My one night stand with the Chips
Why do women flock to the Chippendales? Helen West suggests that a more pertinent question is what do women do the rest of the time?
To describe the Chippendales as pretty boys who take their clothes off is like saying football is just 'a bunch of men kicking a ball around a field'. Whatever you may have heard or overheard, take it from one who has seen them in the flesh - block and (almost) tackle - these lads know their stuff.
The Chippendales, or Chips as they are fondly known, number approximately 20. I didn't manage to count them all at once but noticed certain common characteristics. They are all young, handsome and possess bodies which once I would have dismissed as looking like skinned rabbits but now consider to be lean and muscular. They sport names like August and Tor and little else. Although some are said to have science degrees, I don't think the girls go along to check out their CVs.
Their show lasts for two hours with a half-hour 'breather' in the middle. It's a singing, dancing, stripping extravaganza, and no expense has been spared on the sets, mood-lighting and suggestive props (have you heard about the banana?). One backdrop is simply the top part of a pair of Levis - with fully functional zipper.
It's a professional show, although uninitiated friends snigger in derision when I tell them this. Maybe it's because all the dance sequences revolve around female fantasies. No doubt my friends are sceptical of my capacity to keep a critical eye on their dancing skills when they are prancing around as savages in loin cloths. Other fantasies include being bound-over by an 'arresting' officer, getting carried away by the bellboy, a titillating tarzan-type and, one of my favourites, the Harley Davidson sketch.
Contrary to the often snobbish distaste with which commentators have dismissed the Chippendales following, I find the idea of a thousand mainly working class women having a great time together quite satisfying. Not only were they having a good time, they were revelling in it. In that there is nothing new.
I myself was brought up in the tradition of Friday nights out with the girls. We would go to great lengths to avoid the pubs/clubs that we knew the husbands/boyfriends would be in because this was our night. We would spend ages getting ready to go out so that we could flirt, drink and talk together without interruption, and then go home to raised eyebrows and the inquisition. The men in our lives might have been out flirting, drinking and talking too, but somehow it was never seen as the same thing. A night out with the Chippendales has some things in common with the Friday night out.
The lights dimmed and in the hush a bass beat started to thump, then with the words 'Do you wanna rock?' the show had begun. Ten minutes into the show, the girls were as one. If they needed a better view they stood on their chairs. If they wanted to sing and dance in the aisles they did. If they fancied a particular Chip they let him know. They felt they could do what they wanted.
The women were uninhibited because what they experience at the Chippendales show is a reversal of their everyday existence. First, money has changed hands and you are there in the knowledge that you are the paying customer. Second, women outnumber the men on stage by about a hundred to one. You are among friends and nobody is judging you. You are constantly told that these young and handsome men are there for you. And you are encouraged to leave all thoughts of your other half at home and enjoy yourself.
Of course, part of the novelty is that we can't do this all the time. There are socks to wash, babies to feed and books to cook. That means that when they do get a break, most women are determined to enjoy it to the full. The other side of it is the feeling that for too long this has been a man's thing. Men read porn magazines, go to see strippers and watch blue movies when they want. But women are only allowed to do such things at hen parties - in other words, at a one and only rave-up before some woman ties herself to one man for the rest of her life.
The most frustrating part of the whole Girls Together scene is that you can't help feeling that the things you do together are not risky at all. At the time you feel you are doing something outrageous, but afterwards you wonder why enjoying yourself is considered to be something unusual.
By some unhappy accident in my misspent youth I worked as a Bunny Girl, or to be precise a Pussycat, for one evening. Speaking from experience, I can say that the men who came along to the club did not think for one minute that their good time ended at closing time - unlike the women at the Chips show. Contrary to the impression given by Sun stories, backstage sex romps are not the common experience of women who go to see the Chippendales.
It says something about women's lives that they feel they can only really let their hair down in the company of other women at an artificially staged event such as this. Men can behave how they want, any time they like. But we are supposed to be happy with the odd night out on the town. Well, thanks for nothing.
The Chippendales are not about to liberate women. But then again, women know this. Women know the Chippendales are not going to come home with them at the end of the show and bath the kids or put the washing out. My friend and I went along knowing they weren't about to liberate us - that is something we take a bit more seriously.
We went along in the interests of 'research', but we too discarded our inhibitions after the first few numbers. After looking at the stage then looking at each other, an unspoken decision was taken to let rip. When a couple of Chips did a number which gave you the option of Mr Romance or Mr Rough Diamond, and the latter shouted 'I'm a working man and I'm gonna work for you', my friend shouted back at the top of her voice, 'Yes, me, work on me!'.
Walter Mosley's crime fiction covers familiar ground, but from a very different perspective. Andrew Calcutt spoke to the man who has put the black into a nineties' version of noir
Easy Rawlins walks the mean streets of postwar Los Angeles. In Walter Mosley's Devil in a Blue Dress and A Red Death, he drinks too much and is often alone. He's a freelancer with high moral standards and a sardonic grin. Another detective in the Philip Marlowe mould? Except that Easy and his creator, Walter Mosley, are black.
The classic detective novel works by virtue of the protagonist's social mobility. Raymond Chandler made Marlowe equally at home in the boardroom or the bar-room. It's not that simple for Rawlins, as Mosley explains:
'There are two different things. One of them is kind of overt racism where black people are noticed in certain places or kept out of certain places. In that way Easy doesn't have very much mobility and he has to be very worried about what's happening all the time.
'But in another way, because all of these assumptions are made about who he is and who he could be and what he could possibly be after - he might be planning to pick my pocket or rob a bank but he's not going to understand what we are talking about - at a certain point as Ralph Ellison says, Easy becomes invisible.
'In that way he can go more places, because if a white man with a suit and tie walks in you have to pay attention to him on that level. A white man could tell Easy what he thinks, and he doesn't think anything will happen. It's something Easy could take advantage of, although you wouldn't ever like it. Because in taking advantage of it you have to degrade yourself. But Easy does do that.'
Where the classic detective is a selfcontained persona, 'Easy can't be who he wants to be. He can be different things, he can speak different languages but he can't ultimately become what he needs to be'. For Mosley, Easy's fractured personality is derived from the black experience: 'When you're black you experience two different worlds. I keep on trying to talk about it in relation to the Rodney King beating. Most white people who saw it don't like it. They say: "I'm outraged, I think it's terrible." Most black people feel that and also see it as more of a metaphor of their whole lives. Rodney King getting beaten is like me getting up every day, somebody might say. There's a much larger sphere of knowledge that black people have to deal with, and it's too large for any one person to deal with. So you kinda have to segment your life: I'm like this when I'm at work, I'm like that when I'm with my wife. I'm like this when I'm walking down the street at night.'
Mosley points out another difference between his writing and traditional detective fiction: 'In a kinda classic mystery series, the detective would always be the same - the same personality, although it might be different stories and very interesting stories. I'm trying to write a series of novels which are truly novels; to truly be a novel one of the things you have to do is that your main character or characters have to change.'
Age and relationships change Easy. He is also affected by the sweep of history. In Devil in a Blue Dress, says Mosley, 'he represents a certain class of black men and women who migrated to Los Angeles after World War Two'. Mosley, a 40-year old former computer programmer, drew Easy from the experience of his father's generation: 'The turning point in my father's life was the war. He met white people on an equal footing, even if the army was still segregated. He learned that he was smart and in no way less than anyone. Many black people learned that lesson, and when they returned to the South they realized that they'd have to leave in order to have the kind of lives they wanted.'
Mosley's father LeRoy moved to LA where he married Ella Slatkin, a Jewish woman whose family was linked with the Communist Party. Mosley's second novel, A Red Death, finds Easy trying to save his integrity as well as his skin in the age of McCarthyite witch-hunts. Mosley believes 'this specific time reflects in white society the problems that black people will always have in the United States; the thing where the powers above you all of a sudden hate you. I think it's a very good meeting point for black and white working class people. That's why I chose it.'
White Butterfly, the third Easy Rawlins novel, is so far only available in the States. In it, Mosley weaves 'the two major themes of American life - sexism and racism' into the stability and respectability of the 1950s. Mosley intends to continue the series - with a novel set against the Watts riots of 1965.
How would Easy react to the riots of 1992? 'He would abhor the violence, but he thinks the violence is necessary because nobody's going to pay any attention unless the violence is happening. I think most black people feel like that. In Los Angeles they think it's wrong to hurt people and now they have to go five miles to get a quart of milk - two very good reasons. But still, once the violence happens all of a sudden people pay attention.'
While black crime writers like Chester Himes and Donald Goines 'start out in a rage and get angrier because there's no resolution', Mosley made Easy 'see a way out. I really consciously wanted a character who at the end would understand himself, not completely, but he wouldn't have to go to Paris either, like Richard Wright or James Baldwin and Himes. I wanted a guy who was going to stay, and in California there was more of a possibility for doing that.'
- Devil in a Blue Dress, Pan, £4.50 pbk
- A Red Death, Serpent's Tail, £7.99 pbk
0f mice and men
Richard Stead on the sequel to Art Spiegelman's cartoon novel of the Holocaust
As a kid from a Jewish background I had a morbid fascination with the Holocaust. I can remember leafing through my father's books on the war, only to linger on those last pages with their photographs of pits filled with the emaciated bodies of the last concentration camp victims. Today, the Holocaust still seems to hold a perverse attraction. How could something so horrific have happened? What made people commit such acts of barbarism? What enabled some to survive while others perished?
Art Spiegelman's graphic novel, Maus, is the story of his father's experiences of the Second World War, as an Auschwitz survivor, and his own subsequent relationship with his father, as he attempts to understand what his parents went through and why.
Much of the critical acclaim for Art Spiegelman's work stems from his use of the comic to explore a serious subject. In the same way as the sixties underground artist Robert Crumb consciously subverted the child's comic book with images of sex and puberty, Spiegelman has taken the medium generally used for visual one-liners and superhero camp and attempted to portray one of the most harrowing experiences of twentieth century humanity, filtered through a very complex father-son relationship.
The strangeness of this juxtaposition of medium and subject matter is underlined by Spiegelman's decision to remove humanity from the story altogether. The Jews are depicted as mice, Poles as pigs and Germans as cats. No doubt we are tempted to project our own version of the natural characteristics of these animals on to the national characters they depict. But Spiegelman is not so crass; there are no obvious stereotypes in the drawings and we can see that the device is used more to handle events which are themselves so strange and horrible and personal that they can only be made sense of or even contemplated at all if they are estranged, distanced, mannered in their treatment. The comic form is not enough. They have to be animal characters too.
The first six chapters of Vladek Spiegelman's story, leading up to his internment in Auschwitz, were released in a collected form in 1987, having earlier been published individually in the avant-garde graphic magazine RAW. The final five chapters of Maus, chronicling Vladek's internment in Auschwitz, were collected recently and released under the subtitle And Here My Troubles Began.
Here, the parallel plot of Art Spiegelman's relationship with his father becomes even more problematic. His frustration at his inability to understand his father's experiences - 'I can't even make any sense out of my relationship with my father. How am I supposed to make any sense out of Auschwitz?' - is equalled only by his disbelief at his father's racism towards a black hitch-hiker. Yet Vladek's ingenuity in ensuring his own and his wife's survival in the concentration camps holds both his son's and the reader's admiration throughout this final book.
Maus brings no enlightenment about the causes of the Holocaust, and Spiegelman's own desire to understand what happened remains unfulfilled. But in the course of trying to understand, he paints a vivid picture of the Holocaust from the inside and helps to demystify the victims themselves.
Oh, and he settles another score too. Quoted on the fly leaf is a newspaper article from Germany in the thirties, 'Mickey Mouse is the most miserable ideal ever revealed....Healthy emotions tell every independent young man and honourable youth that the dirty and filth covered vermin, the greatest bacteria carrier in the animal kingdom, cannot be the ideal type of animal....Away with Jewish brutalisation of the people! Down with Mickey Mouse! Wear the Swastika Cross!'
- Maus: A Survivor's Tale is published by Penguin, £5.95 pbk
- Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began is published by Pantheon Books, £12.95 hbk
'Dil, Dil Pakistan'
As the current test series has shown, many Asians in Britain fail Norman Tebbit's cricket test by defiantly supporting Pakistan against England. John Pearson went to Bradford, the heart of Yorkshire cricket, to find out why
The day Pakistan won the World Cricket Championship was a special one for Asians in Bradford. T-shirts bearing the legend 'Pakistan: world cricket champions 1992' were selling fast in all sizes. Over 400 youths packed into cars decked with Pakistan flags for a motorcade around town. Their hi-fis blared out 'Dil Dil Pakistan' ('My Heart Is with you Pakistan') by Vital Signs.
The motorcade was shortlived. 'Tension was there all morning', explained Tahir. 'The police had been making their presence felt outside college. Quite a few were standing around watching and filming us, and then when cars started off they tried to stop us straight away. It's OK for Leeds fans to bring Leeds city centre to a halt when they win the league, but they found an excuse to stop us. We only wanted to celebrate.'
Bradford Asians hope to be celebrating a victory for Pakistan again in August when the test series against England ends. It isn't difficult to understand why it would stick in their throats to support England rather than Pakistan. Asians are excluded from playing a normal part in British society, and there is little to give them any sense of belonging to the British way of life.
Every aspect of life for an Asian in Bradford, from schooling and housing to work and leisure, is shaped by the pressures of exclusion from being 'really' British.
The education system operates on the basis of informal segregation, between mainly Asian schools like Grange in Lidget Green and mainly white schools like Buttershaw. The jobs market operates on the basis of an informal colour bar. 'Asians tend to get educated and then go into taxis', mused Saeed Khan.
Asians rarely get jobs with mainstream white companies. Lidget Green is a densely populated Asian area. It is in a ward with the largest concentration of employment in the city - over 45 000 jobs. Yet few jobs go to the Asians who live there; the unemployment rate in Lidget Green is more than twice the city average.
Asians tend to keep themselves to themselves, because to do otherwise is asking for trouble. Tahir Khan doesn't drink alcohol but he plays pool. 'If I went into a pub, I'd expect to get abuse. The first time I went into the Willowfields this guy says, so that everyone can hear, "What's the most popular name in Bradford?". Someone replied "Smith" but the first guy says "No - Khan". If you respond you know there'll be a fight, so you just grit your teeth.'
Perhaps the most graphic local example which helps to explain why Asians fail the cricket test is Yorkshire County Cricket Club. 'I say what I like and I like what I say', says Harry Enfield's Yorkshireman pointing to a black guy, 'you'll never play for Yorkshire!'. Until its recent signing of Sachin Tendulkar, Yorkshire hadn't signed a single black player in its 129 year history.
The club's unwritten 'no outsiders' rule has not only stood firm against the tide of black players from overseas who have added interest to the game of every other county. It has also kept out the thousands of black people born within the Yorkshire boundary.
Accusations of racism are 'scurrilous' according to Geoffrey Boycott, committee member and former Yorkshire captain. Try telling that to black players like Viv Richards or David Lawrence who have both been involved in altercations with Yorkshire supporters over racist comments. Brian Close, chair of the Yorkshire cricket committee, was forced to apologise after comments about 'bloody Pakis' and making a distinction between 'them and us'.
The only reason why Yorkshire signed Tendulkar is that the club is facing a crisis. Headingley, ground of the club which boasts more county championships than any other, today has an air of decay. The crisis starts on the cricket pitch. Yorkshire hasn't won the coveted county championship since 1968. Its team of tykes is mediocre. I should know - I paid to go and see them play.
'Wide', muttered the Yorkshire fan in front of me under his breath as the Yorkshire bowlers ran up to bowl every ball. As Yorkshire's opponents, Hampshire, amassed 211 runs off 40 overs the mood in the stand turned from tenuous optimism to outright gloom. By the time I'd made it to the members' bar, Yorkshire had slumped to 13 runs for three wickets. A pint of Stones later and Tendulkar was run out. 'Now we're down to the real crap', said the drunk next to me.
Yorkshire's cricketing crisis is reflected in its declining membership, down by 6000 since 1978; its ageing membership; its declining attendances, as few as 112 people paid to go through the turnstiles of a county championship match last season; and its deteriorating finances. A recent survey suggested the club had only seven more years given its current assets and income. It is this crisis which has lead to the signing of Sachin Tendulkar, the brilliant young Indian batsman.
It must have taken a lot of swallowed pride for the Yorkshire committee to invite Tendulkar. In 1982, a ballot on whether to recruit an overseas player had shown only 537 out of over 5000 in favour. Fred Trueman had threatened that 'the day Yorkshire engages an overseas player, I will drive to Headingley and hand in my membership'. I don't know if Tendulkar's arrival has led to Trueman's departure. But I do know that it will take more than that to get Asians behind Yorkshire cricket.
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 46, August 1992