I am often reminded that we live in a world with almost unlimited access to information, so it saddens me when people continue to reference things without knowing their historical context (good or bad). Maybe this is the persistent child within me that always asks why or how; I am constantly googling terms or ideas to learn more about their historiography or etymology. Yes, I get my rocks off on knowledge. So when a friend suggested we re-watch Paris is Burning, I jumped at the chance. It had been years since I had seen it and wondered how my older self would read the film.
The 1990s is often seen as a cultural wasteland, but just as Hedi Slimane (for Saint Laurent) has proven, there is much to be inspired by about the 1990s. And Paris is Burning is ripe for re-appropriation (it always already has been). For much of us, the House of LaBeija and the House of Xtravanganza should be as important as the House of Dior. Confused? Watch Paris is Burning, you won’t soon regret it.
On the surface, it is a documentary film about the gay underground scene in New York that explores notions of gender, drag, performativity and sexuality. It won critical praise from critics but mixed reviews from scholars and academics. This blogpost won’t take a stand on which side is ‘right’ but I will say that this film inserted new discourses into mainstream society- most notably throwing shade, reading, and voguing.