“So many buns, and no hot dogs.” This gem, courtesy of a KOMP 92.3 DJ, hung in the casino air and over my conscience. At least the part of my conscience tied to freethinking womanhood in the 21st century. I was looking at an impressive line of ladies gathered for a cause, like Hands Across America, but their hands were draped over each other’s butts.
Why? The fact that we were in Las Vegas is answer enough. But the occasion was the 25th anniversary of the Riviera’s topless revue Crazy Girls. If the show name doesn’t ring a bell, I’ll bet the infamous promotional image of seven dancers in G-strings showing their “assets” does. When it hit Vegas in the late 1980s, even Sin City wasn’t ready for it. As John Katsilometes reported in a 2010 Weekly story looking back on the phenomenon, local authorities fought the butt billboard, but the First Amendment worked in its favor. Crazy Girls creator and producer Norbert Aleman told Katsilometes: “We had people picketing the hotel because they did not like the butts; they wanted to cover them with skirts! But it was a great gimmick. You go to Japan, everybody knows about the butts!”
And so, nearly 17,000 shows (and a devoted nation of Japanese fans) later, Crazy Girls is a Vegas institution, and the sculpture installed in the lineup’s honor on the Strip-side entrance to the Riviera is shiny from all the gamblers rubbing the bronze butts for luck. To celebrate that legacy and raise money for the American Cancer Society, the show and its current cast invited women 21 and older to recreate the image that caused so much controversy.
“We want to reenact that immortal pose with hundreds of women and hope that Las Vegas locals and tourists alike will come down to participate and be a Crazy Girl for a day,” Aleman said in a press release hyping the event.
So there I was, witnessing a historic moment of sorts, trying to decide whether to be part of it. First, I had to reconcile my self-imposed feminist obligations with my undeniable affinity for these women, who appeared to be having a jolly time spreading their legs, arching their backs and shaking their cabooses for the TV news camera panning up and down the line. It would be fun to say I stood with them in this singularly absurd moment, but how would I defend myself if friends and family and my favorite Jezebel blogger asked what the f*ck I was thinking? After everything my foremothers suffered so that I could be regarded as a complex human being, I was about to waggle my butt at them on the evening news.
There were at least three porn stars in the line, “dressed” accordingly. The Crazy Girls dancers wore pink mini-mini-skirts, and Fremont Street performer DJ Lady GoGo rocked microscopic hot pants and the kind of body that makes you understand why they were ever created. A few other Crazy-Girls-for-a-day showed serious skin for the hell of it, but most were dressed like me (in actual pants). Twentysomethings stood next to retirees, their looks and attitudes diverse enough to resemble one of those charming Dove soap commercials. There was even a mother-daughter pair. “Do you have your thong, Mom?” the daughter asked, and I honestly couldn’t tell if she was kidding.
As they practiced for their “Las Vegas’ Longest Butt Lineup” moment next to the Strip, I asked a few of the women about its significance. Aunt Sharron, editor of local publication Tradeshow Lifestyles, stood out. The 66-year-old had a Crazy Girls tank top pulled over her short dress, and she wasn’t shy about bending over for the camera, in the name of fun. She told me she used to dance on Broadway and that she came to watch the event and decided to participate because, despite the naughty factor, it was still in good taste and a welcome release from the daily grind.
“It’s light. It’s entertainment. And Las Vegas is famous for that,” she said. “I needed this today. It’s tough out there.”
For DJ Lady GoGo, a professional “party starter,” it was more about carrying the Vegas torch and showing love for one of its diehard shows. Fluffing her enormous pink wig, she pointed out that while the traditional showgirl in jewels and feathers is a beloved symbol of the city, so is the nearly nude Crazy Girl—the “other side” of the Las Vegas fantasy.
“The butt line is classic, so we have to keep it going. Forever!” GoGo exclaimed. Seeing her ham it up with Aunt Sharron, I was empowered to approach the registration window. I stood for almost 10 minutes watching other women sign their names and join the line. My indecision wasn’t really about feminism, since being a liberated woman is about sexual, social and every other kind of freedom. However I should have felt about the prospect of joining a spectacle of liberated butts, my decision not to wasn’t about guilt or outrage or some higher morality. In the end (no jokes please), I was just too chicken.
So I watched as the group of about 50 ladies marched out into the Tuesday afternoon sun. They stretched down the sidewalk and struck “that immortal pose.” When cars honked in appreciation the lineup cheered. Several women from the practice run didn’t have the nerve to booty-pop on the Strip in broad daylight, but they clapped from the safety of the Riviera canopy. No one picketed, maybe because Las Vegas has done it all since 1987. The city is a circus of situations that challenge our progressive sensibilities, but human nature’s impulsive, from-the-gut core has trouble denying the appeal of the “other side.” Most people come here because they want to feel more naughty than they normally do, even if it’s just a contact high from watching someone else.
Could you analyze the butt lineup and cry objectification, exploitation and indecency? Pretty much. But you might as well cry all of that for our city, too. For me, in both cases, the playful spirit wins out. “Only in Vegas,” another spectator said to his friend, with genuine fondness. It wasn’t the first time I heard someone utter the catchphrase out loud, but it may have been the first time it was true.