My last response paper dealt with the implications of carnivalesque images and ways that those images degrade political efficacy. I argued that minority groups perpetuate their own disempowerment and undermine authentic struggles for political viability when celebrating fantasized empowerment. The carnivalesque images of Marti Gras Indians actually celebrated the impossibility of real political and economic power through caricatured decadence. I would like to wander a little off topic to discuss this same argument with regard to the carnivalesque images in annual Gay Pride festivals. Gay Pride parades and festivities are recognized events in most urban environments. Once a year homosexuals, transsexuals, and bisexuals celebrate their sexual difference in an environment of openness and community.
While political and social implications of Gay Pride celebration have multiple layers and meanings that develop from specific cultural and social contexts/histories, these carnivalesque images operate in two general ways. First, these celebrations offer safety-in-numbers to urban homosexuals, allowing otherwise private sexuality to perform itself in a public setting. Pride creates an atmosphere of freedom and ambivalence, essential to what Bakhtin describes as the carnival. Second, Gay Pride heightens social and political awareness by forcing general audiences to confront and acknowledge marginalized lifestyles. Pride offers individuals within the gay community a ‘release’ from the everyday pressures of bigotry and subjugation. However, does the perpetuation of carnivalesque images in an age of televisual sensationalism do more political harm than good for the homosexual community?
The ontology of the carnival is the very temporal and spatial borders that define its exclusion from the ‘real world.’ In other words, the carnival is defined by its anti-realism. Note that this is very different from Bahtkin’s grotesque realism, which deals with the scatological and sexual content of many carnival festivals. However the anti-real character of the carnival speaks to its specific function within social and economic structures of power. Gay Pride offers a pressure valve, a limited time and space to perform sexuality in a ‘free’ environment. But that ‘freedom’ is contained. The disapproving public tolerates drag queens because every other day of the year these men will wear proper attire.
Gay Pride also perpetuates the othering of homosexuality. By setting aside one day and place for the free expression of homosexual desire, and infusing that day with parody, cagey performance, revelry, the rest of the world watches the feathered drag queen or the topless dyke on television. The carnivalesque atmosphere may be a ‘release’ to those individuals celebrating, but the spectacle of the carnival poorly reflects the serious political and social issues inherent in sexual expression and orientation.