Not an Odalisque

Things Out of Place, or, Burlesque and Violence II

On Sunday I walked out of the front row of a burlesque show during a song about intimate partner violence. If you think you’ve read this post before, you kind of have, except that I had less courage in the last one. This time I’d had chance to think. I’d already sat through a song about killing a lover who wants to leave, and displaying his dismembered body parts. As the audience applauded at the end I’d stared at the performer, hoping he’d catch my eye. I’d told the lover how upset I was during the interval. When the performer returned in the second half I was hopeful. He’d been fairly funny during the song before the abusive, murderous one, he’d sung about dogging. But, no, he sang, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, and if you leave me I’m going to kill you.” It wasn’t funny. It wasn’t funny twice. I couldn’t sit through it, I couldn’t sit still. Also, I kind of needed to pee. So I left. When I returned, the compere asked, “Were you somewhere important?” That’s when I told the all the people at the Lowry that I was offended by the act. I guess the singer heard, too.

So now I’ve been upset by people singing about violence towards their partners at two burlesque events. Is it just coincidence? Or is it a genre?

The odd thing about this particular performer is that I know people he knows. Hell, I like people he knows, and they like his performances. So I began wondering whether they had heard the song very differently, in a different context. We’ve all made jokes that have fallen flat because we told them in the wrong place, to the wrong people. Like when an assistant got me to try on a particularly zipped and pocketed pair of cycling trousers with Velcro cuffs, and I told him they would be ok if I was going camping with dykes. The joke would have been ok if he’d known I’ve fallen for butch women, that I’m a card-carrying SM Dyke.

About a week after I saw Joe Black, I came across this interview with the author of 50 Shades of Grey. Everything that I’ve read about this book encourages me to hate it. Everything that I’ve read of this book (the first page, while stood in Sainsbury’s) convinces me it is very, very badly written. It’s Twilight fan fic, Twilight being a series that glamourizes abusive relationships in books for impressionable teenagers. I hate this book because it represents BDSM as unsafe and non-consensual, and represents kinksters as traumatised and damaged. And most of all, I hate this book because I’ve nearly finished writing a novel about kinky relationships, and I don’t like the idea that it will be lumped in with, or worse, compared to, this trash. I’m writing about kink honestly and wholeheartedly, and I’m looking at a success that tells big fat lies about it. I’m primed to hate.

But…the woman’s kind of sweet. She says the book is her midlife crisis. She’s amusing about frantically tapping it into her phone on the train. And she happily admits that she can’t write. I begin to wonder, am I
hating something out of context?


If my flatmate was an avid Twilight reader, I would sigh, and get her a copy of Wuthering Heights packaged for Twilight readers for Christmas. I wouldn’t be angry with her. If for two years she spent all her spare time obsessively writing out her erotic fantasies, I’d try to get her out more. In fact, I’d take her to kinky events where she could meet similar obsessives, who write their own sexual fantasies on their blogs. I wouldn’t be angry with her, although I might hope that her life picks up soon.

When you’re writing a blog for your kinky acquaintances on Fetlife you don’t have a responsibility to represent kinky people or play in any particular way. When you’ve sold 2 million copies of a book, that’s 2 million people you’ve misinformed. I’m sure she didn’t write it with that many people in mind, but there you go. The audience matters.

Which leads me back to Mr. Joe Black, and his audience at the Lowry. The lover pointed out that he normally plays to audiences of Goths. Much as I’m sure there is intimate partner violence in the Goth community, it would have sounded much more like an amusing take on Gothic eroticisation of death. In the bar he’s playing soon in York, Stereo, the audience would be a bit less mainstream, and the song would sound less like it’s reinforcing mainstream values. The Lowry, unfortunately, has the most thuggish audience I’ve ever seen at a burlesque show. Slippery Belle there featured a man yelling, “Show us your tits!” at the compere, and being cheered by a significant proportion of the audience. At this show, the compere made a song and dance (literally) about being gay, but the prevailing assumptions were that the audience was straight. The female performers draped themselves over the men, never the women. A singer danced with a man two chairs away from me, he groped her, she pushed him off, and he groped her again. Sexual violence, albeit in a form all of us have experienced, wasn’t a distant possibility, it was going on right there. The reality of people killed by their partners as they try to leave was a bit too close.

From now on, I’m going to try hard to ensure my writing communicates its tone effectively enough that the contents can’t be misunderstood. If it’s a fantasy about schoolgirl canings, there should be no way that you can think that I believe schoolgirls ought to be caned, if it’s my personal take on what it’s like to be a splosher, you should be conscious throughout that I have never practiced, nor knowingly conversed with a practitioner of, sploshing. It will be good for my writing, and it would be good for us all to take a little more responsibility for what we say. Don’t let the bastards think you agree.


Written by Not an Odalisque

May 7, 2012 at 4:31 pm

4 Responses

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  1. Thank you for the thought-provoking post.
    I am kind of curious. How does Twilight glamorize abusive relationships?

    Lydia Carroll

    May 8, 2012 at 11:50 am

    • Lydia, thank you for your comment.

      My feeling is that a lot of the appeal of the central relationship in Twilight comes from quite nasty dynamics. The heroine is constantly worried that her boyfriend is going to attack her, she has to be very careful not to provoke him in case she is harmed. She has to regulate her sexuality for this reason. And, of course, she thinks he is older, wiser, stronger than her, preternaturally brilliant, an authority for her to look up to. Those are all textbook characteristics of an abusive relationship. I can see why it appeals, Heathcliff striding manfully across the moor is much sexier than my lover helping with the washing up. However, with Heachcliff with get both sides of the story, while in Twilight there’s no sense of reality to balance the great, sweeping emotions that an abusive relationship presents. I’m not saying we need more porn involving washing up, but there are plenty of books out there with hot, screwed-up relationships that paint a more subtle picture.

      Not an Odalisque

      May 13, 2012 at 5:40 pm

  2. hello there!
    i was sent this link by a friend and i just wanted to make a few points about myself. i’ve not been bothered to read the twighlight part of this blog. mainly just keen to clear up a few things about joe black.. aka… me.
    the first point is that you’re utterly ridiculous.
    secondly… my set list and the songs.

    first half –
    dogging – a song by fascinating aida about the joys of public sex. obviously had no effect on you.
    start a fire – a song written by the tiger lillies about burning down things as a hobby. no abusive and nasty bits put into this. so you were probably too caught up being self righteous to notice.

    second half. this is where i will indeed point out how ridiculous you are
    you are my sunshine – a traditional song. i changed NO lyrics whatsoever. all i did was sing the traditional “you are my sunshine, my only sunshine. you make me happy. when skies are grey. you’ll never know dear how much i loved you. please don’t take my sunshine away” and so on.
    lyrics that when put into a minor key and lots of sad face pulling, come across as rather tragic. which is why i did it. an old song that taken out of context – gets a new twist.

    if you leave me i’ll kill you – i actually wrote this WITH my partner. it was inspired by a conversation we had when i jokingly remarked “but that wouldn’t happen. if you leave me i’ll kill you” and instantly they laughed and together we wrote the song. its not about general abuse. it’s about MY relationship and something that happened with US that we did TOGETHER.

    i would never normally reply to this like this.
    but i felt the need to point out how wrong you were. that i actually WASN’T promoting violence or hate or anything. you just got so unbelievably caught up in your self righteous little head that you called to arms and started spouting a load of crap.
    so please – make sure you think about these things before you throwing rocks.

    the song that offended you was about MY relationship. a song i had written with MY partner.
    if i had said “ok everybody. this is what you should do if someone leaves you!” then maybe. i could see you getting upset.
    as i said, would never normally reply to this stuff. but you are ridiculous. simply put.

    Joe Black

    May 21, 2012 at 8:54 pm

  3. Thank you, Joe, for your comment. I appreciate you taking the time to construct a reply.

    Thank you, too, to all the commenters who have written interesting, insightful comments. I always get a glow when I see people engaging with my blog and the issues I’ve raised. I owe you an apology, because I’ve decided not to publish your comments. I’ve been here before, and I know what it’s like to see people calling me names, speculating about my motives, and threatening me. Each new comment makes the weight in my middle feel a little heavier, in the moment as the page loads I wonder how bad it will be. Almost every comment this evening has been a relief, and I’d like to keep it that way. I’ve experienced the frustration of working hard on a response to someone’s post only to find that, for one reason or another, it isn’t published, I know it’s unpleasant, I can only say that I’m very sorry.

    Apologies to all commenters, and many thanks to Joe. I hope you enjoy the bunfight!

    Not an Odalisque

    May 22, 2012 at 12:01 am

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