Paracinema and “Poo,” a response to McCulloch’s “Most people bring their own spoons” (2011)

In the reading, McCulloch refers to the works of Jeffrey Sconce, who introduces the idea of paracinema: “paracinema would include seemingly disparate subgenres as ‘badfilm’, splatterpunk, ‘mondo’ filmd, sword and sandal epics, Elvis flicks, […] and just about every other historical manifestation of exploitation cinema from juvenile delinquency to softcore pornography.”[1] McCulloch expands this idea to highlight that paracinema is more of a “reading protocol” than a distinct grouping of films.[2]

Paracinema thus helps us to look at ‘so bad they’re good’ films and establish what the ‘good’ aspect of the film, and where it comes from. The clip I have chosen comes from season 7 of Ru Paul’s Drag Race (RPDR) a structured reality competition show which has been wildly popular since it first aired in 2009. RPDR is constantly referencing camp and queer media history, and the included clip comes from a John Waters week, where the contestants must re-enact musical versions of famous John Waters scenes. The clip is a musical rendition of a scene from Pink Flamingos (1972) in which drag queen Divine eats dog faeces.

The three drag queens performing this musical number have been instructed to perform in a grotesque/ carnivalesque manner akin to the campy performance given by Divine in Pink Flamingos, but the queens struggle to take instruction and be funny. The audience laugh and cringe at their performance because it’s so embarrassingly awkward. What makes this clip an example of paracinema is that we laugh at the queens, not with them.

 

[1] Jeffrey Sconce, ‘Trashing the Academy: Taste, Excess, and an Emerging Politics of Cinematic Style’,

Screen, 36 (1995), p.372

[2] Richard McCulloch, ““Most people bring their own spoons”: The Room’s participatory audiences as comedy mediators” in Participations: Journal of Audience & Reception Studies Vol. 18, No. 2 (2011), p. 194

 

One comment

  1. I completely agree that the distinction between laughing ‘at’ and not ‘with’ is one of the markers in defining what Paracinema is! One of the components that is interesting to me is the familiarisation with cultural power and referential knowledge of queer history and output that the show relies on the contestants to possess, and the paradox of knowledge as something which can be beneficial in success within the challenges but also a lack of knowledge can be equally as comedic equating to success in challenges also! Highlighting the incongruity of comedy as intentional or unintentional, but each contextually successful. Great read!

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