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Mary Cheney's Comments About Drag and Blackface

RupaulCNN obtained a private Facebook post by Mary Cheney, the daughter of Dick Cheney where she equates drag queens with white people donning blackface. Read the story here.

She says, "If a man has all the right in the world to put on a high wig, sequined dress and a full face of makeup, why isn’t it socially acceptable for a white person to don blackface?"

Apparently, a commercial for the upcoming season of RuPaul's Drag Race sparked her question.

She continues, “Why is it socially acceptable — as a form of entertainment — for men to put on dresses, make up and high heels and act out every offensive stereotype of women (bitchy, catty, dumb, slutty, etc.) — but it is not socially acceptable — as a form of entertainment — for a white person to put on blackface and act out offensive stereotypes of African Americans? Shouldn’t both be OK or neither?”

Cheney is not the first woman or feminist to raise the issue of drag being anti-feminist but I'd like to take this apart for a moment. I've been reading quite a large amount of academic essays on camp and drag lately.

I first became interested in drag (and gender theory) when I started reading academic pop culture essays in anthologies and periodicals with a particular interest in applying what I was reading to Cher. Pop culture academicians kept calling her a 'female drag queen.' They called Dolly Parton one too. I went in search of what that meant. Was it a negative slur, as in Cher is a poor imitation of a real woman? Turns out calling Cher and Dolly drag queens just meant that their style of feminine dress was so over-the-top and exaggerated, it served to expose the "put on" nature of femininity. The artificiality of it.

This coincided with recent theories of gender being performative, the idea being you have no core gender self. You take on a performance character by choice. Being butch, fey, girlie, tomboy are all cultural and not biological ideas and as such are roles that can be switched, roles that are culturally-defined and arbitrary.

Right off, I imagined Cheney didn't accept performative gender theory. And because of this she wouldn't accept that that one's gender is therefore more perforamative and fluid (even hetero expressions of it) than is one's ethnicity.

Speaking directly to the issue of blackface, part of the offensiveness of it was the racism that accompanied it and how disparaging it was to black culture. The same is not true for drag. To equate the two is based on a false premise of intent. I do not read drag as dismissive, as some feminists do.

In fact, Cheny's own commentary betrays her. She takes on the the male chauvinist view when she says, "[they] act out every offensive stereotype of women (bitchy, catty, dumb, slutty, etc.)."  Gay men can be just as bitchy, catty, dumb, slutty.  So can straight men for that matter. Whose to say these are not just basic human diva traits? To assign them to women is sexist, sexist from men, lesbians or feminists. It's buying into the patriarchal view of women and refusing to see how powerful a glamazon character can be. It sends a message to both women and drag queens: tone it down; outrageousness  is not okay.

That is why is was so powerful to see a butch lesbian feel empowerment going thru Drag U. And for me, the show Drag U is what proves that not only do costumes drive feelings, (think a karate outfit, a policeman's uniform or a glamazon's couture), but that finding value in glamour isn't self-hating for women or anti-feminist for men. 

It's very different from blackface due to how women are being interpreted. This is not to say there aren't women-hatin drag queens. But they're rare. In any case, drag isn't really about "aping women." It's about finding your inner power. Its about taking on the character of the glamazon. No drag queen is performing an eek meek.

Considering RuPaul is the most prominent drag queen and a black man, I was particularly looking forward to his rebuttal. Unfortunately, he didn't address the drama of blackface directly. He just presented a history of the political history of drag: http://www.mediaite.com/online/rupaul-tells-mary-cheney-how-dressing-in-drag-is-different-from-blackface/

I was hoping for more but Betty Bowers had a good quote about it, one that assumes you know that Mary Cheney is a lesbian:

"Men in clothes traditionally worn by women is blackface, says Mary Cheney, wearing clothes traditionally worn by men."

More on performative gender theory

 


Cher's Angry Tweets, The Seventies: Glamour, Ratings & Concerts

Cherspecial2The New Year brings new apologies for the lag in blog postings. I've been on the new job for just about a month. No, I'm not teaching at my local community college. I'm continuing my day-job of web content specializin'. And I've been a bit more swamped with family reunion duties that I predicted. My novel-writing and blogging schedule has slipped all to hell!

But...I'm working in a communications department full of really interesting and creative people, our studio department has an animator and an award-winning director, our web team has two visual artists, two photographers, a competitive dancer and a soap maker. Similar to my experiences at ICANN, I've arrived just in time for a sweet web re-branding launch. It's been fun so far.

But anyway, time to move on to...

Cher's Angry Tweets

Cher made some tweets about Hitler and the cloud last month that hit many news outlets. My guess is the tweets were meant to be a joke but I didn't read into them too closely. These people made the attempts to sort it out:

  • PosterMediaite
    "It may not matter in 5 yrs, but Hitler Tweets are forever."
  • Tech Times
    "Our best guess is that Cher was expressing frustration with Apple's iCloud service. Or maybe she was commenting on the recent scandal involving nude photos of celebrities leaking from iCloud thanks to hackers."

Twitchy.com covers Cher's tweets about U.S. Congress. Cher Scholar's old friend Doug Wemple, who wrote a wonderful heart-felt story in Cher Zine 1 about coming out and his long, frustrating journey to try to see Cher in concert, gets caught up in the tweet sweep too.

Which all reminds me of the trailer I saw last weekend for a movie coming to my local independent movie house, She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry. This movie reminds me so much of the situation surrounding Cher's tweets. The trailer chronicles the expression of anger from feminists in second and third wave actions and protests and how uncomfortable this made (and continues to make) some folks. People who disagree with Cher's politics consistently try to characterize her as a nut. It's not a new tactic as this film shows. Looking forward to seeing it.

Giddy Gossip

Lot's of gossipy stuff in the news:

Studio-margauxSeventies Glamour

Just finished the affordably-priced coffee-table book Seventies Glamour by David Willis. It covers all the icons of 70s style, including Margaux Hemmingway, who's photo at Studio 54 (not in the book) has forever fascinated me. She seems so "over it" and strangely comfortable in her pose.

SeventiesglamourThe zeitgeist of the 70s with its "tarnished luster" and the "complex broken mirror ball glamour" is covered. Cher is listed as one of "the beautiful people," a new version of the 1960s "jet set." She's listed in an uberclass alongside Liza Minnelli, Halston, Truman Capote, Divine, Hugh Hefner, Calvin Klein, Liz Taylor and Jackie O. Not too shabby. Although Cher is not cited as an influence or contributor to it, glitter and glam rock are discussed. Cher has one page dedicated to her with a picture of her Stars album cover of 1975 and the joyous color poster for Cher...Special in 1978. I found some groovy out-takes of that session online (above and below).

Cherspecial3 Cherspecial1  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seventies Ratings

When I was working on my eBook about Writing in the Age of Narcissism, I came across an article by Lev Grossman called "The Beast with a Billion Eyes," Time Magazine, 2012. He said "for every minute that passes in real time, 60 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube." And this was in 2012! He talks about how YouTube, like cable TV before it, has challenged network ratings, chronicling the tumbling numbers, decade to decade, from the 80s The Cosby Show to the 90s Seinfeld show to 2008's American Idol. He says, "Obviously No. 1 isn't what it used to be."

I often don't know what these ratings numbers mean. Are they talking about audience share, Nielsen rank or actual audience views. When people talk about ratings, they never use the same measurements.

For instance, allegedly, Carol Burnett averaged $30 million people a week in her heyday. But in 2004, Nick and Jessica Simpson won their slot with 11.4 million. But it's complicated by the fact that fewer people were watching TVs in the 1970s. There were fewer devices at least. I decided I need to make a list of Nielsen rankings for Cher's TV shows that covers all three dimensions: total audience, audience percentage share and Nielsen rank. So far I've only found this source that lists each year's top 30 shows: http://www.classictvhits.com/tvratings/

The Sonny & Cher Comdy Hour 1971: http://www.classictvhits.com/tvratings/1971.htm

Rank #27, viewers: 12,544,200

The Sonny & Cher Comdy Hour 1973: http://www.classictvhits.com/tvratings/1973.htm

Rank #8, Viewers 15,424,600

In 1972 and 1974, they weren't in the top 30. Cher's solo show also didn't crack the top 30 in total. Nor did The Sonny & Cher Show of 1976-7.

TakemehometourA Topless 1979 Show?

When speaking to my cousin and Aunt a few weeks ago, they divulged to me that they saw Cher in Las Vegas during the 1979 "Take Me Home" tour. My aunt said she'll never forget it (in a negative sense) because the show featured scandalous topless dancers.

I started to say, "But I saw the show on TV and it didn't have...." and then I thought, well, of course it wouldn't.

Can anyone help me out there? Did Cher's 1979 Vegas show feature topless dancers?