The minute anybody started paying attention to Sharon “The Fucking Future of Drag” Needles, girlfriend was in some hot water. It turned out she occasionally liked to perform wearing blackface and swastikas, brag on Facebook/Twitter about how she’s sooooo edgy, she “[doesn't] say n-word..i say nigger…” and associate her employers and all their countrymen with mass murder.
After a near-perfect run on drag race (having only fallen into the bottom two when it didn’t matter, as Willam was disqualified that episode anyway), Needles was finally told to sashay away this May the instant her spiked heel hit the airport runway in Vienna, Austria. Needles was booked to perform at the Life Ball, a schmancy international AIDS fundraiser (we’re assuming there was no distasteful punning with her name intended). Upon arrival, Needles, apparently drunk but probably in total control of her image and artistry as she is at all times because she’s obviously a genius, proclaimed she was happy to be in Vienna, the birthplace of Hitler.
That carefully planned performance piece must have gone over my head, because I thought Hitler was born in Braunau am Inn.
According to other passengers on the flight, Needles also told this joke: “Did you hear the one about the baby with AIDS? It never gets old.”
I was disturbed to hear all this. I’d liked her on RuPaul’s Drag Race. She’d been so witty, endearing and freaky. I thought, surely if I look into these seemingly racist statements and see what Sharon has to say for herself, I’ll find she was taken out of context, that it’s all part of some greater artistic gesture I hadn’t fully seen yet.
So I read this response to the Vienna incident:
“I will always use off-putting humor in my work. What Life Ball did was try to censor me from the media, cut me out of the show, and make it seem like I wasn’t there, which is media manipulation and creating propaganda.
The only regret I have is not being able to perform in front of my Austrian fans, which are some of the best in the world. Let’s face it, Sharon Needles is more suited at a Death Ball.
After speaking to several Austrian locals, young and old, gay and straight, I realized there was nothing done wrong on my part—Life Ball was just trying to protect their sponsors. I was raised on such great transgressive artists as Divine, Lady Bunny, Shirley Q. Liquor, and the queen herself RuPaul, who taught me that boundaries have to be pushed, and history should not be forgotten.”
Um, ok. She’s comparing herself to some pretty influential acts there. The names Needles drops were using crude sex and bathroom humour at a time when the conservatism of Reagan and Thatcher was shaping society. But…go on.
Sharon Needles not only fails to justify her actions intelligently, but fall back on all the same cheap, ignorant, facile, half-baked defenses as everyone else who’s in denial about the racist things they do.
Sharon Needles has no entitlement to be a race provocateur; no evident knowledge of the impact she’s having; and displays no interest in considering it when practically begged by media or distressed audience members (this article pretty much includes all she’s said on the matter). I’m not writing a hit piece here, but if Needles is going to keep claiming she’s a brilliant artist, then it’s fair to critique her as an example of what’s wrong with hiding behind bad, lazy art as an excuse to both express and deny ignorance.
I’m an artist. I hold a mirror up to society.
Oh, right. Obviously I don’t get it. I’m a prude and a philistine and a bourgeoisie and too stupid for that high brow stuff about n-words and AIDS babies. I said what you did was offensive because you’re keeping it way too real for me.
When Sharon defends herself by crying censorship, she makes it clear she has not a single sweet clue when racial commentary works in art, and when it doesn’t. Or, for that matter, who gets to be a social commentator in the first place (hint: not drag queens). It doesn’t seem to have even occurred to her to attempt to hide the racism under a veil of satire. If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it is probably a racist-ass drag queen.
I can’t say it better than Lindy West:
People in positions of power simply cannot make jokes at the expense of the powerless. That’s why, at a company party, you never have a roast where the CEO is roasting the janitor (“Isn’t it funny how Steve can barely feed his family? This guy knows what I’m talking about!” [points to other janitor]). Because that would be GROSS, and both janitors would have to work late to clean up everyone’s barf.
The library is closed.
I don’t care what you think. If you don’t like it, don’t come to my show.
Yeah, no, I totally won’t, we’re on the same page about that. But I can’t unsee the shit I already saw. So the fact that you so easily dismiss the audience’s feelings proves you’re a lot more concerned about the cheap reaction you’re getting than trying to foster intellectual dialogue.
I’m not afraid of language/I’m not PC because it’s lame for some reason/racism is over.
Call the waaaaaaahmbulance. This response is a method of self-victimization. It’s an attempt to position oneself as a rebel against the evils of a “political correctness” straw man. It implies the user is anti-establishment, so advanced beyond the time when racism was relevant that they don’t even think about it before opening their mouths because they’re so 3008 like that. But you better be sure nobody else thinks about it, either. From where I’m standing, that swastika looks ignorant.
Ever notice how the only people who seem to be constantly decrying some supposed oppressive climate of political correctness also seem to always be loudmouthed douchebags who get in trouble a lot? Free speech still has consequences.
Plus, when you say some racist shit, you actually just sound like a hillbilly’s grandparents. That’s not punk rock.
I’m not racist because I don’t want to hurt anyone.
Then you seriously need to address the disconnect between what you want and what you’re doing. I suggest you start by not throwing up crappy defenses when someone wants to talk about it and acknowledging that maybe you need to hear where they’re coming from. Then actually change your behaviour.
I assume the tribe of tranimals and genderfuck performers Sharon Needles apparently runs around with in PARTY CITY feel their queerness needs to also be transgressive, and I’m sure some of them are expressing things they’re actually informed about. Wherever Needles got her crass inspirations, it was probably clever when it was original. But I get the impression Ms. Needles saw other people being provocative, was impressed by the reaction it got, and decided she wanted some attention too. The fact that she finds racist language and imagery the easiest outlet for that is telling of her true ability as an artist. Sorry, hunty. But your rich, white ass can’t pretend to be an outsider while making so-called art that enforces the outsiderness actual people of colour feel all the time.
P.S. In anticipation of commenters finding out I’m white and acting like it precludes me from making points about how other race groups feel: a) it doesn’t, b) I’m not, I’m saying white people can’t understand those feelings and generally need to leave racial commentary the hell alone unless they can make it poignant, funny, and/or generally elevate it beyond shock value.
Submitted By: Derek Bedry
Derek Bedry is a Vancouver writer and journalist. Tweet praise and flames @dbedry.
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