Penny Arcade’s New York Values, (Big Boobs and a Mean Streak), The Village Voice
The Village Voice, February 27 - March 5, 2002
Penny Arcade's New York Values
by Alexis Soloski
Like the amusement of her adopted name, Penny Arcade offers a reasonable amount of low-rent razzle-dazzle and whizbang for the buck. In New York Values (P.S.122), she delivers her rants and raps ringed by a chorus of go-go boys and girls, illuminated by spots, magnified by live video, and backed by a rock 'n' roll soundscape. She disses downtown's gentrification and dismisses the co-opting of bohemia, yet amid the wrath and raving Arcade forgets a crucial fact: her sympathetic audience. She spits out her spite as though she expects challenge and contradiction—someone ought to tell her she's preaching to the choir. While Arcade's sort of ministry may be affirming and congratulatory, it shouldn't be called provocative.
Nor should it be called timely. The sections on Giuliani's revival of the cabaret laws and the Disneyfication of Times Square seem to have been lifted piecemeal from a 1997 time capsule (she even has a Monica Lewinsky joke). And her glitter-coated chorus is dubbed the JonBenét Ramsey memorial dancers. Nevertheless, she does manage the occasional acute observation, such as, "An artist's decline can be computed by the number of hours they spend drinking coffee in a café."
Of course, discussing Arcade's material is almost beside the point. She's attracted a following not for what she says (the people she quotes in her show—John Vaccaro, Jack Smith, Quentin Crisp—have all said it before and better), but for who she is: a dizzy autodidact with big boobs and a mean streak. Even at 51, she still looks devastatingly cute in décolletage and mouse ears. As Crisp told her, "Age is kind to the nonconformist." It's a pity her repetitive material isn't aging as well as her rack—it's not every arcade game that comes with its own built-in replay.