Recently, I wrote a fairly middle-of-the-road review of a show for David Lynch’s newest production project, Chrysta Bell. While the review seemed to me to acknowledge Lynch’s previous work with the tragic ingénue character—most notably Isabella Rossellini’s portrayal in Blue Velvet, but perhaps I should have referenced Julee Cruise as well—and gave Chrysta Bell credit for her enigmatic stage presence, one of her crew felt the need to dissect my review in his comments, sparking several other men to comment as well, one of them telling me to go into a corner and lie down, presumably to sleep a very long sleep and not to eat cake on the couch. Sadly, they missed the whole point of this review that nobody would probably read on Vice otherwise, because it’s not about cannibals in a war-torn country or people taking drugs and fucking. Instead, it’s about the types of characters women play, and perpetuation of tired tropes (i.e. everything) versus energy that redefines how we see ourselves through art, specifically music.
In the article, I attempted to draw a parallel between the die-hard Chrysta Bell fan in the front row, who seemed pleasant enough until my photographer (a woman) asked if she could slip by to snap a few shots of the band for the article, and he went on a vicious and misogynistic rant about women using their tits to get whatever they want, despite the fact he said she could stand in front of him (he who was over 6’5” and she a mere 5’2” at best). When Chrysta Bell’s man in the comments went in for the kill, he insinuated that I had written about this man because I considered him “uncool.” I wouldn’t particularly classify a man who hates women as being “uncool,” though I appreciate the attempt at trivializing sexual harassment, as many of us are accustomed to that, and because it proves the entire point of the review: Chrysta Bell’s tragic, sexy character simply feels one-dimensional in 2012, serving the purpose of men, transforming from sexy to “chaste” (commenter’s word) in the tradition of the whore and Mother Mary. That we haven’t gotten past this is astounding.
Like much of Lynch’s work, I don’t think Chrysta Bell exists to be understood, which means we have only the visceral moments to draw upon from her performance. My only job as a reviewer is to describe those moments, and in this case, the moments involved several costume changes, beginning with the sexy, breaking down into a bra and panties, then moving on to what the commenter called “chaste,” a long, silky dress. I’m sorry; I just don’t see how that dress is chaste. If it were maybe like a monochromatic muumuu, I guess maybe, but by presenting her as the “sexy” first and for twenty minutes, and by nothing else changing in her stage presence outside of putting on a dress, it seemed pretty clear that even in her chasteness, Chrysta Bell is still meant to be sexy. To me, that seems problematic. The sexiness has become a haze of Vaseline smeared round the lens. No matter what you do to see her more clearly, the residue will linger, and the residue is not a conduit for creative expression, but rather a flimsy imitation of it. Artifice masquerading as art.
Instead of saying all of the above outrightly, what I tried to do was give Chrysta Bell some credit for her stage presence and what she could be by comparing her, obtusely, to David Bowie, someone who built a career on redefining sexuality. I also stated that, of course, Chrysta Bell isn’t attempting to become Bowie, but the point was to illustrate what it is to redefine and what it is to perpetuate stereotypes. We’re in a moment where it is lazy to think that by recycling a trope about a tragic, self-destructive sexy woman, you are, in fact, shedding some new light on the subject. It’s a copy of a copy of a copy, and perhaps if we had made some progress since the days of Isabella Rossellini getting punched in the face to at least cut our sexual assault numbers in the US down from 1 in 4 women “admitting” to being raped, I could possibly foresee a day when a woman mock-strangling herself with a scarf on stage while titillating the “uncool” guy might possibly be seen as something worth doing. But, no. It’s not. Not right now. Being sanctioned by one of our greatest film directors and composers doesn’t give it credence, either. It’s not that I’m not getting it. It’s that I’m getting it, and I think it’s boring. Chrysta Bell wasn’t created for me; she was created for the “uncool” guy standing in front of me.
Lynch will still continue to be one of my favorite artists (I just gave a raving review of the Eraserhead soundtrack reissue), but as the persona of Chrysta Bell stands right now, it is a near failure. What’s infuriating is that this isn’t just Rihanna singing about loving to get beat up by her sex partners right after actually getting beaten up by her boyfriend, this is that kind of music you’re supposed to call “art.” This is supposed to be a place of escape from those clichés of the pop world, where you upend them to find something different under the glass. It’s the world to which many women have fled to get away from the real world that objectifies them. Yet, here we are again, and we’re still calling it art, so it’s OK. The same effect could have been produced by dressing Chrysta Bell in blackface and miming gang gun violence to an audience of racist Republicans. While most people were watching the show on stage, I was watching the real show, the one of men watching women. And if this were Chrysta Bell’s original intent with this persona, for the audience to become the show, then I would take that review back and applaud her for forever. But I don’t think it was. She’s just giving the people what they want…well, at least half of them.
Please, dear god, prove me so so wrong, though.