Sunday, 1 May 2016

I want some, too

On the one hand, I haven't listened to the Beyonce album yet. On the other, I've read all about it. On the one hand, I am intrigued by such a major pop personality banging on about dirty stuff in an explicit manner - it seems to challenge the repressive puritanism that has silenced queer voices throughout the past century. On the other, I am not sure that songs about blow-jobs are necessarily appropriate for younger listeners

I am still trying to work out the meaning of her Superbowl show. It might be a celebration of black radical politics, or the equivalent of those tasteless sexy Halloween costumes.

But the usual questions about pop music - does it have a good beat? how does it relate to her previous work?- have been subsumed in wider discussions. Some of these reflect the obsession with celebrity (a variation on the belief that pop and rock singers are actually singing about their lives, not performing). Others worry about her social impact (most of the people who call her a role model are trying to get on the cool bandwagon). Lemonade is not a collection of tunes, it is a sociological document, which embodies conflicts around gender, race, desire, fame, money, exploitation...

This has been going on for a while: Madonna and Prince in the 1980s, even the hysteria around Elvis and his pelvis in the 1950s. Rock (masculine, serious) used to get the heavy duty analysis and the fun, wild critique. Pop (feminine, playful) can get you a PhD in sociology these days.

And it depresses me, because theatre criticism is so beige, by comparison. I've divided theatre criticism into two, before (for convenience rather than accuracy): popular and academic. But there is a gap: conversations about theatre in the manner of Beyonce. The diverse, the playful, the worried, the ecstatic, the witty. 

I like a good authority to make my claims look academic. In this case, it is Habermas and the public sphere. He says that the public sphere is a notional space where ideas are debated. Theatre seems to be sitting in the seats at the edge of the piazza, frightened to speak out and whispering opinions to itself. It's not getting in and about the matter. 

Maybe I still want to be Lester Bangs, but theatre criticism is timid, soft-spoken and irrelevant. Maybe it's like my inability to leave a bad relationship, as theatre criticism clings to print even as print, made stupid by illness, treats it as badly as the beloved in an old blues. 

I want to be rolling around in the mud, wrestling members of the manosphere. I want to get kicked in by a group of feminists who resent my assumption that I understand female oppression. I don't what to be writing for the special edition of Which Theatre Production.

Theatre is so much, has so much to add. And until it gets the kind of analysis Beyonce gets (maybe not as much, I suppose - no-one cares that much), it is going to remain the wall-flower at the prom.

Hold on: Beyonce is theatre.

Let's go. Let's go.

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