Sunday, June 24, 2018
You Make Me Feel
We're living in an era now of sanctimonious meanness, where facts and figures get shaped into propaganda and then tweeted out like confetti thrown up into the air to celebrate the end of everything you counted on as being good and right and true. Every idea and person you thought of as foul and innately wrong is now out of the shadows and staring you right smack-dab in the face. All smiles, like Pennywise the Clown, except in dress-clothes, standing in the Oval Office while the Pennywise-in-Chief signs yet another executive order that yields yet another rabbit-hole that yields yet another moral and fiscal and ethical black-hole. It's a process.
Where do you go when the rabbit-hole calls?
I'm finding myself going to the TV. To a show called Pose, which is on FX Sundays 9 PM. It is an incredible thing to behold: a reenactment and gorgeous aggrandizement of a time, in the late 1980s, when disadvantaged, working-class people took control of whatever they could take control of, and found a way out of the black-hole of their era by creating a rainbow path to beauty, irony and cold-hard revenge through fashion and art and kindness to each other. Pose is about drag balls created and performed in crumbling theaters in NYC, where groups, or houses, of like-minded folks transform daily life into deluxe versions and revisions of what could and should be. Mostly comprised of African American and Hispanic gay and trans people, these houses become families, and these families become legends through competitions based on categories like Dynasty and executive realness, and at the end of each night beautiful and victorious drag-queens leave with wagons full of trophies.
It's all about hope. "Hope," of course is a complicated and sometimes even meaningless 4-letter word now, and it's losing, well, its hopefulness, even as I write. Pose concentrates on a parallel late-80s era of about-to-be-hopelessness, not only when drag culture was finding a way to nourish and grow itself into Rupaul-ian heights, but also when you-know-who was building those towers and opening those now defunct casinos. Like Athena sprouting from the head of Zeus, our Pennywise-in-Chief has sprouted from the spleen of Ronald Reagan, a gasbag god using Reagan-era bromides to finally cut to the chase, conservatism-wise: hate, pure and simple, without any of that twinkly-eyed "City on the Hill" bullshit. And Pose examines that stuff too, so that we can see a world in which the elite control the conversation and yet the powerless become the norm. That's where the hope comes in for me: witnessing all that glorious drag-queen effort in creating a world where everyone can feel free to roam and strut and pout and preen and know there is another place to get to, to flourish, beyond that goddamn black-hole.
All with a Ryan-Murphy eye on style and stylishness, reverberating with the disco evangelism of Diana Ross and Sylvester and the like. The look of the show is reality once or twice removed, with silky, sulky lighting and the icy loneliness of the streets dissolving into the purple heat and light of the balls. Pose is the thirtysomething for this era, a zeitgeisty, high-end, hour-long drama that transcends its pop status by embracing its characters and finding authenticity beyond its initial demography.
Jennie Livington's Paris Is Burning is the ur-text of course. She's even a consultant on Pose. But Murphy uses Paris Is Burning's cinema-verite as a jumping-off point into a dream-world and a reality that intermingle without losing the power of either one. The very first scene in the pilot lets us watch as the House of Abundance clan mops up historical costumes from the Metropolitan at closing time, and then after the caper wearing these items to a ball. It is the very essence of taking back the power, done with enough of a lighthearted sarcasm and love to make it all seem breezy and triumphant. That's Pose.
I love every character on this show and every moment and setting they inhabit. While there's quite a bit of melodrama, there's never camp, except in the climate-controlled environments created by the queens and their houses. It's a prime-time soap as church, as manifesto, as a form of transcendence and survival. Every character in Pose is necessary, vital and real. Especially now. I've never considered a TV show as such a necessity before. Watching it is becoming my way out of both rabbit- and black-holes. It is a retreat in the right direction.