23 June 2011

Ten Reasons to Love Burger Queen

I was cautiously optimistic when I first wrote about Burger Queen and now, having attended three out of the four events, I admit I was wrong to be so circumspect and can whole-heartedly say that it was absolutely brilliant in every way. Here are ten reasons why:

1. I've never seen anything like it in my life (and I've seen a lot)
Burger Queen went beyond any preconceptions I had about that stale irony-format, the beauty contest. Instead, it was like being immersed in a total environment where the focus was always shifting between performance, activism, weirdness, joy, anger, precious moments, and where real and fake were redundant terms. The Duckie performance influence is undeniable, I think, but it has its own distinct flavour (and smell, chips!), and I've never before seen performance of this kind applied to fat in such a skilful way.

2. Woah, activism
Looking at Burger Queen as a piece of fat activism, which it is but is also much more, makes me feel really excited about fat culture, especially that which is now happening right on my doorstep. There are so many ways in which it could develop, it doesn't have to follow the work I've seen, especially in the US, which is trad-burlesque heavy, or speaks to a lowest common denominator. Burger Queen is didactic but doesn't treat the audience like morons, offers a non-preachy pomposity-free polemic, is experimental and accessible, and it turns high concepts into a beautiful shared experience where rough and smooth all mix in together. This is what happens when people who get it use their talent and imagination to create something unique and wild.

3. The details that mattered
It's the little things that count, like the fact that you could buy a burger meal with your ticket, the Burger Queen staff uniforms, the fat-centric soundtrack, the being-on-TV jokes, the morbidly obese woman singing at the end of the night, the weekly diet, and the graphic design, to name but a few of them. It was a complete experience created by a team of enablers. It made me feel that I was in one of Scottee's demented fantasies, which is not a bad place to be.

4. Timberlina
I enjoyed all the Burger Queen performances but Timberlina's ukulele-assault on the cult of LighterLife was unforgettable.

5. It was messy
There were no tidy, nice, clean, respectable fat people at Burger Queen. No wannabe good productive citizens in sight. It was all about sweat, tears, being out of puff, having physical limitations, being in a strop, showers of chips and glitter, wobbling flesh, dirty cakeholes, genderfuckery, hairy bellies, sexuality, foul mouths, and low life (which of course is high life). Hallelujah for queered-up non-assimilationist fat people, there are few things more beautiful.

6. Fat is a politic
The idea that fat is a politic rather than a dress size was put forward in Burger Queen. I'll add the caveat that I think that fat is also about particular kinds of embodiment but luckily queer theory means that I don't have to reject one in favour of another, it can be both and more. Anyway, fat is a politic is a radical suggestion because it engages people of all sizes, it shows that everyone is implicated in fat and it incites people to do something about it. And this being uttered not at some exclusive academic conference, but at a pub in Vauxhall. I love that it supports multiple ways of being fat, and doesn’t offer these false binary divisions of fat/thin, or fat activist/fat ally. I have a similar thing with The Chubsters, which is a fat queer girl gang that you don’t have to be fat, queer, a girl, or remotely aggressive to be a part of. Hurray!

7. The people
The contestants, the judges, Jude Bean, the crowd. I wanted to be best friends with everyone and it gave me a bunch of new crushes to obsess over. Favourite contestant moment: being forced to wave my hands in the air by that out-of-control queen and dodging the sweets that she pulled from her face and hurled at people angrily.

8. Being a punter
If I want to be involved with fat activism usually what happens is that I have to either travel thousands of miles, or do it myself, or by myself. Burger Queen was the first time that I could just get on the tube and enjoy being in the audience. I could see that everyone was working like crazy, the stress of putting on something like this is major, but there was none of that on my part, just eye-popping fun and an event that felt as though it was made just for me. Bliss.

9. Queer-Disability-Fat
I did an MA in the early 90s and published a book in 1998 that applied disability theory to fat activism. I also wrote about queerness in that book but the feminist publishers believed that queer was the devil's work and wouldn't print that stuff. What delights me 13-20 years later is that Burger Queen comes along, crowns the gorgeous Nina Neon, and it's clear in the loveliest way that queer and disability and fat have a lot to say to each other and can interact with each other in fantastic ways. Burger Queen is theory that I helped develop reflected in reality, and done in a way that anyone can understand, with humour and style and humanity.

10. There's going to be another one next year
Yes, yes oh yes.

10 June 2011

Archival weight loss kitsch: Fight the Flab with Terry Wogan

My partner has been digging around in the secondary vinyl collection and brought this up from the basement for a spin. It's as terrible as you'd imagine, and proof that loveable Terry Wogan is a tool of The Man as well as being a fan of the firm control ladies undergarment. Anyway, here it is for your listening pleasure, it seems to go on for ages. Extra points to those who want to video themselves doing these exercises in an 18 hour bra, girdle or corselette.

Fight the Flab with Terry Wogan (.mp3, 3.1mb)

Terry Wogan Fight The Flab single - front cover

Terry Wogan Fight The Flab single - back cover

09 June 2011

Diet Songs: Special K

Special K is more monotonous to eat than Grape Nuts, but not quite as bad as All Bran, which gives it the distinction of not even being the worst cereal, more like the second or third worst. I associate the brand with everything that I scorn about diet culture, it is assimilationist, apologetic, boring, self-hating, sanctimonious, unfeminist, mediocre, passionless. Anti-life.

The current crop of adverts feature women dancing around their kitchens with different bingey flavours of Special K, ersatz food, where what is being sold cannot match the marketing hyperbole. Those women are desperately hungry, I imagine, because The Special K crash diet plan involves eating only one meal a day and replacing the rest with stingy bowls of cereal. Poor cows.

Anyway, this is the last Diet Song in the series and it's one of my favourites because it was really fun to record. It's the classic 'Can you pinch more than an inch?' campaign, which is iconic in advertising history, and the source of much anxiety and disbelief in my playground when I was a kid.

If you can pinch more than an inch of chub on your side, you need to lose weight by eating Special K. I've generally been able to grab about a good handful of flesh in that spot, and at least a foot or two of fat on my belly, not quite a yard. But that hardly matters, everyone can pinch an inch, including thin people, which is why the slogan is marketing gold in terms of creating a rush of fearful consumers.

Pinching an inch inhabits the same body anxiety genealogy as other home tests of freakhood, such as the pencil test. This involves putting a pencil under your tits, if it stays there, your tits are all wrong. By my mid-teens I could keep a whole pack of felt-tips under my breasts and these days I treat them as an extra pair of hands from time to time, they can keep a towel or a bottle of shampoo handy whilst I'm doing something else.

Pinching as well, can we talk about that? It's so mean! Pinching your body, policing other people's bodies by pinching them. Ow ow ow! The person who thought this up was obviously not very nice.

Here's our version. I do all the voices and Simon had fun making the pinchy sounds on his homemade effects boxes.

Diet Songs: Special K by Charlotte Cooper + Simon Murphy (.mp3, 540kb)

Diet Songs
New Project: Diet Songs
Nimble
Slim-Fast
Tab
Diet Pepsi
Nutrasweet
Diet Coke
Ryvita
Ayds
Special K

08 June 2011

Diet Songs: Ayds

It's a box of sweets with added magic lovely and slim ingredient X. This turns out to be an anaesthetic, later replaced with a mild kind of speed of a type that was later withdrawn from over-the-counter products because it raises the risk of stroke in the young women who eat this stuff.

I'm stuck on the name, I can't get past the name. A weight loss product called Ayds which, when you say it aloud, sounds like AIDS. I associate dieting so strongly with drawn-looking emptied out bodies that when I hear Ayds I think of the wasting suffered by people with AIDS, and that famous photograph of David Kirby dying amidst his devastated folks. This is probably not the association that the makers of Ayds wanted to promote in the product's heyday, but it's certainly the association that led to Ayds' demise.

Just saying the name invokes a handful of feelings: schadenfreude, a longing for other similar diet crap to bite the dust, sadness and rage about HIV/AIDS, bemusement. Ayds is so exposed by its name and obvious quackery, if it can happen to that product, why not Slim Fast, LighterLife and the rest of them? Why must it fall to an unfortunate coincidence?

Would Ayds be a viable brand nowadays? I'm inclined to think that it would. I think the obesity epidemicTM has made many people more desperate than ever to try and lose weight. Associations with illness don't seem to matter, I know someone who was congratulated on her weight loss after a couple of months suffering amoebic dysentery. How does the stigma of AIDS or terminal illness compare to fat stigma? Would people be willing to be associated with one in place of the other? I really don't know.

We recorded this pretty straight because, really, what else are you going to do with gold like this? Simon's spidery track sounds like a virus in your blood.

Diet Songs: Ayds by Charlotte Cooper + Simon Murphy (.mp3, 840kb)

Diet Songs
New Project: Diet Songs
Nimble
Slim-Fast
Tab
Diet Pepsi
Nutrasweet
Diet Coke
Ryvita
Ayds
Special K

07 June 2011

Diet Songs: Ryvita

Next week I will pay £110 and submit myself to the indignity of the dentist, having cracked a tooth on a seed embedded in a piece of particularly hard German crisp-bread. It's unlikely that I will renounce my crisp-bread habit, despite this setback, I simply won't be without the cardboard-like texture of this fart-producing foodstuff. Spread with butter and jam is my favourite way of ingesting a sheet of crude roughage.

I eschew diet products in general, including joyless self-punishment food marketed mainly to women as a slimming aid (cottage cheese, I'm looking at you). I enjoy plain food, which is where Ryvita comes in and fucks with my stupid food rules. I can handle a rice cake too. I think I accept Ryvita into my cupboard and my tummy because I associate its brand with an earlier era of marketing, it reminds me of products of yesteryear like Bile Beans, which promise 'vim and vigour', or the mysterious 'pep'. Even though the company never had a manufacturing base in Sweden, I also associate Ryvita with 1970 blonde Scandinavian women and therefore porn. Yeah, I don't know why either. It's only when those rotten Fern Britton ads come on the telly that I realise I am eating diet food. Bah, they got me!

Ryvita marks the point where Diet Songs takes a turn for the weird. Lord knows what was going on when we recorded this one. My disjointed vocal track is the least of it, for me it evokes the imaginary sound of a slice of Ryvita making its way through your alimentary canal. Enjoy.

Diet Songs: Ryvita by Charlotte Cooper + Simon Murphy (.mp3, 568kb)

Diet Songs
New Project: Diet Songs
Nimble
Slim-Fast
Tab
Diet Pepsi
Nutrasweet
Diet Coke
Ryvita
Ayds
Special K

06 June 2011

Diet Songs: Diet Coke

The peculiar chemical aftertaste in Diet Coke makes me feel like throwing up. My lived experience of drinking this product couldn't be further away from the images used to promote it: fun-loving skinny people larking around on the beach, in the case of this vintage jingle. Come to think of it, I can't recall a Diet Coke advertising campaign that hasn't been wholly gross, I have to look away every time those Sex and The City style office girl marionettes are on the box, for example. Ugh, puppets and their tippity-tappity little feet. Nightmare.

I tried to sing this Diet Song with passion, like Diet Pepsi, and Tab, the originals are a crescendo of mass hysteria. I wonder if anyone fainted when it was recorded. Unfortunately it's hard to replicate that sound in my front room in rainy East London, my range is, frankly, limited, and Simon lacks the technical resources to make us sound like a chorus of Diet Coke junkies screaming for our lives. So we've just plodded and muddled our way through, which is a lot like how it feels to drink a revoltingly nausea-inducing Diet Coke.

Diet Songs: Diet Coke by Charlotte Cooper + Simon Murphy (.mp3, 896kb)

Diet Songs
New Project: Diet Songs
Nimble
Slim-Fast
Tab
Diet Pepsi
Nutrasweet
Diet Coke
Ryvita
Ayds
Special K