Not always about us…?

It had to happen. As night follows day, wherever there is tragedy, there is also, eventually, some comedy, however macabre.

And when the focus of the tragedy is the mad Colonel himself, a man given to waving an umbrella at adversity and creeping around his own capital city incognito at night, the hunt for Ghaddafi looks like it is going to produce as much irreverent humour as the former no. 1 public-enemy-in-hiding, Osama Bin Laden. Unless they catch him soon, of course.

Sometimes, though, that humour raises eyebrows. Is it right to take a potshot at a baddy by invoking stereotypes used to bash other groups with?

Thus, this morning, a blogger, whom i mostly respect a great deal for his wit and insight, referenced the Telegraph report of some of Ghaddafi’s family slipping over the border to Algeria with the comment: “The woman in the centre of this photo is said to be Mrs Gaddafi. But is it the colonel in disguise?”

Yep. I see where he’s coming from. There is a certain pantomime dragginess to Mrs G: but is it a good idea to mention it? Since there seems to be no likelihood whatsoever that this IS the Colonel, isn’t that comment just code for “ain’t she ugly?”?

And therefore basically misogynist?

In this instance, the blogger has not been so gross as to bring trans-ness into the equation. But how long before the likes of Richard Littlejohn spot the chance to have a gentle dig at two of the favourite targets of his spleen in one fell swoop? Can it be long before a comedian or columnist steps up to the plate and graces us with the observation that Ms Ghadaffi looks like a “bad tranny”, or some similar charming description.

At which point we will most certainly have cause to be pissed off.

But have we yet? Is any reference to cross-dressing in a non-serious way something we have reason to be cross about? Or do we, should we recognise that, along with panto dames, the spectacle of great men being forced into female clothing is quintessentially funny.

Now, let me stop you there: i’m well aware that there’s an enormous amount of analysis that can go behind that last sentence. For starters: the fact that feminisation is either the topic, frequently, of sexual fantasy or comedy; whilst masculinisation, apart from creating occasional shivers of outrage from the Daily Express reading sections of the public, is seen very differently.

So yes: there are whole PhD’s to be written about that simple question. But this is a cheap and cheerful start-the-week blog, and i leave the academic musings to the academics!

As far as i recall, the first time i encountered this concept (of the great and the good cross-dressing) was with the story of Roman politician Publius Clodius crashing an all-women festival in drag (and fleeing in same when he was outed).

Latterly, i quite enjoyed the line – and image – in Genesis’ “Supper’s Ready” album which referenced “Winston Churchill dressed in drag”. Yes. I like that.

Which brings me back to the start. Is the idea of Ghaddafi in drag itself funny? Is it something we can or should be laughing at because, quite simply, there are times when the humour is not poked at us…women or the trans community…but at the primary object of derision.

Or is this slippery slope? The road back to Walliams and a dangerous continuation of populist myths about transgender?

Don’t ask me: i haven’t a clue. But i hoped one or two of you might.

jane
xx

13 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    M said,

    Will try to come back later but my quick reaction is to ask whether mocking “drag” is the same as mocking trans people; I’m just thinking that drag in the panto-dame or Priscilla QoD sense is kind of a mockery anyway… feminisation in a sense, but also in a sort of OTT grotesque way rather than in a “bad tranny” way. However I can also see that whatever the justification it may still boil down to underlying negativity and unpleasantness about trans people. Not sure.

  2. 2

    There are two different ways drag like this can be approached.

    One uses it to ridicule women (and, in passing, anyone else who is assumed to be comfortable with being feminine).

    The other says, yes, women have lower status than men; how would a man like to be seen that way? When a powerful man is reduced in his status, the joke is on him, not on women; if anything, it is a species of revenge for them.

  3. 3

    Lawrence said,

    I don’t think it is just about poking fun at women or the trans community. If men are laughed at for dressing as a women, it is a sign that men’s sexualities and gender identities are still restricted and policed, as well as those of others.

    To me, this doesn’t seem like a men’s problem or a woman’s problem or a trans problem, but a problem in the way we approach all sexualities which cannot be consigned to relatively narrow gender norms.

    • 4

      That’s a very good point. I was actually thinking about this when I saw the new ‘Conan’ movie. There’s no drag there, but the genre is interesting in that it’s one of the few contexts in which male bodies are presented as sensual without an immediate assumption that homosexuality is involved (though of course there are strong homoerotic undertones). Men who want to celebrate their bodies, whether through working out or through adornment, are treated with deep suspicion, much like women who lack interest in such things.

      • 5

        Lawrence said,

        Yes and no, the action genera was one of the first places where male bodies were first presented as such without the immediate assumption of homosexuality (though always with a wink and a nudge, no matter how hard they tried to hide it). it’s practically everywhere now though. I point you to the work Mark Simpson and the blogger quiet riot girl for some great insights (if you haven’t seen already).

        This greater tolerance for men who explore their more ‘feminine’ side – taking pride in there bodies and appearance – does not seem to have been extended (IMO) to men (or women) who seek to actively take on the iconography of the other sex. I think that is quite interesting.

  4. 6

    sophia said,

    I’ve heard before now from a couple of sources that actually he was known to go around Tripoli in drag, and at least one speculation that that was how he was evading capture.

  5. 7

    Jane B. said,

    I love that you ask this question Jane, I was wondering pretty much the same thing when I came across this deleted scene from the film “X-men First class”:

    http://insidemovies.ew.com/2011/08/23/x-men-first-class-deleted-scene/

    Like you , I have no idea , but its interesting…
    😉

  6. 8

    Carka said,

    I think you mean The Eel’s album Beautiful Freak? It’s the song “Not ready yet” with that line.

  7. 9

    Carka said,

    Fnarg, the Eels song “Your Lucky Day in Hell”. Huh, and the Internet says it appears in both songs. How bizarre.

  8. 10

    http://www.marksimpson.com/

    http://quietgirlriot.wordpress.com/

    thanks Lawrence for the mention here is mine and Mark Simpson’s blogs which do tend to interrogate gender and sexuality in unconventional ways.

  9. 11

    I think Gadaffi himself looks quite feminine in his features. And his dress.

  10. 12

    kerri ( Australia) said,

    totally agree with you lawrence, our icon in Australia is Dame Edna who has been dressing in drag for yrs and everybody loves her, in fact she has such endearing qualities, she refers to everybody as Possum, been around for yrs and probably indirectly has done a lot for the trans community in that she has made people feel totally comfortable , my kids love her, they know its a man , but dont care , she is everybodies
    aunty,,as for Gadaffi, i actually agree he does look feminine in his features…:),

  11. 13

    Evelyne said,

    I think the fact that Gadaffi went about at night in drag is neither here nor there – he probably did it to be incognito, though I don’t care about his reasons anyway. But the newspaper’s comment about his wife was a gratuitous insult to her and to him, not a reference to transgendered people at all. That’s my opinion. I think it is disgraceful in any event.
    cheers
    Evelyne


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