I was stuck in gridlock the other day and started thinking about princesses. My older sister had wanted to be one back in 1972, flitting around the house in pink and purple veils and satin pants, but I think she was the only girl I'd ever seen do that. Most of us were just regular prissy girls or tomboys (that would be me), and we all wore green and yellow and orange and brown, not pink or purple unless a mother forced it on us. Princesses weren't real, and they certainly weren't interesting.
These days, I'm surrounded by wannabe princesses and the parents who either feed into the myth passively or actively promote it. And then it hit me: Why are we encouraging little girls to be princesses instead of queens? After all, a princess' only goals are to win a wealthy suitor and use her beauty to get lots of stuff. But a queen can be beautiful, get lots of stuff and, most important, have power, right? Why are you laughing?
The terrible truth is that a queen, unlike her kingly counterpart, is not a desirable role model, for power might corrupt either royal, but power plus woman equals super-ugly and, worst of all, undesirable. Queens are old, frigid ladies toting bad purses or stunningly hot demons destroyed by vanity, and we basically tell our daughters through this imagery that being a self-sufficient ruler of nations is gross and it's much better to be a submissive nymphet offering easy-to-elicit giggles and just enough spunk to make your anger cute.
"Pop Noir" at the George Gallery, www.thegeorgegallery.com. Open Wed.-Sun., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Through July 31.
The only other option is to be a jezebel—that gorgeous, dangerous (but powerless) girlie gone wrong who should be saved and reformed or dismantled. In the George Gallery's "Pop Noir"—curated by owner Lisa Aslanian and featuring photo collages and mixed media from Carla Gannis and Sandra Bermudez—Gannis knows this wild girl well and presents her in a series of photo pictorials taken from her series "Jezebel." But Gannis isn't buying the popular sinning façade; even in the preface of her book on the series, she includes dialogue from the Bette Davis/Henry Fonda film of the same name in which Davis gaily presents her red ball gown to a horrified Fonda. Gannis' jezebels are much like Davis' character—not bad, but presumptuous and challenging—and they're severely punished for being so terribly un-princess-like.
In Alley, we meet a jezebel who dared to tempt fame; presented as though altar pieces, with upper and lower panels depicting stages in a story, in the bottom panel, the blond hottie poses coyly in a back street for a film crew. In the panel above, we see the result of the evening's shoot: a midnight crime scene with copper and priest looking on while a female forensics agent peers under a sheet covering bloodied body parts. Likewise, in Queenie, the same naughty nymph is punished—this time for playing with boys' toys (little plastic soldiers)—and forced to sit on a table in her underwear and a tiara, but in Rear Window, she's done away with again. In a truly stunning composition of images, Gannis casts blondie as a strangling victim in the center window of the apartment building from Hitchcock's famous flick. Film buffs will note that all other characters are in their respective role/windows, unwilling to intervene.
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In the other half of the show, Bermudez expands the pop-culture attack to include reflections on the messy tendrils of the drug war in the exquisitely wrought, multipieced, mirror assemblage Illicit, which contains shapely panels etched with marijuana leaves and poppy flowers woven together by actual ivy. In a slice of handmade wallpaper titled American Pastoral, we find some free-loving couples who'd certainly enjoy a little Mary Jane as they frolic and fornicate in nudie pairs and orgies throughout the forest.
It's in Happy Pussy, however, that Bermudez brings the show full circle. Taking the font from a children's book and creating large, die-cut aluminum letters that read, "The Happy Pussy and Other Endings," each letter is adorned by little octopi, birds, bears or other cuddly creatures and addresses the tragedy of fairytale girls. As innocent pubescents, they're taught that everlasting happiness only comes by getting a man; once they're around age 15 to 17 and have accomplished the task, they are turned into highly sexualized objects and unable to subvert the process or make sense of the results. That's what actually happens to princesses, and even real ones such as Diana and Grace had serious regrets about slipping into the crown and gown and being reclassified as property. In order to control what's done to you, you must have power, and princesses, for all their lovely frocks and adoring anthropomorphic friends, are utterly powerless, especially once their youth and beauty have faded. So you see, it really is good to be the queen.
This review appeared in print as "Of Princesses and Perversions: The George Gallery takes aim at both in 'Pop Noir.'"