RRight to RReply
Criticising critics for criticising your performance is mostly a silly and fruitless task, particularly when it’s merely their opinion that you disagree with. It tends to leave you looking foolish, bitter and insecure. I mean, if they claim you threw a Hitler salute, wet yourself and punched a baby seal when you didn’t, by all means take them to task; however if they just claim you weren’t funny or that you bored them, then you may not like it, but it is only their opinion.
And yet This Is Cabaret’s review of the final show of The Double R Club’s Summer of Unease at London Wonderground I think raises some questions and needs some reaction. No fist waving or raised voices, it’s mostly a very positive review, which is lovely, but it addresses something that David Lynch’s work has long been accused of: misogyny.
It is not my intention for this to be an excoriating rant (which I realise is unlike me), or in writing this to suggest that everyone has to like and/or ‘get’ what it is we do, nor that critics should not be free to write whatever they choose about us or anyone else; but apart from whether the show was good or bad, such an (albeit somewhat cloaked) suggestion of misogyny should be answered.
The writer says: “I’m not convinced that uncritically reproducing said narratives of female victimhood with added nudity actually counts as subversion (or perversion), or even commentary.”
I’m not entirely sure what the writer would like us to subvert or pervert, or even comment on, having herself already stated that Lynch’s work is “fundamentally concerned with narratives of female victimhood.” We bill ourselves as ‘Lynchian Cabaret’ “inspired directly or indirectly by the dark and beautiful worlds of David Lynch,” so couldn’t the above comment be seen as saying “This just in: Lynchian cabaret is too Lynchian”? Why would we be inspired to pay homage to Lynch’s work and then undermine, change or twist its aesthetic?
But was the show (even accidentally) misogynist?
“The overall impression, though, left by the night was a lot of screaming, frightened sexygirls and the white- faced dude in the black suit appearing to be sinisterly authoritative and going away again. Which probably is as an accurate a reflection of Lynchian gender dynamics as it is possible to get.”
To us, those “screaming, frightened sexygirls” were not in any way sexy; they were a device, along with some other acts we book, to deliberately wrong foot an audience who might think that any and all female nudity onstage, whether cabaret or burlesque, must, by definition, be sexual. 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.
The “white- faced dude” was our own invention, Blackhand, our own Lynchian ‘bad man’, designed to stand for all of Lynch’s strange and nameless threats from ‘another place’ from Twin Peaks‘ BOB, to Lost Highway‘s Mystery Man; 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’m not convinced Lynch is suggesting that all men are evil any more than he’s suggesting that all women are victims.
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.”
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.
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) they should make the audience feel uneasy.
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.
“More ambiguous – slightly – is Hotcake Kitty losing her innocence as a more naked Audrey from Twin Peaks”
To me, Hotcake’s Audrey is no mewing nymphet, but a young woman who, by the end of the act, is in total control of her sexuality, and of the audience.
Hotcake Kitty on her act: “I would say if anything ‘Audrey’ plays with the ideas of vulnerability but comes out stronger in this instance, resisting the temptation to give the audience what they want at the end of the act. Thus playing with the idea of the full reveal in burlesque.”
The article goes on to say: “Sabrina Sweepstakes with great skill transforming her head into a clay nightmare while her naked body just happened to get smeared with clay and water. Hmm.”
Which is a fairly accurate description of her act, yet the inclusion of the words “just happened” and “Hmm” sarcastically suggest that the performance is somehow demeaning or exploitative. This is so far from what I see in that act I barely know where to begin. It’s important to remember that the vast majority of the acts we book are conceived and choreographed by the performers themselves, we saw Sabrina do that act, loved it and booked it. I see nothing overtly arousing in it and to be honest find it really quite frightening; I return to my point about stage nudity being about more than mere titillation. My wife and co-producer Rose Thorne describes Sabrina’s act as “a nightmare in human form… a plain girl in a plain dress… who morphs into a monster.”
Hotcake Kitty: “As a female member of the cast I feel whole heartedly that misogyny was not used to dictate the order of the day. At points in the show acts did reflect on the ideas of the victims being female- as they do in Lynch’s work, but this is a Lynchian night. If it was ignored it wouldn’t be relevant to Lynch’s work and wouldn’t deliver the ideas and themes to an audience that may or may not be acquainted with his work.”
The review takes issue in particular with Snake Fervor’s act, stating that “Utterly brilliant as Fervor’s characterisation was, that was Victimhood with a capital V”
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.”
Misogyny is a sensitive issue, and rightly so, not least with the recent abuse of, and threats towards, female writers on Twitter and elsewhere. It is an issue that should no more be ignored and brushed under the carpet than examples of it should be displayed for mindless titillation; yet I firmly believe that this is not what Lynch does, and not what we at The Double R Club do. To call what we do the “unthinking adoption of Lynchian gender dynamics” goes beyond whether the show was good or bad, it is an accusation that, working as we do in an industry that is probably roughly 90% female, we felt could not be left unanswered.
I’ll sign off with a quote from Lynch himself: “The only thing to say about all the controversy is, did I make all that up, or are there examples in real life? And there are countless examples like that in real life. So why do they get upset when you put something like this in a film?”
Postscript from Lydia Darling (one of the “the writhing blood-covered girl dancers”, a seasoned cabaret & burlesque performer and our own Miss Twin Peaks 2010):
“A lot of it depends on whether you equate nakedness to vulnerability. When somebody is stripped, there’s an intimation of them having been stripped of their power, that someone stronger than them has shorn them of their garments and an expectation for them to hide their nakedness. The inbuilt idea that their nakedness should bring shame.
But that’s only one kind of power exchange. There is another when a person decides to be naked despite those connotations of disempowerment and to own their own flesh. As a performer, I enjoy the moments where the audience is uncomfortable – taking the gaze and reflecting it back at the audience. I certainly know, as I stood blood-soaked and naked under the spotlight, I did not feel exploited. I stared into the eyes of the audience members, not with a plea for help but with defiance; look upon us if you dare. Each person who could not hold my gaze was a little victory. My nakedness was not there to titillate. My dancing was not supposed to be sexy. Agreed it was not subtle; it was not meant to be.
Besides, who’s to say that the naked, blood soaked girls were victims and not perpetrators?”
P.P.S.: See ‘Comments’ (above) to watch the debate rage on!