Coming soon, podcast #5: You’re Welcome! Why Burlesque NEEDS Rubyyy Jones.

Award winner, burlesque performer and producer, and self-proclaimed ‘professional loudmouth’ Rubyyy Jones was kind enough to chat with me recently, about her star persona, her performance motivations and the politics of burlesque. This conversation will be available as Here’s Looking At You podcast #5, next week.

I thought it was therefore appropriate to talk a bit about what it is that makes Rubyyy so very special as a performer. To do this I am going to talk a little about the act through which I first experienced her.

Working as a promoter and producer between 2006 and 2016, I was constantly on the lookout for acts that enthused and excited me and that I thought would enthuse and excite our audience too. A conversation with the fabulous performer Diva Hollywood prompted to me seek Rubyyy’s work out on YouTube. I’d heard rumblings, but never actually seen her but I liked the sound of what she was doing – namely, ‘queerlesque.’

I understand queerlesque to be burlesque performance that ‘queers’ the understanding and representation of identity, particularly around gender and sexuality. These are performances that engage with a spectrum of identities rather than a restrictive, binary arrangement. I personally would describe Rubyyy as an avant-garde, neo-drag performer, promoter, producer, campaigner and general badass. (However, as I say in our podcast conversation, its probably much more appropriate that Rubyyy define herself, in her own terms.)

From the opening seconds of the first video I watched, I was in love. I started with You’re Welcome, then moved on to Pottymouth Princess, by the end of which I was a snotty, sobbing mess.

This was what I had always wanted burlesque to be. Jones’ ‘look’, in heavy drag make up, all blonde hair and big eyes, and with eye-popping costuming, accompanied by a direct and often aggressive address to the audience and a satiric intent, made her, to my mind, the embodiment of burlesque. She utilised, in fact, wielded the mode, like a weapon, in the subversive, dangerous and brazen manner that I associated with trailblazers such as Lydia Thompson and her British Blondes.

Like a school mistress, schooling her audience, You’re Welcome opens with Jones lip-synching:

‘Hello children. You might have heard of me. You might have heard that I’m an unwashed, American Lesbian.’

And as such she sets up the premise of the act – a systematic refusal and embrace of labels and identities. From here Jones joyfully asserts:

‘Well let me tell you, I’m Rubyyy! That’s with three Ys. I’m the hairiest burlesque beauty in the world, the Queen of queerlesque and I’m a big, fat, fabulous, queer Canadian!’

The act itself hinges on the notion of what it is to be ‘gorgeous,’ how this notion is subjective and how, quite frankly, she’s here to celebrate, to show (and tell) you just how gorgeous/fabulous she is. In fact, you should be grateful she is here to educate you. (Hence, ‘you’re welcome.’)

The thumping soundtrack is punctuated with dubs of Jones repeatedly asking, to varying degrees of cuteness, ‘Don’t I look gorgeous?’ As a lip-synch artist, these lines are mimed/delivered expertly, initially whilst adopting the poses and facial expressions of a preppy, cute, nubile girl or a coy ingénue, but as the act progresses, this delivery becomes more and more aggressive and absurd, and Jones’ accompanying actions and gurning facial expressions more provocative. At one stage Jones wipes her groin with her satin-gloved hand, and then mimes flicking the accumulated bodily fluids into the faces of the front row. Good taste and decorum dictates that the performance of such an action is shocking by anyone identified as female, but it is doubly so when that female has been employed to perform in a public space and as a strip tease artist.

As a result, the constant ‘Don’t I look gorgeous?’ becomes a direct challenge to Jones’ audience, rather than a question. Instead of offering a passive, reassuring example of nubile, sexualised femininity up on the stage, Jones’ striptease and her constant questioning is just that, a questioning. An act of aggression, a refusal to submit and a wilfully antagonistic assertion of power and of feminine identity.

Elsewhere, staple strip tease moves are disabused of their reassuring connotations. As Jones removes her satin gloves with her teeth, she takes on an unhinged look. Rather than provocatively nibbling on the finger tips of the glove and easing it off her hand, she crams the glove into her mouth, eyes bulging and visibly gagging. The fact that, as this is occurring, the soundtrack repeatedly asks us ‘Don’t I look gorgeous?’ suggests a performative engagement not just with female sexuality on show, but with dysfunction and the harm we can do to ourselves in pursuit of desirability.

Elsewhere formulaic chorus girl and stripper moves such as high kicks, shimmys, grinds, hair flicks and even doing the splits are given an aggressive, isolent inference, making them sexy as hell, in a very assertive way.

As the act, and Jones’ aggression gathers pace, Jones repeatedly breaks synchronisation, shouting out into the audience and drawing attention to the falseness of her mode of address. Furthermore, her non-synchronised interjections are to directly goad the audience. Whilst the soundtrack sweetly requests that the audience ‘cheer for me!’ Jones breaks synch, snarling loudly to her audience ‘Come on!’ At one stage Jones again breaks synch to shout directly into the crowd,  ‘Cheer for my gorgeous, natural body, assholes!’ This moment, this direct and determined disregard for the opinions of the audience who are paying to see her, and the provocation inherent within it is why I am so glad this performer exists, why I  cry every single time I see this act live and I was so thrilled to talk with her for the podcast. Rubyyy rules.

video of act below:

Here’s Looking At You Podcast #4 Wondering about Wonder Woman

WW no.25, December 2008

A film depiction of  Wonder Woman acting as a role model for young girls.

Welcome to the fourth Here’s Looking at You podcast.  In this podcast I talk about Wonder Woman with Dr Rayna Denison, senior lecturer in Film at University of East Anglia and editor of the Eisner award-nominated Super Heroes on World Screens  and Melanie Adams, pin-up artist at Madams Pin-Ups and Wonder Woman expert.

We discuss Wonder Woman’s various iterations over the years, her feminist roots, the politics of her costuming, how she’s marketed in different national contexts and what we liked and disliked about the recently released origin story, directed by Patty Jenkins.

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Now the world is ready for you… ?

First we discussed Wonder Woman as a recuring, and changing, cultural figure and how she reflects and reacts to the times.   While there are many  Continue reading

‘I’m Ready For My Close Up’: My blog for the IAMHIST website on the Hollywood Glamour Photograph

 

dietrichA few months ago Llewella Chapman, PhD candidate at the University of East Anglia, asked me would I like to write a blog for the International Association for Media and History website. Its a cracking organisation so I excitedly agreed.

The International Association for Media and History (IAMHIST) is a scholarly organization which brings together media historians, media scholars and professionals with an interest in media history. You can find them on Twitter at @iamhist

My blog on the Hollywood Glamour Photograph appeared on  the IAMHIST website last week and can be accessed here:

http://iamhist.org/2017/05/hollywood-glamour-photograph/

But it is also reproduced below:

Considering Hollywood’s reliance upon photography between the teens and the 1960s, as a means of promoting, shaping and altering star images, the photographic representation of stars remains a peculiarly underdeveloped area of star studies. This is a real missed opportunity, as these images can offer considerable insights into the construction of film stardom and the pleasures Continue reading

Coming soon, to a device near you: Podcast #4: Wondering about Wonder Woman

WWTweet 2So after a year of tantalising trailers, the Wonder Woman movie is finally out.  Not surprisingly, as it’s a film based on an active female protagonist (gasp!), it has drawn a mixed reaction.

If you want my thoughts, here they are. Whilst the finished product is a cut above the usual superhero fare, and it is ground breaking in that it is directed by a woman (gasp!), personally I think it still doesn’t live up to the historical promise of the Wonder Woman character, or the film’s own promotional expectations. It was ok, but it could have been so much better.

I had conversations with a number of people about the film and generally my friends think it’s great, particularly because they felt it had a strong feminist message. This got me thinking, I probably needed to think through why I was disappointed and maybe have a more in depth chat about Wonder Woman; a figure I know relatively little about.

So I’m just in the process of arranging said podcast and my guests will include Dr. Rayna Denison, editor of Super Heroes on World Screens and lecturer in film studies at UEA and Melanie Adams, Wonder Woman aficionado and pin-up artist. Continue reading

Rubyyy Jones wins ‘Most Innovative’ at Burlesque Hall of Fame

RubyyyFeatured in my last couple of podcasts (podcasts #2 and #3) is the wonderful queerlesque performer Rubyyy Jones, who has recently won the ‘Most Innovative’ award at this year’s prestigous Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend event.

Rubyyy received this award for her hard-hitting, taboo-busting act Pottymouth Princess. This act is about sex discrimination, body image and sexual violence against women and was the last act ever performed at my regular Burlesque show, The Cat’s Pyjamas.  I can tell you, sitting at the side of the stage, as she performed this act, and watching the women in the audience’s reaction – tears, anger, exhilaration, punching Continue reading

Here’s Looking At You Podcast #3 – ‘I Am Woman, Hear Me Phwoar!’ Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival Panel Discussion Event (Part Two)

I Am Woman Hear me Phwoar!

(L-R) Sadie Sinner, Heidi Bang-Tidy, Rubyyy Jones, Dr. Ellen Wright, Dr. Jacki Willson, Dr. Claire Nally.

Welcome to the second and final half of the #DMUEngage panel discussion event ‘I am Woman, Hear Me Phwoar!’ which took place on the Sunday of the 2017 Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival.

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Here performers, promoters and activists Sadie Sinner, Rubyyy Jones Continue reading

Hawks Edited Collection Shortlisted for a Prize

9ddd6ba7e3a8066d4cbc2a65141fbb32_3574_0My chapter on Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell ‘A Travesty on Sex’: Gender and Performance in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ appeared last year in an edited collection called Howard Hawks: New Perspectives. I recently discovered that this book has been shortlisted in the top three for this year’s Kraszna-Krausz Book Award in the category of Best Moving Image Book.

The Kraszna-Krausz award celebrates excellence in photography and moving image publishing, with prize for the Best Photography Book Award and the Best Moving Image Book published each year.  The shortlist was announced last week and the winner will be announced on Thursday, at this year’s  Photo London, exhibition at Somerset House where there is a display of material from the shortlisted and winning books this week.

It was my long standing interest in pin-up brought me to the project, and naturally it is through the lens of Monroe and Russell’s pin-up personas that I investigate their roles and Continue reading

Here’s Looking at You Podcast #2 – I am Woman, Hear Me Phwoar! Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival Panel Discussion Event (Part One)

I Am Woman Hear me Phwoar!

(L-R) Sadie Sinner, Heidi Bang-Tidy, Rubyyy Jones, Dr. Ellen Wright, Dr. Jacki Willson, Dr. Claire Nally.

Welcome to  the first half of the #DMUEngage panel discussion event ‘I am Woman, Hear Me Phwoar!’ which took place on the Sunday of the 2017 Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival.

Here performers, promoters and activists Sadie Sinner, Rubyyy Jones and Heidi Bang Tidy and scholars of burlesque Dr Jacki Willson and Dr Claire Nally joined me and a room full of interested members of the public to discuss the politics of female performance.

Continue reading

Windmill Girls, tableaux vivant and the Eagle Women’s Institute

Following the unveiling of the We Never Clothed exhibition at the Hebden Bridge Burlesque festival, the Windmill Girls exhibition is now available to go on the road.

My first post-Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival exhibition was on the  Wednesday after HBBF. I took a scaled down version of the exhibition, a talk about the media representation of women of the Windmill and a fan dance demo to Eagle W.I. in Lincolnshire.

I love giving talks to branches of the W.I. I have been doing it at various branches for a couple of years now and always find it extremely rewarding. Incidentally the Women’s Institute is so much more than just jam making. It’s a fascinating movement which celebrated its centenary in 2015. The Eagle branch is a small but friendly, enthusiastic and engaged group and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with them. They were extremely kind and welcoming. Continue reading

It’s Good To Talk: My panel discussion event at Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival

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The panel from left to right: Rubyyy Jones, Sadie Sinner, Heidi Bang Tidy, Dr Claire Nally, Dr Jacki Willson and me.

I’m thrilled to say the panel discussion event ‘I Am Woman, Hear Me Phwoar!’, on the politics of female performance went exceptionally well.

We had a fantastic turn out (so many that not everyone who turned up could fit into the space!) especially considering other events were taking place at the same time and the weather was lovely. The atmosphere was amazing. Very open, honest and supportive. A number of complex ideas were discussed and the panel and audience were great, asking and answering some really interesting questions around intersectionality, personal politics, disabled bodies, classism, misogyny, gendered bodies, sexuality, ethnicity, exploitation, sex work and what brought our panelists to burlesque. Continue reading