Basset hounds, beauty pagents, Bristol, Bristol Old Vic, Crufts, daschunds, dog shows, Exeunt, Exeunt Magazine, feminism, Feministing, Jessica Valenti, Major Tom, plastic surgery, reality TV, Theatre, Vagenda, Victoria Melody
‘Turn that frown upside down!’ is a creepy enough expression for those who, like Victoria Melody and myself, spent a large amount of their former years clothed in black. It is, however, creepier yet, when a member of the medical profession tells you that your mouth is, literally, upside down.
Being informed by a plastic surgeon that her mouth was indeed, upside down, was just one of the deranged pieces of advice Melody received whilst transforming herself into Beauty Queen, Mrs. Brighton. Flirting with the boundaries of where life and art intersect – whilst simultaneously appearing not to really care at all – Major Tom is the double tale of Melody’s time spent as a beauty contestant-cum-professional dog trainer. There are many ways in which this performance raises Important Questions about feminism, in-group behavior, Little England and the phenomenon of reality TV. What is possibly more interesting is how it manages to address all of these issues whilst being continuously hilarious throughout. Major Tom proves something I had always suspected: that the best politics come heavily coated in humour and everything is better if a dog is involved.
There has already been reams written on the seriously damaging side of The Beauty Myth and the hurt it causes overtly and insidiously to both female and, increasingly, male self esteem. Damaging as it is, it is easy to understand why humour might be lacking in most commentaries on the subject. However, as people like Jessica Valenti of Feministing and the Vagenda website have proved, humour can be a very valuable tool, if not the best tool, in highlighting the absurdities and inconsistencies of the beauty industry and its philosophies. Video footage and a running commentary from Melody combine to offer a series of semi-familiar anecdotes of her encounters with hairdressers, beauticians, plastic surgeons and – sometimes worst of all for their bare faced lies – other women.
Melody decided to enter the beauty competition circuit after her basset hound Major Tom, who she had begun entering into dog competitions, was criticized for having too big a rib cage. Major Tom, who Melody correctly describes as looking ‘like an Old Tory’, is present on stage throughout the show. Melody’s friends have also provided the other great description of him, which is to call him ‘walking Prozac’, as he makes everyone he meets happy. I keep telling people I want a daschund for the same reason – seeing a physically bizarre, hilarious dog each morning would ensure I was never able to take the Today Programme too seriously again. Politics, feminisms and beauty regimes all melt into ‘funny things humans do to themselves’ after a long stare at a jowly hound harrumphing around the Crufts show ring.
Major Tom is the antidote to overly-earnest attempts to usurp our idiocies. It is the type of show young women (and men) should see to ensure they get angry, but stay funny. And then get a dog.