In 1986, the French magazine Traverses published an issue called 'Disgust'. Jean Baudrillard's contribution, 'The Power of Disgust', argued that because old fashioned attraction has declined, we no longer know our own minds, and that as a result taste, desire and free will have also perished. On the other hand, bad faith, repulsion and disgust have increased in strength. 'From here, it seems, a new energy comes, an inverse energy, a power of repulsion which replaces desire, a vital reaction against that which for us represents society, the body, sex, an energetic disinheritance which is no longer the result of willingness to change all that, but of rejection pure and simple. Today only disgust is certain; taste no longer exists.' That is putting it mildly, and metaphorically. Now that the 80s are over and a period of conspicuous consumption has come to an end, ritual purgation is crucial. Whether that involves rejecting sex and the body is another matter.
If Baudrillard lived in London and frequented the Vauxhall Tavern, for instance, he could not have escaped Miss Titti la Camp. Dressed as one great female star after another, she rams food down her throat until she gags and spits all over the stage - over the audience too, if they are foolish enough to stand within range - and then slides about in it on her bottom. This is depressing stuff, but every low at the Tavern has its high. Take Spunkflakes.
The night the three Spunkflakes were banned, they had arrived late. By the time they appeared it was so late that most of the customers had lapsed into a semi-comatose condition. Suddenly, to the blare of apocalyptic music, the curtains opened to reveal a set decorated in colours so bright they made your eyes throb. Three creatures, wearing costumes that extended their limbs, filled the confined space: a frighteningly tall mother, a beer-bellied father and a revolting child, mouthing inanities and moving grotesquely. The father's paunch had a life of its own, the mother's breasts hung around her waist and their child repeated the phrase 'I've got beautiful lips...' in a soppy voice that can only be produced by flaring the nostrils as wide as possible and speaking in a bad Mancunian accent. To which, time and again, the mother would reply, 'You've got beautiful lips.' Yelling for food, his massive paunch swinging from side to side, the father crammed so much breakfast into his mouth that before long he was eating, belching and spewing at the same time. Suddenly all hell broke loose. He tried to rape the child, the mother turned religious, a mobile cross was dragged in, and to the deafening sound of heavenly music, the daughter was exorcised and simultaneously crucified onstage. (I seem to remember a baby getting stabbed at one point, but one or two atrocities may have slipped my mind.) An orgy of violence ensued. Chainsaws appeared, the effigies tried to murder each other and brightly coloured goo spurted everywhere. It even shot over the heads of the audience, whose attitude had slowly altered from indifference to hysteria. They cheered wildly as the cast took a bow.
To my surprise, their next performance was at the Royal College of Art. This time, the stage resembled a showroom at the Ideal Home exhibition - if your ideal home happens to contain a sofa covered in straw - with a computer that simulated other parts of the house, each room fitted out with its own particular obscenity. Though the context was different, the ritual element persisted. The Greeks had a word for it: 'catharsis' or ritual purgation. 'An energetic disinheritance', Baudrillard called it. 'Our actions, our enterprises, our illnesses, have less and less cause of "objective" motivation; more often they result from a violent distaste for our selves... which leads us to release our energy in what is a form of exorcism.' But Spunkflakes knew that all along, as did Jarry, Rabelais and Bernard Manning. They are all what clowns should be: not loveable, namby-pamby jokesters or bulimic Ronald McDonald milksops who distribute balloons to the kiddies, but an updated equivalent of Shakespearean jesters: bikers in black leather with scars and massive codpieces, ramming spunkburgers down our throats till we vomit.
First published in Issue 19