Monday, March 2, 2009

Back to school

I'm going back to school - well, university. I've enrolled for a course in writing Creative Non-Fiction, and it starts this coming Friday. So I might post the pieces I need to write for it - we'll see.

I've been asked for details of the course - it's CREW 257 at Victoria University of Wellington. It will be run again next year, so look at Victoria's website for details - applications for the 12 places available usually close in early December.

In the meantime, here's a marvellous column by Michele A'Court which appeared in Your Weekend a few weeks ago on 24 January (she gave me permission to reproduce it here). I agree with every word of it, and it's superbly expressed.

When I’m angry, I tend to express myself in similes. Right now, I am as cross as two sticks. The delightful, intelligent, charming men in my close circle of friends just held a stag party for our groom-to-be. Cricket, poker, pizza... and strippers.

You could call the stripper-at-the-stag-do “a tradition”. Or take the new view that you can watch strippers “in an ironic way”. Or maybe you think it’s just “a bit lame.” Whichever chorus my friends joined, I was certainly the lone voice growling, “sexist and offensive”.

I thought the smart people worked out in the 70s that paying women to take their clothes off objectified them, reducing them to less than the sum of their rude parts; that financial desperation led to sexual exploitation. I’m pretty sure I still have the memo.

And we’re still doing this? Here come the similes. I feel like an African-American discovering that all my white friends are off to see a black-and-white-minstrel show. Or a pacifist finding out my buddies spent Friday night knitting jumpers at a hanging.

My view of strip clubs is a bit like my attitude towards haggis – heard it described, thought it sounded awful, tried it and discovered I was right. Years ago, an actor friend was researching her role as a stripper and I trotted along to a lunchtime show to keep her company. I hated it – bad decor, ghastly music, furtive behaviour and the absolute lack of fun or joy in any of it. Isabelle Allende says, “Erotica is using a feather, pornography is using the whole chicken.” That felt like being thumped with a frozen chook.

Maybe I went to the wrong gig. Because I like a bit of Burlesque – spoil me with great skill, saucy costumes and a bit of narrative. I’ll look out for some at the Buskers Festival in Christchurch this week. If my daughter told me she wanted to take up Burlesque, I’d learn how to sew on sequins. If she told me she wanted to be a stripper, I’d lock her in a cupboard till she was 45.

This new wave of lad-ism is equal opportunity – there’s a whisper the hens want a stripper too, for the irony of it. I worry that your ironically-booked stripper isn’t even being objectified properly anymore with good, old-fashioned, honest leering. Surely that’s like a Society of Skeptics hiring a psychic for their Christmas function, just so they can laugh behind their hands and feel smug. And say the psychic should have seen it coming.

Once, after an awful corporate gig, I found out I’d been hired by someone specifically because she knew her audience would hate my comedy. She was leaving the firm and wanted me to be her parting shot. I never knew how to describe how dreadful that night felt. Now I do. I felt like an ironic stripper at a post-modern stag do.


  1. For what it's worth, quite a few hens are booking a belly dancer to dance and give them a lesson these days. It's seen as a bit classier and nicer than having a stripper, more about fun for the hen and her friends rather than someone for the hen and her friends to perve at. Though I'm sure some women do perve...

  2. I saw that article and agreed with it also. Can I ask for more details about the creative non-fiction course? Which university? I'm interested although perhaps a little late.

  3. Many of us think of doing a writing course of some sort and never get around to actually doing it. So good on ya for doing it. Hope you learn lots.
    I Michel A'Court's humour. And it sound totally rude (to the performer), to intentionally hire someone for a hostile audience.