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Discursive Identity Construction of Drag Queens on RuPaul’s Drag Race By Christopher Sean Perrello Syracuse University

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Presentation on theme: "Discursive Identity Construction of Drag Queens on RuPaul’s Drag Race By Christopher Sean Perrello Syracuse University"— Presentation transcript:

1 Discursive Identity Construction of Drag Queens on RuPaul’s Drag Race By Christopher Sean Perrello Syracuse University m/index.php/tag/rupaul s-drag-race/

2 Motivation “Language is a primary vehicle by which cultural ideologies circulate, it is a central site of social practice, and it is crucial means for producing sociocultural identities” (Bucholtz & Hall, 2004, p. 492). How does this idea apply to drag queen identities as performed on reality television?

3 Background Ochs (1992) Indexing Gender helps us better understand how identities are created – How drag queens use linguistic patterns to create social meanings, social acts and stances

4 Background (continued) Barrett (1999): African-American drag queens use 5 of 8 characteristics of Lakoff’s (1975) “Women’s Language” (WL) – Empty adjectives (fierce, fabulous, amazing) – Hypercorrect grammar – Use of tag questions – The use of hedges (well, y’know, kinda) – Intense use of “so”

5 Background (continued) Barrett also finds that AADQs deviate from the last three rules: – Super polite forms (women don’t use off-color expressions) – Women don’t tell jokes – Women speak in italics Barrett suggests that AADQ identities are “polyphonous” and are co-constructed

6 The Data RuPaul’s Drag Race – Competitive reality show hosted by RuPaul Charles – Competitions require fashion design, wig/make-up artistry, runway fashion show, and lip synching Methodology – Episode 1, season 2, “Gone with the Window” – Transcribed and analyzed the runway discourse in the episode (including private testimonials)

7 Findings Various linguistic devices are used to co-construct drag queen identities – Empty Adjectives – Crude/sexual humor – Verbal art – Person-referencing practices, including pronouns (by audience members) Drag queen identities are multi-layered (Barrett: “polyphonous” identities) – RuPaul: African American, gay man, drag queen, diva persona

8 Linguistic Devices Used to Co- construct Drag Queen Identities

9 Uses of Empty Adjectives By verbalizing empty adjectives, drag queens are using language to fill a room with flare and flamboyancy. Example: Jujubee 39 I feel great. 40Sickly. 41Gorgeous. 42I wasn’t going for pretty, I was going for…fierce.

10 Using Crude/Sexual Humor In order to create a connection with the audience, drag queens often use crude or off- color jokes. Example: RuPaul 21 There’s nothing dirty about this Sanchez. 36 I wonder what she uses that rod for?

11 Drag & Verbal Art Verbal art can be described as “discourse of which the primary function is poetic” (Johnstone, 2008, p.255). Examples: 24Raven:My runway walk is giving a little hip action. Flip of the hair, working it out…giving them sex! 34 Sonique: Southern belle…African, Playboy Mansion, all rolled into one.

12 Person-referencing Practices Example: RuPaul 5 RuPaul:Okay judges. For this week’s challenge, inspired by Miss Scarlet O’Hara-- 8The girls had to turn out a breathtaking drag look… Using just curtains and some used home furnishings. Are you ready to see what they created? Gentlemen, start your engines…and may the 12best…woman win. 67 RuPaul:There’s corn hanging from her hand! 105 RuPaul:Yes, Miss Stacy has a little bustle in her hustle.

13 Polyphonous Identity Barrett (1999) detailed the complex identities of African American Drag Queens (AADQs) “Polyphonous”: using speech to create a variety of multi-layered or “repertoire” of identities Example: RuPaul – Male – African American – Gay Male – Drag Queen

14 Example of Polyphonous Identity Construction 91 RuPaul:Yeah…grommets are fabulous. 92 Kathy:Yeah, me too. 93I don’t know what that is, but I agree. 94 RuPaul:((Mystique enters the runway)) AWWL- 95RIGHT! 96 Kathy:Okay. 97It’s not just an outfit, it’s a lifestyle. 98 RuPaul:Who needs a hybrid when you can have 99a basket on your head?

15 Falsetto & Diva Persona “The diva persona” is created when gay males use falsetto within their intonation levels to convey certain social situations and social meanings. Podesva (2007) argues “that the social and linguistic contexts in which a variable is uttered color its social meaning, enabling the variable to participate in the construction of more specific, identity-based meanings” (491).

16 Example: The Diva Persona L = Low Intonation H = High Intonation (falsetto) H 1 RuPaul:Okay judges. H L H H 2For this week’s challenge, inspired by Miss Scarlet O’Hara— H L 3The girls had to turn out a breathtaking drag look… L H H H H 4Using just curtains and some used home furnishings. L 5Are you ready to see what they created? L H L H H 6Gentlemen, start your engines…and may the best…woman win.

17 Conclusion Drag queen identities are created through linguistic features Drag queen identities are a co-construction between the queen and her audience Investigating the details of language lends insight into the complexity of drag queen identities


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