PRINT May 1993


Hilton Als

RUPAUL, THE UBIQUITOUS STAR of “Supermodel (You Better Work)” and author of such statements as “When I went to Japan and saw Mt. Fuji and saw that it was love, I said to myself, ‘Ru, you are Mt. Fuji,’” was, at one point, the ubiquitous leading lady of such films as Terror, in which she played an undercover blaxploitation detective named StarBooty. As StarBooty, Ru said things like “Don’t let your mouth write checks your ass can’t cash” and promised a series of autobiographies, one titled New York Is a Big Fat Greasy Ho.

Now that RuPaul, doyenne of Lower East Side performance/drag society, has crossed over to Joan Rivers, been profiled in The New Yorker by Guy Trebay, and has a new record slated for release, the ho, apparently, is on the other mule, which is exactly how I feel about the 1993 Biennial Exhibition at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art. Or to restate, more or less: you can take the ho uptown, put a wig of a different color on her, but she will still be fat and greasy.

Which is not a condition I mind for myself, at least the greasy part, but I do not make any claims to serious art in this or any other piece of mine while essentially building a narrative that barely camouflages a self which discriminates, in the smallest ways possible, against other selves as the result of their presumed discrimination (read lack of interest) where I am concerned. (Somewhere in the foregoing the proverbial pot calling the kettle black could make an appearance, but I am not sure of how just now.)

Nor do I look to museums, the cinema, books, or any other cultural apparatus for a discourse of disenfranchisement that speaks for me. This attitude is a reaction to the presumptive stance of semiesthetic thugs unmindful of what is in my head or anyone else’s, unmindful, even, of what is in their own apart from agenda (based on themes such as “otherness,” disenfranchisement, or “Why not more for me?”).

The above mind belongs to a collective body (not as pretty as RuPaul’s). This body—let us call her the collective ho—mewls and craps at the altar of More. When the ho is before this altar, she screams not Look at what your society has created in me. Beneath her wig she screams, I want more of what I am presumably not getting. This is the nexus of most contemporary political art. It is also what creates, in me, a blanking-out in the nonface, nonmind of it.

That ho, mewling and crapping, her wig in tatters, nevertheless manages to turn the trick those institutions want her to turn, fat and greasy not withstanding. Bug-eyed, big-lipped, mean-spirited, and small, she screams for an art that addresses “her” concerns absolutely while incapable of making this art for herself. She exists in the grid of what the institution will most certainly want, what one can read, like a billboard, as her pain, as opposed to something growing out of a life. This is a career, less a quest, as she’s got to get paid. I’ve never cruised her.

The fact that this ho-down occurs in New York once or twice every 35 years (remember the Harlem Renaissance?) is amusing to consider, but just for a moment; what will happen when that ho’s needs are met? Will she be replaced by another of a different hue and wig? Look at the Whitney Biennial in much the same manner RuPaul should be looked at: a novelty act worth a couple of laughs, if you can find them. Or to paraphrase Dorothy Parker, “You can lead a ho to culture but you can’t make her think.”

Hilton Als