16 Pages

Queering trash

Stefan Brecht collected his reviews of underground performance in New York in the late 1960s and 1970s under the rubric of Queer Theatre (1986). The elements he identified in performance as producing “queer” also produce uses of “trash”: drag performers wearing trashy costumes, with remaindered items composing the sets. The way trash works in these performances can be illustrated by the image of Charles Pierce doing his renowned drag version of Bette Davis, replicating her famous line from All About Eve: “What a dump!” Pierce’s campy citation of Davis’s line performs a kind of self-reflexive “dumping ground,” where the movie industry’s spectacular glamour is recycled in cheap costumes and on small stages. “Dump” ironizes the inversion of economic power that supports Pierce’s performance. But, more importantly, Pierce actually recycles the devalued elements of the “dump” into cultural currency through his performance. By laminating his trashy live performance onto the recursive, technological loop of movie nostalgia, Pierce reclaims trash as a vivifying strategy, capable of producing cultural capital through underground performance.