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Dear readers,

After an unreasonably long hiatus, I am now once more able to carve out time for this blog. I hope to never abandon you for so long again. And now, for the latest installment . . .

On Saturday, November 17, while at the National Communication Association conference in Orlando, FL, I attended a performance by Tallahassee-based performance troupe Mickee Faust, and I really liked it. I liked their intentionally bad jokes. I liked their skewering of the bourgeois dessert negotiation. I liked their Alice in Wonderland take on the TEA Party. I was with them the whole way.

I was even with them when they sang a song about abortion and the constitution dressed as Supreme Court justices and then put on Klan hoods. At least at first. Or, it didn’t jolt me out of the space of watching the performance or make me want to walk out or anything. I texted a picture of it to my colleague who studies the rhetoric of race and sexuality in Supreme Court decisions, like “you missed this!”

But afterwards I found myself really wanting to talk about it. I showed my conference roommate the picture. I texted it to my two friend-colleagues with whom I discuss race and sexuality. I didn’t know why, yet. I just needed to tell people.

It wasn’t until one friend wrote back “What?! I do not understand! Why aren’t people objecting? This seems really wrong” that I was able to identify what I was feeling as unsettled. So then, a couple more texts with that friend and the other one who whom I’d sent it, and a phone call, and I figured I needed to blog about it. (As, to be honest, was suggested by the friend quoted above.)

Abortion rights are important. The denial of abortion rights is absolutely a means by which women have it enforced on them that they are second class citizens. (And non-uterus-having humans are also reminded that uterus-havers are inferior and incapable of making their own decisions about said baby-incubating organ.)

This is not the same as a systematic campaign of violence intended to terrorize a population.

There is a case to be made for systematic terror campaigns against abortion doctors—but even then it is nothing like the same scale. This is not a case where every member of a population lives under the constant threat of being identified as a target when visually identified through racist optics.

When you compare everything to the worst-case scenario, the worst-case scenario loses its meaning. As my colleague T.J. Tallie put it in discussing how people have been responding to the recent escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, “can we not directly compare nations to Nazis right now? Not to make Nazis particularly ‘evil’, but it cheapens the historical reality.”

This is also the problem with the “gay rights are like civil rights” discourse. Gay folks—the white, middle class gay folks who tend to want to get married—are not systematically denied access to basic services and rights. They’re denied access to a privileged-person state-sanctioned economic benefit. And yes, it is a helpful thing to have access to because it’s a means by which resources are distributed, but it supports an incredibly unequal system wherein capital can exploit productive wage laborers because those workers are exploiting reproductive laborers. And just throwing around civil rights analogies erases the substantial difference in privilege in the two cases.

Ultimately, these things aren’t comparable. And I’m perhaps most distressed by the fact that the troupe had otherwise progressive politics. They were perhaps a little too self-congratulatory on their inclusion of folks with visible disabilities, but they were clearly thinking in broad terms about society and its ills.

Granted, it was mentioned in the question and answer period that the performance at NCA came from their retrospective showcase and that particular piece was written 25 years ago, which was admittedly an era of less awareness around the issues I’m raising here. But they’re still doing the sketch.

And, just to head this critique off at the pass if anyone from the troupe or who attended the NCA performance should want to make it, the fact that there are people of color in the troupe—and in that sketch, even—does not mean that it is not problematic. The existence of one or some members of a structurally undervalued group who aren’t offended by something doesn’t mean it doesn’t participate in deeply troublesome logics.

In the end, Mickee Faust is an awesome social critique cabaret. I would go see them again. I might even pay for it as opposed to having it be a conference panel. But that doesn’t mean they don’t need critiquing. And in this case they clearly do.

In that spirit of friendly critique from someone who shares Mickee Faust’s overall goals and politics, I have deliberately not linked to their website or included any pictures, since I don’t want this to seem like an attack or an invitation to attack them.


  1. I just wanted to respond to your extraordinarily thoughtful post about the MIckee Faust’s Club’s performance at NCA this last November. You had many complimentary things to say and on behalf of our company, I thank you. Just to clarify I’m Terry Galloway, Faust’s Artistic Director and, along with Donna Marie Nudd, one of Faust’s co-founders. The group always appreciates complex responses to our performance. But I see you take objection to the Supreme Court number specifically because at one point in the song the members of the court put on Klan hoods before doing a chorus line can-can. I’d like to suggest you’re objection is based on a mis-hearing of the lyrics. According to you, the song is all about abortion rights. Lyrics about abortion and women’s rights do comprise part of the beginning of the song (We’ll give your womb away/abortion’s gone today/ You thought your choice would stay/ but now it’s over).

    But then the song pushes further then that, addressing other hot button
    right-to-privacy issues as well: “Your piss is ours to test/Your blood might even be best”. It also addresses gay rights “We care about the flag/Not’ bout all them sick fags.” And—this is quite important to this discussion– civil rights. The Klan hoods come out as the court is singing these lyrics: “The constitution’s ours/it’s safe for whites/ so there. /The Voting Rights Act looks the worse for wear/So there.”

    This Faust song is a performative exposition of what Faust believes to be a tea-partied, ultra conservative tilt of a court that has the power to decide yay or nay who is equal under our laws and who is not. And yes, Faust has been performing this song periodically over the last 25 years. That the lyrics have stayed relevant says something shameful about the continued crappy state of our country, not about Faust.

    I’d also like to make another point – and this is about the Klan. The KKK in its heyday not only terrorized blacks, it terrorized Catholics, Immigrants, Jews, liberals, Republicans and uppity women. My great-grandmother is a case in point. Eve Woodruff divorced her abusive husband and fled with her daughter to neighboring country in Pennsylvania. Her husband, an illustrious member of one of the many more northern branches of the Klan, came after her with a band of night riders, beat her, raped her, stole her child and burned down the house in which she was living. All because she, a white woman, had the audacity to denounce and divorce him, a white man. That little bit of personal history has always added to my grief and fury over the greater, more encompassing historical tragedy of black slavery and servitude that continues to engulf our country. That grief and fury are exactly what Faust means to evoke in our audiences when those Klan hoods come out near the end of that song.

    • Hi Terry, First, thanks so much for your extraordinarily thoughtful response to my post. Hopefully you will come back to see my reply.

      You are quite correct that I didn’t hear any of the lyrics about drug testing, gay rights, or civil rights. At first this was because I was telling my friend that he was missing something relevant to his research, and I acknowledge the impoliteness of texting during your performance.

      But beyond that, the truth is that the Klan hoods shout too loudly to hear much of anything else.

      That is, while you’re quite correct in your list of all the other groups that the KKK has terrorized, the received history is much more limited, and that’s what the hood has come to symbolize. Horrendous experiences like that of your great-grandmother do not “count” as related to the Klan under this narrative, which is both a problem in terms of understanding history and a way of compounding the injuries she experienced as well as those of “Catholics, Immigrants, Jews, liberals, Republicans,” etc.

      The kind of complexity that the song’s lyrics apparently attempt is short-circuited by the received meaning of that hood; the nuanced understanding in your comment of the power the Court holds to decide who’s a full citizen—then and now—doesn’t come through in the performance.

      But I appreciate that I missed some things and reiterate my overall support of Mickee Faust’s project.

  2. Hello again, Mel.
    I love conversations of this sort and find your responses interesting and helpful. Thank you for your thoughts about prevailing historical narratives subsuming (and thus negating or trivializing) other equally important parallel narratives. And thanks too for your comment about the power of the performance not being equal to the power of the lyrics. That is a wonderful and useful critique and one that we will address in any future performance of the piece. If the visuals are overwhelming the lyrics then we have to be smarter about our use of the visuals and perform them to better effect. I’ll take another look at the choreography and see how that can be done. I never mind people being offended by what Faust does (or what I do in my own solo work for that matter). But I want them offended by what I want them offended by, if you know what I mean. Thanks Mel, for this conversation. One of the things I love most about this kind of back-and-forth critiquing between observers and observed, is that it can so useful and enlightening.

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