Repetition, Recitation and Vanessa Vanjie Mateo: Miss Vanjie and the Culture-Producing Power of Performative Speech in RuPaul's Drag Race
Can I get an amen? Not today, Satan. Because I have had it— officially! Having been seen on screen for over a decade, RuPaul’s Drag Race (RPDR) has amassed an encyclopedia of catchphrases that have become adapted and appropriated by fellow drag queens and RPDR fans alike. The culture- producing power of these phrases was most recently illustrated when Vanessa Vanjie Mateo, the first queen to sashay away in season ten, spoke her own name three times on her departure. As soon as the performative announcement of “Miss Vanjie” echoed on the runway, the phrase foreshadowed the eponymous queen’s inevitable return, while simultaneously sparking the repetition of a phrase that entered cultural consciousness as a multipurpose statement of queer celebration and identification. But the question I will address is not necessarily around whether it is possible for RPDR to “create” language: clearly it can as it has produced an inexhaustible list of words and catchphrases that fans can recite and reference. RPDR relies on this seeping of speech from show to online to offline for fans to feel as though they are a part of its community. In this chapter, I suggest that RPDR’s success is due, in part, to its dialogue with its fans through participatory culture and that the ambiguity of the phrase “Miss Vanjie” lends itself to the remixing and reappropriation inherent in meme creation. Particularly, what made the Miss Vanjie phrase so remarkable in season ten is its performative power, transforming it from a mere form of self- identification into a rebellion of populist rhetoric upon its utterance. Miss Vanjie was placed as a “disidentifcatory non- citizen” (from Muñoz 1999) because she broke the tension of the localized hegemony of the show, thereby illustrating how resistance can be asserted through self- identification. This resonated with fans who wanted to resist their own disappearance or erasure from popular consciousness. Consequently, the ostensive act of speaking Miss Vanjie’s name in public is to announce one’s own alliance with queer culture and, in particular, as a reaction against that which threatens to consign queer behaviors to the closet. Repeating the statement becomes a force that defies the expectations of the context, thereby queering the situation in which it is uttered, and offers a celebratory assertion of queer identity.
Citation : Taylor, A. S. (2021) Repetition, citation and Miss Vanessa Vanjie Mateo: The culture-producing power of performative speech in RuPaul’s Drag Race. In: Cookston, C. (Ed.) The Cultural Impact of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Bristol: Intellect.
ISBN : 9781789382563
- Leicester Media School