There has been a big stink about the incident, with a website, a petition, and a lot of alumni outrage. As a result, as reported in today’s The Richmond Times-Dispatch, the cross is to be returned to the Wren Chapel.
But it’s only a partial victory for its defenders: the cross will be displayed in a glass case as a historical artifact. Which, I suppose, is an appropriate outcome, given the current condition of the Episcopal Church, which nominally presides over the Wren Chapel.
But there has recently been a delicious counterpoint to all the brouhaha over the Wren Cross on the William and Mary campus. I held off posting about it until my mole at W&M (namely, the future Baron Bodissey) had supplied me with all the links to the local Williamsburg reportage and background material.
We’ll start with a Fox News report from February 23rd:
College of William and Mary Hosts Sex Worker Show on Campus
The same college that recently removed a traditional cross from the campus chapel allowed a controversial sex workers’ show to come give students an event complete with stripteases, feather boas and sex toys.
The College of William and Mary in Virginia last week hosted a Sex Workers’ Art Show for a crowd of more than 400 in an auditorium in the University Center, reported The Virginia Gazette. Another 300 people were turned away.
The goal of the show, which was sponsored and hosted by a number of student groups, was to empower the actors by portraying the realities of their careers, according to the Gazette. Money to host the event came out of student activity fees.
For example, Jo Weldon shared her story of how a stripper job helped pay her way through college and graduate school. But other performances were more risqué, reported the Gazette.
A woman named Dirty Martini, who weighed more than 200 pounds, did a striptease in a G-string and pasties, while a woman named Cono Snatch Zubobinskaya gave an anti-war performance that included a dildo shaped like a gun, the newspaper said.
Now, this is the kind of transgressive antinomian empowerment that you expect from a top-of-the line state college. It makes me proud to pay my son’s Student Activities Fees when I know they go to fund such worthy causes.
Unfortunately, one of the professors must have missed his mandatory diversity training courses, because he didn’t approve:
“I think it’s a totally inappropriate use of student funds,” Ken Petzinger, a physics professor, told the Gazette. “It’s in conflict with other values the college has.”
I guess his intransigence is understandable, given that he’s in the patriarchal gender-oppressive School of Sciences, and not in the School of Arts.
President Nichol, of course, had his say:
President Gene Nichol issued a statement saying: “I don’t like this kind of show and I don’t like having it here … But it’s not the practice and province of universities to censor or cancel performances because they are controversial.”
Makes complete sense to me. After all, the cross in the chapel was controversial because it offended people — well, one person, according to President Nichol — so it had to go. But a 200-pound (90 kilos, for our European readers) stripper in a G-string and pasties — why, no one could possibly be offended by that! Ask the Muslim Students Association — I’ll bet they really dig that sort of thing.
But you need to go to The Virginia Gazette (requires registration) for the full story on this important event:
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Senior Sean Barker, a black studies major, led the effort [to host the show]. He felt it important to bring back such a unique perspective to college students.
“Last year’s successful event was a big part of it,” he said. “The walls didn’t come crashing down.”
Barker felt the provocative performances and crass anecdotes don’t encourage promiscuity or promote sexual activity.
“It serves to deconstruct some of the assumptions we may have about sex workers,” he said. “It’s just exposure to a different world.”
Ah, “deconstruct”! Now we’re into the keywords that indicate that this is an important postmodern academic event.
Virginia Walters, who helped Barker organize the event, wanted to clarify a few things for those who didn’t attend.
“A really important aspect of this particular show is that it’s not pornography,” she said. “People also confuse ‘sex positivity’ with sex all the time, and that’s not what this is about. It’s about making your own choices.”
A woman’s right to choose… to sell her body. OK, we’re cool with that.
“Sure, there are folks who are quite sensitive to this matter,” said W&M provost Geoffrey Feiss. “It is controversial, but universities exist to evaluate and deal with controversy. If we aren’t doing that, then we probably aren’t doing our job.”
We university administrators can deal just fine with controversy, so long as it doesn’t involve — ick — Christians.
Feiss also explained that the administrators consulted with other universities that had hosted the event in the past. They wanted to understand the goal of the show and the content. The college also checked in with the attorney general to see what was legally permissible.
We’re here, we’re legal, get used to it!
And the opposition?
A 75-year-old man, who wouldn’t give his name, was in attendance with a group of people accompanied by a faculty member. He was bothered by what he saw.
“It’s shocking they had this type of event for impressionable young people,” the man said.
Aw, Gramps, hobble on back to assisted care where you belong. We don’t need your kind here.
The W&M student newspaper, The Flat Hat, put out a “news” story on February 8th lauding the upcoming event:
Student organizers Sean Barker and Virginia Walters, both seniors, are looking to spark discussion about sex-related issues on campus. In light of recent sexual assaults, Barker and Walters hope that the show will shed a positive light on relevant and pervasive issues.
Barker collaborated with junior Constance Sisk last year to bring the Sex Workers’ Art Show to campus for the first time. They were contacted through unsolicited e-mails from the Sex Workers’ Art Show founder, director and self-described “den mom” Annie Oakley, whose pseudonym is a nod to a female sharp shooter in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, circa 1885. According to Barker, the modern day Oakley (pictured at left) was surprised and impressed with the overwhelming feedback from the College community last year. After the show, students responded with supportive essays, letters and e-mails hailing the forum for the discussion that the show sparked.
Ms. Oakley is a “den mom”, eh? A Cub Scout den? A den of iniquity?
How’d you like to have a mom like that, eh? Nudge-nudge, wink-wink, say-no-more!
Besides your tax dollars and my student activities fees, who was backing this epochal event?
Seven student organizations collaborated in sponsoring the event: Lambda Alliance, VOX, From the Margin, Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, Initiative, Meridian Coffee House and Students for a Democratic Society
I did a double-take on that last one. The SDS?? Are they still alive?
Not quite. The iconic Sixties organization has been exhumed and resuscitated as an anti-globalist green anti-war… Well, you know the drill. Go look at the SDS website.
And this wasn’t just entertainment; it was educational. In fact, it was required viewing for certain students:
Several professors are requiring students in their classes to attend the show. All students enrolled in Introduction to Women’s Studies and in music professor Sophia Serghi’s Performance Art Ensemble are among at least 100 students required to attend the show.
The appeal of the show is that it creates a forum for students to embrace the idea of sexual art forms and dismiss any qualms about the topic. “It’s a sex-positive event — pro-woman, pro-queer — and it brings sex issues to the forefront,” Barker said.
Pro-woman and pro-queer — no one can argue against that, can they?
Those last quotes were from the “news” story. Now we come to the actual Flat Hat opinion. Consider the editorial that came out after the show:
I am appalled at some of the reactions I’ve seen regarding last week’s successful Sex Worker’s Art Show. The performance has not only been described as obscene, degrading, pornographic and immoral, but its mere presence has been used to further slander President Nichol’s name and reputation. I am truly at a loss.
To begin, the only people who could possibly categorize the Sex Worker’s Art Show in such simplistic, negative terms are those who did not attend the performance. Yes, there was nudity. There were suggestive costumes, burlesque performances and lots of pasties. But could we please take a moment to give the 400 students in attendance, the 300 more students who were turned away at the door, the dedicated organizers, the supportive faculty members and the performers themselves the benefit of the doubt and consider the possibility that the Sex Worker’s Art Show might have some positive messages?
As a feminist and women’s studies major, I very easily understand the moral opposition to pornography. I certainly do not condone the type of oppressive, demeaning pornography that occupies much of the mainstream industry, and I care very deeply about the atrocities committed around the globe involving child prostitution and sex trafficking. In fact, I find many representations of women in the mainstream media wholly degrading and sexist: female sexual submission, women depicted solely as sex objects and the strict ideals of feminine beauty. These are extremely significant issues in my life, both personally and politically, and I do not take them lightly.
To hear such outrageous attacks on the Sex Worker’s Art Show, then, offends me in a very deep and personal way. Yes, the content of this performance is controversial, and I would certainly not persuade anyone to attend who expressed discomfort. I myself was made uncomfortable by some of the performers’ messages and artistic pieces. But this show, unlike anything else I’ve come across, actually makes an effort to render sex workers visible — no longer faceless and silent.
Now, here is where we come to the nitty-gritty of the issue. The unexamined premise is that it is a positive social good to make visible those things which had been previously frowned upon and kept out of sight.
Why is that? Why are we obligated to expose to the public eye all the sordid, demeaning, and degraded things that people do? What’s the rationale? Where is the demonstrable benefit?
One could say the same about excrement. But this show, unlike anything else I’ve come across, actually makes an effort to render turds visible — no longer faceless and silent and hidden in the toilet.
Yes, I know. Don’t tell me. I’m sure there is an academic discipline based on that exact premise.
There’s plenty more in this editorial, all very predictable and depressing, given that this is a student newspaper in one of the finest institutions of higher education in our country.
But one more quote:
For too long, the mainstream sex industry has created a culture of sexual domination and submission, sex modeled on rape and sexual objectification. The Sex Worker’s Art Show seemed to fly in the face of such gross contortions of sexual agency and desire. For once, the women (and men) in the sex industry had a voice and could share their experiences, both good and bad.
Now there’s the rub. I didn’t see it, but I did some digging — with the help of the Future Baron — into the background of the show and its performers. And, based on evidence widely available on the web, “sexual domination and submission, sex modeled on rape and sexual objectification” are definitely the stock in trade for the people who promote this gig. It may be a pig gussied up in a transgressive silk dress with postmodern lipstick, but it’s most emphatically still a pig.
WARNING: Any links from here until the end of the post should be considered NSFW. And also not safe for homeschoolers. The Headmistress herself may want to avert her gaze, and maybe even the Headmaster.
The Sex Workers’ Art Show is part of a genre that is known as “Whore Culture”. If you start researching it, and follow the links wherever they lead, you’ll find a limitless supply of grotesquely prurient material.
But it’s not simply the naked-babes-and-faceless-coupling of your standard porn. It’s not even the fetishes, the bondage, the degradation, etc. The whole shtick is overlaid with an academic superstructure and then iced with a sticky sweet layer of political ideology. It’s skin-flicks, self-righteousness, and leftist ideology, all wrapped up into a big throbbing sexual package.
I felt like I needed to take a shower after browsing the various websites.
But Whore Culture isn’t hobbled by such antiquated and benighted inhibitions. It even has a mission statement:
“boa: new whore culture” is in search of the next generation of sex worker artists, activists, and provocateurs.
Our aim is to showcase sharp cultural critique, provoking first-person lit, & multimedia and visual works that speak to emerging sex worker communities, with a focus on whore-driven arts & culture.
boa is for and by sex workers of all trades, and of diverse identities.
Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Mr. Square Hidebound Jones! Power to the people!
A subgroup of boa is called Come in Peace:
Queer, trans, and sex worker activists come together in the name of a little bit of peace, lust, and radical understanding.
Come in Peace is a collective of anti-war, pro-peace, sex-positive activists and artists. We began meeting in March 2003, soon after the war in Iraq began. We are a non-profit organization, fiscally sponsored by ARISE for Social Justice in Springfield, MA.
Whips, Bondage, Sodomy, Peace, and Justice! A heady combination, indeed.
Then there’s a young woman whose site is called “Objectify Me”. Echo Transgression, as she is known, stars in pornographic films which feature faceless coupling, degrading treatment, and humiliation. All for the sake of transgressive empowerment, and all to be celebrated.
A review of her work shows that you can’t parody this stuff:
In each scene, Echo evolves into a nihilist masochist famished by her own pitiless self-denigration for an ultimate, transcendental self-affirmation that never occurs…
I hate to say it, but I don’t think the writer wrote this piece tongue-in-cheek. At least not in his own.
The Sex Workers’ Art Show, needless to say, has its own promotional website, with all the usual features — an introduction, links, bios — check out the CV on some of these people!
Then there’s the press release, ready to hand out to the media:
The show includes people from all areas of the sex industry: strippers, prostitutes, dommes, film stars, phone sex operators, internet models, etc. It smashes traditional stereotypes and moves beyond “positive” and “negative” into a fuller articulation of the complicated ways sex workers experience their jobs and their lives. The Sex Workers’ Art Show entertains, arouses, and amazes while simultaneously offering scathing and insightful commentary on notions of class, race, gender, labor and sexuality!
Think of it: this is a feminist issue. Objectifying women and celebrating their degradation has somehow become evidence of their liberation.
Last, but not least, there are the sponsors: Rutgers, Barnard, Columbia, NYU, and CUNY among others.
And now we come to the heart of the matter. All this transgression, all this postmodern empowerment and sexual articulation, all the giving voice to the marginal, all the academic claptrap, built out of tired buzzwords and shoved down throats of America’s college students — all of it is paid for by your tax dollars and the fees you are required to pony up in order to insert your children into this wonderful educational environment.
It warms your heart, doesn’t it? It makes you want to get out the checkbook and write a big check with lots of zeroes to your dear old alma mater, right?
What? It doesn’t?
Well, no problem. Everything’s cool. Uncle Sam will take up the slack.