Just Plane Crazy
April 12, 2005 9:56 PM   Subscribe

"When stewardesses were sexy and the world was sexist" is the tagline of this years-in-making musical by Suzy Conn, who also runs the blogway baby musicals log (which talks about this musical quite a bit). It's meant to be based around the early 1960's, when airlines were truly a luxury, not unlike a sea cruise or a first-class train ride pre-Amtrak. (The website spends some time going on about Braniff International, and it's worth it to check out the history of that airline. This is also laid out on top of the era of Women's Liberation, although it does so using the aesthetic of 1960's music and phraseology, which was, basically, designed by male-dominated hollywood. For everyone who sits in the cheap seats, if you let the flash animation at the beginning of the site load, it plays the entire opening title song for you. Hey, free show!
posted by jscott (27 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I should probably state for the record that it is likely Ms. Conn is using this 1960's music style ironically, applying it as both a commentary on the era and the world as it was then. I'm sure she'll hear about this post and comment in some way or another (and likely already has).

The problem is, a lot of these "short-cut" aesthetic styles that came out of mass entertainment always do an amazing disservice to the eras they portray, since they cut out a lot of humanity for the ease of using some tried and true "phrases" to lock the "setting" and move on.

Still, it's singable.
posted by jscott at 10:00 PM on April 12, 2005

Is the tagline meant to somehow imply that the world isn't still sexist?
posted by Embryo at 10:30 PM on April 12, 2005

(sorry to ignore the content, but that struck me as an odd foundational assumption).
posted by Embryo at 10:30 PM on April 12, 2005

A good question, embryo. It's the tagline the musical presents. I think the "sexism" that the musical is trying to portray is the "classic" vision of it, with very specific gender roles for women and the changing of them with the 1960's publication of several books that urged a change. The site mentions them.

You might be onto something, though; maybe the tagline could be improved.
posted by jscott at 11:02 PM on April 12, 2005

I wasn't around when these so called stewardess vixens were around, but those must have been great days for heterosexual upper middle class men.
posted by Dean Keaton at 11:07 PM on April 12, 2005

Vanity Fair had an article about the history of sexism and purported availability of women airline employees a couple years ago.

"Fly me!" I remember that slogan. Ick.
posted by goofyfoot at 3:17 AM on April 13, 2005

I think the "sexism" that the musical is trying to portray is the "classic" vision of it

Yeah, I remember a few years back when they tried to market that "New Sexism" and it was just embarrassing - Robert Bly and all. So they regrouped and came out with Sexism Classic, and now everybody's happy. Or at least, as happy as they can be in a Sexism Classic world.
posted by soyjoy at 6:41 AM on April 13, 2005

those must have been great days for heterosexual upper middle class men.

I guess that's right... sure there was death, disease, work, pain, war, hatred, divorce, child abuse, drug abuse, and all those things but more importantly: there were women in short skirts working on airplanes.

"Fly me!" I remember that slogan. Ick.

Yeah, double ick. Worse now though. Isn't almost everything sold these days with a side order of sexual imagery?
posted by scheptech at 6:45 AM on April 13, 2005

There's a nice show on Discovery Times, which is along the lines of the Vanity Fair article, about the history of the flight stewardess.

Fly me to Miami!
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 7:38 AM on April 13, 2005

In the family picture box: Me, little guy in navy blue suit, tie (with stickpin) and freshly polished shoes. Hair greased down. Our mod and matching luggage at our sides on the runway as we prepare to climb the roll-up stairway for the big trip from Pittsburgh to Dayton.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:01 AM on April 13, 2005

Here's another really good Braniff site with lots of pictures and a good history of the Braniff stewardess outfits, etc.
posted by mrbill at 9:03 AM on April 13, 2005

no discussion of braniff would be complete without a reference to south park. the show's creators used part of a 1970s ad for braniff as their closing logo.

not sure how that fits into discussion of sexism and the jet set, but i figured i'd just throw that out there.
posted by pxe2000 at 9:47 AM on April 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

This thread would be incomplete without the exhaustive display of stewardess uniforms throughout the years.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:14 AM on April 13, 2005

So they regrouped and came out with Sexism Classic

Not Sexism Blue?

Blue...an occasional term for risqué, as well as the whole Pepsi thing...aw, I give up.
posted by NickDouglas at 12:33 PM on April 13, 2005

I'll quickly clarify, just to be complete.

The term "classic sexism" I am using here is the mass-media definition being used, with the phrases "little woman", "go-go", and "mystique" being used as code-words in advertising and entertainment referring to that time, among others. It is neither a denigration of the actual sexism that occurred, or a way of saying it was a positive thing. What I am simply referring to is an archetype, the secretary with the slap on the ass expected to make coffee, or the stewardess with the big smile who never shows an off moment and who dances the night away. It is an archetype as much as the "hacker as 12 year old who moves satellites" is an archetype. And here, they are singing.
posted by jscott at 1:14 PM on April 13, 2005

Well, I'd say we're talking more stereotype than archetype but hey, comedy is comedy and marketing is marketing and the trajectory, if I may put it that way, of the 'stewardess / flight attendant' image is certainly an interesting study in pop culture. And, I've mentioned on the old mefi before the connection between comedy and marketing. Both need 'types' to quickly create an image or idea, sort of instantaneous character development.
posted by scheptech at 4:01 PM on April 13, 2005

too bad the score doesn't include the song "Take Off With Us" from the musical being developed in Bob Fosse's film All That Jazz.
posted by f5seth at 4:38 PM on April 13, 2005

Sexism schmexism - those broads are sexy.
*looks about*
Wha? Whad I say?

amazing disservice to the eras they portray
Lot of that going around.

Flying seemed to = freedom in the 60's particularly for guys (you can run off to another city and no one knows you)
posted by Smedleyman at 5:11 PM on April 13, 2005

Here's the topline on my philosophy: I have two daughters, and I want them to fully achieve their potential. I don't understand a world that would deny them that opportunity, and I don't understand cultures that hold down the potential of 50% of the population.

Why did I choose to base a musical about feminism in the 1960s? Well, in a way, it was an easy choice since the '60s were the decade where the modern feminist movement came to life. As well, the spirit of optimism of the 1960s is important to the hopeful message of Plane Crazy. The 1960s represented an era that embraced change, and had great hope for the future.

So, in fact, I am using the decade as a dramatic device to reinforce the message of the show.

Now, a moment on the message of the show.

Today, the term "Feminist" has become loaded with a lot of negative baggage. Feminism is sometimes typecast as a dour, man-hating, bankrupt philosophy. This makes me very sad.

So I call my philosophy "Fun Feminism".

Fun Feminism embraces the innate female traits of love, joy, and sexuality. Some of us like men. Some of us want to have children. Most of us like sex...but don't tell us what we do or don't want, don't tell us how to think or how to act. If I want to be a Mommy...that's cool. If I want to be a corporate ladder climber...that's cool. If I want to be a musical theater writer...that's cool too (but who would want to do anything that silly!)

Fun Feminism is about choosing who you want to be and what you want to do, and not having your limits set by anyone else -- or by society.

It's no coincidence that by the end of Plane Crazy, one character becomes a mommy, one character becomes a feminist organizer, and one character decides to go and beat the ad men at their own game.

Finally, while I appreciate the seriousness of these issues (which are important to me), I also want to be entertained when I go to the theater.

I'm a huge fan of Tom Lehrer who always managed to wonderfully combine the serious with the silly. I've been heavily influenced by Tom Lehrer, and I believe that you can teach people more when you entertain them, when you engage them, when you make them laugh and when you get them singing!
posted by Blogway Baby at 8:20 PM on April 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

Thanks for weighing in, Ms. Conn. I appreciate it.

As someone who both appreciates musical theatre and movies but also recognizes the inherent flaws in the presentation medium, I'm always conflicted and often confusing when talking about them. It's mostly because I recognize both how "unrealistic" yet "based in reality" they are, performed by real people in unreal ways.

I think you will experience that baggage you speak of, presenting this play. You are, after all, presenting it in a modern era with an intending wink and nod to the era it is portraying. I applied to get a copy of your CD, so I look forward to hearing how you go about it all. You obviously didn't just "whip this off", as your weblog demonstrates, so I know you worked hard on it.

Speaking from my usual shelf of authority (knowing nothing, having no direct data to demonstrate, and having not thought about it until just now), I would advise composing a parallel marketing/branding for Just Plane Crazy, so that it pushes away from "this is about sexism" and instead focuses on the "fun". The content is obviously the same, but that way the negative baggage doesn't affect your work. I suspect it'll be a case of "what plays in New York doesn't play in Georgia" and so on. I've seen this happen with other musicals too, to their success.

For all this, by the way, I think you've found a really, really cool vector of history (air flight as a luxury and mass-marketing of feminism) to work in. I look forward to it.
posted by jscott at 12:48 AM on April 14, 2005

Thanks Jason...your comments are dead on. It IS a fun musical...hummable, danceable, entertaining with lots of pun-ny jokes.

The fine line is that I don't want people to feel that it's just a marshmallow, because I really do have a message that is important. At the same time, I don't want people to feel like they're going to get a preaching.

That's why the selling line is "The Classic '60s Musical", which is meant to conjure up a Doris Day esthetic (sort of like Down with Love starring Renee Zellweger), versus something like "The Fun Feminism Musical", which could work in certain circles, but makes the show's appeal more narrow.

Hairspray has done this well. It's essentially a show about racism, which is actually very heavy content in the show. But based on the marketing, you'd think it's a show about a fat girl with colored hair from a John Waters movie.

I don't know if it will ever play in Georgia. It's very sexy...
posted by Blogway Baby at 4:31 AM on April 14, 2005

It IS a fun musical...hummable, danceable, entertaining with lots of pun-ny jokes. ... It's very sexy...

Wait, wait. That Pepsi Blue remark above was just supposed to take off from the New Coke joke... right?

Seriously, I think what some of us are reacting to, of course without having seen the whole musical, is the impression given by the tagline and some of the packaging that "sexism" is or was limited to a Playboy-cartoon stereotype of wolfish men chasing nubile secretaries around desks.

In other words, "When the world was sexist" implicitly tells everyone (those who go on to see the musical, and those who don't) that the world is no longer sexist. This plays into the establishment meme that men and women now have perfect equality in society, so there's no need to work on anything else in this area; look how silly sexism was! Good thing there's nothing like that going on now, huh? In fact, I think today's sexism is more dangerous than "Classic Sexism," because it's so much more complex and insidious. (Even the phrase "fun feminism" plays by patriarchy's rules, distinguishing it from "regular feminism," which is, of course, no fun.)

I realize your intent is to hook people with the simplicity of the tagline and then flesh out a more complex argument in the show, but I hope you're taking into account how the marketing has ramifications beyond the group of people who get that far.

That said, it sounds like a great idea for a musical and I'll look forward to hearing more about it, and hearing more of it. The Tom Lehrer reference gives me particular hope.
posted by soyjoy at 7:45 AM on April 14, 2005

I met a stage production manager yesterday who said she was looking for something "sexy" (her words). I gave her the URL, and she was fairly excited. We'll see if anything happens. (It would be cool if it did)
posted by Eideteker at 9:38 AM on April 14, 2005

Thank you, soyjoy. I think it comes even closer to what I was trying to say, and seem to be having a lot more issues than I expected. Maybe it's something complex or maybe I'm phrasing it wrong.

The phrase "Playboy Cartoon" definitely is what I'm thinking of when I say "Classic Sexism", the chasing of secretaries around desks, which was a norm in, say, Mad Magazine for That Crazy Male World, which had ugly sides but which wasn't always portrayed, for obvious reasons.

The tagline "When the world was Sexist" does the opposite of what you're trying to accomplish; it nails it to its political side/agenda, instead of letting it come in through the stage door like Hairspray or other musicals.

Coming WAY in from "and who the heck are you territory", I would suggest something playing off the idea that this is for the 1960's what "Grease" is for the 1950's. "After Grease, there was Jet Fuel" or something (hey, I just woke up).

Like I said before, I think you're in unchartered/unused territory here, so either way, you've got a winner here. I can't wait to hear the CD.
posted by jscott at 10:58 AM on April 14, 2005

I understand the point...believe me, I've deliberated on this a lot.

Here are a couple of thoughts. I have personally experienced all kinds of UNBELIEVABLY sexist behavior, and even some serious sexual violence. Stuff that I hope my daughters never experience. And yes, the "political incorrectness" of sexism has pushed it underground and made it, in many ways, more dangerous.

On the other hand, when I read the stories of the "Stews" in the '60s, my jaw dropped. Airlines ran ads talking about how all their stews got married off to passengers, and how hot their stews were. By today's standards, it's totally unbelievable. Quite frankly, unimaginable.

Most of my female friends are professionals (lawyers, doctors, accountants) who have created wonderful careers for themselves. Something that would have been difficult for them to achieve 40 years ago.

So, have we progressed as a society?

Yes, I think so. Maybe even a lot. I'm glad my daughters were born today, and not 40 years ago.

Are we there yet? NO WAY...and that's why I wrote Plane Crazy. It's not meant to be just a history piece...it's meant to give you pause for thought...to drive the cause forward.

In a similar vein, the front page of our paper this morning had a picture of Britney Spears with the headline that went something like [paraphrasing] "...new mom Britney Spears loves junk food, but needs to lay off the fries..." with an analysis of how she getting too fat now that she's pregnant (accompanied by a picture of a pregnant Britney in a bikini looking fabulous, in my opinion).

HOLY CRAP: Where do people get off making fun of 5 extra pounds on Britney? When's the last time that a newspaper poked fun at a fat MALE politician. On the FRONT PAGE no less.

Oh yes baby, we've still got a long way to go...
posted by Blogway Baby at 12:33 PM on April 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

"When's the last time that a newspaper poked fun at a fat MALE politician?"

I hear Taft caught a lot of flak.

I actually didn't much care for Down With Love, but this seems fun.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:06 PM on April 14, 2005

Thank you, soyjoy. I think it comes even closer to what I was trying to say

No, dude, you came closer to what I was trying to say!

Look, we're all pretty much in agreement that the world is still sexist, though probably less so overall than in 1963. Great. The larger point, which I glossed over, jscott nailed: The tagline brands this upfront as an ideological musical, which I don't think you really want.

Having read some of the background both on your site and in your comments, there's some fascinating stuff which, as you say, does a great job of distilling the pervasive in-your-face sexism of that era. But unless I miss my guess, the musical treats the issue through emotion-charged personal experiences of the main characters rather than speechifying.

So you might be better off with a tagline that gets the "people" angle across, maybe hinting at "sexism" slyly rather than hollering it to the hills. e.g. some twist on the old "Coffee, tea or me?" phrase, or something about the "glamour" of air travel, with a wink as to who's providing the "glamour." That kind of thing. (And not to pile on, but the shorthand "stews" may not be as commonly understood as you might assume - it was the first I'd heard it, at least.)

Again, though, I'm looking forward to hearing the musical itself, which sounds very cool.
posted by soyjoy at 7:47 AM on April 15, 2005

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