A brief smattering of thoughts following a blissful weekend of naked nerdery (aka The First EVER International Nerdlesque Festival) …
I know there are some neo-burlesque and performance artists who take umbrage with the category of “Nerdlesque.” They wonder why it is that we’re stripping out of other peoples’ characters instead of creating our own (note: lots of great Nerdlesque routines feature totally new ideas or takes on nerdy tropes rather than established and recognizable branded characters). And I totally get that critique and where it comes from, especially when it comes from the mouth of someone who sees themselves as a true artist and originator. In the end, however, I would argue that the criticism mistakes a perceived lack of originality for lack in quality.
But Nerdlesque – if it must be split out (and like Dangrrr Doll, I don’t think it does) fulfills an incredibly important function in the neo-burlesque movement: the subverting and reframing of pop culture narratives that reinforce patriarchal norms. To be able to do this, whether the performer even intends to or not, requires a large amount of creative dexterity on the part of that performer.
The nerdy stories and characters that so many of us love – really love and embrace and hold dear – are, often, not created with *us* in mind. Rather they are targeted for the same audience that most pop culture goes after: straight white dudes (don’t worry straight white dudes, you can read and love this too).
I love Nerdlesque – I create Nerdlesque – because it fulfills an important function in reframing, retargeting, and restructuring narratives that are traditionally framed for the male gaze.
In spite of this, these stories and characters are so profoundly and deeply held and important to so many of the geeky ecdysiasts I know. Hell, I would NEVER have made it through a childhood filled with violent bullying if I didn’t have comics, videogames, and fantasy novels to escape to. In fact I think my really sweet GI Joe collection, and the even sweeter Master Splinter action figure I carried in my pocket, saved me from an ass whooping on more than one occasion.**
There’s POWER – tremendous power – in dismantling and reframing these stories so that we can see ourselves in them, or so that we can safely poke fun and truly satirize them.
I love seeing women get the upper hand in the reinvented Nerdlesque narrative. I love genderswapped Nerdlesque (I mean, did you SEE LeeLando Calrissian and Betty Quirk on Friday night? AAH, all the feelings! RIGHT?). Or routines like Helen of Tronna and Loretta Jean’s Sailor Moon act that puts the emphasis back on the source material and moves it away from the watered down de-sexed material we see in the US (and does it in a super fun, sexy, way).
And it’s beautiful that we get to reframe these things and make these stories truly ours (or even “correct them”) with our bodies. Nerdlesque celebrates body diversity in a way that pop culture does not. I am a fan of burlesque because it drives home the point that everybody and every body is beautiful.
I also think of those of us who may have dealt with messages about our bodies being “not hot” enough, or “too hot,” or “too” anything and how using those bodies holds a giant middle finger up to ever person and system that has reinforced that. When Nerdlesque takes the tropes of pop-geekdom and recasts them with regular bodies while amping up the sex appeal through sheer brilliance, tease, comedy, and story, it elevates the art it’s paying homage to.
Moreover, how many of us participate in geek culture and fandom while dealing with subtle (or sometimes explicit) messages that we’re not welcome. I make my living as a content creator for and critic of “geek culture” (secret, reveal, I’m talking about the “other me” that shares Allix’s body). I spend my days catering to the geek masses and yet I can not even begin to describe the number of times that I’ve been accused of fakery, of posturing, of “doing it for attention,” and I’m (muggle-alter-ego me) fairly visible. Given this it’s fair to surmise that most of the mega nerds I know through burlesque have experienced the same. And Nerdlesque is one giant, brilliant, answer to that faux-outrage.
I can’t think of anything more diehard, more perfectly, obsessively, geeky, than recreating point for point your favorite character’s costume, and then building a three minute story around their cannon, and sneaking in Easter Eggs for other diehards, while still making your number accessible to a main stream burlesque audience. DAMN, that’s a hell of a lot of stuff.
I am thankful to burlesque as an art form, in all of its varied forms, be they Nerdlesque, queerlesque, gorelesque, creeplesque, bizarroburlesque, or any sub-genre I haven’t specified yet, for giving me a place to tell the stories I want to tell. For giving me a space to create stories that well match the audience I’m trying to reach and subvert the norms that hold back the mediums I love. And because Nerdlesque can do this - and do it really well - it belongs right up on the same stages as classic and pageant burlesque.
I have a lot of things to say about Nerdlesque, about geekdom, about community. And even more to say about the act that I brought to Nerdlesque Fest and how it’s evolution pairs with my burlesque career. But this is a solid start for now. There will be more …
***True story, Splinter was kind of like my security blanket and one time when the boys who bullied me were coming for me I threw him as high as I could, into the branches of a birch tree, to “protect him” from them. My dad was nice enough to fetch him later.