Not having felt moved to shout into the abyss of late, I haven’t been writing much - and the abyss, it appears, has been just fine without me.
But several days ago I passed my twelfth anniversary as a full-time performer, producer, writer and director within the neo-ecdystiastilogical arts. Twelve years. Big fucking deal, right? But it’s the longest I’ve had any job and, frankly, making a Life In Art – especially in New York City, and in 2016, and at no-longer-25 – is something.
So it seemed time to attempt to articulate a thing that has been sitting there taking up brainspace for a while now.
The temptation to hashtag about lacks of fucks is strong, but as we are not actually twelve years old, we resist nonetheless.
I’d like to talk about The Myth Of Community.
The Myth of Community says that we are all one amazing loving shiny sparkly supportive gilttertribe that only wants to see all our sisters (and maybe brothers but really only The Acceptable Ones) shine and sparkle like the sassy empowered amazing fierce deserving creatures we all are.
The Myth of Community says that everybody who “does” burlesque (well, but of course what we really mean is performs burlesque, or maybe also teaches it) is equal: equally experienced, equally skilled, equally respectful and professional, equally deserving of financial and artistic success. It says that the sheer fact of existing under a stage name renders one worthy of every benefit that The Community has to offer.
The Myth of Community says that the one shining goal of burlesque is To Elevate Burlesque: that we’re all working hard, and all towards this same goal; and that at all times this single, universal, Community-wide goal is at the forefront of everyone’s motivations and thoughts - to the exclusion of individual needs and desires, so that it trumps and eclipses even personal events and real-world needs.
According to The Myth of Community, we all have the same artistic goals. We agree on what “is” and “isn’t” Burlesque. We all value the same things as people and as artists. And above all and beyond everything We all like each other and love each other and like each other, all the time and in all circumstances and we act like it too and we’re all best friends with everyone else, even the people we’ve sort of never really even met.
… You do realize that this is pathological, right? It runs counter to almost every facet of basic human nature - which somehow and subconsciously we know, we realize and understand. But the Myth is so pervasive (and glittery and attractive and unicorns and butts omg yay!!!) that we all buy into it - we pretty much have to, in order to Succeed At Burlesque. (Remember: you’re never going to Be Voted Number One if you put yourself first without also putting The Community first too.)
The Myth feeds and fuels all the feelings of entitlement, butthurtédness and persecution, the lack mentality, the competition hysteria and zero-sum mentality, the climbing and posing and starfucking and cutting down and backbiting and shade-throwing and simple basic lying that creates such a wildly unpleasant and constant undercurrent to everything that we do.
Because of course we’re human: and it is in the nature of humans to be selfish. Not grab-all-the-candy, tax-the-poor, kick-the-orphans-out-of-the-hospital Gordon Gekko greedy, but we all have our individual needs, desires, likes and dislikes, goals, values and opinions. Sometimes these synch up with other people’s, and sometimes they do not; but either way truly and honestly our only obligation is to seeing that serving our own goals doesn’t actively hurt or intentionally deprive others. And that is called Existing In Society.
When we Exist in Society, we get to make the decision to collaborate artistically or financially or personally with this individual rather than that one. When someone hurts or is unkind to us – deliberately or by accident - we are allowed to speak up about it to that person. Artistic opinions can be expressed and discussed without personal attack or reprisal. We get to spend our leisure time with people whose company we enjoy, with no implied obligations on our professional time and relationships (and vice versa). We get to work towards goals that are meaningful to us personally, to not participate in events that are uncomfortable or unpleasant or uninteresting to us, to avoid situations that would mean interacting with people that hurt us, or disrespect us, or who we simply and for no particular reason just kinda don’t like. WE ARE ALLOWED TO JUST KINDA OR ACTUALLY AND IN FACT NOT LIKE PEOPLE, FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON OR FOR ACTUAL REASONS TOO.
In rejecting the Myth, we’re not instituting a self-centered free-for-all. We’re simply freeing ourselves of these self-imposed obligations of behavior and interaction that constantly butt up against the nature of humans in general and Us Sensitive Artist Types in particular:
When we reject The Myth of Community we’re acknowledging that we’re not one giant hydra-headed single-minded “glittertribe,” but countless self-created, geographically-convenient, interest- or circumstance-based groups, cliques, families, companies, troupes and organizations, some of which overlap in a giant Venn Diagram and others of which exist as independent satellites - and that is alright.
When we reject The Myth of Community we’re acknowledging that not everyone is at the same place in their artistic journey, that not everyone has the same level of experience or training or talent, and that opportunity, compensation and recognition are based at least in part on these factors - and that is okay.
When we reject The Myth of Community we’re acknowledging that the reasons for which people participate in burlesque are varied and infinite; that one person can have several or many different reasons and that these can change over time and with personal experience; that often different people’s goals are complementary but many times they are not - and that is acceptable.
When we reject The Myth of Community we’re acknowledging that “art” has as many definitions as the people who create it - and that is as it should be.
When we reject The Myth of Community we’re acknowledging that humans are just that – human – with different personalities and experiences and outlooks and intellectual responses and emotional responses and likes and dislikes and relationships and attractions, that everyone is owed basic human respect and that that is the only thing everyone is owed - and that is, simply, what existing as human beings means.
So when we reject this Myth what, practically, happens?
The idea that there is one single “definition” of burlesque finally being discarded as ludicrous, no show or performer is any longer dismissed by others as being “just classic” or “only doing weird shit” – or indeed is required to define it- or herself in any way. The fucking pointless Is burlesque stripping? non-discussion finally just stops. If people want to perform or produce or teach solely as a lucrative and early-retirement-friendly career, they are free to do so to the best of their ability and the limit the market will allow. If people want to create performances or shows simply for the sheer artistic exhilaration of it and never charge a dime, they are free to collaborate with like-minded individuals and organizations to do so. Other artists will agree or decline to work under these conditions as they so choose. If people want more than anything only to re-create historical striptease with absolute accuracy, or just to perform neo-burlesque based on pop culture references, or solely to be recognized with a particular title or crown, they are free to work towards these goals with as much or as little energy, focus, money and time as they choose to expend.
With producers under no perceived obligation to book anyone, backstage and online bitching about why so-and-so never books me stops, creating a far more professional and pleasant environment for everyone. Forced instead to both evaluate their own attitude and skill level and to learn to interact with peers in a businesslike and appropriate manner, performers, producers and others elevate the level of skill and professionalism across the board. With this increased level of professionalism comes independent, value-based decision-making (“Your host tells racist jokes onstage, so I will not perform with your show”) and also actual accountability (“I choose not to hire you because you speak very badly of this show to other producers and performers.”) With this transparency, rumor-mongering is no longer tolerated and thousands of social media ‘secret groups’ are disbanded. The number of Facebook-fueled pre-ulcerous conditions among artstrippers plummets.
Without an undefined, constantly contradictory notion of “community” fueling commentary on all ideas and events people focus on their own work rather than monitoring everybody else’s. They work towards fostering meaningful real-world interactions with other living breathing beings, rather than speaking only through the comments section or vaguebooking. They work with whom they choose, for whatever personal or professional reasons they like, while expecting or requiring nothing from those with whom they do not have any relationship.
Festivals become actual ‘reunions’ around the world and celebrations of the various facets of the art form, rather than in-name-or-in-notion attendance-obligatory cookie-cutter pageants. Numerically-ranked voting lists vanish in a puff of illogic and the endless commentary on these lists is instead channeled towards proficient and informed reviews and discussions of art and of craft. Literally almost everyone never wins Miss Exotic World. There is no Next Dita, the Facebook police still crack down on stage names, bots still flag nipple pics and trolls still call us sluts and fatties in the comments section.
And because we don’t have the obligation of Community to contend with all the time, we simply deal with it all in our own individual ways, with the support of our actual friends and families, and with an actual mindfulness towards others’ journeys and the impact that our words and actions have on them beyond trite floral inspirational #myshowgirlfamily quotes on Instagram.
Most of this of course will never happen. It is the utopian fantasy of a middle-aged wiseass title-less non-numerically-important neo-ecdysiast whose goal is to create weird smart shit with like-minded, dependable and adventurous artists, and to sell enough tickets to that shit to pay her exorbitant rent and not die of scurvy in the streets of New York. Would she like to be Heralded as The Eternal Queen of What She Does? She surely would. She would like to be ensconced as Permanent Number One for A Life In Art, Flawlessly Exhibited. She would like to see her Enemies Vanquished By Fire, she would like everyone to agree with her all the time, and to Do Better, and to shut the fuck up about everyone else for a goddamned minute and live their own fucking lives. Is that gonna happen? Ain’t. After twelve years of it the best she can hope for is one single hour when all the other butthurt whiners just do their work, and leave everyone else alone to do their work too.
And so I do enter into a new era of fucklessness. I’d invite you along but really, at this point, I don’t give a fuck. I’ll be over here like an adult caring about the things and people that matter to me and that care back, and not worrying about the rest of it .
But I’m sure I’ll hear everyone’s thoughts on that through the grapevine eventually, anyway.