by Chelsey Johnson
A lot of people in this country just wish queers would keep quiet, that women would stop screaming about sexism, and that punk rock would try to show some taste and restraint. Queercore dyke band Tribe 8 doesn't give a shit. And they showed it at the 'Sco in their well-received October concert here.
Two weeks later, after a glowing report with photos appeared in the Review, there is suddenly outrage. Not widespread campus outrage, but a few indignant bursts of moral outrage from a handful of unhappy people who apparently missed out on the fun.
The objections so far are primarily from faculty and administrators. Yet I saw no faculty or administrators at the show. It's interesting that they would complain - and not unlike the righteous citizens of Cincinnati who went to war against Robert Mappelthorpe without ever seeing a photograph.
Then again, it seems to be one of the photographs published in last week's Review that's inspired a lot of the concern for our moral well-being. It pictures lead singer Lynn Breedlove with her shirt off and a remarkably life-like dildo hanging out of her unzipped fly. The photo and accompanying article have inspired some to name the show pornographic, sexually violent, inappropriate, and perhaps illegal. But what really is it about the Tribe 8 show that some of our "adults" here have found so threatening?
Was it their unapologetic celebration of their queerness, their aggressive attack of sexism and homophobia? The brilliance of Tribe 8 live is that they actively fuck with the traditions of an industry dominated by straight white men. They're not just a nice lesbian pop band singing for their supper. They're punk rock. They're loud. They're aggressive. They're subversive. I thought activism and outspokenness were two of the things the College is always lauding about Oberlin students, at least in their public speeches and campus convocations.
Was it the penis Breedlove whipped out of her pants? Rest assured, purity patrol, it was a rubber penis, and no matter how lifelike, I don't think it counts as illegal exposure. The indecency law has no dildo clause.
Was it Breedlove's bared breasts? No one would have complained if a member of Trans Am or Six Finger Satellite had removed his shirt during the course of their show a few weeks ago. I'm not sure I understand why the female nipple is obscene while the male nipple is allowed to roam free. Is it because female nipples are functional, and male nipples are merely a vestigial leftover?
The words "sexual harassment" are floating around in these arguments. It's clear that those who are using the term didn't attend the show: between their songs and in their lyrics, Tribe 8 explicitly rants against sexual harassment, rape and incest. It seems that the people who are uncomfortable with Tribe 8's confrontational approach to homophobia and sexism are grasping for hot-button terms to legitimize their discomfort.
Professor of Physics John Scofield asks in his letter this week if general reaction to the show would be different if it were a "heterosexual" situation. Of course it would be different. When it comes to power in our society (and our college), the position of men and the position of women are different, and the position of straight people and the position of queer people are different.
Putting this on a stage foregrounds this. If a man took his shirt off onstage, there would be no reaction at all. Right away this indicates a difference. So I say unapologetically that if a heterosexual man took out his penis and shook it in my face, I'd be furious. But the symbolic meaning of a guy whipping out his dick onstage and the symbolic meaning of a half-naked woman onstage are very, very different. Treating the situation as you would treat its hypothetical reverse doesn't work.
Scofield's comparison of the Tribe 8 show to the Tailhook incident is so absurd it's almost beyond offensive. Navy gang rape is hardly comparable to Lynn Breedlove baring her breasts and wearing a dildo. She was performing. She was forcing no one to listen to her or look at her or touch her. She repeatedly voiced a message that was distinctly anti-sexual harassment, rape, and intimidation, and she didn't touch a single member of the audience.
What are our concerned administrators and teachers trying to protect us from? Perhaps they think that I, at the vulnerable age of 21, am going to be morally corrupted by the sight of female breasts. Or maybe they're worried about the welfare of our underclassmen, who just might not be ready for semi-nudity, even though at 18 and older they're entitled to full adult legal rights, with the exception of alcohol. If our professors and administrators don't respect our ability to decide for ourselves what is morally reprehensible and what is a human nipple, how can they respect our intellect in the classroom? Aren't they supposed to be the ones teaching us to think critically and for ourselves?
What I'm most concerned about is what kind of moral jurisdiction faculty, staff, and administration should be allowed in determining which art - be it music, film, dance, art, whatever - we students can see. What about the full nudity in the Little Theater production of Equus a few years ago? What about the nude models that are an essential part of many art classes here? What about R-rated OFS films?
The show was not for them, it was for us. Our activity fees helped bring it, just like our tuition goes to pay the administrators and faculty who didn't want us to see it. Many of us wanted the show, and the students who attended it loved it. No one who was actually there voiced concern to the show's sponsors afterward, and no one asked for their money back. This was not a public demonstration in Wilder Bowl. It was a small show enclosed by four perfectly opaque walls in the 'Sco. No one was forced to see it, and those who didn't want to, didn't.
I'm not sure what's being condemned here: in-your-face queerness, blatant anti-sexism, aggressive politics, or the sight of the female body. Either way, it unsettles me to think that Oberlin is a place where such things are called inappropriate and indecent.
Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 125, Number 8; November 8, 1996
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