4.29.2008

Miss Poppy Dixon: Jesus, Bettie and Me

Two irreducible truths inform Bettie’s enduring popularity as a “good bad girl”:

Bettie is a devout Christian.

Bettie sees encouraging the erotic imaginations of strangers through very provocative photos as absolutely consistent with her beliefs as a Christian.

Hugh Hefner dubbed her, “The girl next door with a little touch of kink.” Bettie never played at being a “bad” girl. She was happy to be a good girl who loved to pose.

In our current politically and ideologically polarized society, the idea of combining faith with sexuality in such a free, joyous way seems strangely more dangerous and more outlandish than it did in the 1950’s.

Just such thoughts came to the fore on a compelling website, ADULT CHRISTIANITY, the brainchild of MISS POPPY DIXON. The site is a politically charged, bitingly sarcastic and intellectually disciplined critique of (in Miss Dixon’s words) “socially conservative and politically aggressive Christianity”. Unlike left-wing screeds, Miss Dixon charges that contemporary, politicized Christianity is, first and foremost, a betrayal of the Christian message. Although she doesn’t pull punches, Miss Dixon clearly understands religion and takes it seriously. As such, when it comes to the Religious Right’s stances on sexuality, sexual identity, eroticism, feminism and reproductive rights, Miss Dixon is able to make her arguments in a way that is powerful and logically consistent with the Religious Right’s own belief system.

Here’s a link to Miss Poppy Dixon’s article on Bettie Page. It’s a good read!

Following up on this article, Miss Dixon was kind enough to elaborate on her thoughts about Bettie Page, Christianity and her own personal experiences with faith…



How did Adult Christianity begin?

In 1993 I was a student in the Conceptual Arts program at San Francisco State University. I used Hypercard, a precursor to the web, to create an art project based on my own non-linear relationship to Christianity. A couple of years later I reworked the project and put it online. At the time I felt that popular Christianity pandered to the smallest and meanest in Americans. Popular Christianity infantilized us. It depicted Jesus as little more than a harmless imaginary friend. Adult Christianity, in contrast, demonstrated a brainy, lusty, gin-soaked, risible model of faith.

What is your feeling about religion's role in your own life?

Religion played different roles during different periods of my life. I had a difficult childhood and religion made a big difference, both positive and negative. In the early 70s, as a young teenager, I was involved in Shiloh (Youth Revival Center) – a communal network of Jesus freaks.

It took me years and years, decades really, to undo the negative fear-based teachings I learned from Shiloh and the fundamentalist community churches I attended. As an adult my relationship to religion evolved through more benign forms.

Currently I would say that I am a practicing non-theist, though I dabble in antitheism. There is an amazing force of life that churns through the universe. I am part of it and always will be. But I, as this particular personality, will not survive. I do not believe in God as a being, with personality.

In America, there seems to be a fear of sexuality, especially from a female-empowered, feminist perspective. Americans at large -- male and female -- seem uncomfortable with women genuinely expressing or exploring their sexuality, yet America seems to have little problem exploiting male lust and women's desire to be beautiful in any number of ways... from burger ads to, perversely, diet ads. Why, in your considered opinion, will America accept a woman being crassly objectified to sell Doritos, but is outraged by legitimate erotic art?

There is an expectation, for everyone - male and female and those in between, to be the subject of their world, yet all the while we know we are the world’s object – we are dust, star stuff. We long to resolve this truth, either by being objectified ourselves, or by exploring that idea vicariously through seeing the other – women, children, gays, the poor - objectified. By seeing others objectified our role as subject is affirmed - I have the power to buy the Doritos that some other used her body to sell.

On the other hand, when the traditionally objectified woman acts in her own interest, it threatens the subjectivity of those in power. Bettie inadvertently made objects of those who consumed her. That’s where she ran afoul of the law. As long as she was a passive thinglet she was safe. But when she posed in bondage, explicitly spelling out the power roles, she stripped men bare. They, and their raw desires, were exposed.

U.S. Senators did not want impressionable American sons viewing power as dependent on consensus, or worse yet desire, but rather on absolute immutable truths trussed up tightly in gender, race, and class.

How familiar are you with Bettie Page?

I’ve read about her, seen her photographs, and watched her dance videos. I saw Mary Harron’s movie. It was beautifully executed, but the narrative fell flat.

I don’t think anyone really knows enough about Bettie to tell her story. It’s the same way with Jesus – he is this great erotic figure about whom very little is known. Because so little is known about Jesus or Bettie, they become perfect tablets on which to pen our own internal dramas.

If you were familiar with her photos prior to the movie, what were your feelings towards them?

I love the beach photos. The bondage photos are fine, but not my cup of tea - I’m all thumbs. I’m very fond of Bettie’s dance videos. I’m surprised no one has invented a Bettiesize aerobics class.

Have you seen Velvet Hammer Burlesque? It’s a Los Angeles performance group that overtly honors Bettie Page. I’ve seen them perform – they’re absolutely amazing. They’ve picked up where Bettie left off. They exude the same joy, the same energy.

It seems, as well as we can track such things, that Bettie has become more important as a sexual icon to women than as an object of desire for men... that is, Bettie's female fans (at least ardent ones) are increasingly female. What lessons do you think young women can draw from Bettie?

I suspect that Bettie Page had a lot to say. She suffered a lot of abuse over the course of her life. I don’t think that kind of suffering is something Bettie would want her fans to either experience or emulate. Young women need to be audacious, to tell their stories fearlessly and make sure that they are heard. When young women speak for themselves, I believe they’re speaking for a Bettie that few heard.

One of the reasons people are so attracted to Bettie as an icon is that she promotes a very healthy (and oddly un-American) view of sexuality: one that is not based on shame, guilt and secrecy; and a form of sexuality that doesn't view Christianity (in the "love thy neighbor" variety, not in the "world domination" variety) and erotic imagination as mutually exclusive. Why do you think this particular position is still one that provokes so much controversy?

Bettie Page confused the roles of subject and object through joy. She frustrated her own objectification by joyfully embracing it. That same joy made objects of the men who watched her. My sense is that men didn’t so much want her, as they wanted to be her. That was the real perversity.

I don't know that I found so much joy in Bettie's bondage shots - to me those are very technical, so I don't know that I'm the best person to comment on them. I’m speaking more of her photography modeling (for camera clubs) and the fellows who would photograph her. I think they longed for, what must have seemed to them, a freer and more joyful relationship to sexuality and the world - in that sense they'd rather "be" her - without, of course, acknowledging the downsides of being a woman (less pay, discrimination, etc.)

When I think of Bettie I think of Luke 7:36-50, a very saucy story of Jesus anointed by a fallen woman at a dinner party. The hosts of the party protested the woman’s status. Jesus replied,

“Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.” Luke 7:47

Loving and sinning (transgressing) and forgiving are all tied together. The sourpusses at the dinner party had little love or forgiveness, because they could not (publicly) trangress.

Bettie Page loved much.

Do you feel her bondage shots are demeaning in any way or encourage male aggression?

Men don't really need bondage to take out their frustrations on women. I've never been so humiliated in my life than when I worked in the corporate world. That's where the truly sick **** plays out. The Senators want to believe (and for others to believe) that power is ordained through a mystical and holy hierarchy. Bondage and kink lay that fallacy bare. Power is not ordained - it's gained either through consensus or through force and fable - like slavery and the Bible.

The conflict between faith and. atheism appears to be heating up . Either you are for Darwin, "San Francisco values" and sexual empowerment, or you are for Jesus, guns and repression. What's your assessment of the culture wars today? Who's winning, who's losing, who's right, who's wrong?

A very successful marketing guru once said, “Being right is the booby prize.”

Let them, whoever they are, be right. Let the babies have their bottles.

Our job is to tell the truth, irrepressibly, joyfully, continually, and if our bone structure supports it, with short bangs.

What role can fans of Bettie Page play in making the world safe for empowered sexual expression without fear of censorship?

There’s always a need for more bad girls in the world (female and male) – girls that can tell the truth, transgress, love the people, and forgive themselves and others. Bad girls needed.

1 comments:

JAHpostle said...

Just wanted to say that I really appreciate ALOT of the expressions that have been made on the subject of Betty

Page's Burlesque career, and how shattering it is that she dissapeared from the scenes soon after embracing

"chrisitianity".

First of all, I think that choice says alot about the power of the christian faith in transforming the very NATURE

of mankind from a carnal creature to a creature that is sensitive to the spiritual nature that transcends self,

and the fleshly desires of our carnal nature. Something in that little baptist church triggered a complete

metamorphosis in Betty Page, utterly persuading her that whatever she was doing in Burlesque was not right.

Otherwise, why forsake a good thing.

Here is a little definition of burlesque:
In burlesque, performers, usually [female], often create elaborate sets with lush, colorful costumes,

mood-appropriate music, and dramatic lighting, and may even include novelty acts, such as fire-breathing or

[demonstrations of unusual flexibility], to enhance the impact of their performance.

-Just from this short description, I can see why Betty Page never looked back after leavign the burlesque

entertainment life, she was matching to a different drum beat. Now she was reading scriptures, that were utterly

opposed to alot of the things that happen in burlesque performances. There is alot of sensual, obscene positons

and gestures involved in the...[demonstrations of unusual flexibility], when you read scriptures like 1

Corinthians 6:19-20;where we are admonished that our bodies are temples of the HolyGhost,which is in you, which ye

have of God, and ye are not your own?. For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in

your spirit, which are God's. You see, our bodies are to be used to glorify God, not men or ourselves, and I think

such truths were to real, and without controversy that Betty page had no choice but to forsake something that she

did once unashamedly. I only use this scripture becuase you used one from luke, am not a trying to push the bible

on your throat. Truth is truth, whether we agree with it or not. I think that much we can agree upon. And,

speaking of truth, you might say, what is Truth?. To me the Holy scriptures are truth. Why?, because everything

that has been written on that book has come to pass, is happening today and will come to pass in its proper time.

Put simply, burlesque means "in an upside down style". Like its cousin, commedia dell'arte, burlesque turns social

norms head over heels. Burlesque is a style of live entertainment that encompasses pastiche, parody, and wit. The

genre traditionally encompasses a variety of acts such as dancing girls, chanson singers, comedians, mime artists,

and [strip tease artistes], all satirical and with a saucy edge.

-I will touch on just one of the 'variety of acts' mentioned above, STRIP TEASE. This definately had to mess with

Betty Pages faith, because according to her new order of operation, she was now supposed to adorn herself in a way

totally opposed to the STRIP TEASE mentality. She was supposed to now adorn herself..."with shamefacedness and

sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;But (which becometh women professing

godliness) with good works" - 1 Timothy 2:9-10. Again, basing my truth on scripture, I have to use it as the basis

of my argument.

She no longer could have that 'pinup' sensual dresscode. But now, she is admonished to hide all the nakedness, all

the boobies and more....,Her adorning now was not to be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing

of gold, or of putting on of apparel;But now that she is using her body to glorify God, and not herself or man, it

was to be the hidden "man of the heart", in that which is "not corruptible", even the ornament of a "meek and

quiet spirit", which is in the sight of God of great price - 1 Peter 3:2-6.

You see her pinup image, and various acts on stage were 'corruptible". By this I mean, men and women entertained

by it,maybe not all, but am sure some, were having all sorts of thoughts as she performed certain acts, and the

thoughts and imaginations were not HOLY, but thoughts that corrupted the sanctity of how a man or woman should

look upon a woman. You don't go to a burlesque show to see a happy married couple, or innocent young single

woman.No, there is an element of lust and so many other emotions that run wild. I have not always been saved my

whole life, I have been subjected to some very sinful things myself. When my friends too me to a strip club, even

if I was not thinking sex and orgies, before I left my mind was not sound, especially when I recall the various

acts done by the beautiful young ladies, especially demonstrations of unusual flexibility.

In conclusion, you mentioned mary Magdalenes story from the gospel of Luke. The difference between her scenario

and burlesque, has everything to do with her heart, motivations and intentions. You see as much as she was a

sinner, Jesus who in this case we can say was at the receiving end of her acts, being flesh and blood like you and

me,not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in ALL points tempted

like as we are, yet without sin -Hebrews 4:15. You see, this was a very sensual and erotic thing for mary to do,

but was it?. I don't think it was some kind of burlesque show. Why?, the response that christ gave her was

indicative of the very motives, thoughts and intentions in Mary's heart. Jesus was not aroused by this very act

because it was not earthly, it was not sensual, Mary was not trying to entertain JESUS, she was doing this as an

act of penitence, for he discerned true faith and penitence in her heart. And Jesus needed not that any should

testify of any man, for he himself knew what was in man.

I say this in contrast to the reaction of another man who was in the same room at the same time - Judas iscariot.

His reaction was totally different from that of Christ, and It had nothing to do with Jesus being the Christ, for

as we have seen he was tempted like Judas in ALL points as we are, yet without sin - Hebrews 4:15. Judas was

carnal, like most men and women who go to burlesque clubs. I really feel he wanted Mary's affection.

It has been supposed by some, and not without some reason from the words of the Gospel, that envy and jealousy,

and not greed of money, were the cause of Judas' treachery, because he desired Mary Magdalene, and she had given

all her love and devotion to her Master. This inner feeling seems to be concealed beneath the cloak of zeal for

the poor. "From that hour he sought to betray him." It is as probable that all three motives urged him, as they do

the multitudes nowadays, who lust for pleasure,riotous living etc., under the cloak of "fun." "These things ought

ye to have done and not left the other undone - Matthew 23:23-24;Luke 11:42." But such show their hypocrisy by

their reckless contributions to sexual immorality, and to all manner of pleasures and amusements and luxuries

which minister to self. By the spirit of Judas Iscariot are all such led and dominated.

Talking about Betty Page loved much, well, she probably did, but she was loving the wrong way. Suddenly, what was

fun and sexxy, and risque turned to be a shame. Scripture warns about 'strange women' - Proverbs 5:3,4
For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil:But her end is bitter as

wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. I tend to think according to the definition of burlesque above, acts like

strip teasing and demonstrations of unusual flexibility by the burlesque men or women is very STRANGE.

I will close with some insights from Jesus the son of Sirach of Jerusalem, who flourished about two hundred years

before Christ. You can find his writtings from the book of Ecclesiasticus here -

http://www.tldm.org/bible/Old%20Testament/eccltus.htm

9:2. Give not the power of thy soul to a woman, lest she enter upon thy strength, and thou be confounded.
-Alot of men & women, I must say are usually confounded by thes burlesque performances.
9:8. Turn away thy face from a woman dressed up, and gaze not about upon another’s beauty.
-Dressing up in very sexy and provocative costumes is the essence of burlesque.
9:9. For many have perished by the beauty of a woman, and hereby lust is enkindled as a fire.
-Nothing is wrong with the beauty of a woman, but, when perverted(lust),then we have a problem.
25:26. All malice is short to the malice of a woman, let the lot of sinners fall upon her.
-There is alot of malice in alot of the burlesque performances needless to say.

25:28. Look not upon a woman’s beauty, and desire not a woman for beauty.
-How can one do it in a burlesque hall, you cant do it!

26:19. A holy and shamefaced woman is grace upon grace.
-This is what Betty Page found, and I think she liked it and wanted to keep it.

It's a sad truth, but we reap what we sow, and sometimes it ain't pretty!!
Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap - Galatians 6:7

We are NOT to yield our bodies as an "instrumet of unrighteous acts", It's the temple of the Holy Ghost
"Neither yield ye your members[body,body parts] as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves

unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God..Romans
6:13"