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Of Cosmetology: A Fatwa

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Artist's Statement: This video acts not as a piece of radical propaganda, but rather as an internal memorandum for the revolution. It is a critical interrogation of the role of the image and the media in radical (as in extremist, not leftist) politics. The screenspace consists of a lengthy video of myself getting dressed up in drag, albeit sped up over 1100%, citing an entire genre of YouTube videos--the queens love dressing up for the camera. The latest Osama bin Laden video, from September 2007, is faintly superimposed over my body. The mise en scene, consisting of multiple perspectives and subject positions via a skewed camera angle, multiple mirrors, and multiple images of myself, attempts to complicate ideas of mediated communication through technological media, and calls attention to the simulated nature of political discourse. The major ideas at stake here consist of specularity and the spectacle: both of these come up repeatedly both visually and in the voiceover narration (which can be found below). The questions I would like to pose include the following: Can performative embodiment via the media apparatus serve radical ends? Can the spectacle (of a cosmetically-enhanced jihadist or a shimmering drag queen) be mobilized for political purposes, or does it only distract from the "real" message? Can we complicate this notion of having a real message to begin with, and perhaps replace it with a discourse of responsibility for the imaginary realms created by the media we employ? I would like to force radical political action onto the terrain of the superficial. The past few decades of theory have marked a transition away from ideas of "depth" and "authenticity;" this video attempts to argue that political radicals should do the same.

Voiceover: Desperate times call for desperate measures. On the sixth anniversary of the thing that happened with the planes in September of two-thousand and one, a group of violent extremists released a digital video purportedly featuring Osama bin Laden. The video featured an image of a bin Laden with a recently-dyed beard, caked with makeup, speaking about Islam and the necessity of conversion. His voice also cited a series of controversial current events, but the image froze during these audio segments. Image, video, and audio analyses have since determined that there is no evidence to support the idea that bin Laden himself produced the video in 2007, but that this claim still could remain within the realm of the believable. Others have said that bin Laden must be as dead as Elvis. It doesn't really matter, though, whether he is indeed alive or dead. The effectiveness of the video instead lies in his image. What matters more than what we are is how we appear. A body is little more than a target. A collection of cosmetic cybernetic prosthetics, on the other hand, is a revolutionary text in its presentation. This image is the new revolution. During the fall of 2007 some of us celebrated the 40th anniversary of the phenomenon of Che Guevara. This image, too, is a revolution. A commodification of the revolution, to be sure, but a revolution in, through, and of the image nonetheless. Be the change you wish to see in the world, they say-change for the camera, and the world changes with you. This revolution needs no television. The camera has become our scalpel of performative embodiment. We gesture towards visual truth, and the imaginary is the symbolic is the real. The revolution has become flattened, two-dimensional, rhizomatic, imaginary, simulated-and as such it has pervaded the structures of media consciousness on its own terms. We cover our faces in paint to reveal our true colors. Is there any reason to fight the violent fight when we can win our battles simply by inserting the proper images into the war of simulacra? The discourse of performance has taken the place of the discourse of excellence. Our bodies have become little more than the magnetic core to which we can attach the media images that best replicate our political message. The true self has been lost to the play of makeup, hairstyling, and costume. If it ever existed to begin with, I say it is high time to move on. The surface is the terrain upon which the revolutionary apocalypse will play out. The terrain of the stage. Beauty is the paramount political criterion. Visual change is social change. Ladies, gentlemen, and monsters, I give you: the Messrs. bin Laden, drag queen extraordinaire.

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