Dr. Lucky: Why Hollywood's "Burlesque" Is a Sham

The scholar and performer gives the new movie "Burlesque" two thumbs down for claiming to portray "original" burlesque while ignoring the art form's history and vocabulary.  

Burlesque has been creeping into mainstream American culture for the past decade, and tomorrow it gets the Hollywood treatment. "Burlesque," starring Christina Aguilera and Cher, comes out on Thanksgiving, but—with a PG-13 rating and nary a pastie or G-string in sight—it departs from most current definitions of burlesque. Director Steven Antin defends his family-friendly film, saying that the notion of burlesque as a "second-rate striptease" is a misunderstanding of its 19th century roots. "I wanted to bring back what burlesque originally was," he says.

But Dr. Lucky, one of New York's preeminent burlesque performers (who also happens to have a Ph.D.), takes issue with that statement. In her Big Think interview, she tells us that burlesque has gone through many iterations since coming to America from Europe in 1868, and you can't call any of these versions more authentic than the other. "The fact that he’s saying, this is 'original burlesque,' and I’m not going to have any g-strings or pasties like they do in burlesque now because it’s tawdry, then ... it just seems like picking and choosing what you want." It is true that the art form did not become associated with the striptease until the 1920s, but if he really wanted to show "original" 19th century burlesque, he would have to do a parody of a classical text, she says. "Back then, burlesque was all about social parody; it was about inverting the content of what was being produced...sort of like “Saturday Night Live” or Weird Al Yankovich."

And one thing that has remained relatively constant about burlesque is that it has historically been a "working-class art form" focused on on satire and escapism. Trying to "class it up" by putting it in fancy nightclubs perverts its whole sensibility, she says. "That's a nightclub performance—which is fine—but I don't understand why people want to use the word burlesque." But ultimately, if the film gets more people to come out to more performances, Dr. Lucky thinks that's "awesome."

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.

This is the best (and simplest) world map of religions

Both panoramic and detailed, this infographic manages to show both the size and distribution of world religions.

(c) CLO / Carrie Osgood
Strange Maps
  • At a glance, this map shows both the size and distribution of world religions.
  • See how religions mix at both national and regional level.
  • There's one country in the Americas without a Christian majority – which?
Keep reading Show less
Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

Do human beings have a magnetic sense? Biologists know other animals do. They think it helps creatures including bees, turtles and birds navigate through the world.

Keep reading Show less