In response to Ashley McGuire’s post about Beyoncé’s performance at the Super Bowl and the question of whether traditionally minded women can be sexy: of course they can. Traditional women can be, and are, sexy. So are liberal women and anarchist women (although there’s fewer of those). Women are sexy. It’s just kinda how God made them.
But the central question is: What is sexy and what is crude? I’m a Catholic with some artistic inclinations, so for me it’s a difficult question to answer. As a Christian, things in this world point to metaphysical things, including ultimate truth and beauty. The female form can signal beauty, truth, strength, sex, life itself (as I tried to show, albeit with a little irony, in this film). But if taken too far, and revealing too much–and it is a very fine line indeed–the dance devolves into crude titillation. One of my favorite paintings of all time is the nude in Matisse’s “Studio 1916.” It is art, its shapes and forms and colors saturated with the world while radiating with a heavenly beauty. Yet when the fifty-something Madonna reveals a breast on stage, the world gags.
Beyoncé is an absolute master at presenting the female form. Her costumes are pure genius. She reveals just enough, and knows that the simple act of a woman with gorgeous legs walking confidently down a stage needs no embellishment. It’s not high art, but to me it is art, and we should be able to appreciate and have fun with the performance. There seems to be an unmentioned contract between Beyoncé and her fans that she will tear it up onstage, but never demean herself or betray her core beliefs. But again, the girl takes it right up to the line. The great Catholic theologian Dietrich Von Hildebrand once noted that the act of making love can turn from the sublime to the demonic in mere seconds. Beyoncé is right on that edge. And when you go over, bad things can happen–not least of which is the audience gets bored. (Oh, Britney’s taking it off again? Yawn.) I also tire of B’s migraine-inducing empowerment anthems, but that’s a different matter.
Beyoncé is a beautiful woman, of course, but that beauty does not stand separate from other values. The great theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, in a different context, put it nicely:
We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it. Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance. We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past–whether he admits it or not–can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love.