Let me begin by saying that I published this a bit early in the week to respect the good tidings and cheer that I might otherwise ruin with another feminist rant. So in the name of Scrooge and the Grinch himself, I’d like to address the renowned Rockettes and they’re Christmas Spectacular.
Now I must admit, I’ve never seen the Rockettes live. Considering that last week I excitedly leapt toward what appeared to be a penny (only to discover it was an old piece of gum) illustrates why I’m not in the financial position to fly to NYC for a night with the Rockettes. However, I will hack into my dad’s Netflix account from time to time and was driven to watch the live recording of the Christmas Spectacular.
I have to say I was rather disappointed. I know you’re thinking my criticism lies in an underlying resentment that my Lebanese genes prohibited me from so much. First dunking, then reaching the Cheerios on the high shelves at the grocery store, and now this?! Or maybe I’m envious of their sparkling white teeth like a solar eclipse while my mom is buying me teeth whitening packs in my Christmas stocking as a subtle hint. But put all the jealousy aside and consider what message the show is getting at.
To begin, the aesthetics predominating the show are uniformity. They must have flawless skin, be the same size, weight, and height to ensure that the skimpy reindeer uniforms remain invariable. What happened to the distinguishing features of Santa’s reindeer gang? Instead it’s a morph of beautiful white women with an occasional “racially ambiguous” dancer thrown in. No longer is it, “you know Dasher, and Dancer, and Prancer and Vixen…you know Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen? But do you recall the most famous reindeer of all…?” Nope, because that reindeer like the other “different” reindeer were quickly told, “We’ll call you” by Santa and his sexist casting directors.
In the show, Santa drives in with 20+ Rockettes guiding his sleigh. Yes, that’s right. An old, white man is literally equipped with whips in a sleigh led by identical women dressed in nearly nothing (despite the supposed frigid weather outside.) If these were actual animals, PETA would be raising hell. But don’t worry they’re not animals…only women. To reaffirm this patriarchal setup, the Christmas Spectacular features an all-male cast of toy soldiers to act as patriarchal protectorates.
Now, to be fair it is only right to consider the history of the Rockettes. In 1890, John Tiller of Manchester, England created the Tiller Girls, a chorus group who linked arms and performed mass movement, which became known as “precision dance.” They became all the rage and gave women a chance to enter the public sphere at higher paying wages than they received in factories.
Adolph Hitler was enamored by the group and had Rolf Hiller form the Hiller Girls who remained popular in Germany despite Hitler’s 1933 purification of the arts. These young girls often performed for male spectators who were pleased with the matching aesthetics and emphasis on the female leg. Some scholars find this to be suggestive of women objectification due to its emphasis on the female form. Others believe it symbolized military strength or industrialization. Regardless, both groups received international acclaim and after an American man named Russel Markert was exposed to precision dance, he chose to recreate it with taller women and higher legs. This gave birth to the Rockettes.
Since then, the Rockettes have attracted more than 2 million spectators every Christmas season along with many more attendees at additional shows. They’ve tried to rebrand themselves as feminists by showing the public the sweat and athleticism the show demands. But when it’s all said and done, the show reinforces an aesthetic of women that few can comply with. So despite a so-called “progressive era for women” we’re still facing exploitation facades by the allure of high legs, extravagant decorations, and flashy smiles.