Sunday, June 26, 2011

Critical Notice: RuPaul, Workin' It

The full title of this work is Workin' It: RuPaul's Guide to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Style.  I bought it after hearing RuPaul as the celebrity guest on Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me!

I didn't know much about RuPaul, but I found his philosophy of life very appealing (his? hers? from what I understand, they're equally appropriate).  Basically, that philosophy combines a kind of insistence on living in the moment -- not as "mindfulness" but more as "fabulousness" -- together with a healthy dose of "also, don't be an asshole."

Not everyone appreciates the important distinction between being "sassy" and being "bitchy," but RuPaul puts it front and center, explaining in Chapter One of the book how, early in his career, he had to rewrite the whole script for the VH1 fashion awards in 1996 because the writers thought a drag queen had to be bitchy and mean.  I'm committed to anti-meanness, so I'm all over this.  I also liked the way, on the show, he talked about the politics of drag, and how he got into performing that way as a transgressive political act, which I thought was sophisticated and smart. 

So I bought the book, thinking it might have some real life advice for me on living fabulously.

Results:  overall, a little mixed, but definitely some great and intersesting moments:

Most Mom-Like Advice

Be punctual! When you're late you're disrespectful of others and disrespectful of yourself.  Also, stand up straight and don't smoke!

Most Surprising Intimate Moment 

This would be the description of RuPaul's first colonic irrigation.  OK, I wasn't surprised a discussion of this weird trend appeared in the book, because there's lots of "health" advice of the kind you typically get from celebrities, and who knows why, but celebrity health is all about removing everything from your intestines in whatever way possible.  

What surprised me was that in the middle of a description you would almost call "family friendly" in its blandness, we get the following:  "She then instructed me to insert the tip of the hose into my rectum.  Well, I'm no stranger to ass insertion.  'Just the tip?' I asked." 

It's pretty much the only reference to sex in the whole book, which makes it awesome.  You go, RuPaul.

Most Actually Useful Advice

The most actually useful thing in the book is the reminder that you can't be fabulous without being healthy, and health is often boring.  OK, she doesn't put it like that, but it's the same idea.  Go to bed early, get plenty of sleep, eat right, and don't drink too much.  Only then will you have the basic materials you need to put on a pair of huge false tits and two huge wigs (yes! two!) and get through the day.  Or do whatever other difficult thing you need to do in life.

Also useful is the emphasis on effort that is worth it.  If you love beauty, it's worth it to work at making yourself and your surroundings beautiful.  It may be kind of a pain, but most good things are kind of a pain. 

This view of things is, I think, important in its contrast to the "harmony" view of life, in which all the good things are sort of similar and fit together.  I've never bought that.  Some things are bad, but you do them because the outcome is so good.  That is not mysterious, so I don't know why it's so often denied.

Anyway, if things are a pain, you can count yourself lucky that, unlike RuPaul, you don't have to get up at 4am, wear super-giant false eyelashes all day, and get regular colonics.

Also, stand up straight and don't smoke!

Most Depressing Detail for Femininity and Feminism

I was distressed to learn that RuPaul never eats in public when she is in drag.  Not distressed because of anything this says about RuPaul, but distressed to think that femininity involves ideals that are actually incompatible with basic activities needed for survival.  This is shocking, but I think it is true.

Traditional ideals of femininity and feminine beauty involve a certain kind of delicacy that's impossible to combine with anything that verges on being a little gross.  Indeed, RuPaul says part of the problem is if you're trying to talk and eat at the same time, it's kind of disgusting.  Just so.  And it seems to me that somehow it's OK for masculinity to be a little disgusting -- indeed, if current movies are any guide it is part of masculinity to be a little disgusting.  But not for femininity. 

Now that women live in the world, this is a problem.

I don't know what the answer is.  I'm not ready to give up on femininity altogether.  I take it the very existence of drag shows femininity has interest and appeal beyond functioning to harass women who want to do things and eat in public. 

So maybe a combination of changing ideals and more workable compromises.   Certainly we can say that with respect to changing ideals, having someone in the public eye who is six foot four and buff and wearing a dress can only help. 

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