HEY GIRLS! WE'RE HAVIN' A PARTY

What is this thing called post-feminism?A gaggle of pyjama-clad cuties cavorting in a television studio? Or something, well, ironic?
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The Independent Culture
IT'S A rainy Sunday afternoon in Manchester, and several taxi- loads of young women are being deposited at the front entrance of the Granada television studios. They shriek, they giggle, they clutch hold of each other as if their gales of hilarity might blow them all over. One of them is carrying a six-foot high yellow fluffy bunny, brandishing it at startled passers-by like an offensive weapon. The women march over to the security man at reception, but before they can announce their identities, he pre-empts them. "This way for the Pyjama Party set," he says, wearily.

Pyjama Party, in case you haven't heard of it, is one of a new breed of late-night television shows that feature scantily clad women behaving badly. There has been much feverish talk in the press about these programmes (which include Channel 4's Girlie Show): do they represent the snarling face of the post-feminist babe - "the new ladette" - or is this just a pre-feminist excuse for titillating the viewers with a great deal of cleavage? The girls on their way to Pyjama Party, (which goes out on Saturdays) couldn't care less about this debate ("post-feminist what?" says one, while her friends look equally blank: "never heard of it!"); and on the set itself, there simply isn't the time to enter into the niceties of the argument.

The director, an amiable 28-year-old redhead called Hamish Ham-ilton, is trying to cram a full rehearsal into the final hour-and-a-half before filming begins. He's also trying to control his audience of 50 pyjama- clad women, some of whom may have already had slightly too much to drink when they were getting changed in the lavatories (they've left a suspiciously large quantity of empty lager cans behind them). And now a production assistant wearing a Blue Peter badge is, perhaps unwisely, giving them even more to drink: serving plastic glasses of tepid Liebfraumilch out of a supermarket wine box. One bold young woman is brandishing a large plastic vibrating penis, which she has attached to her teddy bear; another is gaily waving the centrespread of a naked man from a woman's soft-porn magazine.

"This is a nightmare," mutters Hamish under his breath. "I want to work on the Shane Ritchie show - at least you get two days of rehearsal there." And then he turns to his audience. "Ladies," he says. "Can I have your attention for a moment, please. I'm Hamish the director, and because we're so poor, I have to do the warm-up chat."

The ladies shriek with laughter. The ladies do not need to be warmed up. The ladies are ready for a good time. They're squeezing themselves into every nook and cranny of the set - a mocked-up parody of a Fifties room, with a kitsch kitchen at one end and a mirrored cocktail bar at the other. The central conceit of the show is this: that the girls are at a pyjama party - the sort of thing that was supposed to happen in sweetly old-fashioned American sitcoms - but this is the Nineties, which means that as well as talking about boys and clothes, they're also talking about sex and breasts.

So here they are, an hour or so of near celebrity spent bouncing about on the green vinyl sofas, chatting to their hostess, Katie Puckrik (who in her previous incarnation was the famously "kooky" American presenter of Channel 4's youth show, The Word), and Katie's two side-kicks: her "gal-pals", Claudia Winkleman and Michelle Kelly.

Katie has long Barbie doll hair with blonde highlights. She is small and pert and wears a black lace negligee over a pink satin slip, with fluffy high-heeled mules to complete the ensemble. Michelle is young - only 20 - and looks even younger, like a little girl dressed up in her mother's white stilettoes; except she has large breasts that are squeezed, disconcertingly, into a see-through black lace vest. Michelle is also wearing Calvin Klein knickers, that poke out above her black hipster pyjama bottoms.

Claudia is posh ("She went to Cambridge", the press officer tells me, proudly) and showing a lot of leg in a nylon leopard-skin slip. She tosses her long glossy dark hair while brandishing a sieve in the kitchen ("Midnight munchies!"). "Do you know how to use that implement?" asks Hamish. "No, not really," says Claudia, who used to be a presenter on Live TV.

The rehearsal proceeds in a haphazard fashion. Katie interviews an assistant who is pretending to be the forthcoming celebrity guest, the pop singer Kim Wilde. (Assistant: "Don't ask me any difficult questions." Katie: "I never do.")

Claudia, in what may or may not be an unscripted conversational aside, tells Katie about a guest who was featured on a recent Channel 4 youth show. "He collected moose droppings in a jar," says Claudia, brightly. "It was disgusting. You can go too far. He sold them to tourists in Norway. Apparently he makes a fortune, turning the droppings into earrings."

At the other end of the set, beside the cocktail bar, a long-haired man in pyjamas appears with a large guillotine. He is here to provide another guest - "a bride to be" - with "her final fling". "Now this," says the show's (male) producer, gesturing grandly towards the guillotine, "this is post-modern feminism." I sit up and take notice.

"What do you want for your final fling?" Claudia asks the bride-to-be. "I want my head chopped off," she replies, bizarrely, and giggles.

"I'll have to test the blade with a carrot first," says the man with long hair. He smirks when he says carrot, as though it is an extremely rude word, and inserts the vegetable into the guillotine. The carrot is chopped in half. Then he puts the bride-to-be's head in the guillotine. The blade drops with a loud clunk and lo - the bride-to-be emerges unscathed. "That's gross", says Claudia. "That's great!" says Hamish.

Next up is another Kim, a blonde mother of two who eats Vicks vapour rub, a craving she developed while pregnant. Katie looks fascinated, briefly. Then Kim returns to her place on another, lesser, vinyl sofa at the side of the set, and I ask her how she ended up on the show. "I was on a day- time programme, The Time, The Place, talking about eating Vicks, and the next thing I knew, I got a call to do this," she says. "That's my claim to fame. It's been spiralling ever since."

Hamish, in the meantime, is running around the set: faster and faster, more and more harassed. "I'm sorry this is a bit of a dog's dinner," he says, to no one in particular, "but hey, that's my job!"

DESPITE watching it in the making, I still feel that I do not fully understand the curious phenomenon that is Pyjama Party and post-feminist TV. So two days later, in search of further enlightenment, I meet Katie Puckrik at her flat in west London. Since I last saw her, she has filmed three more Pyjama Parties, and been interviewed on BBC1's lunchtime chat show, Pebble Mill (that's what celebrity is like these days: one presenter interviewing another). Katie lives on the top floor of a high-rise in Maida Vale. It used to be a council block in the old days, but not any longer: Katie used her pay cheques from The Word to buy herself a penthouse apartment.

She is still in her dressing-gown, and makes coffee in her canary yellow kitchen. It looks rather like the set of Pyjama Party, only much more expensive. A chandelier hangs from the ceiling with crystal drops in the shape of different fruits; there are crystal handles on the kitchen cabinets; and on the shelves, icons of popular culture run fashionable riot. There are mini-robots; plastic hallowe'en lanterns; tiny Sesame Street puppets; fake doughnuts; an Aristo-cats clock; a cutesy pink vase in the shape of a naked female torso; and bare-breasted china women forming the handles of ceramic beer mugs. Katie - born in Virginia, the daughter of a colonel in the US Airforce with whom she travelled the world as a child - is nothing if not eclectic in her taste.

She shows me into her living-room (pink walls, pretend-ocelot carpet, a large TV, an even larger mirror, and a gold brocade sofa), while she goes upstairs to change. She comes back a few minutes later, in a brown satin skirt that matches her big brown eyes, a cropped leopard-skin top that exposes her taut stomach, and a sequined cardigan of the type that a Hollywood film star might have worn as day-wear in the Fifties. On her feet she wears sweet fluffy socks, which she curls underneath her at one end of the sofa. Katie Puckrik is 33 years old, but you'd never guess it.

I ask her about the labels that have been attached to her and her show. Is she a post-feminist babe? Katie looks faintly annoyed. "It's just labelling," she says. "And it's just such a telling, significant indictment of the media, the fact that it's even worth commenting on the fact that Pyjama Party and the Girlie Show are fronted by women. Can you imagine people rushing up and down shouting, 'Jonathan Ross is on the television, and he's a man!' Of course I don't speak for all women - I'm doing a late- night entertainment show. It's stereotypically fluffy and female, but that's a joke - I'm not stereotypically fluffy and female myself."

So is Katie a feminist? "Feminism infuses my every waking and sleeping moment," she says. "I'm not a political feminist, in that I'm not going out on marches, but I'm the product of the first, second, and third wave of feminism.

"We're at a point in our culture," she continues, "where 16-year-old girls can walk down the street wearing a tee-shirt that says 'Nice Tits' - and they've got nice tits, and they're laughing, they're flinging sexism back in people's faces." (This also means that Katie can appear on television looking like an ad-man's wet dream: but it's ironic, OK?)

She is particularly irritated by recent descriptions of herself, and other female television presenters, as "ladettes". "Why would I want to be an 'ette' of a lad?" she says. "I'd rather explode in femaleness - which is what Pyjama Party does. One of the inspirations for the show is the get-togethers that I have with my women friends. We put on Barry White records, we've drunk too many cocktails, everyone has got dressed up to the nines - and we're saying to each other, 'God, your tits are looking great!' There's all this approval for each other. I love female approval."

This is why, says Katie, she's not interested in having any sneering irony on Pyjama Party. "The show is post-modern, but it's not me trying to be clever. The irony thing has snowballed to the point where people are afraid to be sincere - like it's uncool to be passionate. I despise that. I like to be genuine. I am genuinely interested in the Vicks vapour rub woman."

"Why?" I ask.

"She was interesting," says Katie. "I love the idea of interviewing people who do unusual things with their lives."

I RING up Claudia Winkleman, Katie's clever "gal-pal". "What do you think the show's about?" I ask. "It's about celebrating women," she says. "It's not degrading. Lots of people say it's enchanting. My boyfriend thinks it's enchanting. I must be the luckiest person on the planet, being on it." Claudia is not being ironic.

I ask Michelle Kelly the same question. "Katie is like Father Christmas, and we're her little elves," she says, after thinking for some time. "We're not trying to make any statements. We're not trying to say anything. And I'm certainly not a feminist. I don't think I am, anyway."

Finally, I talk to Hamish Hamilton. "Is the show post-feminist?" I ask. "Bollocks!" he replies, loudly.

"Is it post-modern?" I ask.

"Bollocks!" he says, more loudly.

We are not getting very far, I fear, so I try a different approach. In what way, I ask Hamish, is Pyjama Party different to Live TV's new babe spectacular, Topless Darts?

"I was asked to direct a show for Live TV," he says thoughtfully, "which included topless darts. And I said no, I'm not interested. I couldn't film half-naked women like that. I don't think my conscience would cope."

As Claudia remarked to Katie about the moose droppings - you can go too far. !

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