The Performant: Stupid is in the eye of the beholder


St. Stupid and Karen Finely ride again

For anyone who could count that high, Friday’s St. Stupid’s Day parade marked its 33rd anniversary -- a year that was also auspicious, it should be noted, for that famous first martyr, Jesus Christ Superstar. Will St. Stupid, revered patron of the First Church of the Last Laugh, succumb to a similar fate as JC? 

Methinks not. The Romans have yet to suss out the threat St. Stupid’s low-maintenance doctrine poses to their empire building, and the Stupids are not about to let them in on that little secret. After all, on the surface it seems pretty benign, a bit of only-in-San-Francisco color for the die-hards to cherish and the tourists to gawk at. But beneath the greasepaint, dirty balloon animals, and silly sloganeering (“Dum is Sexy,” “I Can’t Afford an Actual Sign,” “Serfs Up!”), there’s still a feverish drop of pure dada shivering in the mix.

Of course, before you can have chaos you must first have a veneer of order. There’s a certain ritual solemnity to this carnival of fools and surprisingly strict adherence to the “stations of stupid,” a chain of locations stretched throughout the Financial District. 

These include the statue of the bare butt mechanics, the sunken plaza of slack, the banker’s heart, this last a huge chunk of polished black marble squatting malignantly outside the Bank of America HQ. The route provides ample opportunity to poke fun at the suits sticking their puzzled heads out of high-rise windows and demystify the sacred symbols of commerce, particularly the old Pacific Stock Exchange (now a fitness gym) with an annual “sock” exchange in which the crowd pelts each other with holey/holy footwear. 

Within the cast of carousing hundreds there are even set roles, in particular that of the Bishop Joey, a.k.a., parade founder Ed Holmes, who leads the parade with as much pomp and circumstance as a man in court-jester dishabille can. Like any good parade there are noisemakers, chants (“No more chanting, no more chanting”), and even a float bearing three iconic Doggy Diner heads -- plus Wavy Gravy -- but they are all mere means to justify an end, and in the best tradition of participatory anarchy, what you take away from the experience is very much equal to what you put in.

What has performance artist Karen Finley taken away from a lifetime of participatory anarchy? Finley's a woman who has been derided as obscene by racists, who uses confrontational nudity to inflame not loins but synapses – an act of protest that can be likened to that of the infamous Nigerian “curse of nakedness.” 

Reading excerpts from her new book The Reality Shows, Finley kept her clothes on, but still provoked a few good reactions imagining a love match between George W. and Martha Stewart, embodying the persona of a cranky New Yorker (“no, USA Today is not a real paper, no, I do not want to just ‘hang out’”), and portraying a woman who loves to fuck amputee veterans of the first Gulf War. In fact, her quiet confidence and leopard print outfit made her seem exactly like the kind of person who could roll with the St. Stupid’s Day festivities for the right reasons, if only because there are no wrong ones.


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