Saturday, February 9, 2013

is drag a dying artform?

originally posted on the posterous site. august 21, 2010 at 09:22:00pm

i admit it, i have watched rupaul’s drag race (with some devotion) – both seasons - and almost monthly i visit ziegfields, the local drag bar/club here in dc. but i can’t help but to wonder if drag isn’t a dying art form, especially after a recent trip to see the girls.

rupaul him/herself will be 50 this year – she doesn’t look a day over 30. in addition to being a “dude in a dress”, rupaul is a six-foot-seven-inch tall icon that has worked to bridge the gay/straight divide and even probably to some extent the racial divide by being the first (african-american) drag queen signed to be a MAC girl. but is a single icon, regardless of height and accomplishments enough to keep this art form alive? seriously, i can think of only two other mainstream queens, divine (from the original hairspray) and the lady chablis (from garden in the midnight of good and evil) and maybe ann coulter.

ru, as she is called by those close to her, in addition to being a pop-culture icon hosts a reality television show where the average age of a queen on season one was 29, and 28 for season two – but in dc, lets just say that when ella fitzgerald says ‘its all an illusion’ she just might mean it. the camera may add ten pounds but lighting and pancake make-up erase the years.

some of these ladies are pushing careers (in this case a polite way of saying ages) as large as their wigs. don’t get me wrong they aren’t card-carrying members of aarp. the “ladies of illusion” are lovely, capable and “fierce” and if you haven’t seen them, do it! but when these ladies take their final bows, there are going to be some big heels to fill and it seems that there isn’t any new up and coming talent as refined as these ladies to wear them.

the little bit of talent that has presented itself surely doesn’t understand how easy they have it now because of performers like ella fitzgerald, billie ross, rupaul, devine, the lady and others. the queens on drag race seem to be (self-)centered on contracts and extending their fifteen minutes of fame, and there is nothing wrong with that, we all have to eat… but the ladies at ziegfields have a cult following that happily lines up each week while they lip-sync to the latest song by lady gaga, beyonce or ballad from whitney – without corporate sponsorship or drag challenges. some of these ladies even make ends meet with crumpled up singles hurled at them from their adoring fan base, all while wearing a new gown or costume. and all the fan base asks in return is a peck on the cheek or a squeeze of the hand when you take their dollars, though some in my circle of friends end up smelling like “designer imposters” and wearing more lipstick then their high school prom dates did – that’s another blog post all together.

in contrast, and i’m sure that backstage the ladies of ziegfields have their cat-fights and drama, the new face of drag is reality tv. catch phrases such as “i am from chicago”, “was your barbeque cancelled cause your grill is ‘effed’ up” and “don’t ‘eff’ it up” have prime-timed their way into the nomenclature of my circle of friends as easily as “where’s the beef” did in the 80’s. why? because reality tv is unscripted drama served in sixty minute sound bites and we consume it like a fat kid lovin’ cake. this is the new faces of drag?

the reality tv drag queen has left me wondering where is the elegance and performance that i know as drag? when it comes time for our beloved queen’s last application of make-up (you know they’ll look fabulous in a coffin), will this new brand of queen be there for our local club’s stage lip-syncing for singles? or has even this art form become so open that we need to see just how catty gay men in make-up can be to each other? sure a gay man in drag being bitchy to a gay man in the audience is expected and the kind of camp that makes us pee our pants because it’s so funny, but has the world been finally been subjected to enough bitchy gay men out of make-up that we have to exploit the drag illusion?

i don’t fault ru for this at all, it’s how our society has evolved, but perhaps in season three the show may focus more on the struggles that pioneers have overcome and focus on the art form and how these ladies develop cult status and carve livings and evening gowns out of washingtons. look we know that there is drama, but when i go to ziegfields, that’s what i am escaping when i give the queens a dollar...i want tomorrow’s drag queens to be like a vegas buffet – big, over the top, full of surprises, without end – that they leave me full, but wanting more – and most importantly capable of filling the heels of those who lip-synced before them with as much showmanship, elegance and artistry.

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