January 24, 2018

"Since 'Drag Race' first aired in 2009, the conversation around identity and gender has shifted tremendously."

"For all the show has done to challenge its audience’s notions of masculinity and femininity, it has shied away, until the most recent season, from any serious discussion about the ways the drag community intersects the trans one. There have been trans queens on the show, but the topic is a touchy one in the drag community. For most drag artists, the point is the performance; it is not their sole identity. But for those queens who identify as trans or nonbinary, their stage persona is not necessarily a performance. The centerpiece of the show is the contestants’ transforming themselves into queens, and then, after each competition, taking off their wigs and removing synthetic breasts to reappear as men. For years, 'Drag Race' prioritized entertainment over any nuances of the culture. Much of the queens’ vernacular, body language and movements come from the drag world’s — especially white queens’ — interpretation of black femininity. I’ve always been uncomfortable with that phenomenon, despite how much I enjoy the show. In his essay '"Draguating’ to Normal,"' the academic Josh Morrison argues that by using the bodies of women, people of color and other marginalized groups, 'through an often loving, well-intentioned impersonation of them,' drag 'unintentionally does them discursive violence.'"

From "Is ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ the Most Radical Show on TV?/The reality-television competition that began nine years ago has evolved to reflect an era fixated on gender and identity — and the boundary-pushing spirit of its star." (NYT).

What, exactly, is "discursive violence"? "Discursive" means "Of or characterized by reasoned argument or thought; logical, ratiocinative. Often opposed to intuitive" (OED).
1667 Milton Paradise Lost v. 488 Whence the soule Reason receives, and reason is her being, Discursive, or Intuitive; discourse Is oftest yours, the latter most is ours.
It can also mean refer to going "from one subject to another, esp. in a rapid or irregular manner; extending over or dealing with a wide range of subjects; expansive; digressive," like:
1791 J. Boswell Life Johnson anno 1774 I. 440 Such a discursive exercise of his mind.
Or — and I suspect this is what roils the mind of "the academic" quoted in the NYT — "Relating to discourse or modes of discourse." This is a meaning that took flight in the 1960s:
1961 Philos. Rev. 70 80 The word ‘God’ looks the same in any discursive context, whether narrative, factual, or formal....
And the most recent quote is this, which I can't help but think the OED intended to laugh at:
2011 C. West in G. Rockhill & A. Gomez-Muller Politics of Culture & Spirit of Critique vi. 114 Deploying that voice in..a variety of different discursive strategies, a variety of different modes of rhetorical persuasion as well as logical argumentation in order to make some kind of impact on the world.

30 comments:

Kevin said...

I just don't remember everyone getting together and having a vote to start using the word "violence" to mean something other than "violence."

Edmund said...

What, exactly, is "discursive violence"?

It's academic speak for "I need a handy phrase to sound more erudite" and get this published.

traditionalguy said...

Discursive Violence? Oh, you mean Joan Rivers on a slow day.

Bay Area Guy said...

Call me crazy, but I prefer men to act and dress like men, and women to act and dress like women.

Of course, this should be within a broad creative spectrum. No need to be too rigid.

Kate said...

I guess a highfalutin' academic can't use the term "hate speech".

Kate said...

What makes drag entertaining is the very act of pretending to be something you're not. "South Pacific" spends about 20 minutes of film time on this gag. The transgendered are not pretending.

Did you give this post your "that's not funny" tag? Another shot leveled at humor and what we're allowed to enjoy.

glenn said...

Drag Racing is a sport in which two cars (normally) race from a standing start a predetermined distance. Normally 1/4 mile. It has nothing to do with men dressing up as women. The only similarity? It’s really loud.

Yancey Ward said...

The Drag World is haunted by discursive violence. Haunted.

Bay Area Guy said...

Milton Berle in drag - funny!
Flip Wilson in drag - funny!
Dustin Hoffman as Tootsie - funny!
John Ritter posing as gay in Three's Company - mildly funny
RuPaul and transvestites - completely unfunny

The arc of transvestite humor bends toward the unfunny......

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

"Is ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ the Most Radical Show on TV?"

I can't imagine how anything that matters depends on the answer to that question.

Nonapod said...

The comedic trope of a big, manly dude dressing up like a woman is older than dirt, from Benny Hill to Charles Barkley. But our betters have determined that it's no longer permissible to find that sort of thing humorous. Sorry.

MayBee said...

I have been wondering about this. Not about RuPaul's Drag Race, but about how the drag queens are seen in the current trans-positive agenda.

I would say TransParent was the most radical tv show, and a really great one for understanding and coping with transgender people and relationships, but the creator seems to have destroyed her creation there (in the name of the current agenda). That makes me sad. I loved that show.

YoungHegelian said...

It now seems that the existential purpose of Critical Theory is to crush out with ten lb sledge any bit of fun & humor that comes within its purview.

Come to think of it, nobody ever claimed that the Frankfurt School Guys were loads of fun at parties...

Fernandistein said...

Cross-dressing performers clowning around in the news:

Barry Lubin performing as Grandma the clown at the Big Apple Circus in November. Mr. Lubin has resigned and admitted he pressured a teenage girl to pose for pornographic pictures.

"Is ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ the Most Radical Show on TV?"

I sure hope so, but perhaps we'll never know.

Darkisland said...

I've not followed RuPaul much at all. Just not interested. But a question for those who do:

Does he identify as a woman or as a man? My recollection from years back was that he, and many other drag queens, identify as men who just like to dress as women.

The proper term for that, I think, is "Transvestite".

Does he now identify as a woman or as a transgender?

When not on stage or in character, does he act and/or dress as a woman? Again my recollection is no but I may well be wrong.

John Henry

Angel-Dyne said...

I wonder if the increasingly, ahem, "boundary pushing" entertainment of other degenerate eras was as beset with ridiculous academic pretense as our own?

In volume of output, probably not, considering the limiting factors of literacy, diploma mill saturation, and technology. But surely the spirit and will of such shuckin' and jivin' opportunists has been with us always?

Doug said...

Sorry, no tolerance at all for RuPaul, his show, or any of the celebration of trans-, queer, drag, and whatever-else-have you that LGBTQAlphabetsoup nazis are demanding these days. Effeminate gay men, drag queens,trannies and butch dykes mock and demean that which I hold most sacred in this world - feminine beauty and the beauty of femininity. A pox on all their houses.

Hammond X. Gritzkofe said...

Headline: "Is ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ the Most Radical Show on TV?"

If anyone has read the article, pls let us know. Did the article provide an answer to the question asked in the headline?

ALP said...

"For most drag artists, the point is the performance.."

That, in a nutshell, is why drag queens are so very tedious. They are no different than karaoke fans, amateur poets, that co-worker that does community theater and that other one in the choir. THEY have an insatiable need to perform, to be in the spotlight and the center of attention, and won't stop inviting you to yet another sub-par, amateur performance. Why, its enough to make one wonder WHY they hate themselves so much that they have to don layers of costume, ape a celebrity, and sing on a stage to feel themselves.

Express any preference for low-key aesthetics and your dislike of glitter, sequins, and Broadway shows at your peril. To do so is to be labeled _______ phobic.

mikee said...

How many people watch the drag show?
859,000 saw the finale last year, the show's highest viewership ever.

"Fixer Upper" about a Christian couple in Waco who renovate houses, had an AVERAGE viewership of 3.19 million people per episode last year.

Rethink what you're watching on TV and get back to me when you're ready to talk shiplap.

Steve Daigneault said...

It's an entertaining show. What's less entertaining is reading people's derogatory remarks about a group of people who are not hurting anyone, who are clearly enjoying themselves, and who are oftentimes helping others like them feel a little less alone in this world.

But whatever, if it makes you feel better.

Earnest Prole said...

Run, don’t walk, to see Paris Is Burning, the 1990 documentary of mid-1980s drag culture in poverty-stricken New York City that transcends everything you’re certain it will not.

Geoff Matthews said...

Aren't drag queens the sexual equivalent of blackface? They take and exaggerate the features that they are mimicking.

Doug said...

What's less entertaining is reading people's derogatory remarks about a group of people who are not hurting anyone, who are clearly enjoying themselves
I am not here for your entertainment.

Brian McKim and/or Traci Skene said...

Saw ten minutes of that show once. Was astounded by how humorless and uninteresting it was.

Steve Daigneault said...

To each his own.

But what is so threatening about RuPaul and drag queens? Some of the comments here don't really make sense to me.

Doug said...

Steve Daigneault, can you indicate which comments bear evidence that commenters are threatened by RuPaul and drag queens?

Steve Daigneault said...

Hey Doug. There are several posts here (including yours) that seem angry to me. Behind anger there is fear, IMHO. I realize I'm in the minority here. I just don't understand the vitriol. RuPaul, drag queens, they are living their lives as they wish. The show has a consistent theme of loving yourself and accepting yourself. Many people who are gay, drag queens, trans, they struggle to find self-acceptance. Sometimes they commit suicide or turn to drugs, bc they can't made peace with themselves. For these people, this show helps them find some acceptance and even joy in who they are. I think that's a great thing.

My guess is that for many, this show threatens their values, or the kind of world they believe they live in, or the kind of world they want to live in. I'm trying to make the case (futilely I'm assuming) that there's nothing to fear, and it's OK that there are people like this.

Anyway, longtime reader, first-time poster, I probably should just go back to reading.

Doug said...

Not threatened ... disgusted.

mikee said...

In 1977, I graduated high school in Charlotte, NC, and then went all of 100 miles away to college. My best friend from high school, with whom I'd exchanged letters that fall (ahh, I am OLD) invited me to spend Friday after Thanksgiving with him when I came home. He had gone from a fat, funny and apparently normal kid to a leaner, very flamboyant gay transvestite singer/stripper after high school, much to my surprise. He also worked in a gay bath house in Charlotte, and that is where I went to meet him before lunch that Friday. It was an eye-popping experience for me, a completely naive Catholic boy, to see even noontime activity in such a place (and it was pretty active, even before lunch). He and I had an interesting lunch at a restaurant where one of his lovers was our waiter, who detailed his recent forays into male prostitution very loudly at our table throughout the meal. Three of our HS classmates at another table studiously ignored us. An interesting visit, that was.

I told you that to tell you this: Two decades later, in a Baltimore suburb, I was in a book club consisting almost exclusively of housewives. We read Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil. While discussing the story, it became apparent nobody else realized the author/protagonist was gay (despite the blurb on the book cover). Since that explained the protagonist's involvement with the trannie, and many other of the book's events, I brought it up. They were all vehement in their denial that he could be gay. I ended the argument about it when I blurted out, "Hey, the author is described as gay on the book cover! Am I the only person here who has been in a gay bath house?"

I wasn't invited to the next book club meeting. And my wife laughed her ass off over my apparent self-outing among the women of the neighborhood. I heard confused gossip about me from other neighborhood husbands for months. Still, worth it.