Friday, April 17, 2009

Real Cool?

This week in class we watched a documentary film, Paris is Burning. It was made in 1990 by Jennie Livingston. The movie is a show all behind the scenes story of the fashion obsessed New York gay and transgender culture that created voguing and drag balls. It shows the stories of legendary drag queens and the upcoming legends of the new generation. At first, I did not know if a documentary could be a "cool" movie, I was also skeptical about the subject of the film. I did not know if I would classify dressing in drag would be cool, and I still don't know if I would call the drag outfits cool, and the way that they act wouldn't be considered cool, especially the arguments that were seen. Even though I don't know if that was cool, I do think that the way that each of the queens could do what they felt and had a place to be themselves. The idea of the different houses that the teenagers found to find understanding and a role model that they couldn't at home is a very cool idea. It is like the hippies of the 60s did, but these houses have different criteria to enter them, they are not just hang outs or hotels to the houses, they are families.

A large part of the movie is focused on "realness." In the movie they say that realness is the ability to pass for what they want to. In most cases, that is looking as much as a woman as possible. Some of the people in the movie were gender ambiguous. If I did not know that it was a male, I would not have been able to guess. And this could definitely be considered very cool. These people are being who they feel that they are, and this is cool to me because it is respectable. To be who you want to be and have a group of people to be there for you and understand you, no matter what, this is cool. However, there was another example of realness that I find less cool. The idea that real is being able to pass for something that you are not is less cool. The idea that if you can pass for what you are not, then you are a great actor, but if you are your not being yourself then I do not think that you are cool. The people like Pepper, Angie, Ninja, and the others that are who they are might be unique, but they are cool.


  1. If cool really is about detachment (of the ironic kind) then why do so many subcultures begin forming familial groups within them?

  2. I can see where you're coming from, Hobophobia--that being yourself is cool while pretending to be someone else is not. But what if they're trying to be cool through imitation? What if they're trying to change themselves completely into something that they think is cool and have only mastered the step of copy-cat-ing?

    I think they're cool because they've managed to fool others into thinking they're something that they aren't. That takes some major skill and commitment, does it not?

  3. So, what you're saying is that those who attempt to copy other people and fail are uncool, but those who succeed are cool? It seems like not failing is a necessity to being cool.

  4. It's not just about being feminine - it's about imitating and becoming a status symbol. That's why gay men were imitating straight men, black men were imitating white women, poor men imitating rich men. It was about being someone who had any sort of control over where he or she was going to be or what he or she could do. It was about power and self-determination, and how that was so different from the reality of their situation.

    So you're absolutely right - it's about "passing." But because of that, it can't have anything to do with being yourself. It's the ability to say, "I can be both rich/powerful/white and poor/powerless/black at the same time." Winning the balls only affirmed that - but they didn't always make or break the self-perception of the capability of being more than one person in the same body.