Friday, 3 June 2016

Blah Blah Blah Naked Ladies Blah Blah Blah Beauty Contests Blah Blah Blah Patriarchy Punished in Bible Story Shock

It's always a pleasure to slip back into Undressed for Success, Brenda Foley's book on exotic dancers and beauty pageants. Whenever I get distressed by the shouting match on YouTube about gender identity, or find the dramaturgical construction of happiness on Facebook a bit much, I get out Foley and read about strippers.

Chapter 4 - Performing Normalcy - is a favourite. It begins by pointing out that both beauty pageants - like Miss World - and exotic dancing are both commodities. But while one sells wholesome gals, the other sells the darker charms of deviance. And the pageants are all about healthy sexual desires, the strip-club is giving it the naughty.

I suppose it's depressing to think that there is no escape from social codification - be as queer as you like son, you're still conforming to a predetermined set of values and symbols. I just enjoy the tease, wondering how Foley is going to connect the two areas this time. 

And she digs up fascinating examples. In 1855, there was a tableau vivant entitled Susanna Surprised in the Bath. My immediate Google search did not reveal any further information - I promise to investigate - except to present me with a load of Old Masters who had a crack at the theme. Turns out it's Biblical, and a very popular subject. Maybe the tableau was not as saucy as it sounds: but it's a great story, because it is about voyeurism. Who says self reflexivity is a post-modern conceit?

It all feeds into the horror shows of reality TV: audiences have been getting a cheeky eyeful of asocial activity for years. Maybe the audience for Saucy Susanna told themselves that there were there for the scriptural instruction. 

Actually, it's a wild story. These old geezers try to demand sex from Susanna with menaces. They end up in court, and they get executed for blackmail. I'm not approving the death penalty here, but that's a story about misogyny getting a spank. No wonder it has been relegated to the Apocrypha. 

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