Tuesday, 28 August 2012


As a firm believer in theatre as a place to further public discussion (this might be one reason why I enjoy shows that have been commonly dismissed, or get upset at performances aimed at children on moral grounds), I am enthusiastic about the various talks and workshops at the EIF. I am lucky enough  to chat to artists fairly often and believe this adds to my pleasure when I get to see their art: the EIF attempts to extend this privilege beyond the band of critics.

Friday's Encounters talk has Matthew Lenton, artistic director of Vanishing Point, team up with Professor Michael Lamb and Jean Kilbourne to scrutinise the representation of young women. Not only does this fit with the themes of Lenton's entry in the International Festival - a reworking of Alice in Wonderland - it homes in on a lively discussion that has been bothering feminists and commentators.

Kilbourne is listed on the programme as a feminist - in another article, I'd doubtless spend ages enjoying the irony that the woman is outnumbered on a panel that discusses representation of women - but is also a leading analyst of advertising. She takes seriously the social impact and context of advertising, identifying the distortions of human desires that are manipulated by those cheeky lads at the agency: she also has a book that has plenty to say about the sexualisation of young girls. After I realised that the Pussycat Dolls were being marketed for children, I decided this was probably a bit more serious.

Professor Michael Lamb was a witness in a trial that belies its seriousness with an amusing name: apparently, he was exposed as a committed liberal on the stand. While I am not sure I ought to be using Wikipedia to do my research, this article gives a run down on his activities. Given his support for the National Organisation of Women, he could equally be described as a feminist, but he is likely to be putting the conversation in the context of child development.

In the context of the Fringe, representation of women is intriguing. Inevitably, thanks to my taste for the avant-garde, I have seen a fair amount of nudity this August (entirely on-stage). I am Son, a brilliant Italian dance piece, had a topless lady - that she put on a vest for her bow only highlighted how nudity in performance is not the same thing as public nudity, and The Shit at Summerhall made evocative use of full nudity as a vivid symbol of vulnerability and insecurity. That I can't think of any male performers with their bits out suggests that the naked female is less taboo.

However, both of my examples are of adults, and this talk is about younger women: an expert on child psychology and the co-author of So Sexy So Soon suggest that this conversation will be less interested in experimental performance than the pervasive representation of girls as sexual beings. As a former teacher, I do object to this trend, and now that I have a niece, I am likely to become even more conservative about it.

Mind you, my reaction is mostly knee-jerk liberalism. I don't like the idea that young people are commodified,  and share a sentimentality about the innocence of childhood that is Victorian and liable to be shattered by five minutes with a real child: I remember my pupils having far more control and agency than the school system allowed. A talk like this will put my thoughts into context, and raise the consciousness of my internal debate. Better yet, it uses Wonderland  as a foundation for the conversation.

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