In this assignment, intertextuality will be employed to analyse drag performance and culture. Intertextuality was first introduced by the French semiotician Julia Kristeva in the late sixties, and describes how texts can be understood with references to other texts- often associated primarily with poststructuralist theories. Kristeva referred to texts in terms of two axes: a horizontal axis connecting the author and reader of a text, and a vertical axis, which connects the text to other texts (Kristeva, 1980). Uniting these two axes are shared codes: every text is dependent on prior codes. The continuous interplay between these texts and codes defines the cultural context in which meaning is communicated.
Looking at an image of a drag queen, one will often understand the concept of drag, for numerous reasons. Connotatively, drag may be performed in an LGBT-friendly location, alluding to the concept of men performing as women for entertainment within a cultural context. Denotatively, a drag performance can be identified due to masculine bodily features that are present beyond the feminine wigs, makeup and clothing. Individuals understand drag because of the cultural context in which it sits. Drag can be traced as far back as Shakespearian times, during which females were not allowed to participate in the theatre, and therefore, men would play both male and female roles on stage. Nowadays, drag features heavily in entertainment, both on stage and on television, with entertainers proving popular with audiences, particularly here in the UK. The presence of drag, therefore, in the media and from the past builds a cultural frame in which drag queens are understood.
What exactly is drag?
Drag is the art of performing as the opposite sex for entertainment purposes, incorporating performers from a multitude of backgrounds. Barrett (1998) states that often drag queens are not trying to hide their sex, but are playing upon the irony of gender bending for the purposes of entertainment. Furthermore, Barrett argues that drag performers do not reflect the natural speech or appearance of the women they are attempting to portray, instead, the drag performers build on the prevailing stereotypes and highlight, comment on or challenge pre-existing ideologies.
Drag plays upon the taboos associated with sexuality as discussed by Foucault and Butler. In ‘The History of Sexuality’, Foucault’s repressive hypothesis states that any discussion of sexuality was repressed in the late 17th, 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, with sexuality of the future being free and uninhibited (Foucault, 1978). The art of drag takes this repression and turns it on its head, proactively constructing new identities, varying from convincing female lookalikes, to crude caricatures, pulling gender further from the binary definitions of male and female. This can be both shocking and funny for audiences. The shock could be because a man may either be convincingly portraying a woman or because of an outlandish performance. Humour can also stem from the connotations associated with cross dressing; i.e. the feminine clothes not fitting properly, makeup done poorly or wig falling off. By weaving together both the intertextual approach with Foucault’s ideas, drag pushes boundaries by ignoring repressive attitudes towards sexuality and doing so in an extreme manner, whilst a man dressed as a woman is humorous because of the clothes he is wearing, it is also funny because it is taboo and was previously taboo. ‘Drag is a double inversion that says appearance is an illusion. On the one hand drag says ‘my outside appearance is feminine but my essence on the inside, or the body, is masculine. But at the same time it also symbolises the opposite inversion: my appearance on the outside, my body, my gender, is masculine, but my essence on the inside is feminine’ (Newton 1972, pg103).
Newton’s description of drag closely interlinks with Butler’s...
References: Barrett, R. 1998, "Markedness and styleswitching in performances by African American drag queens", Codes and consequences: Choosing linguistic varieties, pp. 139-161.
Butler, J. 1999, Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity, Routledge, New York.
Foucault, M. 1978, "The History of Sexuality, vol. 1, An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley", New York: Pantheon.
Kristeva, J. 1980, Desire in language: A semiotic approach to literature and art, Columbia University Press.
Mann, S.L. 2011, "Drag Queens ' Use of Language and the Performance of Blurred Gendered and Racial Identities", Journal of homosexuality, vol. 58, no. 6-7, pp. 793-811.
Newton, E. 1972, Mother Camp: Female impersonators in America, University of Chicago Press.
Schewe, E. 2009, "Serious Play: Drag, Transgender, and the Relationship between Performance and Identity in the Life Writing of RuPaul and Kate Bornstein", Biography, vol. 32, no. 4, pp. 670-695.
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