“Into The Spotlight”: A Comparison of Queer Representation in Kinky Boots and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.
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For this paper, the author studies the queer representation of characters Lola and Jamie from the musicals Kinky Boots and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, respectively. Kinky Boots ('KB') is about Charlie, a cishet white man, teaming up with the black drag queen Lola to create drag queen footwear. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie ('ETAJ') is about the gay teenage boy Jamie who wants to be a drag queen. The research question is as follows: How does the centring of the story in Kinky Boots compared to Everybody’s Talking About Jamie result in different queer representations and its consequent messages on queerness? The findings of this paper are structured into four analysis segments, corresponding to four sub-questions, which are the following: How is the queerness of Lola and Jamie introduced and established in their respective musicals? How are the cishet and queer main characters developed in terms of arcs and introspection and who is centred in the story? How is queerphobia worked through in the musical’s story? What messages on queerness are presented in the finale songs of the musicals? To answer the research question, the author operationalises textual analysis according to John Fiske’s model of unpacking the way dominant ideologies (e.g., heteronormativity) are encoded into media texts. Data was gathered through creating a table of the songs from both musicals, as well as through carrying out close readings of different scenes. These scenes were: the introduction of the queer main characters (‘Land of Lola’ in KB, ‘And You Don’t Even Know It’ in ETAJ), two specific scenes in which cishet characters exhibit queerphobic behaviour, and the finale songs of both shows. Based on the findings, the author concludes that with the centring of Jamie as a queer character in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, the story is able to portray a wider variety of queer experiences in further depth than the story of Kinky Boots, where the centring of Charlie occurs simultaneously with reducing Lola to a glamorous representation of queerness, which leaves her unable to voice the more harrowing facts of queer life. The consequences of this difference are thus that in KB, heteronormativity prevails through not further exploring the violent and traumatic aspects of being queer in a heteronormative world, while there is more time and attention spend to these aspects in ETAJ. Placed within the context of kissing LGBTQ+ couples getting heckled on the street in the Netherlands, trans people being detained at airports in the US, non-binary identities not being legally recognised by the UK government, and the overall physical and psychological damage queerphobia can cause, it is important that these experiences are not ignored or brushed off with a sassy comment, which would underplay the severity of queerphobia.