Saturday, December 19, 2009

Notes on Drag

I meant to write about this topic back in August, after just returning from Provincetown where I saw a disappointing drag show. What, you ask, could possibly be disappointing — much less disturbing — about a drag show? Isn’t camp intended to be fun, and, according to Sontag, meant to be “playful” and “dethrone the serious”? I know that some tiresome people tritely poke fun at so-called humorless lesbians, but, I have to be honest here, these drag queens in Ptown were the most bitter and mean-spirited girls I have seen since I unwillingly saw a promo for “The Real Housewives of [somewhere].”

Now, I don’t want to be too serious here about drag queens. As Sontag herself in her famous “Notes on Camp” pointed out: being “solemn and treatise-like about Camp… runs the risk of having, oneself, produced a very inferior piece of Camp.” Taking that risk into consideration, I sally forth.

The drag show I saw in Ptown in August 2009 was terrible for several reasons: 1. The drag queens were lip-synching. Simply inexcusable. Drag should not be karaoke-with-sequins — it should be a true performance; 2. They were raunchy. I know, I know, I know that I bring a bit of Miss Jean Brodie with me wherever I go, but still. Let’s strive for excellence, shall we? Raunch is where performers go when they fail to entertain and are left with no choice but to hold an audience’s attention with shock; 3. They were malicious and demeaning toward women, which I suppose could be a definition of raunchy, and this, again, strays from the realm of true camp. “Camp proposes a comic vision of the world,” says Sontag. “But not a bitter or polemical comedy.”

Now, you may be wondering, does camp = drag? No. Because I would argue that drag kings are entirely different from drag queens. Drag kings are sexual, drag queens are asexual. I mean, just look as this sexy one in Girl King. But that is a topic for another day. Nonetheless, a drag show featuring drag queens should be an exercise in camp. Otherwise, it’s just a man in a dress.

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