Drag as a Cultural Phenomenon

***This paper needs to be intersectional (about race and gender together).


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***This paper needs to be scholarly, which means it has three scholarly sources–peer reviewed articles in academic journals–NOT just popular ones (like websites, magazines, or newsapers). Cite from your sources and list at the end of your paper in a Bibliography or Works Cited list.


HINT: The Judith Butler article “Imitation and Gender Insubordination” in your Week Ten reading DOES count as a scholarly article, if you use it. That means you will only need to find two (2) more.


Drag originated in gay culture and was exported to the mainstream–via film and television–and transformed in the process. Drag balls date back to at least the 19thcentury, but began to garner popular attention in the 1960s with Andy Warhol’s Factory productions and Susan Sontag’s famous essay “On Camp.” Feminists have sometimes seen drag as sexist and misogynist, and it can be. Drag was present in movies from the very beginning, and was always tolerated as long as it remained comic, but it can be said to have entered the cultural mainstream in earnest in the 1990s, with Jenny Livingston’s 1990 documentary Paris is Burning,and more recently, with television shows such as RuPaul’s Drag Raceand its spinoffs, and Ryan Murphy’s Pose.These days we recognize the complexity of drag as a tribute to feminine strength, power, and fierceness, as well as a parody of “normal” mainstream ideals of gender.


Arguments you can try in your paper might be these:

Is drag today on mainstream tv an example of cultural dilution and commodification?
A dynamic site of culture and meaning making?
Is drag evolving and improving?
Deteriorating or being appropriated?
Is drag these days critiquing gender, or embracing it? Or both?
Or simply an evolving site of intersectional encounter? How?


Decide what you think about one of these questions, and decide what your argument is. YOUR PAPER SHOULD MAKE AN ARGUMENT.




Then, your paper should do 2 things:


FIRST, use The Queen and/or Paris is Burning to help you define drag and walking in drag balls. Look at some of these older drag clips from You Tube (that are right here) as well. What was drag like in the 1920s? The 1960s? How is drag in Paris is Burning similar to and different from these early film clips? Pay attention to terms that the performers define for you, and think about how drag categories involve not only gender, but race and class.


THEN, pick an episode or scenes from RuPaul’s Drag Race,or an episode or scenes from Pose or Legendary (HBO Max), and compare it to Paris is Burning and these earlier clips, analyzing how drag is performed by participants at different geographical, historical, and cultural moments.


Remember to be intersectional!


Pose is available on Netflix. It is also on YouTube for $1.99 an episode, and on Amazon Prime video and iTunes as well, but there are also great free clips on the FX website, if you click on the “video extras” link. You should be able to talk about the show sufficiently if you just watch some of these, if you don’t want to or can’t pay for full episodes. https://www.fxnetworks.com/shows/pose


RuPaul’s Drag Race is a show developed for Logo and VH1. You can watch it on demand or buy episodes in the usual way on Amazon, iTunes, etc.. There are spinoff web shows such as Untucked and Whatcha Packin that you can watch for free on the VH1 Drag Raceshow site, but you should try to watch one Drag Race episode if you can, just to get an idea of the format. There are free clips on YouTube, such as this one: https://youtu.be/OjG4_k6L6GA .


Paris is Burning is available on YouTube at https://youtu.be/jzIJfMFNUjA . If you have never seen it, watch it now because it is currently hard to stream, and you never know when Criterion will make You Tube will take down the link! It is only about an hour and 15 minutes long, and it started the whole ballroom craze way back when. It is also in your Module Ten.


You can draw on anything we have read or watched this semester to talk about drag, as well as outside reading, tv shows, film, and articles both popular and scholarly. You will be graded on how well you synthesize, research, and argue (see rubric). Your essay should be five to seven full pages, double spaced, and this does not include your works cited page. It should be AT LEAST five double-spaced pages, and you should NOT space extra between paragraphs. Please put page numbers in the header or footer.


IMPORTANT: You need to find three scholarly sources. You can use Judith Butler as one of your scholarly sources if you want, and I encourage you to do so. How does she define drag? Do you agree, based on these shows and films? What is important about drag today?


Then find two more sources on Google Scholar, or you can ask a librarian on the Library page via chat. You can also use other sources IN ADDITION, but you MUST have 3 scholarly sources. Anything we have read in class that is from a journal or a book (not a newspaper or magazine) counts as a scholarly source.

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