Sunday, January 11, 2009

Hard Times and Rollergirls

No matter what language we use – “economic downturn,” “recession,” financial crisis” – what we are experiencing will be deep, protracted and painful. Some are daring to hope that this challenging period will inspire at least some folks to pull together in common community rather than seeking life’s goodness at the shrine of consumer spending. One can only hope.

It may be instructive to look back to the era of the Great Depression to see what sustained folks then. It is entirely too easy to frame this through nostalgia and sentimentality on the order of “kids used to make their own fun back then!” (There are, of course, always elements of truth to such nostalgic observations). Certainly affordable, escapist entertainment – movies in particular – thrived in those hard times. It was also the golden era of burlesque, that odd mix of bawdiness and silliness that has since given way to far coarser forms of “exotic dancing.” How interesting that a burlesque revival is underway in our own time, particularly on the east and west coasts, that seeks to recapture that spirit of risque innocence in a similarly challenging economic era. My sense is that this “new burlesque” is aimed largely at privileged folk (“camp” works best for those sufficiently educated to appreciate irony) rather than the working class audience of traditional burlesque, but I have begun to ponder what other revivals we might begin to see in the field of entertainment.

Last night Susan and I attended our first roller derby match at the invitation of Kim Klein (“Evil Kimevil”) who skates for the Rollergirl Regiment, one of the three teams in the Fox Cityz Foxz league. Frankly, I don’t even know when the “golden era” for roller derby was, but I am told it is one of the fastest-growing sports in America today, which must say, well, something…

Observations, starting with the negative: It was very loud. There was too much “down time” between matches (there are two halftimes, which violates normal laws of mathematics).

Positive: it was a blast! The girls take their skating very seriously (three two-hour practice sessions every week), but themselves lightly. The crowd (and it was a large one) was not all that different from what you would see at a youth soccer tournament (including many friends and family members of the girls), and they were having a great time. Initially we had no clue what was going on, which makes it hard to appreciate the finer points of the sport. Slowly we sorted it out: I can now explain the respective roles of pivots, blockers and jammers.

This is not a return to “TV Roller Derby” with its over-the-top violence and catfights: rules are enforced and penalties are called frequently. The “camp” component is reserved for costumes and, best of all, rollergirl names. Tartlette. Lolly Popya. Ivanna Cupcake. Jeanine Dropaho. Vixen’ de Slamher. Tinker Belt ya. And, of course, the Yooper rollergirl: Yaya der Hey. Our friend Nicole will never skate, but by the end of the evening had come up with three rollergirl names for herself.

There is a certain genius inherent in playing with the idea of sexiness while remaining all-ages appropriate. Brad and Nicole had their little boy Zach along, and never did we feel a need to cover his eyes or ears (although we were very careful with our pronunciation of the team called “The Pushy Posse”). In other words, it was good, silly fun for hard times: for the cost of a ticket (free for children) and a beer or two, you get a full night of entertainment.

I wonder what other forms of entertainment may experience revival over the next year or two. Movie double-features where every patron gets a free piece of dishware? Dance marathons? Will kids play more pick-up games of stickball instead of begging to be taken to expensive water parks? Will the pot-luck dinner enjoy a resurgence? Can we learn all over again that the things that make for The Good Life do not need to be expensive, and that community is something we build together, not something we purchase?

So Kim (a/k/a Evil Kimevil), thanks for introducing us to this wondrous world. You made some nice moves when you were jamming, which we appreciated more fully when we finally figured out what a jammer is supposed to do. And I do think the world would be a better, and happier, place if we all had rollergirl names…

1 comment:

rick in cos said...

We attended a roller derby contest here last year, it is very much as you describe. During our budget deliberations there were rumors the city was going to close the auditorium where they perform. A bunch of the derby dames showed up; I was smitten, I confess. escapism, or something more sinister than that??? In any event, there are some gals who simply should NOT be on skates...