Here on ErosBlog I ignored, as I tend to, the annual frenzy of “concerned” journalists fretting about how Halloween has morphed into “Dress Like A Slut” day, ohnoes! To me, the phenomenon is obviously just a manifestation (on Halloween, how appropriate!) of the ghosts of Saturnalia and Carnival, which we in the Puritan Protestancies had taken out and shot centuries ago. I approve, as I do, of all liberating influences. Hell, I approve of nekkedness in general, so how could I glower all dour at skimpy costumes?

Surprised I therefore was to find ChelseaGirl from Pretty Dumb Things fretting on the same topic, although I’ll cheerfully grant that she did it with more thoughtfulness and nuance than any print journalist I’ve ever seen tackle the subject. Most interesting and useful in her post, I thought, was her description of a memetic landscape she calls Strip Nation:

Because this trend … also speaks to the seduction of what I’ve come to call Strip Nation.

Strip Nation is the place where little girls wear body glitter for fun, where pole dancing is a fitness pursuit, where chicks have standing appointments for monthly Brazilians, and weekly tans, French manicures and matching pedicures. It’s the place where women purposefully show bra straps and g-strings. It’s where average women have the lower-back tattoo, body piercings, and t-shirts that read “Diva” It’s the where women get breast implants, labiaplasty and anal bleaching. It’s a place where family restaurants have waitresses wearing orange short-shorts, and where drag-queen restaurants have banana deep-throat contests, and where eighteen year-old girls win them.

Strip Nation is where we live now. It’s not a bad place to live. Strip Nation gives us Carmen Electra and body butter. Strip Nation lets us shake our booty with abandon. Hell, Strip Nation, combined with Hip-Hop Nation–it’s a unified country of dual principalities–has given us the word “booty”. Without Strip Nation, we’d still be pogoing and wearing flat shoes and high-waisted pleated pants.

Strip Nation can be a lot of fun, but it’s a deeply problematic kind of fun. I am proud to have been a stripper, but I know that stripping is best kept in the strip club because stripping is about serving up a fantasy based on the most simplistic heterosexual male’s formulation of an uncomplicated woman. Most simply, Strip Nation provides a dreamscape based on a model of a two-dimensional woman and men’s desire for them. And while that is all well and fine for an eight-hour strip shift, it has major issues when it goes rampant, out into the streets, and disseminates like a virus into the culture at large.

I wonder how much women choosing to dress like a stripper for Halloween–whatever the flavor of the specific fantasy–isn’t centered on an unquestioning slide into the happy amnesia of Strip Nation: a place where men will be men, women will be girls, and no one need have a thought cross their untrammeled brows. I wonder how much the Naughty Nurse, the Sassy Satan, the Wanton Witch, the Reform School Drop Out, the Pirate Wench, and all the heaving bosom, exposed thigh rest, has more to with the prefeminist nostalgia that Strip Nation embodies. I wonder how much the naughty Halloween costume hasn’t less to do with getting one’s freak on as it does with doing so in a way that feels like you don’t have to think about it when you do.

Tomorrow, Halloween will just be a bunch of garbled stories and memories, gone for another year, But we’ll still be living in Strip Nation. Look around you, it’s everywhere. Fun, yes. But at what cost?

I think the description of Strip Nation is spot on, but I’m having trouble parsing out the objection. It seems to be something in the nature of “real life is more complicated than that”, but every cultural expression we have is idealized in one way or another; Strip Nation is a fantasy space almost by definition, and it seems odd to me to ask “at what cost?” when the full achievement of the fantasy lies as much out of our reach as do the golden shores of Brigadoon.

“You wouldn’t like to eat nothing but candy and ice cream”, warned our mothers, and we didn’t believe them. If we really lived in Strip Nation, we probably wouldn’t enjoy that either; a steady diet of oversimplified sex is probably not much better than a steady diet of high fructose corn syrup. But what’s really going on here is a whole bunch of cultural expressions reaching toward Strip Nation, but which are counterbalanced by so many other cultural anchors and drags that we’ll never reach the Strip Nation Shangri La, nor indeed get anywhere close to there. We don’t live in Strip Nation; we don’t even live next door to Strip Nation. All we do is live in a place where we can, sometimes, get away with acting as if we do live in Strip Nation.

If you grant that, is it really fair to ask “at what cost?” The only cost I see is to the competing memetic landscapes that are losing mindshare in competition with Strip Nation. I’m talking Burqa Nation, Chador and Hajib Nation, Barefoot And Pregnant Nation, Nice Girls Don’t Nation, It’s Dirty Down There Nation, Leave The Lights Off Nation, Twin Beds Nation, Save It For Marriage Nation, the entire constellation of memetic spaces in which skin must be covered, dancing must be restricted because it could lead to shagging, sex is strictly controlled, and women are (in one sense or another) chattel, not free to make their own sexual decisions.

Here in the brave new century, Strip Nation is out-competing all of those memetic spaces. Is it perfect? Heck no. Is it better? I can’t see how it isn’t. At what cost? I, for one, don’t much care, unless the cost is higher than the rolling human tragedy of the repressive memetic spaces Strip Nation is competing with and struggling to displace.

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