Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Column #1: Pop culture comes out of the closet

"Don't be jealous of my boogie / don't be jealous of my boogie/you can say that you are not/but I always see you looking," goes the chorus of the song most often sung in my house lately.

Introduced by RuPaul on her latest album, Champion, and on her screamadelic TV series, RuPaul's Drag Race, the song manages to be that rare club song that interrupts the steady stream of bearded folk, jagged post-punk or spicy salsa that resonates most strongly with me.

What distinguishes "Jealous of My Boogie" should be obvious from its very title — the knowing humor that indicates a personality at work, as opposed to the more generic "bangers" produced primarily to increase sales of Red Bull. It's the kind of dance music that Pee-Wee Herman might write.

It makes me feel fabulous that there is now a much wider variety of expression available to all of us. My misspent childhood was full of pop music made by gay folks who were too afraid to admit their truth (George Michael Stipe). Remember those are-they-or-aren't-they Teletubbies and Spongebob Squarepants scandals of last century? Prop 8 or not, we've come a long way.

It's rarely me singing "Jealous of My Boogie." It's usually my wife, altering the lyrics to indicate what our cats are doing, or how much she is enjoying her Snuggie. This is the same wife who has introduced me to some other pop culture that would be clearly identified by the average man on the street as having lots and lots of gayness going on.

I don't especially need her help. Some favorite recent records include those that are somewhat subtle — Grizzly Bear, Mirah — and those that are a bit more obvious — Antony and the Johnsons, The Gossip. (And where do we start with my love for Kelly Clarkson?)

It was I who suggested that we watch Beautiful People, a new series reminiscent of The Wonder Years had Kevin Arnold been an openly gay Spice Girls fan. Both series are broadcast on Logo, a cable channel established by people at MTV who felt that the home of The Hills and The Real World wasn't gay-friendly enough already.

The most recent movie I've seen was Bruno, although said wife declined to join me and my, uh, unmarried male friend at the screening. As much as we enjoyed the movie, what we enjoyed even more was watching a gang of college-aged jocks groaning, shouting and hiding their eyes at all the, uh, action on-screen.

That's not the sort of shock humor that entertains my wife. Where I enjoy, say, Chris Rock and Ricky Gervais, she prefers Chelsea Handler and Kathy Griffin. (Which one of us is from Mars? I forget.) In fact, it's due to her that I've traveled hundreds of miles to see not only Kathy Griffin, but also skinny-jeans-pop lesbian sisters Tegan & Sara in concert. (I doubt that I will ever get her to go see Slayer with me).

What makes RuPaul's Drag Race so highly enjoyable is how it exists on multiple levels. First, as a reality competition, full of fighting and melodrama; second, as a parody of that genre; third, as both simultaneously.

Where peers such as Project Runway or So You Think You Can Dance also function on those levels, what elevates Drag Race is the honest, messy and uncloseted way it shares its reality. (The next best, on a sheer camp level, is Animal Planet's Groomer Has It, the dog grooming competition hosted by a “Queer Eye” guy.) Unlike Bruno, its gayness exists as a simple matter of fact, while being as carefree as the other TV hit hosted by an African-American man who comes across, from an adult perspective, as being very gay: Yo! Gabba Gabba, the Nickelodeon favorite of preschoolers. Those kids don't know, or care, what DJ Lance does after he puts away his toys, but they'll figure it out when they're older.

c. 2009 Velocity Weekly

1 comment:

Erica Harbeson said...

Yo, Peter. I saw this article in the LEO (and spent a lot of time analyzing your Forecastle article with friends), and I spotted you kinda recently at The Monkey Wrench, so I've sought you out to tell you this: I truly hope that you are happy and doing well. :)