What the fuck is wrong with Portland?

This whole vegan strip club thing has really gotten me thinking about my old hometown of Portland, Oregon, and I think there might be something seriously wrong with the citizens of that riverside burgh. I say that because Portland has spawned not only the most ideologically screwy idea of the month, the vegan strip club, but also the fucking Suicide Girls, a company/group of renobs that offends my sensibilities on so many levels that I may have a hard time getting to all of them in one post. There is clearly a screw loose in the collective minds of those that make up Portland’s counterculture milieu that both of these phenomena bring to the fore. To wit: the young people of Portland have found a way to be fashion and culinary iconoclasts without having to deal with any of the complexity and uncertainty involved in actual iconoclasm.

It’s pretty easy to get all indignant when your boss forces you to take out your stupid piercings when you go to work or to feel a tinge of remorse for eating a fuzzy cow, but it’s not so easy to come to terms with the larger forces at work behind those discomforts, because doing so requires a fair amount of intelligence and usually results either in uncontrollable rage (if you’re into nu metal) or a feeling of weltschmerz and utter hopelessness (if you like Morrissey). What I am referring to, of course, is the patriarchy’s not-so-invisible hand in nearly all of the small oppressions these pseudo-punks find so uncool. Talking about resisting authority is fairly embarrassing at this point in our cultural development, but I think it’s important to realize that there is a difference between resisting authority in superficial ways while still perpetuating the patriarchal status quo and actually seeing oppressive authority for what it is, wherever it may crop up, and resisting it in a meaningful way. I’m not claiming that doing so is easy, or even that I’m doing it (although I’m trying to in at least a small way with this blog), but I’m also not going to congratulate people for a bunch of bullshit posturing that revolves more around dumb tattoos and ugly haircuts than thoughtfulness.

And that’s exactly what the Suicide Girls phenomenon is all about: superficial and cliche rebelliousness masking a tired rehashing of the pornographic exploitation of women. The idea that the women involved are empowering themselves is revolting; the company is owned and operated by a man, the women are paid nearly zilch for the honor of degrading themselves for an audience of perverts who listen to Reverend Horton Heat, and the company locks its “models” (prostitutes) into contracts that forbid them to “model” for any other sites and rob them of any rights to their own images. Where’s the empowerment? Is it in the fact that they don’t adhere to the mainstream blond porn ideal? Then I guess that means that women who participate in any kind of non-mainstream porn are empowering themselves. If that’s so, then what’s the criterion by which to judge how empowering a particular kind of porn is? The less mainstream, the more empowered the women are? Snuff films must be empowering as fuck, then.

I had a friend who was in a band that I won’t name, who were opening for another band that I won’t name, and when they went on tour the headlining band brought a few Suicide Girls along to go on stage first to, uh, warm up the crowd. I went to see my friend’s band when they came to town and was unfortunately exposed to the absurd and insulting spectacle of the Suicide Girls before I was able to get drunk enough to not notice. It was quite possibly the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever seen. Two emaciated women with black electrical tape over their nipples and generic rockabilly tattoos came out and danced around, pretended to molest each other, and flailed their arms around to the tune of Peaches’s “Fuck the Pain Away.” The audience included more women than men, but I still felt like I was one of about four people in the room who thought it a bit odd that I had gone out to see a rock band but had instead ended up in a strip club in which the strippers all looked like Murder City Devils fans. The dudes who were there, despite considering themselves to be some countercultural motherfuckers, acted just like any NFL-loving asshole at Dirty Dan’s and whooped it up whenever the women pretended to make out with each other. Punk as fuck.

Talking about what is and isn’t punk in 2008 is pretty silly, mainly because whatever was going on in the punk scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s has been supplanted by marketing campaigns that have brought us to the point where Panic at the Disco is called a punk band, but I do know that dressing up everyday sexual exploitation and patriarchal gender roles in flaming cherry tattoos isn’t punk. It’s fucking nonsense. What Suicide Girls are doing is meeting a market demand created by dudes who want porn that matches their “alternative” hairdos and love for the Misfits, not representing an alternative kind of sexuality in which women are seen as sexually autonomous human beings, which is where the real sexual revolution is at. The mere fact that a large proportion of the Suicide Girls are Bettie Paige impersonators should tip even the most brainwashed of “sex-positive” “feminists” off to the fact that the company is selling little more than the idea that women exist to be used by men.