The Category Is...

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Warren
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The Category Is...

Post by Warren » 01 Jul 2019, 16:14

Pose the TV show on FX.
I thought I had just one or two points to make about this show, but it took me 1500+ words to make them.
So rather than drop this in Size of the Screen, I decided it best to start a new topic.

The tl;dr on the following post is: Pose is a show about late 20th century NYC ballroom culture based on a documentary. It's sexy. It's gritty. It's captivating. And I've got a bone to pick with it.
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Warren
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Re: The Category Is...

Post by Warren » 01 Jul 2019, 16:19

So Pose.
*SPOILER WARNING* The following contains minor spoilers and a more significant spoiler that is revealed early.

I was hooked on this one since the first episode. Not sure why exactly. Perhaps it's the novelty of sexuality and being sexy being so forward and being absolutely unaffected by it. Like I can watch these women, appreciate how attractive they are, and feel not the least desire for them. That's new to me. Maybe I'm digging this show about trannies because there's never been one before.

If you are watching Pose, you absolutely must watch the documentary Paris is Burning. Even if you've already seen Paris, you need to rewatch it because it's been a few years since last you've seen it. Paris unquestionably inspires Pose which apes the doc often, beginning with the NEW YORK 1987 open. There's a lot to be unearthed in mining the compare/contrast of the two.

Now Pose takes license in service of presenting Ballroom Culture in improved light. Balls took place in different, cheaply rented, venues. The gym of an old school building e.g. They had different MCs, and for the most part the attendees looked like a men in drag. In Pose, all the balls are held at the same location, a huge ballroom with a stage for the podium and judges table, and a second floor balcony, as well as ancillary rooms for wardrobe and makeup. Further, all the balls are presided over by flamboyant homosexual and wannabe fashion designer Pray Tell. The performers are gorgeous and even the extras look good. All of this I submit is to be expected and par for the course.

In Paris, we see the two sides of Ballroom's coin. Ballroom is in its manifestation, an interest which some subset of the population has gone all in on. In this respect Ball Walkers are comparable to Trekkies or Pageant Queens. Come to think of it, they are Pageant Queens, albeit on a very different circuit. Ballroom was born, we are told, out of the need to celebrate a life the rest of world has deemed not worthy of celebration. In this way Ballroom distinguishes itself from other obsessions. Its members are not merely ostracized, they are hunted. The Ball community exists in defiance of the dominant culture, to provide safe haven for the indulgence in expressing those desires what must be suppressed outside its cocoon.
It's like crossing into the looking glass. In wonderland. You go in there and you feel, you feel a hundred percent right, being gay. That's it. And that's not what it's like in the world. That's not like that in the world. You know, it should be like that in the world.
This is the shiny maarrrrvelous side of Ballroom. Pose serves up this narrative buffed and polished and with a fine point on it. The POV character is Blanca, portrayed by Mj Rodriguez. BTW all the transgendered characters are played by transgendered actors. When Blanca finds out she is HIV positive she decides she needs to leave her mark on the world. And in her world that means founding a 'house' and becoming a 'mother' to disowned gay and transexual young adults that have made their way to the streets of NYC. Blanca wants her house to become "legendary", but she also wants her 'children' to have a future. So Blanca insists her children go to school, get their GED, get a straight job, etc. and NO DRUGS. In the first season, one of her children becomes a star pupil at a prestigious school of dance. Later, another named Angel, tells her that she no longer has it in her to turn tricks to pay the bills. Blanca tells her that she should put her hustling days behind her and that she has a plan that will put her on the path to success, night school. And the first season closes with everyone looking forward to a bright future. As I said, to be expected. It is after all a television show.

That's the fantasy. But beneath the surface, Ball Culture hides a sad and pitiful truth; an inability to recognize fantasy for what it is. In Paris is Burning we hear from a number of people. One of the older queens named Dorian Corey sprinkles a good deal of wisdom throughout the documentary. But even Dorian can't seem to bring the line between fantasy and reality into focus.
In real life, you can't get a job as an executive unless you have the educational background and the opportunity. Now, the fact that you are not an executive is merely because of the social standing of life. That is just pure thing. Black people have a hard time getting anywhere, and those that do, are usually straight. In a Ballroom you can be anything you want. You're not really an executive but you're looking like an executive. And therefore you're showing the strait world that "I can be an executive. If I had the opportunity I could be one. Because I can look like one." And that is like a fulfillment. Your peers, your friends are telling you "Oh you'd make a wonderful executive".
Many of the other voices don't even bother blurring the line, they erase it completely. The sad refrain "I need to be rich to be happy" is oft repeated. Comfortable or middle class isn't good enough, rich. How rich? Dynasty rich. They look through the pages of fashion magazines, turn on the TV, and think "That's the life I want." And how do they expect to get rich? As a supermodel/actress/marry a rich dude. It is truly heart breaking listening to the young transexuals model their hopes and dreams for the camera.

Paris puts the question of prostitution to a few people. The filmmakers push for answers, but only so far. When a trans girl named Venus talks about hustling, she runs through the list of defense mechanisms, repression, denial, rationalization, when she gets to intellectualization we get a sense of how deeply broken she must be.
If you're married, a woman, in the suburbs. A regular woman is married to her husband. And she wants him to buy her a washer and dryer set. In order for him to buy that, I'm sure she'd have to go to bed with him anyway to give him what he wants for her to get what she wants. So in the long run it all ends up the same way.
We learn of Venus' brutal murder from her house mother Angie Xtravaganza.
Actually they found her dead after four days. Strangled under a bed in a sleazy hotel in New York City. We use to get dressed together, call each other and say what we were gonna wear and... You know she was like my right hand as far as I'm concerned. I miss her. Anytime I go anywhere I miss her. That was my main... The main daughter of my house in other words. But that's part of life as far as being a transexual in New York City and surviving.
Earlier in the film Angie was awarded "Mother of the Year". If you're up for it, google "paris is burning where are they now" and get a fuller sense of how tragic all their stories were.

This is where I pass judgement on Pose. It's not that Pose shies away from the grittier side of life. Indeed it's fair to say that is a feature of the show. We see characters working the sex trade, shaking their ass for quarters in peep shows, dancing on the pole, and turning tricks down at the piers. We are frequently reminded that AIDS is ripping though the gay/trans community. The two heroic characters, Blanca and Pray Tell, are both HIV positive. Now in season 2, Blanca's status has downgraded from HIV positive to AIDS and she has started taking AZT.

It's not even the strain on suspension of disbelief. Blanca works in a nail salon and makes enough bank not only to pay the bills for herself and her children, but also save up enough for 'first and last' on a street level retail space (in a neighborhood the building owner is hoping to gentrify) where she's making her dream of owning her own salon a reality.

No, my problem with Pose is that it panders too aggressively in erasing the boundary and believing the fantasy. For all we hear Mother Blanca talking up education, safe sex, living within the law, and generally making a future for yourself by making good choices, that is not where success comes from in the show. So remember back in season one when Blanca tells Angel to enroll in night school? Well here in season two, there's no mention of night school but Angel is persuaded to enter the "Fresh Face of 1990" modeling competition. And while she doesn't win, it does lead to a modeling job, where she becomes the face of Wet and Wild cosmetics line. Angel and her housemates go to see her face prominently displayed in the drug store aisle.

Meanwhile another of Blanca's children, Ricky, is selected to be a backup dancer for Al B Sure! And Ricky wasn't even trying! Ricky only went to the audition to support his lover Damon. Damon is the one with actual aspirations of becoming a professional dancer. Naturally he was also chosen to dance for Al B Sure! but that would have meant declining a scholarship for another year of dance school. And Damon, taking Mother Blanca's advice to heart, decides to delay gratification and stick it out another year in school. Which is all well and good. I can even forgive the way he got into the school and his success as a pupil. But when his dance instructor delivers the news that his scholarship has been renewed, we're treated to this homily.
Blanca, I've seen parents give their children the best training, the best education money can buy, and yet their dancing careers go nowhere. You however have given Damon something that will allow him soar in this world. Self worth. As long as he knows his life has value he will be unstoppable.
No. Just no. No matter how many rounds of "I am! Somebody!" you go with Jesse Jackson, that is not superior to the best training and education money can buy. Pose goes too far in its magical wish fulfillment. That wouldn't be such a problem if it wasn't preaching something else. For all the lip service Pose gives to straighten up and fly right, good things come bequeathed by plot convenience, and that perverts the message.
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dhex
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Re: The Category Is...

Post by dhex » 01 Jul 2019, 16:56

TIL Warren has seen Paris is burning. Kudos!
"i ran over the cat and didnt stop just carried on with tears in my eyes joose driving my way to work." - God

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Warren
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Re: The Category Is...

Post by Warren » 01 Jul 2019, 19:51

Oh yeah. Saw it years ago. I laughed. I cried. I moved on.
Then when I got about four episodes into Pose, I decided I needed to rewatch it.
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