Macy’s Parade and the Drag Queens: Visual Culture for All?

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.

Kinky_Boots_(musical_poster)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.Kinky-Boots-Macy_s-Thanksgiving-Day-Parade-2013-YouTube

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!

Big love,

DMx

Looking for Love: Homos on the Telly.

Homos on the telly.  I ask you, whatever next.  A black man in the white house perhaps.  But wait…..

In reading one of the many blogs on LGBTQ news out there I came across the details of a new television series that is premièring on HBO, a US premium television channel, in January 2014.  In checking out the trailers that have been released, the series seems to be a contemporary look at gay male life in San Francisco. It’s called “Looking” and is focused around dating.  Now I should caution you all here; I’ve only watched the trailer and seen a couple of comments on a blog.  But two things; it looks interesting and controversial as well.  To bring you all up to speed you can check out the trailer here.

I don’t have HBO so I’m not sure if I will get to see the whole show or not.  But the premise seems straight forward from what I can tell.  Ordinary gay people, in San Francisco, on TV.  The trailer features people looking for love, going to dinner, hanging out with friends, kissing, working, doing all the usual stuff that folks do.  But on telly.  Now I am sure that there is going to be more than the normal amount of drama on the show as well, simply because it is television.  After all, who wants watch boring TV?  A lot of people are trying to escape their lives through TV, not to find out that people on the box just plod on relentlessly too.  Dull TV is not the advertisers friends.  But I digress….

What’s worthy of note here are two points.  First, this is not a comedy or a seemingly a sex show (so far).  From the trailer it seems pretty ordinary.  Let’s think about some of the other shows that are out there at the moment that represent LGBTQ people.  Modern Family is the one that immediately springs to mind.  It’s fun, yes, but represents perhaps a niche and stylized aspect of LGBTQ life with the gay couple it represents.  Yes, it deals with some topical issues for sure, but it uses some largely stereotypical devices to do so.  Because it does so it is also pretty inoffensive.  When you use safe things like Mitch and Cam, the two characters in Modern Family (who I love, by the way) to demonstrate a point, it’s very comfortable for the audience.  It hardly pushes any boundaries of acceptability to show everyone’s favorite “gay uncle” kind of image does it, even if they are dealing with some topical issues.  It’s still slapstick.  Same goes for Will and Grace if you want to go back in time.  Now before I get any hate mail from folks, I’m totally supportive of these shows.  Their role in visual culture from an LGBTQ perspective is very important.  They have created dialogues that couldn’t have existed if they hadn’t.  But that doesn’t mean that they are without issue or problems.

Queer as Folk is another show that needs discussing while we are at it too.  But I need to check myself.  This isn’t a blog about LGBTQ rights.  So it’s important to remember that my comments are about the representation of LGBTQ folks in visual culture and politics, and in this case, TV shows.  Queer as Folk is an interesting example as there was a UK version and a US version.  The UK version ran for two seasons and the US for many more.  There were also about a million more episodes in the US version too.  The UK version was very gritty, suburban, and seemed to attempt a much more realistic portrayal of life.  The US version was quite a bit more airbrushed, glamorous, and had a lot more hair gel and make up.  There was not a lot in common between them and they also dealt with very different issues as a consequence, although both reflected aspects of the culture that they were based in.  One was in a working class town, while the other was in a gay neighborhood that was, by comparison, fairly well-to-do.  Visual Culture in action…. airbrushes, hairbrushes, and all in the US version.

Now, I haven’t seen anything other than the trailer for Looking yet.  There is also the caveat that this is, according to what I have read, a show about guys who are trying to date in San Francisco, so it could very well turn into a sex show.  The trailer does show someone wandering around in a bath towel after all so we will have to see how that goes.  But dating is a fact of life for folks and it’s a large part of gay culture.  Importantly, it’s also something that doesn’t really get talked about much in a serious way in many of the shows that feature gay characters.  Will and Grace covered it from a comedy/sanitized perspective, Modern Family doesn’t cover it at all, the US version of QAF did cover it, and that’s really it to my knowledge.  When LGBTQ people get dealt with on TV they are usually either safely coupled up already or the dating is done nicely, humorously, or it just sort of happens.  There hasn’t been a show that revolves AROUND it (at least not for the guys).  That’s quite a big thing and is another milestone in reflecting an aspect of LGBTQ culture in the visual realm that I don’t think I have seen before.  Dating involves kissing, body parts, relationships, and all the things that seem to scare the general public the most about gay people at the moment.  So to see such a big part of LGBTQ culture arriving on TV is a big thing.

So what of the second aspect that I mentioned?  It all seems very white according to the trailer.  I don’t think I really saw anyone who is non-white in a lead role.  That’s also something that a lot of people seem to be discussing online too.  If this show is about representing culture visually, then it should surely be representing all aspects of a culture.  Judging by the trailer they have so far failed and there are a lot of pissed off Asians, Blacks, and Latinos out there already.  That’s not a good start.  That’s the thing with a visual medium like the telly; when you miss things out, it’s really noticeable in a lot of ways.

So, will you watch it?  I’d love to but I don’t have HBO and chances are won’t subscribe to it just for this.  Maybe one of you can tell me what it is all about.  Otherwise I’ll have to wait for it to arrive on Netflix in about 10 years…..

Big love,

DMx

Sex Box: The Visual Culture of Hidden Sex.

This blog is proving to be interesting. The last post didn’t really contain an image to discuss (other than a cute one of me and my husband) but talked more about the issues around making or not making art a certain kind of art.  I was quite surprised as to how many people clicked the “like” button on the post on Facebook and who found it on WordPress.  This post also follows in a similar vein and also draws its inspiration from a news article that I found.

Here’s a link to the news article that was on Pink News, a web site in the UK that follows LGBTQ news issues in the UK. Basically we have here a show that invites people to have sex, in a box, on TV.  The people who have sex then get to talk about with others on the TV show including Mariella Frostrup from the Observer Newspaper, a panel of experts including relationship adviser Tracey Cox, sex columnist Dan Savage and the author Phillip Hodson.  Not for the faint of heart it seems.  It’s part of Channel Four in England’s “Real Sex” series and is all about reclaiming sex from pornography.  Here is a link to the Channel Four website about the show.  So why is this showing up in my visual culture and politics blog?  Well, there are a number of key points here to think about.article-2429812-1832D13100000578-567_634x417

It’s on television to start with so that makes it about images and video.  It’s about something we either do, want to do. think about doing, and is about something that shows up in other aspects of visual culture.  Sex is in adverts, in magazines, in films, books, and in music too,  So sex is very much about the visual culture of today in my mind.  One only has to think of the flap around Miley Cyrus a few weeks ago at the MTV awards to see that sex and the visual portrayal of it is something that gets people all hot and bothered, even if they dress it up as being about someone’s singing ability instead.

Returning to the TV program then. The part of the article that originally caught my eye was the fact that the show, naughtily called “Sex Box”, will feature three couples, one of which is a gay male couple.  This did surprise me,  We’ve only just got to the point where we can show same-sex couples having a kiss on TV, let alone discuss the fact that they might “do it”.  So this is quite a big step.  Not that anyone is going to see anything anyway.  When the couples enter the “Sex Box”, which is an opaque box in the studio, the TV cameras will be turned off for 20 minutes while the couples “have it off” as it were.  Then, when they exit the box, the cameras start-up again and they engage in a period of conversation with the panel and the TV audience.  Who knows what they will talk about.  For that I guess we will have to wait and see the show itself.  But the idea is that they will talk about the ins and outs of their sex lives (pardon the pun).

Now I am a liberal-minded chap and am into all sorts of telly, when I get time to watch it.  But I’m having a hard time understanding the value of having the box in the studio and then people actually having sex in the box during the recording of the show.  If the conversation was to be about the sex they JUST had, that would be one thing.  But it doesn’t seem to be the case.  The mission is about reclaiming sex from pornography, something that this seems to be skating very close toward.  It’s probably the closest any TV show has come to bringing actual real sex to the audience on a mainstream, free to air channel.  You don’t get to SEE it, but you can bet the tension of it will be in the air, either real or imagined, both in the studio and in the viewers homes.  That’s an interesting new twist on sex and visual imagery, don’t you think?  The ultimate in suggestion, perhaps.  Almost hidden sex.

Homoworld – The Return

So, Homoworld is back up and running for a bit.  That’s a surprise right?  It was for me too….

You’ll recall that I put the blog on hiatus at the end of 2012 when I finished my yearlong project of self portrait photography and writing about LGBTQ news issues.  The photography side of things fed my MFA thesis at the University of Kentucky (book incoming shortly…) and the writing and news aspect helped to thin out my friends list on Facebook somewhat.  It also helped win me some new friends and also prompted some wonderful comments from other friends and family, some of which were quite unexpected!

So why is this blog back?  Don’t I have enough to do?  Yes, is the answer to THAT question.  I’ve just started my final year back at school, this time in my second Masters degree program.  I completed my Master of Fine Arts (Photography) program in May (Huzzah!) and now I have one year left of my Master of Arts (Art History).  One of the classes I am taking this semester is the “Visual Culture of Politics” and it so happens that there is a blog project involved in the class.  What’s the blog project about?  Well, that’s going to be evolving over the semester but it will be basically discussing imagery in visual culture with a particular leaning toward politics.  There’s a surprise, eh?  Me and politics back together again.  So rather than start a brand new blog off it seemed appropriate to dust off Homoworld once more…this time with a different slant.

This time around then Homoworld won’t be dealing with my images.  It will still be dealing with politics but it will be dealing with politics in relation to images from other people and places.  That may be traditional photographs, film, video, magazines, web, etc.  Who knows?  I guess as the class unfolds and the assignments take shape the blog will unfold too.  It will be interesting to see where it leads this time.  One thing is for sure and that is that I’ll welcome your input as the blog develops, so feel free to chime in as before in the comments section.

So with that, onto the first assignment which was to provide a definition of what politics means to me and to provide an image that relates to that definition as well.  Well, the standard dictionary definition of politics refer to all the usual things like “The science or art of political government”, “The practice or profession of conducting political affairs”, or the “methods or maneuvers” in achieving a goal, etc.  I particularly liked the “use of intrigue or strategy in obtaining any position of power or control, especially in a business or FullImageuniversity”.  Those all came from dictionary.com by the way.

However, I prefer to use one of the definitions that comes from my trusted source (of course) the Oxford English Dictionary, which is “The assumptions or principles relating to or inherent in a sphere, theory, or activity, especially when concerned with power and status in a society: the politics of gender (or sexuality) [I added the bit about sexuality]”.  That ties in quite nicely with my main point of interest on sexuality and equality.  That also fits in with an area that I’d like to look at some more with regard to politics, imagery, and LGBTQ issues and news.  Of course the term politics can have many definitions and we can pick and choose the term that best fits the purpose that we are looking for but in this case, with regard to LGBTQ issues, I would say that this fits rather nicely, wouldn’t you?

So what of an image that I would consider to be political in this context which was the other part of this opening assignment?  I chose to include this rather cute picture of Lance Bass proposing to his fiancé that he posted on Instagram the other day.  What, I hear you cry?  This is hardly political, you say!  Oh but it is.  Sex is always politics, especially when it comes to dealing with Homos here in North America.  You certainly also don’t get much more political than being one part of a pop group aimed at a young heterosexual audience and then coming out as a big old queer and proposing to your boyfriend on Instagram.  That’s a big bold statement for power and status in a majorly politically and visual way.  So there is my definition and my first example of an image related to Visual Culture and Politics.  From NSYNC, I give you Lance Bass with no “Girlfriend” but a boyfriend via Instagram.  How modern is that?  Welcome to the culturally relevant social media world and “Bye, Bye, Bye” to the old way of doing it.  This image communicated all we needed to know and in a very political way too….

Cheers,

DavidM