As a long time fan of her material, I got a thrill out of seeing a profile on Christeene, a self-described “human pissoir of raw unabashed sexuality,” in the Austin Chronicle this week. There’s no real comparison for Christeene or what she does but a rough description might go something like “if John Waters and Peaches adopted an infant and kept her in the sewer for a couple decades before unleashing her on the world.” In an era where so many white male comics whine about being silenced for their “satire,” Christeene is a beacon of real subversion, an electro-punk monstrosity capable of making people truly uncomfortable as soon as they witness her. And here she was, in the pages of our relatively normal alt-weekly. Why, then, was so much of the focus of the interview on the idea that we’re living in more “sensitive” times and that this was somehow constraining Christeene?
In short, there’s a growing sense from cishet white people that artists are no longer allowed to be as expressive as they used to be. The Chronicle article’s author, Kevin Curtin, himself performs locally in a band called Cunto! that has received flak for its name (though, in fairness, it’s named for member Evan Cunto) and so it’s understandable that he would personally feel that artists are having to self-censor more than they did in the anti-PC ‘90s alt-culture he grew up in. But there is a distinct difference between cishet white artists now running the risk of getting called out for “ironic” bigotry and misogyny and truly subversive queer artists like Christeene purposefully offending cishet white audiences.
Austin in particular has a history of the former concept, with iconic local bands like the Butthole Surfers making an entire career out of saying shocking things and filling their live shows with shocking images. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, calling your band Butthole Surfers was shocking enough, let alone releasing albums with titles like Locust Abortion Technician. You didn’t actually need to say anything— indeed, most Butthole Surfers lyrics, titles and imagery are self-admitted gibberish— you simply had to include a dirty word or two. But by and large, this material was coming from straight white men; it’s certainly not an accident that the Butthole Surfers would eventually find mainstream success and their queer compatriots the Big Boys and the Dicks did not.
So it would seem clear that a culture where radio DJs wouldn’t even say the name Butthole Surfers on air is far more sensitive than a culture where an artist like Christeene, who recently released an acclaimed single called “Butt Muscle” with an extremely NSFW video promoting it, lands an Austin Chronicle profile, receives state and federal grants for her art and works with award winning composers like Graham Reynolds. Christeene is more shocking than the Butthole Surfers ever managed to be and yet in the current era she’s essentially a prestige artist, easily viewed and supported by a worldwide audience. Yet if she had come up in the ‘80s, there’s a very good chance she would have been arrested or physically attacked on a frequent basis. She also would have run the risk of literally dying for her art, something that likely happened last year to gay pop icon Zelimkhan Bakaev in the unquestionably sensitive culture of Russia.
But in contemporary America, the notion that culture in general is too sensitive now almost always seems to come with the caveat of “for cishet white artists.” Christeene is one of a number of artists who are thriving specifically because of their embrace of a hypersexualized aesthetic made explicitly for queer audiences, like Chicago’s Cupcakke, who is currently enjoying hits like “Juicy Coochie” and “Best Dick Sucker” and receiving near universal praise from outlets like Pitchfork, The Fader and even the consistently out of touch Rolling Stone. It’s not that these types of acts don’t piss people off— they absolutely do, that’s the whole point— but that they’ve seized the power of shock from cishet white artists and also weakened the moral majority’s ability to silence true subversives.
As Christeene herself told Curtin when discussing social media blowback, “I’m a collection of all the shit that you’re throwing around in this stratosphere of online media conversation. I am the monster you have made. If you see something in me you relate to or something that scares you, you’ve seen it before and you’ve probably served it to someone.” The idea is that Christeene is the worst nightmare of the cishet white world, every slippery slope argument they uttered when the gay marriage debate was going on made real, every freaky vision they’ve had of what happens behind queer curtains brought to vivid life. This is why Christeene is so effective and necessary, she functions as an antithesis to the gay normalcy arguments some claimed were vital to getting gay marriage legalized and so her gaining popularity shows just how far we’ve come in achieving acceptance rather than merely tolerance as a community.
(but we assume you knew that, since it’s called “Butt Muscle”)
Christeene’s release party for her new album Basura is tomorrow, May 26th at Museum of Human Achievement in Austin, Texas.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover