Lust Horizons

The 'Voice' and the women's movement

The iconic example of these clashes was the Great Yam Furor of 1986. C.Carr, who was covering the performance-art scene, wrote a piece on Karen Finley, then an obscure performer working in small clubs. Carr called her "a raw, quaking id," describing in riveting fashion her obscene, scatological monologues and penchant for smearing herself with food and other substances; in one such routine, called "Yams Up My Granny's Ass," Finley applied canned yams to her own butt. Men in her audiences often freaked out. "A filthy woman (in any sense of the word) has stepped further outside social mores than a man can possibly get," Carr observed. The story made the cover and the "white boys" went bananas, nicely illustrating her point. In his column Pete Hamill sarcastically reassured his political writer friends that Carr's piece had to be a parody rather than "vile, disgusting, contaminating," as they thought. The letters about yams poured in.

Hanging a banner at the New York Public Library, 1970
photo: Fred W. McDarrah
Hanging a banner at the New York Public Library, 1970

Many years after leaving the Voice, I still think of the Karen Finley story as summing up what I most appreciated in the paper's relationship to feminism while I was there: It captured the rawness of our urge to transcend limits. It's a different publication now, in a profoundly different time—an era in which feminism has been assimilated as common sense even as its more dangerous impulses are forgotten or stylized to death. How fortunate to have that outrageous cover, those incendiary words, to remind us that the unsocialized woman existed, and will rise again.

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