Shteir, Rachel. Striptease

Shteir, R. (2004) Striptease: The untold story of the girlie show. New York: Oxford University Press.

[the striptease] It was a world away from the spectacle in today’s strip clubs, where Striptease whips, chains, and poles often serve as props and where no sooner have the performers pranced onstage than they rip off whatever shreds of fabric count as clothing. Today, gentlemen’s clubs and strip joints feature topless and bottomless lap dancing and pole dancing. They are part of the pornography industry: big business, not show business. (pag 1)

Striptease, another writer observed, was “a combination of posing, strutting, dancing, and singing, punctuated from time to time by thrusts and twists of the abdomen called ‘bumps’ and ‘grinds.’” One of the genre’s most famous performers, Gypsy Rose Lee, advised: “a woman doesn’t take it off like an onion skin. That would make me cry.” Gypsy meant that not anyone could be a stripper—a stripper needed artistry, or what Gypsy called “illusion. (pag 2)

Documentaries like HBO’s Strippers: The Naked Stages and G-String Divas, a serial about strippers in a Pennsylvania gentleman’s club, reiterate many of the same myths that began in the Jazz Age. (pag 3)

To some contemporary women, performing retro striptease is a feminist act and a social obligation, a way to wrest the art of stripping from the world of pornographers. These women argue that their work is a political reaction to twenty-first-century reform forces seeking to foil female sexual expression and that by giving the striptease acts of the fifties an ironic tone, they are updating them, doing a kind of performance art. Of course, critics do not always agree. As Adam Gopnik noted in the New Yorker, mingling performance art and old-fashioned striptease can either yield provocative results or implode into a sad, dull evening. (pag 3)

Still, the fact that women continue to be interested in striptease pro-
vides an important clue to striptease’s identity and meaning. It might seem quaint that we denizens of this worldly age find an erotic charge in the act of one person’s slowly taking off her clothes. But there is also an unexpected gravity to the act. Then too, even if the Sexual Revolution has rendered it obsolete, somehow, striptease hangs on. Its sexiness is an insult to some feminists—in current political wisdom it is considered misogynist—while its irrevocable sleaziness complicates the claim of third-wave feminists who maintain they’re doing it to empower themselves. (One reason
why striptease continues to flourish at all may be that it reminds Americans of a time when male and female roles were more stable.) (pag 4)

In the 1950s, adult movie houses replaced burlesque theaters while
new men’s magazines like Playboy made images of naked women widely accessible. Television sharpened competition between the remaining forms of live popular entertainment. Striptease continued to flourish in nightclubs, at the state fair, at the carnival, and at Coney Island, but it was less respectable. Carnival pitchman Fred Bloodgood recalls that in the 1950s, “The minute a guy started flashing with a girl show, then he was no longer a showman.” (pag 5)

After Monroe, the modern pornography industry gathered strength,
and cultural attitudes toward sex loosened. In the most tumultuous decade of the century, Americans were too impatient to sit in a dark theater and wait while strippers teased them. Thus, this book more or less concludes its tale around 1969, the year that the theater critic Walter Kerr dubbed New York’s off-off-Broadway scene “the theater of nudity.” (pag 5)

Striptease endured for so long in part because it reveals both pleasure’s long reach in the public realm and the limitations of that reach. Striptease straddled the arenas of vice and popular entertainment. I think of this as the principle of “near.” For most of its history, striptease was never exactly prostitution, but it was “near” prostitution. It was not pornography, but “near” pornography, not exactly about the consummation of the sexual Striptease act, but about its “near” consummation. When reformers attacked striptease, they did so in a way that always “nearly” eradicated it. In an essentially  puritanical  society,  striptease’s  relationship  with  commerce—the combination of intractable flesh peddling and jostling, jesting sexuality— made the quest for pleasure nearly as much about the sybarite’s failure as her success. This tension made many Americans uncomfortable. (pag 5, 6)

The new dance craze started with the twist, which Chubby Checker
introduced in 1960. After that, even more jiggly dances, such as the frug, the swim, the mashed potato, the pony, and the wacky, lascivious watusi became popular. These dances presented the visual opposite of a strip parade. They projected youth, energy, and slimness instead of striptease’s voluptuous, languid elegance. Rather than promote the ideal of sophisticated cosmopolitanism, go-go asserted irreverence, a disdain for formality, and more movement than striptease could contain. (pag 317)

“The whole performance is—it is not a strip tease, it is no kind of tease, it is an animated cartoon.” 8
Doda performed topless at an explosive moment in American history, a fact that she never hesitated to emphasize. (pag 319)