Sunday, October 19, 2008

Strippers are the cowboys of the 21st century

It came to me while I was viewing this comic strip (which has a great joke in the last panel, but -- warning to A. -- contains "the Z word"): strippers are the cowboys of today.

In the last century, the cowboy in his many guises -- sheriff, outlaw, drunk, cowhand, bandido, gaucho, cattle baron, oil baron, redneck -- was the blank slate on which politicians, artists, real estate developers and an infinite number of children drew their dreams, anxieties, pieties, and truisms. The object of, and receptacle for, nostalgia for all we imagined we had lost in the transition to mechanized, bounded society, the cowboy represented manliness, rebellion, independence, self-reliance, and strength. Ronald Reagan (an actor) and George W. Bush (scion of a rich east coast family) self-identified with this figure, and by applying the "maverick" label to himself, Republican presidential candidate John McCain attempts to do the same.

In the last ten years we've been seeing stripper culture saturate society -- as in the Bratz dolls, movies like Showgirls, weird institutions like strippers at birthday parties, and so on. It seems like everybody knows what a lap dance is, and -- in San Francisco, at least -- it seems like everybody knows somebody who has been or is a stripper, is dating a stripper, or at least fantasizes about being one.

The comic strip convinced me. Until now it has been: police versus the zombies, doctors versus the zombies, ordinary people versus the zombies; now strippers versus the zombies. Now this is the transitional moment. Instead of going on with the zombie meme, which I think has been completely played out (and yes, there has just been a movie about zombie strippers), from now on everything's going to be about strippers. Stripper lawyers, stripper crime-fighters, stripper real estate mavens, stripper executives, etc. They may not be actual strippers, just as the sheriff in a western film wasn't actually a cowboy; he merely embodied what were supposed to be cowboy values. The "stripper politician," say, might not really take her clothes off for pay, but she is going to embody stripper values.

And what are stripper values? In a way, a little like what were supposed to be cowboy values: independence, horniness, toughness, panache, daring; being sort of an outlaw even if you are, say, a cop (cf. Dirty Harry, Serpico, the Die Hard films, etc.) Substitute over-amped femininity for being macho, and voilá:

Sorry -- I guess that was even scarier than zombies.

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