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Karen Finley as Jackie Kennedy

8 June, 2010

On Friday we hosted Karen Finley at the Peabody Essex Museum; she performed her one-woman show ‘The Jackie Look’ in which she takes on the persona of Jackie Kennedy (and at times Jackie Onassis) commenting on her (Jackie’s) treatment in the media. Karen focused on photography and the way photographs are viewed, interpreted, and distorted in reproduction, weaving in lots of references to the Avedon | The Kennedys show we have on at the moment. The audience was full and many were on the edge of their seats – it was a powerful performance and Karen has plenty of fans. It was not the sort of shocking, in-your-face material she is best known for – the stuff that got her named ‘Public Enemy Number One’ by the late Jessie Helms. For the ‘Jackie Look’ she stayed fully clothed throughout – none of the honey showers, smeared chocolate, or baked beans that were once her hallmarks. This, after all, is the woman who stripped off and jumped into a display window at JC Penny, squishing her breasts against the glass like some sort of back-talking soft-core mannequin. On Friday she told the audience not to be afraid. ‘I’m a dignified lady,’ she said, channeling Jackie, as she walked up and down the aisles, looking for fancy handbags to coo over.

The night had many highlights – her riff on Caroline Kennedy’s verbal tick ‘you know’ turned into a long, hair-raising primal scream – ‘You? No! You…. know!” But for my money nothing surpassed the dance bit three quarters of the way through. You simply haven’t lived until you’ve seen Karen Finley dressed as Jackie Kennedy dancing to a video of figure skater Johnny Weir shimmying to Lady Gaga’s Poker Face.

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