Humans Are Great 9: Drag Queens: Super Heroes of the 21st Century

Seventy years ago, amidst a world tearing itself apart every way it knew how, we needed super heroes of granite – unmovable objects of pure virtue to anchor ourselves in the thick of our diminishing trust of ourselves.  Well, we weathered that storm, and many since, and have finally come back around to the conclusion that, basically, we’re an ok lot, humanity.  And our new conception of ourselves requires a new set of super heroes.  I humbly suggest the Drag Queen.

I am completely in earnest – watch an episode of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, and, somewhere in between the cat fighting and tucking, you’ll find something utterly new and entirely necessary for our road forward: plasticity.  As Catherine Malabou has pointed out in her philosophical works, this is the trait which will, more than anything, define success in the coming world – the ability to take on any role at any time, as opposed to the “I worked for this factory for 42 years” stick-to-itsmanship of the twentieth century.  We need to conceive of ourselves less as unalterable units etched in stone, and more as exquisitely fluid creatures of chameleonish identity.

The question, of course, is how to do that while still maintaining a core that is, essentially, yourself.  Just as our grandparents might have looked to Superman and Dick Tracy as stalwart exemplars to light their way in moments of doubt, so can we hoist up Pandora Boxx and Jinkx Monsoon as the heroes we look to when we need reassuring that we can change just about everything peripheral to us while still maintaining a fundamental core of self that is engaging and well-defined.

At the moment, the drag queen phenomena is riding high.  Drag Race is the flaship program of the Logo network, pulling in wonderfully high numbers, but phenomena have a way of dissipating in the cultural wind, and the lessons we can learn are too important to let that happen.  It would be easy to just allow distraction to dictate our next focal point of collective interest, leaving behind our fascination with drag queens as something “SO 2012″, but we stand to lose much if we allow ourselves that facile luxury.  These are brilliant, creative, emotionally aware individuals with a more solid conception of who they are than most of us are ever going to be likely to possess.  They are larger than life, and at the same time central to a notion of what everyday life might be.

They’re super heroes, if only we will let them be.

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