Saturday, November 24, 2007

What can I say...

I'm curious to have a discussion about this, so I figured I'd post this and get some of your reactions.

Andre J is on the cover of French Vogue with model Carolyn Murphy. Of course, there is a flurry of discussion about this. As you read this, I am doing a little more internet research on Andre J. I have seen his picture for months, but I don't really have a clear idea of what he's about yet.
Perhaps some of you know more about him and can leave some comments.

Of course, there is the obvious, the 'problem' of black-man-in-drag has been on my mind since I was in graduate school. I'm sleepy now, but the earliest example that comes to my mind is Flip Wilson as Geraldine all the way to Jamie Foxx and Martin Lawrence, and the embarrassment of Eddie Murphy. I've always been deeply offended by these 'characterizations.' Not because I can't take a joke, but because I find something deeply problematic about black male performers mocking black women to get laughs. I find it grotesque and vicious. It is the literal emasculation of black male comedians by way of a misogynist assault on black women. Dave Chappelle offered a blistering critique of Hollywood's fascination with this type of spectacle when he appeared on the Actor's Studio. He refuses, he says to 'put on the dress.' Chappelle describes this critical moment when black male comedians are goaded to clown in drag and how he absolutely refused to participate. I love Dave Chappelle. Anyhow, to me it's like a reformulation of blackface.

But on the other hand, there is a very subversive tradition of black gay men in drag that is NOT about misogyny, but about subversion. RuPaul's MAC campaign, the Paris is Burning documentary exploring ball culture in the late 80s...that is undeniably about fascination and exaltation and exploration of black female representation. With absolutely no misogyny against black women. These acts are about aspiration and celebration. Black female representation--and to a lesser extent black women themselves--represents a challenge to the restrictions imposed by society based on class, race, sex, and gender. It is an upset where black female representation instead of occupying a role of degradation, is set up as subversive and superior. The ultimate reversal.

Andre J is not aspiring to 'realness' like the kids in Paris is Burning. He is obviously a man in a wig and a dress. He wears a beard. And while he summons some of the 'fabulousness' of RuPaul, he is not 'performing' or in character. RuPaul often appears and acts in roles out of drag--so "RuPaul" has become a character that he assumes.

No, it's not Andre J that bugs me. It is trying to figure out what cultural work Vogue is trying to put his image to that bugs me. Is it similar to that of the comedian in drag or is it something else? And is Andre J controlling his representation or being taken up into something different than his own intent? And what does it mean that Andre J is positioned next to a white woman on a magazine franchise that is legendarily stingy about using black WOMEN models? And what does it mean that a black man is editor in chief of American Vogue at the same moment? Hmm.


Bygbaby said...

wow, you really jumped on this topic! I am sick of men in drag but I love me some Madea!

honestly, I do not know why America in general is so fascinated by men in drag.

I have been seeing images of Andre J allover the net & he is working his thing good, bad & ugly.

Perhaps he is Andre Leon Tally's lovah! We all know he is usually partially in drag anyway.


muslimahlocs said...

hmmm...i see that you have dragged me out of my insulated world once again to share a dose of what's going on "out there". i had never heard of andre j until reading your post and since i do not plan to do any further "research" this is it.
i agree with you wholeheartedly @ the black men in drag issue. i left a similar comment on andrea's blog @ my disdain for characters like madea (have not seen any of the movies), et al. the worst was proabaly some movie years ago with wesley snipes in drag. and why do the black women that they are insulting always have to be loud-mouthed, unsolicited advice giving know-it-alls. i guess that's what they think of us, or worse what we think of ourselves.

Meikmeika said...

This is an interesting one... I've always wondered why black men have been so easily introduced to drag on television, regardless if it's comedy or not. Take Wesley Snipes, he was one of the manliest men on television, and next thing I knew he was dressed in drag in that Too Wong Foo Movie...WTF? It's amusing and degrading at the same time.

Heather said...

I thought this article might help us understand Mr. J (or do we say Miss J.)?

Naturally Sophia said...

Wow Renea! I intended to post a similar post on this one as it disturbed me because so many gorgeous, competent Black models have nevr graced the cover of French Vogue. I don't think i could have written a better post myself. Good work. I may reference your post in a spin-off topic.

Lola Gets said...

I had no idea who Miss J was til I read this post (is this the same dude whos on Americas Next Top Model? It doesnt look like it to me). I have two minds when it comes to men dressing as women. Some can do it, like RuPaul and other drag performers, and transgenders as well, and I dont have a problem. But when we see Madea and others of that ilk, I start having issues with it, because it seems like the public likes these characters more than actual women themselves.

Or perhaps Im just paranoid, lol.


blackrussian said...

Yeah...WOW! I haven't known what to say or think about Andre J either.

I also enjoyed that interview with Dave Chappelle. Interesting post and comments.