Here in the USA it’s the Thanksgiving holiday. For those not of a North American persuasion, this is the holiday to commemorate when the religiously oppressed left England in the Mayflower to head on over to America to set up home over here. This weekend basically everyone eats themselves silly to commemorate that fact. The funny thing is that they probably ate corn and fish, and maybe a few carrots. We now eat all this other stuff that they would never have heard of. Then everyone goes to sleep…..
One of the things that happens every year on thanksgiving day is a big parade in New York City. It’s been sponsored by Macy’s, one of the countries oldest and most famous department stores, since 1924 according to Wikipedia. Every year it is filled with colorful floats, dancers, singers, and it’s really famous for the helium filled balloons that appear. As something that has a place in visual culture it’s certainly very important due to the fact that each year there are many different acts, singers, and floats that are chosen. It’s a hugely visually affair and very culturally relevant. You can check out the Wikipedia page on the parade at this link here.
So what is it doing showing up on my blog then which is about LGBTQ issues in visual culture? Simple. Drag Queens and big leather boots. Yep, this year, one of the featured musicals from Broadway in the parade was Kinky Boots, a musical that is about a struggling shoe factory in England. Basically the shoe factory is saved by making shoes and boots for drag queens. The musical is colorful, loud, camp as knickers, and involves a fashion show, lots of drag queens, ordinary people, factory workers, singing and dancing (it’s a musical after all). It’s about people coming together to save the day, having a good time, and falling in love despite the odds. Classic stuff…. in big heels, wigs, and it’s all very visual.
The show has been a really big hit. With music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauder, it swept through the Tony Awards winning a handful of awards against the odds and has done very well for itself on Broadway. It’s based on a film from a few years ago that was quite successful and it’s relevant to a lot of people; straight, gay, black, brown, white, democrat, republican, labour, conservative, etc. So guess what? The parade organizers included it. After all, if the parade is about reflecting the visual culture of our times, which a quick trip through the history pages will prove that it is, including it isn’t really that much of a shock. Here you can see a link to he clip from the parade where it was included.
Well, surprise, surprise, it is now the centre of a row, along with the SeaWorld float which has attracted a ton of bad press too. Drag Queens and SeaWorld; who knew that those two things together would be such a volatile mix? An article on the website New Civil Rights Movement caught my eye first about it. I’ll be honest, I don’t normally follow much on that site, as I don’t appreciate the standard of journalism there. It’s not very balanced generally and participates in more than its far share of dog-whistle politics. But what did catch my eye was the fact that it had been trawling Twitter for people posting comments about Kinky Boots being included in the parade.
Here’s the link to the article for you to check out some of the tweets. I’ve been and checked out most of the accounts/tweets to verify them and it wasn’t a very pleasant experience either. There is a lot hate and unhappiness out there at Kinky Boots being included. Some are just silly too. One that caught my eye particularly was from “LilMissRightie” with her comment that “Liberals ruin EVERYTHING”. This seemed almost like a twitter tantrum. I felt like I could hear her stamping her feet on the floor as she wrote it. The tweets go on, and on, about how awful it is that people are going to have to explain to their kids what drag queens are, and that parents don’t need “their kids to see tranny in thigh high boots. Ridiculous”. Someone even timed how much coverage Duck Dynasty got compared to Kinky Boots and was complaining about that it seems. Maybe it was because the drag queens were better dancers?
Although I’d love to go into a debate here about the issues that these people have here (believe me, I would) I’ll stick to the point of the blog which is visual culture and politics. Like it or not, as I have talked about before, LGBTQ issues are part of the fabric of our culture. It also doesn’t get a lot more visual than drag queens really. Add in something like the Macy’s parade and television and it all comes together in the perfect visual politics cocktail. It’s an example of how much visual culture has evolved that we can firstly have this show on Broadway and secondly that it is now included in a televised parade. Considering that that other famous New York parade is still banning LGBTQ folk from marching, this is a big deal.
Visual Culture belongs to everyone. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like it. It’s culture. Remember the last time in history when one culture tried to get rid of another one? I don’t see a rash of drag queens complaining about Duck Dynasty being in the same parade as them, now. Maybe that’s because they see the bigger picture. Or maybe they just don’t have time to get their wigs in a knot about it all. People will always complain about this sort of thing as it is form of artistic expression. But that doesn’t make it any less rational or silly, does it? On a personal note I’m glad to see these mediums becoming more inclusive. As for the kids, I’ll call out one of the tweets where a parent said that her five yr old son loved it and said the biker in heels was his fav.”. The mother used a great hash tag for her post. It was #raisingtolerantkids. I think that says it all really. Visual culture for everyone!