Archives for category: queer theory

Judy Trammell, the choreographer of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, and Kelli McGonigle Finglass, the director, mesmerize me as champions of the Texas avatar of femme performance.

Choreographer Trammell (L) and director Finglass, both former DCCs, judge auditions for Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Now the texts on this, as I’m sure you all know, are the three Scholz sisters’ memoir of their time on the cheering squad (’78-’85), and the Channelview, TX tale of tiger mom Wanda Holloway, who was convicted in 1991 of plotting a murder-for-hire of Verna Heath, the mother of Shanna Holloway’s greatest rival for the cheering squad, Amber Heath.

The Scholz sisters’ mama taught them how to dress, a terrifying process in which bags and shoes must match and hair must be high — a mean girls’ Texas aesthetic whose persistence can be sussed today by seeing Finglass in her orange sheath or the terrifying female VP of the Cowboys, Charlotte Jones Anderson (daughter of the owner), who looks like a ravening, Stanford-educated ferret in poufy little Prada dresses.

Mean girls doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Trammell was a DCC from ’80-’84, and Finglass from ’84-’89. I figure they’re both in their 50s, and I am always thinking about what makes an Old Babe and what Old Babes do and wear. I think Finglass is and Trammell isn’t. What made Finglass a babe — her smile — still makes her one today, as mean a pimp as she is. (For the smile, check out the GIF third from the top, left, for the pimpin’ watch CMT’s show.) Trammell’s hair — and you know that hair whippin’ energy takes the place of jiggle on the DCC — is the same do she was whippin’ in the ’80s, very long and prematurely blonde. Even the black girls on the squad have long whippy dos. I am trying to deconstruct the Trammell/Finglass eyeliner — completely surrounding the eye with a black line after 50 is an aesthetic choice of the kind I deemed some time ago, deciding to be an old woman who paints, with Louise Nevelson as the Old Babe Who Paints avatar. The paint becomes your face, instead of your face being your face.

Sculptor Louise Nevelson

Iris Apfel, who is the captain of the Old Babes team, sometimes paints and also is a polychrome old babe, one trope of how to dress as an Old Babe. Please note use of I.M. Pei glasses as eyeliner.

Iris Apfel, captain of the Old Babes team. She replaces Princess Lilian of Sweden, who died in March and evinced an entirely different style. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Princess_Lilian,_Duchess_of_Halland

Here we see Apfel, painted, hustling her own line of MAC cosmetics. Note there is nothing natural about the colors, such that the paint once again becomes your face.

I am trying to deconstruct Trammell’s hair — it’s the 2013 version of her 1980’s do, which Finglass has most cleverly left behind. Her hair in the 80s was the biggest poufiest and poodly-est of all, and now it’s cool MILF hair. As Trammell’s is not. I have to think about it some more. I wonder if Trammell thinks of whippy hair as part of her dance costume?

Judy Trammell, ca. 1980s

The makeover editions of the aspiring cheerleaders, in which Finglass supervises their haircuts and teaches what not to wear, has to be one of my greatest drag learning experiences, as if the Scholz sisters’ mama had survived into the 21st century to teach us all how to get closer to God with our hair.
http://www.cmt.com/videos/dallas-cowboys-cheerleaders-805-appearance-counts/1714824/full-episode.jhtml

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I am sometimes amazed at the accuracy of my nose for news. The reading of omens is, you will comprehend, a child survivor strategy which, because it operates on an almost limbic, and yet learned level, I never really credit as fully evolved intelligence.

But it is. Thanks to the colloquy over at [a friends-locked blog] on bloviatin’ bloggers’ overuse of the term curating, I am reading, finally, a generation after everybody else, Douglas Crimp‘s admirably crystalline On the Ruin of Museums, which you can gank in PDF form here.

He says everything I’ve been thinking about for 20 years, while I was aware, in a mildly amused way, of the Foucauldian museum wars.*

These were at their fiercest while the Jews, the Native Americans, and the African Americans were all playing the race card to jockey their museums into one of the last few spaces of the Mall in D.C. — the Mall having been designed as America’s great democratic gathering space, bookended by the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial.

Of the pomo museums, the Holocaust Museum is the most Disneyesque — Epcot Auschwitz — I have yet seen, truly insulting.

(I hasten to add that its library, all honey-colored wood and carpet and clerestory light, is almost as gorgeous as the I.M. Pei library in the East Wing of the National Gallery, which may be the best modern space ever. You know I dote on library architecture, and had a long discussion once on my private blog about what a lady’s library might look like. Part of my love is that qua public space, libraries — like museums — are the very instrument of democracy. They are the tool with which nations are built, as Foucault argued, and as the Jews, and the Native Americans and the African Americans knew before he did. This piece, about America’s busiest library, in Queens, N.Y. makes me want to stand and sing every time I read it. Sometimes I can still believe. Rejecting the canon is for people who have a nation; and the very identity politics “museumization” seems to decry are the tell-tale, self-destructive, modern earmark of post-modernism.)

The best thing about the Native American museum is the way the pond has attracted and shelters “wild” birds within view of the Capitol.

It surprises me to think that people say Foucault defines post-modernism, as Crimp asserts, as rupture from past historicism. I thought (schooled by Marxists, I admit; I think Marx got modernity right, and I’m thrilled that Crimp quotes clever old wrong Adorno first) modernity itself was defined as rupture, coalescing, rupture — thesis, antithesis, synthesis. And that pomo, like fascism, is just one of modernity’s….antitheses? Or backlashes.

My latest theory is, we haven’t worked out the ideas and problems raised in the 19th century’s great access of modernity yet. The 20th century was all reaction to that shit, without any time spent working out you know, the issues raised in Saturn Devouring His Son or Faust or Our Mutual Friend, surely three of modernity’s greatest documents, much less Darwin and Marx. (Museumization note: Googling for an image to illustrate Faust building his metropolis, the number four image for “Faust’s metropolis” is a Flickr shot of my own backyard, which I’ve tagged “Faust’s Metropolis”. This is….sputter…sputter… retromingent.)

To which end, I am going to try to read Louis Menand’s Metaphysical Club. You will congratulate me for the marathon achieved in completing the 800 page bio of William James, exceedingly well written, I must say, on a subject worth every page, fascinating as a survey of the enormities of the 19th century (Swedenborg! holy crap! the Civil War! Boston as the capital of the republic of women! America as the laboratory of modernity!), and accurately subtitled In the Maelstrom of American Modernism,  touched upon above. In short, a true portrait of modernity at its most influential, the point to which, my nose for news tells me, we are just now getting back to.

As one of the major progenitors of modernity, you don’t want to mess with Goya.

_____________

*I think they are well-taken, the essentially feminist, queer, subaltern arguments of the baby boomer counterculture. Nuthin’ pomo about that.

1.

Mad Men. I don’t know how widely spread the Tony Soprano trope now is, but Weiner, the writer and producer of Mad Men, and a writer on The Sopranos, has reproduced it trope for trope in Mad Men. Ie., a protagonist engaged in a brutal and immoral business is also a sensitive family man and hero.  (See also Breaking Bad and The Wire, the third and fourth contenders for best TV show of the last 25 years.)

I’m noticing how psychiatry, which was the key to Tony’s sensitive family man and hero stuff, is being used here by Weiner — to analyze his Barbie wife, and to repress, as when he tells Peggy Olsson (is that Superman’s sidekick’s sister?), that Peggy’s accouchement and breakdown never happened.

I think this project, which delectates (as did the Sopranos) on very bad behavior by a whole group of men, is, like the Sopranos, a defense of Hollywood and corporate frat boy values. What’s shocking, when you think about it, is the number of movie tropes that are deployed, even as they are deployed very, very well. I don’t think there’s a single original idea or line in the whole production — maybe, just maybe, the costumes and sets are the real deal. I am thinking of the outfit Peggy wears on the date with the truck driver — those purple floral lapels were a masterpiece.

The Barbie wife, shooting pigeons, seducing the tow truck guy — is an especially insidious trope well exploited — let’s just cut to the chase — by Spielberg in the Schindler’s List wet t shirt scene, which may be the most repulsive iteration of the trope since the beginning of time.

Sardou, the author of the play on which Tosca was based, was asked what to do when the audience of his jaded fin de siecle Parisians grew bored. Torture the women,, he said. The whole icy blonde Grace Kelly trope — the gripping Hitchcock iteration — is based on this insight of Sardou. Spielberg’s ouevre is especially guilty of the sadist/sex connection, and it is pernicious.

Eggs Sardou as served at Brennan’s.

That Barbie wife has herself a Thelma and Louise moment, and then a Holly Golightly moment — just adds to the strange sense that this is all collaged and parroted by a kid who spent too much time watching TV. (Zadie Smith!!!)

The sense of looking at the lamination of capture-computer-animated actors is a trope too — apparently there’s a new app on your Iphone called Hipstamatic which takes photographs with fake sprockets and hyped Polaroid colors to achieve the effect of photographs taken with celluloid.

And the idea that this laminate world is the only one in which a naturally gorgeous actress like Christina Hendricks — a redhead, not an icy blonde — with the rococo shape could get work just makes the whole enterprise even worse.

Why cannot there be original work on television? And wtf is this lamination thing?

Plus, it’s like Twin Peaks, Gatsby, My Sister Eileen, Kiss Me Guido meets The Office, except with really serious mindfucking as the job.

2.

Treme. More frat boys. Some black. Lacks the specificity, the entire Dickensian/Zola sweep of the city and all its stories that The Wire had, and is lost in the (strangely square and sentimental) music. I attribute this to the  late David Mills and his romance with music. Musicians? Dude. Are frat boys.

The main thing I like is somebody saying, naw, just playing the music in New Orleans is the important thing. The Cubans are like that — music just is what one does.

But the music portrayed at stupefying note-for-note lengths in Treme again, has that strange formaldehyde-enbalmed, Hipstermatic feel to it I was complaining about in re Mad Men. And Wendell Pierce’s character is so completely unmusical — nothing about who he is except the king of dawgs is portrayed —  so flat as almost to be limbic — that it seems to be saying that being a musician is about scoring. Here’s a black guy name of Antoine Batiste, which is a whole television series in its ownself, that Treme seems not to be covering. (I hate the whole Antoine story arc, and Pierce is such a fine and intelligent actor, I miss him.)

I do love Clarke Peters and I dote upon his bowlegs. I love the Indian thing. But I think it’s not well portrayed; I think the thread on the real musicians trying to get their gigs (why is the only drug addict a white Dutch carpetbagger asshole? Give me a break) is strangely wonkish and boring. The Southern gothic aristo Davis McAlary, also strangely wonkish and boring, thread makes me FF in pain, although a glimpse of the artist formerly known as Elizabeth Ashley, all false teeth and fais do-do Tennessee Williams, made me want to cry.

John Goodman is overacting like a mamma jamma. He also looks on the verge of death. The failure of imagination entailed in making the Goodman character into David-Simon-auteur-as-boring-old-one-shot-fart character a YouTube Cassandra makes me wince.

It’s all musician polemic and no music and no Cajuns and apparently no real New Orleans black people plots, no real music, no real musician stories, no conflict except with buffoonish and faceless acts of God. There’s no worthy opponents here, as The Wire had in spades,  from Omar to the mayor of Baltimore himself, just faceless FEMA bureaucrats and George W. Bush. Too easy, not Big Easy.

Big Easy the movie had rockin’ music, btw, as well as the real racial/corruption scenario: still listening to the magnificent Claude Jeter, coal miner, reverend, and the best singer ever, and the Swan Silvertones’ Saviour, Pass Me Not which they had on their soundtrack. You should be too.

Still Treme is better than anything else on television, though the material is oddly thin. I love the look of the post- apocalypse city, of the ruins, the waterline mold as the opening credits, Goodman standing at the empty waterfront and pointing out the truncated footbridge which had led to one of the  great old 19th century landmark buildings sunk ‘neath the waves forever, that whole Blade Runner visual of the pan-Asian food trucks beside the gigantic concrete sewer pipes, of the mummy under the canoe, Daymo’s body on the shelf in the refrigerated truck (that whole two-ep MAX narrative arc was stretched out for at least eight episodes, so much so that a really good story became a pain in the ass because you figured it out 15 seconds into ep 1). Simon is good at that, and I like it. I think the deal is, David Simon based every single character in The Wire on somebody he met or heard of in 25 years of covering Baltimore. And he cannot create a character, only describe real ones.

The wimmin. Strong black wimmin. Strong blue collar white chicks. Yeah, whatever. The story seems to be about fat Antoine gettin’ gigs and gettin’ laid. There’s a whole narrative arc based on I lost my ‘bone.

Not interested, frat boy.

3.

Michael Holroyd announces, with the publication of his biography of the bodice-ripper romance between Vita Sackville-West and Violet Trefusis, that he is retiring from writing. A recent NYT book review has this gracious farewell by Toni Bentley in her review of A Book of Secrets:

Holroyd will be 76 on Aug. 27, having survived several years of aggressive cancer treatment that has left him, he says, “ludicrously pragmatic.” “Now, as in a film,” he writes toward the end, “I can bring back the characters who occupy the pages of this, my last book.” And so he announces, with infinite poise and quiet humility, his retirement. Our loss.

“This has been my exit from myself,” Holroyd has said of his life’s work as a biographer. “I seek invisibility,” he writes, “behind the subjects I am trying to bring alive on the page.” But in this he fails miserably: his heart and humor bounce in vibrant rays off every hot-blooded, lovelorn, crazy, jealous and joyous woman — and what enlightened being would have any woman be otherwise? — in his book. Through his “exit” Holroyd is well found.

“A Book of Secrets” is a book of magic, a sleight of hand by a master conjurer singing his swan song, sweetly, softly, with piercing wit and overwhelming compassion, his poetry in prose evoking a time past, with all its outrageous obsessions, its illegal passions, its melancholy perfume. It is the scent, I believe, of violets that rises from these intoxicating pages.

Holroyd likes this poem by Violet Trefusis, a woman he elevates from feisty sidekick to contender:

My heart was more disgraceful, more alone And more courageous than the world has known. O passer-by my heart was like your own.

And in this final offering, this small book bursting with the tremendous generosity of its author, one feels that courage. Sir Michael, I curtsy before you. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/07/books/review/a-book-of-secrets-by-michael-holroyd-book-review.html?scp=2&sq=holroyd&st=cse

Biographers are very interesting cats. Biography seems to be the only thing I am able to read these days, except for 19th century novels.

I am interested, as anybody of my vintage is, in Holroyd’s concentration on Bloomsbury (he is the biographer of Strachey; Strachey is the icon-smashing biographer and probably Bloomsbury’s central character, with Virginia Woolf, his former fiancee, and Keynes and Grant, his former boyfriends). Why, in the 40 years since I wrote, for the great metropolitan daily newspaper, of the incredible surge of feminist interest in V. Woolf, no one has thought to write the love story of Vita and Violet — one of Bloomsbury’s most notorious liaisons — I do not know.  What I do know is that Vita Sackville West would not have become the central hero/ine of queer romance literature were it not for the limelight accorded her by  the gold-dust touch of her lover, Virginia Woolf. The other contemporary gossip here is that Camilla Parker Bowles is, like Violet Trefusis, a descendant of the beautiful, randy Mrs. Keppel, Edward VII’s last mistress.

Mrs. Keppel, mother of Violet Trefusis, ancestrix of The Parker Bowles, mistress of Edward VII.

Vita was connected to Bloomsbury forever by her love affair with Virginia Woolf. Her androgyny (and her ducal connections) inspired Woolf, long before Olivia Butler made it “science fiction”,  to write Woolf’s shape-changing, sex-morphing, magic realist “biography”, Orlando, which was essentially the story of Vita, with a Vita and Violet chapter, and Vita’s ducal forebears, in the form of young Orlando, who lived for 500 years and changed sexes as necessary.

Orlando is a wonderful, rich book, much more profound than its gotten credit for — its form-conferring sci-fi, magic realist and queer biography chops notwithstanding. It has been totally unexploited for the Vita and Violet material until now. I don’t understand why nobody treats it seriously (beauty of surface, one reason, Woolf herself criticized herself for; the sexuality (in a writer notorious for being allegedly frigid); and in its treatment of time/history/eternity, always a huge interest of Woolf’s, picked up in her posthumous novel, Between the Acts).

Biography may be Bloomsbury’s most influential and sophisticated contribution to the 20th century. Woolf’s father, Leslie Stephen, the original godless Bohemian, became in 1882 the official cartographer of the British canon when he was named editor of the Dictionary of National Biography. Virginia, on whose education he spent no money, grew up reading his books instead of going to school. Her second brush with biographers was editing her parents’ love letters for Sir Leslie’s biographer, who refused to believe her father had viciously sexist temper tantrums. Her third brush with biography was with the homosexual Lytton Strachey, who probably fell in love with Virginia’s older brother Thoby at Cambridge. (The young Stephens all looked —  I think it was Strachey who said it first —  like Greek slaves; Thoby among the most beautiful and dead at 26.)

Thoby Stephen, 1880-1906, the lacuna around whom Bloomsbury, and two of Virginia Woolf’s novels, were formed.

Thoby’s early death made his Cambridge friends friends of his sisters for life, and these formed the nucleus of Bloomsbury. Thoby’s death in 1906, of typhoid, may be the most influential and least-known literary event in 20th century history. It inspired the modernity of the lacuna — no “plot”, no “character” — in at least two books of Virginia’s — Jacob’s Room, and the thrillingly abstract and yet autobiographical The Waves. How Thoby’s death affected Strachey, I do not know but plan to discover by reading Holroyd’s bio, on which the silly fag hag tragedy movie Carrington was based.

In any case, Strachey was the atomic bombardier of biography. In 1918, Strachey published Eminent Victorians which changed biography forever. Every iconoclastic trick Christopher Hitchens performs on Mother Theresa et al, Strachey performed first on personalities of enduring substance and influence — Cardinal Manning (Oxbridge convert/politician), Florence NIghtingale (the lady with the lamp), Thomas Arnold (Rugby, the school) and General Gordon (Opium Wars, Africanist, Khartoum), heroes of Victorian hegemony.

Cardinal Manning, by Watts.

The New Journalism doubtless owes a huge debt to (and I’m guessing here) the very intelligent Tom Wolfe’s reading of Strachey, and the adoption of the famous Strachey voice, which had as much to do with Lytton’s enormous family of siblings — like Virginia’s, part Anglo-Indian colonialists — and their famous drawl as it did with Lytton’s own Cambridge Apostle-inflected high camp candor. (G.E. Moore, the fin de siecle Cambridge philo, whosePrincipia Ethicawas recently chosen as one of the 20th century’s most influential books, had something to do with the directness of the voice. But the queerness was all Lytton.)

 I’d be interested to trace the influence of Eminent Victorians on Virginia Woolf’s own writing — she was both competitive and very loving with the man she called her Old Serpent. He dedicated his next, and much less good, biography, of Victoria herself, to Virginia. As I recall, she criticized it in the same terms she criticized the work of other Bloomsberries —  as if it were “a luncheon party at Gordon Square”. And indeed, the aural and conversational beauty of both Woolf’s and Strachey’s rhetoric and dialogue is notable.

The fourth connection of Virginia Woolf to the enormous subject of 20th century biography writing — think about how memoirs of abused children have taken over the best seller list — is her own magnificent foray into the genre, Orlando, and the much more troubled effort she made at the end of her life with the biography of the artist Roger Fry. These have, I think,  just begun to be influential. Holroyd’s popularizing queerness touch should do for Orlando what his biography of Strachey did for Carrington — Carrington being Strachey’s devoted fag hag, who killed herself after his death.  The classic women-who-lust-for-gay-men piece to date is the biography — by the incandescent Hilton Als — of Dorothy Dean, gentle and sad, in The Women.

The fifth and probably most infuential connection of Woolf to biography is her foundation, with others of the Bloomsbury circle, of the Memoir Club — designed to get their alcoholic friend, Desmond MacCarthy, to stop expending his energy on magnificent conversation and ephemeral journalism, and to begin to write books. I have written about the Memoir Club,  and its ethical infuence, its powerful amity for atheists, as well as its influence in producing memoir by their rich and powerful, queer, lifelong stalwart friend, Keynes, here.

There’s also a connection in the whole early 20th century language of seduction used by Vita and  Violet in their love letters — only Violet’s are preserved — used to great effect by Holroyd. The gypsy sheik cross-dressing rhetoric is used, as I have written elsewhere, in the Lost Generation Lesbian poetry of my own Aunt Cherie. It was creepy to read it written much less well, but with equal passion, by the daughter of the King’s mistress, and to think it was the way all the queer girls talked to each other in 1925. Another ducal connection, so essential to the bodice-ripping genre.

In their letters, Vita was “Mitya,” and Violet was the lush “Lushka”: “My poor Mitya, they’ve taken you and they’ve burnt your caravan. . . . They’ve pulled down your sleeves and buttoned up your collar! They’ve forced you to sleep beneath a self-respecting roof with no chinks to let the stars through. . . . Come away, Mitya, come away. . . . I’ll wait for you at the crossroads. . . . Ah, Beloved!”

And you wonder why 21st century fictions are so moronic.

Michael Holroyd, biographer in the iconoclastic Bloomsbury tradition of Lytton Strachey.

.

Most revolutionary children’s book illustrator of the 20th century. New Yorker. Mensch.

Everyone who ever read In the Night Kitchen understood it was a love song to Brooklyn, to the democracy of the public space and all the people in it.

Mr. Sendak, sweetheart, your parents always knew you were gay. They’re proud of you. They have supper waiting.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/10/arts/design/10sendak.html?pagewanted=all
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/09/books/maurice-sendak-childrens-author-dies-at-83.html

Cover of "Paris Is Burning"

Cover of Paris Is Burning

I would like to know, if, in the vast gasbag annals of queer theory, any body like Judith Butler (who can be lucid, especially on Israel) has deconstructed “reading”. Is it related to the dozens? I’m trying to track down RuPaul’s citation of reading in Paris Is Burning, which certainly would suggest that reading originated in the black vogueing families. (Off to read the Wizard of Butler on Paris Is Burning.)

Gettin’ closer:
“For ‘reading’ means taking someone down, exposing what fails to work at the level of appearance, insulting or deriding someone. For a performance to work, then, means that a reading is no longer possible…the impossibility of reading means that the artifice works, the approximation of realness appears to be achieved” (Judith Butler, “Gender is Burning”).
http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/courses/femstudies/f07/archive/15

Here we go, here we go, here we go, chapter four in Bodies That Matter (good one!): “Gender Is Burning: Questions of Appropriation and Subversion”. This apparently ancient riposte to bell hooks’ reading of Paris Is Burning centers on hooks’ assertion that the voguers are misogynist — always one of the interesting questions underneath the visual, witty, and heroic pleasures (It takes a real man to be a drag queen, honey) of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Here we go, with the Reading Is Fundamental clips from RuTube:

I think I’ll be getting my fellow drag scholar and RuPaul fan, a brilliant 10-year-old who is  not allowed to use the intarnets, a copy of Bodies That Matter for Christmas. She can read it and ‘splain it to me.

As your bonus reading, on the theory that the only important thing happening in academia is queer theory, here is the wonderful Michael Cunningham tracking down the story of Angel Xtravaganza, who died in 1993, a star of Paris Is Burning.
http://opencity.org/archive/issue-6/the-slap-of-love

Here we have Angel reading for real, like a motherless child, the survivor strategy of resilience :

As David Gonzalez, one of Angie’s adopted children, says, “She was so for real, she could pull a fake in a minute. Someone that’s false, she could pull him out in a minute. She would never embarrass anyone, but after they left, she’d be, like, ‘She’s not for real.’ She just knew. And you knew that she knew. And if she thought you were a fake she wouldn’t have nothing to do with you.”

Happy trails.

Angie, mother of the House of Xtravaganza in the seminal queer theory documentary, Paris Is Burning, with supermodel Lauren Hutton.

http://kwikwee.com/2012/02/15/paris-is-still-burning/

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