Political Editors / November 4, 2022

In Brief: A Drag Show or a Minstrel Show?

What’s the difference? Well, the victims are different, but not a whole lot else.

A lot of attention has been paid to the increasing phenomenon of drag shows, especially those involving children in the audience. As Larry O'Connor notes, however, America has an unfortunate history of similar shows that degrade the lampooned subjects, the previous example being minstrel shows.

The history of minstrel shows in America is a somewhat complicated one. People might be surprised to learn that the modern-day art form known as the American musical theater has its roots in 19th-century call-and-response minstrel productions.

And although very talented performers like Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor came to superstar fame utilizing the then-popular art form, putting on black makeup and using exaggerated dialects, expressions, and dance moves to emulate an African American performer is rightly now seen as offensive, demeaning and racist.

I don’t think it’s possible to argue this point.

This is why I am continuously dumbfounded by the lack of critical analysis of the now-ubiquitous performance art known as drag shows.

These shows, he notes, are “overtly sexual in nature or are replete with double entendres of the most adult nature,” while “performers are often costumed in a hypersexualized manner.” And yet they’re often marketed as “family-friendly.”

Even if a drag queen tones down his overtly sexual act and “behaves” when reading nursery rhymes to kindergartners, the entire enterprise is designed to normalize behavior that, up until now, has been confined to the gay subculture. …

But what shocks me about the reaction to drag shows being pushed into middle America’s town square is that women don’t object to being lampooned, mocked and stereotyped by these men.

In the same way that a blackfaced minstrel performer would lampoon and demean African Americans by over-exaggerating stereotypical speech patterns and behaviors, men who dress in over-the-top drag outfits are demeaning and mocking women.

How is this acceptable?

It shouldn’t be.

Indeed, O'Connor argues drag shows are worse because minstrel performers “never tried to convince the audience or society that they were actually black men.” That’s not really the case anymore, as men in drag often claim to be women.

The only reason this is even remotely acceptable, O'Connor argues, is “because of left-wing politics and ideology.” He concludes:

You see, on the hierarchical ladder of intersectionality, some victims are more important than others. With blackface minstrel shows, the victims being mocked and lampooned are African Americans, and their offense should be taken seriously and met with righteous outrage, especially since the perpetrators are successful white men… entertainers like Jimmy Kimmel.

With drag shows, the victims are straight women… usually white women, because the perpetrators are usually gay white men. Straight, white women, though sometimes afforded certain levels of victim status, garner nowhere near the level of intersectional protection as gay men or trans women, the perpetrators in the drag queen minstrel shows.

So, women can go pound sand. Nobody cares.

Hey… don’t complain… this is progressive.

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