Oh boy! A post just for Genevieve! Who is obsessed with Allu Arjun!!!! Well, not “obsessed”, it’s not like she has a life size cut out of him in her living room (I have a life size cut out).
There’s a statement that my group of friends uses as kind of a joke, “gender is a construct”. The joke is, we actually all believe and understand that statement. But as a practical matter when functioning in the world, it’s not always relevant. If someone asks if my dog is a boy or a girl, I’m not going to say “gender is a construct”. I am going to say “boy”.
What “gender is a construct” means is the very specific male-female personality/taste/appearance divides that have been created by society. Sex is not a construct. People have sexual organs, have hormone responses, have all kinds of things like that. But those sexual differences have been expanded into this insane complicated web of nonsense, and that web of nonsense is the construct. For instance, here’s a statement that has NEVER made sense to me and yet people say it all the time, “every little girl dreams of her wedding”. NO! I never dreamed of my wedding, my Mom never dreamed of hers, none of my friends dreamed of theirs. And in contrast, I know loads of dudes who were as involved and interested in the wedding planning process as their spouse once it came time. We just say “every little girl dreams of her wedding” because someone said it one time and dropped it into that web of gender nonsense and it stuck. Even though it isn’t related to reality.
When you attack “gender is a construct”, you can come at it from two opposite directions. On the one hand, you reject the construct. You say “no, I don’t care about my wedding. Yes, my father likes to clean. No, I don’t need your help hooking up my computer. Yes, I do need your help picking out clothes”. But on the other hand, you take the construct to the bleeding edge in order to reveal it’s flaws.
This is what Drag is. It’s “performative gender”. It’s not a man dressed as a woman. It’s a person dressed as the exaggeration of what society has deemed it means to be “woman”. The rules society has for women are so extreme already (hair, make-up, clothes, speak sweetly, move gracefully, etc. etc. etc.) that taking them to the extreme quickly obviously becomes a performance. But what about “performative gender” of the male gender?
That’s what Allu Arjun does. He takes the male gender as constructed in the Telugu film industry and brings it just that slight bit farther that turns it into performative gender instead of merely playing the hero. His hair isn’t just “cool”, it is different in ever movie. He doesn’t just stalk a girl, he uses twisted logic to make his stalking into a virtue. When he is “poor”, he is the most poor ever. When he is “rich”, he is the most rich ever. All the ridiculous rules of Telugu film heroism, taken that one step father with a wink at the audience.
Allu Arjun isn’t alone in this. The best Telugu action films, for me, are the ones where the director and scriptwriter are in on the joke. Fight scenes that nod to older films, moments that break the 4th wall, etc. And the smartest Telugu actors know perfectly well that their hero roles are silly, and enjoy the opportunity to make fun a bit when they can. But Allu Arjun has put his own distinctive spin on it.
Somehow, Allu Arjun puts in a touch of both gender constructs in his performance which serves to enhance the RIDICULOUSNESS of the male gender construct. The slight body in clothes that emphasize it’s smallness, the slightly over done make up on delicate features, the sculpted brows, the slightly too colorful and too fitted and too imaginative costumes, and most of all the graceful movements. So you have the very silly male behaviors of Telugu films (super quick to anger, defeating dozens in fights, falling in love at first sight, and so on) but contained within this kind of gender fluid looking appearance. Remove the male appearances we are used to, and the male behavior patterns come into stark clarity.
The biggest thing about Allu Arjun is the same reason Drag is popular, it’s just plain FUN!!!! Gender constructs are stressful and overwhelming and constant. To get a little vacation from that by watching art that flips gender upside down and shows how silly it is, it’s FUN!!!
And you know, fun is powerful. Fighting to give your child non-gendered clothes and non-gendered toys is stressful. Fighting to be allowed to be a primary parent as a man, or fighting to be allowed into an aggressive leadership role as a woman is exhausting. But fun gives you energy! You come out of an Allu Arjun movie ready to just laugh at the idea that boys can’t wear pink instead of fight about it.
At least, that’s what I think. What do you think?