The White Gaze

I have long taken issue with Paris is Burning and its place in the cinematic canon. While it’s undeniable that the stories it tells are important, the context of the film has always felt to me primarily tied to white spectatorship. When my white friends–who are often straight–tell me how much they love the movie, it feels as if I am being implicated, asked to validate their love of the film, regardless of the fact that I have no experience with ball or drag culture. Because of these experiences, bell hooks’s essay struck a chord with me, giving name to a lot of the problems that I feel are present in the presentation and framing of the film. However, I had never thought of the ways in which ball culture itself could be problematic. I was reminded of the essay that Jaap mentioned in class about positive and negative images. How is that idea complicated when it is refracted and the “other” is the spectator, not the subject? It must then be even more true that a deluge of positive images, here meaning images to aspire to, cannot construct a well rounded view of society or of the self. But when that aspirational image is tied to an exercise in escapism, can it truly be faulted?


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