Politically pointed nudity

by Rhonda Brittan | October 15, 2021
6 min read

"Neo-Burlesque" book coverNeo-Burlesque: Striptease as Transformation by Lynn Sally, Rutgers University Press 224 pages, 48 color and two black-and-white images, available Oct. 27 in hardcover ($55) and for $26.95 in paperback, epub, pdf or Kindle editions

This remarkable treatise on a formerly taboo subject is a serious examination of an art form that has been tossed off as frivolous entertainment. Truth or Consequences’s own Lynn Sally proves that striptease can also be political protest, and, when done with humor, this outrage can be powerfully expressed through frequently outrageous parody.

Sally, who has organized and performed in burlesque shows here under the stage name of Dr. Lucky, became interested in burlesque when she was working on her doctorate in performance studies at New York University. She accepted an invitation to dress up as a cigarette girl for a show at a swanky midtown Manhattan supper club—and was hooked. She realized that she would have to keep her academic career separate from her newfound occupation. Other performers had been fired from their day jobs when their nightlife was discovered.

Sally became a professor by day and, fearing repercussion from academe, a burlesquer by night. This put her onstage, backstage and on the road with the performers she interviews and writes about in this book, giving the reader a passionate, personal and spectacular insider’s perspective of this wildly irreverent performance art. Asserting that self-revelation is less harmful than choking on fear, she presents herself in the book as a “vulnerable observer,” opening her experiences as a striptease artist and as a member of the audience to full scrutiny.

Lynn Sally, Ph.D
The author, Truth or Consequences’s own Lynn Sally, Ph.D.  Photograph courtesy of

The author explains how neo-burlesque is different from classical theater. Whereas burlesque performance is all about self-authorship, in theater, actors play characters written by someone else. Burlesque also works best when the audience is actively involved, and, in this way, pokes fun at the formality of traditional theater. Performing a striptease is transformative for the artist, and Sally hopes to prove in this book that it has the power to transform its audiences, as well.

Sally reveals the history and purpose of neo-burlesque, a term she uses to “designate a performance practice and participatory culture that is connected to, but represents a historical and performance break from, antecedent forms of burlesque.” Her aim is to establish striptease as a viable and valuable subject of serious

Dr. Lucky
Dr. Sally as Dr. Lucky  Photograph by Chantal Elena Mitchell

study. She digs into the intricately complex reasons that make neo-burlesque a “uniquely corrosive and therefore dangerously anarchic cultural force.” It disrupts, rather than reinforces, the social norms that police how women are expected—and thereby bound—to inhabit public space.

Every neo-burlesque performance has a story to tell, with a punchline or political jab at the end. The artist’s “exaggerated presentation of self” hooks the audience’s attention. While the stories naturally evolve in response to changing social and historical contexts, they are all, Sally argues, “emblematic of a new kind of feminism that revels in the explicit female body as a site of agency that tells stories full of good-humored fun, sizzling sexuality, and political import.”

But the book is not solely a scholarly treatise. Sally delights in taking her reader right into adult entertainment nightclubs via the book’s fabulous color photos, giving them front row seats, as one reviewer put it, as Sally “shines a spotlight on the “most iconic performers of the last two decades.”

We meet, for example, Dirty Martini, who graces the book’s cover. A member of the board of the Burlesque Hall of Fame, which is dedicated to preserving the history of the art form, Martini performs her “classic broad” routine with a big, knowing wink that conveys her self-possession. Bunny Love is also in on the joke on unsuspecting audiences. In an interview with the author, Love shares a quintessential tip of the neo-burlesque trade: “Even if you want to make a strong political statement, if you put a little twist of comedy in there, it’s a lot easier for people to take. And enjoy. And probably think about longer.”

Little Brooklyn’s Lucille Ball-esque housewife routine goes awry at every attempt at 1950s domesticity, displaying the performance artist’s self-deprecating humor.

MsTickle's "Blowup Doll Act"
MsTickle’s “Blowup Doll Act” is a “compelling narrative of women’s continued subjugation.” Photograph copyright © by Ed Barnas

Sally’s description of MsTickle’s stupefying performance in her “Blowup Doll Act” is accompanied by several jaw-dropping images that powerfully portray, as Sally explains, a “compelling narrative of women’s continued subjugation through layers of costuming, imagery, and meaning.

The New York Times praised Julie Atlas Muz, whose act is grounded (she told the author) in “politically pointed nudity,” as a “feminist stripper.” After seeing all these stunning photos and reading this hilarious, thought-provoking and wickedly entertaining book, the reader comes to understand that this is not a paradoxical term.

Editor’s Note: Sally, who is also the author of “Fighting the Flames: The Spectacular Performance of Fire at Coney Island,” will give a reading from “Neo-Burlesque” on Friday, Oct. 22 at the Rio Bravo Fine Art Gallery, 110 N. Broadway St. in Truth or Consequences. Doors open at 6, and the reading is at 7. As there is limited room, seating will be on a first come, first served basis. Masks and social distancing requested. Copies of “Neo-Burlesque” will be available for purchase for $26.95, plus applicable tax.



Julia Atlas Muz, nude at a Whitney museum gala
Neo-burlesquer Julie Atlas Muz choose to attend a Whitney Biennial opening in the nude to make a bold statement about the art world’s exploitation of the nude female body and underrepresentation of female artists. Photograph by Laure A. Leber


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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

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