In which I am a really tough gig: in response to Mr Benjamin Louche

Posted: August 9, 2013 in Uncategorized

So, I wrote a review of the excellent DoubleR Club at London Wonderground. Its charming and aberrant host, Mr Benjamin Louche, wrote an eloquent response. Here is my reply.

Hello! I am the reviewer who wrote the piece that prompted this – and I am flattered and pleased that you considered it important enough to respond to so eloquently. Part of the reason why I do the job I do is because it enables precisely this kind of dialogue, and I hope it’s clear both from the original review and this response that I am in general a huge fan of the DoubleR, I love your work, and most of the things about the show I think are great and challenging/unsettling/disturbing in good ways.

A few things, though, in response. Most importantly for the sake of everyone’s integrity, I absolutely was not in any way accusing you of exploiting the dancers, the performers or anyone else – nor, for the record, am I accusing the performers of being cultural dupes enslaved to oversexualised feminine norms, or some suchlike. They are all, regardless of gender, obviously very talented, hardworking and self-determined people in control of their performances and their actions, and fair play to them, say I. Whilst the point of the review was that I was particularly interested in and impressed by those acts that deliberately challenged and subverted traditional gender assumptions, that certainly does not constitute the implication either that the performers have no autonomy or that they were being exploited.

Relatedly, and I suspect fundamentally to this discussion, I very deliberately did not accuse you of misogyny. If I meant that, I’d’ve said it; I have many faults as a reviewer and as a human being, but a lack of directness isn’t one of them. Nor did I submit a review drenched in invective to TIC only to be instructed to tone it down; rather the reverse, in fact. I deliberately didn’t use the term misogyny, both because I don’t think (as you point out) it’s justified or necessary in this particular case, and also ‘misogyny’ is a big, ugly, many-headed cultural monster, about many more, varied, different things from the ‘funamental…concern with narratives of female victimhood’ that I wanted to discuss in this particular instance. Saying Lynch is concerned with narratives of female victimhood is fairly difficult to dispute, but that does not necessarily equate to an accusation of misogyny – it’s always in how the tale is told. There are any number of ways to explore female victimhood, many of them interesting, troubling, subversive, critical, ultimately empowering or culturally challenging ones, and I’m not sure I’d even define Lynch as misogynistic, let alone the DoubleR – I think it’s a bit more complicated that that, and if I’m honest I’m not sure my knowledge of Lynch is sufficiently encyclopaedic to come to a truly informed judgement. My point was, simply, that as a female audience member, I would like to see more acts that take those narratives of female victimhood and undermine them, subvert them, play with them, problematise them, discuss them – as some of the Double-R acts I mentioned clearly did. If it comes down to ‘well, if Lynch did it, it’s good enough for us’, then fair enough – but as I hope the last line of my review implied, I love the DoubleR, I love your work, and I think you’re in a really good position to discuss this stuff as well as recreate it.

To move onto some more specific points:

‘’ Lynch: “[P]eople have an idea that Dorothy [in Blue Velvet] was Everywoman, instead of being just Dorothy. That’s where the problem starts. If it’s just Dorothy, and it’s her story – which it is to me – then everything is fine … When you start talking about “women” versus “a woman,” then you’re getting into this area of generalization. There’s a billion different stories and possibilities.”

I’ve never come across that quote before, but I find it a bit disingenous (and problematically like Stephanie Meyer defending Twilight: If there are a billion different stories and possibilities, and you (general you, not ‘you Mr Louche’!) **always choose the ones in which women are victimised, dismissed, exploited, violated or otherwise subject to various forms of cultural violence**, then I reserve the right to question and dislike your choices.

Your piece said: ‘it’s worth noting I think that while it’s true the victims in Lynch’s work are invariably female, so the purveyors of evil are invariably men, or male manifestations of evil’.

I actually wasn’t aware that the latter aspect there was the case. I think I’d vaguely assumed that evil could have many faces but the victims were almost universally female. (If there are female or androgynous perpetrators of violence or evil in Lynch’s work, acts based on those would go a long way to answer the criticisms in my review, for reference! But I’m not an expert.)

‘I’m not convinced Lynch is suggesting that all men are evil any more than he’s suggesting that all women are victims.’ – I would hope not, in either case, although i wouldn’t claim sufficient expertise to say for certain. I didn’t mean to imply that all Lynch’s women were victims, and i’m pretty sure I never said that – I simply meant that for the most part Lynch’s victims were women. For the sake of authenticity I’d assumed there are a few characters of both genders who are just, y’know, people, manifestations of nightmare, hidden facets of the human character, neither evil *nor* victims.

Lynch: “The worst thing about this modern world is that people think you get killed on television with zero pain and zero blood. It must enter into kid’s heads that it’s not very messy to kill somebody, and it doesn`t hurt that much. That’s a real sickness to me. That’s a real sick thing.”So, if you are to deal with such subjects (and Lynch does and therefore so do we) theyshould make the audience feel uneasy.

‘Violence against women in Lynch’s work is often explicit and difficult to watch, but shouldn’t it be? To portray it in any other way surely diminishes its impact and therefore its horror. Take away the horror from violence and you’re left with something like Tarantino’s execrable Kill Bill, which plays like the bloodier scenes from Monty Python but without the laughs.’

That’s precisely my point. Traumata’s performance, which iirc immediately preceded the dancing bloody girls number, was uncomfortable, disturbing and brilliant precisely because it drew attention to and called into question the ways in which the traumatised, violated or otherwise damaged female body is used for a variety of purposes in popular culture. Her bleeding and inferred pain wasn’t easy or comfortable, but clever and disturbing – explicit, and difficult to watch. Not to cast aspersions on the excellent dancing of the women concerned, or their autonomous engagement in the matter, following that with some undoubtedly talented dancers who happened to be covered in (obviously fake, in contrast) blood and displayed no other signs of the consequences of violence *did* diminish the impact of assumed violence or violation. Having read your explanation:

Additionally, “the writhing blood-covered girl dancers” we saw as more threatening than superficially sexy; whether they were resurrected dead girls, or the dreamselves of girls trapped in some nightmare, or figments of the nightmare itself, the idea sprang initially from wanting to illustrate the Fred Madison-like sax appearing in the song being sung. A horrific Lost Highway-like hallucination.

…then yes, that makes sense; but at least to myself and my (female) companion, that certainly wasn’t the impression we received  – from our perch at the side of the stage, we saw no threatening behaviour or suggestion, rather a kind of, well, sexy dancing often objectified in popular culture and  common in music videos and suchlike, whose performers happened to be covered in blood. It certainly didn’t explore or demonstrate the experience of violence or its control in the way the previous performance (entirely commendably) had, or (as you say) Snake Fervor’s went on to do, or even feel particularly uneasy – simply, in context, a bit inappropriate.

‘Acts that were, I think, unfairly mischaracterized in the review in pursuit of something upon which to hang the term misogyny, were those of Hotcake Kitty, Sabrina Sweepstakes and Snake Fervor.’

I never used the term misogyny, very deliberately. Just for the record. Any hanging there is yours, not mine!

Some of that is simply difference in interpretation – I think it’s possible for Hotcake’s Audrey, for example, to be in control of her sexuality *and* giving a fairly traditional innocence to experience narrative which I would feel more challenged and engaged by were it more subversive, but that isn’t to reflect negatively on the quality of her performance, and I fight quite shy of discussing Sabrina Sweepstakes’ nudity and its sexuality or otherwise in detail because it feels disrespectful to the performer concerned – original and highly skilled, certainly. Again, I never used the term ‘misogyny’, much less suggest it was ‘used to dictate the order of the day’. I think the word I used was ‘ambiguous’ – eg, open to multiple interpretations – and ‘hmmm’ genuinely wasn’t sarcastic, but intended to signal thought. I can see how that itself might have come over ambiguous, though!

‘Snake Fervor told us that she dreamed up her act while in hospital following a serious performance injury: “[I] picked my character for that act because she was tortured and traumatised. I could relate to her when I was lying in hospital injured, and I wanted to create an act that made the audience feel uncomfortable” adding “It’s not a glittery, prissy, let’s all leave smiling and happy show.” Snake’s last point I think speaks directly to the nature of The Double R and what we have tried to create from day one. It is not the usual ‘happy-clappy-wall-to-wall’ frivolity of many cabaret shows. Its very aim is, while entertaining, to unsettle, wrong-foot and disorientate its audience, to amaze, amuse and yes, sometimes arouse you; but also to show you things that may, to quote my ridiculous signature hyperbole “scare you beyond the capacity for rational thought.”

My point was that there were more ways to unsettle, wrong-foot and disorientate an audience than those referencing female trauma – i would be totally up for some acts featuring women as perpetrators, gender-bending, reversal of expectation, gender ambiguity, turning the tables. I didn’t accuse you of misogyny and I didn’t accuse you of exploitation – my point was you do great stuff, maybe mix it up a little, including in terms of gender. And I stand by that.


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