With Teeth: Everything I know about the vagina dentata

Someone gave me the movie Teeth for Valentine's Day, and last night I got around to watching it. As they say: I laughed, I cried, as one would when watching a film about a social justice-minded vagina dentata inside a naive, doe-eyed Christian teen. I tried to find some good commentary on it after the film, because I feel like the film ennacts rather than deconstructs the dentata myth: it is meant to instill not moral fear, but physical fear in a man who rapes. But in this case, it's not just rape when the teeth come out, but rather any time there is an 'impure" motive behind the sex--conquest, incest. Even when Dawn O’Keefe (har har) initiates the sex, using the teeth as a weapon against her step-brother, the cartoonishly brutal metalhead who ass fucks his girlfriend while his stepmother is lying near dead in the hallway (necessary to forward the plot? no), the teeth come out. His dog, named Mother, chows on the recently freed cock (apparently which won Spike TV's award for "Most Memorable Mutilation, Oh BiffWorld). Screams of horror all around.

But in the end the amazing Jess Weixler, as Dawn, decides to hit the road, first dude who picks her up on  side of the road, it's clear that the moral here is that Dawn is going to move about freely in the world not because it's a safe place, but because she has weaponized something that once made her vulnerable, and thus has a secret advantage. That the whole thing was couched in a narrative about the Christian shame for women's pleasure and the body makes the way the dentata myth works here all the more sad for me: the film plays with, but doesn't ever condemn, the idea that women are "naturally" pure and men "naturally" aggressive, instead it posits a place where the only recourse is violence on both sides: rape and castration. Surely language, culture, civilization come into play, since we can't just be beasts (with teeth)? 

In the end, the shirt I wear still reads: Everything I know about the vagina dentata I learned from watching Jaws.




Winter 2011: Ladies Rock Camp

As I used to do during the zine times (1996?), I apologize for disappearing. Hey, I made a promise to a friend that I would blog each week in 2011. It's nearly the end of February and I haven't done it once. I'm back on. You in?

I've been working this weekend at the Willie Mae Rock and Roll Camp for Girls, Ladies Camp edition. It's about 35 women from ages 20 to, perhaps 50?, in the camp's space in Fort Greene. It's the first time I've been in the space, which is part of the Co-Op School space, a pre-school. That makes teaching in the classrooms pretty funny, as in adult women on instruments surrounded by miniature furniture and hanging puppet cubbies. (perfectly indie rock set up, although the camp tends to draw folks more interested in harder sounds). 

Today at lunch I spoke with a woman who is learning vocals. She said she went home last night to listen to music and was shocked that she'd never really paid attention to the structure or phrasing. I wasn't really shocked to hear it, but I remember that feeling: moving from listening as pleasure to listening as research. It's a strategy, a skill set, an art. She was so excited to hear language in this new way. 

I combined her statement with another statement I made to Emmet, the fearless coordinator of the camp, the night before. Emmet moved from a small town in upstate to NYC after volunteering at camp and making friends with the folks who work there. I told him that until I worked at camp I had never felt part of an activist community in the city—I always felt excluded or somehow that the fit was not right. And to be honest, it took me a while to get into the groove of Rock Camp, because I am hyper-critical and had been thinking of music from an aesthetic standpoint for so long that I couldn't shake my snobbery at first, but once I did I came to feel that camp was a defining part of my life in the 2000s. I didn't just feel that my volunteering was another "drop in the bucket," which is hard in a city as big and full of big work as this is. 

So I went into my Women Who Rock class with two  challenges. The first was to give the ladies more language to conceptualize and organize their listening and appreciation of musical, songwriting, and performance techniques, for the immediate goal of getting them to incorporate some of the ideas into their show Monday. (Sample: the first 15 seconds of a song are the most important. Words: Intro, Hook. Example "These Boots Are Made for Walkin", Carol Kaye on bass, Nancy Sinatra on vox and boots). The second goal was to find a new nickname for Karla Schickele, the camp's founder. We did so by a 30 minute session of "Women who rocked NYC 1910-2010: In Sound and Social Justice," which was a kind of whirlwind lecture, discussion, listen to the city's Empresses, Ladies, Godmothers, First Ladies, Sisters, and Queens: Eve Tanguay, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Odetta, Joan Baez, Patti Smith, Queen Latifah, and Mary J. Blige. The group decided on two perfect nicks for Karla, who before camp rocked in Beekeeper and Ida, and had a solo career as k. in the 2000s: modest goddess and camp firestarter. I think the final decision was: modest camp goddess. Whatever it was, it was the truth.

Rock Camp in the summer is a Herculean effort of hundreds, but Ladies Camp is scaled down to just a few teachers per instrument, and at this level it is possible to see just how well the camp runs. Everyone is autonomous but helpful to each other, skilled in many platforms and willing to jump in to do whatever needs to be done. Karla does in fact stand in the middle of all of this, with a sly smile, hoodie, and clipboard: calm central command.

The ladies themselves, the campers, are like the 8 year olds in as much as they seem to also want to write songs about animals, eat snacks during rehersal (a cultural universal?), and spend as much time laughing as playing. All of these are great. Also great is the way they're different. The animals they sing about are like "nature." Real, beautiful, cruel, no happy endings. "Guinea pigs eat their young" is one lyric, which might not be great meterically, but is pretty effective in the jangle pop structure and sweet coos of the singer. And when I say "great pop songs are about longing" they know what I mean. It's serious stuff, even with the piles of Snickers on the floor and the puppets on the wall.

The experience makes me realize how inoften adult strangers just come together, decide to work together learning something new, and thus create a fast emotional intimacy, a basic need for bravery and trust. Maybe that's why those reality shows make so much sense culturally - they fufill a desire for this kind of connection. It's thrilling and a bit scary to watch, and moreso to facilitate.

Every Rock Camp I catch myself tearing up. This time, it's not nostalgia as much as it is deep sympathy for the anxieties and joys I see among the women. What do you want to write a song about? About how no one understands me. About how I can't be myself at home. About being frustrated all day and wanting quiet.

These are the same things the eight year olds write their songs about.





Faking it in Flaunt's space

Time for another installment of my Flaunt music column, on the curious and wonderful world of '80s synths.
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