist?! isn't that funny!?" assumption. (Seems like that's the case: here's the response from some of the burlesque community and this is apparently the act Nadia is mocking.)

I did burlesque for about 5 years or so and always found it to be feminist; not all of it is, much like not everything done by women is feminist by default, but burlesque comes out of a very feminist tradition of women defying notions of what it means to be "proper women" and there are plenty of performers using burlesque to make political commentary - especially those from marginalised backgrounds around race, gender, or sexuality.

(And this is a topic that comes up at least once every year and it is just so yawn-inducing after a while. Like really, we're having this conversation again?)

I'm trying to find videos of the performers I know who do this, but it's a little hard to track down. Some initial names:

Brown Girls Burlesque
La Chica Boom
Fella-Fem (one of the performers, Il Nocturnal, does radical activist performance)
Andi Stardust
The Lady Ms. Vagina Jenkins
and well, me.

It's been a little while since I was deeply into the burlesque world, and there's a high turnover rate, but feminist burlesque is not some rare oddity.

Also archive of queer burlesque, much of which is purposefully feminist.
posted by divabat at 9:08 PM on March 27 [5 favorites]


Divabat, I suspect when you actually watch the video you will be disappointed.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 9:23 PM on March 27


In a good way or a bad way?
posted by divabat at 9:32 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


It's more of taking common feminist memes and applying them a framework of certain cues from Burlesque, rather than something that takes the art of burlesque itself and makes it empowering.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 9:43 PM on March 27


OK, I watched the video, and the moment she went "Oh why can't burlesque be feminist - because the male gaze" -

FUCK. NO.
No no no no no no no.

Fuck that shit. It is what I expected, same old tired "feminist burlesque is an oxymoron LOL" trope.

That Margaret Thatcher act made you uncomfortable? Good. Burlesque isn't supposed to make you comfortable.

My comment still stands.
posted by divabat at 11:14 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


divabat, thank you, thank you, thank you.

I don't know what the performer saw when she saw burlesque performed, but it sounded like from the comment she had made up her mind well before watching the performance. What is weird is that if she had seen a multitude of burlesque performers, she likely would have seen that her own act would fit in rather well, although it would be a bit old and worn as it has been done before.

Case in point, I saw a much better performance a month ago at an annual burlesque festival where the performer dressed as a 50s housewife complete with kitchen table and props. As she removed clothing, she revealed (makeup) bruises. The entire audience (heavily weighted towards female) was silent and thoughtful - but that's not where it ended, because burlesque is about empowerment. No, instead, by the end of the act it was revealed that the beaten housewife had taken back her life, and in true burlesque comedy (most burlesque is heavy on comedy) she took the cover off the dinner plate on the kitchen table to reveal her husband's head. Somehow she pulled all of that off, taking us from uneasy tragedy with a feminist message we didn't have to have blatantly beaten into our heads with signage, to edgy comedy while not making it creepy. That's why burlesque is an art form, not a strip club for the male gaze.
posted by Muddler at 5:33 AM on March 28 [5 favorites]


Interestingly, I came across this video searching for things like "feminism + burlesque" because I have a friend who recently joined a troupe, and we share another acquaintance who was unfamiliar with the art and expressed some real dismay at the decision. I knew there would be resources out there that could explain it as a powerful act of feminism better than I could.

I realize that's not what this video is, but while I absolutely agree that burlesque can be empowering, I don't think that's the only right way for a feminist to think about it. The male gaze concept is a tricky and pernicious thing, and when I came across this video, I found her perspective informative, too. And of course, I think her actual act is hilarious.

The backstory added a complicating element, in case anyone missed it: the performance she saw was not in the context of burlesque, but in the context of co-ed, non-mainstream comedy. I can sympathize that booking a woman who undressed could be problematic for the women performing with her, especially if some of those women felt they'd found a space in which their being female was secondary to their act. Per the gag about the journalists in Kamil's act, I imagine being a woman in comedy can be challenging in it's own right.
posted by juliplease at 5:51 AM on March 28 [5 favorites]


in the context of co-ed, non-mainstream comedy

Just because I wasn't entirely clear above, and possibly the video was not either: Kamil was part of the comedy group performing, not a ticket-purchasing audience member.
posted by juliplease at 6:01 AM on March 28


I think that's honestly one of the things I didn't like about it, juliplease. It felt a lot like other angles on the feminist firing squad. Feminist standup shows up for a gig, another act in the lineup is a woman with a very different idea of how feminism and comedy intersect, the other woman is inevitably seen as an opponent and thus Wrong.

Rather than, hey, you know, maybe you're not the only woman doing comedy, kid. Maybe other women can be feminists, too. Maybe just because someone isn't doing exactly what you're doing, that doesn't mean they're stupid or anti-feminist.

I guess I just feel like there's already so much competition in the comedy world, and one of the things I like about the scene is that you generally don't have Female Comedian X railing against Female Comedian Y over the finer points of feminism.

I enjoyed the actual burlesque bit, itself, because I thought she executed it well. But the entire framing was wrong-headed and sanctimonious, in my opinion.
posted by Sara C. at 7:53 AM on March 28 [1 favorite]


Maybe I am reading it wrong, but what's so great about the Thatcher burlesque act? At best I'm reading it as making fun of Thatcher being both a hardass, unpopular politician and a woman. Are we expected to laugh at Thatcher whipping Labour because they got beat by a woman? Enlighten me, this is a honest question.
posted by Dr Dracator at 8:57 AM on March 28


I thought the act was pretty great. I feel like the reaction that she belittles all burlesque and all burlesque performers is over blown. This wasn't a strong criticism of burlesque, it was a funny re-interpretation of burlesque.
posted by MrBobaFett at 9:13 AM on March 28


I don't think anybody is saying "But the Margaret Thatcher burlesque act is GENIUS!"

It's just... the framing from Nadia Kamil is super dismissive, and not really about the content or whether it worked as a critique of Thatcher. It's just "and CAN YOU BELIEVE IT somebody brought* a STRIPPER to an underground comedy space. I clutch my pearls at you, gentlemen!"

I'd like Kamil's overall act a lot better without all that Here's Why I Am Better Than All Other Women framing.

*This actually bothered me the most. She didn't say "there was this other woman there, and she was doing a burlesque thing about Thatcher." She said "[so and so] booked a burlesque act". Which is a phrasing that completely erases the woman doing comedy through burlesque.
posted by Sara C. at 9:16 AM on March 28 [2 favorites]


Sara C. did we see the same video? I missed the part where she said she was better than all other women or even that her expression of feminism was the only valid expression of feminism.
posted by MrBobaFett at 9:21 AM on March 28


Muddler: Was it this one?

MrBobaFett: The moment she says "oh why can't burlesque be feminist - because the male gaze" - that's dismissive of burlesque. Before that she talks about how she and some other castmates were trying to get the venue holders to never book a burlesque act ever again.

When I went looking for other videos of burlesque performers to share here, I saw that this video had gone viral, with the accompanying "feminist burlesque is an oxymoron LOL" commentary. juliplease, if you really wanted to share feminist burlesque, you would do a lot better than a video of someone who dismisses an entire act as "I don't care how patriotic your pubic hair is".
posted by divabat at 10:54 AM on March 28


Wow, I had a very different reading. I read the male gaze comment as more of a meta-comment -- she's acknowledging that people misread the whole point of burlesque because they aren't grasping the different layers of subtext in performance and just reading it as straight sexuality. Her decidedly frumpy version of burlesque left absolutely no room for the audience to make that mistake. I think her intention was to make people re-think.
posted by mochapickle at 12:06 PM on March 28 [2 favorites]


divabat: "OK, I watched the video, and the moment she went "Oh why can't burlesque be feminist - because the male gaze"... Fuck that shit. It is what I expected, same old tired "feminist burlesque is an oxymoron LOL" trope."

It seemed pretty clear to me from the way she said this (falsetto), and the way she immediately questioned it -- not once but twice -- "But why?... why?" that she was begging the question, literally, and creating a space for people to think about it. Maybe your problem here is your expectations?
posted by tybeet at 12:31 PM on March 28


juliplease, if you really wanted to share feminist burlesque, you would do a lot better than...

I didn't imply that this video covers the breadth of the "feminist burlesque" topic, partiularly since its against the rules to editorialize in the post. As I stated above, I agree that burlesque can be feminist and happened to come across this video while seeking resources to share that perspective with someone who disagrees.

Kamil's piece positioned itself as "feminist" and so I referred to it by its title. I get that posting it at all may read like an endorsement of her views, but that should really just mean that I endorse it as something interesting on the web.

Anything that wants to position itself as feminist should tolerate—better yet, welcome—critique. That goes for anyone's feminist burlesque, including Kamil's, so I'm glad there are people here who are better informed than I that can help explore that. For my part, the burlesque dancers I know are well aware that its place in feminism is something about which reasonable people can disagree. I hardly think this video is out of place in the broader conversation, just because it is critical of it.

It's awkward because I've not found anything to confirm or deny that the woman who did the Thatcher burlesque was positioning her dance as feminist, so she's arguably been drawn into it unfairly. But Kamil decided to use that story to frame her act, for better or for worse, and not surprisingly, since she's doing stand-up, she poked fun.
posted by juliplease at 12:33 PM on March 28 [4 favorites]


Then why misrepresent the burlesque act in question ("I don't care how patriotic your pubes are") and talk about how you and your castmates wish they didn't hire burlesque acts anymore?
posted by divabat at 12:35 PM on March 28


tybeet, I had the same takeaway as divabat. She comes off as incredibly hostile and dismissive toward the idea that burlesque can be a valid art form. As she co-opts it for her own standup act. Charming.

That said, to a degree, divabat and I are probably reacting to certain shibboleths that call back to long-running arguments about sexuality, feminism, and performance. People who are not familiar with this are likely not picking up on the nuances.
posted by Sara C. at 12:37 PM on March 28 [1 favorite]


I kinda wanted to see her naked. I'll see myself out...
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:37 PM on March 28


I'll also say that I've definitely seen some burlesque that came off as sexy/porn-ish and not feminist, and in general I'm wary of the notion that burlesque is somehow feminist by nature.

I've also seen situations with burlesque where, despite the intentions of the artist, there are gross creepers perving out all over the place because they can't handle the idea that this isn't a strip club, it's art. This can seem especially gross in a desexualized venue like an underground comedy space, and if that was Kamil's first encounter with burlesque, I can see it provoking the reaction in her that it did. Especially if you're the non-sexualized female standup comic who has to follow that and play to the same audience.
posted by Sara C. at 12:45 PM on March 28 [2 favorites]


Sara C.: "She comes off as incredibly hostile and dismissive toward the idea that burlesque can be a valid art form."

Did we watch the same video? She talks about "weird" feelings after the Thatcher burlesque ("we all felt gross"), and then explores those feelings ("But then I thought..."), acknowledging that burlesque is a valid art form, that can express feminism, which she then gives a playful demonstration of.
posted by tybeet at 12:46 PM on March 28 [2 favorites]


That said, to a degree, divabat and I are probably reacting to certain shibboleths that call back to long-running arguments about sexuality, feminism, and performance. People who are not familiar with this are likely not picking up on the nuances.

I usually jibe with you, Sara C, but that's a bit needlessly dismissive. It's possible to be familiar with the history and find value in this performance and message. You're suggesting an ignorance here that just isn't true in those of us who are commenting here.

Burlesque, like all forms of art and social commentary, isn't always good. It's OK to criticize any kind of performance for sensationalism, or tackiness, or skill, or any other reason.

On preview, yes. The creepers. I think this is precisely what she's addressing.
posted by mochapickle at 12:48 PM on March 28 [2 favorites]


mochapickle: I didn't see her critiquing the piece itself, just that it was burlesque and (like burlesque tends to do) made sexuality uncomfortable and OMG EW. No nuance.

(And I'm not a burlesque apologist, as it were - I've made pieces and written stuff about how the scene can be horribly racist and problematic. At the same time this is a tired, worn argument, and it's frustrating that this is what's going viral, rather than the vast archive of work from burlesque artists worldwide.)
posted by divabat at 12:56 PM on March 28


Divabat, I think I see where you're coming from now.

I think if you assume that Kamil is familiar and sensitive to the history and social angles of burlesque, the act comes off as smart, winking meta-commentary. If you don't believe she grasps that nuance, it's tired and worn.

I'm not familiar with Kamil's other work, so maybe I'm assuming she's smarter than she really is.
posted by mochapickle at 1:07 PM on March 28 [1 favorite]


divabat - that's the artist. Very similar version of her performance (although I don't think she smeared the blood in our show and teased a lot longer before the reveal).

Now if you can find me a video of the older artist that does the entire Sound of Music, you'll be my hero. That was the funniest act I've seen in years.
posted by Muddler at 1:18 PM on March 28


Wait, I found it - The Sound of Music in 6 Minutes.
posted by Muddler at 1:25 PM on March 28 [2 favorites]


I think if you assume that Kamil is familiar and sensitive to the history and social angles of burlesque, the act comes off as smart, winking meta-commentary. If you don't believe she grasps that nuance, it's tired and worn.

Possibly. This might be a huge case of Poe's Law in effect.

on preview: heh, Muddler, I was just watching that as you mentioned it :)
posted by divabat at 1:27 PM on March 28 [1 favorite]


I think if you assume that Kamil is familiar and sensitive to the history and social angles of burlesque, the act comes off as smart, winking meta-commentary.

The problem is that there's nothing about her framing that makes it seem like she is familiar with this stuff. Or, if she is familiar, it's pretty clear that she's unambiguously against it. Like, if she'd said, "Look, I get it, sexy feminism woo, but here's the thing..." I could get behind it. And, like I said, I think the actual bit is funny and she pulls it off well. It's the framing that bugs me, because it's so needlessly dismissive.

FWIW I actually would love to see a humous takedown of the feminist burlesque phenomenon. I just don't think this is it.
posted by Sara C. at 1:33 PM on March 28 [1 favorite]


Sara C.: Ginger Snapz (who's written about PoC in burlesque history) has performed a piece calling out burlesque's racism and denigration of non-standard bodies; I wish there was a video.

I also did a piece along a similar vein.
posted by divabat at 1:41 PM on March 28 [2 favorites]


I laughed. Our local burlesque group is as untalented as it is serious.
posted by ITravelMontana at 10:57 AM on March 29


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