This week is Burlesque Week here at Eliminating the Impossible. For those of you unaware of my professional and academic and famillial activities, I’m a relatively active member of the burlesque community. In the last few weeks (especially with Burlesque Hall of Fame having occurred) we’ve had a lot of time as a community to discuss the things which bother us most.
Today, I’m going to discuss the current debate around racism, stemming from Dita Von Teese’s act during her Strip Strip Hooray! tour. In the act, she is a woman in an Opium Den.
Here are some links to get you started on the why of this article, because what I’m not going to do, is talk about what does or doesn’t make a racist act:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8T2DXjSUtQ – video pieces of the act itself
Now, the dialogue here covers what I wanted to say about the racism, but I’d like to make an observation about the dialogue itself.
In the burlesque world, we do a lot of things which could make our audiences uncomfortable. I have seen acts where performers shoot up heroin, I have seen acts where performers have sex with garbage cans. I’ve recently heard of a “burqualesque” act dealing with the notion of honour killings. I’ve seen a performer stab herself in the vagina during an act (it was a stage knife, thankfully). We see a lot of things in burlesque designed to provoke dialogue, designed to provoke controversy. The only way for this kind of performance to be successful, however, is to encourage audience members and community members alike to dialogue with the artist. The problem, is that when such a successful performer does something which rankles many a community member, they need to step down from their pedestal and interact with the artistic community they come from.
When it comes down to it, this is what needs to happen every time we make a choice as a burlesque performer – perhaps it isn’t the comfortable thing to do – but I’ve done it multiple times, and each conversation I’ve had with an artist whose work has made me uncomfortable has usually been a positive dialogue on both sides.
Sure, you might not agree that Dita’s act was racist – but I think it is reasonable to assume that for any individual who does find it offensive, they should be able to interact in a positive dialogue about race – a dialogue which strengthens our community, not one which creates fractiousness within our walls.