Opulence | ContraPoints


(“Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig”) – Oh, hey, gorg. Hey, how are you, gorg? Okay, listen. I know this looks bad, I
know you think I’m bougie and you’re here to take
me to the guillotine. Well, fair enough, but before you do, can a dying queen make one request? How about this, I’m the new Scheherazade, so you can cut my head off, but first, you have to let me tell you my life story. Fair? That’s super f*cking great. Now, sit down, bitch, and
allow me to explain myself. I’ll start at the beginning. My earliest memories
are of aesthetic bliss. I was raised in a suburb
of Washington, D.C., where the most exciting
attraction for children is the National Museum of Natural History. At least, it’s the most
exciting attraction for nerdy children, who, I might I add, deserve their abuse at the hands
of dumber, cooler children. Kids usually gather around the fossils, and don’t get me wrong, I
liked a good stegosaurus as much as the next five-year-old, but my real passion was
the Gem and Mineral Hall. Ugh, the sparkle and shimmer! It inspired me to start my
own little gem collection. I had amethyst, quartz, obsidian, jade. The little pleasure of each stone was almost enough to make up
for my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Romano, forcing me
to pee my pants in public. F*ck you, Romano! I’m glad your father died! Comrades, losers, and haters, I would like to propose
that aesthetic sensibility, whether for gemstones,
architecture, fashion, or music, begins with absolute pleasure. You rotate the crystal in your hand and are dazzled by the
sparkle and the light. Your nape hair stands on end and a tingle goes down your spine. Yes, God! But as you get older,
things get more complicated. Northern Virginia is McMansion country, and while my family lived
in a more modest colonial, I remember riding around
in the back of the minivan, looking at some stylistically
jumbled monstrosities, and I would get excited
by some little detail, like, say, a circle of fake battlements atop a misplaced tower. But then my mom would say, “Look at this ostentatious trash!” So you learn, you learn taste according to the social
class of your upbringing. And with taste comes
all this adult baggage, snobbery and pretense and conceit. So I don’t know what you’ve
heard from my accusers, but I assure you, I have
nothing to do with taste. I am but a simple queen
longing for the pleasure of my childhood gems. So, stripey-sock cat girls of the heckin’ Revolutionary Committee, before you pass sentence,
allow me to make my case, gorg. (“Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig”) One, Success. Oh, hey, how are you, gorg? Look, I like stuff. I like shiny things. For me, there really is still a simple childlike pleasure to it
all, but the adult reality is opulence is more than
just shimmer and sparkle. There’s a social context for it. It generally means something. Why does Donald Trump’s apartment look like Liberace married
a Turkmenistani dictator and moved into a Cheesecake Factory? Well, because he’s
trying to send a message, maybe to the world, maybe to himself. He’s saying, “Behold, I am a winner, “a very stable genius with
one of the highest IQs.” Powerful people have often used opulence to symbolize their power, from the pharaohs of Egypt
to the kings of France, to even the humble servants of
the world’s major religions. I guess God likes shiny things too. In America, opulence
more specifically means not just power, but success. It is the trophy by
which you show the world that you achieved the American dream. The plot line of our central cultural myth is the story of rags to riches. In the words of Drake: ♪ Started from the
bottom, now we’re here ♪ ♪ Started from the bottom, now
the whole team’s f*ckin here ♪ Opulence is the aesthetic
display that you’re here. You’ve made it. You’re rich, bitch. Remember in high school, when you had to read “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott SparkNotes? The character Jay Gatsby doesn’t even like opulent mansion parties,
but he throws them anyway just to show his crush,
Daisy, that he’s made it, that he’s a success, that
he’s worth something. And as we all remember, in the end, they get married and
defeat the monster Grendel to save the hall of Hrothgar. At least, that’s what I wrote
in my 10th grade English essay about how the theme of “The Great Gatsby” is money always leads to happiness. I got a D minus! ♪ I like dollars, I like diamonds ♪ ♪ I like money, I like shining ♪ ♪ I like those Balenciagas, f*ck ♪ I’m sure Cardi B really does like diamonds and red bottoms and driving
Lams and all that sh*t, but teacher, pick me, pick me. Let’s talk about symbols,
let’s talk about allegory. Let’s talk about metaphor,
let’s talk about themes. Fellow students, let us place the text in historical context. Everyone knows that Cardi B went from being a teenage
stripper to making money moves. That’s the American dream. Hip hop opulence isn’t just
gratuitous glitz and hedonism. It’s a celebration of success for people who often come from backgrounds where that kind of success
is really improbable. Don’t you think it’s kinda
weird that conservatives still say, “Rap music is the reason “for the problems with the blacks.” For conservatives, the
American dream is supposed to be the solution to poverty, and is there any sector of our culture where the American dream is
more unironically celebrated than hip hop? It’s not just hip hop though. Flaunted wealth is pretty inescapable throughout pop culture. You can’t even turn on the radio without hearing about the
Gucci and the Ferraris, and the Fendi and the Bugattis, and the Armani and the Maseratis. Our entire culture has been replaced by a parade of overpriced
Italian bullsh*t, which, to be clear, I’m
completely in favor of. Burn down the Statue of
Liberty for all I f*cking care, and replace it with a large-scale figure of Donatella Versace
holding a bottle of Cristal. That’s at least a more honest
representation of our culture than the hypocritical cheese verse currently inscribed on Liberty Island. I guess Cristal’s French, isn’t it? Well, no one really drinks Italian booze. We have standards in this country. Listen up, America. We live in a society, a
society of champagne wishes and caviar dreams, not of
climbers, but of graspers. To paraphrase Ian Danskin, maybe anyone can achieve
the American dream, but everyone cannot. And the fact of the matter
is most people don’t. I mean, what would it even mean to be rich unless someone else was poor? I mean, who’s gonna
polish your golden toilet? Not other rich people, that’s for sure. So when you live in a society that constantly equates
wealth and success, but which is also so
unequal that most people will never be wealthy, well, what’s the average
person supposed to do? Two, Fantasy. (sighs) I wish the world were my gem collection. I wish I owned everything. I’m really just the worst
kind of phillistine, you know? I go to an art museum and
it’s like, Monet, Rembrandt, okay, that’s super f*cking
great, but can I buy it? Well, no, I can’t buy it. The grim reality is you
can’t own everything. So what do you do? Well, you fake it. You create an illusion. I don’t own this building. Any rube off the streets of
Baltimore can walk in here, as indeed, you did. But that’s okay, I need a witness. I need you to see me
here among the other art, where I belong. Being seen that way, it
makes me feel good, you know? It makes me feel valuable. You know, you don’t actually
need wealth to be opulent because opulence is not abundance. Opulence is the aesthetic of abundance. It is the aesthetic of owning everything. The phrase, “Opulence,
you own everything,” is, at this point, basically
a gay internet meme. – Apalence! ♪ Apalen, apalen, apalen, apalen ♪ – But it originally comes
from the documentary, “Paris Is Burning,” about
the Harlem ballroom culture in the 1980s, where it’s
proclaimed by emcee Junior LeBeija. – O-P-U-L-E-N-C-E, opulence! You own everything! – It’s not a celebration
of a real lifestyle of luxury and decadence. In fact, as Pepper LaBeija says of the queer black and
Latin-American participants of the balls: – You know, a lot of those
kids that are in the balls, they don’t have two of nothing. Some of them don’t even eat. – So ballroom opulence is a
fantasy of wealth and glamor, an illusion created by skillful artifice. Participants walk categories,
like executive realness, with the goal of being indistinguishable from a real executive. Nowadays, every white queer
says the word realness, I guess in kind of a frivolous way. I mean, whomst among us
honestly hasn’t slipped into a dissociative fugue state,
dressed up as a clown, kidnapped a few neighborhood
children, and told the cops, “I’m giving you John Wayne
Gacy realness, hunty?” I did it, officer, I did
the cultural appropriation. I am a colonizer. I am part of the problem, and I’m sorry. Take me away, boys! That’s crazy, that’s mega coconuts. I guess I should explain
that American slang works according to what we might call a trickle-up model of linguistics. All the new words are invented
by the most marginalized gay and trans people of color. Then, those words trickle
up to straight black people and white gays, and then finally, white cishets start using them. A lot of times, the
original meaning or context gets lost along the way. So originally, realness,
as Shon Faye put it: – [Shon] Was not just a sassy byword for a convincing costume,
but a tragic comic disguise of the chasm between
what is being emulated and what is absent,
namely, racial justice, class equality, and safety. – Realness, in that sense,
is a much more complicated and interesting concept than the generic trans notion of passing. Passing is just looking like a five-two, happy, baby, bouncy biogirl. Whereas, in the ballroom sense, realness has a subtext
of defying injustice. You’re using artifice to create
the illusion of a lifestyle that has been unjustly
kept beyond your reach. – You’re not really an executive, but you’re looking like an executive. And therefore, you’re
showing the straight world that I can be an executive. If I had the opportunity, I could be one, because I can look like one. – I think one reason there’s
been a surge of interest in ’80s ballroom culture,
such as the FX drama Pose, which is set during the era, is that it dramatizes an
essential truth about America. It’s really important to
people in this country to at least sometimes feel like
they’re living a luxe life, even if, in fact, they aren’t. Las Vegas is essentially an entire city that exploits that need. Vegas hotels, like the
Venetian, the Bellagio, and Caesar’s Palace, are
designed to make you feel like a fancy bitch, even
though they’re actually just high-rise traps
designed to lure you in and take your money. And if there’s one thing I
can’t stand, (inhales deeply) it’s traps. (playful music) But the trap works
because part of what it is to be American is to want
to feel like a fancy bitch. I actually love Vegas. I was there last year for
the only good YouTuber, Lindsay Ellis’s bachelorette party. I felt like a fancy bitch, and
I wasn’t tempted to gamble. But when I was younger,
when I was in my mid-40s, I did once experience
the first exciting stages of a gambling habit. I happened to go to the
casino once out of curiosity, and had some good luck playing blackjack. I mean, I wasn’t a high
roller or anything, but my first time, I walked
out with an extra $200, and that was a lot of money to me. At the time, I was working
a customer service job making $10 an hour, so to
make $200 in five minutes, that’s worth 20 hours of soul-crushing customer
service toil, before taxes. So I went back and I went back,
but I never got lucky again, and fortunately, that was
enough to discourage me. I remember one time, as
I was leaving the casino, I saw this man standing outside with this look on his face
that I have never seen on a human being before or since, just absolute shock, despair, this deep shame and self-disgust, the kind of face that says, “I’m gonna have to explain to my wife “that I spent the kids’ college savings “on a high-limit slot machine.” And there is nothing opulent about that, nor the people at the slots in wheelchairs with IV drips trying to pay
off their hospital bills. America, we are a bad country. Donald Trump is a Vegas man. He’s pulling this grift
on the entire country, and it keeps working
because the fantasy opulence of the American dream is more
enchanting to the imagination than any abstract mathematics
of economic equality. So it may seem like Americans
are all under the same spell, but in fact, there are
two very different types of magic at work. For the wealthy and
powerful, opulence is a flex, a demonstration of their wealth and power. But for the marginalized and impoverished, opulence is a simulacrum
of the wealth and power they’ve been denied. The aesthetic might be similar,
but in terms of function, it’s like the difference between a viper and a butterfly serving viper realness. Three, Class. Hey, how are you? Hey, how are you? Hey, how are you? Hey, how are you? (sighs) People don’t understand how difficult it is to be this blonde! You know, a biological
female that looks like me, I’m afraid some transvestite psycho is gonna sneak in through a rear window, and I’ll have to dial M for murder! I get vertigo just thinking about it. I’ve always felt the
Marxist analysis of class difficult to apply to the present day. As a typical modern woman,
it’s just super f*cking hard for me to relate to sk-sk-sk
and I oop and I oop and I oop. That’s praxis. Like, bourgeoisie and proletariat, whomst? Who is she? Where is her summer collection? That’s super f*cking
great, but can I buy it? Marx’s typical examples
are a factory owner and a factory worker. Now, I could be out of
touch, but personally, I’ve never met a factory worker, or a factory owner, for that matter. They must all be on a brand trip to China, working on the B&P summer collection. What’s supposed to distinguish
the bougies from the proles is that the bougies own
the means of production, and the proles work for wages. But what about a bartender
who owns the bar she works in? What about YouTubers? Which side of the revolution are we on? I’m just trying to figure
out where I stand here, ’cause if the revolution
starts on Twitter, my head is definitely going in the basket, and then I’ll have no choice but to do the conservative
talk show circuit, you know, like most people whose brains are detached
from their bodies. Marie Antoinette did nothing
wrong, hey, how are you? I feel like a class analysis
with only two classes must be overly simplistic. My favorite book about class
in America is Paul Fussell’s “Class: A Guide Through the
American Status System,” which describes nine distinct classes. Fussell is not as concerned
with economic relations between classes as he is with status, what Marxists sometimes call
social and cultural capital, things like education, style, taste, and attitude towards money. Now, the book was published in 1983, so a lot of the references
and details are out of date, but there’s an eerie familiarity to a lot of the core observations. And it’s also just pretty funny, like his quasi-scientific observation that the higher your social class, the smaller the balls
in the sports you play, or his description of
middle-class living rooms. – [Paul] “Your real middle
class refuses to show “any but the most bland
books and magazines “on its coffee tables. “Otherwise, expressions of
opinion, awkward questions, “or even ideas might result.” – One of Fussell’s core themes is that it’s not how much money you have that defines your class, so much as how you got your money. If you had to work for your money, then you’re not really upper class. The upper class has inherited
wealth, and as a result, they’re very confident. They don’t feel the need
to prove themselves. Likewise, the lower classes
have basically accepted their position on the ladder. But then there’s the middle
class, who are social climbers, and who compensate for
their insecurities by, for example, placing a pretentious collage of university bumper stickers on the back of the family car. This is the meaning of
the Lord Melbourne quote. – [Lord Melbourne] “The
higher and lower classes, “there’s some good in them,
but the middle classes “are all affectation and conceit, “and pretense and concealment.” – Now, opulent aesthetics
are typically cultivated by people with something to prove, whether it’s marginalized
ballroom performers proving their worth to themselves, or the new rich building McMansions to show off their wealth to others. So there’s something kind
of odd about Donald Trump. He inherited his wealth
so he should know better than to have golden
faucets, but he doesn’t. As Fran Lebowitz said, “He’s a poor person’s
idea of a rich person.” And that’s actually his charm,
it’s part of his mass appeal. Trump behaves like a
prole who won the lottery. So there’s actually
something kind of relatable, un-snobbish, and even pseudo-democratic about the golden faucets. People who have wealth, but not class, are actually very popular in this country. We don’t like class here
because class is exclusionary. Whereas anyone can acquire
wealth, we tell ourselves, so wealth feels potentially
inclusive of everyone, even though in practice, it isn’t. Now, the upper class cultural
elite in this country, the real classy people, are
mostly very unlike Trump. Instead of being ostentatious and gaudy, they embrace the reserved old-money values of aristocratic WASPSs: White
Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Fussell notes, for instance, that they tend to value
privacy over showing off. They like to live at the
end of long driveways in houses away from public view. They dress down while traveling so as to avoid drawing
attention to themselves. These are essentially survival skills of the experienced rich. If you flaunt your wealth too much, people might rob you, or
they might get envious and come after you with
pitchforks and guillotines, or worse, taxation. (dramatic tense pounding) Old money knows this, but
new money just cannot resist the temptation to show off. I actually wonder if the old
WASPy upper class is dying out. I feel like Donald Trump
represents a victory of money over class. His presidency validates the idea that you can be as vulgar as you want, so long as you have
the cash to back it up. So the old class system is dying out, and in its place, we have
universally adopted the mindset of the nouveau riche. If you’ve got it, flaunt it. If you haven’t got it, find
a way to flaunt it anyway. Now, I’m sure this is all
very tragic and disappointing to people of class and taste, but to a tacky transsexual
rhinestone connoisseur, it’s actually fantastic news. Four, Taste. Listen, comrades, I’ve been
pretty down on opulence so far, and I could continue analyzing
it in terms of inequality and class struggle, but
you already know all that. That’s why you came to cut my head off. But hold on, is that really
all there is to aesthetics, Marxist economic analysis, or the SJW version that makes everything about race and gender? As the most notorious art critic of the 21st century once said: – But remember that it’s both
possible, and even necessary, to simultaneously enjoy media
while also being critical of its more problematic
or pernicious aspects. – So what about the enjoyment part? Surely, you wouldn’t behead a queen just for liking shiny things. Is there no room for art for art’s sake? The great philosopher and
venerable German closet queen, Fraulein Immanuel Hildegard
Marlene Kennedy Davenport-Kant, said that purse aesthetic
taste is disinterested. That is, completely free
of any material desire. Of course, Miss Thing also
founded the #NoFap movement, so I don’t know how seriously
we want to take of that. But it’s actually kind of
similar to what Plato said about aesthetic sense, that it merely begins with a desire for the bodies of beautiful boys, which is really just a
shadow of our true longing for the concept of beauty itself. God, the entire history of
Western aesthetic philosophy is just a bunch of repressed homos trying to rationalize away
their debased perversions. What must that be like? From the bottom of my motherf*cking and my fatherf*cking heart, that must be super f*cking hard for them. I can’t even imagine. I mean, it makes sense, really. Straight men don’t have these problems. They got away with painting
softcore for 500 years and never had to think about it. I guess Nietzsche’s the exception. He was straight and a philosopher, but he was an Incel, and let’s be honest, definitely a (beeping) chaser. The only upstanding aesthetician
in all of Western history is the respectable English
gentleman Oscar Wilde. According to Wilde: – [Oscar] “Those who find ugly meanings “in beautiful things are
corrupt without being charming. “This is a fault. “Those who find beautiful
meanings in beautiful things “are the cultivated. “For these, there is hope. “They are the elect to
whom beautiful things “mean only beauty.” – Spoken like a poet. You want to be cultivated, don’t you? Don’t you think I’m beautiful? Look, I’ll play it your way. Let’s swing back to the other side of the Sarkeesian pendulum here. (metallic clanging) As sentimental as I personally am about art for art’s sake and all that, from a strictly sociological
perspective, I have to admit taste is pretty intimately
related to power. When you go to a museum,
you look at various objects on pedestals, under special lighting that makes them appear magical. Now, that’s also what you
do at Bed Bath & Beyond, but the difference is that at the museum, you can’t buy anything, and
that turns out to be important for Kantian reasons. In the retail context
of commodity fetishism, you correlate your aesthetic
taste with material desire. Whereas, in a museum, because
you can’t buy anything, you feel like your
aesthetic pleasure is pure, that you’re simply enjoying
out-of-context objects. But of course, that’s an illusion. The museum is the context,
and the context is telling you that the things you’re looking at are art. So whoever decides what’s in the museum decides what good taste is, what’s beautiful, what’s valuable. Think about the music video
for “Apesh*t” by The Carters. Beyonce and Jay-Z pose in
various places in the Louvre, conferring upon themselves the status and the cultural grandeur of the art. But it’s not just a flex. It means something more than that because of the racial disparity
between the performers and the setting. Black people and black
art are mostly excluded from museums like the Louvre, so seeing Jay and B
there looking so regal, with black dancers even overshadowing canonical European art, it’s like a full moment. A lot of people have a deep longing for the sense of dignity and grandeur conferred by classical art. That’s why trans women love that picture someone photoshopped of the
Three Graces, but with d*cks. I’ll admit that silly picture actually had an emotional effect on me because here in the West, it’s actually hard to think
of your body type as beautiful until you’ve seen it
sculpted in white marble. Oh, speaking of which,
white marble is a lie. For most of art history history, scholars have insisted that
the iconic ghostly whiteness of classical statues was
the distinguishing feature of Western sculpture,
proof of the elegant taste of the ancient Greeks and Romans. In reality, of course, it
turns out they were painted the colors of something
a drag queen might wear to a Quinceanera. Scholars had been noticing
paint remnants on these statues for hundreds of years, but
were totally in denial about it because the pure
whiteness of these figures was like a sacred dogma. Margaret Talbot in The New Yorker attributes the dogma in part to: – [Margaret] “A tendency
to equate whiteness “with beauty, taste, and classical ideals, “and to see color as alien,
sensual, and garish.” – [Natalie] Burgeoning! – [Margaret] “In 2008, Fabio
Barry, an art historian “who is now at Stanford,
complained that a boldly-colored “recreation of a statue
of the Emperor Augustus “at the Vatican Museum looked “like a crossdresser
trying to hail a taxi.” – Hey, how are you? And you just know that
when the news first broke, some horrified WASP classicist
turned to a colleague and said, “Oh, Kingsley, it looks, “it looks Mexican.” (laughs) In fact, for the crime of
writing about paint on statues, some art historians have been
harassed by the Alt-Right, who don’t take kindly
to anyone questioning their white supremacist
myths about antiquity. There’s some pretty insidious, uh, identitarian prejudices here, hiding out under the cloak of taste. Good taste for upper and
middle class white people generally includes a reflexive disdain for anything a little bit too colorful. It’s these classes that
constantly use the words gaudy, garish, tawdry, tacky. Jo Weldon, author of “Fierce:
The History of Leopard Print,” observes that: – [Jo] Tacky, as a concept, refers to the lack of cultivation or the resistance to tate,
and more often than not, refers to tastes that are
not suitably conservative. Furthermore, tacky is likely
to be feminine, ethnic, queer, deviant, not manly, not practical, not businesslike, not serious. – Aesthetic excess,
particularly of colors, patterns, and bling,
is especially offensive to conservative WASP taste. – [Jo] Tacky is often where
the imagination runs free, where the heart is, where the soul is, and where the fun is. – Well, that’s good news, ’cause people call my
aesthetic tacky all the time. I can’t imagine why. Let me just get some
more jewels on my t*ts. Or camp. People call me camp, and sometimes, I don’t know if I’m being
praised or insulted. I suppose it depends on what camp means. Camp was the theme of
this year’s Met Gala, and my feed was flooded with
Brooklynite intellectuals competing to outwit each other with the most erudite definition
of what camp really is. What I gather is there’s a
couple competing definitions. The first, I’ll call coward camp, this bratty hipster notion of
having bad taste on purpose. I have no respect for this whatsoever. This is nothing but an
anxious and defensive refusal to take a risk. You think you’re safe from criticism because your look is bad on purpose. f*ck that! Take a stand, you pussy bitch! I take great offense to
this as a person whose look is bad on accident, and
Susan Sontag agrees with me. In “Notes on Camp,” she
distinguishes between: – [Susan] “Naive and deliberate camp. “Pure camp is always naive. “Camp which knows itself
to be camp, or camping, “is usually less satisfying.” – Sontag defines naive
camp as failed seriousness, a grand artistic vision that
gets a little outta control and enters into absurd territory. Hey, how are you? I don’t know, my philosophy of style is that people should wear
what looks good to them. I was joking earlier when I
said my look is bad on accident. I think my aesthetic is good. This is what looks good to me, though I’m aware other
people might judge it. I like what John Waters said about there being good bad
taste and bad bad taste. – [John Waters] “One must
remember, there is such a thing “as good bad taste and bad bad taste. “To understand bad taste, one
must have very good taste.” – I’ve wondered for a long time why I’m so attracted to bad taste. Like, I technically have the
education to know better. I know about Glenn Gould,
but I prefer Liberace. Why am I so tacky? I think it’s because I’m a transsexual, which lowers you at least a class. If you were born upper class
and you’re transsexual, you’re middle class now, bitch. If you were born middle
class and you’re transsexual, you are now lower class. And if you were born lower
class and you’re transsexual, ooh, sweaty, you’d better
start a revolution. Uh, Marsha P. Johnson, hey, how are you? Chicks with bricks. (glass shattering) Five, Glamour. Trans women have a special
relationship with glamor, at least, those of us who
came of age in the 1960s. In the most basic everyday sense, glam is a way of styling yourself. It’s luxuriant hair,
it’s high-drama makeup, it’s long nails, it’s glitter everywhere, it’s posing like a fashion model. But originally, the word glamor comes from the Scottish word gramarye, meaning magic or enchantment. And glamor still involves
a kind of illusion, or charm cast on a spectator. The connection between glamor and opulence is explored in the 2004
essay, “Viva McGlam? “Is Transgenderism a Critique
of or Capitulation to “Opulence-Driven Glamour Models?” by transgender writer and
underground house music producer Terre Thaemlitz, aka DJ Sprinkles. Sprinkles writes: – [Terre] “Europe’s
ruling elite used opulence “as an ideological weapon to
befuddle the lower classes “with glimpses of heaven on earth, “a lifestyle so foreign and unattainable “that it could only be
the result of divination. “It is this spell of opulence “that led to our current
definition of glamor, “which is more associated
with wealth than magic.” – Sprinkles alludes to an
earlier form of glamor, or gramarye, that was
associated with witchcraft, paganism, and sexual deviancy. But in our capitalist society, glamor is a spell of opulence, conjuring up what is often
a fantasy of a lavish life. For example, a lot of drag queens practice this sort of illusionism by impersonating celebrities, thereby acquiring the glamor of actresses, pop stars, and models secondhand. Sprinkles is bothered by the way this sort of second-hand
glamor acquires its power from unquestioned social hierarchies. – [Terre] “Glamor is suspect “as a critical-minded political forum “because it is about social distance, “not social integration. “The promise of the pop-glam diva “is not the promise of
social transformation, “but individual transformation
in which the exploited “becomes the exploiter. “It is a promise of an
individual’s class mobility, “not social betterment or class critique. “It is, by and large, the American dream.” – Now, I have to admit, this is a version of the American dream that hits pretty close to home for me. The overarching plot line of my whole entire YouTube gender journey is that I used to be a tragic mess. And I’m still a tragic mess, but when I started this channel, I was a broke, gender
dysphoric, alcoholic, crossdressing tragic mess. I’d play a clip, but honestly, those videos are still too
painful for me to even glance at. And now, I mean, look at
me, look how far I’ve come. I look like a moderately
talented female impersonator, hey, how are you? Those first several months
of transition, though, they were rough. I had a lot of trouble in the beginning. I used to get laughed out of restaurants. And I was so proud that
I wouldn’t let anyone see how much that stuff hurt me. You know, I would say, “Well, f*ck them. “I’m know I’m great.” And then I’d go cry my
eyes out alone in my car. And I was a YouTuber that whole time too, which, I mean, the cyberbullying alone, I don’t think you can even
imagine the extent of it if you haven’t been in that situation. You know, hundreds of strangers
dissecting your voice, picking apart your face and body, clocking your clothes and makeup, digging up your past,
trying to deduce the nature of your sexual pathology
from the shape of your skull. (laughs softly) I mean, a lot
of it’s hilarious to me now, but there was a time when
it caused a lot of pain. But that pain spurred
me to work on my glow-up like it was the cure for cancer, like my life depended on it, which is basically how it felt. Now, sometimes my trans
critics mischaracterize me as, as one Tweeter put it, “cripplingly
obsessed with passing.” And passing in day-to-day
life was always a goal for me, but glam, to me, is not about passing. I think I actually pass
better in no makeup than I do in eye shadow out to here. You know, a cis woman can
wear eye shadow out to here and people think she’s
just really into makeup or Instagram or cosplay or something, but when I do it, I
think it looks like drag, which serves to call more
attention to my situation. But on YouTube, I mean, clearly, I don’t try to pass as a normal woman. Everyone here knows I’m trans
anyway, so what’s the point? I would describe this presentation
as female impersonator, and that’s basically what I am, a female female impersonator. And I present this way because it’s fun. I find it artistically
fulfilling, and let’s be honest, there’s part of me that
always wanted to be that kind of larger-than-life super-woman. But I’m also creating special
effects for the camera. As Sprinkles says: – [Terre] “Glamor offers
a strange over-performance “of gender signifiers,
a tenuously woven layer “of super-femininity,
which is so distracting “that it successfully hides the
transgendered body beneath.” – Now, a lot of leftist trans people have grown disillusioned with
the individual class mobility represented by glamor, as well as by transition
glow-up narratives. And I think that disillusionment, and a growing revolutionary sentiment, are at the heart of this
intense anger and resentment I’ve noticed a lot of trans
women have for drag queens, for glamorous trans Instagram models, and let’s be honest, for me. Here’s Sprinkles one more time. – [Terre] “As long as an
MTF’s public acceptance “is gauged by her ability
to emulate glamorous body “and style requirements that
elude most, quote, real women, “then I’ll have to ask you to pardon “this transgendered writer
for not feeling represented “by RuPaul any more than
my mother feels represented “by Marilyn Monroe or Princess Di.” – A lot of trans women
are basically fed up with having to serve the
world a fantasy all the time. They want to be seen for who they are without doing any of that sh*t. They’re fed up with glamor,
they’re fed up with realness, they’re fed up with RuPaul, and a lot of them are
pretty fed up with me. And I oop, and I oop, and I oop. Six, Envy. The Marxist art critic John Berger called glamor the
happiness of being envied. – [John Berger] “Being
envied is a solitary form “of reassurance. “It depends precisely upon
not sharing your experiences “with those who envy you.” – But being envied is a form of happiness only in the imagination. The actual experience
of being envied sucks. This is the risk of opulence. It invites not just enchanted
admiration, but also envy, and where envy goes,
the guillotine follows, or at least, vindictive taxation. This is why the experienced rich know to tone down the opulence, build a nice high wall
around their properties, and make a lot of high-profile
charitable donations. We could call this kind of strategizing the public relations of success. It certainly helps to have
a rags-to-riches story, especially if you can make
other people feel included in some way in your success. That’s part of the appeal
of hip hop opulence, is that it seems to elevate
not just a single performer, but an entire underclass. Conversely, being
perceived as exclusionary, elitist, or snobbish
is gonna cost you big, in terms of envy management. YouTube music critic ToddInTheShadows did a review of Ariana
Grande’s song “7 Rings,” in which he basically drags
Ariana, who apparently is white, for appropriating a bunch of hip hop rags-to-riches signifiers
without any of the subtext of starting from the bottom. She’s not showcasing a
triumph over adversity. She’s just a white girl who likes stuff. We started from the bottom, now the whole team’s f*ckin’ here. So in Todd’s words, the
song is a grotesque, bullying, VIP-only privilege
flex of a mean girl shoving her wealth in your face. I actually like that song, but
I’m into that sort of thing. Bully me, Mommy. (groans comically) Fellow students, as a case
study in the public relations of success and envy management, let us compare and contrast
two successful YouTubers, Jeffree Star and Gigi Gorgeous. There’s enough similarities between them for the differences to be interesting. They’re both LGB and/or
T, they’re both white, they’re both blonde, sometimes, they’re both feminine, they’re both rich, and they both flaunt
their opulent lifestyles. But nonetheless, people basically
seem to like Jeffree Star, whereas Gigi, well, I don’t
wanna say people don’t like her, but they don’t relate to her. The best example of this is her 2017 video “I Wear Walmart for a Week,” with its gasp-inducing
like to dislike ratio. Let’s analyze what went wrong here. – So for today’s video, I
thought we would take it to a place I’ve never been, Walmart. – So that’s a bad start, gorg. Most Americans have been to Walmart. Never having been marks your upbringing as upper middle class, at least. Treating going to Walmart
as some kind of challenge kind of comes across as
you and your rich friends being like, “What if we
pretend to be poor for a day?” – I wonder if we’re gonna
see any People of Walmart, you know that website? Baby’s crying, the trauma. – Gigi, no! You need to turn the shade
down, like, 20 notches, gorg. – I keep kicking my shin on this cart. I’m literally gonna have bruises. Can someone remake these carts, please? It’s dangerous. – They’re gonna cut your head off, gorg. – What should we get next? Maybe like a gown for a red carpet? Do they sell gowns here? – This, to me, is peak Gigi, strolling down the aisles of
Walmart with a two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew that she plucked
from the shelves, saying, “I need something for a red carpet. “Do they have gowns here?” This, to me, is an iconic fashion moment. This is naive camp, this is everything. The idea that she has privileges
that other people don’t has never once crossed her mind, and that is a very special, precious thing that I wanna cherish. Personally, I have no choice but to stan. The YouTube comments section, however, is not as amused as I
am, nor as forgiving. This is the second time
I’ve done a close reading of a Gigi video. It’s getting kinda weird. Also, why hasn’t she answered my letters? Step on my throat, Mommy. Now, let’s look at Jeffree Star. Jeffree does similar
kinds of videos to Gigi. He’s even done his own video
wearing Walmart for a day, which people loved. Now, my first impulse when
explaining the differences in public perception is to scream sexism, and there’s maybe a
little of that going on. I do think a rich woman is
more irritating to people than a rich man, but there’s
clearly more than that going on here. Jeffree’s fans are, I
assume, mostly women, and not rich women, regular women. The women who work at the
dollar store love him. – I’m, like, your biggest fan. – Ordinary people actually
enjoy watching Jeffree flaunt his millions of dollars
of designer bags and clothes because they either live
vicariously through him, or they see him as aspirational. It’s the same reason why poor
people have always enjoyed watching reality TV shows
about the extremely wealthy. The centerpiece of Jeffree Star’s brand is that he’s self-made. He represents himself as
having started from the bottom. You know, he talks about
his white trash upbringing, and just generally seems
like he hasn’t let his wealth go to his head. A good example of this is his Private Jet Burger King Mukbang. Now, at first, you might
think that a private jet is not very relatable,
but the Burger King aspect brings it back down to Earth. Jeffree seems like he’s
been to Burger King before. He’s able to order fluently. He’s even kind of charming to the cashier. He doesn’t, like, scoff or
pinch his nose at anything. Also, the Gucci barrette. (pops tongue) Whereas Gigi, I mean, don’t
get me wrong, I do love Gigi, but I don’t know if sis would make it out of Burger King alive. You know, she’d commit some
terrible upper-class solecism, like, I don’t know, not
understanding the concept of a value meal. I’m sure Gigi would make
an entertaining video, just not a relatable video. You know, she’d somehow contract syphilis from the toilet seat and
do a storytime about that. That’s really when Gigi’s at her best. She kinda comes back down to
Earth whenever she’s serving Real Transsexual
Housewives of Beverly Hills meets David Cronenberg. – So I’m like (imitates gagging). I see this white little
Chiclet in my hand. I’m feeling with my tongue,
and I’m like, oh, my God! – Economic inequality in this country has always been enabled by the fact that people basically like the rich. Yeah, we judge people
who live in McMansions and we get irritated by
elitist, out-of-touch behavior, but ultimately, we have
no choice but to stan. And the people we stan the hardest are people like Jeffree Star, who, in a way, seems like a poor person who just so happens to be very rich. Now, if inequality increases enough, I suspect the stanning will stop because it’s fun to watch Jeffree Star spend $69,000 in one trip
to the Louis Vuitton store if what you’re doing is fantasizing
about what you would buy with that much money. But if you’re thinking about
how $69,000 could pay off your life-ruining medical debt, or about how you’d be able to afford cancer treatments for your dying wife, this kind of thing will start
getting under your skin. And eventually, people will start building guillotines again. In fact, the only way I
can imagine a revolution happening in this
country is if rich people start behaving as badly as possible. – So this isn’t your dream job? – No. – And this is free, right? – Oh, whatever you want. – Okay, great. – Seven, Ruin. (somber organ music) Good evening, gorg. Ever notice how most vampires are, like, counts or queens, or at least rich? I guess some are edgy biker teens, but I don’t associate with that trash. Gothic horror really
got started as a genre with 18th and 19th century novels, which were usually set in an
old decaying castle or mansion. By the late 19th century, the aristocracy had lost a lot
of its relevance as a class, so aristocrat vampires,
like Count Dracula, represented a dying world order, and also, maybe the metaphorical
bloodsucking of commoners by the landed gentry. Vampires were also usually seducers, and the aristocrat seducer
trope had actually played an important role in
turning public opinion against the nobility. So the Gothic aesthetic is an aesthetic of dead and decaying opulence. And that aesthetic has evolved over time, from the ruins of a medieval castle to the iconic haunted house,
which, in American horror, is usually a decaying Victorian mansion. It’s a trope with an
interesting backstory. During the Gilded Age,
industrialization produced a new wealthy class of people, who built what were essentially
19th century McMansions. When the Great Depression hit, a lot of these Victorian
mansions were abandoned and began to decay, which
gave them morbid associations that made them perfect for stories about hauntings and psychos, weirdos. So ruined opulence becomes Gothic, which kind of makes you think. We live in an age of
opulence and inequality, and growing irritation
with abusive men in power. The middle class is shrinking,
social unrest is on the rise. It seems like a new economic
order could be on the horizon. When the opulence of our age decays, will there be a new Gothic aesthetic of ruined shopping malls? Well, there kind of already is. The urban explorer,
Dan Bell, is a YouTuber known for his Dead Mall series, in which he explores the ruins
of abandoned shopping malls, for example, the now
demolished Owings Mills Mall just north of Baltimore. The mall opened in 1986 as
the Owings Mills Fashion Mall. – [News Reporter] Champagne,
gold dust, and pink feathers heralded in a new era for Owings Mills. Today’s opening of the
Owings Mills Fashion Mall does not only mean a new
high-fashion place to shop, it also means lots of new developments and jobs for Baltimore County. – It had a Macy’s, a Lord &
Taylor, a Saks Fifth Avenue. It was a big high-end mall, but in 1992, a woman who worked as a cleaner at Saks was murdered during an armed robbery on the trail between the mall and the Baltimore Metro Station. After the murder, the
mall got a reputation for being unsafe, and slowly,
the stores closed down. Dan recorded two videos
at Owings Mills in 2015, when only five of the
original 155 stores remained. He takes us through the
strangely clean and empty halls, the drained fountains,
the gutted food court. Watching these videos seems to provoke an emotional response in a lot of people. Some say they feel nostalgic or sad. Some express rage at
the waste and futility. Some find it creepy, or even horrifying, and some have a dark sense of humor about the absurdity of it all. One commenter says: – [Female Commenter] “I think
it is still hitting people “with slow motion shock “that the 20th century is really over. “In the ’80s, this looked like
the start of a big new world “of wealth for everyone. “In fact, it was the last gasp “of 20th century general prosperity.” – I agree with all these comments, and I feel every one of these emotions. I think there is a new aesthetic
sensibility emerging here, a Gothic aesthetic for the 21st century, this decaying opulence that is the carcass of 20th century consumerism. Oh, it gives me a chill! My nape hair stands on end and
a tingle goes down my spine. (“Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig”) The Owings Mills Mall was
totally demolished in late 2016. In Dan’s final video about it, we see clips from his
earlier Owings Mills videos intercut with absolutely
post-apocalyptic footage of the half-demolished ruin. It’s not like the feeling of exploring a ruined temple or abbey, where you somehow perceive
the spiritual significance of the original building. In a dead mall, you do sense
the ghosts of the shoppers and the workers, their
aspirations and material longings, but what does the crumbling wreckage of a JCPenney really mean? That is a question that
will haunt me to the grave. All right, comrades, I’ve said my piece. I’ll come quietly, there’s
no reason to tie me down. I mean, unless you’re into that, in which case, by all means! No, I won’t resist. I accept my fate. (“Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig”) f*ck you, Romano. I’m glad your father died! (laughing) Just get that out there
before I had to say it. And let’s be honest,
definitely a (beeping) chaser. (laughing) Gosh, I sure do think I’m funny. But he was an Incel, and
definitely a (beeping) chaser. (laughs) Don’t look at me! I’m ashamed, I’m ashamed
of what I’ve written. Huh? (mumbling offscreen) Kant, yeah, but I’m saying his name wrong ’cause I’m an asshole. (laughs) I hope you’re enjoying this, Theryn, watching me rub snot into my hands as I shriek naked in a tub full of jewels. How much leg do we want to get in here? A lot, I assume. Just getting oil all over my fur, great. It’s not real fur, whatever. Clarify that for the vegans
in my comments section. (scoffs) Moral people. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s people how have
some sense of decency. Okay! Is a hair light really a good idea? Why don’t we illuminate my frizziness? Who invented that? An asshole. What about a bartender who
owns the bar he works in? I guess I’ll say she to be feminist. (scoffs) Christ. The demands of these people! These f*cking teeth, man. (laughs) It’s like being Tabby. Tabby! Tabby! That is a question that
will haunt me to the grave. (laughing) So campy and stupid. Okay.

About the author

Comments

  1. There is so. much. here. I feel like I need to re-watch this a few times to really absorb it. I've heard of your channel before, but this is my first experience with it – I'm always looking for more thoughtful, well-articulated content, and I'm going to go ahead and assume I'm going to be spending a lot of time with your videos in the coming weeks/months/whoknowshowlong. Thank you.

  2. 18:30–19:10 I am just so amazed at the perfect synchronization of the visuals, the music and the words coming out of your mouth 😭 this is definitely a piece of art

  3. Natalie, I just wanted to say that you have been a great and positive influence on my life. Thank you for being awesome.

  4. . Watched the whole thing.

    . Not once did I tap the screen to check how many minutes left.

    . Mind is fed.

    . I just subscribed 🤗

  5. Thanks a bunch for this video. It makes me think about power and how I think about power, how I want to project it, simulate it. Makes me think what will be my Louvre.

  6. I keep getting contrapoints in my recommended . But I’m afraid it’s over my head and the comments is very intellectual , I don’t understand what most of them are saying . Lol . But I saw you with James Mansfield and you look gorgeous . 😊

  7. For whatever it is worth I a cis white male do not like hearing you call yourself not passable. In the early days perhaps not but now I fully think of you as a woman when I hear you. And I do mean that honestly. I would have even in the earlier time called you she or her, but now it comes naturally. Don't be so hard on yourself. I understand some can never get there, and that is really unfortunate. But I feel you are far to hard on yourself. So what if somone clocks you, I have been a man from birth till now and some people might "clock" me when I cry like a baby at movies.

  8. How do you expect me to listen to your words when Piano trio in E flat is playing in the background? 🙂 I swear this is the most erotic piece of music ever written.

  9. Hahaha theAmerican left is such a joke… all of this stuff is pushed so hard by the ultra- white nationalist zionist group that censors yputube, the ADL. Antifa, this channel, young turks, and all rhe others who don't criticize zionism are trying to eliminate all the enemies of zionism.. dont follow any "liberal" channels rhat support israel.. so ridiculous..

  10. I truly love your latest video. At this point you are my fav content producer here on you tube. Do I agree with everything? No, but I don’t need to, to recognize real artistry with great trans content.

  11. This is such a gem of a video. XD
    But like seriously though, I can't help but want more of this video. This video is so aesthetically pleasing. It's like colour pornography.

  12. Can someone PLEASE end my suffering and tell me what's the name of the piece that plays at the beginning of the Class segment around 13:47???? I've heard it somewhere before and can't remember and it's killing me.

  13. Or as the great Tyler the creator says "How much chains can I wear until I'm considered a slave"

    you'r teeth in this video are whiter and straighter than Donald Trump voters.

  14. Wow <3 You are so brilliantly imaginative. I do feel we are absolutely on the edge of fundamental change. This age of opulence and inequality has an expiration date — and it feels as though it is through the actions of those responsible for perpetuating the reality and aesthetic of opulence and inequality that its expiration is nearing.

  15. The Arcade Fire's The Suburbs is basically a love letter to that dead mall gothic aesthetic. It even features the line "dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains"

  16. Talking about shopping malls as the new "goth" made me think of the vaporwave subgenre mallsoft, which is mall muzak slowed down, reverb and echo added, and other samples spliced in, leading to sometimes an eerie feeling and tension.

  17. You aren't the typical lefty, Contra. Your videos are educational and are what many on the left need, intellect, research, history, to understand that they are a people.

  18. On the topic of camp and aesthetic, I'd argue that your style falls not under the category of camp, but more so extravagant theatre. It relishes in costumed performance and is well-crafted – thus it is essentially excluded from the definition of 'camp' – but also avant-garde, not least for the societal stigma and boundaries your very identity is forced to cross. Above all else, it appears as a performance of gender, to an extreme that one would expect at one moment in an 18th century ballroom and then the next atop a carnival float.

  19. Hey I am 99% certain this comment will get burred but I have been a fan of your channel for a while now and am about to hit 10k Subscribers. You seem to be hitting 1 million soon. Any advice from way up there for a 10k channel?

  20. We need to stop eating our own because we consider someone 'not progressive enough'. It's hurting what we are fighting for. Seriously people.

  21. You know if you keep on making ironic communist jokes, we'll have to start treating you like one.

    totalitarianism for lulz – so hot right now

  22. I think the way you talk about Gothic is really interesting. When I studied Gothic, I learned that it was aesthetically interested in the sublime, something so grand or strange that it produces a feeling of extreme insignificance and a violent sense of awe in the viewer (it's important to remember that Gothic came on the coattails of romanticism and is therefor fascinated with deep emotion, the type of awe inspired by the sublime included). Gothic is interested, most specifically, in the repression and subsequent return of said deep emotion; this is defined as the 'return of the repressed'. This is why American Gothic, specifically, is so often linked to the American landscape. We are a young country. The ghosts of America are not necessarily always contained within a haunted house, or a city, as in European gothic; they live in the very soil of our country, where millions were enslaved, raped, and genocided. It's no coincidence that American ghost stories often involve a Native burial ground, teenagers camping in the woods, or small towns surrounded by cornfields. The memories that America tries to forget are the memories of those places. So it's interesting that with the great depression, and now with the threat of another, our ghosts seem to be shifting. As America grows older, we gain an increasingly long past to try to forget. Your connection of Gothic with opulence is not necessarily common within the field, but the fact that you made it so easily goes to prove your point. Old opulence, the terrible insignificance one feels when one is faced with the decay of wealth, is sublime. Consumerism in America does not necessarily focus on opulence; in some cases, it does, but, generally speaking, a product as a function of existing (and being advertised) is desirable. Consumerism has become one of America's most defining cultural norms and the things we have been repressing surrounding it has been visible in horror for a long time. The connection between children's toys and horror, Chuckie being a famous example, is about the repression of our knowledge of the evils of a market targeting kids. We feed into the market, and therefore the repression is what lies behind our decisions to feed that market. So, and I believe this is what you were asking, what does it mean when that market changes, and even maybe dies one day? If old opulence makes one feel insignificant and is therefore sublime, what does the ruin of consumerism itself make one feel? Insignificant? Maybe. But is it sublime? Where is the repression if the system that causes it is dying? I don't know. I'm done now.

  23. What i cant get my head around is that when you are a trans woman and have male traits, like male bone, pelvis structure and a penis, this must feel like a very strange body part. How can you still accept your genitalia if you identifie as the opposite sex?

  24. I discovered this channel with the Incel video and I liked it so much I felt compelled to watch more. It's taken me until now to go through all the videos in chronological order and I've got to say there's been a huge improvment over time, both in content and style. This last one is a real masterpiece.

    On a side note, having first seen Natalie post transion (I hope that's the correct terminology, sorry if it's not), it was a bit of a shock to see her pre-transition in her early videos.

  25. I'd love to see your views on asexual and aromatic people. I feel like you'd be able to explain a lot of struggles with acceptance and placement of these people more astutely than most of us are able to.

  26. I’m a PhD student that finds your content so refreshing relevant and urgent, thank you. I’d love to know your thoughts on minimalism as another competing aesthetic and cultural appropriation that doesn’t seek wealth but culture

  27. When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,

    I all alone beweep my outcast state,

    And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,

    And look upon myself and curse my fate,

    Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,

    Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,

    Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,

    With what I most enjoy contented least;

    Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,

    Haply I think on thee, and then my state,

    (Like to the lark at break of day arising

    From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;

    For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings

    That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

  28. This has nothing to do with anything but that glowy leggy fur look in the bathtub is almost too much for my poor lesbian brain to pay attention to what she’s actually saying

  29. This is the first video of yours I've ever seen and holy SHIT did I love it! "Where envy goes the guillotine follows" is the rawest fucking line I've heard in a long time and I had to immediately stop the video to message my friends and tweet about it. Hey, how are you?

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