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Uncomfortable Burlesque Discussion


#1

Hi Everyone,

I’m having a great time at my first SHUX but was wondering if anyone, other than myself, attended and found the Geekenders Bourlesque show a bit… uncomfortable.

It was a breath of fresh air when I read the SHUX code of conduct and realized how important respect and behaviour are to this group. Even more promising were the reminders by Matt and Quinns during the opening ceremony including a subtle nod to non-binary gender recognition.

And I realize I didn’t have to attend this Burlesque show but after reading the description there was a bit of morbid curiosity/disbelief that I had to see for myself.
“They can’t possibly be exploiting sexuality and nudity at a board game conference,” was my thought.

Now I don’t want to say that there’s no place in the world for a male dressed as Link stripping or a female zombie strip show… but what did that have to do with a board game convention?
The cheers (or more appropriately jeers and whistles) when new pieces of flesh were exposed on stage also didn’t seem to indicate that the audience was taking this in as high art.

I’ve been thinking on this throughout last evening and this morning and still feel a bit uncomfortable/disbelief.

What was it about this strip show that made the SU&SD crew feel that it had a place in the conference.
There is, after all, a FanExpo right around the corner from us and even that would have made slightly more sense for a “Geeky Brlesque Show”.

Did/does anyone else have these types of feelings or is it really just me not understanding?


#2

I attended the show, not really knowing what to expect, because my wife wanted to, and found myself having a very good time. The audience was instructed to cheer and applaud the performers as they shook and shimmied, and frankly I would have done so for many of the motions because the dancer showed some damn fine athleticism, especially Effie (hopefully I spelled that right) in her dances.

I think there is a difference between exploitation and celebration, and this event showcased the latter. I certainly understand, however, that such an event may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and can agree that it is not something one might expect to see at a board game convention. Still, it seemed that everyone, from the host, to the performers, the guests, and the audience were having fun. My wife said she found it to be a body positive experience and I think that is really the ideal takeaway from such an event.


#3

To be totally honest, it sounds like you might have some hangups about how they were approaching it. Burlesque is a very good example of enthusiastic consent and deliberate transgression of typical social boundaries; the people up there are volunteering to be there for their own enjoyment of doing so. It largely escapes the exploitation issues that complicate sex work so much as (and correct me if I am wrong) burlesque does not expose its performers to the same financial imbalance of power and legal status.

Side note, that’s not meant to be speaking against sex work, only to comment on the complexities and potential causes of exploitation in it.


#4

Panzemek is spot on. There is a large burlesque revival scene in Canada and a few other parts of the world. It’s a sexy and often deliberately funny exercise in creativity, body positivity, and self-expression, and is a reaction to traditionally more exploitative forms of sexual entertainment.

From the wikipedia article:
“Modern burlesque has taken on many forms, but it has the common trait of honouring one or more of burlesque’s previous incarnations. The acts tend to put emphasis on style and are sexy rather than sexual. A typical burlesque act usually includes striptease, expensive or garish costumes, and bawdy humour, and may incorporate elements of cabaret, circus skills, aerial silk, and more; sensuality, performance, and humour are kept in balance. Unlike professional strippers, burlesque performers often perform for fun and spend more money on costumes, rehearsal, and props than they are compensated. Although performers may still strip down to pasties and g-string or merkin, the purpose is no longer solely sexual gratification for men but self-expression of the performer and, vicariously, the women in the audience. The DIY aspect is prominent, and furthermore the striptease may be used to challenge sexual objectification, orientation, and other social taboos.”

In terms of what it has to do with a board game convention, although I couldn’t be at the convention, it sounds like the performers acts were linked either to geeky topics or common board game themes, and that it was a pretty good way of furthering one of SU&SD aims of creating a more thoughtful and accepting community. One of the major goals of burlesque is precisely creating a more inclusive world; it’s meant to be a safe space to celebrate all body types, genders, ethnicities, and abilities.

Perhaps there should have been a bit of an introduction to modern burlesque for those who had never experienced it before.


#5

Whichever side you’re on concerning burlesque in general, it does seem a really strange way to take a stand on sex/body positivity at a boardgame convention. It’s easy to see how it could make some feel uncomfortable or could be hijacked by those who have less respect. I struggle to see why the convention would compromise on its stance on inclusivity for an event on body/sex positivity(?). Inclusivity was one of the main selling points! It could just go so so wrong and seems like an unnecessary risk that muddies the water of what was a crystal clear pitch from the team from a very early stage.

And in the context of how conventions for various types of businesses were reviled for the use of women/sexuality at booths and in marketing. It’s just… odd!


#6

Thanks for saying this.

It isn’t that I have an inherent problem with Burlesque, it is that I don’t understand why a Burlesque show was at a board game convention.

At a convention where there would be open discomfort were a publisher to have “booth babes” it then seems strange to allow this aspect of culture in the same venue.

Were this a talk about sexuality in board games I would be completely on board as that fits the context of the event.

Why does having a Burlesque show thinly veiled as “geek culture” gain immediate acceptance?


#7

I think you and @KIR fail to understand the fundamental differences between burlesque and ‘booth girls’ leading to you making this false equivalent.
And as for why this is featured at a board game convention: why shouldn’t it be? This is an event by SUSD where they decide what they want to share with attendees, including what sounds like a Wrestling show(?) and a tournament of Victorian parlour games, both of which have little to nothing to do with board games.
I think your assertion that burlesque is "“exploiting sexuality and nudity” is where your problem originates, a notion that is clearly not shared by the creators of the show and probably most attendees.


#8

Yes, I suggested the false equivalence in my original post (didn’t think I’d have to go the whole hog and break it down). The only similarity is in the use of sexuality as entertainment in a setting that is in no way about sexuality.

The argument for exploitation and empowerment is complex. One person’s female empowerment and reclaimation of the female form is another’s patriarchal compromise that does little to question social structures and sexual politics . I really have no idea what the balance of these arguments is in feminist theory, and would be interested to know. Unfortunately Google just brings up a tonne of blogs so it’s difficult to tell.


#9

Yeah, I found some Guardian articles condemning and others in praise of burlesque.
My guess is that as with a lot of things, it should be judged on a case to case basis for how the concept is executed.
Meaning that I’m sure there are some burlesque shows that could be justifiably criticized for perpetuating gender stereotypes/only emphasising the sexual aspects, but I would be surprised if this was one of them.
As for the setting: the shows are clearly labeled and you have to make a deliberate effort to witness them, so I don’t see a problem here.
I’m all for conventions going beyond their immediate scope with events they think are fun/enlightening.

Edit: I just clicked your links and realized you also found Guardian coverage. :grinning:

What I don’t agree with is the assertion that if something isn’t actively feminist it’s automatically reactionary, which some of the articles seem to stipulate.


#10

Did you intend the double-negative? (I don’t want to second-guess what you meant, but it’s super awkward wording as-is.)


#11

You’re right, corrected.


#12

More importantly, every small (<1000) con I have attended has failed within 2 years of the geekenders first performing there. I’m not talking causation, only correlation. Also that grand total of cons attended with the geekenders is 3.

Wait… I have also attended all these cons OH GOD IT’S ME.


#13

Whilst I pretty much agree with everything you said, being a big fan of the Hot Brown Honey show that was in town earlier this year, as well as the fantastic vancouver-local Rent Cheque et al…

The question remains: what does body-positivity and subverting the male gaze (all of which get a thumbs up from me) have to do with a board game convention?


#14

No more or less than the Loading Ready Run panels did, I would think? It’s showcasing local talent and having fun.

In fact, one could argue that inclusivity and gender balance are still unsolved issues in the board gaming community (like many “geeky” communities), and so a show that addresses those is actually more on topic than a comedy panel.

(Not that I’m arguing either should be removed, of course.)


#15

Agree that gender balance and inclusivity are issues, not sure that women taking clothes off in front of (eyeball poll) majority white male audience solves them.

Gender balance is solved when women are making games, reviewing games, sat at the table in equal numbers and the teenage boy stereotype has been stamped to death under said table.


#16

To be clear, I was only addressing the issue of whether those topics belong at all. Whether the show helps or hinders that is a separate question.


#17

Burlesque and other entertainment shows are at many gaming conventions. I for one have always enjoyed them. For Shux, it helped make the con “board games and…” for the probably significant portion of us who also like fan culture and general geek stuff.

With gender equity and appropriateness concerns raised by the OP, I think what has been said pretty much covers it. I’ll simply chime in my support for the “burlesque is empowering, an art form, and a choice of expression made by the performers” camp. In this sense, it absolutely falls within the culture of Shux and SUSD


#18

Representation is an ongoing issue in the board game industry, so while not explicitly connected to traditional convention contents, playing or making or selling board games, I don’t think it’s unconnected. Last year there was a sword fighting/martial arts demonstration, so it’s at the very least more relevant to board gaming than that, which to be clear, I think is also fine. If people are interested and the event is positive, then why not?


#19

As another thought I had, we are willing to accept halftime entertainment in sports games, even though that has little to do with the actual sport.

I don’t think pure entertainment in a board game convention is that different


#20

I don’t know that I would say everyone agrees with half time entertainment at a sports game.
I’ve certainly seen that called out and not just in recent times.

I’m still not entirely sure how people are making the distinction between Burlesque and the use of sexuality and bodies for entertainment.

These arguments appear to hinge on the stance of “you just don’t understand” or “you just don’t get it.”

When someone tells a crude or sexual joke and ends up being called out on it, does it make it more acceptable if they had no malicious intent?
Does it make the joke acceptable because it is “just a joke” or because you “just don’t get the context?”

I was at this performance and there were cat calls galore.
Have we decided that this behaviour is now acceptable and encouraged?
Does it matter what the intentions of the performance are when an audience reacts that way?

How can we stand by saying that a game like Conan is wrong for specializing the female characters yet immediately turn around and accept a Burlesque show because it’s loosley based around geek culture?