In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations, it was strange to find myself sitting in Singapore’s MasterCard Theatre last Friday night, watching nine uniformly beautiful girls, uniformly dressed in nothing but black busbies, collars and G-strings, moving with military precision as the tiny fringe of blonde tassels that covered their pubic areas swayed to reveal uniformly neat black landing strips.
Strange and disturbing.
A parade of denuded nudes with their doll-like faces and tiny pert breasts, thrusting their bottoms out and lip-synching to Oops, I Did It Again, Toxic and You Turn Me On for the titillation of its champagne-drinking audience.
Harvey Weinstein would have loved it.
The tickets had been a gift. Naively, we thought it would be a “dark cabaret”, like Amanda Palmer’s Dresden Dolls – bold, funny and perhaps even empowering, like the 2010 movie Burlesque starring Cher and Christina Aguilera.
But from the first moment, as the Crazy Horse girls performed God Save Our Bareskin, a parody of the British Changing of the Guard, it was clear that this parade of Barbie dolls was about as empowered as The Stepford Wives
“This is what happens when girls don’t get an education,” I whispered to my husband.
Sadly, this isn’t true. According to a 2011 article in The Telegraph about the 60th anniversary of the Crazy Horse cabaret, the girls are mostly classically trained dancers, who willingly undergo the transformation from individual to avatar.
The cabaret, which founder Alain Bernardin labelled the “temple of chic”, originally began as an American-style saloon, named after the Native American warrior chief Crazy Horse.
According to The Telegraph, it closed in 1953, but Bernardin had an epiphany soon after when he saw Midnight Frolics, a film about the Los Angeles burlesque scene. His club re-opened a few months later featuring a Haitian dancer who stripped down to a G-string.
It was a huge success. “I understood the body of a woman would make my fortune,’ Bernardin said later.
Bernandin set an exacting physical standard for the dancers, who had to be between five foot five and five foot eight, with no more than 11 inches between the nipples and nine inches between navel and pubis.
Wigs and custom-made stilettos ensured they were all the same height, and they were given new names. (On the night we attended, credits included names like Bamby (sic) and Candy.)
Bernadin also tightly controlled their activities and sacked them if they failed the weekly weigh-ins.
The Telegraph quotes his daughter, Sophie: “Somehow they belong to you if you protect them. My father said it’s like joining a religion. You are a nun; it’s like a convent. You do what you are told.”
Sadly, what passed as “the temple of chic” in the ’50s now appears as beauty and symmetry without personality or humanity.
After the third number, the out-dated routines seemed as uniform and bland as the girls – who were about as sexy as bunch of naked Barbies in a toy box.
Between sets, one girl, wearing stickers in the shape of lips stuck to her nipples and a red swan’s down mini-crinoline to show her bare bottom and G-string, simpered across the stage lip-synching to Doobie Doobie Doo, throwing out kisses and lip-shaped stickers and mouthing “I love you” to selected audience members, who mostly laughed or squirmed.
And while the show is not intended to be crude, in one number the girls wore fake horsetails – not the pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey type, but the type where the tail is bound at the base, like a racehorse, to make it thrust out from the body like a giant dildo.
The ennui from the audience was obvious in the tepid applause, which only warmed up when the one man in the outfit appeared: Mr Fantastic, an ordinary-looking bloke who injected some humour by parodying his lack of physical attributes and then surprising us with his contortions. It was a huge relief, and thus earned a disproportionate response.
Unlike the girls, Mr Fantastic appeared as an individual, with quirks and failings. In his second act, he dropped his bowler hat twice, but as a man he was allowed to fail and be imperfect and even won a round of applause for it.
These denuded nudes with their doll-like faces, stripped of clothes and identity sent a strange and disturbing message: we are here for your titillation alone. We are nobody, we are nothing; we don’t even have real names. We are not real people.
As long as women are still objectified like this for entertainment, it is easy to see how they may be objectified in real life.
As the past few weeks of Weinstein revelations have shown, such objectification inevitably leads to abuse, particularly when accompanied by power.
This makes shows like Crazy Horse even more sad and alarming, not because of what they show, but because the girls are dehumanised.
And when people are dehumanised it is easier to treat them inhumanely.