Director Steven Antin’s attempts to differentiate between wholesome teasing and tawdry stripping have provoked objections from the neo-burlesque community. At stake: the definition of the art, the answer to the empowerment v. misogyny debate and whether or not anyone should see the film, says Taraneh Ghajar Jerven
When Christina Aguilera, playing a fresh-faced Iowan yokel with big city dreams, arrives in LA, she has no idea what burlesque means. Striptease? Satirical theatre? Song and dance? Her character’s confusion holds true for many, feminists included. Given that burlesque has been evolving since the 19th century, it’s not difficult to see why.
Steven Antin, director of Burlesque, thinks he has the answer. “I was inspired to steer people away from tawdry notions of burlesque,” he told the Los Angeles Times. According to Antin: “There’s a real misunderstanding of burlesque as a 20th century convention rooted in second-rate striptease.” He’s also quoted saying: “The original burlesque performances were musical, theatrical parodies and political satires.”
Unfortunately, Antin’s attempts to differentiate Burlesque from the burgeoning neo-burlesque scene – a risqué, tassel-twirling (link NSFW), shimmy-and-shake world – which exploded in urban areas in the 1990s, has angered the people whose creativity made his film possible.
You may also be interested in these related features from the archive: