"The feelings excited by improper art are kinetic, desire or loathing. Desire urges us to possess, to go to something; loathing urges us to abandon, to go from something. These are kinetic emotions. The arts which excite them, pornographical or didactic, are therefore improper arts. The esthetic emotion (I use the general term) is therefore static. The mind is arrested and raised above desire and loathing."
— Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Pornography. The new movie Magic Mike, about male strippers according the advertising campaign, made me think about this theory of art expounded by fictional college student Stephen Dedalus. And about desire. Dirty, dirty desire. And art.
Dedalus' theory is infused with the Catholic shame that evoking desire is something base and bad, exclusive of a more noble high-mindedness. Life isn't quite that way, neither is art, but it does reflect my experiences in strip clubs.
The photo is one I took of a performer in Mary's Club in downtown Portland as she says "Thank you!" to marchers on the inaugural day of Occupy Portland on October 6, 2011. A scantily-clad dude stands behind her, amused (easier to see if you zoom in).
It's been more than a decade since I've been in a strip club. I hardly go out. I often go months without going into a bar. When I have gone to strip clubs, some of the time is spent desiring/coveting the performers on the stage. I don't get aroused significantly, enticed is nearer the mark. Some of the time is also passed people watching, though watching people watch the same person you can has limited charm.
Mostly I wonder what the performer is thinking, and seeing through her eyes.
And I don't feel pity, at least if the place is decent. The assumption many make that strippers and porno actresses have troubled family lives (doesn't everyone?) and daddy issues (again, doesn't everyone?) is condescending. Similar jabs aren't laid at porno dudes or male dancers. It's slut-shaming masquerading as gender sensitivity. Feh! FEH!
I have no statistics, but as this is the internet, amn't gonna care. Stories abound of women who danced to help pay for college, knowing it was a waystation to another, better life. Or people who made a good living for a while. Who cares? Why judge?
It's expression, it's a mating display in controlled circumstances. An extension of the same mating/style displays we ponder when we decide what to wear because of how it looks/fits/conveys us for the day.
In strip clubs, if the vibe is good, I wonder what it's like to be so desired. Thoughts fill of the power wielded, to have a physique that inspires want and awe from people who don't know you. To know that and to use that to get what you need, to make a living, to hold people in thrall. To externalize that power with a smirk slays me when dancers do it.
Yes, it is possible to dwell in these thoughts while listening to lousy butt-rock music as women swirl around a pole. It is possible to have esthetic arrest and epiphanies to Motley Crüe or REO Speedwagon.
One of my favorite artists, singer/songwriter Sam Phillips, performs "The Fan Dance" in 2008.