Thursday, August 29, 2013

The VMA's: Slut-shaming and sexual currency

There's been a lot of buzz lately about Miley Cyrus' recent performance at the VMA awards. And as your neighborhood Mormon hippie feminist blogger, I'm going to add my own two cents. One cent is about the phenomenon of "slut-shaming" and the other cent is about using sexuality as currency.

I've heard a lot of negative responses to Miley's hypersexualized performance, everything from women telling their daughters to let Miley Cyrus be a lesson to them to women calling Miley out on the racist implications of her performance. I've also heard a lot of people dismissing the performance because it was the VMAs, and Miley is not the first artist to do something wildly controversial at the ceremony. It was certainly a strong move on the part of some publicist--gone is the Hannah Montana mousketeer image. But it seems that the general feeling is that the 20-year-old singer "shocked" and "disgusted" a nation.

Basically, there's a lot of "slut-shaming" going on. And if you ask me, that's a problem.

You can read a more in-depth explanation of the term "slut-shaming" here, but the basic definition is attacking a woman for having sexual feelings, expressing her sexuality, or being sexual or provocative in a way that isn't generally accepted in a society. And it's dangerous for a lot of reasons. A lot of people unconsciously "slut-shame" as a cautionary exercise--making sure good girls stay good. But that very act delineates women and girls into 2 categories: "good" and "bad" girls. And "bad" girls aren't victims--they had it coming. But if other people get to decide what a "good" girl and a "bad" girl is and then categorize people according to those definitions, then...

You see how this is problematic?

It takes a lot of power away from women. I hear a lot of people say that women can be empowered by acting "like a lady." But here's the flaw in that philosophy: acting "like a lady" is different in every society, and is constantly changing. By trying to empower themselves by acting a certain sexual way, women are simply puppets.

There are a lot of people who say that what Miley did clearly crossed the line, so we're justified in calling her out on it. It's not like we're saying she had it coming if she gets raped or something. But deep down, it's the same thing. We're still dividing women into "good girls" and "bad girls" to justify how we treat each other.

The phenomenon of "slut-shaming" demands that we draw lines and then blame people for crossing them. This seems like a reasonable, moral thing to do. But this argument is about who gets to draw the lines, and whether or not we're justified in how we treat the people who cross them.

What about women in strict Muslim countries? For them, going out in public without a male family member accompanying her is "clearly crossing the line." So people are justified in calling them out on it. If a woman is wearing a short skirt, and gets sexually harassed, she crossed a line, and "had it coming." If Miley Cyrus gets called dirty names on the internet, it's because she acted a certain way on television and deserves it. Here's the thing. Miley Cyrus could very well beat us all to the Celestial Kingdom. Other people whom we've deemed "bad" people have done great and beautiful things later in life.

With all that said, I didn't like the VMA performance, partly because the whole teddy bear motif was bizarre. I think the general reaction of "Oh dear. Ugghh" was a pretty accurate one, but I don't want to turn that into guile against any one person. I disliked the performance because it was evidence of a society in which sexuality is used not to express affection, but as currency. I know I'm treading on dangerous ground here, because many of my arguments may seem to categorize sexual behavior into "good" and "bad," which I just spent six paragraphs warning against. But my basic thought is that sexuality is, in general, a good thing. But when it's used for attention, for shock value, for manipulation, it ceases to be pure sexuality, and becomes about power. I'm not sure if Miley Cyrus understood the full implications of her performance. She got into a vehicle that's been problematic for centuries. I don't want to blame her for getting into the vehicle. I want society as a whole to torch the vehicle, and get a new one.

Our current vehicle is one which tells people that their value and their sexuality are connected. It includes a "rape culture" in which women are victims of jokes and harassment and violence. It includes a focus on pornography that traps women and men into lives they didn't choose, and can create addictions that destroy relationships. It's a vehicle we've been in for centuries, but I say it's time for a change. I don't have all the answers of what a perfect society would look like. But I know it wouldn't include shaming people for the choices they make, and it wouldn't include a culture that values sexuality as a means of manipulation and power.

It draws to a close

This is our last week at the Playmill. I feel simultaneously excited to have nights off, and heartbroken that it will all be over. I'm saving my blog of highlights from the last three weeks, so that one day next week when I'm feeling nostalgic, I can finish it and get a fix of all the good memories I have.

In the meantime, here's what I wish. I wish we could have a few weeks off, and then all come back to be together, continuing to do shows.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

When we were given to fly

Jacob and I started dating in August of 2009. That September, Pearl Jam was playing in Salt Lake City, on tour for their newest album "Backspacer." I hadn't heard much Pearl Jam, but Jacob had discovered them in his teens, and within weeks, he'd given me all of their albums, and I was quickly converted. Jacob and I drove down to Salt Lake together, listening to the Backspacer album. The concert was better than magic. When Jacob and I got married, we danced to "Just Breathe" at our wedding reception. Pearl Jam has been a huge part of our life together.

Last Saturday was a long day at the Playmill--three shows of Beauty and the Beast. My dad and stepmom were coming into town, and I was in the box office all day. During the 8:30 shows, Jerry had a conversation with one of the guys in the audience about tattoos, and they compared notes on their experiences.

In the line after the show, Jacob was shaking hands with everyone, as usual, when he noticed the shirt the guy was wearing. It was a "Third Man Records" T-shirt, from Jack White's record label. They chatted briefly about the T-shirt*, when in the middle of the handshake, Jacob got a good look at the man whose hand he was shaking. He paused, then asked, "Are you Mike McCready?"

And the guy nodded.

Mike McCready is one of the guitarists in Pearl Jam.

I had been helping take care of baby Charlie, who was hungrily crying in the back, so I was standing in concessions, making him a bottle, when Jacob yelled, "Liz! Mike McCready is outside!" I replied, "What? I don't believe you. What are you doing? Does he just look like him? I don't believe you," as he dragged me outside by the hand.

And then Mike** was standing there, and I believed him.

The coolest part about this whole experience was that he was totally willing to stay and chat and take pictures, despite the late hour and long day. But maybe even more awesome was the fact that he came to would have been totally different if we had just run into him at the grocery store or something.  He was so complimentary about the show, and encouraged all of us to keep doing what we do as artists. Camilla was able to chat with him about her Pearl Jam Macbeth project, and we were able to get some contact info about using certain songs. He and his wife and kids were on an end-of-summer road trip, spending some time together as a family. His wife's family told them that they HAD to come to the Playmill, so they did.

Someone ran in and got our sound guy, Luke--who talks about the album Ten as something that changed his life, who went to school to study guitar because of guys like Mike McCready. Luke walked out, saw Mike, and immediately hugged him. Mike signed his "Ten" tab book and his program, and seeing Luke's joy was one of the highlights of the entire experience.

Earlier in the night, Mike had handed Jacob a guitar pick that he had just been carrying in his pocket, which Jacob handed to me for safe-keeping. Later, I was talking with Luke about the night, when I had a thought and pulled out the pick. I held it up and said, "This is Mike McCready's. And I think it would mean more to you than it would to us. So I think you need to have it." Luke's eyes got big and he shook his head no, but I insisted, and he wordlessly took it and wrapped me in this HUGE hug. I realized later that maybe I should have consulted Jacob before giving away that pick, but when I told the story later, we both agreed that it was meant to be Luke's and that it was the right call. No regrets.

Anyway, now we HAVE to go see Pearl Jam on tour. There's a show in the Bay Area over Thanksgiving, so...see you in a few months, family? And you too, Mike. It was a pleasure to meet you and your family.

Thanks for sharing the keys to the locks we see everywhere. 

* It is a pretty cool shirt. 
** Am I allowed to call him "Mike"? Are we on a first-name basis? It feels presumptuous...

Saturday, August 10, 2013

These things happened. Weeks 15 and 16.

We've only got three weeks left here at the Playmill. This realization has filled me with a vague sense of panic...all things must end, but I have this feeling that I still have lots I need to do while HERE. I think a lot of us feel this way. There's this underlying sense that we've still got to watch this movie in the theatre, visit this place in the park, do this activity as a cast. We've got a "bucket list"* on the call board of things we need to do before August 31st.

But if we have a driving need to do things, we can comfort ourselves knowing the last few weeks have been filled with the following:

Bozeman weekend!
It was so awesome. The hotel was so awesome. Jacob and I drove up with Jacob S, and we stopped at this place called "The Roost" for their southern fried chicken, which met our expectations and then some. We spent some time shopping at a few different places, before Jacob and I headed off to the Museum of the Rockies. IT WAS SO AWESOME. There was a space exhibit, and we watched a planetarium show called "The Violent Universe" narrated by Patrick Stewart, and we looked at lots and lots and lots of dinosaur fossils. I think my favorite was the triceratops room. They had a whole line of skulls with those big frill things, from babies to huge mamas. Then we hung out at the hotel for a few minutes before going to the City Park with some peeps. We played missionary tag and a few other games, and I was reminded how fun it is to play games with my husband. He's so...FAST. And Charlie sat in a swing for the first time. Then it was off to The Olive Garden, then an evening of watching Ice Road Truckers and Mountain Men on the History Channel. (TV is a luxury.) We had to leave pretty early in the morning to get back to work box office, which was a bummer, but the drive was pretty and the company was good, and the continental breakfast at the hotel was pretty tasty.

 I accidentally "shot" the brothers in "Seven Brides" the other night. I have the gun cocked in one of the last scenes, when we're all chasing the brothers down for stealing the brides. In the moment I point the gun at them, I accidentally squeezed the trigger. There aren't any blanks or anything, so I don't think the audience noticed, but the brothers did, and I did. And I spent the rest of the scene facing the back wall of the stage to hide my laughter. "Trigger-happy Bixby," they call me.

Here's a bizarre fact: I am indecent every time Jacob S sees me backstage. I'm always changing, or trying to fix a microphone or something. Although every time he accuses me of being indecent, I always reply that I'm decent, I'm just not dressed.

Baby Charlie made his stage debut! Nicole usually takes the fake baby (which is used in all 3 shows) onstage in the very last scene of "Beauty & the Beast"--she's a pregnant villager for the rest of the show, and by the end, she's had the baby. Well, baby Charlie got wrapped up in a blanket and carried onstage for the final scene this week! He alternated between being chill and being confused. He did so well we decided to put him in a variety show sketch that we usually use the fake baby for...the baby gets thrown in the air, raspberried, and peek-a-booed. Charlie was a little confused for the first few events, but by the time peek-a-boo came around, he was all smiles.

Summer Camp! Every summer, the Playmill puts on a week-long summer camp for youth, where they have an opportunity to take classes, learn songs and choreography, watch the shows and ask questions afterwards, and put together a variety show for their families. I felt a little rusty as a teacher, but I was reminded how much I love teaching. Those kids were AWESOME. The week flew by, and I miss them all already.

How Jerry's line in "Seven Brides" is never the same twice. I'm not even sure what he's supposed to say, but it's something like, "None of our town girls will go with you, Adam, you gotta head back East to find one of them." The other night, he said something to the effect of "None of our town girls want a back door woodsman. You'll have to go back East." Never mind what we speculated a "back door woodsman" is.

The BEST girls' number EVER. During "Seven Brides," the girls sing "My Guy" and flirt with the boys in the audience. At one point in the number, we pick one guy to drag onstage and embarrass. If we can, we pick a little kid, because they're the funniest. Well, the five-year-old boy we picked during the 8:30 show was in such complete shock and jubilation that he was onstage surrounded by these girls singing to him that he was practically paralyzed. He stood with huge eyes and his mouth open wide, frozen in place by his own amazement. It was so hysterically funny that none of us girls could keep from laughing, and the last note of the song was practically non-existent, because we were all laughing so hard. Here's a demonstration Syd and I did of this kid's face...he alternated between the huge eyes and the wrinkled nose versions:

Also, Amanda and Nicole all kinds of fell during "Seven Brides." Like, on the floor, legs kicking in the air, tangled up fell. I'm not even entirely sure how it happened, but it was pretty amazing.

And finally, here are a few pictures that just haven't made it onto the blog yet.

 Cogsworth discusses the meaning of life with a young patron during a show.

 Playmill prom.

 Old man baby.

Last-minute costume ironing.

I pulled this ten-dollar bill out of my apron during concessions to give as change. Whhhaaaaat?

* I think I've given up on this battle.