Paris Is Burning Case Study

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  • Topic: Transgender, Ball culture, Drag queen
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  • Published : February 2, 2011
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Paris is Burning

1.I would argue that the group of poor gay minorities, like the people in the ball, is a subculture in itself. This group is a subculture of the gay culture. The distinguishing aspects of the group are that they are poor, gay, and minorities. Another distinguishing aspect is that members of this subculture are typically outcasts. They have been rejected by family members, friends, and American society as a whole. “It’s hard to imagine a more outcast group in American society than black and Hispanic homosexuals,” (Levy).

I identified this group of poor, gay, minority men who participate in balls as a microculture. This microculture’s distinguishing aspects are that these men all seem to live for balls, with dreams of fame and fortune, “The balls are our fantasies of being superstars,” (Pepper Labeija). This group also has an extreme love for, and competitive drive to be successful at vogeuing. Another trait this group shares is a love for fashion. They use fashion and style in order to appear “real.” This subculture wants to appear to be authentically white, straight, and female (Levy). This is depicted throughout the film Paris is Burning. Another microculture that I identified in the film is the transvestite microculture. This microculture defines itself by dressing up like the opposite sex, in this case men dressing as women, but who do not wish to become women. They could be considered androgynous, (Solomon, 186). While they do not identify with females, they wish to look female. The third microculture I identified in the film is the transvestite microculture. This group’s ideal self (Solomon, 177) is female. They identify with females and wish to eventually become female.

2.The goal of this subculture is to become a “real” female, if not to transform completely, to at least look like a real female. They are motivated by the celebrities they see in magazines and on TV. Straight, white, females are this group’s comparative influence, (Solomon, 409). There are a few gay masculine men in this film; their goal would be to look authentically masculine and straight. The whole point of the balls is for members of this group to act out their fantasies. Nearly everyone in the film was pretending to be someone that they were not. Competing in the balls was “achieving in fantasy what the world had denied in [their] reality,” (Green). Acting out this fantasy allows the people in this film to compensate for dissatisfaction with their actual selves, (Solomon, 172). They desire to look like the beautiful celebrities in the magazines, (Venus Xtravaganza), so this group is doing whatever it can to make themselves more like these women. Sadly, usually the most they can do is pretend, by dressing and acting like these women. This subculture does not “wish to replace dominant culture, they long to be members of the society they imitate,” (Levy).

Part of achieving their goal is purchasing clothing, make-up, shoes, even hormones and female body parts to look the part of a “real woman”. Without the possibility of consumption, it would not be possible for this group of people to achieve their goals and dreams. They wake up in the mornings as men, and leave their house in the afternoons as women because of the products they consume. They look at their reference group, (Solomon, 404) of straight females, and strive to look like them by purchasing the same products that these women use. To achieve their desired social identity they are acting out the symbolic self-completion theory, (Solomon, 176) by acquiring the clothes, hair, softer features, etc. that they see on women who are their ideals of beauty (Solomon, 196).

In my opinion this is very similar to the actions of mainstream culture. “The movie is a successful attempt by outsiders to dramatize how success and status in the world often depend on props you can buy, or steal, almost anywhere – assuming you have the style to know how to use them,” (Ebert)....
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