The 60’s were a wild and liberating time from what I’ve gathered over the years intrigue for the era. Music, art, fashion, and culture were all changing and contorting faster than ever and many people rushed to be a part of the change, or the counter-culture.
Theatrical performance art like Meat Joy, I feel, was even more-so prevalent back in the 60’s than today because it was a newfound, somewhat accepted, form of self-expression. People didn’t rebel like that back in the early 1900’s, it probably confused and angered a lot more people than performances like that would today. Nowadays, I don’t feel like performance art has the same shock value like it did for the Baby Boomers. The internet has almost desensitized us to videos and images that once would create lots of shock value or buzz.
There’s no doubt Carolee Schneemann was a feminist of her time after reading about her and reading some of what she had to say, but as for Meat Joy itself as being a feminist piece, I’m not so sure. Let’s dive into the performance.
The performance of Meat Joy involves 8 people, four males and four females. The actors dance, caress each other, and galavant across the floor before the eventually all topple over into a giant essentially naked pile of flesh. Are they representing dead meat at this juncture? Maybe. Once on the ground, random cuts of various meats are thrown into the scenario.
Speaking for today’s viewer of this specific video of the performance, one’s sense of hearing becomes confused as the French and English narrations are laid over top of each other. Making for a confusing mixture of language to match the confusing mixture of bodies and meat. Every so often my ear locked onto an english word that helped me understand what was going on a little better each time.
The men and women alike begin to roll around on the floor and start to, for a lack of a better phrasing, play with and caress the various meats. The actors lock bodies with the dead animals mashed between them almost making the acts sexual. Paint and paper scraps are eventually added into the head scratching mess. So feminism? Is it the driving force behind this piece? I really am not certain. If I were to say yes, my evidence would be as followed.
- The women were in very little clothing. The bikinis seemed hairy, like pubic hair hairy. Was this a nod to female liberalism with their bodies?
- The women were rejecting their normal role with the subject of food, they definitely were not in a kitchen that’s certain.
- Women get viewed as pieces of “meat” to some. I’m sure that phrase was around back in the 60’s, so this could be a rejection that notion.
If this was meant to be a feminist piece wouldn’t the men’s’ role in this piece be pretty different? In my opinion, the answer would be yes. I would not have included equal amounts of guy actors or even included males in the piece. The men had pretty domineering actions within the performance as well. From lifting the women or being on top of them, the men’s actions were more aggressive than the females’. Sure, there was that moment where the guy looks like he’s crying over a raw chicken, but I don’t think that’s enough to defeat my argument.
It is quite possible to view this piece through a feminist lens, but was that the original intention? Only Schneemann can confirm that question for sure.