Misunderstood art show

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March 6, 2007

8:09 PM

In my four years at the College, I have witnessed a fair share of media focus on our community. Typically, news outlets have chosen to write about issues that I have felt do not define our community and have approached them in ways that do not reflect our values — but such is the nature, I suppose, of sensationalized media that insists Britney Spears’ shaved head and Anna Nicole Smith’s death are its top stories.

p. It does not surprise me, then, that some national media outlets have picked up on the Sex Workers’ Art Show, reducing its content to an “explicit porn show” (Worldnetdaily.com) or a sex show. Given our vocal conservative counterparts, I was anticipating a similar reduction in our on-campus dialogue. What has surprised me was realizing that within our community, I have played a part in that reduction.

p. As an organizer, it was part of my responsibility to market this event to our campus. Sean Barker and I made a choice to advertise this event based on its sex appeal, and it was the wrong choice. Some contend that sex sells, that we filled the seats and that people took from the performance what they wanted. While I agree in some ways (and find that approach problematic in others), I also think that this event addressed issues much more complicated and varied than our representation implied.

p. It addressed a range of issues from a critical examination of what it means to work in America, to commentaries on the ways that race, class and sexuality shape our relationships with one another. Leaving that nuance out of our discussion was a failure on our part. However, our failure does not reflect on the success of the show itself.

p. The fact that this performance was treated as a “sex show” is evidence that its recurrence is not only appropriate, but necessary to our campus dialogue. Allowing sex workers to be sex workers and yet speak as human beings is the one unifying element of this varied and multi-faceted performance. Their acts demand that we allow them to speak outside the context of our expectations of sex workers.

p. C. Snatch Z’s performance is a perfect example of this. In most of the national and campus coverage of the show, her performance of oral sex on a dildo to the soundtrack of Ave Maria is consistently cited as little more than inflammatory, depraved sexual weirdness. However, this beginning led into a more accessible dance number and the two together acted as a commentary on the sexual slavery of Japanese women during and after World War II.

p. Whether or not you thought this was an appropriate venue or approach, Snatch at least asserted her right to make that critique. The fact that we are focusing on the “sex” of her act and not the possible meaning of it reveals the ways that we are not listening. We need to confront the possibility that we are not listening to her because she identifies herself as a sex worker. Nothing in our culture tells us that her voice, her opinion, is legitimate.

p. Refusing to talk about anything but the “sex” is a fundamental misrepresentation of this engaging discussion. In writing this, I hope to do my part as an organizer of the Sex Workers’ Art Show to help correct this misunderstanding. I also hope that the more thoughtful representation of the organizers who are already working on bringing the show back next year will foster a more open and complicated dialogue.

p. __Virginia Walters, an organizer of the Sex Workers’ Art Show, is a senior at the College.__

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