25 October 2010

Rocky Horror Picture Show

The Horror, The Horror!

So, because I am some kind of totally backwards person when it comes to pop culture, I had never seen all of Rocky Horror Picture Show before this weekend. I don't know how this happened. I have seen many a scene and clip and segment at various times on tv over the years, but never have I watched it front-to-back.
Finally, on Saturday, I did.
I'm ashamed to admit that this was in advance preparation for Glee's Rocky Horror Glee Show episode.

Goes without saying: Rocky Horror is AMAZING. I don't know where I've been all my life, especially in my more recent years as a queer-theorist/pop culture semi-academic, that I managed to not see this, but - better late than never.
Tim Curry - divine. Richard O'Brien - just as divine. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

But!! My friendlies, with whom I watched Rocky Horror, are Gleeks of the first water, and both have iTuned and previewed and trailered and researched the Glee episode to bits, so they know essentially everything that will be in the Glee episode.

And the two pieces of information that most upset me are the ones that - I think - are upsetting most RHPS devotees: Mercedes is given the Frank N. Furter role, not in any kind of drag, and "Sweet Transvestite" has been totally eviscerated, lyrically.

WHY in gods name Glee couldn't "get away" with having one of the guys on the show play Frank N Furter is beyond me. evidently, John Stamos was game for it, and was denied; but anyone (except the appallingly un-vocally-talented Cory Monteith) could have made a lovely Frank. My friendly friend put forth the combustible idea that Puck would have killed as Frank - at least in the garters and stockings and corset - which fanned the flames of my imagination. However, Mark Salling is off promoting his album and absent from the travesty.
So: the heart, the core, of the film is taken away. The campiness, the silly decadence, the transness, the queerness, is revoked by making Mercedes play the Sweet Transvestite. She isn't a trans-anything, in this role; she's Mercedes in some tight leather singing a song with the teeth pulled from it.

And how have the joyous chaps over at Glee altered the lyrics of one of THE iconic songs in the film? Why, by making Frank N Furter into a sweet transvestite from sensational transylvania.

{insert long scream of rage here}

Okay. So. I cannot, and evidently the internet cannot, figure out WHY this change was made. "Transsexual" is hardly a vulgar or raunchy term; it's not necessarily the preferred nomenclature, but "trans" is definitely still in circulation in queer circles, and - regardless - "transsexual" is the word in the song. It's offensiveness levels to transpersons is not as strong as many other terms, and - I suspect - it's not nearly as offensive as being erased altogether in favor of "sensational."
From a purely aesthetic perspective - and I feel very comfortable claiming expertise in this one, because words are my job - "Sweet transvestite from transsexual transylvania" is a glorious piece of alliterative consonance. Alliteration exists and works and functions for a variety of poetic reasons, and stripping the phrase of this is like taking all the trimmings off a christmas tree and claiming it's the same bare as it is fully decorated. This new version "sweet transvestite from sensational transylvania" clunks on the ear painfully; it's like reading a particularly glorious passage in Shakespeare, then reading its "translation" in a "No Fear Shakespeare."

But it's the UNQUEERING that I object to most. The queerness of RHPS is its greatness. Brad & Janet are funny, in large part, because they're terribly, horribly, boringly straight. They're caricatures, parodies, send-ups, of a straight couple. And this works because they're plunked into the most antic queer milieu ever. Stripping the queerness and turning it into pink wigs and silly costumes converts the whole of RHPS into a goofy straight halloween party.

And I think that, yet again, the mainstream world sends the Wrong Message. You'd think, after the heightened "awareness" of antiqueer bullying of recent weeks, people would be a little more sensitive to "having to tone down" queerness. And by "tone down" I mean "remove altogether" because - why? It might "offend" someone? Way to reinforce people's negative self-images, and teenagers' self-loathing: you're so wrong and weird and strange that you'll offend viewers! we need to erase your existence altogether!

So the celebration of trans/sexuality of RHPS is sublimated to a straight kids' halloween party. great.
and the Token Gay Boy (because yeah right, a Glee Club would only have one gay boy in it) is assigned the role of Riff Raff (and looks amazing in character, and sings "Time Warp" like a deranged angel - Chris Colfer's talents are just dazzlingly wonderful). It would be, maybe, a cliche to stick Kurt into Frank N Furter's fabulous heels and stockings. But - Mike Chang? Puck? John Stamos? Matthew Morrison, for godsake, who can certainly pull off the song?

I'm disgusted by these decisions. Yeah, it's cool that the Glee kids will be doing the Time Warp. Yeah, it's cool that a bunch of people who never bothered with the original RHPS (me, for example) will check it out. But it's appalling that "transsexual" is pulled from the song; it's even more appalling - it's offensive - that the queerness that makes Rocky Horror great has been taken away.

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