Thursday, December 20, 2012

Magic Mike, Stripperphobia, and So-Called Compassionate Commentators

It's All Good Fun Til It's Time To Get Mature and Responsible

        You can just see the brimming pride of writers tackling a taboo subject who fancy that they are giving it the fair shake that noone gives it.  The self-satisfaction drips off the page as the compassionate, even-handed master of objectivity gives people from the ghetto, ex-cons, sex-workers, the disabled, boxers, or iconoclasts of some sort the same treatment we would give anyone else, using the same moral criteria and giving the same benefit of the doubt.
        Which is all bullshit.  The bigotry is still there, it's just harder to pick out, and comes dressed up in empathy.  The example I'm thinking about tonight is people who write about sex workers generally--but here we'll stick to strippers--taking great care not to judge them for BEING sex workers.  Ah, but in order to do that, having not truly rooted out their prejudice, they have to come up with some 'excuse' for their being sex workers.  A reviewer for Magic Mike reads it as a critique of capitalism because these men have little choice left to them in these hard times.  Narratives about women will often explain their coming to stripping with reference to an abusive family/childhood or some exigent need for money (like being a single mom).  The implication is that nobody good--and remember, we're such good writers because we're assuming these freaks are good too!--would choose stripping without being forced to in some way.  It's an unacknowledged premise, so common that commentators rarely feel the need to say it.  Hell , they probably don't even think it consciously.  It''s just there, like fear is there around Black people for some racists, whether they're conscious of it or not.  
        How are we to really understand anything about a minority if we take as premise what still needs to be proved?  We can't find anything out here, because we don't even ask the right initial questions:  Does she enjoy her job?  Is a typical 9 to 5 healthier or unhealthier than this work environment?  Is it not a case of 'dire need' but rather just a standard career choice scenario, in which this career is more attractive than many high-paying, respectable jobs?  I'll give you a shortcut--the answer is, in many cases, YES, it's not desperation but, variously, taste, shrewd economic sensibility, a commitment to one's art, enjoyment of the dancing and the celebration of one's own body....there are many reasons.  The art one is an interesting motivation most commentators never get.  What's the scenario for the death of one's favorite form of creative production, be it poetry, dance, film or sculpture?  A 9 to 5 job.  I've known quite a few strippers who strip because they can earn the same amount of money in two nights that they'd earn in a whole week in every other job available to them.  That leaves 5 nights a week to do their art.  Pretty sweet.  Others might not have some art they're saving time for, but simply share in Marx's distaste for wage slavery, and, for the sex workers who have no bosses, for the hierarchical capitalist workplace.
      I expected more from "Magic Mike", given that Soderbergh did in fact avoid most of the common prejudices towards communism in "Che" and towards prostitutes in "The Girlfriend Experience".  But the moral of Magic Mike seems to be:  when it's time to get serious about winning the girl of your dreams and finding a fulfilling life, that means time to quit stripping.  Throughout the film, I was impressed with the gender role-reversing theme of the male who can't get a female to take him seriously or want anything but casual sex (how many men have THAT problem?!) because all these women have that fundamental prejudice about sex workers, that they are 'party people':  fun to dabble around with but not for settling down with.  I thought the film was going to deconstruct that prejudice, but instead it instantiates it by having our hero quit a backstage scene increasingly rife with drugs (yawn--another cliche') and go home humbly to his finally ready for him Decent Girl.
      A truly revolutionary film about sex work or any other minority position that immediately calls to mind in the mass populace cliches about a hard or unhealthy life (i.e. films about drug use and addiction; mental illness; gay or poly families; ex-cons ) would simply be a fairly traditional story wherein the big 'heavy' subject matter is just matter-of-fact backdrop, and there is no real crisis or inherent problem.  Just the problems the characters would face if they were in a more common position.  That story would go further in normalizing the presently marginalized people or deconstructing our images and narratives about these minorities than one which heavy-handedly addressed the common problems in this field.  Because the most common problem is the arrogance of all outsiders thinking they know what the common problems are, what's healthy and what's unhealthy therein, and why people do what they do.

The Sacred Dice - A Revolutionary Salon

The Sacred Dice is a salon of musicians, scholars, poets, sound sculptors, activists and artists of all kinds committed to art that is committed.  That could get us committed (to an asylum).  That disdain's art for art's sake and artists who have no idea why they do what they do.  We know why we do what we do--to create and celebrate community in a country still stuck in capitalist fantasies of individualism.  If you want in, you're in.  If you want out, don't worry--you already are.